Thursday, July 19, 2007

Government authorities' incompetence in the aftermath of last night's steam pipe explosion

Most of you have probably heard of yesterday evening's steam pipe explosion in midtown Manhattan. It happened just before 6. I left work a little after 6, unaware of what had just transpired. On the mile walk to Grand Central, I tried calling a friend, but none of my 20 attempts went through. My Razr never got past "Calling," which normally lasts just a second before "Connected" and the line rings. I appeared to have a strong signal, so I figured Verizon was having problems again. Strangely enough, calls went through, after several tries, to a friend in California who is also a Verizon Wireless subscriber, although she didn't answer.

When I got to Grand Central around 6:25, via the entrance at 43rd Street and Vanderbilt, it didn't seem chaotic. Then again, I was rather oblivious to the large crowds outside who were leaving the area. It's summertime, and there are lots of tourists. But the inside indicated something had happened: every shop's doors were locked, and the ticket windows were all closed. Fire engines sat outside the main entrance on 42nd Street, and camouflaged National Guardsmen stood around.

With a little difficulty, I was able to call a friend in Utah. I don't know if it made a difference that he uses a different wireless carrier. More likely it was that not as many people were using their cell phones. My friend said there wasn't anything on Google News. We probably could have checked a cable news channel, but I made a quick interrogative to an MTA conductor and learned what was going on. Funny, on the street I heard someone say what I thought was "a blue Transformer." He was with his family, including a small boy, so I thought they were perhaps toy shopping. He actually said "a blown transformer" or "blew a transformer."

On my walk to the station, I already knew I'd arrive too soon before the 6:30's departure to get a seat, so I had planned to take the 6:52. I'd have taken the later train anyway: a lady on the 6:52 mentioned that the 6:30 had been cancelled. Meanwhile, Grand Central's PA proclaimed that there was "no disruption of train service," even several minutes after cancelling the 6:30. Oh really? Then why were all trains on the lower level cancelled? It's understandable, especially evacuating everyone from the lower level, which is considerably deeper underground. But why cancel the 6:30? On track 41, it was as far away from the commotion as possible.

But what really got me is that the station personnel were either lying or completely incompetent by claiming "no disruption." Then as I continued talking on the phone, I hung around track 17, where the 6:52 was leaving from, near the very eastern end of the station and the site of the explosion. Some MTA flatfoot told us that we had to leave, because they were roping off that area. I said, "What about my train? It's leaving from right here." The damn moron said, "There are no trains."

For the love of whatever deity you believe in! One agent of government says everything's fine, and another says nothing's going. We have always been at war with Eurasia, but also always with Oceania, didn't you know? Well, I could see the train's doors were open, meaning it was running, so I said "Screw this" and boarded around 6:40, regardless of what Quasi-Cop said. If he had tried to stop me, then he would need to explain to a jury later on (for I would have certainly sued for false imprisonment and brutality) just why he restrained me from boarding a train that was, in fact, operating from a track that was still open. Now, the conductors and their radio-linked dispatchers would know for sure if the train was running, and the conductors on the 6:52 did nothing to prevent or discourage boarding. Some people boarded after I did, but the train still wasn't as full as it normally is. How many were fooled into skipping that train, all because that imbecile didn't have a clue?

I was trying to explain to a friend this morning that if people are wielding authority over you, you would hope they know what the hell what the hell they're talking about. They should at least have better information, perhaps not perfect, but that's just the thing. We don't live in the libertarian ideal of government where government and its agencies have authority based on the people's consent. It's based on a combination of the people's apathy and that those in authority having greater abilities in physical force. My friend excused the pig, saying the police were just trying to keep order. Yes, and Hitler and Mussolini did pretty good jobs themselves, too, of "keeping order." I didn't care about "order." I just wanted to get on the first available train, which turned out to be operating just fine. I didn't even ask him whether the trains were operating, because it was information I was perfectly capable of learning on my own.

Out on the street, civilians helped each other. For all our flaws, humans' Good Samaritan qualities are revealed in bad circumstances, and for some reason, we seem perfectly capable of deciding on our own that we'd better, for example, help this woman who's bleeding and covered in mud. In other words, people may not be the smartest, but when they're in the same situation, they can usually acquire information themselves without having to wait for government. The MTA and city police, though, were exercising power over others partially because most people blindly obey anyone with a badge, and partially because the police's very job allows them to commit violence against others. In fact, since they may not have better information than the rest of us, they need that inherent authority to use physical force even more. The rest of us must actually think before we act, in case we err.

Even when those with governmental authority are elected, there's this myth about choosing the "best" and "smartest" among us, because they'll supposedly govern better based on their wisdom, experience and better judgment. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I said before, "I critique the efficacy of government because if we, imperfect as individuals, cannot make the proper and best decisions for ourselves, then how can government be any more competent, discerning and successful, since it is comprised of us?" And as it turned out, the ones who knew what was going on with the trains knew so on an individual level, not because government knew it.



Blogger Dan from Madison said...

Interesting post. We are truly on our own in times of a disaster or the next terror attack. Those who haven't made plans and stockpiled things are just insane.

Saturday, July 21, 2007 11:04:00 AM  

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