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January 06, 1978 - Image 4

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Michigan Daily, 1978-01-06

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Page 4-Friday, January 6, 1978-The Michigan Daily
Eighty-Eight Years of Editorial Freedoin
420 Maynard St., Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Vol. LXXXVIII, No. 79
News Phone: 764-0552
Edited and managed by students at the University of Michigan

Why Americans won't ride
trains (even nice, fast oes)

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M Y PARENTS live in sub-
urban Chicago, so I've had
occasion to ride Amtrak's thrice-
daily turbo train from Ann Arbor
to Chicago many times in my four
years here. It is a sleek beast,
capable of doing better than 100
miles per hour, they tell me,
though if it attempted anything
near that speed on parts of the
Chicago run it would wind up in
somebody's front yard.
In the declining years before
bankruptcy, Penn Central Rail-
road - which operated a Detroit-
to-Chicago line before Amtrak's
inception - allowed parts of their
track to deteriorate to a point
where the first turbos had to
waddle along it at a tortoise ten
miles per hour.
Much of that track has been re-
paired, and when I returned from
Chicago last week the Twilight
Limited went one up on Mussolini
by actually arriving early. But as
I disembarked (or, in the unique
Amtrak phrase, "de-trained") in
Ann Arbor and settled down in
the snow to wait for a cab, it
struck me that trains in this coun-
try have a short future.
AMERICANS do not like
trains. For that matter, they do
not like buses, planes, boats, or
any other form of transportation
which forces them to be in con-
tact with strange people. Public
mass transportation in the United
States is the outlet for those with-
out access to a car.
Most of the people waiting for
the Twilight Limited in Chicago's
Union Station had arrived there
by car, most left by car when
they reached their destinations,
and many, including myself,
would not have been on the train
at all if they had had access to an
Cars wait in the garage. You
can leave the house when you
want to, get into the car when you
want to, leave when you want to,
and arrive precisely where you
want to go, not two miles and a
cab ride away. Cars are the per-
fect expression of the isolated in-
dividual: the motorist need talk
to no one, interact with no one
and, most important, wait for no
TRAINS, on the other hand,
appear only occasionally - you
can hardly take one to the super-
market. You must leave the
house at an appointed hour, find a
way to the station, get on the
train at an appointed hour and
travel - without stopping - until
you arrive somewhere in the
vicinity of where you want to go,
at approximately the time you
wish to be there.
Most of the same arguments
also apply to air traffic, of cour-
se, but the vital difference be-
tween the two competing forms of
transportation is speed. Given
the regrettable need to travel oc-
casionally without a car, we
prefer to shorten the experience
as much as possible.

In the nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries, the heyday
of trains and the period in which
all the nation's ornate big city
depots were constructed, rail
travelswas the fastest available
means of transportation.
Businessmen used trains to move
from appointment to appoint-
ment; families took rail
NOW ALMOST all of that traf-
fic moves by air, and the conveni-
ence which city dwellers used to
find in the downtown train station
is being replaced by the conveni-
ence suburbanites find in cars at
the doorstep. The only
businessman I have ever met on
the Chicago run spent fifteen
minutes berating the Amtrak
Passenger Service Representa-
tive because he was going to miss
his connection in Chicago.
I mention all this only because
the National Rail Passenger Cor-
poration, the agency which
supervises Amtrak, does not
seem to buy this argument. The
problem, they insist, lies with
mechanical difficulties which can
be overcome by applying more
money to the problem.
There is no doubt that more
money would help repair the
nation's badly deteriorated
track. Money would buy better
equipment and more adver-
tising; money might even help
solve some of Amtrak's schedul-
ing problems. But it will not get
people to ride trains.
Trains offer neither the speed
of planes nor the isolation and

convenience of cars. They are an
anachronism, a leftover from a
less hurried period of American
history. Travellers see more of
the countryside from a train, but
several days of the Great Plains
is a bit much, and cars can reach
places trains cannot.
THIS IS NOT to say I don't like
trains. I love trains. There is a
certain romance about them, as
one lady on the Chicago run told
me. "I want the kids to get a
chance to ride a train, before
they're all gone," she said. But
romance and nostalgia are one
thing, and transportation is quite
Advocates of a revamped
American rail system point to the
tremendously successful Euro-
pean rail system as a model.
Why, they ask, can't the U.S.
build a system like that to
decrease our reliance on the auto-
Aside from the cost of such a
system and the tremendous in-
fluence of the auto companies,
the plain fact is that Europe is not
America and U.S. cities -
Detroit is the most glaring ex-
ample, for obvious reasons - are
not constructed with mass transit
in mind the way their European
counterparts are.
Money could solve this problem
too, were it not for the fact-that
American cities are also dis-
persed over a distance much
greater than any country on the
Continent. Rail travel makes
sense in Holland, where planes
may remain circling for the

length of time it takes a train to
cross the country. It is not as sen-
sible, from the point of view of a
businessman with a tight sched-
ule, when the train takes three
days to make a trip to the West
Coast, hours away by air.
FINALLY, we have been
spoined these last thirty years by
a mode of transportation which
serves us whenever and
wherever we wish. When the
energy crunch comes again, as it
will, I suspect the first question
Americans ask wiull be why the
government has not been
building train track, but rather,
where all the gasoline for their
cars has gone.
About seven years ago on the
West Coast, a man with the
familiar pen'name of John Muir
penned a utopian blueprint which
he called The Velvet Monkey
Wrench. Envisioning a limited-
growth society, Muir laid out
several "rights" which he felt in-
dividuals needed to surrender
before people could live in har-
mony. One of those rights was
"the right not to wait for trans-
For anyone with the money to
buy a car, that is one of our
current inalienable rights, a right
Americans will exercise as long
as they have the option. It is also
a right which bodes ill for the'
country's struggling rail system.
Stu McConnell, a Daily
Managing Editor, lives in the



Farmers face bankruptcy

across the country, and this
year it accompanies a deepening
sobriety on the nation's farms. Par-
ticularly through the Great Plains
states, many farmers are staring out
over their fields as usual, watching the
sky, wondering what sort of weather
will come, and whether it will destroy
their crops or make them flourish. But
unlike other winters, this one sees'
farmers staying inside, away from
their barns and fields. For the first
time since the depression of 1932, far-
mers are on strike.
Not all of them, by any means; most
observers say fewer than half have ac-
tually refused to deliver food. But the
thousands of farmers who have
stopped work are symbolic of a
growing malaise among the people
who grow food for the United States
and much of the world. Some experts
have said that at least one third and
perhaps one half of alll American far-
mers face the possibility of bankruptcy
this year, and many farmers, spurred
by a western group called American
Agriculture, decided that December
was the time to protest, and the
method was to be a nation-wide strike.
Grain, has been sitting in Great
Plains silos for weeks and months
because the farmers who harvested it
cannot possibly sell it at a profit. Ac-
cording to U.S. government figures,
farm prices today are the equivalent of
1940 prices, and that is not enough to
keep many farmers in business.

A frustrating welter of other
problems has brought the crisis to a
head: in particular, the only thing that
had been keeping many armers afloat,
rising land prices, have taken a
dangerous dip. The prosperous years
of the early '70s saw many farmers in-
vest in new equipment; now they are
finding it difficult to pay back loans.
The national farm debt has doubled
since 1970.
The farmers are fighting for a con-
cept they call parity. If amde law,
parity would guarantee the same
balance between farm expenses and
farm profits that existed between 1910
and 1914, a time when the government
regarded that balance ideal. If the
balance fell below the 1910-1914 level
it is currently 66 per cent of that
balance), government subsidies
would be paid to farmers to restore
Parity legislation would by no means
make farmers rich. It would, however,
according to the Agriculture Depar-
tment, send food prices soaring by as
much as 20 to 25 per cent, compared to
an expected four to six per cent rise.
Perhaps it is trite to remind readers
who puts the food on their tables every
day. But it is far from trite to call at-
tention to an important group of people
who are very frightened this winter.
They deserve help from the federal
and state governments, more than
they are getting now. If parity is too
high a demand, it is at least a goal that
should set legislators in the direction of
fair play for the farmers.

Daily Photo by ALAN SILINSKY

Hazards of health reporting


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Si i U ..

engage .
wasessuBs IN "/ R.R. ". g i
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f " i i i"r R" "i"

Pacific News Service
NS)-Veteran journalist Paul
Jacobs, whose investigative
reports have long alerted others
-to the dangers of deadly toxins in
the air, may now have fallen vic-
tim to the very health hazards he
has exposed as a public menace.
Jacobs, a San Francisco
resident who now corresponds for
Newsday, is a long-time political
activist who has made a career
of provoking controversy in six
books, several television
documentaries and countless
newspaper and magazine ar-
One of his major investigations
took him to a nuclear weapons
testing site in Utah where he
found that nearby residents were
in grave danger from cancer.
Another tok him to Mississippi
and Sevesto, Italy, where the
lethal herbicide TCDD was
posing a similar public threat.
Last July, a lymph node
removed from Jacob's neck was
found to be malignant. The
diagnosis: adenocarcinoma, an
uncommon form of lung cancer
often associated with airborn
radiation-that is nearly always
fatal. Jacobs was told his chances
of survival were just one in five.
A SHORT, intense man of 59
with a sharp, restless mind

Atomic Energy Commission
(AEC) was then negligently con-
ducting nuclear weapons tests
above groung-neither informing
the public nor taking precautions
to safeguard public health.
Jacobs visited ranches in the
area, interviewed families, and
saw women whose hair had fallen
out, cowboys who had been bur-
ned by clouds of radioactive dust
and parents of children who had
recently died of leukemia.
Jacobs later obtained a secret
U.S. health service report
documenting all that residents
had told him and more. Then,
without volunteering that he had
the report, he interviewed AEC
officials, who denied flatly that
their tests posed any hazards
"SO I DECIDED that I was
going to take a Geiger counter
and see for myself what was
going on," Jacobs recalls. "I got
there right after one of the test
series, which were by all odds the
worst because the atomic device
had been detonated from a tower,
which meant that the earth un-
derneath it got pulverized and
there was radioactive dust
"I went up in the hills in Utah
and Nevada where, according to
the AEC, the fallout was not too
heavy. I remember vividly

breathing in a particle of dust
which has been made radioactive
by being part of the fallout. It
could just be dust lying on the*
ground: you could walk along and
your feet would stir up the dust
and you could inhale it."
Even Jacobs himself, who has
studied the effects of radiation on
the human body, thinks that a
radioactive particle may have
lodged in his lung and later, in a
period when his body's resistance
was low, triggered the cancer.
IRONICALLY, Nobel laureate
Dr. Linus Pauling, who first tip-
ped Jacobs to the fallout story, is
now advising him on how to use
vitamin C for treating his cancer.
When asked whether Jacob's
disease was caused by those ex-
plorations with the Geiger coun-
ter, Pauling said he doesn't
believe cancer evolves in a single
"There are several steps," he
explains. "I think it's quite likely
that the high-energy radiation
Paul got when he was in Utah
produced one on the steps. But
you can't say with absolute cer-
One thing, however, is certain:
a starting number of people ex-
posed to fallout from the atomic
testing in towns like Kanab and
St. George, Utah, and Fredonia,
Ariz., which Jacobs visited in
1957 are now dead ofcancer.

are dead."
JACOBS WAS deeply saddened
to hear of the deaths of such people
as Elmer Jackson, the cowboy
who suffered burns after being
caught in a cloud of fallout in the
fifties and whom Jacobs had
poignantly described in a 1971
television documentary. And
Jacobs was angry that a suit
brought by Jackson's' family
against the government was
dismissed as other, similar suits
have been.
Though no one can ever say for
certain, it is highly probable even
as 'Jacobs interviewed Jackson
years ago he harbored the same
silent, deadly radiation that most
likely led-to Jackson's fatal can-
"It just never occurred to me
that I was putting myself into a
position of any kind of danger,"
he recalls now. "I don't know, I
guess I thought I was in-
vulnerable or something-you
know, I was Paul Jacobs!
Radiation could hurt those other
people, but it wasn't going to hurt
Whatever triggered his disease,
Jacobs has not finished his bat-
tles. His next project-a film
about the history of the AEC-is
already under way;.he expects to
be filming in Utah as soon as he
completes his present series of
raat n ate.


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