1/30/12

Amtrak, the tourism dream

We were sitting down at the AmTrak station, snuffling some fried chicken from America's Favorite Place to Shop.

The morning AmTrak was pulling in, only a half hour late.

We snuffled chicken and slurped diet Dr. Pepper, nibbling in desultory fashion for a bit less than fifteen minutes. Then the train left. The station cleared out in about thirty seconds.

"I ain't seein' no mobs a tourists here," observed DinkyDau Billy, pitching a chicken bone out onto the diesel-soaked gravel.

"They keep going on about how vital AmTrak is to the local economy," Leece shared, "but how do they determine that vitality?"

"I wonder how many people get off the train here, and spend time in town. It must be hundreds, if it's such a vital segment of our economy," I added, "Certainly it must be so, given the spending that has been projected to upgrade the Burlington Northern train station, which is used by AmTrak."

"They's averigin' about 20 passengers a day here," DinkyDau Billy informed us, "which means that an average loss of about $160 per Southwest Chief passenger, We the People are already an average a $3200 in the hole."

"I wonder how many are leaving and how many are getting on?" asked Tookie, who was flipping through a tourism guide she had picked up from a cheerful convenience store cashier who was extremely well-versed on all the things to do locally.

"Dunno. But bein' already $3200 in the hole, I sure hope they's spendin' a pile a munny on all them things there are to do locally, accordin' to the cheerful convenience store cashier," observed Billy.

"But that $3200 is from Federal tax revenues. It doesn't count. It's the kind of free munny that can be pissed down any old rabbit hole, you see," Tookie tossed out, dripping sarcasm, and earning a raised eyebrow from Leece, but not too much of one, since Leece saw it pretty much the same way.

"Tookie ... you can sound like such a ... Democrat ... sometimes," Leece told her.

"Dunno 'bout that," Billy interjected, "them two NoDak senators that was puttin' together that grant they was goin' on about at the last tourism board meetin'? If they was talkin' about US senators, one a them's a Reepub, the other's a Dem. Hard to say. They didn't offer much in the way a facks on what them NoDaks is doin'. I think we are supposed to take the statement as gospel. Anyways, it don't make any difference what party you are; if it'll getcha votes, any politician will spend anybody's munny, for anything."

We all chuckled in agreement. It's a marvel how the Tea Partiers and all the right-wingers will rant and rave about a balanced budget and bringing Federal and state spending under control ... until the opportunity to trade a few votes in exchange for some spoiled pork comes along.

AmTrak spends about fifteen minutes here in the morning, and ten minutes in the evening. I'd really like to know how this contributes to the economy.

In the last tourism board meeting, package tours were knocked about. But that's been knocked about for some years now. Birding tours. Cycling tours. Dinosaur track tours. Packaged this and packaged that. Where are they? And given their absence, why are we considering supporting the spending of millions upon millions of dollars on such a mismanaged, bungled transportation abortion like AmTrak?

Just axin' ... it's OK to ask questions, isn't it?

Screwing the pooch over the national anthem

Was Steven Tyler the last straw, with his screeching rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner?

Will the Superbowl be any better?

Not if previous celeb performances are any indication.

"They" really ought to tell the celebs to go back to sticking street pharmaceuticals up their snoots, and go with Robert Merrill:



I'd rather have a video of a dead guy on the stadium screens than go through another celeb, who really doesn't even know the words, screeching it out again.

America's "Soviet-style" transportation system

We find some interesting reasoning and comments in this recent article on the BNSF/Amtrak dustup:

County commissioners back Amtrak and BSNF

At least two sections of BNSF track are falling into disrepair, sufficient for slow freights but not necessarily for passenger trains, which ordinarily travel on a higher-speed track ...

According to the article, BNSF wants Amtrak to provide $200 million over the next ten years for repairs, with $94 million right now.

The county commissioners passed a resolution supporting this. OK ... our question here is ... why? BNSF is a for-profit business, whose facilities are apparently quickly falling into disrepair. BNSF wants Federal tax dollars to repair those facilities. Amtrak is heavily subsidized by tax revenues, is it not? Amtrak certainly is not making it on its own; without those huge Federal subsidies, it would have gone belly up years ago. In fact, you can go to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and browse around to find just how badly Amtrak has been doing, and how much the movers and shakers on this committee, and in Congress, want to do away with Amtrak as we know it.

From the chairman of the sub-committee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials:

After 40 years of costly and wasteful Soviet-style operations under Amtrak, it is time to create competition in passenger rail. It is time to bring real high-speed rail to the United States, beginning in the Northeast Corridor, and time to attract private sector participation.

and

The Obama Administration launched its High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) Program with the massive stimulus in 2009, but the Administration squandered a chance to develop true high-speed rail for the United States by spreading the $8 billion in stimulus money too thin over too many projects. Indeed, of that initial $8 billion, Amtrak hijacked 76 of the 78 projects, none of which were truly high-speed rail projects. The governors of Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida all rejected major projects that would not have resulted in high-speed service. The only project the Administration chose with any potential to be truly high-speed is in California, but the cost and amount of time estimated to complete that project continue to escalate.

As far as BNSF and its quest for your tax dollars and mine - or perhaps another loan from the Chinaman is in the works - goes ... what about:

Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) Loan Program: In an effort to do more with less in improving the nation’s infrastructure, it is critical that we improve the effectiveness of existing programs and resources. The Committee is working to remove impediments to using this vastly underutilized loan program that assists railroads in reinvesting in their infrastructure.


I'd like to know how that relates to BNSF and its deteriorating infrastructure. Too many of those 'impediments'? Or is it just an opportunity to get some free Federal money rather than a loan?

Then, back to Amtrak:

Amtrak Oversight: In the 112th Congress, the Committee is conducting vigorous oversight of Amtrak, which has a history of mismanagement and wasting taxpayers’ money. In recent years, the passenger rail service has been found to have improperly removed its Inspector General, spent millions on outside legal services without proper management or oversight, mismanaged the acquisition process for the Acela train, and poorly managed its food and beverage service.

Amtrak receives annual federal funding in excess of $1.5 billion, and each ticket sold is subsidized by an average of $49.19. It is an important responsibility of the Committee to cut waste at Amtrak. Stronger accountability and reform for the rail service will help stem the financial hemorrhaging and provide substantial taxpayer savings.


Do you see that business about how each ticket sold is subsidized by you and me to the tune of $49.19 on average? But wait! It's worse than you think! Did you know that in 2008 the Southwest Chief lost $162.90 per passenger? Do you think it's gotten any better in the last four years? Read this 2010 article, "Privatizing AmTrak."

Why are our local elected officials supporting such a pathetic bit of fiscal piggery? "Soviet-style" is what it was called, and "Soviet-style" it is. It's a shocking waste of our tax dollars. Why are our elected officials passing resolutions supporting this?

The commissioners also said, "[Amtrak] will likely become critical as our citizens age and rising energy prices curtail the attractiveness of driving and flying."

Is that supposed to be a serious statement? With the limited destinations offered by Amtrak? Are they serious? If I wanted to take Amtrak from here to Denver, it would cost me $164, and route me through Galesburg, Illinois and then to Denver. And it would take me over 15 hours.

Last time we were going to send the lads to visit their grandparents we looked at Amtrak. The closest they could get to Phoenix by AmTrak was Flagstaff, which is two-and-a-half hours by car from Phoenix. It was cheaper to fly them from Colorado Springs. And Leece and I got to do some hiking in Cheyenne Mountain State Park after dropping them off.

Start checking on how useless AmTrak is when it comes to getting anywhere. It's like the old Marshall Dodge spoof  about how do you get to Millinocket.

Then there's the business of 'attracting' Europeans, who love to ride the trains. Yes, they do. That's because they have wonderful train systems that tie in very well with other mass transit, like buses. It's very easy to hop a train in ... oh ... Landstuhl ... with your bike in the baggage car, and ride on up along the Rhine, dropping off to cycle about, hopping back on, dropping back off ... easy to find places to stay, place to eat, too. Can we say that about AmTrak stations?

This fixation with AmTrak, which is unquestionably one of the worst wastes of tax dollars in the nation, is really not doing We the People any good at all. Our elected officials may not have noticed, but this is the 21st century, and The Smile Hi really isn't a railroad town any more. Not since the railroads pulled a "Farmer's Water Deal" and pulled out the bulk of their operations.

Perhaps they should do a bit of research once in a while?

1/24/12

Why do I hear Janis Joplin in the background?





Oral Roberts' son arrested on suspicion of DUI

The son of late evangelist Oral Roberts and former president of Oral Roberts University was arrested early Tuesday on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol and speeding, authorities said.Richard Roberts, 63, was stopped by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol just after midnight after a trooper observed him traveling at about 93 mph on a turnpike in his Mercedes-Benz sedan, according to an arrest report. The speed limit on the road is 65 mph, the report said.

and

Roberts consented to a breath test, which showed his blood alcohol level at .11%, higher than the .08% limit for legal intoxication.

and

Roberts appears on the television show "The Place for Miracles: Your Hour of Healing," according to the Oral Roberts Ministries website.


Here's another article from the Tulsa World.

1/21/12

The road west ...

... or east, depending on which way you're going. Or from whence you come.

So if you've been on US Highway 50 any time the last six months or so, maybe longer, you can't help but have noticed just how bad the road markings are, especially between Fowler and Manzanola. They aren't very good west of Fowler, either, for that matter.

In some places they are so faint as to be non-existent.

Driving home from Pueblo on these short winter days is a real white-knuckle experience. Actually, we first noticed it back in September, on our way back from our Great Sand Dunes trip.

It hasn't gotten any better, and a look at CDOT's news for CDOT Region 2 (southeastern Colorado) showed nothing about this.

So we used the form on the CDOT site to ask about it, last week:

Date of Occurrence: Jan 15, 2012 05:00 PM

Location: US 50 from west of Otero county line to La Junta

Comment: Are there any plans to repaint the road markers - the center lines and the lane lines on the shoulders - on US 50? In the stretch of highway cited, the lines are in very poor condition; in some areas, such as - but not limited to - MM 353 - 356 - they are pretty much non-existent. Most of the lines that are visible during the day are badly scuffed and/or flaking away, and seem to be of non-reflective paint. It is not hyperbole to state that this stretch of 50 is a deathtrap waiting to snap during the dark hours. We have noticed a significant number of drivers who do not dim their high beams and suspect that it may be because they can't see the road because of the marker conditions.

Response Necessary: Yes


I figured if I didn't hear anything in a week or so, I'd ask the question of CDOT's exec director, and copy it over to Hick. Not that I would expect such a thing to come anywhere close to Hick's desk, but at least I would have the opportunity to exercise Article 2 Section 24 of the state constitution.

Then yesterday I heard from Ms. Ajin Hu, a traffic engineer with CDOT's region 2:

Dear Mr. Steeves,

Thanks for contacting CDOT about the striping conditions along US50. As you indicated in your email that the reflectivity of the striping along this stretch of highway indeed is not in good conditions. However, there is a planned project along US50B from Pueblo to Manzanola to install rumble strip and reinstall epoxy striping. The project will start construction in April of this year.

There are a couple of planned overlay projects on US50B east of Manzanola too. These overlay projects will start constructions in the summer.

Should you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me at 719-546-5751. Thanks again for contacting CDOT.


and then a second email:

Just wanted to update you.

Our crew is going to apply temporary paint along this stretch of highway if the weather is good next week. As I indicated in my previous email, permanent Epoxy paint will be applied in April/May as a part of the project. I hope this helps.

Thanks.

Ajin Hu, P.E.
Traffic Resident Engineer


Pretty good response, don't you think? Well ... I have no reason to doubt Ajin Hu, whom I believe is writing in complete good faith, but remember Nepesta Road's intersection with US Highway 50? Between the Pueblo County Commissioners and the CDOT honchos, it took the better part of a year to fix what had been screwed up for longer than that. Of course, that involved a Pueblo County business' non-compliance with safety requirements, and who knows whose campaign coffers and other political shenanigans may have been involved. This would seem to be a far simpler case: it's simply the state putting lines down on a stretch of highway, with no politics involved.

Update: Ajin Hu said the temp markings would be up, and they are, at least on the worst stretches. We went to Pueblo this past weekend (where we rubbed shoulders with a good many of our friends, neighbors, and members of the Smile Hi business community, but that's another story) and are happy to report that the temporary striping really makes a very positive difference.

1/10/12

Tim Tebow, Judas, John the Baptist, and Moses

So there we were, sitting at our favorite table in The Holy Land Quickee's, snuffling a Juan Diego pizza and washing it down with diet Dr. Pepper.

DinkyDau Billy was perusing his New Interpreter's Study Bible.

"Hey! Hey! This here biblical linkage to the Broncos is Revelational to me," he revealed to us, "like, you know ... that 316 yards is enough to make me wonder if we're about to be Raptured!"

"Raptured? Are you serious?" asked Tookie, who finds the entire concept of the Rapture a perfect example of scriptural corruption. Until that moment, we all thought that DinkyDau Billy was of similar mindset. The rest of us certainly were.

"Well, c'mon ... 316 yards? Just coincidence? I think not," he exclaimed, rather excitedly.

"I'd agree with that," Toots agreed, "there's not much thinking going on right now."

This earned her a glare from Billy.

"Well, there's more!" he exclaimed, "lissen here."

"We're all ears," Leece assured him.

"So, John Elway's initials are J.E." Billy told us, as though exposing a Great Truth.

"Really? Ida never guessed that on my own," Tookie snarked, "what else ya got there? What's the connection?"

"Well, so was Judas Escariot's initials J.E.!" Billy exclaimed. He was doing a lot of that.

We all stared at him.

"Judas ... Escariot?" Leece sort of choked a bit as she got that out.

"Yeah. Yeah. So Tebow better watch his backside, ya axe me. That Elway may not sell him out for 30 pieces a silver, but how about takin' him to the cleaners over them endorsements an suchlike?"

We all stared at him.

"Unca Billy." It wasn't a question. It was an authoritative statement.

"Yeah? Yeah?"

"It's 'Iscariot', not 'Escariot'," Tookie shared with him.

We all stared at him as he digested this.

"Uhhhhh ... yeah. I knew that. Yup. I did. I was just testin' y'all."

We snuffled the rest of the pizza in silence. Contemplative silence. Like in one of those spiritual disciplines.

"Well, you know, there's John the Baptist's influence on the games too, ya know," Billy kind of whined at us.

"What?" That from Leece.

"Well, s'pose them Broncos hand the Patriots there heads? John the Baptist sets the precedent, doncher think?"

Leece mulled that one over a bit.

"Well ... first, it's 'their', not 'there.'"

We've always wondered how she does that. I think she may have read "The Chaos" one too many times.

"I think you have it backwards," she told him.

"Yes, Unca Billy, because John the Baptist was The Good Guy, and he's the one what lost his head, so if the Broncos lose by a pile of points, it would be more biblically analogous."

We all stared at Tookie, wondering why she tormented us with words like 'analogous.' Who talks like that. I mean, really now.

"Um ... yeah. Yeah. I see that now. Hey! Hey! Maybe if the Bronkers win, we should git Thomas and McGahee to hold up Tebow's arms. That'd be biblical, wouldn't it? Like when they held up Moses arms?"

We all stared at him.

And then we ate some more pizza.

1/9/12

Tim Tebow, Dallas Willard, and the failure of Christianity

Here is an interesting excerpt from "The spirit of the disciplines: understanding how God changes lives":

... Christianity can only succeed as a guide for current humanity if it does two things.

First, it must take the need for human transformation as seriously as do modern revolutionary movements. The modern negative critique of Christianity arose in the first place because the church was not faithful to its own message -- it failed to take human transformation seriously as a real, practical issue to be dealt with in realistic terms. Fortunately, there are today many signs that the church in all its divisions is preparing to correct this failure.

Second, [Christianity] needs to clarify and exemplify realistic methods of human transformation. It must show how the ordinary individuals who make up the human race today can become, through the grace of Christ, a love-filled, effective, and powerful community.


Author Dallas Willard wrote that in the preface to the book.

It strikes me that Willard's 'many signs' are embodied in large part in the emerging church movement. Author Scott McKnight says of the emerging church movement:

Emerging churches are communities that practice the way of Jesus within postmodern cultures. This definition encompasses nine practices. Emerging churches (1) identify with the life of Jesus, (2) transform the secular realm, and (3) live highly communal lives. Because of these three activities, they (4) welcome the stranger, (5) serve with generosity, (6) participate as producers, (7) create as created beings, (8) lead as a body, and (9) take part in spiritual activities.

I thought that was what the church(es) have been supposed to be doing all along, but clearly, they have not, as we see by the declining numbers in America's conventional churches. There is too much hatefulness in these conventional churches; they have too much in them that is contrary to what Christ teaches. They may 'welcome the stranger', if the stranger is socially acceptable; they say they identify with the life of Jesus, but the most cursory examination shows they do not.

Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has ignited the flames of controversy with his public worship and praying. It even has a name: 'Tebowing.'

Personally, I think young Tebow is sincere in his faith, and his demonstrations are merely a manifestation of that sincere faith. I cannot find any reason to agree with the multitudes of sports writers, analysts, announcers, and so on who have ridiculed him for his demonstrations. These are the same characters who have no problems in ignoring or winking at the criminal shenanigans of any number of professional athletes who, were it not for their favored status, would be candidates for a good stretch in the local prison system. Their ridicule of young Tebow is, however, another manifestation of the failure of Christianity to show '... how how the ordinary individuals who make up the human race today can become, through the grace of Christ, a love-filled, effective, and powerful community.'

Nonetheless, through his public displays, Tebow is divisive. First, how does he reconcile his demonstrations with Matthew 6:5: 'And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.'

In that statement, Jesus is not questioning the sincerity of those whom he is addressing. Rather, he is telling them not to behave like those who lack sincerity. That's how it reads to me. So why does Tebow go against the teachings of Christ? He is, isn't he? I don't think he is a modern-day Pharisee, so why would he want to demonstrate like one? What's the point? What is he hoping to accomplish?

How is this creating division? Most of us have seen the chain emails flashing around the 'net, like the one that has a picture of a group of Muslims praying in New York City or some other American metropolis, captioned, "Why is this OK?" It isn't a photo of crazed Islamic fundamentalists hanging dismembered bodies from bridges, or beheading a bound and gagged hostage. It's a photo of Muslims in America, praying peacefully. A second photo is of Tim Tebow 'Tebowing', and is captioned, "And why is this not OK?" At best the message is that Muslims, simply by being Muslims, are committing a wrong by the simple act of praying, and at worst, simply by being Muslims, are evil, murderous creatures undeserving of the freedoms inherent in those truths we Americans supposedly hold to be self-evident.

Why is it OK for Muslims to pray in peaceful manner in New York City? Could it be because this is the United States of America? Why is it that the Christian Right just doesn't get this?

And who says it isn't OK for Tebow to 'Tebow'? A collection of media maggots? Has Tebow been stopped? Has anyone dragged him off the field for his demonstrations? Has he been imprisoned for it?

It's Christians passing this around.Evangelical Christians. People who claim to 'identify with the life of Jesus', yet who in their pathetically childish question, 'Why is this OK but this isn't' put the lie to Christ's New Commandment, in John 13:34-35:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”


How do these emails and their ignorant hyperbole fit in with John 13:34-35? The short answer is that they do not. And so the senders and forwarders of these things are hardly 'identifying with the life of Jesus', so when they get up at church on Sunday morning professing to be one with Christ, they may have credibility with their like-minded brethren, but they do not have any credibility with the unchurched, or with those of the church who ask, 'how does this fit in with a commitment to living a life for Christ?'

It doesn't, and that is why we have an emerging church movement, and a continuing drift away from the established church. Embracing Christ and his lifestyle is without doubt one of the greatest of human transformations, yet by using Tebow's public demonstrations of faith to take cheap shots at other 'ordinary members of the human race' who have done no one any harm is certainly no testimonial as to why one should become a Christian.

It also demonstrates that the church has a long way to go in correcting its failure.

1/5/12

Is God really a ... Democrat?

DinkyDau Billy was slurping a diet Dr. Pepper while thumbing through his latest 4G watchamacallit thingie.

"Hey! Hey!" he exclaimed, "lookit this! All them Christian Righties what think God's a Republican must be wrong!"

Leece raised her eyebrow in interrogatory fashion. "What are you going on about now, Billy?" she asked.

"Them candidates what was annointed by God to run fer president? Bachmann? Perry? Cain? They's all outa the race. Well ... Perry's still in but maybe he didn't git the memo from Divine Campaign Polling, Inc?"

We were all wondering what he was babbling about.

"No, really," he told us, "it's in this artikel here!"

What happens when candidates called by God drop out?

"Ah. I know what it means," Tookie revealed, while nibbling on a slice of Juan Diego pizza.

Everyone looked at her. She sat there, smugly and somewhat complacently, nibbling away.

"Well?" That from Leece.

"God's really a Democrat," she further revealed, "and this is proof positive. Everyone knows that Mitt Romney is a RINO, and he won in Iowa, so that demonstrates that God is really a Democrat."

We mulled that one over for awhile.

"If he is a Democrat, then why doesn't he just vote for Obama next time around?" I asked.

"Well, under the Obama regime, Planned Parenthood got almost half a billion bux from We the Taxpayers, and used it to perform over 300,000 abortions, for their fiscal year 2010. You really don't think God's thrilled with that, do you?"

"Then why doesn't he just anoint a real Republican?" Billy queried.

"Because Jesus weeps over some of the crap that the Christian Right spews out in his name. It's a matter of the lesser of two evils, you see," she explained, still rather smugly, I thought.

"Maybe God should just be an Independent?" Leece tossed in.

That would make more sense, I thought, but God has to be on somebody's side. It's in the bible somewhere. Probably in Leviticus.

We sat there, once again contemplating the Whichness of What, and the Thisness of That.