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.

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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

Washington has seen it all, and seen it off, before

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to members of the military at a rally at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on Dec. 26, 2018.Andrew Harnik/AP

Back in 1973, Canadian journalist Gordon Sinclair had some things to say about America, as we plowed through the shambles left by Vietnam, Watergate, and general chaos. It started like this:

“This Canadian thinks it is time to speak up for
the Americans as the most generous and possibly the least
appreciated people on all the earth.

Germany, Japan and, to a lesser extent, Britain and
Italy were lifted out of the debris of war by the
Americans who poured in billions of dollars and
forgave other billions in debts. None of these
countries is today paying even the interest on its
remaining debts to the United States. […]

If you were a sentient American at the time, I suspect you remember it, it was republished in most American papers. It’s the only article I ever recall my Mom clipping from our local paper and giving to me. It mattered. You can read it here.

Now there is another. Conrad Black published an article in Canada’s National Post, that I think we Americans need to read, to remind ourselves who we really are. It’s entitled: America’s resurgence is reshaping the world. Here’s part of it.

Almost indiscernible in the endless tumult about President Donald Trump is the objective return of American might, right on our doorstep. A casual sampler of the Canadian, and even the American, media, might think that the United States was so far along in its decline that the entire process of government and normal public discourse had broken down in that country, and that the much-discussed process of national decline was accelerating in a climate of virtual chaos.

In fact, the economy of the United States is astoundingly strong: full employment, an expanding work force, negligible inflation and about three per cent economic growth. And it is a broad economic recovery, not based on service industries as in the United Kingdom (where London handles most of Europe’s financial industry, while most of British industry has fled), and not based largely on the fluctuating resources markets as has often been Canada’s experience. In the eight years of president Obama, the United States lost 219,000 manufacturing jobs; in the two years of Trump, the country has added 477,000 manufacturing jobs. This was not supposed to be possible, and this time, unlike in the great Reagan boom, it cannot be dismissed by the left (and it was false in the eighties) as a profusion of “hamburger flippers, dry cleaners and people delivering pizza,” (all necessary occupations).

He writes here of China and oil and he does so most aptly, and I think realistically, you really should read the entire article.

What were for centuries the Great Powers, and for nearly 50 years after the Second World War, the principal Western Allies and the Soviet Union, have been reconfigured. The Soviet Union has been sliced down to Russia with about 40 per cent of the former Soviet population, offering a pallid replication of Gaullist efforts to make France great again by being an annoying gadfly irritating the Americans around the world. Charles de Gaulle was a great statesman, who personified the historic cultural and political attainments of France in its most difficult and dishonoured times; Vladimir Putin is just another chief thug residing in the Kremlin.

Meanwhile, in Europe…

France has elected a complete outsider as president and the brave new regime has been humbled and defiled by the imperishable Paris mobs, the extras and stagehands at 10 abrupt and profound changes of governmental structure in 230 years, and of countless sporting efforts to get the regimes’ attention with riots and vandalism. The splendid boulevards of Paris have seen it all before many times. Mighty Germany, its governing coalition almost worn threadbare by the imprudent admission of a million desperate Middle Eastern and African refugees, has delivered itself over to energy dependence on the feeble gangster-state of Russia while cutting its NATO contribution to half of what it had promised and complaining of American lack of enthusiasm to continue carrying Germany on its crowded and under-appreciated shoulders. Italy is in more profound political shambles than ever; Spain is distracted by a separatist threat that the central government has bungled (it could have learned from Canada but didn’t).

Through it all, the United States, appearing to be disorderly, its establishment and media at war with the occupant of the White House, is demonstrating almost effortlessly how illusory is the idea that any other country or group of countries can challenge its pre-eminence among the world’s nations. Canadians may not like it; the world may try to pretend otherwise, but however the domestic political tides of America may flow, North Korea is on its best behaviour, the ayatollahs are quaking in their voluminous raiment, and all America’s trade partners, including Canada and China, are accepting what amounts to unilateral renegotiation by the U.S. No other country in the world has any appreciable influence at all more than a few hundred miles from its borders (an area that includes 95 per cent of the population of Canada).

And so, 45 years after Mr. Sinclair touched America’s heart at a tender moment, nothing much has changed, except a whole bunch of America’s opponents are laid low, and a new set are on their way to join them. The beat goes on in the Great Republic.

GOPe and Corporatists

If you haven’t heard yet, Theresa May lost in Parliament, 432 to 202. Which should be a decisive, humiliating result, leading to a change in government, but probably won’t. She is supposed to present her ‘plan B’ to Parliament within three days, and Corbyn has called for a vote of no confidence. FUBAR, in other words. We’ll keep an eye on it.


John Daniel Davidson over at The Federalist wrote about the argument Tucker Carlson unleashed about conservatism, noting what that noted sorta conservative Russ Douthat has commented.

It is time, I think that we have this conversation, as I look around, I see lots of casualties, but let see what the article says.

Over the weekend, Ross Douthat of The New York Times weighed in on the ideological battle sparked by Tucker Carlson’s recent Fox News monologue excoriating GOP elites for slavish devotion to market capitalism and indifference to its negative effects, especially for working-class families.

Carlson’s fusillade provoked a host of reactions from conservatives, some who criticized Carlson for exaggerating the problems caused by capitalism while ignoring its benefits, some who argued he has a point about how capitalism has failed to protect families and create a prosperous working class. “If there is to be a healthy American right, after Donald Trump or ever, this is the argument that conservatives should be having,” writes Douthat, and he’s correct.

Douthat zeroes in on a line from David French of National Review, a critic of Carlson, who wrote: “There are wounds that public policy can’t heal.” Douthat concedes that this is true, but argues it can become “a trap, a cul-de-sac, an excuse for doing nothing.” Too often, conservatives have “leaped to despair without even trying policy.”

He cites a few examples, like the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and the disappearance of wages that can support single-income households, but then pivots to censorship and prohibition. Douthat notes that the right was once comfortable using public policy to promote private virtue, “But in recent decades, the right’s elites have despaired of censoring pornography, acquiesced to the spread of casino gambling, made peace with the creeping commercialization of marijuana, and accepted the internet’s conquest of childhood and adolescence.”

Douthat’s point is that while public policy can’t cure every social ill, it can be a “corrective”—if conservatives don’t simply throw in the towel.

There is no doubt about it, we’ve taken a lot of losses in the last almost thirty years. Part of the trouble, not the solution, is the GOPe, which talks a good game, but if you don’t like their principles, well they’ll find others.

‘Market Capitalism’ is a good place to start, it ain’t; it’s corporatism, rent-seeking, whatever you’d like to call it. It is designed to benefit the rich, the large, often multi-national corporation at the expense of the citizen and the worker. It’s not an accident, it’s a feature. See Elon Musk, or Enron, or many other examples.

For most of this, remember that politics is downstream of culture. Culture is where we need to win the culture wars, not politics. And you know, I think the pendulum has nearly reached the end of its swing and is starting to return. Be prepared, the war has merely begun. Will we win? Nobody knows but does it really matter, as far as I can see, my duty is to do the right thing and do it to the best of my ability, and what will be, will be. And as always, God decides. But we have before, many times.

The Boring Preaching of the Left

Joel Kotkin wrote recently in City Journal on Today’s Cultural Engineers. It’s pretty interesting.

Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin once labeled writers and other creative people “engineers of the soul.” In his passion to control what people saw and read, Stalin both coddled artists and enforced unanimity through the instruments of a police state. Today, fortunately, we don’t face such overt forms of cultural control, but the trends in American and to some extent European mass culture are beginning to look almost Stalinesque in their uniformity. This becomes painfully obvious during awards season, when the tastes and political exigencies of the entertainment industry frequently overpower any sense of popular preferences, or even artistic merit.

Our cultural climate has become depressingly monochromatic. Award ceremonies, once a largely nonpolitical experience, have become reflecting pools for preening progressive artistes. Those emceeing the awards must be as politically pure as possible—sorry, Kevin Hart—and those winning acclaim get the best press if, besides thanking their producers and agents, they take a shot at Donald Trump.

This dynamic is not exactly the byproduct of popular demand. In recent years, ratings for the Oscars have fallen to the lowest levels since the awards were televised, down from over 40 million to fewer than 30 million. The ratings decline tracks the fall in movie attendance, which has sunk to a 25-year low. We’re a long way from a time when awards nights were dominated by popular mainstream winners such as West Side StoryThe Sound of Music, or even the original Lord of the Rings. The movie industry makes money now by producing sequels of movies based on comic books, with relentless action and violence but little character development.

As movies and television shows in both the United States and Britaintoday increasingly adopt the feminist, gay, and racial obsessions of their makers, they have written off a large portion of the less politically “woke” audience. Many of these shows, such as Britain’s venerable Doctor Whohave hemorrhaged viewers since taking on a more preachy, PC aspect. “It’s supposed to be entertainment,” one disgruntled viewer complained. Late-night television, now dominated by stridently anti-Trump comedians, also has seen ratings drop in recent years; no show has close to the number of viewers, let alone the iconic status, enjoyed by the late—and largely apolitical—Johnny Carson.

That’s certainly true for me. We turned off the TV portion of the cable (it’s the best value on high-speed internet) years ago. I have the stuff to watch most anything on my computer – but I don’t. I don’t think I’ve turned a TV broadcast on yet this year and don’t foresee doing so. Just not interested in anything they’re selling. I used to love Dr. Who, I didn’t make it 5 minutes with the new one.

The problem is they (pretty much every TV program, including the news) have become that preacher that always put you to sleep when you were a kid. They won’t shut up and they won’t change the subject, and so we’re tuning out, shutting it off. Who was it that said a fanatic is someone who won’t shut up and won’t change the subject? That’s US and UK news and entertainment media.

Welp, know what? That same software that lets me watch the current swill they call TV, lets me watch the old stuff. Not uncommon at all to sit back here and enjoy a John Wayne movie, hopefully with Maureen O’Hara, or at least Kate Hepburn, where men were men, bad guys wore black hats, the women were gorgeous and powerful in their own right, but still liked guys. You know kind of like the world most of us still live in. It’s better outside the left’s hothouse. I’m staying out, you’re welcome to join me. The whisky and cigars are on the bar.

Sunday Funnies: American Gothic

Was there ever a more instant meme? Or a more obvious one, than Schumer and Pelosi at that one lectern. Everyone had exactly the same reaction, pretty much. I think I’ve seen 150 variations. Don’t worry, I’m not going to give you all of them, or nothing else, but it is remarkable. Not a good look for them, either, I think,

That’s maybe a third of the ones I’ve seen, but I’m getting bored, so let’s move on.

Doing Public Service

And, of course

 

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