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Epic Fail

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This weekend my daughter went to continue reading an ebook she has available to her from her public elementary school on the Epic Reading Platform.

When she went to advance to the next page she was presented with an error message saying that the book was only available during school hours, and she would need to subscribe for $9.99/month.

If you still remember physical textbooks, can you imagine being forced to pay a company a monthly fee to bring your textbook home on the weekend?

I’ve emailed the principal of the school to voice my opinion that it is inappropriate for our school system to susbcribe to an ebook vendor that is trying to extract money from students. I believe it is also an equity issue since some families are able to spend $9.99/month on a service like this, and others are not. The playing field is not level, not by accident, but by design.

I thought that this might fit in with The Markup’s investigation into the ed-tech industry, but I guess it doesn’t really fit because it’s not a privacy issue per se. It is pretty infuriating though…the whole promise of ebooks is that they theoretically broaden access, but here access is being intentionally limited in order to make a profit. This doesn’t fit the goals of public education.

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acdha
3 days ago
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Edtech is full of people who see children primarily as revenue streams
Washington, DC
mareino
3 days ago
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Washington, District of Columbia
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Housing policy lessons from the microchip shortage

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American automakers sold approximately 14.9 million cars in 2021, a 2.5% uptick from the pandemic-disrupted year of 2020 but still below the pre-pandemic rate of 16 million per year. The reason for the curtailed sales is not a lack of customer demand, but the stubborn shortfall of automotive microchips that emerged at the beginning of the pandemic when factory owners wrongly anticipated a prolonged slump in demand.

With demand for cars high but supply low, the price of new cars has been surging.

And the surge is noteworthy not just because of its magnitude, but also because pre-pandemic, this basically never happened. Car manufacturing is a competitive, technology-driven industry that featured rising productivity and flat prices. Then came the chip crunch, and prices soared.

But as a longtime housing guy, what’s even more interesting to me is that the price of used cars and trucks has also surged in the face of the new car supply crunch.

In the housing context, left-NIMBYs often deride the idea that adding supply of new upscale housing will impact the affordability of older units as “trickle-down economics.” Yet here is the auto industry giving us a live-fire experiment in what happens to the price of used durable goods when you curtail new production of the same kind of goods. And I think it’s really just overwhelmingly clear that if we were able to boost car production in response to the rising prices, this would in fact spill over into the used car market. Affluent people prefer new cars to used cars. But when the price of new cars goes up, some people drop out of the market for new cars and buy used ones instead. That bids up the price and makes even the cheapest cars hard to afford.

Many housing assertions are clearly false when you look at cars

You can learn interesting things about the housing market by looking at this car situation, primarily because there’s so much consensus about cars.

There’s a kind of roaring debate about to what extent inflation is driven by supply-chain issues versus a general surge in demand. I am mostly on Team Demand. But there’s really no debate that the increase in car prices is specifically about automakers’ reduced output in the face of a shortfall in the availability of chips.

And there’s lots of other stuff people don’t argue about. Nobody denies that the increased price of used cars is related to the reduced production of new ones. Nobody says that you can walk around any city and see tons of vacant cars and that must be the real problem — even though it is true that at any given time, there are tons of vacant cars. Nobody blames billionaire car-hoarders for the shortage of cars even though it is true that there really are rich car collectors who own far more vehicles than they actually drive. Nobody blames “speculators” even though it’s true that there are middlemen who make a living buying and selling used cars. And most of all, nobody blames the rapacious greed of the world’s car companies even though auto executives do enjoy the current high margins.

Precisely because automakers are greedy, they would increase profits by making and selling more cars if they could. Indeed, Tesla, which has managed to use superior software to circumvent chip supply issues, has been doing great.

Instead of dumb sloganeering, we are having a pretty reasonable policy debate. Some people look at the large social and economic costs of this shortfall and say we should spend money building more resilience into the chip supply chain. On the other side, The Economist says that would be a waste of money and we should let the market sort it out, even though they also say that’s going to take a while.

And I think the key is that we all have a living memory of what a functional car market looks like — the supply disruption is new enough that we can all see clearly that it’s the root cause of these problems. We were around in 2019 when car prices had been flat for a long time. We were around when the pandemic struck and output ceased in anticipation of a deep recession. And we were around when, months later, automakers realized demand was still robust but they’d already allowed the chip supply to head elsewhere. So we can see vividly that the reduced output of car factories is causing lots of problems — and we’re not talking ourselves into the idea that it’s secretly good that used car prices are soaring.

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mareino
4 days ago
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You don't even need to read the whole thing, just enough to realize how well the analogy actually holds up.
Washington, District of Columbia
freeAgent
3 days ago
This is a great analogy, though I have to wonder if any NIMBYs will be convinced by it. The argument that increased high-end supply would have no impact on prices further down the chain has always been lacking in logical foundations.
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A century ago, Prohibition was about expanding liberty. Then our definition of liberty changed.

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Here's why many defenders of Black, Native American and women's political rights saw Prohibition as increasing freedom.
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mareino
6 days ago
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Washington, District of Columbia
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Singer and actor Meat Loaf dies at 74, family says

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The 1970s and ’80s pop star also played an integral part in the cult movie classic “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
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mareino
6 days ago
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But when the day is done
And the sun goes down
And the moonlight's shining through
Then like a sinner before the gates of Heaven
I'll come crawling on back to you
Washington, District of Columbia
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Sometimes you have to wonder if transit/transit projects are being deliberately screwed up to make transit expansion almost impossible

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1.  DC streetcar.  I've often made the point that DC and Seattle started "streetcar planning" at the same time in 2003.  Seattle's streetcar line opened in 2007.  DC's in 2016.  

In fact, in 2016, Seattle opened its second streetcar line, on First Hill.  Work is underway to connect the two lines, and further extend the streetcar, which complements light rail and bus modes within the city.

DC's failures in streetcar planning contributed to Arlington's decision to drop its parallel streetcar effort in 2014 ("5 years later, battle scars over Columbia Pike streetcar are still healing," Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA).  If only Arlington was near Seattle.

It certainly helped opponents to the Purple Line light rail program in Suburban Maryland.

And the failures of DC in planning for and implementing the streetcar is often held up by opponents to streetcar and light rail projects elsewhere as an example of failure, incompetence, and by extension, the likelihood of failure of in their own communities ("A streetcar not desired," Politico, 2014).

In fact, I've since made the point that planning and transportation officials have a duty to not fail as part of their overall professional responsibility, because of how their failures can have unintended negative impacts elsewhere.

Since these failures, DC has decided to not extend the streetcar west to Georgetown ("D.C. drops plan to extend streetcar line to Georgetown," Washington Post), crippling its potential to be useful, although they are willing to extend it eastward.  

Planning for other lines has long since ended, making the line a one-off making the mode generally un-useful ("DC and streetcars #4: from the standpoint of stoking real estate development, the line is incredibly successful and it isn't even in service yet, and now that development is extending eastward past 15th Street NE," 2015).

Ironically, even as a failure, the streetcar has shaped as much as $1 billion in new development on the H Street NE corridor, and further extending development up Bladensburg Road and beyond 14th Street to Benning Road.

I guess not.

2.  Suburban Purple Line light rail project, Montgomery and Prince George's County, Maryland.  This project has been going on for a couple decades all told.  It was junked during the Republican Ehrlich Administration (2003-2006) in favor of a toll road.  Then it was revived under Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley (2007-2014).  Then new at the time Republican Governor Hogan threatened to eliminate it once again (2015), but at the expense of a similar project in Baltimore ("Five years later, many across Baltimore bitterly lament Gov. Hogan’s decision to kill the Red Line light rail," Baltimore Sun).

But the Republican Governor, eager to have the private sector fund it, created a "Public-Private Partnership" to partly finance, design, engineer, build, and operate it.  Disputes over cost overruns led the construction group to bail out.  

(I tried to get a job with one of the bidders.  But they lost, and the experience was so bad they decided to shut down the unit of the corporation that was to bid on similar projects across the country.)

Now Maryland has found a new construction "partner" but the line will be delivered more than 4 years later than initially planned ("Purple Line will open 4½ years late and cost $1.4 billion more to complete, state says," Washington Post).

The ongoing debacle of the Purple Line certainly doesn't help the arguments of proponents of transit.

Maybe that's what Governor Hogan planned all along? (After all, he prefers high occupancy toll road projects, expanding freeways, "County officials say Maryland governor made ‘empty’ threats to get toll lanes plan approved," Washington Post).

How's that partnership working out with the private sector?

... recently I saw an article recently making the point that in privatization and outsourcing we redefine transactions as partnerships.

3.  DC area Metrorail (Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority) and the failure to proactively deal with faulty wheels.  I haven't written about this even though it's been a problem for months because it's just so depressing.  

The Metrorail Safety Commission ordered WMATA to pull 60% of its train fleet on Sunday, October 17, 2021, leading to long delays Monday morning. yrone Turner/WAMU/DCist

The tragic thing is they knew about the problem, had frequent derailments, but kept letting it slide, until they were forced to take the trains out of service ("WMATA Experiences Continued Delays Following Train Derailment, Inspection," Georgetown Hoya, "Metro 7000-series safety problems 'could have resulted in a catastrophic event'," WAMU/NPR), "Washington Metro Pulls Most Train Cars From Service After Derailment," New York Times) so many that on most lines they operate fewer than 3 trains per hour, making transit completely unusable as a single train has capacity of about 1,200 to 1,800 passengers.

WTF?  WTF!

It makes the "service" completely unusable.  Forcing people to drive, to buy car even..

4.  WMATA is systematically failing.  Worse, the derailments are merely one and the latest problem in a long list of severe safety failures, evidence of ongoing systematic failure:

As they say, the fish rots from the head. 12+ years of systematic failure ought to have consequences.

Much of the top management should be canned.

=======

All of these incidents remind me of the discussion in the Asimov Foundation book series, in the discussion about the decline of the Empire, the inability of people to manage and operate things:

Mallow goes spying at a Siwellian power plant, noting that it is atomically powered (atomic power is the benchmark of technical civilisation in the Empire) but that the technicians – the tech-men – don’t actually know how to maintain it.

Note that despite funding problems which will lead to severe delays in building out the system, Sound Transit continues to expand the Seattle area light rail system, with the newest extension just having opened in October.  Each expansion results in significant increases in ridership.

And Seattle's new Climate Pledge Arena includes free transit use (except ferries) with tickets for hockey and women's basketball games, and other ticketed events, like concerts.

Streetcar in Tucson is seen as successful ("PLANNING PROFESSOR ARTHUR C. NELSON SHARES ANALYSIS AND LESSONS FROM DEVELOPMENT AROUND TUCSON’S SUN LINK MODERN STREETCAR," University of Arizona).  Same in Cincinnati--despite some construction issues, and Kansas City.

Oklahoma City 's streetcar opened in 2018 and seems to be supported ("Development, rather than ridership, a measure of success for Oklahoma City streetcar," Daily Oklahoman).

But the failures seem to garner a lot more attention.

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mareino
13 days ago
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Washington, District of Columbia
acdha
13 days ago
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Washington, DC
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A New York Jets defender intercepted Tom Brady, then asked him to autograph the ball

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Brandin Echols picked off Tom Brady, then asked him to sign the ball after the game.

Tom Brady memorabilia doesn’t come easily — or cheaply. As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 44-year-old quarterback nears the end of his legendary career, it seems like everyone is trying get a piece of Brady before he eventually retires.

A strange scene played out earlier this year when Bucs receiver Mike Evans caught Brady’s 600th career touchdown pass and then handed the ball to a fan in the stands. A Bucs official asked the fan for the ball minutes later, and compensated him with various gifts from the team. The incident sparked a debate over whether or not the fan should have given it back as estimates came in that the ball could have fetched half a million dollars at an auction.

In Week 17, New York Jets rookie defensive back Brandin Echols intercepted Brady just before halftime. After the game, Echols sought out Brady to have him autograph the ball despite the fact that Brady led the Bucs to a come-from-behind victory in the final seconds.

Echols made a great play to pick off Brady, and it directly led to points when the Jets added a field goal to their lead just before the half. The fact that he intercepted arguably the greatest QB to ever live made the moment extra special to Echols.

Watch the interception here:

On one hand, you have to respect Echols — a former sixth round draft pick — for walking away with a signed, game-used ball on what might be the biggest moment of his career. On the other hand, asking the opposing QB to give you an autograph after he just beat you is a little much.

The Bucs were trailing most of the game until Brady played the hero on the final drive once again. He led Tampa Bay on a nine-play, 93-yard drive capped by a 33-yard game-winning touchdown toss to Cyril Grayson. The Bucs won, 28-24.

Echols may never get another chance to intercept Brady, or ask for his autograph. He made the most of his opportunity in more ways than one.

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mareino
22 days ago
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This is so damn cool, both by Echols for having the guts to ask for the autograph, and by Brady for being classy and agreeing to it.
Washington, District of Columbia
jhamill
22 days ago
Indeed.
jhamill
22 days ago
Tom Brady has been playing in the NFL almost as long as Echols has been alive.
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