A Gentlemen’s Quarrel

Originally posted 10/25/2008:

Here’s what I said the last time around: “Holy Christ in a crackerjack box, I’ve not penned a treatise on all that is insane in my alcohol addled brain in over two months.”  It’s now been a solid four months since my last post.  And now for an unedited, rambling argument with no coherence, logical basis, or facts (it’s like Bill O’Reilly with slightly less sexual harassment!):

I present a gentlemen’s quarrel against squatcrouch.  I have taken exception with his article way back on August 28th, though I do enjoy his other posts.  I question his personal pedigree and heritage.  Sounds like one of those filthy bolsheviks that huff cigarettes in their effete coffee shops to mine own ear.  He also probably smells of elderberries.

Now that we have the pleasantries and ad hominems out of the way, the article in question is one dealing with Amtrak and public transport in general.  First of all, I don’t believe that “public” transport should be funded by “public” funds at all, or at least by cooperatives at most.  In terms of long distance travel, there is even less of a case for this type funding or even need, despite Squatty’s claim that “Quite simply, if you start a business that needed a massive cash infusion from the beginning, never gave it that infusion, and then watch it crumble, it is hard to say that you gave it your best shot”.  As Thomas DiLorenzo notes, early public rail lines were notoriously corrupt, over-budget and probably unsafe.  Indeed, James Hill constructed a private railroad that outcompeted the public railroads.  The story of the railroads is a story of economic entrepreneurs and political entrepreneurs–those that succeed in garnering political favor that translates into subsidies and those that garner wealth by delivering valuable goods and services to consumers.  Amtrak is little different.  Doubtless it delivers something of value–the trains would be empty otherwise.  The question is, however: are they delivering that service is a way that utilizes scarce resources effectively (if so, they’ll probably turn a profit and not need any subsidies)?  Moreover, if commuter rail lines were completely absent in a free market, that would indicate at least that resources were being put to uses deemed to be more important by a myriad consumers acting with the market.  Is transportation a free market?  Not even close.  Air lines are sometimes regarded as “deregulated” but they still operate under numerous regulations, from the TSA to labor unions.  Automakers aren’t heavily regulated (other than unions) but car drivers receive a massive subsidy in the form of public roads, and specifically public highways.  The costs of such speedways are socialized while the benefits accrue to those who drive the most.  If you are looking for one thing that damaged trains, it wasn’t a lack of subsidy to them, but a huge subsidy given to car (and truck) transport through the interstate highway system (federal funding of which is one of the bigger carrots the Federal government waves in order to get states to walk the party line).  The rise of air travel also damaged railways’ prospects, particularly among time-sensitive business travelers.  As our man Squatty notes: “Amtrak was created in 1971 by our own federal government because it was a losing business model for private railroads who just wanted to pull freight.”  Why continue a line of transport that is no longer desired?

The author also refers to his wife as “Mrs. Squatty”.  Who the fuck do you think you are, Bill Simmons?  Are you going to add a side bar where Mrs. Squatty can bitch and moan about Britney Spears and being pregnant?  (Some much for the moratorium on ad hominems)

But even besides reasoning on subsidy lines, we have this nugget: “National transportation is all federally funded and it should be, because to some degree it should all be federally regulated. Moving people around the country between 60 and 400 mph is not something where we should just let the market do its thing.”  My question would be: why not?  Squatty does not offer an answer, but my assumption would be: “because it’s a tremendous safety concern”.  My retort to this particular comment would be: “so it’s a sustainable business model for transport companies to kill off their customers?”  There is, anywhere and everywhere, a tradeoff between safety and cost.  The costs would not only be the expense of safety mechanisms or policies, but what is foregone in order to make safety possible.  I would maintain that a free market would handle that better than an organization that has shown contempt for the lives of its supposed clients, and even its own employees.  There is the Columbia space shuttle disaster, where the exact same organizational mistakes were made as in the Challenger shuttle disaster 15 years earlier; then there is the Osprey program from the military that prompted Time magazine to slam the project in the absence of a recent problem (and I’m sure Boeing’s political contributions had nothing to do with the continuation of the experimental bird); and finally we have the levees constructed around New Orleans by the Army Corps of Engineers.  Many claim that these problems arose from a lack of funds–if a private company ever said “we couldn’t protect our clients because they didn’t pay us enough” the prosecutor would use that in his closing argument.  Enron never killed a person and was pilloried from stem to stern, as was (and rightly so, since it did wind up in deaths) Ford Motor Company for the Pinto scandal.  But again, here we have the socialization of safety costs and no one person or company can directly benefit by heightening their safety since everyone must be the same.  A company has every incentive to stretch the safety bounds to lower their costs, just as a driver has incentives to stretch speed limits to help himself.  Indeed, believing that everyone on a government patrolled highway is going the speed limit is the same as believing that all those regulated by a government safety board have followed all the rules.  Such rules socialize and mask the risk inherent in any activity to the detriment of consumers.

Now let’s all gather round and take gander at Papa Squat’s business idea:

“The train should not be thought of as simply a means to move people from A to B. (Stay with me here.)”

Bullshit, that’s all it is.  Unless you can turn a train into a cruise ship, I will not agree with you.  And frankly I don’t think that’s possible.

“The train is faster, more spacious, and has much less stigma than riding the bus.”

You know, for someone extolling the virtues of public transport, assigning a stigma to riding on the bus sure belies our socialized transport utopia.  If I had gone to the Al Sharpton school of race-baiting, I’d say that you’re claiming people should ride the train to avoid poor black people and their diseases (Ed note: I’m being facetious.  And a dick).

“In terms of entrance and egress between major cities less than 300 miles apart, the travel time is comparable to flying.”

  1. I’m with you here, but given your concerns about safety, shouldn’t trains be subject to the same TSA degradations that airline passengers are (and security lines providing a significant chunk of the processing time in an airport)?  I mean, if safety is a government concern and all…

“In terms of longer trips, its entire philosophy is not about pressurized efficiency where you are strapped down most of the time. You can move around, or go to the café car and meet people; you can treat it like an event in it self.”

In truth, Virgin Airlines and several other international carriers offer similar amenities.  However, Squats goes on to mention:

“So much of Amtrak’s advertisements are about being able to get work done on the train, or decompressing on the train, or doing all these other things that don’t make Amtrak any money while someone is sitting in a seat for 2-3 hours, or maybe even a day or two. So how do you get revenue beyond selling rooms on the train and food at a loss?”

If this is a primary advertising point for trains in general, it should be profitable as it should be getting more people to ride on the train.  Yes, I realize this could be a semantic point, but if Amtrak can successfully differentiate itself from riding in a car, and possibly on cost from airlines (which is debatable), this would be an important value addition.  But let’s see what we’re really talking about:

“The Casino Car.”

First of all, is this even legal?  I love the idea of an old-timey casino rail road and possibly dueling on the roof of rail cars, but legal nightmares here (especially on interstate travel) could be insane.  I don’t see if they can dodge legal challenges as riverboats could–which brings up the idea of riverboat traffic along major rivers (although my guess is that riverboats are painfully slow).  But let’s assume it is legal:

“Think about it. Just think about it for a minute. On the end of any long-distance train (we’ll start with the long distance trains), you tack on two Casino Cars. One car has two blackjack tables, and two craps tables, and the other one is all just video poker and slots and all that high margin crap that takes the fun out of gambling. You put the café car in between them and the rest of the train, and then you put all the cabins and coaches on the front.”

First of all, this would effectively eliminate most, if not all, business travelers as time is their major concern (with cost running a close second).  I wasn’t clear here if the Casino Car would be just for long-distance trips or all trips but let’s assume long distance as the author notes:

“Also, the costs for converting or building the Casino Cars could be fronted by a major entertainment company that is already looking to expand. Foxwoods? Trump? Harrah’s? Any one of them would be willing to give it a shot. Hell, you can even charge them for the right to brand the car. More dough right there. Imagine your trip from DC to New Orleans, or from Chicago to New Orleans, or from New Orleans to LA (Mrs Squatty really likes New Orleans), where you get on, check into your room, go have a drink, hit the tables, carouse for a while, hit the hay, and wake up at your destination.”

First of all, if a casino is fronting the costs, it  is probably taking most of the profits except possibly a leasing fee.  Secondarily, I like the idea in theory, but who is this appealing to?  Not business travelers, but just leisure travelers?  Is this like crossing a cruise with transport?  Would people actually want to sacrifice speed in getting to their destination (which would one would assume is where they would rather be than anywhere else) in order for some marginal entertainment?  For individuals who have jobs, sacrificing hours of vacation for travel probably would be uninticing.

Now, it did occur to me that there is one cost-sensitive, time-insensitive and fun loving group this might appeal to: college students.  Would they drop enough at the tables to make it profitable?  That’s an issue, but if you got the legal drinking and gambling ages down to 18, I could see trains servicing college towns to major spring destinations (like New Orleans or anywhere in Florida).  Shoot, why not add strippers while you’re at it?

I can see it now: The Linsay Lohan BlowJob Express

Finally, in honor of the gentlemen’s quarrel, insults for the gentlemen.

Internet Vomit

Maybe Some shpahnking is in order? “Children whose parents spank them or otherwise inflict physical punishment may be more likely to have sexual problems later.”

Antidepressants?  Not so much.


One of my old professors gets carjacked.  Keep your head up, Walter. And he did!

Google X Prize: “Google and the X Prize Foundation have announced that 10 teams will compete to put a privately funded robotic spacecraft on the moon.”

Banning Legos in schools?

Use Your Illusion:  Optical illusions and the brain.

What Europeans think of each other

Awesome Sacramento King’s dancers

Marshall Plan Myth:

Office Romance a matter of contract?

Fuck you, Keynesians: A billet-doux from Austrian Economist George Reisman

Anonymity Experiment: How much does the internet know about you?

Rescinding medals of Wounded Knee: the aging US military scandal

The danger of metal baseball bats and children

Immigrant problems – in Zimbabwe

A medical free market or merely quacks?

Ants of Electronic Doom

College professor a wee too sensitive

Recruitment in the service of the American Empire

Porn problems in Iraq – I watch enough porn stateside; if I was in Iraq, I would never not be watching porn.

Passenger moons speed cameras – awesomest “crime” ever

China outsourcing to US? and is Indian Outsourcing reaching its zenith?

This week in frivolous lawsuits: “Court orders Volvo to pay man with big feet”.

Creepshow Meth Ads — for my money, you’ll never beat “I don’t sleep, I don’t eat, but I’ve got the cleanest house on the street!” or the dance remix!

XXX Posters from the 50s

Federal Collection of DNA

The Pentagon strangles the economy — what else is new?

NYC police acquitted in 50 shot killing:

Turkish rush to embrace anti-US film — a supposed US ally exemplifies the conflicting tensions at the crossroads of Europe, Asia and the Middle East

Serving life for giving car to killers

Mental health and US Troops

Old comics and suicide bombers

EMO kids having trouble in Mexico — this is emo!

TV personalities and the O-Face

The majesty of the gateway grizzilies:

Some people heartily dislike wandering bugs: Country-ass fucked up town!

The story of the Bear Sterns collapse

The changing face of Abraham Lincoln and a look at the States War by Murray Rothbard:

Garfield gets lost in translation

Top 10 NFL cheerleading squads

Charles Cushman’s fascinating photography of cities

Martial law in Arkansas

Minister Jailed for antiwar beliefs — in October of 1917 during the fevered war frenzy of the first great war.

Your next president — why chose the lesser evil?

The strain of universal health coverage and yet doctors support it — dare say that the cartel is after the subsidies?

On the American wars, past and present — truncating the antecedent

That is one goddamned bad chicken

Pop culture Last Suppers

A military interrogator on his profession

Mood altering cat parasites — that’s some crazy pussy

Mispelled tattoos

Better not insult civil servants

Gary North and the many apocalypses

Empty prison in Iraq — a monument to bad planning

Wonder Drug for the prostate

Hoodies and England

CBS not paying for nipple slip

Absolutely retarded Nike ad outrage and Deadspin’s take

Tasing the dead

Heroic: .491 BAC

One million points of terrorism

The health shock troops make their move in Cali

Vietnam ghosts: General Vang Pao’s Last War and from another source

Man cuts off own head with chainsaw after flat is earmarked to be bulldozed by developers

The Regulated Consumer: Protection or Extortion?

My wife the porn star

The militarized police decide to leave a message

Regardless of who won what event at these past Olympics, it’s pretty clear the Germans won (NSFW)

FBI and the bizarre nature of the anthrax case

Red Cross be selling your blood?

Okay, in this case, masturbation might be a crime

Michael Bay’s Dark Knight script — ROCK!

The women of tennis

Top 100 films of all time


A War Without End

The War on Drugs, now 37 years old, claims a myriad of victims:

The New Yorker’s “Drug War Bulletins” are sure to boil your blood: a man who died for want of a liver transplant because the hospital insisted he needed “drug treatment” for his medical marijuana use; a suburban San Diego housewife who will spend the next 20 years in jail because she was peripherally involved in a heroin deal while she was in college in 1975; and a pulmonologist who’d been favored by the drug warriors until his giant, well-funded, unreproachable study concluded that pot didn’t give you lung cancer, and who is now a pariah whose research conclusions have been boycotted by the press.”

Tracy Ingle and the drug warriors

Officers from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives barged into a South Florida home Wednesday only to discover they had the wrong address.”

“At this point, one of the heroes in blue (or, in this case, black) swaggered over to Mixon and snarled, ‘I’ll f*****g show you overkill!’ Having heroically shut up an unarmed civilian, the officer turned his attention back to Derek – who was being tased yet again.”  A soldier dies in Delaware.

Railroading the innocent

“A Queens bar owner claims the NYPD is trying to run him out of business because he helped prove his patrons were framed in a fake drug-dealing sting“.




From the Wikipedia:

The Tourist of Death also known as the accidental tourist (a joking reference to the novel and film The Accidental Tourist), Waldo (a reference to the Where’s Waldo? franchise), WTC Guy, or tourist of death, is an Internet phenomenon consisting of a photograph of a tourist that has appeared in many photoshopped pictures after the September 11, 2001 attacks.”

This Week’s Stephen Colbert’s Guitarmageddon Toss of the Gauntlet:

THE CLASSICS what the hell, here’s some Slash circa 1992:

Jimi Jam – I don’t know what this is, but it looked interesting.

Double Black Diamond: Steve Vai is dressed for a poetry reading, but he’s actually going to shred a triple-neck:

For acoustic guitar fun: an acoustic version of “Suicide is Painless”.  That is all:

If You Don’t Like This Video, I Don’t Like You:

Mr. Cholmondley-Warner and Grayson on the execution of conjugal rights (“Has the train arrived in Paddington yet?”):



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