Monday, September 26, 2005

This is Not the Train System You Are Looking For
Last night, I went to the Amtrak station in Raleigh to pick up my aunt and uncle when they were coming back from the protest in DC. This was my first experience with anything related to Amtrak, aside from the one time I considered taking the train from Michigan to Chicago, decided it was too inconvenient, slow, and expensive, and ended up just driving instead, which sort of defeated the purpose. As it turns out, my earlier estimation of Amtrak was pretty accurate.

I was originally supposed to pick them up at about 9pm. At around 5 that afternoon, I got a call saying the train was going to be 3 hours late, and they were still sitting around in Alexandria. My first thought was, if that had happened in Japan, it would have made the national news, the train officials would have been apologizing left and right, an investigation into what had gone wrong would have been launched, and it would have caused scheduling issues for the whole country. I only had one train be late in my whole year in Japan, and that 20 minute delay elicited many apologies from the conductor for the whole ride.

In addition, in thinking about comparative distances, it seems to me that the trip from Tokyo to Sendai in Japan was maybe a little longer by car than the one from Raleigh to DC, about 6 hours. The shinkansen ride, on the other hand, was only 2 hours. The train ride on Amtrak from DC to Raleigh must have taken longer than it would have taken to drive, and it looks like from the Amtrak website that in the best circumstances, it's about the same amount of time. And that's only if any of the departure times are convenient for you. Is it any wonder the US has no viable form of national public transportation?

The other thing that struck me, when we got to the station, is that we could just walk right up to the train. There is no security whatsoever. This is certainly a contrast with the ridiculousness that exists in US airports now, but even in Japan, you had to have a ticket to get onto the train platform. (They did have this cool thing where you could buy a "companion" ticket to just go wait with the person on the plaform, but you still had to have a ticket of some kind.) Of course, my uncle pointed out that, if you hijacked a train in the US, where would you go? And even if you did stop a train in the US, no one would really care, because it wouldn't cause any kind of national crisis.

So once again, I am faced with the fact that, much as I would like to sit on a train and read instead of having to drive myself to other cities in the US, this is unlikely to ever happen. Unless I move to another country, I am unlikely to have a satisfactory public transportation experience ever again. *sigh*

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Today is the one year anniversary of my granddaddy's death.

I went with my grandmother to take flowers to his grave.

I miss him.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Cure for Boredom!
In case my current feelings of shame and remorse about infrequent blogging flag and leave me as lazy and uninspired as ever, or even if they don't and you still find yourself with extra time to fill after reading my maunderings, go visit Emily, whose life is currently much more interesting and exciting than mine, as she is living in Greece for a year as a recent Grinnell grad, much reminiscent of the enthusiastic explorations of cultural contrasts from my year in Japan. Oh, for the happy days of youth!

I present to you:
Emily Z in Greece

It's educational, too! I already know how to say "George Bush is a monkey" in Greek. Everyone, please repeat, "George Bush ine mimu."

Go, and be amused.

Shame and Politics
I am sitting here in my mother's office with nothing to do but cruise the internet, as my unfortunately burgeoning nocturnal tendencies (exacerbated by repeated changes of timezones in recent weeks) have rendered my brain incapable of reading my current book, despite how brilliant I think Neal Stephenson is. As a result, I have suddenly rediscovered and caught up on several of my old blogs. Upon reading Mary's new vow to write more regularly, I felt shamed into doing some writing of my own. Of course, I jumped from Mary's blog to Neil's, which inspired the topic for the rest of this post, which is, of course, just to keep up with recent events, that our country is going to hell in a handbasket.

I won't go into an in-depth analysis of how our dear government has been failing us most recently, because others have done that in a far more informed way than I could already, and I've really only been able to tolerate the news in small doses every few days or so for several months now. But this past Sunday, while dining with my aunt and uncle and grandparents, liberal firebrands all, I did succeed in becoming wroth,* and found myself inspired to write some of the following in a different forum, which I will now transfer to and expand upon here.

The best thing I heard on NPR while in Utah was someone saying that the people of the US are fed up with a leadership based on values, and are ready to move back to a leadership based on competence. Competence. What a radical idea. Who would have thought. My question is, how the hell did we ever get away from that?

I am loyal to a country that has never existed in my lifetime. I'm proud to be an American, though I don't go breaking into song about it, or plastering great bloody bunches of stupid magnetic ribbons on the back of my (imaginary) motorized vehicle of choice, but I really am becoming convinced that the "America" I've been thinking of in my mind when I have these warm and fuzzy thoughts is a work of fiction wrought of the idealistic visions leftover from my history books. I really do start to feel some solidarity with those crazy nutters who take to the hills to live in compounds, because the desire to close myself up in a place where I can make the world conform to the visions and standards I hold in my mind is seductive, I tell you. (Plus, I am all for supporting the rights of bizarre racists, misogynists, and diverse other malcontents to seal themselves off in a place far away from me. Like, say, Texas.)

The thing that concerns me politically right now, though, is that there are an awful lot of other Americans out there who I know have a similar vision of what the country should be, and yet, we have no cohesion or voice. Why is this? I have a theory. Would you like to hear it? (You may now nod and smile. Thank you. Very good.)

The left is afraid to express opinions. It would be un-PC to take a stand on anything. Someone might be offended. Someone might not agree. But all this results in is that our side doesn't get heard. The right doesn't seem to give a sh*t about compromising their "values," and they sure are drowning us out. It's not like all the liberal people who make up my life don't have opinions. They are, in fact, some of the most opinionated people I know. But put them in a group with a bunch of other lefties, and suddenly there are people saying "Oh, no, we shouldn't say that, we're not all agreed on that stand, it's a bit too harsh don't you think..." We fight so hard for freedom of speech, but are afraid to use it. We defend the rights of the KKK to hold rallies on principle, but we can't successfully hold our own rallies on things we hold to be important, because someone might not like it. There's a line between respecting those around us, and being so PC we can no longer speak.

Please do note that I am not talking about leftists being able to express opinions in conversation, here. Look at all these blogs, for example; of course we talk a lot. I'm talking about the ability of large groups of us all being able to get together and present our ideas coherenty and cohesively, so the rest of the country, not to mention the rest of the world, can see that the religious right of North America is not actually the only voice in this part of the world.

So while I'm glad that Bush seems to have taken a dive in approval, along with his party, I'm hoping we learn something from this. We have to stop being afraid of having clear-cut, actual, honest-to-[insertdietyofchoiceornothere] opinions and stances on things. It isn't good enough to stand around saying, "Well, they're all mean and exclusive and don't like some people, so come over here because we're, um, we're accepting of everything!" As much as that may work as a liberal religious recruitment policy, we might recall that the separation of church and state is something to be taken to heart and emulated. Politics and religion shouldn't really be run on the same theories, for all that they both certainly seem to be rather faith-and-donation-based.

On a slightly different note, I leave you with a quotation from that seditious, liberal propagandist rag, National Geographic:
"Today the field [of paleoanthropology] has again become a rather glorious mess. The central fact of human evolution is a give - humans descended from a primate that lived in Africa six of seven million years ago - and those who would doubt evolution are arguing against the entire enterprise of science."
-Joel Achenbach (September, 2005)

(If you don't know why a reference to human evolution is at all related to a rant about American politics, just move on and consider yourself lucky. Also, tell me where you are, so I can move there.)

*Note that I think "wroth" is a very cool word, that should be used, appropriately, of course, more often.

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