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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Enigmatic Bullet Train

In 2008, I recall voting favorably on a high-speed rail referendum which turned out to be the winning side. Wheee! Then, what with one California crisis and another, it hasn't got started yet. Maybe if I go back 4 or 5 years and reclaim some enthusiasm it will recharge the project. I have even taken a new picture of my 1924 copy of Practical Electrics magazine, which might be where the whole thing did or didn't get started to start with.
The high-speed railroad is to connect San Diego with San Francisco. An ambitious undertaking but is, in the current financial climate, surely on hold now. Maybe we could make the whole unit cheaper by modeling it after the one in old Hugo's magazine. Imagine an open-air rolleycoaster half the length of the state --a coastal coaster, from which we could wave our hats and scream in terror.

I have always hoped it would cure road rage, the anxiety, the madness.

Recently, researchers in psychology discovered anxiety is linked to pining, which is composed of equal parts wanting and liking. Interesting as it is to learn wanting and liking are linked to separate neurotransmitters, I still wonder why anxiety is considered a neurotic response to modern life. We've seen the operation of homeowners' associations, churches, workplaces, local and federal governments often fall into the hands of predators and two-bit tyrants. We hang on for dear life or join street gangs. No wonder our nerves are shot. Nobody sane is sane anymore.

When anxiety becomes our social norm we respond as cornered beasts, clawing and biting our ways to some imagined safety. Nowhere is this more keenly felt or easily observed than on roads. Freeways and surface streets become stages for a special sort of aggression. We find our homes, businesses, obligations and recreational interests connected by a gridwork of war. It involves mindless competition, tension, anger, intimidation and assault conducted with cars, which police rightly classify as deadly weapons.

Police called in consultants, urban planners, traffic engineers, psychologists and psychics, to analyze the problem. Their conclusion was unanimous: bad vibes. As always, "bad vibes", as an analysis, failed to penetrate the problem to any useful depth. Police resorted to a study of literature.

Around 1840, poet Wm. Channing wrote to Thoreau: "I see nothing for you on this earth but that field which I once christened Briars; go out upon that, build yourself a hut, and there begin the grand process of devouring yourself alive. I see no alternative, no other hope for you." Afterwards, Thoreau planned and conducted his effort to "front only the essential facts of life" , to go into the woods and live deliberately.

California law enforcement used to be unclear on what Channing meant by "devouring" one's self, but now see it as having to traverse combat zones that separate all locations --peaceful enterprises divided by rolling artillery. Clearly, one can digest and eliminate those qualities that interfere with happiness, self-worth and a useful place in nature, but the process hasn't progressed beyond individual adjustment. This is not to say mechanized society is not devouring itself at large, but what will remain after it feeds would probably not produce Walden.

Things seemed at an impasse.

But fate and chance intervened. The word, surrealist, was coined by Guillaume Apollinaire and first appeared in the preface to his play Les Mamelles de Tirésias. In 1917 M. Apollinaire was walking home from the premiere performance when he fell through a hole in his shoe into the 21st century. The opportunity was seized and police retained him as the first consulting surrealist in traffic management.

His recommendations were simple: "These cars, with their headlights squinting like wicked little eyes, their grimacing grills, make them angrier! But yes, the huge SUV with its predatory teeth and sedans crouched to dive into underground dens --make them look more than evil. Make them fanged, squat and mad enough to curl up and devour themselves. No car can change the world by looking merely upset!"

Recently, our governor released news of M. Apollinaire's return to 1917. We were told the poet had climbed back into his shoe after a series of brilliant recommendations. Cars will get increasingly cannibalistic and psychotic-looking until they are consumed and even the most adrenaline-addicted, cash-strapped drivers give up in disgust to help lay track along the California coast.

Personally, I'm still pining for a rolleycoaster. Wheeeee!
                                              

33 comments:

  1. Fascinating post. All I can say is that if you look up "anxiety" in the dictionary it will say "Synonymous with Jon". If you look up "acute anxiety" it will include my surname.
    I've taken Channing's advice and have moved to the mountain wilderness. I often think the mountains are devouring me alive - - but I prefer it to my previous impossibly annoying neighbors.

    I think wheel-less magnet coasters should be incorporated everywhere. Holding onto our hats and screaming in terror beats road rage any old day.

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    1. Thank you, Jon. I believe it was Thoreau's work that lured my sea-going whaling Portuguese ancestors to Massachusetts --a move for which they should have been retrained. There are now no whales left in Walden Pond.

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  2. There are days when I think that anxiety and its relatives depression and fear are the only rational response to our world. On those days I think of the brilliant Leunig cartoon which shows the inmate of a mental asylum smiling as he looks at the window at the chaos outside as commuters stream in their metal boxes to work in another metal box.
    Fortunately there are also days when I can bask in the garden, revel in the sky and the birds, and pull the warm comfort of your words up around my quaking shoulders and quivering ears. Thank you.

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    1. No stranger to the jumps myself, I focus and goof off here but am privileged when these essays furnish comfort to others. It is I who thanks you.

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  3. I'm still thinking about your post for which I have no ready words, either of comfort or anything else for that matter. This is my way of saying, "Hello!"

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    1. "Hello!" is excellent, and well-received.

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  4. 'High Speed' there's your problem right there. Everyone wants to get somewhere two minutes ago. Slow down people. All this dashing around is what is making us anxious. We want instant this and that...constant communication....no waiting for anything....no time to just be. Just 'being' is what is missing. We could all use some time in 'Briars Field'.
    You have a wonderful turn of phrase Geo.

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    1. Thanks, Delores. I agree there seems to be a devaluation of patience as a virtue.

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  5. High speed rail makes sense but will there be enough water that the train will have water coolers on them? Or, this is California, so maybe everyone will drink wine as they do on the SF ferries in the afternoon. I love your humor.

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    1. I'm hoping they build the northern terminal at the SF Ferry Bldg., where every imaginable refreshment is for sale.

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  6. One of my reasons for my retirement was because my once tranquil ride over country roads and a small mountain (just made the definition cut by inches) became a nightmare. A bridge over a creek needed an overhaul and for a full year, we were diverted over crowded roads with angry drivers honking horns. What was once a 20 minute pleasant ride became an hour of anxiety. I no longer wanted that stress.

    Last night we had a train derailment about an hour from my house. It looks like a terrible situation but will not deter me from riding the rails when possible.

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    1. Understandable commute disappointment, Arleen. I too see country routes now thick with development and bristling with traffic lights --all of them red when one reaches them. Also share your confidence in trains, despite the PA Amtrak tragedy. News interviewed Patrick Murphy, who was quite shaken.

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  7. Note to self: Fix hole in shoe.

    I feel extremely fortunate to live in such a small place that I can drive to my job in less than five minutes if the lights are with me, to the grocery store in less than three minutes, and to see my father in his nursing home in fifteen minutes. If I had to battle traffic such as you have there, I would curl up in a ball and probably melt into a puddle. (I know it sounds bad that I drive such a short distance, but my feet are unreliable these days.)

    I've noticed that cars and other vehicles are looking increasingly menacing. I thought I was imagining it. Good to know I wasn't.

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    1. I thought those puddles were from oil-pan leaks --but you weren't imagining more menacing vehicle faces. I suspect it's the replacement of round wide-eyed sealed-beam headlights with the little furtive-looking ones on newer cars.

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  8. This is such an interesting article. For years I have watched as large companies feed upon smaller companies to either integrate them or destroy them. Then they turn to the companies that have become smaller as a result and feed on them. Eventually there will be no smaller companies to eat but the big companies left will try to feed on each other. Either one of them will eat the others or they will destroy each other in the process. If only one is left it will still feel the need to eat. It will turn on itself and eat itself. Then either no companies will exist or new little companies will begin to sprout and the process will begin again. And don't even ask me about the studies done with over-crowding. Mice living in normal circumstances live normally. Once they have to many babies for the space they begin to act savagely. They become violent. They attack each other and try to closely guard a small territory. Robberies and rapes occur. Homosexuality rises perhaps as a way to control population. Cannibalism is rampant. Mothers eat offspring they cannot feed. Others see their counterpoints as a food source. This has turned into a diatribe. Sorry.

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    1. Thanks, Emma. Economic systems do indeed have their way of returning to square one. Biological systems are also self-limiting and I'm glad you point out the difference between mechanisms of animal savagery and those predicated on love, tolerance, respect, acceptance and positive social activism.

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    2. Um, Geo? Biological systems are to a degree, and no more, self-limiting. It happens slowly, not in response to famine, drought, etc, but more like evolution. Populations will rise and fall because of food, weather, etc, but adaptation is not immediate. The idea of homosexuality being a response to overpopulation is totally unsupported in any literature. It's similar to a presidential candidate declaring that being gay is a choice, and citing prison statistices...

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    3. Ah Mike, literature aside, of several same-sex couples among friends and loved ones --not on-line but personal-- who have provided stable homes for the overflow, the babies abandoned at hospitals, heroes who negotiated the foster-parent and adoption mazes, I have nothing but awe and admiration. This is what I meant by respect, acceptance etc. The resulting homes of stability and happiness are promises of a better future, better emotional health and an end to unwanted infants forced into orphanage --an unfortunate bane of less enlightened times. Progress is being made, history is being made before our eyes.

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  9. I've always felt 18-wheelers are particularly angry looking.

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  10. California deserves high speed rail. Perhaps Californians are anxious because there are so many autos in the hands of the aggressive. Now a magnetic coaster train might solve that. What a delightful notion!

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    1. Tom, considering our state's predominately nitrogen-poor soil, I think a 300-mile-long high speed rolleycoaster would spread a lot of Urea fertilizer too. Win-win.

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  11. Thanks for visiting my blog, Geo. I've been totally knocked off my blogging game, since my husband retired. It was great to catch up on your posts this afternoon. I do enjoy them, and I've laughed my way all through the ones I've. While you've been changing medications, sawing a firebreak, sharing funny antique photographs, substituting as a preacher, considering brainwaves, and dealing with barn cats, I've been alternating between lazily sleeping in and chasing my tail. Since we flew to Hawaii ,I've been erratic and sporadic with my blogging. The Newly Retired One is having a blast and is feeling like he won the lotto. I'm not sure that we'll hit a rhythm before a niece comes to visit and we head for Alaska. I am loving this new phase in my life, and I will get back on track! I hope all is well with you and Norma (whose Normaphotos crack me up).

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    1. Thank you, Blue, for reading my essays. Retirement is indeed a big adjustment but a joyous one. All my best wishes (and Norma's) to you and your husband in this new phase of life.

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    1. Note to self: Self, remember to put replies in the "Reply" box and not the "Comment" one, otherwise you get all out of sequence.

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  13. Gee, this might be as far as I get towards my promised jet pack from the '50's. Last time I flew LA/SF the total time was around 5-6 hours, including check in, etc. Might well be worth it.

    And on a barely-tangential point, isn't it interesting how the Guv has evolved from his earlier iteration?? Hardly recognize Moonbeam now. I've always liked him, thought he was easily the most interesting of the California politicos to come out of the last century. Almost a Kennedy, the West Coast version, y'know? Privileged family, political pedigree, etc.
    The budget on this project is what, around 35 billion to completion? What do you think the chances of that are?

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    1. '08 vote approved about $10billion and has been spent getting up to Bakersfield. Phase 1 (of 2 phases) is now assessed at $70billion. You're right about air travel --only a couple hours less than going by bus or car. But I still believe in the project because we need it. At 200 mph, it cuts best current transit times in half. I like Moonbeam too. His dad used to bar-b-que in the front yard and I liked waving to them as we passed with other downtown traffic in our '48 Willy's. They waved back.

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  14. Being in the process of car shopping, this is most pertinent- they do indeed look at least disgruntled. If we had the budget we would definitely opt for the rollercoaster. Wonder who won the 'Telephone' prize contest?

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    1. Best of luck car shopping, Lisa. Does the Ministry of Transportation preside over rollercoasters?

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    2. I hope so- I want to live in a world where there's a rollercoaster office :-)

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  15. Gee, all these years I've wasted pondering the notion of traveling through wormholes, when all I had to do was punch a hole in the bottom of my shoe.

    I love the notion of traversing California on a giant roller coaster, and your comment about the added bonus it'd bring of urea fertilization cracked me up. (Good one!) I'm still waiting for GA legislators to realize the need for high-speed rail in the Atlanta area, too. The traffic situation here is beyond horrid, but none of our right-wing-heavy politicians want to "waste" money on transportation, infrastructure, or education. They'd rather lavish it on big businesses, which are generally run by their cronies... after stuffing copious quantities into their own back pockets, of course.

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    1. Considering developers have no trouble increasing suburban tracts here while we're on water rationing, I must agree the traffic-politician problem is unfortunately general, even here in California. However, I did hear of an Emu running in circles on I-20, causing a gridlock in Atlanta yesterday morning and can't figure a way to blame it on politics --but I'm working on it.

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