Crapping in your drawers at the *merest mention* of no football

Ranking schools tends to be both hideously subjective and biased, and therefore, bull crap, at just about any level you choose to do it. But a writer with the WashPo decided to start looking at some of the top-ranking programs in their index of high school at what they might all find in common, and on a whim, he asked if they had an 11-person football team. 67 of the top 100 didn’t.

Before I start I should say that I agree he doesn’t show a trend; I agree he hasn’t eliminated lots of other possible explanations. I would also point out that journalists don’t. That’s why they are journalists and not social scientists. The howls from the comments are, however, over the top, as the Big Brainz of the internet hand out lectures on research design to this guy/crap in their panties at the *MERE MENTION* that football isn’t the greatest thing that was ever great in the greatest greatest great thing for students to do list.

Um yeah. No intellectual problems there. One of the first rules of research might be to examine yourself when you have that reaction (hello, transit) to the suggestion that something isn’t as wonderful as you think it is. “OMG YOU CAN TOTES HAVE A GREAT ATHLETIC PROGRAM AND ACADEMICS” they howl. Of course, it’s possible. But it’s also possible that, for schools of limited size and resources, they really can’t invest in football and are better off with sport programs that require fewer resources than football. It may be the exalted position of football in American society leads school management to begin to emphasize those programs disproportionately; the parents and students become overly focussed on the sport instead of on health and play when they invest in football, whereas nobody really cares of your water polo team sucks as long as the kids get exercise and have fun and everybody is merely pleasantly surprised if your girls volleyball team has a fabulous season. It may be the male-worshipping culture of football isn’t all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips for creating more supportive (since this high school, read “less sociopathic”) peer relationships in school where female physical activity and male physical activity are treated like…activities….instead of male physical activity being treated as The Most Important Thing Ever.

It strikes me as perfectly reasonable to ask what a small school might gain by eliminating an activity where they will always be at a disadvantage in favor of pursuing things that might matter to them more.

Eric Jaffe shows the yearly financials on transit, and it’s ugly

So people like Gen Giuliano and I have been saying this for years, but Jaffe is a man, and ostensibly a transit ally (unlike people like me, who wish to destroy it all by noting it costs money and suggesting we should plan for that problem), and since men are the only people who could ever ever understand transit, maybe the transit fanboys will listen this time out.

In either case, Jaffe from Atlantic Cities combs through this report and boils it down for his readers. I’m sort of excited about this entry into the discussion because 1) the DOT seems actually to have taken President Obama’s evidence-based decision-making to heart with things like this report, which is very good and 2) Jaffe does a terrific job of hitting the high points, so I can, in turn, be a fangirl in his general direction.

Except…the “blame labor” question is a big one because I thought the reason we were running around pouring money into trains was to take advantage of economies of scale and save on labor costs. The commenters are circling around the issue, which is higher management salaries do not translate to lower operating costs on the ground. So all those contract managers we have floating around transit agencies are probably expensive relative to what they are producing in terms of revenue.

It’s a lot more than a salary story. First, energy costs are problem for transit agencies as well as motorists (as energy costs are an issue for every industry) so the prices for fuel creeping upwards hits transit agencies right along with everybody else, even if they are using “alternative” fuels, which also probably have a petroleum base. Energy prices tend to move together.

During the time period Jaffe is talking about (00 to 10), there has been a lot of capital investment. Capital budgeting is done separately, but that’s a bad idea. Capital expenditures become debt service, and expanding the system means an increase in both operating costs and revenues in different proportions. In private management decisions, it would be clear: with operating deficits of this magnitude, you shut down. Immediately. You’re losing money every time you send a bus out of the barn. On the rail side, you don’t invest billions of dollars to lose 40 cents on every dollar you spend to operate. Public management requires a more subjective nexus. Is a 50 percent subsidy adequate? Unacceptably high? We have to think about transit a lot like we think about public schools. It’s the same debate, really.

I haven’t gone through and looked at anything rigorously yet, but it’s entirely possible that new expansions are pulling down cost recovery ratios even more because the investment decisions are poor upfront–that is, without the expansion, the existing system gets about 40 percent, but the new service gets 25 percent. And that might be common enough to pull down those numbers as well. The response is always “Those new lines take awhile to build ridership” but then…Metrolink.

There are a couple of key graphics in Jaffe’s discussion that should worry us. The one that really really worries me is this puppy:

Dot chart 3

Wuuuuuuuuuuuut? Yeah, nothing really surprises me here, except the bus and light rail entries. WUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUT? And people wonder why I am always in such a bad mood. One of the reasons we are supposedly pouring all this money in light rail is that, while it’s more costly upfront to build, it has lower operating costs. This graphic does not suggest that, at all. Now, there are other arguments for light rail (it’s jolly! It’s sweet and wonderful and provides a better ride! Woohoo!) But damn it. The fact that there are no apparent scale economies here suggest that all that public investment in trolleys could be kicking some agencies straight in the financial groin. You spend more to get the same return, and to the degree that there are amenity benefits to the investment, those go to land owners who may or (in California’s case) may not be paying in via local land taxes.

(PS I’m sorry, Atlantic Cities, for lifting your graphic but if you label your figures with numbers I could just refer it rather than lifting it.)

Finally, inevitably, somebody in the comments started in about subsidies to drivers, to which I responded:

I have never understood the transit advocates’ belief that, somehow, operating subsidies to private vehicles are germane to how much operating subsidy transit requires. Is it a fairness or public interest argument? I agree that motorists should pay their full marginal costs, but they already pay via gas taxes, they provide a good deal of their own labor and capital costs privately (owning the car (horrendously expensive), operating it, fueling it, insuring it, etc etc). Buses, bikes, streetcars, and trucks use roads, too, so acting like those are all on car owners is also a bit off. But it’s not like places that charge very high petrol taxes, which for all practical purposes serve as a green tax*, don’t also have to grapple with how much operating subsidy to provide. At some point, there is a basic public management problem here: How much of the operating deficit is a “subsidy” that goes to benefitting patrons, and how much of it is just poor public management, where we really ought to start saying “no” to various add-ons (like new buildings with marble floors, etc, ala the LA Metro building) and expansions that simply put agencies on the hook for operating service they can’t afford to operate.

*I know it’s probably third-best, but see the work of Ken Small and Ian Parry.

I’m officially tired of the “Things you shouldn’t say to Whomever” lists online

I really do understand the desire to forestall the rudeness of racist questions–I really do–in the original entries in “Things you shouldn’t say” genre. And in some ways, the effect of these have been good by making it clear: people educated about race don’t ask these things.

But now I think we’ve started undermining the efficacy of the original message with silly things like “Things you shouldn’t say to people without children” and the like. I have no children. It was not by choice. I have dealt with my fair share of shitty comments from people over the years. But I delight in other people and their families despite my grumpy anti-social demeanor, and nobody promised me a rose garden. Parents say clueless things. Non parents say clueless things other times. If you are not really part of an oppressed group, it’s your job to engage in conversation to help people get a clue if they don’t have one, and then move on and forgive once you have. It is also your job to obtain clues when you should. For those facing oppression, the cluelessness of dominant majorities is different and more damaging than the simple fact that people don’t understand special, special me and the fact I haven’t had children. Oppressed groups have told us again and again, left us many clues, about the nature of their oppression and their differences. Not getting a clue there is all-too-socially-accepted.