30 January 2010

Magic bullet trains

I agree with Kunstler on the latest tiny wad of borrowed cash being tossed at high-speed trains.

Readers know that I regard fixing the US passenger rail system as hugely important.. But this strikes me as a somewhat deceptive venture. First, bear in mind that $8 billion is way way less than Obama shoveled into rescuing the car companies (not to mention the banks, the GSE's, et cetera). It's not very much money for truly shaping up a national network. I maintain that real high-speed rail is far less important than fixing the regular-speed system that is still sitting out there rusting in the rain, waiting to be restored. In fact, I regard high-speed rail proposals as a species of techno-grandiosity, given how bankrupt we are. I maintain that the public would be delighted to ride trains that went 70-mph and ran on schedule. Anyway, my sense of the proposal at-hand is that it mostly represents research-and-development, and that little actual rail service may come out of it. That said, I hope it works out better than I suspect it will.

These are trains that will cost more than planes to ride so I'll probably never get a chance to ride one. Politically, they're winners. Obama wants to be associated with fast cutting-edge technology (although these trains are old technologies at this point) and doesn't want to propose something as boring as fixing the decrepit U.S. mass-transit system that exists. Of course, an even more substantive change would be to create denser and more livable housing clusters in big cities and then create excellent bus systems that ran constantly, were cheap, and ran on time with lanes devoted solely to buses. That said, at least it's money that isn't being used to buy a couple new jet fighters that will never be used.

28 January 2010

Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn, a great man of truth and conviction, has passed away. We all mourn our loss.

27 January 2010

Oregonians vote for higher taxes

Is this a sign of a new trend? I'm amused at how many news stories try their best to ignore the class implications. The line I keep seeing is that the vote signifies that the public is in fact willing to vote in higher taxes for themselves. My guess is that the number of wealthy people who voted for this are as rare as spotted owls with gum disease. Facing massive unemployment, it looks like Oregonians came to a very rational decision. I'm sure the talking heads are now busy on every TV station trying to "educate" the public that if the rich people get in a huff and all move away, the trees will stop growing and the sheep will cease to procreate.

16 January 2010

Phosphorus and biofuels

Eamon Keane has a good article on phosporus depletion and the connection with biofuels. Since phosphorus is essential to the life of every cell in our body, this is important stuff.

15 January 2010

Stewart interviewed Yoo

John Yoo was recently interviewed by Jon Stewart, who asks some very good questions. Yoo's statement that we've never defined torture is interesting in light of the fact that the country has signed a legally-binding treaty and has given war criminals the death sentence for torture.

14 January 2010

Dukin' it Out for 2010 Idiot of the Year Award

Evidently, responding rapidly to urgent crises in which lives are at stake is nothing more than pandering to the black community.

(Jan. 13) – In the wake of Haiti's catastrophic earthquake, which claimed thousands of lives, including several Americans, radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh took aim at President Barack Obama for pledging aid so swiftly. On his radio show on Jan. 13, Limbaugh vented to listeners that Obama – who was on winter holiday in Hawaii when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried but failed to bring down a U.S. airliner – took three days to address the nation on that subject. In contrast, and much to Limbaugh's ire, the president's remarks on the devastation in Haiti came just one day following the tragedy there. In the same program, Limbaugh suggested that Obama was happy for the quake in Haiti, as his administration will "use this to burnish their, shall we say, credibility with the black community, in the ... the both light-skinned and dark-skinned black community in this country. It's made to order for them."

But Robertson, ever vigilent lest he lose the coveted foot-in-mouth award, chimed in:

"They were under the heel of the French ... and they got together and swore a pact with the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you'll get us free from the French.' "

Evidently, a desire to throw off western oppression is inherently Satanic. (I guess this explains why over a million Vietnamese deserved to die several decades back in order to atone for their Satanic audacity of throwing off the French occupiers.)

12 January 2010

Making deals with the devil

Google says it may have to pull out of China because of the countries Orwellian attempts to control the Chinese internet. This is yet again another reminder of the repressive nature of the Chinese government. If Google has to pull out, U.S. law-makers should take some action to ensure that the development ends of representing a net-loss for Chinese businesses.

11 January 2010

Got those Appalachian blues

The following post from Daily Kos asks a poignant rhetorical question with a reply that is all too familiar:

[Excerpt] Suppose someone wanted to build a waste dump in New England that would blanket an area twice the size of Rhode Island, ruining it for the next 10,000 years. Would you approve? How about allowing a factory that would destroy the Mississippi River from above St. Louis all the way to New Orleans. Would you sign off on that permit? Well, maybe we could take up the monument next to the the USS Arizona and sell off the wreck for scrap. Would that get your okay? The answer to any of these proposals shouldn't just be no, it should be outrage. But we do allow it, have been allowing it for years, and continue to allow it despite promises to the contrary -- so long as it's in the Appalachians. In the Appalachians it's fine to bury thousands of miles of streams and rivers under waste and pollute the remainder of the waterways for both people and wildlife. In the Appalachians it's okay to erase the richest hardwood forest ecology anywhere on the planet for all time, to lay waste to communities, to tear down mountains that have stood longer than there has been life on land.

In the Appalachians, it's okay to take the most sacred site in the history of American labor, the battlefield where union miners fought not just against mercenaries sent in to eradicate them and their families but against bombers sent by their own government, and to delist that site from the Park Service register of national historical sites. Why would anyone allow the Park Service to delist a battlefield where over 100 men died and nearly 1000 of those who lived were tried for "treason against a state?" We do it for the same reason we tear down the mountains, for the same reason we eradicate the forest, for the same reason we destroy the communities, for the same reason we fill in the streams. We do it for the money.

2 January 2010

Amonia in beef?

I don't know which factoid is more upsetting--that people are injecting beef with amonia (and putting it in school lunches nationwide) or that E. coli is still being found in this beef. At least we'll have millions of subjects to test years from now in one vast longitudinal study. Personally, I'll order the vegeburger.