Thursday, March 27, 2008

If I Ran the Railroad

I’ve been riding a commuter train into New York City for more than a decade and have had plenty of time to consider the draconian improvements I would make if I had the dictatorial power necessary to change anything on MetroNorth.

First of all, the rolling stock is not just old, it’s huge. The carriages ride about six feet off the ground atop enormous steel wheels and the whole thing is pulled or pushed by a gigantic diesel engine designed for cross-country trips in the 1960s. My commuter train could easily withstand years of service on the trans-Siberian Railway. Stopping and starting that train every few minutes is a groaning, straining, gargantuan waste of energy.

Rather than big, slow, and infrequent trains, the model should be lighter, faster, and more frequent just as they are in parts of Europe.

Second of all, there should be service. My train if filled each morning with some of the highest paid symbol manipulators in the world. For an hour plus we’re a totally captive audience. Surely you could sell us something valuable. How difficult would it be to have a cart with newspapers, high-priced coffee, and freshly baked breakfasty items roll down the aisle in exchange for some disposable income? Inconceivably difficult apparently.

The notion of a captive demographic is totally lost on whomever or whatever runs the railway. The only advertising in the cars is an occasional cardboard poster for some TV show on the WB. Where the hell is Chris Whittle when we need him?

Imagine flat screen TVs in each seat back with free programming interspersed with highly targeted ads. Get Bloomberg to invest in it and a passive seat would become a profit center.

And this leads to the third improvement, intelligence. Instead of buying a paper ticket from a machine or a conductor carrying fists of cash and some antique hole puncher, how about a smart card that you swipe at your seat. Your monthly fare recalculates depending on how many trips you take. Perhaps the fare changes depending in the seat you take; less for the middle, and nothing if you stand.

You could even profile ridership patterns electronically rather than by having teams of slack jawed unionized drones counting passengers by hand as they crowd off the platform.

The smart card could be used for all services aboard the train including coffee in the morning, a stiff drink in the evening, a PPV movie on the way home, parking at the station. And all these transactions could be captured, analyzed, and used to improve service. Make money. Improve service. Totally foreign concepts at the moment.

The fourth, pride and expertise, costs nothing. On two occasions on a recent Amtrak trip to Philadelphia, passengers asked elementary questions which stumped the conductors. The first question was about arrival time. The conductor did not know when the train was scheduled to arrive. I knew and I don’t even work on the train for a living. The other question was about destination. The conductor drove the passenger to aneurysmic panic by claiming that the train did not stop in Stamford. Only after the intervention of other passengers did the conductor correct himself. Jeez, this is your job, man. Get the basics right at least. A little pride in a job well done might make your day more satisfying.

I suspect a Swiss train conductor earning a comparable salary would know a great deal more about railways than his American counterparts – but that’s an entirely another story.

My solution short of armed direct action? Maintain public control of the track and infrastructure and allow any private company to run rolling stock on them for a profit. Frankly, if you can run a profitable railway in the Northeastern Corridor, you just aren’t trying.

Until then, here is some lovely transit pornography from Newlands & Company:

The Door to Hell

While drilling for natural gas in Uzbekistan, geologists discovered an enormous cavern. The cavern was filled with poisonous gas and someone had the great idea to throw a match in there to burn off some of the fumes.

That was in 1973. It’s still burning.

(Via English Russia, your one source for all things miasmal)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Things to Like About Europe

Aside from an unreasonable fear of wind, Europeans are generally indifferent to the litigious possibilities of minor accidents and are not afraid of singing while walking on dangerous rain-slick mansard roofs high above the city.

See here as Francoise Hardy violates what would be dozens of American construction, public safety, and child labor codes as she nonchalantly lip syncs her 1963 pop hit, "Une Fille Comme Tant d'Autres" which she clearly is not.

I love the dreary weather. The post-war neon. The utter disregard for personal injury. I can almost smell the diesel fumes and potatoes boiling.

That's the Europe I love.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Hunting Japanese For Research Purposes Only

A couple of Antediluvian television comedians recently tried to provoke a diplomatic incident with the Japanese ambassador to Australia regarding some obscure fishing dispute.

Fortunately, these days the Japanese are more interested in slaughtering whales than disrespectful foreign barbarians such as the mocking Aussies shown here.

A bit over the line, no?

(via JapanProbe)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

David Cameron Shows Why He Is the Master of small tv

Here is yet another update from WebCameron. Yes it's a formula but it's remarkably hard to do convincingly unless you recognize who your audience is and what they want to hear.

Cameron is masterful at this. He gives you the context, a sense of place, a behind the scenes look, and he reiterates his main points all in about four minutes. There's a lot of information here. Not just words. In fact, the words are the least of it.

And just to show you how execution makes all the difference, Ken Livingstone takes a starkly mediocre pass at the same simple communication approach. Same camera, same desktop editing package. One sucks. One doesn't.

Anything similar hapening back in God's Country? No, but for a variety of reasons. Obama can't do this. He's overexposed as it is. Hillary wouldn't dare. Too many variables. McCain though . . . McCain could pull it off. Imagine McCain vblogging from the Middle East this week. Bypassing the MSM and talking directly into the camera.

Trouble is, he probably won't do it. This as close as he's gotten so far, and he's not even the star of it:

Thursday, March 13, 2008

It's Not Easy Being Galloway

George Galloway who was a paid apologist for the Saddam Hussein thugocracy in Iraq is now a paid apologist for the medieval misogynist theocracy in Iran.

Trouble is, defending the mullahs requires a kind of ideological gymnastics that even a progressive anti-imperialist like Galloway is incapable of pulling off convincingly.

Watch now as Galloway appears to be calling for the deportation of a gay Iranian living in Britain even though the deportee's boyfriend back home, Mehdi Kazemi, was recently hung -- but not for being gay, mind you. No, that would be anti-Iranian propaganda.

And yet, he's also not for deporting him because he'd be hung anyway and Galloway is against capital punishment.

So let me get this straight. The enemy of my enemy is my friend even if that makes me friends with the enemy of my friends?

Stroppy Bird has a rather clear-eyed view of all this nonsense and has been a voice in the wilderness about Mehdi Kazemi.
Hillary in the House

This may be the most powerful political video I've ever seen. Unfortunately for Clinton, it's provocative and convincing in exactly the opposite way as it was intended.

"We need a woman to clean it up." Are you sure that's want you want to say?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hulu Is Here

I like the ability to find obscure clips. The commercials, not so much.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Things You Might Not Think Are Safe

Client 9: “I’d like you to handcuff me to the bed and tie a plastic bag over my head. Then just as I’m about to climax I want you to sell naked puts against the spot price of oil.”

Kristen: “Listen, dude, you really want the sex?”

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Where’s the Beef?

The most notable thing about Hillary Clinton’s appearance last night? Bill Clinton’s disappearance.

Bubba was no where to be found at Hillary’s moment of victory. And that got me thinking. Who else is conspicuously absent from HillaryWorld 2008?

Haven’t seen a lot of Al Gore, that’s for sure. And whatever happened to James Carville? Not here.

But certainly the biggest absences have to be those loveable knuckleheads Roger Clinton . . .

. . . and Huge Rodham.

The first brothers are still alive I’m sure but they’re being kept in a safe undisclosed location until November.

My guess? They’re sedated and straightjacketed deep within the newly opened Arctic Seed Vault in remotest Norway.

BTW, here's a little stroll down the old memory hole:

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Not Over Yet

Hillary is not going to give up. Anything less than an Obama landslide in Texas and Ohio will once again be presented as proof of a Clinton miracle. No matter what happens on Tuesday, Hillary will spin it as a win.

Why? Because the Clintons didn’t come this far to cash in their chips. The Clinton legacy is riding in this.

Plus, they know that Obamamania is made of the same ephemera as Deanmania and Hartmania. It’s taking longer to deflate this time around but it’s going to collapse eventually and Hillary want to be there when it does.

A partisan groundhog will observe this environment and prepare for six more weeks of bitter combat between Obama and Clinton including fights over arcane election rules, Michigan and Florida delegates, and opaque backroom dealing.

If Clinton emerges victorious after all that, a certain number of Democrats – including a heck of a lot of African-Americans – will be too bruised and disappointed to vote for the Return of the Clintons. And being the weaker candidate to begin with, Hillary will lose in November to McCain.

Longer term, you might even pinpoint the beginning of the long awaited black disillusionment with the Democrats to around 11pm ET on Tuesday, March 4, when Hillary delivers the Comeback Cackle. After all the euphoria, it’s going to be very hard to explain to Obama supporters that Hillary somehow won this fair and square.

I don’t think that’s the best outcome for the country and I would hope that Hillary was driven by something other than self-regard and naked ambition, but these are politicians we’re talking about. Hard to underestimate their motives.

Anyway, you heard it here first. And if in fact she does concede defeat, you never read this.