Looking Again at South Shore Expansion

So now the on-again, off-again expansion of the South Shore Line to Valparaiso seems to be on again, even if one of the so-called supporters seems to want to put up a ballot to dismantle the South Shore LIne instead of expand it.

Problem is, now they’re reconsidering all the plans again, including a plan to split the South Shore from Gary instead of Hammond or in Illinois.

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First, here’s the “favored” expansion plan, going from Hammond/Hegewisch to Munster, then Valpo/Lowell:

Route through Munster, with second line to Lowell

It was the running plan, in part because of the NICTD’s ownership of a right-of-way from Hammond to Munster. It also has the possibility of expanding service to the southern part of Lake County, with benefits spreading into Illinois. Also, many of the proposed rail stops along the line would actually be open to transit-friendly development, allowing for the ability of the line to survive on its own, instead of just a commuting line to and from Chicago.

Its main disadvantage is that it runs over the main Canadian National (CN) line, which can see over forty trains a day. CN wants the Northwest Indiana Transit Authority to pay for a third rail line along the CN portion of the route, and at over $1 million/mile, it won’t come cheap.

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A Primer on Inflation:

Just so you know: this blog entry was inspired by This iTulip page.

For those who don’t remember what inflation was like in the late seventies, I can give you something of a clue, as I was a child during much of that time.

Basically, prices shot up in double-digit levels during two points during the seventies. In the early seventies, crude oil prices quadrupled, leading to a an immediate doubling of gasoline prices. What was 37 cents/gallon went up to 75 cents a gallon. After a period of adjustment and slow swings (between 60 cents and 50 cents per gallon), Prices shot up again to $1.20/gallon area

Both times they were followed by prices all over the board. I most remember car prices jumping up, but I also saw it referred to in food prices and in utilities. Since there was an active Union presence in the economy back then, wages generally followed suit, as did the minimum wage laws.

But it wasn’t just rising prices. Sometimes it was shrinking portions. Before, it was the candy bar companies who were known for shrinking their product to satisfy their bottom line. Indeed, their “King Size” servings that came out in the early eighties were referred to by those who knew as “the original servings in the sixties.” Nowadays it’s shrinking servings in Pringles’ Cans (here’s the joke: the cans that said “1/3 more” were but 1/10th larger than the original size cans with the original sized servings) and coffee servings.

Sometimes it’s quality of stuff. I don’t remember anything going on during the seventies, but the population of the cut-rate supermarket chain Aldis can translate to a dropoff in quality today. Also, a shift in business from Bakers Square to McDonald’s (who recently sold off their Boston Market stores) signifies a shift from better quality to lesser quality.

It’s also level of service. Not just in who answers your phone (English vs Indi-ish), not just in service (since when does Wal-Mart need only one person checking out 100,000 customers?) but also in hours open. I’ve seen quite a few “24 hour stores” suddenly close down between 12 midnight and 5 am, and some other places now close down an hour earlier (or open up an hour later).

It can also show up in fees. Suddenly you’re being charged to sit by the aisle, or the window of an airplane. Or you’re charged an extra 25 cents for an extra condiment.

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There’s two ways to react to the increase in prices. Both ways depend on whether you can (or are allowed to) make an effort to keep up with increasing prices.

If you are able to keep up with increasing prices, you end up spending what you get your hands on. When a whole nation is able to do this, you usually end up with hyperinflation, during which time savings becomes a curse and dissipative spending a virtue.

If you can’t keep up with inflation (which it appears most people in America presently can’t do), you spend less on other things and keep up on the most important bills. Right now, it seems to be food, fuel (that’s been rigid for the past few years, I believe that if we had had better public transit fuel prices would have caused a much greater drop in travel) and credit cards.

Now what’s interesting is that the government is trying to engineer inflation without any accompanying wage inflation. You can see it in the false “Core Price Index,” in which a 4% inflation rate hides exploding fuel and food prices. You see it in an unemployment rate that only tells people who tell the government they’re working (whitewashing discouraged workers plus those who don’t turn to the State-run employment agencies). You see GDP levels where the increase shown hides the actual DECREASE that’s happened since 2000 (Clinton’s era, plus the stagnation during his time).

The point? If you can inflate the money without inflating the wages, you make the people poorer. Make the people poorer, they work harder and harder to make ends meet and/or get the toys you love. Make them work harder, the less likely they are to fight for their rights to health care and a good living. The less they are likely to fight, the more thankful they will be for the hand-outs. The more thankful we are for the hand-outs, the easier we are to control.

Which is a reason why I worry about these “economic stimulus checks” we’ve gotten again. Is it really a help, or is it training us to bow down before Big Government and their Corporate Owners ™? “Take your gift, drink that booze, and wake up tomorrow when the bells ring.”

Other topics later.

Got My “Economic Stimulus Check”

Well, I got my $600. Whoopee. Most of the money went to health insurance.

This is actually the second check we’ve gotten from the Shrub Jr. administration, aside from the tax refunds that many of us get. Not only that, but a lot of people get some money every year for being poor enough not to owe taxes.

Here’s what I’m wondering: Are we becoming addicted to the Government giving us money?

I’m not talking about tax returns. Most people are willing to give a bit of money now for it coming back as a lump sum at the beginning of next year. Even those of us who know it’d be better for us to have the money now would rather have the lump sum at the beginning of the year for bills or for stuff to buy instead of a few extra bucks every payday (which would usually be spent on small things).

I’m talking about people coming to expect money from the government on a regular basis. Economic Stimulus Checks, only on a yearly, then quarterly, then monthly basis.

Welfare, for short, for everyone. Everyone (but the rich) dependent on the government for the extra money (and eventually, the money) to make it to the next month. Savings reduced further than they already are (yes, more debt) as people come to think the government will bail them out every month.

In a weird way, we’re talking about a nightmare for the philosophic right. After all, they’ve been trying to get people to depend more on themselves. The philosophic right, however, has never straightened the dislocation between their “depend on themselves” and their strong pro-corporation stance. The corporation did everything to separate the American population from everything but the check that comes every (two) week(s), and the philosophic right just chimes in with “don’t depend on the government to bail you out of trouble.”

Maybe they should have done more of a communitarian stance instead.

But hey…like I said, got my “economic stimulus check.” Whoppee. Paid bills.

An Open Letter to Erica Jong

It’s sad when someone who’s supposed to be a smart, intelligent person turns sour and bitter.

Thing is, usually these people end up turning inward and letting their bitterness eat them up in silence. Usually the bitterness eats to its fill, and the person goes on to a slightly different life. But with Erica Jong, we’re seeing a woman throw a sissy fit online through her inability to handle the loss of her favored candidate to another.

In short, she’s accusing me (and about thirty percent of the population, AKA all white males) of choosing a male over a female. Nothing about Black Males or other peoples. Just me and those with whom I share a Y chromosome and a relative lack of permanent melanin.

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Well, I don’t know about the other 29.999% of the male population (quite a few of whom voted for Ms. Clinton in the primaries), but there’s three major reasons behind my support of Obama in the Indiana primary:

  1. I saw that Mr. Obama fired people up, whereas Ms. Clinton’s voters were looking for “someone to beat whomever the Republicans would put up.” This at a time when the Republicans were trying out potential runners, only to stick with some guy whose only sign of presidentiality was being as old as Ronald Reagan when he ran for office in 1980.
  2. Ms. Clinton had her chance to lead: the 1993 Health Care Plan. She failed. So badly, in fact, that the Republicans took over the House and Senate.
  3. Ms. Clinton pandered. I mean, what’s this about a tax that would, at best, fill up a half-empty tank? And why take it from the old coot whom the Republicans decided they had to run with?

The fact is, it seemed that Ms. Clinton had the Democratic spot on the ticket for the taking. She just did such a bad job that we had to look for another person to vote for. Luckily, there was another person we could like, and he has seemingly stood more and more presidential with every day.

Again, for the dense: Ms. Clinton had the Democratic spot on the ticket for the taking.

Now, if it ends up that Ms. Clinton ends up as the Democratic nominee without installing the Florida and Michigan delegates she worked to have voided, then I shall vote for her. I still identify more with Democrats than with the rich folks who want to bring back Slavery (falsely known as the Republicans), and the last thing I want to see is a Republican in the most powerful office (or any office, to be honest) in the United States come February 2009.

Back to Erica Jong: If you want to stomp off and go home, go ahead. You can even change places with Ann Coulter, if you want. But I suggest that you take a breath, reconsider whom your friends and enemies are, and take your stand again with us.

I’ll do the same if Ms. Clinton wins fair and square. That promise I have always had, and will stand by if need to.

Auto-ameri-dammerung

Ford has been reported as running their factories on single shift and laying off their workers for three-four weeks a shift. General Motors has laid off people all over and is trying to buy out the rest of the workers with a decent amount of seniority. And now Chrysler’s trying to draw people into their showrooms with a promise that the won’t have to pay more than $2.99 per gallon for three years.

Don’t know about you, but it looks like the American Automobile Industry is finally entering its final, fatal collapse.

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In a way, I’ve been watching the American Auto Industry since the late sixties, when my mother spent time teaching me the right way to say “Buick,” where my father worked. I watched as the cars became plainer and plainer through the seventies and into the early eighties, then get better over the years until Buicks were able to rank up in the top five for initial quality on a steady basis (along with Mercury and Cadillac, other American brands).

Problem is, everyone remembers the mid-seventies through the late-eighties, and remembers that American Cars (for the most part) sucked. And for all they care, American cars still suck.

So they’re not buying American cars.

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Here’s the truth about automobile quality: The worst car today was built better than those imports the Japanese Automobile Companies cherry-picked for export to the United States in the late seventies.

However, people tend to be stuck with the memories of what was around during their youth. And what people have remembered for the longest time is “American Cars aren’t to be trusted.”

The American car companies weren’t able to overcome that. After a while, however, it seemed they didn’t try or care to. For ten years (1995-2005; THANK YOU BILL CLINTON) they were able to build oversized vehicles on truck chassis and obscenely aggressive designs. SUVs had made it on the market, and they seemed to be here to stay.

But now nobody’s buying them. Small cars are coming back, and the US car companies have little or nothing to offer them.

Even if I weren’t to look at the sales numbers or listen to the people talking about dropping SUV sales or notice the lack of Hummer advertising, I can certainly tell you what I see on the streets:

  • Three years ago: SUVs own the road. I almost feel suffocated driving around.
  • Two years ago: More cars on the road, fewer SUVs. I feel much more lightness on the roads.
  • Last year: Bikes, and mopeds make their appearance on the road. I even see a motorized bicycle on the road once.
  • This year (so far): Every Day I see a moped.

That’s the challenge: make smaller cars worth buying. And I don’t yet see the American Car Companies making that effort. 

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So what’s next?

I can see General Motors shifting away from America. Already there are more Buicks sold in China than in the United States.

Ford may just take a dive. While seemingly more insulated than General Motors (due to their ownership situation), their sales have actually dropped lower percentage-wise than General Motors’ sales. Their cars are also uglier.

Chrysler? it may end up being sold to China. It’s presently privately owned, and its owners are trying to make it profitable. In the end, the only way they may be able to extract wealth from it may be to sell to China and export the factories to them. I remember reading Lee Iacocca’s latest book, he was pissed off over what had happened at his old company (the one he had saved, and left seemingly in good hands).

Forty, thirty, twenty years ago nobody could have seen this coming. Ten years ago everyone was singing the praises of a newly-responsive American Automobile Industry, ignoring that they were mainly repackaging trucks for mass consumption.

Today………I’m worried.

Where Do Consumables Go When You Can’t Afford to Consume Them Anymore?

The link that inspired this blogpost

It’s bad enough to find out that all the CDs I’ve collected over the years would no longer be able to hold me alive during a tight time like I suffered through the late eighties; that I can consign to technological advance and the need to conserve product.

But now, to find out that just about everything out there is quickly becoming more and more worthless.

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Yes, I know that I’ve longed for people consuming less. Call me a hypocrite, if you wish.

But I’ve longed for people to stop buying on their own. I’ve never opposed necessary purchases, and I’ve always stood for quality purchases (sometimes to absurd extremes, admittedly); but I figure that people need to cut down on their purchases.

And while I’ve done the typically American dodge of working more and more, I’ve also gone quite a bit towards straightening my financial house. I have money in the bank (both in CDs I can use and in Retirement Accounts), and my debts are narrowed down to student loans that are at half of what they were at the peak. I’ve also cut down on my consumption and shifted the patterns so that they take up less space.

But consider the blog entry I’ve linked to above. People are now selling their stuff for a gallon of gas. Giving stuff to other people to borrow money with. And people are selling everything they have to keep things going. It’s gotten so bad that The Salvation Army has noticed a 20% dropoff in donations over the January-March period of this year (2008). Mind you, I’ve noticed that the local Goodwill is asking for donations and has had empty shelves for their non-clothing items for a while now.

I have a friend whose been selling his stuff on the Internet to keep from finding a “real job.” He tells me that collectibles have been selling, and nothing else.

There’s quite a few questions that need to be asked. I’m going to ask the following question about this:

If we can’t earn enough money for a gallon of gas or a week of food, where are we going to get the money to:

  • rebuild the expressways when the latest fixes collapse before they’re supposed to?
  • fortify the Mississippi river before it decides to become the Achafalaya?
  • build and rebuild the mass transit systems we let fall apart in our love of horsepower and gasoline?
  • build new houses in the farmland we’re gonna have to reinhabit when the food system falls apart?
  • retrofit the electrical system to accept locally produced renewable energy?
  • protect the homeland when we’re forced to withdraw from Iraq (assuming we don’t leave the men there without armaments or a way back home – a major worry of mine)?
  • deliver the food? get gas to the gas stations? clear the streets?

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I’ve seen it happen too many times. People get to the point where they’re living day-to-day, milking what they can out of what they have; and when it finally falls apart they move backwards. When that final backward move happens, they end up homeless or enslaved for their food and a room at the last-stop inn.

Things go backwards because all the money is used keeping things at where they are. Nothing is saved because nothing CAN be saved. And backwards movements sometimes end up with secondary losses, as with evictions where things are tossed out only to be picked up by scavengers, passers-by and neighbors.

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Right now I actually have plans for a “build-down” (a wonderful bit of doublespeak from Gary Hart which actually makes sense, under the right circumstances). I want to buy an electric bike, and a portable computer so I can compute without electricity (when the time comes that we go under brownouts and rotating blackouts).

But that requires time and the ability to earn more than I spend. And while I’m able to some degree to do that (I live in a situation where I get room and board free), I can see a situation where that may not be able to happen. And when I’m stuck with needing to consume what I earn to live, what happens when things fall apart?

It is one of my worries. One that comes from having experienced it.

Peanuts: As Anime Teenagers

edit: reduced to what’s shown below. Evidently the artist wants to limit exposure to that single picture, which is fair enough. I was thinking of cutting down on the number of pictures shown, so while a bit further than I would like, this is in line with my thoughts.

Enough heavy topics, now for something light and entertaining:

Charlie Brown, Lucy and Linus as Teenagers

Having been a Peanuts fan since I was a young kid, I found this interesting when I first came up on it. A furry anime artist decided to try his hand at updating the Peanuts Gang to modern teenage life.

Some, of course, cried “FOUL! NOT WORTH LOOKING AT!” I say otherwise. After all, Charles Schulz did allow for alternate versions of his creations (he always labeled the TV and “Happiness is” books as non-canonical, hence CB had a chance with the Little Red Haired Girl on TV). Of course, there were limits: a comic of a pregnant Lucy crying out “Damn You Charlie Brown” were ruthlessly squashed after a couple days at the mall store.

Anyway, follow the link to see the rest and the artist’s explanations behind the comics.

CB, Lucy and Linus as teenagers. One can almost see a temperament change; Linus looks better adjusted and Lucy looks friendlier (if probably still very dominating). Charlie Brown still looks somewhat troubled; probably still recovering from his childhood.