Letters for September 13, 2012

Wrong rail for California

Re “The right track” by Max Pringle (SN&R Frontlines, September 6):

In his article on the California high-speed-rail project, Max Pringle hints at why this effort is in deep trouble and unlikely to get built in its current guise: It is simply the wrong rail project for this state.

The studies that led to the passage of Proposition 1A in 2008 were rigged to satisfy specific parochial concerns, foremost an alignment across Pacheco Pass to serve San Jose and then up the [San Francisco] Peninsula to terminate in San Francisco. The resulting system is at least twice as expensive and less useful than a sensible, more direct alignment utilizing Altamont Pass in the north and Tejon Pass (Interstate 5) in the south. The cost of an initial system linking the Bay Area to the Los Angeles Basin should have been capped at $30 billion, which the current plan cannot deliver.

The current effort is almost certain to collapse within a couple of years. The initial segment between Bakersfield and Fresno has become politically toxic at the national level (“a railroad to nowhere”), and Congress is unlikely to follow through on appropriating federal funding for it. Perhaps this eventuality will allow a less expensive alternative to be pursued.

In particular, the California [high-speed-rail] system should be built from south to north, starting with a link across Tejon Pass from the Los Angeles Basin to Bakersfield. This segment alone generates over half of the full “Bay to Basin” ridership, at a cost of less than $12 billion. Moreover, it provides the missing rail link joining Northern and Southern California. No other 100-mile initial segment comes anywhere close to this performance.

John Deeter

High-speed puff piece

Re “The right track” by Max Pringle (SN&R Frontlines, September 6):

Another puff piece on high-speed rail.

We don’t even get a chance to enter the article with a deep breath before the first line provides the first distortion: “Opponents of high-speed rail contend that it’s a boondoggle because of its $68 billion price tag.”

Uh, no. Most informed opponents don’t believe that $68 billion will come anywhere close to the budget required for system build out. Worse, there’s no tied funding source available to complete the project’s capital needs, let alone the operating subsidies which will be required to keep the system running once it’s built. And everywhere HSR has been successful to date, it has required an operating subsidy to do so. Given the current fiscal environment, moving forward with such a large and unfunded project with little more than a hope that somehow the funds will materialize when needed simply seems insane.

As for the claims about HSR being environmentally less harmful than air [travel] or … auto driving, I have no doubt that they are true, on a per-passenger basis. But making HSR “a major engine in battling climate change”? If only that were true, too.

The problem with this line of argument is that the vast majority of auto traffic is local rather than intercity; and HSR simply can’t provide any significant diversion of local traffic. What’s being clogged are the urban segments of the highway system; and what’s doing the clogging is rush hour, not long-distance leisure or business travel between cities, which HSR can handle. We’ll be lucky in the end if the amount of hydrocarbons offset by our current proposal is even measurable within the context of total transportation hydrocarbon production, let alone a comprehensive count of the hydrocarbon output from all the ways we use fossil fuels in the state.

I am a rail fan and would love to see a successful HSR—if we had the means and a management team which could add, subtract and then tell us the truth as to what they—and we—have got here. Instead, our HSR boards have more resembled a quickly revolving door with an ever-changing roster of political hacks tossing spin. Pieces like this one provide no help for the serious public discussion of the issues which will be needed to complete the project, and that’s too bad.

Bill Reany
via email

A little more for your elders

Re “Numb is dumb” by Nick Miller (SN&R Editor’s Note, September 6):

Hey, young whippersnappers: Pay no attention to Nick Miller.

As a recently retired baby boomer, my message to you is: “Stay home on Election Day, because they’re all the same.” That way, my generation can keep electing politicians who pander to us so we can take what little there is that we don’t already have and leave you a few scraps.

Jack Kashtan

It’s not just stand-up

Re “A comic walks into a festival …” by Steph Rodriguez (SN&R Arts&Culture, September 6):

I find the title of this article misleading. Well, maybe not; it does just say “A comic walks into a festival,” an event that is hardly mentioned in this article.

As a fan of the Sacramento Comedy Festival, I can tell you that if you only go to the “stand-up shows,” you will miss 80 percent of a festival that includes improv, sketch, variety shows, a game show and podcasts, all of which were grossly overlooked in this article. Stand-up comedy is an important component but hardly the only focus.

If Steph Rodriguez wants some more info on the stand-up scene in Sacramento, I am sure there are about 100 articles in the SN&R archives.

M. Schreuder

Faulty reasoning on nuns

Re “Don’t mess with the nuns” by Fran Fisher (SN&R Guest Comment, August 30):

The guest comment by ex-Sister Fran [Fisher] came across as a very cleverly devised piece; well-written, too. It’s very pro-revolutionary and, obviously, rather anti-Catholic. Specifically, she thinks it’s a good idea for women to put themselves forward (“mountains will move”).

On that score, why should I believe her, rather than non-ex-Sister Faustina, who famously aspired to put herself last? Is it because Catholic doctrine is generally invalid because some Catholic priests sexually molest some children? The reasoning seems to be a little thin. It actually looks more like an attempt at attaching the badness of one idea to another for the purpose of making the target idea seem bad or at any rate unacceptable. How is that different from the observation, that might also be made, that since some members of the Israeli Defense Forces sexually molest some Palestinians, that Israelis are bad and Judaism false? Nobody is going to buy that attachment—especially if it’s stated plainly, rather than insinuated.

Why did she use this technique? She’s a Ph.D.—certified reasoner. Maybe it’s because she believes reasoning is not the strong point of SN&R’s readership, whereas susceptibility to psychological technology is.

John Reed
West Sacramento