Why do Kool Aid Party Republicans hate trains?

Michelle Bachman’s last train ride from Duluth

“Stop the Train” was, literally, a rallying cry for post-Tea Party Republicans this past November.

Newly elected GOP governors in Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida have canceled already-funded high speed rail projects.

Much of the opposition to rail projects appears to stem not from economic arguments, but from fundamental cultural values on what “American” transportation should be. A perusal of online commentaries about passenger rail stories reveals a curious linkage by writers between passenger rail and “European socialism.”

Never mind that the majority of European passenger rail operates on a commercial basis. Many critics of passenger rail emotionally identify it as an enabler of cultural values they fear.

For example, passenger rail inherently requires central administration. After all, trains cannot depart from a station without authority from a central dispatcher. This very need for central authority is unique to rail and frightening to those who yearn for an individual freedom from authority…

Second, a passenger rail project labels a route as an “urban” corridor, and provides the infrastructure and incentive for even more urban development. This contradicts a vision of America, held by many, as a small town society centered on the automobile. In reality, rural towns continue to decline. The 2000 U.S. census classifies 79% of the U.S. population as “urban…”

It is difficult for many to accept the impact of these population trends. Many legislators who are otherwise hostile to passenger rail accept that Amtrak’s operations in Boston-New York-Washington are “profitable,” or commercially viable, but characterize the East Coast as a region not representative of the United States. It’s full of Yankees…

Third, most opponents to high speed rail simply have no experience on which to base their opposition. Those wishing to “Take America back” frequently glorify America between the Eisenhower and Reagan administrations, the peak of automobile enthusiasm in the United States…

Take a look at China. China was still operating steam locomotives 10 years ago. China has invested $292 billion in its railways in the last five years. By 2014, China will have twice as many miles of high speed railway as all the rest of the world combined.

For some, the Chinese investment in passenger rail signifies a forward-thinking investment in the future, and something to be envied. For others, it is further evidence that passenger rail is only appropriate for a planned economy, and incompatible with the American way.

But, then, what would you expect from dimwits who would rather drive a new version of their father’s Buick instead of something that reflects real family size, how and where you travel – and costs less to run?

Vatican gets to burn their own books for blasphemy

Whatever you do, don’t smoke the seeds!
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Thousands of copies of a new book about the Catholic Church’s teachings will have to be pulped after a translation error suggested that the Vatican had radically changed its views on contraception.

The book was officially launched on Wednesday at the Vatican, but the event was overshadowed by the embarrassing error, which will mean that around 30,000 copies will have to be scrapped.

The book, called YouCat – short for Youth Catechism – was originally written in German and contains a question and answer format about whether Catholic couples are entitled to plan the size of their families by “regulating conception”.

The answer provided was yes, because the Church sanctions ‘natural family planning’, in which married couples chart a woman’s menstrual cycle to determine when she might be capable of conceiving.

But in the Italian edition of the book, the question was translated as whether married couples could “use contraceptive methods.”

Again the answer was yes, implying that the Church had overturned its entrenched opposition to condoms, the pill and all other forms of contraception…

The translation mistake is just the latest in a series of public relations debacles to hit the Holy See.

In November, ambiguities in the translation of a book about the Pope, Light of the World, suggested that he believed that condoms were morally justifiable in some circumstances, for instance in preventing the transmission of a deadly disease such as Aids between a prostitute and a client.

Of course, the Holy Roman Catholic isn’t about to open the door to modern knowledge, ethics or understanding. Leaving the 14th Century behind might be too much of a shock. Might even lose a few gold bars along the way.

Chinese passenger train sets new record = 302 mph

A Chinese passenger train hit a record speed of 302 miles per hour on Friday during a test run of a recently completed high speed link between Beijing and Shanghai.

It was the fastest speed recorded by an unmodified conventional commercial train. Other types of trains in other countries have travelled faster.

State television footage showed the sleek white train whipping past green farm fields in eastern China. The 824-mile-long line is set to open next year, 12 months ahead of schedule. It will cut journey times between Beijing and Shanghai from the current 10 hours to under five hours. The line is expected to carry 80 million passengers a year.

The project costs £21 billion and is part of a government effort to link many of China’s cities by high-speed rail and reduce overcrowding on heavily used lines…

The drive to develop high-speed rail technology rivals China’s space programme in terms of national pride and importance. Railway officials say they want to reach speeds of over 500kph.

Here in New Mexico, we finally have the beginnings of useful local rail, bringing tourists as well as commuters through the north-central part of the state. It’s only a start – albeit one that utilizes modern roadbed and rail technology. And the critters run on biodiesel.

But, don’t worry about advancing too far, too fast. We have a shiny new Republican governor and she wants to halt the railroad, rip out the rails and sell them for scrap iron. The Beancounter Religion never really looks more than a couple of quarters out into the future.

Hillary presses replacement of primitive stoves in the 3rd World

Nearly three billion people in the developing world cook their meals on primitive indoor stoves fueled by crop waste, wood, coal and dung. Every year, according to the United Nations, smoke from these stoves kills 1.9 million people, mostly women and children, from lung and heart diseases and low birth weight.

The stoves also contribute to global warming as a result of the millions of tons of soot they spew into the atmosphere and the deforestation caused by cutting down trees to fuel them.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is to announce a significant commitment to a group working to address the problem, with a goal of providing 100 million clean-burning stoves to villages in Africa, Asia and South America by 2020. The United States is providing about $50 million in seed money over five years for the project, known as the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves…

Mrs. Clinton called the problem of indoor pollution from primitive cookstoves a “cross-cutting issue” that affects health, the environment and women’s status in much of the world. “That’s what makes it such a good subject for a coordinated approach of governments, aid organizations and the private sector,” she said in a telephone interview…

Although the toxic smoke from the primitive stoves is one of the leading environmental causes of death and disease, and perhaps the second biggest contributor to global warming, after the industrial use of fossil fuels, it has long been neglected by governments and private aid organizations.

RTFA. Simple solutions to an essential problem. Probably way too reasonable for most beancounters and politicians to support.

I picked the video up top that is one of the first widely distributed about a charity answering this need – excerpted from a documentary about one of my favorite footballers, Shaun Wright-Phillips. He spends his summer off working in Guatemala installing alternative stoves.

World’s oldest leather shoe found

The world’s oldest known leather shoe…struck one of the world’s best known shoe designers as shockingly au courant. “It is astonishing,” Blahnik said via email, “how much this shoe resembles a modern shoe!”

Stuffed with grass, perhaps as an insulator or an early shoe tree, the 5,500-year-old moccasin-like shoe was found exceptionally well preserved—thanks to a surfeit of sheep dung—during a recent dig in an Armenian cave.

About as big as a current women’s size seven (U.S.), the shoe was likely tailor-made for the right foot of its owner, who could have been a man or a woman—not enough is known about Armenian feet of the era to say for sure…

“The hide had been cut into two layers and tanned, which was probably quite a new technology,” explained Ron Pinhasi, co-director of the dig, from University College Cork in Ireland.

Yvette Worrall, a shoemaker for the Conker handmade-shoe company in the U.K., added, “I’d imagine the leather was wetted first and then cut and fitted around the foot, using the foot as a last [mold] to stitch it up there and then.”

The end result looks surprisingly familiar for something so ancient—and not just to Blahnik…

Footwear of this age is incredibly rare, because leather and plant materials normally degrade very quickly.

But in this case the contents of a pit in the cave, dubbed Areni-1, had been sealed in by several layers of sheep dung, which accumulated in the cave after its Copper Age human inhabitants had gone.

Of course, the pecorino poop requires studying, as well.

Interior secretary Salazar approves Cape Wind

In a groundbreaking decision that some say will usher in a new era of clean energy, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said today he had approved the nation’s first offshore wind farm, the controversial Cape Wind project off of Cape Cod.

“This will be the first of many projects up and down the Atlantic coast,” Salazar said at a joint State House news conference with Governor Deval Patrick. The decision comes after nine years of battles over the proposal.

America needs offshore wind power and with this project, Massachusetts will lead the nation,” Patrick said.

The decision had been delayed for almost a year because of two Wampanoag Native American tribes’ complaints that the 130 turbines, which would stand more than 400 feet above the ocean surface, would disturb spiritual sun greetings and possibly ancestral artifacts and burial grounds on the seabed. The ocean floor was once exposed land before the sea level rose thousands of years ago…

“I am convinced there is a path we can take forward that both honors our responsibility to protect historical and cultural resources and at the same time meets the need to repower our economy with clean energy produced from wind power,” he said…

George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, hailed the decision, saying it was “a critical step toward ending our reliance on foreign oil and achieving energy independence. ”

“Those who continue to resist and litigate are simply on the wrong side of history,” he said.

I have a personal past that shares in this decision. I grew up with subsistence fishing on the New England coast.

I understand those who assign primacy to viewscape, nature. But, New England tradition included folks who were daring enough to sail halfway round the world in search of new economies. That tradition accepted the inclusion of new ideas into the commercial and social life of old communities – from steam power to the abolition of slavery.

Those who see only mutually exclusive conflicts in renewable energy and their view of the horizon, those who believe their religion trumps the needs of the greater modern society – are stuck in the wrong century.

Walk this way! 1.5 million-year-old footprints look modern

The second-oldest human footprints ever found show that mankind’s ancestors walked out of Africa on feet indistinguishable from our own.

The 1.5 million-year-old footprints, found in sediment deposits in northern Kenya, are the oldest identified since Mary Leakey found 3.75 million-year-old tracks preserved in volcanic ash in northern Tanzania. Those prints belonged to Australopithecus afarensis, and provided clear evidence of bipedalism.

Though the short-legged, long-trunked A. Afarensis was able to walk upright, its feet were still apelike, possessing a telltale splayed-out big toe. Because the early fossil record contains no foot bones, scientists didn’t know when modern feet — a defining human characteristic necessary for long-distance running — evolved.

The new footprints, described in Science, apparently belong to Homo erectus. Maker of the first stone tools, H. erectus was also the first hominid to leave Africa, migrating to Asia about two million years ago.

I wonder if the dweebs who believe humankind was magically squirted from a wand waved by some omnipotent deity 6,000 years ago ever read any of this news? It’s striking stuff for me. Paleontology is one of those 17 other careers I wish I had time for.

What do the bible-thumpers research? Are they still stuck on how many angels fit on a pinhead?

Ancient and modern plagues have common threads

In 430 B.C., a new and deadly disease—its cause remains a mystery—swept into Athens. The walled Greek city-state was teeming with citizens, soldiers and refugees of the war then raging between Athens and Sparta. As streets filled with corpses, social order broke down. Over the next three years, the illness returned twice and Athens lost a third of its population. It lost the war too. The Plague of Athens marked the beginning of the end of the Golden Age of Greece.

The Plague of Athens is one of 10 historically notable outbreaks described in an article in The Lancet Infectious Diseases by authors from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The phenomenon of widespread, socially disruptive disease outbreaks has a long history prior to HIV/AIDS, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), H5N1 avian influenza and other emerging diseases of the modern era, note the authors.

“There appear to be common determinants of disease emergence that transcend time, place and human progress,” says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., one of the study authors. For example, international trade and troop movement during wartime played a role in both the emergence of the Plague of Athens as well as in the spread of influenza during the pandemic of 1918-19. Other factors underlying many instances of emergent diseases are poverty, lack of political will, and changes in climate, ecosystems and land use, the authors contend. “A better understanding of these determinants is essential for our preparedness for the next emerging or re-emerging disease that will inevitably confront us,” says Dr. Fauci.

Worthwhile, interesting, thought-provoking article. In this era of fears about Bird Flu or some mutating reinvention of the Spanish Flu, they would rocket about our planet faster than any comparable plague in our past.

Governments, populations can’t and won’t prepare without knowledge of previous disasters.