Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Why change yourself when you can demand the world change instead?

Centennial Park, Nashville

    I don't use these posts to air reader's comments, mostly, because there is a space aplenty at the bottom of the blog for that, and any comment on their comment can be rendered there.
    But this email, well, while it touches upon a small matter, there is a universal truth in it, so I am sharing it here.  
    A regular reader, whose name I shall shield, writes:
     A recent column re: riders crossing around the gates, brings to mind another train problem that I have.
     Freight trains taking enormous amounts of time at crossings.
      Aside from just having annoyed motorists ramming the freight cars, would this make for an interesting column?
      You contact the National Transportation Agency, (I assume they oversee the railroads in the country), and suggest that FREIGHT TRAINS RUN ONLY DURING NITETIME HOURS).
      I, for one, would anxiously await their answer.
    "You contact the National Transportation Agency"? What am I, a short-order cook?
    But that wasn't my reply. 
    I read his note on my iPhone, riding the train home Monday night. And it struck me, that not only had he missed the entire point of the crossing column—avoid pointless hurry, be safe, wait—but he was missing it in dramatic fashion. I wrote back:
        Wouldn't it be easier for you try practicing patience, before you set out to recast the rail freight system in the country? Just a thought.
     Not to pick on this guy, who at least is civil. But how often is there a problem where, rather than make a slight change to ourselves, we instead prefer to endeavor to recast the whole world? As if that were easier. This is nothing profound—"Better to light a candle," as the saying goes, "than to curse the darkness." As if it were some physical law: we don't change; somebody else should. We see people doing that all the time. They try to yank books out of libraries—I don't want to see this so nobody should see this. They try to convert the world to their faith, rather than attempt to wrap their heads around the implications of other people believing other things.
     It seems a symptom of always being right, in your own head. Maybe I'm getting zen in my old age. But I've begun to realize that, usually, the solution involves, not an impossible recasting of reality, but a far less difficult (though still sometimes hard) rejiggering of myself. I wasn't even fully aware of the dynamic, which is why I'm sharing the reader's email. Hmm, be more patient as freight trains pass OR endeavor to shift all freight trains to run during the night time, when nobody could possibly be bothered ... hmmm ... I wonder which one I should try?
     Not to end on a negative note, but the reader did not reply. Perhaps investigating ways to shut down the entire email system.

22 comments:

  1. A former neighbor hounded the local government to stop running our town's tornado alarm test the first Tuesday of every month at 10am because it occurred during her infant daughter's naps.

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    1. Cause infants don't wake up from those naps otherwise....sheesh.

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  2. First off, sorry for the first comment - I had typed something and it disappeared, so just had to check.

    I think your column is WAY off base. This isn't an example of someone forcing their religious beliefs on someone, this is an example of a company that runs roughshod over consumers.

    The bridges over the Chicago River aren't raised during rush hour - although the boats technically have priority, everyone realizes that raising the bridge during rush hour would cause a lot of backups and delays. It's the same thing here. The freight train isn't inconveniencing one driver; they hold up hundreds of cars.

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    1. And what do you think are on those trains? Goods used by thousands of people. This is a perfect example of our ability to clearly see the hardship caused to us by something in society, but not at all perceive the benefits. When the bridges go up, it isn't just for whatever weekend sailors go by. It's because we have a navigatable river in the heart of the city. The river's why we're here. To say, I was held up on my way to the East Bank Club because of a boat is to separate yourself from the city you live in A popular pastime. The trains created Chicago.

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  3. The aggrieved says: I've gone along with everyone else on this, that, and the other thing. When will everyone go along with me on The Issue I Care About?

    I know. My sister is such an aggrieved.

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  4. Another example of the syndrome you describe is the almost universal opposition to red-light cameras. God forbid that I should get a ticket because I was going too fast to stop for a red light. That's patently unfair, no matter how many lives it might save, no matter how much money it might make for an impoverished city.

    John

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    1. I don't think the red light cameras are the same thing: not only is data conflicting on whether they improve safety (some studies suggest they cause more rear-end injuries while reducing front-end), people suspect they are scams: e.g., you could probably get the same amount of deterrence from a smaller fine. And a person isn't being per-se selfish if they think city revenues shouldn't come from an unspoken regressive tax that only targets a certain segment of the population. Then add the crony capitalism involved with some of these systems - there's a lot to genuinely dislike here.

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    2. A-n-A,

      I agree that there is much to genuinely dislike about the cameras and the way that they are managed. However, the idea that they appear to be a "tax that only targets a certain segment of the population," when that segment is entirely composed of those folks who endanger others and themselves by illegally running red lights, is not something that I find problematic about them. It may seem like a tax to you, but it's a fine.

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    3. Jakash 1) love the moniker 2) I would agree if it really were a fine, but pretty much everyone acknowledges these camera programs are revenue generators. In fact in the wake of Ferguson the use of traffic violations to fill city coffers is coming under increasing scrutiny. Also, consider that it's not just "those folks" who are punished: if you drive in the city on the weekends you know how bad some of the major intersections with the red lights have become: people get ultra cautious to avoid the stiff fine (I don't blame them) and everyone suffers - especially the bus riders!

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    4. A-n-A,

      1.) Thanks!

      2.) I'll readily concede that "people get ultra cautious to avoid the stiff fine." Alas, I'm one of them. I've concluded that they make me a *worse* driver, because I don't run red lights, but now stop even sooner than I used to, in order to assure that I don't get a ticket. And now, more of my attention is focused on the light itself, rather than the situation at the intersection. (Not that I'm oblivious to that, of course.) That being said, and however much of a money-grab it is, I find it hard to fault the governments involved for finding the cameras an efficient way to attempt to crack down on dangerous drivers.

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  5. How would you feel about speed cameras on the highways? Most people travel above the posted limit.It is unsafe and no doubt leads to unnecessary accidents and deaths. The entire national debt of this country and every other body of state and local government could probably be retired in short order if implemented nationwide. (I haven’t done the math, so that could be a wild supposition.) That still does not make it a good idea.

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    1. I don't think that speed cameras in the long run would make much money and I suppose there's a cogent argument that they wouldn't save lives, but I think they're worth a shot anyway, but that's just me, possibly only me.
      John

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  6. I think you were unnecessarily dismissive, even to the point of insult, about a legit concern. It's well known that freight trains have become onerous in recent years due to policy decisions by the Canadian Pacific railroad. If you don't feel like writing about that, then don't, but don't dismiss those who complain about it as unreasonable cranks.

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  7. Of course, if all the trains ran at night, then people WHO DRIVE AT NIGHT would be even more put out,as trains that are currently spread out over 24 hours would clog the tracks during nighttime hours (and what is nighttime? Hours of darkness? 6 pm to 6 am? 8 pm to 4 am? From when this mope gets home after work till when he leaves his house in the morning?)! And the people whose sleep would be disturbed? Horrors. As I constantly tell people who do inconsiderate things (stand in the doorways of El trains, take up huge amounts of space in crowded cafes or bars, talking loudly on their cell phones in enclosed spaces): You are not the only person in the world, please act that way.

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    1. And that makes the criticism of the freight trains more valid. The railroad isn't the only person in the world, and they should act responsibly as well. It's pretty well documented that they don't (outdated and leaking tanker cars, Quebec derailment...) and it's high time that they are held responsible for their actions.

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    2. Absolutely. RRs should upgrade equipment and safety, but of course that requires government telling businesses what to do, and we seem to be allergic to that right now in the good old U S of A. A story in the NYT a year or so ago described Chicago as "America's speed bump" because of how outdated our RR infrastructure is. It takes a train as long to get through Chicago as it takes to get from California to Chicago. Upgrading that infrastructure would impact neighborhoods (see south side about new freight yards/intermodal transit points) and so NIMBYism paralyzes any movement forward. But as Neil argued: cultivate patience. Sometimes, you just have to wait for the train to pass, and it too, shall pass.

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    3. Thanks for the back-up Bill. None of these people address my central point: why not wait for the train? I had to drive downtown, since I'm having -- ahem -- dinner with Joakim Noah on the North Side and wanted to sprint home afterward. Some truck was agonizingly backing into an alley, an 18-wheeler. A line of traffic must have sat there for five minutes, easy, while he went back and forth, back and forth. Not a horn honked. I was proud to live here.

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    4. The people that are really pissed at waiting for a freight train are those who choose not to go the slow circuitous route that would avoid all train tracks. That is possible on the South Side. And it's also possible to whiz on across 3 or 4 sets of tracks most of the time without encountering a train.

      John

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  8. You only have to be held up once by a long freight train to get it into your head that it's a terrible problem, but the reality is that for most people it happens infrequently. It is a bit like a misconception that, I believe, has an official name in statistics, that I could always get a nice parking place if those two or three spaces reserved for the disabled, which are almost always empty, were made available to everybody. The truth, of course, is that my chances would be only slightly improved.

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  9. Of course, coming back from a party downtown this evening, going west on Dundee, we got stopped by the slowest freight imaginable. It was after dark, so my reader wouldn't mind, but I couldn't even let loose a murmur of a grumble without Edie saying, "Aha! But you encouraged patience...." Hoisted with my own petard...

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