Sunday, August 7, 2011

Why we oppose High-Speed Rail

This blog entry paints a picture darkly, and with a broad brush.  I'm not apologizing for it.  To the contrary.  It's intended as an explanation of the context from which my abhorrence of high-speed rail comes.

The first of Thomas Paine's fourteen pamphlets began with:  "These are the times that try men's souls."

It is my belief that such times are with us again. The turmoil is global.  We are infected with un-ease. We trust almost no one.  Everyone seems to seek advantage over the rest of us. Every commercial interaction raises doubts. The chasm between 'haves' and 'have-nots' grows ever wider.  Politics has become nothing more than an endless conflict, with winners and losers and the rest of us as victims. 

Of all the things we need -- real jobs for 25+ million un- and under-employed, a government and nation that cares about all of us, not just the rich and powerful,  and an end to endless interactive exploitation; the constant "taking" and "being taken" -- of all these things, building a high-speed train for the affluent in California that costs over $100 billion is the least of those things we need, or should be considering. 

Of all the things that our politicians and leaders, Republican and Democrat, should be attending to on our behalf, a high-speed train is not one of them.  If anything, it is a slap in the face of those who need real jobs, secure incomes, stable housing, and an adequate quality of life. 

High-Speed Rail is the Rodeo Drive, the Madison Avenue, or the Champs Elysees among streets. Most of us will never walk on them or shop there. It's for the affluent few, not most Americans. It's an insult to use the taxes paid by us all -- and proportionately the least by the wealthy -- to build a luxury train for the wealthy. 

Personal Note: Having lived within the emergence of Nazi Germany, grown up during the Second World War, watched nuclear explosions on black and white TV, and experienced a progression of wars, white collar crimes of ever larger magnitude, an increasingly corrupt government, and now death and destruction raging in many parts of the world accompanied by mass starvation and death, it seems to me that high-speed rail for the affluent in the United States and in California need not be on this Nation's priority list.

Have we become so materialistic, so shallow, so obsessed with convenience that we will pay any price, including cost burdens that will surely fall upon our children and theirs?  Do we want a project that will serve only those at the top of the "food chain" (and what a small number of us that will be)?  

Perhaps we might consider high-speed rail within a larger context than merely competing with those 'lesser' countries that have built them already. The newest, fastest, shiniest thing will not make us a great nation. How could we have let ourselves become sucked into a suckers' vision such as this?

Here are two passages for consideration.  They are illustrations and expressions of the context from which the above judgements come.  The first is from the 1937 film Lost Horizon, based on a novel by James Hilton (1933).  The second is called The Paradox of Our Age, by the Dalai Lama.

In Shangri-La, secreted high in the Himalayas, Conway, who has been kidnapped to become the successor to the High-Lama, meets him for the first time. He asks what the purpose of and reason for Shangri-la is: 

The High Lama: We have reason. It is the entire meaning and purpose of Shangri-La. 
It came to me in a vision, long, long, ago. 
I saw all the nations strengthening, not in wisdom, but in the vulgar passions and the will to destroy. 
I saw their machine power multiply until a single weaponed man might match a whole army. 
I foresaw a time when man, exulting in the technique of murder, would rage so hotly over the world that every book, every treasure, would be doomed to destruction. 
This vision was so vivid and so moving that I determined to gather together all the things of beauty and culture that I could and preserve them here against the doom toward which the world is rushing.

Look at the world today! Is there anything more pitiful? 
What madness there is, what blindness, what unintelligent leadership! 
A scurrying mass of bewildered humanity crashing headlong against each other, propelled by an orgy of greed and brutality. 
The time must come, my friend, when this orgy will spend itself, when brutality and the lust for power must perish by its own sword. 
Against that time is why I avoided death and am here, and why you were brought here. 
For when that day comes, the world must begin to look for a new life. 
And it is our hope that they may find it here. 
For here we shall be with their books and their music and a way of life based on one simple rule: Be Kind.

(Lost Horizon: 1937)


The Paradox of Our Age 

by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama    
August 28, 2007 - 10:45 AM

We have bigger houses but smaller families; 
more conveniences, but less time; 

We have more degrees, but less sense; 
more knowledge, but less judgement; 
more experts, but more problems; 
more medicines, but less healthiness; 

We've been all the way to the moon and back, 
but have trouble crossing the street to meet 
the new neighbor. 

We've built more computers to hold more 
information to produce more copies than ever, 
but have less communications; 

We have become long on quantity, 
but short on quality. 

These times are times of fast foods; 
but slow digestion; 
Tall man but short character; 
Steep profits but shallow relationships. 

It is time when there is much in the window, 
but nothing in the room. 

-H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama

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