North America

All Transit Articles

Some of these ideas are much sillier than others. I’ll leave you to decide:

Transit Oases
The Bus Train Bike Lane: A Bus-Bike Lane for the Smartphone Era
Car-Sharing Vehicles Doubling as Sheltered Bus Stops
Game of Thrones’ Lessons for Cycling Advocates
The Three Card Monty 
Next Man Up: The Passenger-Driven Bus 
Bus-Bike Lanes: Can I Interest You in a Time-Share? 
Trolley-Trucks and Autonomous Cargo Handling 
Like Night and Day (E-Commerce Transit)
An Electric Car/Bike Lane Plan, for Cities like Toronto 
Toronto’s Railways to Nowhere (Semi-Autonomous Cars)  
The Witching Hour 
RoRoRo Your Car 
Superhighway in a Box 
Numerology and Public Transit 
The Private Sector
The Intersection of Yonge and Danforth
Devil’s Advocate: Elon Musk 
Travel by Hibernacula 
Night Moves 
Chutes and Ladders 

Coming Soon (Hopefully):
The Roombus
Facelift
Tortoise v. Hare, 2K19
The Wine Cellar
The Lucky Bus
Unferries
The Parkway
Double-Decker Buses for Short People
Gaga For Gondolas
Customs-Built Transit

 

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India

Modi’s in Luck Now: The importance of good luck, and Uttar Pradesh, in the political success of Narendra Modi

(Read PDF Version Here )

With a slowing economy, a rival Congress Party forming alliances with regional parties in states like Tamil Nadu, and a separate alliance being formed between two former Chief Ministers of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, many had expected Narendra Modi to risk losing his majority government, and perhaps even his position as prime minister, following the elections held in India this month. Instead, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) increased the size of its majority, winning 56 percent of seats—or 65 percent, when combined with smaller BJP-allied parties—in the lower house of India’s parliament. BJP’s rival the Congress Party, which had held the office of prime minister in 55 out of India’s 67 years prior to Modi’s being elected, won just 10 percent of seats. Congress’ alliance won 17 percent of seats, mainly thanks to voters in Tamil Nadu.

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Figure 1– Note: the All India Trinamool Congress, the leading political party in India’s most populous coastal state, West Bengal, is incorrectly included in the Mahagathbandhan (“Grand Alliance”) in the right-hand map above. That alliance, which was formed recently between the Bahajun Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP), is led by two former political rivals of one another — Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati – who had consecutively been Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh from 2002 until 2017

As in the previous election in 2014, the BJP and its alliance dominated the north and west parts of India, leaving Congress’ alliance, along with several parties unaffiliated with either Congress or the BJP, to split the smaller south and east[*]. The unaffiliated BSP-SP alliance in India’s north, meanwhile, which was formed in response to the BJP sweeping Uttar Pradesh in 2014 and winning state-level elections in Uttar Pradesh in 2017 (for the first time since 1996), won just three percent of seats[**].

[*]More so than in 2014, however, the BJP now made inroads into the south and east, notably in West Bengal, Odisha, Telangana, and Karnataka
[**]Despite receiving a sizeable chunk of India’s popular vote, because of how populous Uttar Pradesh is. This occurred to an even greater extent in the previous election: in 2014 the BSP received more than 20 million votes, the third most of any party in India, yet did not get even a single seat in parliament

Modi’s BJP was thus able to be re-elected with a majority government for the first time in its history. The only politicians who had ever previously been re-elected with a majority were India’s founding prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi. By defeating Indira’s grandson Rahul in the past two elections, Modi has now joined this illustrious list.

Modi has many skills that have contributed to this political success. He is notoriously hard-working and uncorrupt, for example. Yet Modi has also been in possession of an even more important attribute thus far during his political career, the most important a politician can have: luck.

 

A Quick Analysis of Modi’s Career

Modi’s political career, first as Chief Minister of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014 and then as Prime Minister of India since 2014, has been based on two pillars:

  1. Economic Ability
    • Gujarat was often the most dynamic economy in India while Modi was leading it
    • India, despite slowing along with much of the world economy, has maintained a decent economic performance since 2014, and recently overtook China’s growth rate
  2. Hindu Nationalism
            Arguably, some of the most extreme examples of this include:

These two aspects of Modi’s appeal have contributed to his political success in northern India in particular, where Hindi(-Urdu) is spoken relatively widely and where, especially in inland states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, poorer populations live who may be more susceptible to BJP-style nationalism or promises of economic growth (or at least, of reduced corruption). Modi himself represents the constituency of Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh. 20 percent of BJP seats are from that state.

Uttar

With more than 200 million people, Uttar Pradesh is by far the most populous state not just in India, but anywhere in the world. Its neighbours too are populous: Uttar Pradesh directly borders India’s third and fifth most populous states, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. It also directly borders India’s capital city-state, Delhi. Modi, in addition to being MP for the holy city Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, has had his political career intertwine with this state in other significant ways. Notably, by way of the 2002 Gujarat Riots’ direct connection to the Ayodhya Mosque/Temple Dispute (a long, complex story that is analogous to, though in many ways different from and even more tragic than, the Middle East’s dispute over Jerusalem’s holy sites), and the continuing involvement in that dispute by BJP leaders such as Modi’s designated Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath. The BJP’s rival, the Congress Party, also has roots in Uttar Pradesh. Its city of Allahabad (now renamed Prayagraj by Yogi Adityanath’s government) was the home of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty (unrelated to the Gandhi), a family that has supplied four generations of Congress’ leaders. The current scion of the family, Rahul Gandhi, is however an MP for a constituency in Kerala, in India’s far south. Rahul also contested, but lost, his family’s historic seat in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh (located just outside Lucknow, the state’s capital).

This has led to an obvious, arguably misleading debate in Western media, over whether Modi’s economic pros justify his political cons. This might or might not be a legitimate debate, but it also overlooks one of the key realities of Modi’s career: the fact that much, maybe most, of his economic success has been due to factors beyond his control. Modi has been extremely lucky in relation to factors such as global economic growth, oil and gas prices, and the utterly different economic characteristics of Gujarat (the state where Modi rose to fame) compared to India as a whole.

 

Gujarat, 2001 to 2014

Modi was Chief Minister of the state Gujarat from October 2001 until May 2014, when he became India’s prime minister. Two facts must be recognized to put Modi’s time in Gujarat into context: the exceptional status of Gujarat, and the exceptional nature of the period from 2001-2014.

The period from 2001 to 2014 was the 2000s commodity boom, the period that followed the early 2000s recession when, apart from a sharp dip during the 2008-2009 recession, energy and other commodity prices were high and global economic growth was significant, particularly in China and other developing markets but also in North America and (before the 2010s) Europe.  Brent crude oil, for example, rose from all-time lows of $9 in 1998 to $144 in 2008 and $128 in 2012. Modi came into office in Gujarat when oil prices were $20, exited office with oil at $110, then watched from his new office in New Delhi as oil prices fell to $46 in the subsequent seven months.

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The characteristics of Gujarat’s economy are similarly exceptional. Together with its next-door neighbor the city of Mumbai, the state of Gujarat is India’s leading commercial hub. This is largely a result of Gujarat’s uniquely long and naturally sheltered coastline, which has allowed it  to account for an estimated 69 percent of all cargo volume handled at India’s private ports, as well as being home to India’s busiest public port, a remarkable feat considering that Gujarat’s 60 million people are only 5 percent of India’s population.

Just as remarkable is the Gujarati diaspora, which leads in commercial activity throughout much of the Indian Ocean, particularly in eastern Africa. (The most famous Gujarati abroad was, of course, Mohandas Gandhi, who lived in South Africa for more than two decades). The diaspora thrives as far away as the US, where 20 percent or so of US-Indians are Gujaratis, and are one of America’s most successful groups.

The Gujarati diaspora has historically also been prominent in the nearby Gulf region of the Middle East. It remains active in the Gulf today, particularly in Oman and the coast of Pakistan. Gujarat itself, moreover, holds the most prominent position in India’s oil and gas industries, in terms of oil production, oil refining, oil pipelines, gas pipelines, LNG regasification, and petrochemicals.

Guj oil.png

As such, the commodity boom and global economic growth helped Gujarat remain the fastest-growing Indian economy in the 2000s, apart from the small Himalayan states Uttarakhand and Sikkim.


India, 2014 to 2019

India’s economy is the opposite of Gujarat’s. It is relatively insular rather than dependent on global economic activity, the major exception to this being the large amount of oil it imports, more than any country apart from the US or China. Global economic conditions since Modi became prime minister are unlike those which existed prior to 2015, however. Oil prices have fallen to a range of $30-$70, benefiting India. Global and developing markets have slowed, which has hurt India but not nearly as much as it has hurt most other economies, in particular commodity exporters like Brazil or Russia. Indeed, India has become the fastest-growing “BRIC” economy.

There is even a possibility that India’s slowing economy has helped Modi. It may be that the slowing was not severe enough to undercut Modi’s reputation as a great economic steward, yet  was significant enough for people to want a great economic steward – Modi – to remain in charge in order to deal with it. In other words, the lucky timing that helped Modi to build up his economic reputation in Gujarat, combined with the luck which has prevented India’s recent economic slowdown from being severe like many other countries’, may have helped lead to Modi’s huge victory.

This is not a unique situation. Politicians, no matter how praiseworthy or skilled, often do not control their own fortunes. Modi remains in luck now. More troublingly, perhaps, so does Yogi Adityanath.

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North America

How Amazon Should Adapt The Lord of the Rings

The Internet has come a long way since the fellowship of its earlier years, but some things do not change: Why have a blog and not use it to give unsolicited opinions about how to adapt The Lord of the Rings?

At 250 million dollars for Amazon to buy the rights, plus an 100 million dollar budget per season (the same as Game of Thrones) for five planned seasons, of books that are not at all easy to adapt, which already have a fan-beloved movie trilogy, with a dubious plan to use invented prequel material that expands on the appendicidal adventures and man-elf love interest of a young Aragorn, and a stunning example of how this sort of thing can go wrong, namely the recent Hobbit movie trilogy, this could end up being the biggest bomb, or at least the lowest quality per dollar spent, in the history of television.

Luckily, there could be a way to pull it off. Here are the three simple suggestions to follow:

  1. Do not make up filler material, whether or not it is derived from the books’ Appendix. The stories in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings can provide at least four, if not five, seasons of content  
  2. Start with the Hobbit (3-4 hours long). Unlike the Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit is an incredibly easy and fun story to adapt to the screen, and has never had an adaptation that was good or that was even remotely similar to the book
  3. Animate the Hobbit using Tolkien’s own artwork (see below) for inspiration. Then, when you come to The Lord of the Rings, partially and gradually transition to a more realist, though still psychedelic or grandiose, style of animation. Viewers may be more indulgent of the lore-filled plot and dialogue this way. And it will help to distinguish this adaptation from the live-action movie trilogies 

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Screen Shot 2019-06-01 at 7.56.16 PM

To get a sense of how difficult, but also how great (at least, for fans of Tolkien) a detailed adaptation of the Lord of the Rings could be, I strongly suggest listening to the audio-drama version made by the incredibly talented Phil Dragash. He single-handedly narrated the entire books, voiced all of the characters by mimicking the actors from the movies, and skillfully added in the music from the movies throughout,  as well as other sound effects. It’s 48 hours long.

[There has, by the way, been a short Russian film made of one of Tolkien’s children books, Mr. Bliss, animated using Tolkien’s own illustrations. Here’s the trailer for it:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=itzcNwJ-y3M]

 

 

 

 

 

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North America

All Sports Articles

2019 Playoffs: 
The Holy Month of Sports Begins

Basketball: 
Should Openers be used in the NBA Playoffs? 
Professional Time Wasters
Offense-Defense for 48 Minutes
Cornerstone Players

Hockey: 
The Spiral of Death
Goalies and Garbage Time 
Robots and NHL Expansion 
Back to the Lake
The Londons’ Knights

Other:
Everyone for Tennis? 
Keynesian Sports Fans 
North Korea and the Olympics Curse
The Eternal Question
Gunslinger
Wall Ball 

 

 

 

 

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North America

Transit Oases

One of the most fitting aspects of the phrase “transit deserts” – areas drastically underserved by public transit – is the mirage-like effect you get when, straining your eyes toward the suburban horizon, you trick yourself into thinking that the headlights of an approaching car is actually the bus you desperately want to arrive.

Today, however, as transit apps get more accurate, the era of transit mirages may be nearing an end. You can now simply look at your phone, or in some cases at a television screen at your bus stop, to see when the next bus will arrive.

In many cases, transit apps might also put an end to another desert-like quality of public transit: waiting in uncomfortably cold or hot temperatures. Equipped with accurate information about when the next bus is likely to approach, passengers might have the option of waiting for their bus indoors a short walk away from their bus stop.

This might have significant implications for the public or private sector. The public sector could, perhaps, create transit oases: indoor waiting areas that passengers could enter by using their transit passes to pre-pay their bus fare, or outdoor parkette spaces where people could wait with shade, nice surroundings, picnic tables, etc.* Or the private sector could provide a similar service, maybe combining transit waiting areas with laundromats, convenience stores, cafes, etc.

*[Alternatively, they could have car-sharing cars parked near bus stops, which would double as sheltered bus-waiting areas. That way the cars could also be available for use as “first-mile/last-mile” vehicles, in areas where walking to and from bus stops can be difficult]

Because some transit apps have even begun providing information about how crowded each approaching bus is, having a more comfortable waiting area of this sort could also give passengers the option of waiting a bit longer than they need to, in order to wait for a less crowded bus to arrive. This could be very useful: public buses tend to bunch fairly close together, and the front bus in each grouping tends to be much more crowded than the buses further behind it. With transit apps, people could simply wait to get on a less crowded bus, without taking the risk that the bus further behind will be just as crowded or will not arrive any time soon.

Similarly, transit apps can give passengers real-time information about express buses, which could help allow passengers to let a normal bus go by in order to wait for an express bus approaching after it.

Another common challenge in transit deserts, where waiting times are often long and uncertain, and where bus journeys are often long as well, and often require multiple transfers, and often involve seniors or babies, is the lack of bathrooms at bus stops, and the lack of accessible public bathrooms in general. Transit oases could be a godsend, then, for those who cannot hold their water like a camel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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North America

Should “Openers” Be Used in the NBA Playoffs?  

Last year the bold (and desperate) Tampa Bay Rays shook up the MLB by playing an “opener”: a relief-style pitcher who plays the first inning of the game.

A somewhat similar, even bolder experiment should perhaps be tried in the NBA playoffs.

Instead of teams saving their best players’ heavy-minute performances for games late in a series – Lebron James, for example, played all 48 minutes in Game 7 of the semi-finals last year; it was the 339th time since 1984 that a player had played an entire game — why not instead have them play big minutes early in the series?

It is true, teams employing this strategy would risk their star players running out of gas late in the series (not unlike how the Tampa Bay Rays risk blowing leads late in games because they have already used up one of their best relievers in the first inning).  Yet they would also increase the odds of getting to play in a long series in the first place. Even better, they would increase the odds of their team winning a series quickly, which would actually allow their stars to play far fewer minutes overall than they otherwise would.

An extreme illustration of this: 45 minutes per game in a 4-game sweep = 180 minutes total; 40 minutes per game in 7 games: 280 minutes total (plus two or three more airplanes). As is often the case in life, if you work hard early on you might save yourself work overall.

It’s a simple set of questions: Is it better to concentrate, rather than spread out, your best players’ minutes on the court during a series? The obvious risk to concentrating minutes is that tired players could become less effective or more prone to injury. Nevertheless if it is better to concentrate them, why not do so as early as possible, rather than wait until late in the series to do so?

 

 

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Professional Time Wasters

Usually, the goal of a basketball game is to outscore your opponent. There are certain cases, however, where a second goal is also at play: buying time for your best players to get a much-needed rest on the bench during a playoff game.

Star players tend to play many more minutes per game during the playoffs than they do in the regular season. The games are more important, there are no games played on back-to-back nights, and there are fewer flights between games. In this year’s playoffs, the leaders in minutes per game, Paul George, Damian Lillard, and Nikola Jokic, have been playing 40 minutes per game. (Lillard and Jokic played 58 and 56 minutes in a quadruple overtime game). Lebron James’ career playoff minutes per game is 42. In Lebron’s 21 career playoff elimination games, he averages 45 minutes per game.

It would be ideal if, during those few minutes of game-time when these superstars are resting, their backup players would enter the game and consistently outscore their opponents. But that is not the only way a bench lineup might be effective. They could, perhaps, also be effective by simply slowing down the pace of the game, shooting late in the shot clock, grabbing offensive rebounds to reset the shot clock, or drawing fouls that stop the clock altogether.

Consider two hypothetical bench lineups. One is an above-average bench lineup which usually outscores its opponent, but occasionally gets outscored by its opponents by a lot. The other is a merely average bench lineup which outscores its opponent only fifty percent of the time, but, because it excels at slowing down the game, almost never gets outscored by its opponent by a lot.

On teams which have dominant starting lineups and superstars, the merely average lineup might actually be preferable to the above-average lineup, as it would almost never cough up a big lead created by its dominant starters. There is, moreover, the issue of $$: above-average players are in high demand, so they tend to cost a lot of money. Merely average players who excel only at slowing down the game are not in demand, and so might be purchased on the cheap.

Of course, this is not to say that teams should want their bench lineups to be merely average. But it does mean some teams might benefit from targeting certain skills and strategies for their benches: scoring late in the shot clock, offensive rebounding, drawing fouls, defending in such a way as to make opponents shoot later in the shot clock, and fouling well (for example, by fouling Ben Simmons in transition after your team’s attempt at offensive rebounding has failed, trying to take a charge but fouling instead).

This idea raises some interesting thought-experiment questions. For example:

-how much could you slow the pace of the game without sacrificing too much effectiveness? (The average possession length in the NBA this season ranged from OKC’s 12.9 seconds per possession to Cleveland’s 15.5 seconds per possession. In the playoffs, it has ranged from OKC’s 12.7 seconds to Denver’s 15.5).

-How high could you theoretically get your offensive rebounding percentage? (Denver had the highest offensive rebounding percentage this season, 30.8%. The highest in the playoffs has been Philadelphia, 31.2%).

-How much could you increase your offensive rebounding percentage without giving up too many transition opportunities? (The Clippers and Nuggets tried to grab offensive rebounds on an estimated 70% of their shots in these playoffs; the Raptors only on 46% of shots).

-When and how often is it worthwhile to foul in transition to stop the clock? How often would fighting for offensive rebounds lead to a stopped-clock situation as a result of fouling, being fouled, a jump ball, or an out-of-bounds? (Out-of-bounds stoppages on contested rebounds might be ideal, as they are most likely to lead the refs to waste a lot of time looking at the replay to see which team touched the ball last in a crowd under the net).

Obviously, many of the skills that would allow a lineup to excel at slowing the pace of play would overlap with those that make basketball lineups good in general. But the overlap is far from a perfect one. By focusing not just on creating the best possible bench lineup, but also on creating the bench lineup most capable of wasting time, you might be able to free up roster spending in order to land the big fish superstars you need. All your bench has to do then is waste a handful or two of minutes, to let those superstars catch their breath.

 

 

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