Sunday, August 06, 2006

A Few More Clues

Not so long ago, I spoke with a German agricultural student that had just spent the summer with an Iowa soybean farmer. The student and I met in the Philippines where I had returned after graduate school to visit friends I had made while serving in the Peace Corps.

My first question was his impression of the United States. He replied, "No one knows more about soybeans than an American soybean farmer, but after that, he hasn't got a clue!” I suspect that would apply to most Americans. As we decline as a world power, and the quality of life improves for relatively few families, both here and internationally, we need at least our young people to have a real understanding of other cultures, perspectives and economies.

Tragically, America's largest international relations program involves college-age students patrolling streets with machine guns and rocket launchers. What if we had a national student exchange program that required living in another culture for six months to obtain a college degree? Money? Let’s classify it as a military defense program so it’ll be assured of increased and continued funding. Maybe we would have sewn the seeds for democracy in many more countries without the bloodshed, and provided a new generation with a few more “clues”.

Auto Immorality

The cars in a church parking lot always bemuse me as I pass by. The immorality of autos is lost on most congregants trying so hard to make it into heaven.

Automobiles kill more than two million people worldwide annually and critically injure millions more including millions of children. In America, according to the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics, more than 12,000 children and 30,000 adults were killed in highway accidents in 2003 and nearly 3 million were injured. Three passengers were killed in train accidents in the same year.

Automobiles overshadow coal-fired power plants as the single largest source of air pollution in the US. The car is not God’s chariot but rather His world’s nemesis. If religious conservatives are responsible for putting the oil-based Bush family in the Whitehouse, then they should also take responsibility for the President’s policy of continued reliance on oil imports. We all know families burdened by both the automobile’s financial and human costs.

High speed trains that Europe and Asia have invested in save precious lives, cause minimal pollution and provide an opportunity for people to meet, sleep, work or eat without the fear of death or the cost in time and money that commuting cars demand. A well-designed train system is faster, safer, cheaper, cleaner and moral.

A relatively small number of people can lay miles of rail in a day whereas a greater number of highway workers can claim their progress only in feet. As Michigan’s automobile manufacturing industry fades into the sunset along with low gas prices, maybe building quiet, 150mph trains can be a new beginning for our State.

For those congregants returning to their expensive, dangerous and polluting SUV’s in the church parking lot, I do drive a car and I am immoral.