Shanghai Envy

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maglev TWN.jpg
I made a bad mistake at a wedding not too long ago — in Big Fork, Montana. I was sitting next to the sister-in-law of the bride who had to give a toast, something with flourish and some punch.
I had been thinking about Jeremy Bentham out there on Flathead Lake — and was thinking about a Bentham-inspired axiom that ‘happiness was a function of relative deprivation.’ I encouraged her to use that line regarding our friend “Tara” as a comment that she didn’t know how relatively unhappy her life was and happy it could be until she and her new husband met each other and married. I thought it was all rather touching — in theory. But the room of 200 people at the dinner went silent when the sister-in-law said it. There was some not so polite giggling — but the toastess recovered.
But let me try again. I just rode the Shanghai Maglev train that runs between the airport and Pudong. The trip was 7 minutes and 20 seconds — to go a long way. The top speed reached was 432 kilometers an hour — or 270 mph. It was amazing.
I want one — and am not sure what American technological leadership means when we don’t have anything like that in the U.S. We could travel from DC to New York in under an hour. I know that this may be an old debate for some, but now that I have experienced what could be, I’m now even more dissatisfied with the sorry state of America’s basic infrastructure.
Indeed, happiness (and unhappiness) are a function of relative deprivation.
And when I left Washington ten days ago, I was reading that it was going to take 15 years to extend a subway line from the DC metro to Dulles Airport — and that it would still take 1 hour and 20 minutes when completed to travel from downtown Washington to the Airport. Our social objectives should be higher than they are.
– Steve Clemons

Comments

44 comments on “Shanghai Envy

  1. Tahoe Editor says:

    NYT Editorial: Give Amtrak a Fighting Chance

    Reply

  2. rich says:

    Linda,
    I had spoken a number of times with the (last) CA HSR Exec Dir. about their progress and prospects. He wasn’t real confident the current Republican Governator would back HSR—though he’s making more positive noises, that doesn’t always translate into Action.
    California also has an auto-biased cadre in the professoriate and think-tanks who are determined to undermine and misrepresent the efficiencies of rail as opposed to cars-highways or air travel.
    That doesn’t make California unique. It just makes it critical to take naysayers’ work–even the academic stuff and outsourced studies–with a very large grain of salt.
    That’s only Reason-able.

    Reply

  3. Linda says:

    Rich,
    Thank you for informing me first. I tend to skim in a hurry sometimes when reading TWN and often miss/ignore entire articles within comments. It will be intereting to see if the bond issue passes and if it does how long it will take to actually get the system up and running.
    Linda

    Reply

  4. rich says:

    See comment at 9:15.

    Reply

  5. Linda says:

    Skullduggery,
    Thanks so much for the up-date–not the greatest year to have bond issue for it on the ballot in November. But voters of CA will have themselves to blame if they don’t pass it.
    One place that does not need and will never have high-speed rail is Big Sur. At least Arnold called out what’s left of National Guard to help with that.
    It is possible in ATL to take MARTA to airport, but it also needs to be extended.

    Reply

  6. Carroll says:

    I wonder if Steve comes back with any nuggets on China re Iran. Thomas Finger has some things to say that I am sure China is following.
    http://www.thenation.com/blogs/dreyfuss/335991/giving_neocons_the_fingar
    The official was Thomas Fingar, director of the National Intelligence Council and deputy director for analysis at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. In effect, Fingar is the nation’s top intelligence analyst. Previously, he headed the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, one of the few (very few) US intelligence agencies to have mostly gotten Iraq right in 2002, when the CIA and Pentagon agencies were hyperventilating about the threat of Iraqi WMDs. More recently, Fingar oversaw the production of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that famously concluded that Iran had likely halted the development of nuclear weapons in 2003.
    In his presentation yesterday, at the Center for National at the Center for National Policy, Fingar opened a window onto the thinking of the US intelligence community on Iran. It was decidedly unwarlike.
    First, Fingar insisted that the United States has to take Iran’s legitimate security concerns into account. “Iran,” he said, “like the classic ‘even paranoids have enemies’ idea, lives in a tough neighborhood. It has reason to feel insecure.” Part of the reason for Iran’s insecurity, he said, was the fact that the United States has armies in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Recognizing that Iran has real security needs is a good starting point” for US policy, he said. “We are part of the reason why Iran feels insecure.”
    The answer, he added, is to talk to Iran. “It argues for engagement,” he said. “From bilateral to multilateral to using international institutions.”
    Fingar explicitly tied the issue of Iran to energy supplies. “Iran,” he said, “is located in a part of the world where energy supplies are.” In his talk, Fingar referred several times to “competition for energy” as source of future instability and conflict. I asked him to elaborate. He said that such competition could include everything from “the workings of the market, that is, you compete by price, and who has the most money” to more political and strategic competition. Sometimes, he said, it’s a question of affinity and friendship, where like-minded countries favor each other in the energy supply-and-demand relationship. But he also worried about efforts at “sewing up access to resources in a quasi-colonial sense.” That, of course, could apply to the American occupation of Iraq, but Fingar didn’t go there.
    He also said that state-owned oil companies pose a challenge for American policy. Though he didn’t specify exactly what he meant, he seemed to suggest that because major consuming countries such as China and major producing countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia have state-owned oil industries, they are able to combine economic and state political power to strike oil bargains.
    It seems clear that the current government of Iraq, still dependent on if not controlled by the United States, has deliberately blocked access to Iraqi oil so far to Chinese, Russian and other oil companies while favoring the American, British, French and Dutch oil firms that controlled Iraqi oil back in the good old days of imperialism.
    When I asked Fingar about America’s traditional role of serving as the protector of the Persian Gulf — an unbroken succession of US administrations has proclaimed the Gulf to be an American ‘lake” — he implied that that arrangement was fine with the rest of the world until now. “The world has benefited, including the rising powers, from the role that the United States has played.
    ” Still, he said, in rather Delphic terms, “The chickens are coming home to roost.” He mused, “Are there alternatives? What are the downsides?” Indeed, that is a central problem for American strategy in the coming decades. An effort by the United States to maintain its hegemonic control of the Gulf will likely face determined resistance from much of the world, especially from the rising powers of Asia that need the Gulf’s oil.
    And Iran, sitting the middle of that, is not unaware of the issue. During my visit to Iran in March, a top Iranian official told me bluntly that Iran sees itself as the chief obstacle to America’s ability to consolidate control of the Persian Gulf and its oil, and he said that the United States sees it in exactly the same way”.
    There is another article by Laura Rosen at MoJo
    today about some top Israeli officials coming over to meet at the WH about Iran…to argue their case for an attack I am sure. Considering that what Finger said about Iran being the key to consolidating control of oil, how easily could Bush be swayed into attacking Iran?
    http://www.motherjones.com/washington_dispatch/2008/07/iran-bomb-us-israel-war-threat.html
    July 10, 2008
    Just Out: Iran Red Lines: A parade of high level Israeli officials are on their way to the White House over the next two weeks to discuss Iran policy. The two countries differ over what to do next.”
    There seem to be three camps in the US, those who say that Is’merica will strike Iran, those who say no way and those who say it’s 50/50. I am in the 50/50 camp.
    But what ..if anything ….would China do in this event? Would they or could they make any moves, covert or overt if Persian gulf oil was blocked.

    Reply

  7. Skullduggery says:

    Linda et al.,
    The California High-Speed Rail Authority gave final approval to a
    proposed route yesterday. Next, a bond issue is on the Nov. ballot.
    Their website has route maps and seductive animations:
    http://cahighspeedrail.ca.gov

    Reply

  8. Dan says:

    ques. What do they call “101 dalmations” in Pudong?
    ans. “All you can eat at the beef house”.

    Reply

  9. Carroll says:

    All you need to know about China is they raise dogs to eat them.
    Eating man’s best friend?..that’s a good reason to move them over into the axis of evil.

    Reply

  10. rich says:

    http://la.streetsblog.org/2008/07/09/study-highways-dont-pay-for-themselves/
    Study: Highways Don’t Pay for Themselves
    “… a new report by the Texas Department of Transportation, hardly a hotbed of anti-car radicalism, throws cold water on one of the leading arguments against road pricing: that the roads where Metro wishes to place variable tolls are already paid for by gas taxes.
    “Applying this methodology, revealed that no road pays for itself in gas taxes and fees. For example, in Houston, the 15 miles of SH 99 from I-10 to US 290 will cost $1 billion to build and maintain over its lifetime, while only generating $162 million in gas taxes. That gives a tax gap ratio of .16, \ which means that the real gas tax rate people would need to pay on this segment of road to completely pay for it would be $2.22 per gallon. This is just one example, but there is not one road in Texas that pays for itself based on the tax system of today. Some roads pay for about half their true cost, but most roads we have analyzed pay for considerably less.”

    Reply

  11. jeff says:

    Having a subsidized rail system is socialism. Having a subsidized
    highway and airport system is free enterprise.

    Reply

  12. rich says:

    Linda,
    People and officials ‘out there’ in the heartland WANT high-speed rail. The disconnect is among the decision-makers that think they don’t need to anything about it.
    http://www.mercurynews.com/traffic/ci_9836649?nclick_check=1
    High-speed rail route OK’d
    PACHECO PASS OPTION APPROVED
    By Erik N. Nelson
    Bay Area News Group
    Article Launched: 07/10/2008 01:32:54 AM PDT
    A proposed high-speed rail network linking Southern California and Northern California will reach the Bay Area via Pacheco Pass, after approval of an environmental impact report Wednesday by the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s governing board.
    The 800-mile system will come from Southern California through the San Joaquin Valley, then cut westward through Merced and Santa Clara counties, with a stop in Gilroy before continuing to stops in San Jose and San Francisco.
    “It’s a mixture of elation and relief, in that we have taken so long to get this passed,” said board member Rod Diridon of San Jose, one of the system’s most vocal boosters.
    The decision also signaled the end of hopes that the route might go through the Livermore Valley and the Altamont Pass through eastern Alameda County.
    The next step toward building the 200 mph-plus train system would be the passage of the $10 billion Proposition 1 bond measure on the Nov. 4 ballot, which would pay nearly a third of the cost of the system’s “spine” from Anaheim to San Francisco. High-speed rail officials promise the remaining money would come from private investment and federal high-speed rail legislation Congress is now considering.

    Reply

  13. DonS says:

    When I worked for the federal transit admin in the 70′s, the R & D boys were hot on maglev and a few other “advanced” technologies.
    Conventional rail and bus transit were struggling with financial, political and infrastructure issues.
    And I guess we all know where all the real money went — highways. The highway trust fund was sacrosanct and transit only got a wee bite.
    So with our crumbling infrastructure, I’d have to agree, super duper new technologies are not in the offing — unless perhaps some fat cat GOP type just happens to have a big interest in some tech company, then maybe something would happen in a demonstration corridor or two. Keeping what we have working is even a challenge.
    Like most things in the US, priorities are not rational except, as mentioned above, for the buck.

    Reply

  14. JeffH says:

    Steve,
    I’m really glad I didn’t let you sit next to either toasters at my wedding!! Still glad you came! :-)

    Reply

  15. Joe Klein's conscience says:

    Steve:
    You can kiss the Maglev dream goodbye. Looks like the Feds are going to bail out Fannie and Freddie.

    Reply

  16. Linda says:

    I also loved Bentham in the wedding toast.
    I have a question for POA, i.e., did you ever hear of plans for a high speed train between LA and San Francisco? A friend/former colleague of mine who retired from being on LA City Council (term limited out in 2003) was working on that and getting nowhere for at least ten years. I’ve lost track (no pun intended)of her, but I just googled a bit–and she’s working on some commission now on trade, tourism, living wages, etc. She’s still proposing high speed trains to regional airports like Ontario and still nothing is happening as it is nowhere in U.S.
    Indeed with airlines cutting service to many smaller cities, we need to bring back rail and improve Amtrak. More and more people in those places have no option except to drive an hour or several hours to cities with air service.
    A lot of this goes back to after WWII when auto and oil companies prevailed in transportation policy–got rid of the red car system in LA in favor of freeways, and we built the interstate highway system–also about when commercial jet service came in. That’s the last time we had a transportation policy. It was clear by mid-1970s that we needed to adjust, or we’d end up in the mess we have now.

    Reply

  17. lurker says:

    Steve is right on America’s sad deficits in infrastructure and the next administration will be forced to do more to leverage scarce dollars in that direction.
    But I loved the part about trying to manipulate the wedding toast of another person with Bentham’s utilitarian thinking on happiness. That’s the kind of thing that few would do and almost no one would admit to, and yet to our delight, it’s here at The Washington Note.
    Thanks. ;-)

    Reply

  18. Spunkmeyer says:

    Hrmph. “Sad”? Used twice in the same sentence? OK, logging off
    now…

    Reply

  19. Spunkmeyer says:

    Sadly, our existing road systems are in such sad shape, it’ll suck
    up all of our money to rebuild bridges and fill potholes. The bill
    is coming due very soon.

    Reply

  20. Gareth says:

    I have recently,and sadly, left South Korea afer working there for two years on public transportation systems.
    During those 24 months I took full advantage of the KTX service running between the major population centres. It is a delight to travel from city centre to city centre, in a clean carriage, and to be treated with courtesy, arriving at the destination on time. Indeed, to pull into Seoul station after a 2hour 30minute journey from Pusan, and to see the platform clock switch to the scheduled arrival time as the train comes to a halt is quite special.
    I despair of anglo-saxon countries ever coming to terms with the need for such transportation, as their economies, and political attitudes appear to be tied inexorably to automobiles and the infrastructure needed to operate them.

    Reply

  21. RJKieferHI says:

    Look at the foul air in that picture . . . I’d be more impressed with China’s industrial and construction feats like this if they didn’t so clearly come at the expense of the environment.

    Reply

  22. Bartolo says:

    Good luck on getting that train here. We are so far in debt and so need to re-build the military that every penny is spoken for.

    Reply

  23. Bob Whiteman says:

    Steve, I moved to the Washington Area in 1980, to the Reston area based on the realators’ promises of a rail to Dulles being in the offing “soon.” Well that was twenty eight years ago so adding your fifteen more years to construct a slow train to Dulles and we have nearly 45 years of waiting for connection to Dulles. Since I am only planning to work here for another six years I bet I NEVER ride on a slow train or a fast one from Reston to DC! Why do I feel like its 1978 all over again with this debate on transportation and energy? Bob Whiteman

    Reply

  24. Carroll says:

    Posted by pauline Jul 10, 2:47PM
    >>>>>>>>>>>>
    Ditto

    Reply

  25. pauline says:

    One more rant before I leave for the day…
    I took a high-speed train when my older brother got married in Japan a couple years ago. It was a smooth, elegant on-time ride as the attendants treated us passengers with royal respect and first-class service. That was a most memorable experience.
    Oh, yes, and here we have Amtrak. . .ugh. . .with all it’s inefficiencies and odors. All of Amtrak’s preferred stock is owned by the feds and the common stock was owned by the railroads that orginally participated in this plan decades ago, but now that common stock is considered worthless.
    Amtrak is apparently the best DC can provide it’s citizens for public tranportation. Now if only Congress and the WH HAD to travel on Amtrak. No exotic junkets flying around the world on the taxpayers’ dime anymore. No more keeping of campaign chests after time in office and their healthcare MUST match the average citizen’s healthcare or they pay the difference. Cut out 90% plus of their travel budgets and waterboard anyone caught doing political business when the travel cost should have been for pure governmental purposes.
    Our servants are asking us to live under austere conditions, why not them? Smack them hard right where they’re the most sensitive — in their pocketbooks. That Greek word “oikos” means “getting your house in order” and is the derivative for “economy”. Our servants’ houses in Congress and the WH aren’t in order and now we have an old man running for president who says he doesn’t understand economics! Anyone disagree?
    What should we expect, especially from a current president whose transportation/energy policies make as much sense as “drilling for solar energy”?

    Reply

  26. Carroll says:

    I love that train! What has happened to American innovation?
    One poster mentioned:
    “Concerns about possible health effects of all that electromagnetic energy”
    I know nothing about that, but I do know that the earth itself contains areas of electromagnetic energy and MRI scanners are based on electromagnetic energy so there has to be a way around this concern.
    BTW, this morning I heard on the news that thousands of airline employees were being laid off due to fuel cost cutting the number of regular airline flights.

    Reply

  27. pauline says:

    …wrote:
    “interesting how fannie mae and freddie mac are in the news today… ready for a bailout much bigger then bear stearns??”
    The privately-owned, non-governmental fed reserve will print fiat money ’til the cows come home. By the continuous printing of fiat dollars, that helps DC hide the real cost of the war while the fed reserve makes a killing loaning billions back to DC. War is great business for these clowns.
    Need to raise taxes because of all this deficit spending that results? Don’t bother DC with such trivia.
    Bear Stearns and other private investment bankers need a bail-out?. . .no problemo, just stick the bill to the taxpayers who have been ravaged with the falling value of the dollar. And, hey, with the high oil prices DC can blame that on the average American’s woes anyway, right? Oh, and shh. . .the world’s largest oil futures marketer is owned by the world’s largest oil companies with. . .duh. . .other investment bankers.
    Ever play monopoly with a cheater?

    Reply

  28. HAS says:

    Steve,
    Slow down, dude; you want to move too fast…ya gotta make the morning last, my friend:)

    Reply

  29. Danilo says:

    Well Steve, I hope you enjoyed the fine piece of German technology. Unfortunately it’s currently the only working track in the world and I believe the Maglev technology could help with a lot of transportation issues especially in urban concentration areas such as the U.S. North East.
    From my understanding the U.S.has been testing Maglev technology for weapons delivery purposes (think big gun). Maybe that’s what the Chinese were also looking into….?
    Looking forward to more news from China.

    Reply

  30. ... says:

    RA quote >>Goals don’t mean shit in America. Money is the goal and if a project also happens to meet a societal goal it is a secondary outcome.<< i couldn’t have said it as well..
    interesting how fannie mae and freddie mac are in the news today… ready for a bailout much bigger then bear stearns?? that is what this so called ‘capitalist’ ideology is set to do in the coming months…

    Reply

  31. Philippe says:

    Helo DAN
    “How do you think China and Europe can afford such trains?”
    Well in France TGV (High speed trains) seems to be the main money earner of SNCF (train company ownning and running the trains). Though there is a heavily tax payer founded railtracks company RFF (French rail network)that paid for the tracks and that collects a toll.
    A more honest answer is better than breaking even on the whole (can many US airlines say the same ?).
    It’s faster than airplane on most national journey,reasonning door to door. More likely to be on schedule.And it saves a lot of pocket scissors and nail clippers.

    Reply

  32. Thank you Grover Norquist says:

    for no modern U.S. infrastructure, no Maglev trains and toxic air in the Washington, D.C. metro area.
    http://www.nationalpriorities.org/costofwar_home
    “Small government” orthodoxy and monomania comes with serious costs.

    Reply

  33. Paul Denlinger says:

    The Shanghai maglev was built by Siemens, with considerable
    support from the German government at the chancellor level. Until
    she met with the Dalai Lama, Angela Merkel would regularly go to
    China twice a year to lobby for contracts with German companies.
    The Chinese held out the promise of further maglev contracts to
    the Germans; as a result, the job was largely German-funded.
    Since then, the hope of large maglev contracts have mostly dried
    up. The Chinese are now actively developing their own maglev
    technology.
    Pudong is mainly swamp land, and the support pillars are sinking
    fairly quickly. It’s hard to say how long the line can run before
    some kind of major adjustments need to be made.

    Reply

  34. Mavis says:

    I would be happy just to have a mass transit system, in my town, that would take me five miles and get there in the same day. I really believe anything that can me done to speed up mass transit has to be a good thing

    Reply

  35. EA says:

    Europe is a hell of a lot more green than China, and the US for that matter, and is far from being complicit when compared to the latter two nations in matters of public health. Yet Europeans are planning similar rail initiatives as Steve points out.
    Dan and jon make good points: we’d need a different social contract. Indivisible individualism reigns supreme in the US; good or bad, it just is. Until such endeavors can enrich a few “entrepreneurs” (enough to line the campaign pockets of local, state and federal officials along the way) there will never be such a project here. Goals don’t mean shit in America. Money is the goal and if a project also happens to meet a societal goal it is a secondary outcome.

    Reply

  36. jon says:

    20-30 years ago the US had a lead in Mag Lev and other
    transportation and technology advances. Both in research and
    industrial capacity. But neither industry nor government decided
    to invest in it, industrial capacity withered away or was sold to
    other countries, and we seem to have decided that one person in
    a huge SUV was all the transportation or energy policy we
    needed. Same with Photovoltaics, wind power and a number of
    other industries.
    As a command economy, China can move very quickly when
    decisions are made at higher levels of government. That doesn’t
    mean that those decisions will be the best, wisest or most
    thoroughly thought through. There are collateral effects to
    society and the environment that flow directly from running
    roughshod over neighborhoods, wetlands and whatever else
    stands in the way.
    Mag Lev trains would do wonders for places like Denver’s
    airport, which seems closer to Wyoming than Downtown, but
    would really make a difference in mid-range trips of over fifty
    miles and under 500 miles, where it can compete on time with
    airplanes. Shanghai’s train is impressive as a demonstration
    project, but really more like a scaled up version of a Disneyland
    monorail for its practicality.

    Reply

  37. Ben Rosengart says:

    Bentham in a wedding toast? You are such a nerd, Steve.

    Reply

  38. Dan says:

    Steve,
    This would require America to go more socialist though. How do
    you think China and Europe can afford such trains?

    Reply

  39. gr says:

    “capitalism isn’t all it is cracked up to be…” Well, the technology wasn’t developed in China, it was developed by a company in a capitalist country, but that country is itself disinclined to spend any money on this pharaonic nonsense (being well-equipped with lots of high-speed rail, which isn’t a lot slower but much, much cheaper). The Chinese only bought the train, to impress gullible Americans. It seems they succeeded in that, at least.

    Reply

  40. siweiluozi says:

    I have to agree with RW Rogers above. Concerns about possible health effects of all that electromagnetic energy (among other things) have stalled further development of the technology even in China, where the government normally gives less than a hoot about the environmental impact of development. In fact, attempts to extend the maglev through much more urban areas to reach Shanghai’s other airport had to be put on hold when residents took to the streets in a rare moment of public defiance. I can’t even begin to imagine the NIMBYism that would ensue from trying to build a maglev line up the Northeast corridor as you suggest.

    Reply

  41. ... says:

    capitalism isn’t all it is cracked up to be…

    Reply

  42. Mr.Murder says:

    Fascinating.
    (/Spock)

    Reply

  43. JohnH says:

    Not only is it fast, but it conserves energy and reduces carbon emissions. See for yourself:
    http://www.bbcgreen.com/Travel/Green-Transport/train-v-plane
    Europe plans for 4700 miles of track by 2010, double that by 2020. Cost? $200 Billion–two years in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    But the biggest advantage is that you don’t have to deal with cramped seating and obnoxious airline customer no-service.

    Reply

  44. RW Rogers says:

    Technological leadership is not the problem, Steve. Government regulation and NIMBY litigation have stopped every effort to build similar systems in any number of places in the United States over the course of the past two decades.

    Reply

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