Full Steam Ahead

Talk about setting your sights low. The current Amtrak plan for the Northeast Corridor calls for reducing travel times – over the next twenty years – by 4 minutes between Philadelphia and New York, and by 20 minutes between New York and Boston. As one professor says, “Amtrak’s new plan leaves you with a really good early-20th-century rail system.” It’s not speedy by any stretch of the imagination, and you save about 50 minutes over the regional trains for $80 more. Hell, this is how sorry the current state of high-speed rail funding in the Northeast is:

Rep. John Mica (R., Fla.), top Republican on the Transportation Committee, criticized the administration for giving little of $8 billion in high-speed money to the Northeast.

“They practically ignored the region of the country where high-speed makes the most sense – the Northeast Corridor,” he said. The corridor received $485 million, or 6 percent, of the stimulus funding. [Emphasis mine].

However, because we are the world and we are the future, some students at UPenn’s School of Design have proposed a radical alternative: a true, dedicated high-speed system that would make the journey from Boston to Washington, D.C. just 3.5 hours. From Philadelphia to New York in 37 minutes. This is the direction we want to go. This is more than just lip service.

One of the more interesting aspects to the proposal is a new route for the Boston-New York stretch. Instead of the current shadowing of I-95, trains would follow the same highways that I take when I drive to New York, I-90 to I-91 to I-84 (though presumably these trains won’t take the Merritt Parkway). But then the route diverges sharply to the south and crosses underneath Long Island Sound in a tunnel before turning west again and continuing on to the city.

I love this for so many reasons. This is something we’ll actually use, putting people to work, and producing a end-result we can all be happy with and proud of. Most importantly, it’s big-picture thinking. It’s ambitious. It’s grandiose. And it’s entirely in keeping with the American way.

“We started with a different framework than Amtrak,” said Bryan Rodda, 26, one of the student authors. “Amtrak said, ‘What’s the best we can do to make sure it doesn’t fall apart?’ and then, ‘What is the best we can do with what we have to improve travel time?’

“We asked, ‘What can we do if we rejected the way it is now and do actual, true high-speed rail and get travel time below two hours?’ ”

The students proposed a remade Market East station to accommodate the high-speed train stop in Philadelphia, with another stop at Philadelphia International Airport.

They suggested keeping 30th Street Station for other train traffic and visualized a revitalized Market Street corridor between University City and Old City.

The students proposed that federal and state governments pay for the new high-speed rail line for the Northeast, along with private investors. They suggested money could be raised from gas taxes, interstate tolls, user fees, value-added taxes, and station-area sales taxes.

The economic benefits, the students concluded, would outstrip the costs by $70 billion.

Yes we can, pretty please?


Rep. John Mica (R., Fla.), top Republican on the Transportation Committee, criticized the administration for giving little of $8 billion in high-speed money to the Northeast.

“They practically ignored the region of the country where high-speed makes the most sense – the Northeast Corridor,” he said. The corridor received $485 million, or 6 percent, of the stimulus funding.

Like Burning the Stars and Stripes, or Kicking a Bald Eagle

A violent anti-G20 protester, using Black Bloc tactics, throws a chair through the window of a Tim Horton's while demonstrators smashed their way through downtown streets June 26, 2010 in Toronto, Canada.

Even the Greeks in their orgy of destruction would never dream of touching a Goody’s. Aren’t all Canadians outraged? Are they pressuring the Harper Government to send all three tanks at the protesters? Is everyone buying Timbits in solidarity? Come on, Canada, time to rrroll up the rim your sleeves!

Size Matters

It’s really difficult to envision just how massive Chinese cities are. From Chinfographics comes this chart of the 60 largest with a population of over 1 million (and including some in Taiwan). Alongside for comparison are other famous world cities – but as you may notice, the population counts there look a bit large. They’re using the metropolitan area population, so New York gets 21.3 million instead of the usual 8.3 million, Boston gets 5.2 million instead of the usual .5-1.3 million, et cetera.

But it is rather mind-blowing just how enormous China is.

Via Slate.

Libyan Thugs in the Heart of London, Cont’d Again

This is the last post I’ll write on the subject (probably), but it makes for a good distraction from studying. The exam’s tomorrow. This is how I roll.

Anyways, I got a lovely thank-you email from one of the Libyan protesters at the LSE last week. In addition to my writing, they made sure to credit my good friend the Hybrid Diplomat for his coverage of the event. The email also included links to a number of photo galleries that ‘their’ photographer had taken. Here is the Gaddafi contingent, glowering at the protesters and trading insults:

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi's coterie of bodyguards and thugs at the London School of Economics, May 26, 2010.

Compare that with the size of the protest:

Libyan men protest the Gaddafi regime at the London School of Economics, May 26, 2010.

More pictures are available in galleries here and here, though since receiving the email it looks like someone flagged the sites as “attack sites” (I would assume someone tied to the Gaddafi regime). They’re perfectly harmless. Also available as a special treat is a video of yours truly sitting with Fathallah, the victim of a Libyan beating:

Please distract me in any way possible; it’s only 16 hours until the exam.

Deep Time and the Roads More Traveled

From Lapham’s Quarterly comes a series of maps exploring ‘deep time’ in a number of different ways. They’re all worth checking out, but particularly fascinating to me is this map of “Beaten Paths.” A good portion of what’s now I-80 in the U.S. echos the former Oregon Trail. The Khyber Pass is of course of historic importance, but appears to be one of the longest-running direct east-west routes in the world. What we think is new is thousands of years old. Plus ça change

Via Isegoria.

A New Definition of Suburban Sprawl

The atomic bomb was on everyone’s mind quite a bit in the late 1940s. Clearly it was a real city-killer of a weapon, one that worked best when targeted against a dense population system. So what was America to do in the face of such a threat? Simple: spread them out and move all industry underground.

The crux of the issue was to remove everyone from any American city with a population greater than 50,000 people and place them in newly-built communities set out across the country’s landscape (mostly) like a chess board, the towns existing on all of the connecting lines. [As weird as this sounds, the great Norbert Wiener came up with a similarly astounding, untouchable idea using circles.]. The authors proposed to build 20,000,000 new homes, relocate industry (preferably underground), reallocate and redistribute energy supplies and natural resources, and recreate the very fabric of social and economic life in America.

Via io9.

Libyan Thugs in the Heart of London

Yesterday I found myself at the center of a small skirmish outside LSE’s New Academic Building. It turns out that Saif al-Islam Muammar al-Gaddafi, the son of Libya’s brutal dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi, was speaking on “Libya: Past, Present, and Future” (which is all pretty much the same thing at this point). Just to make sure we’re all clear on this, Saif is the same Gaddafi who:

  • Earned a PhD from the LSE in 2009, and wrote what must have been a mind-numbing dissertation on The Role of Civil Society in the Democratization of Global Governance Institutions: From ‘Soft Power’ to Collective Decision-Making?
  • Donated £1.5 million to LSE’s government department last fall.
  • Defended the seven Libyans convicted for the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie as “innocent.”
  • Has repeatedly referred to the families of the Lockerbie victims as “greedy” and “materialistic.
  • Characterized the torture of six Bulgarian medics by the Libyan internal security as “negligence” and “unintentional.
  • Continues to claim the existence of any sort of functioning democracy in Libya.

So anyways, not your everyday humdrum speaker on global markets and the regional effect of oil prices in substandard peak blah blah blah…

But as I arrived with my good friend the Hybrid Diplomat (who has his own account of the madness inside), there appeared to be a fight in progress outside. From what little I could tell, an older man, a younger, larger companion of his, and an LSE security guard were attempting to fend off what appeared to be 7-9 well-dressed men. In the end, they managed to throw the old man into the street, repeatedly kicking him, before they were somehow dispersed by the lone guard. And all this with a very large crowd just watching (I’m ashamed to include myself in that).

Fathallah, 58, shows his arm after being attacked in the street by Saif Gaddafi's thugs on the London School of Economics campus, May 25, 1010. He had been wearing a jacket; this is what happened through the fabric.

I approached the man in the street, who introduced himself as Fathallah, 58 years old, and explained he was Libyan by origin, but was now living in London to escape from the death threats he faced at home. The men who’d beaten him were part of the younger Gaddafi’s coterie of around 40-50 Libyan men, who according to everyone I’ve asked, were essentially a planted friendly audience (scroll down) to Gaddafi once they got inside. But before they did, they managed to attack this man.

Naturally, there were no police in sight. Usually when there are, they are there as protection for the speaker (see Danny Ayalon). But for once it was the protesters in need of that protection. At most, there were nine of them total, holding signs on the other side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields and chanting “down with Gaddafi!” They were unable to do so until the police arrived, but when they did, they did so in force.

Continue reading


C Company, 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment marches in the Victory Day Parade in Red Square for the first time.

Saturday marked the 65th anniversary of V-E Day in most of Europe, but for Russia – being several time zones removed – Sunday, May 9th was V-E Day.

Throughout the Soviet era, a yearly military parade was held in Red Square to commemorate victory in the Great Patriotic War, but after the Soviet Union’s dissolution these parades were reduced in scope and grandeur. Vladimir Putin restored the Victory Day Parade to its former prominence in 2008, and this year’s parade was possibly the most epic yet.

For the first time, Allied and CIS forces also marched in the parade – an American company from the 18th Infantry Regiment, a British company from the Welsh Guards, a Polish battalion, a French aviation detachment, and troops from nine other countries – commemorating the global effort it took to rid the world of Hitler and Nazism.

French troops march in the Victory Day Parade in Red Square.

While there was certainly some resistance to Western troops marching in the holiest-of-holy Russian secular holidays, it mostly ascribed to the Communists and ultranationalists. Many veterans welcomed the other Allied troops:

“This parade unites all those who participated in the war,” said Iosif Efron, 85, who recalled that his Soviet division encountered American forces at the Elbe River in Germany at the end of World War II. “The invitation was absolutely proper. We fought together, and they helped us.

“Of course, without Russia, no one would have defeated Germany,” he added.

There are a ton of stunning (and not a little bit intimidating) photographs of the parade at Wiki Commons – including a real, live T-34! – and the BBC.

Guns, Pizza, and Strip Clubs

So here we can see where our priorities lie. Just kidding! I’m not about to make that sweeping a statement, though it’s interesting to see where the gun strongholds are: Texas and the Midwest, stretches of Virginia, a bunch of places in the northwest, some sort of small bastion in Providence, R.I., and that massive chunk of California’s San Joaquin valley.

Does that gap in northern Georgia and South Carolina line up with the cotton belt? It looks like it might almost exactly, which would be a particularly interesting set of data to show teabaggers: black people don’t give a shit about guns.

Strippers win in Vegas (doesn’t everybody win there?) along with Atlanta, Detroit, and what must be one really happening town in northern Maine.

Via Cartophilia.