According to the National Transportation Safety Board, an Amtrak commuter train that derailed at a sharp curve in Philadelphia was traveling 107 mph when it derailed. That’s twice the local speed limit. It must have seemed great before the disaster, especially to Northeasterners accustomed to frequent long delays on the Washington to New York corridor. The crash injured 200 and left seven dead Tuesday. There were 240 people on the train at the time of the crash.
You don’t need to be a mass transit planner to know that, in a major city, getting people to and from the airport is a major priority. For Metro, however, connecting Angelenos to LAX has become a dream as elusive as single-payer healthcare.
Metro has built 80 stations along 87 miles of track, with 23 more planned, since its founding in 1990. But you still can’t take it to the airport. Year after year, the agency moves ever so closer without connecting the dots — like the Zeno’s paradox in which you repeatedly have to cover half the remaining distance but can never quite finish your journey.
On Thursday the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board of directors signed off on a new station on the Crenshaw Line, at 96th Street and Aviation Boulevard. “Officials say the new station will serve as a link to a people-mover system expected to connect a consolidated car-rental facility, a planned ground transportation hub and the LAX terminal area,” Laura J. Nelson explained in the Times.
The thing is — with Metro, there is always a thing — the “people mover” doesn’t exist. Not only doesn’t it exist, it hasn’t been started.
Not only has no ground been broken on the people mover, it hasn’t been approved. And approval doesn’t look like it’s coming any time soon. The MTA board “agreed to proceed with further study” said people mover, leaving passengers a mile and a half short of the terminals.
Yes, Virginia, this be done. Even long-distance trains arrive directly under the terminals at the airports in Tokyo and Amsterdam. But not in L.A.
Budget problems, institutional sluggishness and bureaucratic turf battles have Metro currently scheduled to arrive at LAX proper in 2023. With luck, some predict actual LAX service as “early” as 2020 — but let’s face it: the odds in favor of finishing a government construction job ahead of schedule is roughly equivalent to those of a talented musician winning a Grammy.
And anyway, we won’t care because we’ll be taking our driverless flying cars to our destinations by 2020 or 2023 or whenever.
It may not seem like it, but the MTA board may indeed have a solid plan — and I suggest it in this week’s cartoon. Perhaps they’re hoping to save the taxpayers a few billion bucks by doing nothing, and simply waiting for Mother Nature — in the form of seismic activity — to close the last mile and a half between the newly-approved transit hub and the someday-probably-don’t-know-when people mover.
With modernity comes depression; depression sometimes leads to suicide. And it’s a global phenomenon. “The World Health Organization reports that suicide rates have increased 60 percent over the past 50 years, most strikingly in the developing world, and that by 2020 depression will be the second most prevalent medical condition in the world,” T.M. Luhrmann wrote in The New York Times recently.
Why are so many people opting out?
Can we eliminate or reduce the number of our brothers and sisters who kill themselves?
Disclosure: my best friend committed suicide when we were 15. Bill’s death, and his inability/unwillingness to find a reason to keep living among his friends and family, left me angry and confused, unable to process an unsolvable equation. No day passes without me thinking about Bill hanging himself. His death makes me question my own daily decisions to go on living. I am not in touch with anyone else who knew him, but I imagine their trauma was not wildly dissimilar from mine.
Perhaps public discussion is inhibited by the cultural myth of the rugged individual, personal responsibility, etc. — hey, it’s your choice to live or die — but we’re all in this together. We need to save as many people as we can.
Studies show that relative poverty — how much poorer you are than your societal peers — is strongly correlated to mental illness, including depression. Of course, you can find a study to support just about anything; there’s even a theory that country music prompts people to kill themselves. Still, as Lurhmann says: “We know that social position affects both when you die and how sick you get: The higher your social position, the healthier you are. It turns out that your sense of relative social rank — literally, where you draw a line on an abstract ladder to show where you are with respect to others — predicts many health outcomes, including depression, sometimes even more powerfully than your objective socioeconomic status alone.”
Being poor doesn’t bum people out. Being poorer than other people — people whose relative wealth you personally witness — does. Mali, Bangladesh and Afghanistan are poor countries. Yet their rates of inequality are low, similar to those of Germany and the Scandinavian countries. And so are their suicide rates.
“Overall life expectancy also tracks with inequality, with a bigger wage gap meaning shorter lives and worse health — for both rich and poor, though the poor are hit much harder,” Maia Szalavitz wrote in a much-cited 2011 Time magazine article. “Researchers suspect that this gradient is linked to stress caused by our place in the social hierarchy: Stanford’s Robert Sapolsky, for example, has found that even in baboons, lower ranked animals have higher levels of stress hormones and worse health. But when status conflicts are reduced, producing a more egalitarian situation, these differences are also reduced.”
In a famous 2003 experiment with monkeys, the animals refused to accept small food allotments than those offered to neighboring monkeys. They became angry at the researchers, throwing objects at them — apparently because they blamed them for unequal distribution of the treats.
Those monkeys were on to something. Better to turn our rage against those responsible for inequality than against ourselves.
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Gov. Jerry Brown has a dream, a dream that would serve as his greatest legacy — a high-speed train that would slash the six-hour drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco to a relaxing ride a smidge over two hours.
It may seem like a pipe dream now, but similar links have transformed other countries. When I visited Paris as a kid, the eastern city of Strasbourg was a weird, remote border town where people spoke German and claimed to like black blood sausages. Thanks to France’s TGV trains, an all-day schlep is a quick day trip — two hours each way — which paved the way for Strasbourg to become an important headquarters for EU bureaucrats and Eurozone business types. Moreover, two hours on the train are not like two hours behind the wheel of a car. You can get a lot of work done on a train.
It doesn’t take a big stretch of imagination to see why Silicon Valley and Hollywood might want to work together more closely.
Fortunately, money seems to be easy to find these days.
California’s parks department, for example, used to be in the habit of squirreling away tens of millions of dollars for a rainy day — in the middle of a budgetary typhoon. Maybe they have a few bucks under the cushions now?
Geeks are willing to fund just about anything on Kickstarter. Sure, people are starving, but how about $67,000 for a statue of the fictional character Robocop?
Then there are like 70 “alternative” cybercurrencies, all based on, well, nothing. If catcoins and dogecoins and sexcoins can convince people to part with real (“fiat”) money, why not traincoin?
Ted Rall is the political cartoonist at ANewDomain.net, editor-in-chief of SkewedNews.net, a graphic novelist and author of many books of art and prose, and an occasional war correspondent. He is the author of the biography "Trump," to be published in July 2016.