Is Bush preparing for war with Iran?

President Bush seems to want to provoke war with Iran. His bellicose remarks in Abu Dhabi about Iran as the world's leading sponsor of state terrorism, whose threat to the security of nations must be curbed "before its too late, sounded like a call to arms. They invite the conjecture that one of his objectives in his Middle East tour was to persuade the Israeli government to launch a strike against Iran - a conjecture strengthened by militant comments from Prime Minister Olmert.

Interestingly, spokesmen for the U.S. Navy have pulled back from their previous alarm about supposed challenges by Iranian speedboats last week in the Strait of Hormuz. But Mr. Bush's earlier eagerness to seize upon this incident as an illustration of Iran's evil intentions recalls President Lyndon Johnson's fictitious charge 35 years ago that North Vietnam had attacked American warships in the Bay of Tonkin.

No one should underestimate the problems in dealing with the many-faceted revolutionary regime in Iran. But the International Atomic Energy Agency has borne out the U.S. intelligence conclusion that Iran abandoned its program to develop nuclear weapons in 2003. Instead of seeking to develop possible mutual interests, Mr. Bush makes it sound as if Iranian leaders should be equated with Saddam Hussein.

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Salisbury selectmen were wise to call a public meeting Wednesday night to discuss the advisability of asking U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy to work toward a congressional investigation of the misdeeds of President Bush. I signed the initial petition, and I certainly agree that there have been a lot of misdeeds, ranging from illegal wiretapping to flouting the Geneva Convention against torture, and the contention that he is not bound by acts of Congress with which he disagrees.

Yet it is apparent that Democrats in Congress are not in a position to call Mr. Bush to account unless they can persuade enough Republicans to vote with them to pass a resolution, and that seems very unlikely in an election year. There is nothing to prevent Bush from being cited once he is out of office, though, for actual law violations for which he was responsible.

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It was a happy surprise last week to have New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer propose that the state finish the job of restoring the railroad bridge across the Hudson at Poughkeepsie to make it a safe pedestrian walkway from which magnificent views of the waterway may be enjoyed. Private efforts for this purpose have been under way for several years.

Built in 1888, the Poughkeepsie bridge became part of the old Central New England route that was the first rail crossing of the river north of the New York City tunnels. Its use diminished after the CNE was dismembered around World War II, and in 1973 it was damaged by fire. Subsequently Conrail rejected congressional efforts to repair it, and the span has lingered as an unused derelict. Now it looks as if the bridge will soon become what it should be – a public treasure.

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I have been gratified by the interest in my column of Jan. 3 about electric interurban railways, or traction lines as they were called in the Midwest. Let me add a few points.

The typical traction car was about 50 feet long, with rounded ends, often built of wood although later models had steel underframes and at the last had steel siding. The interior consisted of a baggage compartment behind the front platform where the motorman operated the controls. Baggage consisted of everything from trunks and express, to milk cans and crates of chickens.

Then followed the passenger compartment, sometimes divided into smoking and nonsmoking sections. Seats were reversible cane or plush affairs. Heat was often supplied by a coal stove. Then there was the rear vestibule through which passengers entered or exited. On cars intended for longer runs there was a small toilet compartment. The traction cars were much higher off the ground than the streetcars or trams with which they often shared city streets. The rounded ends enabled interurban cars coupled together in tandem to round sharp curves in city streets. This was especially important for interurbans, such as the North Shore Line between Chicago and Milwaukee that often ran trains of five cars.

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At one time it was possible to go from New York to Boston or even Chicago entirely by interurban, if you didn't mind a dozen or more changes. About 1910 a straight-as-an-arrow New York-Chicago "airline" electric railway was planned over which trains would run at high speed with few stops. Some of the right-of-way was actually laid out before bankruptcy intervened.

Most of the traction lines drew their electric current from trolleys mounted on springs to hold them against overhead wires, but quite a few used pantographs of crisscrossed metal frames that held a collecting bar against the wire. A few with protected rights-of-way even used third rails on the ground.

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Of course trolleys on city streetcars were an inviting target for kids, especially on Halloween. The malefactors would hide in the shadows, then run out and jerk the rope to pull the trolley off the wire when the car was stopped for passengers. Frequent expletives by the conductor. But I wouldn't want you to think I ever did anything like that.

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