(This is the second in a series. Click for part one, Moron Alphabet A-G)
H is for High Speed Rail
A while back, I was staying in New York and had to travel for a meeting in Washington. The train is my favourite mode of transport, so I decided to travel that way, rather than fly or rent a car. The ticket wasn’t cheap, but the carriage was very comfortable, and almost empty. We passed through some nice scenery, and I got a chance to read, but I was surprised how slowly we travelled. A journey of about 200 miles took four hours each way.
Trains have been with us for about 200 years, and revolutionised transport – first in Britain, then around the world. America’s railroad system, in its day, changed the face of America forever, and was the world’s most advanced; but as oil and car companies became more powerful, they lobbied for governments to invest in freeways rather than rail, and rail investment, particularly in the US but also in the UK, was sidelined. While Japan, mainland Europe and eventually even the UK and China invested in faster, more efficient rail technology, US transport has become slower and more expensive in recent decades. Sitting in traffic jams has become a way of life – and of course innovation has come to the aid of the motorist; in the form of more comfortable seats, better music systems, and drive-thru restaurants. But no actual solution to reducing journey times.
In France meanwhile, trains have run at up to 357mph (in test conditions) and can complete scheduled journeys at average speeds of up to 173mph. Modern electric trains use far less energy per passenger/mile than cars. So switching people and goods from road to rail, especially as oil prices rise, should be a no-brainer, right?
Sadly the oil industry doesn’t see it that way, for obvious reasons. And since Congress is so generously supported by oil “donations”, Congressmen don’t see it that way either. So American cities grind to a halt, and people flee to Exurbia (aka the-middle-of-nowhere) to escape traffic and air pollution.
Finally, America has a President who values rail, and seeks to invest an initial $53bn. Which predictably has morons screaming about the outrageous cost (with encouragement of course from the pro-oil media).
So let’s look at some numbers: America uses about 21m barrels of oil daily, of which 45% is used to run cars. At a price of $87.11 per barrel, that costs $1,829,310,000 a day, or $667,698,150,000 a year – well over ten times the amount proposed for investment high-speed rail. Now you add hidden costs: oil wars, “aid” given to Middle Eastern states, terrorism generated by support for Middle Eastern dictatorships (and resulting homeland security costs), the cost of damage from oil spills, the health care costs of air pollution from cars, the economic hit of slow journeys and many other factors – not to mention climate change, which has huge costs of its own. Economically, it’s insane not to invest $billions, even $trillions in modern rail technology.
Like I said, it’s a no-brainer; however, brains seem to be in short supply in government.
I is for The Iraq War
Perhaps this subject’s been done-to-death… but given some of the discussions I have on Twitter, it seems the facts still haven’t sunk in yet. So here’s an eight-point quick summary of known-knowns, just as a refresher.
- Saddam was certainly an asshole. He was America’s asshole.
- Saddam’s chemical weapons were partly supplied by his good friend and ally: Ronald Reagan (with Donald Rumsfeld assisting).
- From 1991 to 1998, UN weapons inspectors spent years finding and removing WMDs from Iraq. They were confident that all significant capacity was gone by 1998.
- In 2002, as the Bush administration tried to build the WMD case, the chief UN inspector Scott Ritter (a Republican who’d voted for Bush), pointed out that the WMD case was fabricated. And if he didn’t know about Iraq’s WMDs, who did?
- In November 2002, the UN inspectors returned to Iraq. They toured all known sites for several weeks and found nothing of significance. In response to US claims that they have “intelligence” of WMDs existing, they asked the US for the locations they should inspect, and were refused this information. This is the single most compelling evidence that Bush/Blair had already decided to go to war, and that the WMD claim was false.
- Robin Cook, UK government minister who (as former Foreign Minister) had access to secret intelligence, resigned over the war on 18 March 2003. His resignation speech (12 min video) summarises well the reasons why the war was unjustified.
- Ultimately, Bush’s “coalition of the willing” comprised one true partner: the UK. And the UK was led to war against the will of the population by Tony Blair – which ultimately led to the end of his political career. The only population involved that backed the war was the US (Israel was also reportedly on-side, but they’re guaranteed to support any action that involves killing Arabs).
- Long-term damage from the war is widespread and ongoing. The most conservative estimate of war-related deaths comes from Iraq Body Count, with a low estimate of at least 99,711 Iraqi lives lost. Iraq’s infrastructure is still not at the level it was pre-war. The financial cost was huge; the cost to American and British standing in the Middle East was also large, at a time when China needs oil and is making new friends around the world.
J is for Judgement Day
Having created us all (some time between 6,000 to 12,000 years ago), God sat back and watched us fuck up. From time to time he gave us a little guidance, usually in the form of killing everything that moved. Having obviously received some kind of anger-management therapy, God later sent his son Jesus to guide us. For someone whose Father was best known for flying into genocidal rages, Jesus turned out to be a Really Nice Bloke. Sadly, the Romans didn’t appreciate nice blokes, so they killed him. But the Bible is pretty clear that Jesus will return, and this time his coming will herald Judgement Day. Strange as it may seem, the entirety of history turns out to be a very difficult test, and Judgement Day is when we get our results.
In the light of modern science, this seems unlikely to many of us. Luckily, God foresaw our skepticism, and so he created the Bible Belt to keep his word alive. Thanks to the good Evangelists of the Southern US, we know that sometime soon, believers will float up naked into the sky, and then Jesus will return (there seems to be disagreement about the timing of this – it could take up to seven more years), at which point the Last Judgement will take place.
Given that Evangelical Christians have spent their time abstaining from sex and listening to crappy music in readiness for the Rapture, it’s understandable that they’re impatient for this to happen, so it’s unsurprising that predictions of the End Of Days come frequently. Enter Harold Camping, an 89 year-old Christian radio broadcaster, who is predicting the second coming will take place on 21st May 2011. His web site makes for entertaining reading, and he appears to have at least some followers. So pencil 21 May into your diaries – we’ll catch up on 22nd to review progress.