Friday, April 29, 2005

Our regular blog will be pre-empted.

I was watching Bush's press conference yesterday (hard to avoid) when he made the statement "A President who relies on polls, is like a dog chasing his tail". Who is he kidding? He wouldn't have had a press conference in the first place if it weren't for his dropping poll numbers, particularly when it comes to the price of gas. Isn't he implying that he's gonna do what he's gonna do regardless what the public wants?

When it came to gas prices, he basically said 'There is nothing I can do'. Isn't that what Jimmy Carter said back in the 70s and look what happen to him.

But there is something we can do. Republicans are loathe to talk about conservation, but America needs to cut down on the amount of oil it consumes on a day to day basis, without the need to resorting to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

One way is to encourage (ie, arm twist) auto makers to design cars that are more energy efficient. While tax cuts for hybrids is an encouragement, its not enough. We need a national debate about ways to get Americans out of their cars and stop using them as a second home of wheels.

We could start my redesigning our cities to be more pedestrian friendly. Cities in the Northeast are better at this then cities in the Southwest, since Boston, New York and Chicago are much older than Las Vegas. We need to encourage people to use mass transportation despite the fact that it gives the middle class and upper classes the dry heaves to sit next to the poorer classes that depend on mass transportation.

Boston and New York are compact cities that are walkable and everything is relatively near by. Walking gives one a real sense of a neighborhood. You can't get that by looking out the window.
Las Vegas and Los Angeles and Phoenix are cities that were designed for the sutomobile and as a result led to uncontrolled urban sprawl. You need a car just to get to the nearest Home Depot for example. As long as there appears to be endless land, keep moving outward with the result that people in one neighborhood have little in common with someone else in another part of town.

My neighborhood does a better job of this than most. By encouraging the development of hiking trails and larger pedestrian strip malls, you are encouraging people to get out of their cars and stay awhile. But because Las Vegas is so spread out and distances are so great, Oscar Goodman, although, I'll give him a lot of credit for the attempt he hasn't encouraged me to go downtown. just yet.

One western city that is doing a better job at this is Portland, Oregon where I lived and worked for a contracting job in the mid 90's. The essentially put a rope around the city and said 'no more growth beyond this point' and they began to encourage the urban renewal of downtown. The bus system there is designed to bring the people from the outlying neighborhoods to the downtown city center. One great idea they have is a wide swath of downtown Portland is 'fare-free'. As long as you get on and off through a large section of downtown, the busses are free. I saw a large part of the city relatively cheaply. I especially liked the dim sum in the city's Chinatown.

Another good idea is to encourage, not discourage the use of AMTRAK. Republicans in Washington are notoriously against AMTRAK and mass transportation in general as they view this as a 'Northeast liberal' thing and cars represent the free wheeling spirit of the open road.

When I returned to Las Vegas in September, 2002, I had the time (and you need time to take AMTRAK) so I took the long scenic route from Boston to Las Vegas. I got a 'seat' for the Boston to Chicago leg, then a got a 'deluxe' room for the next leg, Chicago to Seattle. It was a small room that had a couch that allegedly opened to a bed for two, but I used it as a couch and slept on it that way. It also had a tiny (think airplane) bathroom with a hand held shower. Since it takes 6 days via the way I went, I couldn't go that long without a shower.

I took my trip after September 11, and no, I am not afraid to fly, but I found it curious that NO ONE asked me for a picture ID when I left Boston. I even pointed this out to the guy who took my bags and he said 'You don't look like a terrorist'. I responded, "neither did Tim McVeigh", but that's a topic for another time.

The room gave me an opportunity to see the country in a way I would not have been able to if I had flown back. A lot of the time it was dark out so you can forget about seeing anything, but I got a good view of Wisconsin (and as a result, I'd consider vacationing there). North Dakota wasn't as bleak as I expected, eastern Montana looked like what I thought North Dakota would look like, but western Montana was spectacular, what I could see of it before it got dark, but I did travel for several hours in Big Sky Country, so I want to vacation there as well. One of the pleasant by-products of the AMTRAK trip is it makes you realize that we have a beautiful country which can bring us together rather than pitting one region of the country against the other.

I arrived in Seattle and spent the day and night there. That's a city that also has a good mass transportation system. I got around the city easily despite never having been there. I visited Pike's Place Market Area, the Space Needle, had great seafood and went on a harbor cruise, when it inevitably rained. The guy at the front desk of my hotel was even named Frasier ("I'm listening"). No kidding.

The next day, I caught the train from Seattle down to LA. We were delayed by a derailment of a cargo train outside of Salem, Oregon, and even though I missed my opportunity to stay overnight in LA, I made my bus connection to Vegas. Vegas had an AMTRAK station but it was cut back due to budget restraints which to me seems odd. I'm sure there are a lot of students and elderly retirees (met a lot on the trip) from LA who would appreciate the fact that they don't have to drive 6 hours to get to the casinos. The greyhound bus was crowded and less than pleasant, but I got back home safely.

An last but not least, with the price of gas soaring, it is probably now worthwhile to encourage solar power and Southern Nevada would be a perfect place to try that since it is sunny most of the time here. But before we can get to a decent energy policy, we need to wean people away from gas guzzlers that depend on foreign and unstable oil suppliers.


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