Some countries that haven’t fallen into ‘I Love Lucy’ disarray despite having a skirt in charge

Every once in awhile, a person in my orbit says things about how “catty” older women can be. Or how annoying women’s voices are because they are “squeaky.” Or how people “get things for ‘being a woman.'”

Because, you know, men in power are always so fair-minded and reasonable, always, and men never have irritating voices or anything. And men? Men just earn everything they get. If men get anything, it’s because they fricking earned it. Especially if that man is white because he’s had to struggle against the monumental odds of those far-reaching affirmative action regimes. Why, men never don’t get a job just because they weren’t the best candidate that day. That’s just crazy talk! Unless, well, another man got the job. But if a women or a person of color gets the job or the promotion instead, we all know what happened, don’t we? Because the idea–the very idea–that a woman might be more meritorious than a man–I ask you.

Who puts these things in my head?

The appointment of Christine Lagarde to the head the IMF has me reflecting. With her appointment, there is the offchance hopes that despite “being catty” (as we all know), she won’t disgrace the organization by spending her time acting like a knuckle-dragging horndog or assaulting hotel staff being-a-fair-minded,powerful-voiced-masculine-dude-he-man-we-can-all-respect like her predecessor Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

I’ve been thinking about the number of female heads of state; these are only a selection:

Mary McAleese, President of Ireland since 1997, through the boom and bust.

Tarja Halonen, President of Finland

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia

Pratibha Patil, President of India, aka the world’s largest democracy

President Cristina E. Fernández de Kirchner, President of Argentina

Quentin Bryce (I love her name; why can’t my name be that cool?), Governor-General of Australia

Sheikh Hasina Wajed, Prime Minister of Bangladesh

Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia

Laura Chinchilla Miranda, President of Costa Rica

Roza Otunbayer, President of Kyrgystan.

Edited to add: Quibblers abound! I got the following by email from sharp-eyed reader Kevin:

As it turns out Julia Gillard is not a “head of state” but rather a “head of government.”

Queen Elizabeth II is Australia’s head of state. Technically, the Governor-General is not the head of state either, but rather the Queen’s representative. Though, he or she acts on behalf of the Queen in the her absence. So I’ll let that one slide. Nevertheless for your information, it is QEII who signs Aussie laws.

Ok,yes, but I rejected monarchs due to the heredity nature of the post. But I was fast and loose with the word “state” rather than “government.” Why this is important is not readily apparent to me, but that’s probably just me.

The Economist on privatizing Amtrak

The Economist says the same things I did a bit ago (only The Economist does so more concisely and clearly) about Senator Mica’s proposal that they privatize the Northeast corridor. There are some problems with the Economist’s argument, though:

Critics of Mr Mica note that Amtrak’s profitable north-east corridor operations subsidise less popular, less useful routes elsewhere in the country. Thus, selling off the north-east corridor could provoke a “domino effect,” leaving other, less profitable routes at risk, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) warned earlier this month. But that argument, which Mr Rahall apparently sees as a defence of Amtrak, is actually a bit of an indictment of the company. Economics, not nostalgia or politics, should determine where Amtrak operates. Right now, it’s often the opposite. Is it really necessary that Amtrak service Dodge City, Kansas (pop. 27,340)?

Ok, yes, it’s easy pickings to make fun of stops along the lines of the Dodge City types. Sure, no, they don’t really merit a stop, yeah, whatevs. But you can only carry the logic so far.

Network economics tends not to be like simple micro; there are useful hierarchies within networks, and it’s not always apparent where the efficient spatialcutoff for distributed, low-volume customers are, whether that means providing cable tv to low-density suburbs or Amtrack to Boston when the DC-NYC corridor probably pays the freight while NYC to Boston may not (it’s a matter of convention to lump the East Coast together, but it may not be the case that the whole of the corridor runs a profit, or enough of a profit that you’d want to run the whole corridor.) There comes a point where you can and do make money cross-subsidizing from your trunks to your distributors.

We’ve got history to work from: Amtrak didn’t start out as a gummint project. When the US deregulated intercity rail, the first thing all the rail companies did, besides jump up and down, was ditch their intercity passenger service because they couldn’t make any money on it. That’s why Amtrak doesn’t own its own tracks, and one of the reasons why, as a service, it’s running at a major disadvantage. Maybe everything has changed in the interim, but…

Edited to add:

Please see comments for the Transportationist, David Levinson, giving a history of Amtrak. I didn’t mean to say that Amtrak arose from the ashes of deregulation (but I wrote it that way…sloppy writing)…I meant to say that nobody has wanted the job of running anything remotely related to intercity passenger rail for about 50 years (though there are many HSR hopefuls), even though freight rail has stayed on as a profitable enterprise (except when I invest in it rrrrrr–not that I am bitter). Amtrack become an gummint problem after intercity passenger service was a lousy private sector problem. So why it would change at this point I have trouble understanding.

Scown et al. in ES&T on the water footprint of US transportation fuels

Environmental Science and Technology has free access to their water issue. It says that free access expired 6/24/11, but I could still access the articles this weekend, so maybe they will forget to take the access away for a little bit.

Those of you with an interested in water should go check it out.

One manuscript that caught my eye comes from Corinne Scown in CE at USB:

Corinne D. Scown, Arpad Horvath, Thomas E. McKone. Water Footprint of U.S. Transportation Fuels.
Environmental Science & Technology 2011 45 (7), 2541-2553

From their abstract:

In the modern global economy, water and energy are fundamentally connected. Water already plays a major role in electricity generation and, with biofuels and electricity poised to gain a significant share of the transportation fuel market, water will become significantly more important for transportation energy as well. This research provides insight into the potential changes in water use resulting from increased biofuel or electricity production for transportation energy, as well as the greenhouse gas and freshwater implications. It is shown that when characterizing the water impact of transportation energy, incorporating indirect water use and defensible allocation techniques have a major impact on the final results, with anywhere between an 82% increase and a 250% decrease in the water footprint if evaporative losses from hydroelectric power are excluded. The greenhouse gas impact results indicate that placing cellulosic biorefineries in areas where water must be supplied using alternative means, such as desalination, wastewater recycling, or importation can increase the fuel’s total greenhouse gas footprint by up to 47%. The results also show that the production of ethanol and petroleum fuels burden already overpumped aquifers, whereas electricity production is far less dependent on groundwater.

The last sentence is the takeaway. Electricity, again.

What I learned from Professor Per-Olof Gutman about two-loop controls on HOT lanes

On Monday, Metrans hosted Professor Per-Olof Gutman, who discussed some of his work in control engineering for the HOT lane connecting Ben Gurion airport and Haifa (Highway 2).

The HOT lane, like most, is operating under two political mandates. First, those who pay to enter the HOT lane are guaranteed to be allowed to travel 70 kph for the stretch of the HOT lane, and there is also a limit that tolls can go no higher than 30 shekels, which is about $10. Given those constraints, it’s not likely that the franchisee can get to a profit-maximizing strategy–whether there’s a profit at all is the question.

The original automatic control algorithm for setting tolls didn’t function properly: it overestimated the costs and contained a measurable lag: so cars and congestion would be clearing on the tollway and on the free lanes and the automatic control algorithm, responding to previous conditions, would raise the price as congestion was going down. Not what you want with a dynamic pricing model where you want to give people the right price signal when they are confronted with the decision to take the HOT lane or the free lanes.

Professor’s Gutman’s improvement suggested a two-loop control: an interior loop that monitors entry and an exterior loop that monitors changes in flow that cascades back to the interior loop as speeds increase or decline. That enables the company to maintain the floor speed of 70 kph.

The kicker on this–the rickety part of policy–is going to be the 30 shekels, not Professor Gutman’s controls. Because there will be a time, if demand grows, when it’s going to become impossible for the company to attain that speed floor with a $10 toll–if it isn’t there now. One of those performance constraints–the speed floor or the price–have to allowed to vary more once the HOT lane faces higher demand.

I can’t find Professor Gutman’s manuscript online, so he’s probably working on it now. I’ll post a link when we see it. One of my wonderful colleagues, Barak Fishbain, said that there are Youtube videos of some of Professor Gutman’s system control work on robotic motorcycles, but I can’t find those. I’ll post them if I find them.

Aha! edited, thanks to Barak, links to the YouTube of the Unmanned Motorcycle project!

Greek fire sale on infrastructure–a new experiment in privatization

Brilliant MPP student Teddy Minch sent me this link for what boils down to, in Teddy’s words, a Greek fire sale. On the auction block:

For the taking: four wide-body Airbus jets, a state lottery, a state horse-racing concession and sports book, stakes in a casino, several ports, a national post office, two water companies, a nickel miner and smelter, a munitions maker, electricity and gas monopolies, a telecommunications operator, shares in a half dozen banks, hundreds of miles of roads, a defunct airport, old Olympic venues and thousands of acres of land, including magnificent stretches of Greece’s famed coast.

Now it will be enlightening to see what happens here. I’m assuming the coastal areas are going to get bought up really fast–there are mega-bazillionaires who will want the coastal property for private playgrounds, and since the universe appears to have lost any sense that such natural blessings ought to be public goods, they’ll get them here.

Does anybody want to operate Greek telecommunications? Their electric company? Banks? Not me.

Anybody want to pool our money to buy some coastal property? Oh, and lets buy the airport near it and the roads serving it so we can completely control the space, and then we could swank around like John Forsythe as Blake Carrington, Capitalist.

The Financial Times explains the IEA’s decision to release strategic reserves

The Financial Times has an excellent discussion of the IEA, its history, and its recent move to release supply from western reserves. Particularly useful for students is the timeline of IEA actions.

It’s got a nice, clear discussion of the global implications of the move: the desire to avoid inflation being among the more prominent.

In today’s FT, Gavin Davies follows up, where he refers to this very nice paper from Christian Baumeister and Lutz Killian:

Baumeister, C and L Kilian (2011), “Real-Time Forecasts of the Real Price of Oil”, CEPR DP 8414.