All Aboard! Trains Aren’t Planes!

Salena Zito has some thoughts about getting there by train. They’re good thoughts.

PITTSBURGH — For nearly a quarter of a century, Amtrak’s Capitol Limited route has taken me from my beloved hometown to Washington, D.C. Sometimes for fun, almost always for work, the experience is never the same.

And if you are a rail lover, it is always about the experience.

There is only one train that leaves the Pittsburgh station every day, and that is at 5:20 a.m. (which means your alarm goes off at 3:30 a.m.). Thanks to sharing the line with freight, that almost always means a 20- to 90-minute departure delay. Then there’s the nearly eight-hour trip, twice what it takes me to drive there. Flying would only take an hour.

So why ride the rails? For starters, there’s the joy of looking out your window to swaths of the countryside you’d never see if you were flying over them or cruising along the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

There are miles of old industrial sites in places like Braddock and McKeesport, Pennsylvania, some filled with ghosts of the past. If you are curious enough, you look up what they were as you pass them by and learn something new about the cities and towns that built this country, as well as the people who built it.

You also see a remarkable amount of them being reused or repurposed as new companies chase the ghosts away. Rebirth among the ashes is the story of America.

She’s right. My annual trip to Philadelphia was made by train for years before I gave up and started flying. Getting on the train at 1 am (if it was on time) and the overall 36 hours just got to be too much, especially since I too know about that 5:20 am stop of the Capitol Limited in Pittsburgh – I was getting off to catch the other train out of Pittsburgh, the Pennsylvanian. Why? Because Amtrak couldn’t be bothered to re-install a switch that would have allowed a New York Section on the Capitol, which those of us old enough would undoubtedly have called the Broadway Limited. Rail riders are a traditional lot about some things.

It also ended up costing more than flying first class, and so just not worth it, and the layover in Chicago isn’t what it used to be, as the city declines into anarchy. But I miss it, and the great thing is the beauty of Pennsylvania, never seen in the old days. Ms. Zito also has some complaints with changes at Amtrak, and she is right.

Last Monday, when I boarded the train for the first time this winter, I discovered the warm, buttery grits were no longer an option, replaced by a tub of yogurt and granola — in a box. Dinner now came in a box. So did lunch. Gone were the crisp white tablecloths, and gone were the people who always cheerfully made whatever meal you wanted.

My first reaction was: If I were to want to be treated the way I am on an airline, I would take one. I took to Twitter and Facebook to express my disappointment in my best mom tone.

A call to Amtrak at first met deflection. As is the norm with spokesmen these days, they declined to talk and tried to insist I put my questions in email.

The crisp, white tablecloths and the jobs have not returned. In fact, a month ago, employees held a small rally in D.C. to protest the dining service changes and the threat of outsourcing some 1,700 union food and beverage jobs.

Change is inevitable. Change is important. But it is often spurred by erroneous assumptions.

As Peggy Noonan commented on Twitter: “Amtrak’s new management thinks trains are planes. A lot of us are on the train because we don’t want to be on the plane.”

Notably, Amtrak’s new president, Richard Anderson, is the former chief executive of Delta Air Lines. There are a lot of things about rail service that can and should be modernized. But there are also some that shouldn’t.

Boy, are they both ever right. One of the only really good things about taking the train is the diner. The food quality has declined ever since Amtrak took over from the railroads. But that is even worse than the airlines feed you, at least in first class, and a lot of people in the diner are in the sleepers (the diner is included) and decent food (if not exactly the duck l’orange of the PRR) is expected. And as Ms. Zito notes, the people you meet. Over the years, I’ve met some fascinating people on the train, in the diner, and in the club car. That doesn’t happen when you fly.

And that’s important. I like trains, even for long distance, if time isn’t a factor, as she states usually you can drive quicker, and with flying, even going from Nebraska to Philadelphia via Dallas doesn’t even compare. For me, it’s a close enough call, that the demise of dining car service likely means I’ll not return. I cannot really justify tax money being used for them either.

They need to compete, they can’t compete (maybe barely with buses) on time. They need to give us something we want. They could reduce costs perhaps in the club cars, which are a bit of an overpriced joke but bring back the tablecloths and good food in the diner. In fact, instead of removing them, they should have improved them. That was one of the ways the railroads competed – the quality of food and service. The old song says, “Dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer”. No more. Here’s another airline executive, having killed the romance of flying, doing the same to our trains. Sad, and stupid.

I can overlook a fair amount, but if you drive passengers away, your subsidies are not going to be far behind. We don’t really need long-distance rail in America. We subsidize it because of history and memory, and to show off our country, but it’s better to show off the good stuff, not that we can do box lunches worse than anyone in the world.


Sunday Funnies, Wall, Life, and Gillette

So, another week, how nice with the government shut down

Who might this be? *

And, of course

Genevieve Bujold

Sunday Funnies: A New Year, Finally

Well, we made it to 2019, for whatever that’s worth. Something I think, but hard to be sure how much, until we’ve been through it. So Enjoy.

I know the feeling well!

Talking to the Cntrl-Lft

And, of course

Starting the year right

Modems, Recruiting, and Beau (Fighter) Geste

Sorry about yesterday, if anyone noticed. It seems our cable modem died, and then the new one wasn’t optimized for anything but a simple computer with no protection, which doesn’t describe here, so It took some time. Seems, OK now, which is the main thing.

Recently the Washington Examiner held a symposium on what it means to be conservative in America today. Some of the participants couldn’t spell conservative, but overall, I agree with Ace on this one.

Larry Arnn’s piece is okay, Olsen’s piece is good, and Antle’s piece that the neocon plan — “Depose Trump and we get our phony-baloney jobs back!” — is a pipe dream is okay for that point, but it’s Mollie Hemingway who brings the hot fire:

MOLLIE HEMINGWAYOne of the ways that Vladimir Putin retains power in Russia is to permit a systemic, yet insincere opposition in the legislature. Technically, these individuals are in an opposing party, but they are generally fine with Putin’s government. Putin uses them to monitor his opposition and to create an illusion that there’s an outlet for contrary opinions.

For too long, the conservative movement in Washington, D.C., functioned as the systemic opposition to progressivism’s march through American institutions, public and private. Technically, they were opposed, and they’d make some sounds about opposing the growth of the administrative state and the cultural rot. But they were never terribly successful at returning the country to its first principles or constitutional order, despite the millions of supporters who put them in power and expected not just rhetoric but results.

Conservatism now is about rejecting this rigged system and taking the risk of working outside of it to advance its principles and policy objectives. The fact that conservatism had become a checklist of watered-down progressive policy prescriptions only served to hasten the demise of the old system.

What was conservatism’s last great accomplishment? The expansion of Medicare Part D? The failed efforts to spread democracy by force through the Middle East? Wasted years talking about the repeal and replacement of Obamacare? Sitting idly by while Silicon Valley tech oligarchs took control of our discourse and set the parameters for acceptable thoughts and speech?

There is a limit to how long people could ride the high of the Reagan years without successive accomplishments.

Conservatism today is properly understood as constitutionalism and a revisiting of first principles about securing the blessings of liberty. It’s a movement that demands meaningful free-trade agreements instead of just agreements based on the hope that someday China will play fair. It seeks hearty discussions about national sovereignty and meaningful borders. It acknowledges the limits, and costs, of military action. It recognizes that crouching cowardice in the face of cultural losses led the country to its current precipice, where people are terrified to speak freely and speak the truth.

And it doesn’t care one whit if it has to completely upset the existing political order.

You just can’t go wrong with Mollie!

It seems the British army has some new recruiting posters: From Samizdata.

Well, OK, I suppose, noting that we do need their skills, and perhaps their bodies if our experience is any guide. Still, the British army would no doubt do better in recruiting if the government tried at least a bit to stand behind their soldiers, instead of opening them up to prosecution based on things that happened clear back in the Troubles. Soldiering ain’t something that can be done in the ivory tower, its a dirty, messy business, and the troopers deserve better So, maybe it all right, but it surely is different from the one from a bit over a century ago that leads this article.

Also, I note with alarm that the US Army is having trouble meeting its recruitment goals, not surprisingly mostly in liberal areas. This ain’t current either, although it still spoke to us when I was young in the sixties.

As the author reminds us:

AFAIK, the case continues… What would Field Marshal the Earl (Horatio Herbert) Kitchener say were he spinning in his cold, watery grave? That Wing Cdr Ken Gatward DSO DFC* AE was named for him, and lived up to it, might give one pause for thought.





Once more into the breach, dear friends

And so, we made it to another one. 2018 was decidedly different, and likely 2019 will be too, but hey, it sure beats the alternative, doesn’t it?

For the blog, it was by quite a lot, the best year we’ve ever had, up some 4000 views over the next largest year. That was 2012 when we had both the reelection of the Reign of Error to write about and our partner, Jessica, to help. So I’m pleased, and I’m convinced that a large measure of the credit goes to those who comment here.

As it always seems to, politics dominated here, I always want to write about other things, especially history, but politics always seems to suck me back in. Well, it seems it does you guys as well, and that is what is important. We will continue to write about it, I reckon, but we will also continue to try to contain the spin and give a historical slant on the news of the day. Something you won’t get on TV.

As always the great preponderance of our readers come from the United States, followed by the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

One of the guys at PowerLine commented yesterday, that a lot of blogging has moved to Facebook and such. I think he’s right, but I think this is a better medium, offering us better tools and more freedom of expression. There are some blogs that I’d love to see come back, yeah, I’m looking at you Gilia!

But that we are growing again makes me happy, not only because of the work, but because it seems that you find something here that makes it worth your time, and that greatly pleases me.

If, like me, you realize that there are customs and traditions that should be honored, well, here is one of them:

Dave Barry’s Retrospective of 2018. Always worth your time.

Some stories just break your heart. This one does mine. That is Bre Payton of The Federalist, dead of swine flu at 26. It always hurts to see bad things happen to beautiful people, especially girls, and especially to incomparably talented ones. And her writing is how I encountered Bre, because her writing was quite wonderful, notably so for someone so young. Ben Domenech, the founder of The Federalist says this:

I hired Bre Payton right out of college. She was green. She was unknown. She had never done TV. But she had worked through her last year of college, and I respected that. I interviewed a half-dozen people for the position. We met in the coffee shop I liked that had no seats, so we were by ourselves in crappy plastic chairs in the back.

From the moment we started talking I realized she was a potential star. She was raw, yes, but that could be honed. She was eager to learn, to write, and to go places—not because of ambition, but because she wanted to change the world. She was confident. She was sarcastic. She was cutting. But she was also sweet.

High praise indeed. He adds.

We don’t seek to hire women—we seek to hire who’s best for the job. That turned out to be a number of women with great pens and humor and wit. I didn’t hire Bre to become another token woman. I hired her to eventually take jobs like mine, because she earned it.

I was a mentor for Bre as best as I could be, driving her to strive to achieve the things she hadn’t done yet. But she had that gene, too. She recruited our interns and managed them like a pro. She always made time for the aspiring younger journalists who looked up to her. She reached out with a genuine heart to those she thought needed it.

That’s always been my criterion, and it is one I admire greatly, as I do those who succeed using it. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, not the color or shape of the skin, however pleasing or not, but the content of the character. That Bre’s was exceptional showed in everything she wrote. She’ll be missed badly.

My condolences (as if they matter, really) to her family, and the people she worked with at one of my favorite websites, and to her friends, as well.

God rest her soul.

Study: Drinking Coffee and Alcohol and Being Kinda Fat is Super-Good For You 

I found this rather interesting. See you all tomorrow, when I should be back on my hi’puter rather than this verdamt phone.🤣

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