Saturday, September 24, 2005

Texas Governor Perry Jerks His Magic Wand

Another morning in Kharma Cafe. I look through the smoke-stained windows to watch the clouds from Hurricane Rita roll into Denton.

Texas Governor Rick Perry was quoted as saying, in response to questions regarding problems that arose during the Hurricane Rita evacuation, that he wished he could wave a "magic wand" and change the situation.

I have one word for Governor Perry - choo-choo.

If the U.S. had a passenger-oriented rail network like Europe, cities could be evacuated quickly. Trains rarely have traffic jams. They don't run out of gas. They don't explode, killing dozens of elderly people, because of brake problems. They are faster than cars. They're even more environmentally friendly. They contribute less to global warming, purportedly a factor in hurricanes increasing in frequency and intensity.

In fact, there could be a fleet of long trains specifically designed for national emergencies, ready to be networked and dispatched at a moment's notice. Our train stations could even be equipped to serve as temporary shelters for displaced survivors. Talk about homeland security.

My friend Boris Bellyache (featured in JUNK) sits down next to me as I sip espresso. He reminds me that we used to have a more extensive passenger rail system in the U.S., but this was a threat to petrochemical and auto/airplane industry execs. Boris also claims that many modern Americans are out of touch with the development and history of the railway, which has since been overshadowed by the auto industry.

Undoubtedly, revamping our rail system to be prepared for national emergencies would require a significant short-term investment. However, if we can afford over $5 billion per month to fight a war in Iraq, if we can afford $75 billion annually to fight a failed drug war, then we can afford to invest in railway preparation that could save hundreds of thousands of American lives.

If our leaders are too short-sighted and reactionary to discern innovative alternatives, if they are too beholden to corporate interests to make changes vital to our national security, then perhaps we should boot them out of office. As my stepmother Lillian would say, "The numbnuts are numbnuts."

National security doesn't require a magic wand, Mr. Perry. It does require a willingness to think outside the box.

Here's a plaque from an old inter-urban railway, ironically titled...


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