Posts Tagged ‘transportation’

Charlie and the Baghdad MTA

Three people were killed and 19 injured in a bomb attack Friday morning in Baghdad.  More than 10,000 Shia loyal to Moktada al-Sadr hanged President Bush in effigy to protest the government’s security agreement with the United States.  And the Baghdad Metro was running on schedule.

The invasion of Iraq and resulting anarchy halted all train service in the country.   Bombings, robberies, and literally beheadings of conductors put the country’s rail system in mothballs.  Through 2007, only one line had been re-opened: a 13-hour passenger service from Baghdad to Basra.

In October 2008, service resumed on a 15 mile, two-hour round-trip around downtown Baghdad:



If you’re wondering why anyone would ride a 7 mile per hour train, consider the Baghdad traffic:

(Northern Virginia) + (pack animals)

(Northern Virginia) + (pack animals)

Considering the traffic checkpoints, military vehicles, and streets closed by bombings, a train ride is not a bad alternative.  The green, 1980s-vintage passenger cars remain mostly empty though, because, as the L.A. Times reports, “Few people seem to know it exists.”  Currently, the train makes only two trips a day: once in the morning and once in the evening.  Riders are greeted by AK-wielding armed guards, who fire into the air to chase off kids throwing stones or more serious threats.  One guard jokes, “We’re out of bullets by the end of each trip.”

Baghdad Mayor Sabir al-Issawi has bigger plans.  The city is preparing a feasibility study, backed by up to $3 billion from Parliament, for a 24-mile underground system with 40 stations crisscrossing both Sunni and Shia neighborhoods.  The city had actually planned an underground system as far back as the 1970s, but the project was shelved due to the Iran-Iraq War and had not since been revisited.  With the disco-era plans being updated to contemporary engineering standards, Transportation Ministry officials hope to begin construction as early as next year (!)

If it sounds crazy, considering the city still lacks reliable electricity and water treatment, it just might be.  But it’s also an optimistic, big-think idea in a country that desperately needs them.   “Look at it,” said one Iraqi, gesturing at choked-up roundabout: “Even if this is just talking, at least it’s giving us hope.”

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Remember the atheist bus?  (I know we’re supposed to call ourselves “humanists” these days, but that implies a halfway decent opinion of humanity…)  The bus is now stateside:

WASHINGTON (AP) — You better watch out. There is a new combatant in the Christmas wars.

Ads proclaiming, “Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake,” will appear on Washington buses starting next week and running through December.

The American Humanist Association is dropping $40,000 to get the message out in time for Christmas.  According to a spokesman:  “Our reason for doing it during the holidays is there are an awful lot of agnostics, atheists and other types of nontheists who feel a little alone during the holidays because of its association with traditional religion.”

This / being / America, there’s backlash.  (Full disclosure: A relative of mine copy-edited Gibson’s ridiculous War on Christmas book.  She tells me he misquoted the first amendment.  Hint: it’s one damn sentence.)  The American Family Association called the ad “stupid,” and the Dean of the Liberty University Law School called it “insulting.”

The ads are running on the inside of buses…

…and on the ouside:

So keep an eye out for the atheist bus this holiday season.  And check out this article by the only (openly) atheist Congressman, California’s controversial Pete Stark.

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The Washington, DC Metro system is the only public transit system in America without a dedicated funding source.  Consequently, Metro goes ’round hat-in-hand trying to find contributions from the DC, Maryland, Virginia, and federal governments.  This please sir may I have another? approach has left the system short approximately $1 billion per year needed for the next decade to ensure upkeep and upgrades to the buses, trains, and rails.  The Senate recently ponied up $1.5 billion, and small fare hikes and increased ridership may add a bit to the pot.  (Though the latter obviously increases wear and tear as well)

So today, the Washington Post reports more bad news:

“Metro and 30 other transit agencies across the country may have to pay billions of dollars to large banks as years-old financing deals unravel, potentially hurting service for millions of bus and train riders, transit officials said yesterday.”

Huh? What happened?

“The problems are an unexpected consequence of the credit crisis, triggered indirectly by the collapse of American International Group, the insurance giant that U.S. taxpayers recently rescued from bankruptcy, officials said.

AIG had guaranteed deals between transit agencies and banks under which the banks made upfront payments that the agencies agreed to repay over time. But AIG’s financial problems have invalidated the company’s guarantees, putting the deals in technical default and allowing the banks to ask for all their money at once. “

In other words, the failure of AIG means that the banks can call in their loans whenever they damn well please; as in, tomorrow.  The Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA) could owe up to $400 million; one Belgian bank has already demanded payment of $43 million by next week.  They’re going begging to Treasury ASAP, but with other cities including Boston and Atlanta similarly desperate, there may not be much to go around.

The full, depressing situation is here.  Above all, the story reveals the dangerousness of the incredible interconnectivity of our modern economic system.

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The London bus system sells advertising, and they aren’t terribly picky who they sell to.  In June, ads on London buses carried a link to a website explaining that non-believers would “spend all eternity in torment in hell.”  In response, journalist Ariane Sherine wrote in The Guardian that atheists should counter with their own bus advertisement.  So they (we) did.  Donations from individuals are pouring in, almost GBP 50,000 compared to the organizers‘ modest goal of raising 10,000.  The British Humanist Society is also ponying up, while the world’s most prominant atheist has promised GBP 5,500 of his own.  All this money will help put the following on the streets of London starting in January:

Roll on, Atheism Bus

Roll on, Atheism Bus

It’s a fun, cheery message.  Good for Dawkins, Sherine, and all involved.

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