I was walking out to go to The Bug Jar (219 Monroe Ave.) When I got to the end of my street, I saw a man walking in East Henrietta Rd. I thought nothing of it — after all, the sidewalks are covered in snow and ice, so depending on his physical condition and footwear, it's understandable that he would walk in the perfectly clear road. (I'm fortunate enough to have boots, balance, and strength, so I just get a tremendous workout in my gluteus maximus.) As I arrived at the intersection, I noticed the light was in my favor (even if the inconveniently-placed crosswalk doesn't reflect that) so I was making my way across, parallel to the light traffic. As the light started changing and the last vehicle passed, I heard a thud, as if the pick-up truck had run over a log in the road.
I knew it was trouble before I turned around, and as I had expected, the man was lying in the road.
I was calling 911 (although I almost called 9111 in my panic) before the driver even got out of the truck. I think my initial assumption was incorrect — the man wasn't run over, but run into. Thankfully the driver was going relatively slowly, but he didn't see the man and didn't react, so the truck hit with full force. A firetruck, ambulance, and two police cars arrived within a couple minutes. They got the man on a backboard and into the ambulance — he didn't appear to have a broken back or other severe injury, so I hope the worst he could suffer would be a broken bone or two.
I always wonder how most people think this is okay — as if it's just a fact of life that these kinds of car accidents happen. It was certainly preventable. Why aren't cars equipped with brakes that engage automatically when they detect something? For that matter, why aren't the sidewalks cleared to the same standard as the street? I could blame the driver, but humans are wholly unequipped to drive the same route without incident and be expected to handle a random, unusual circumstance, proven again and again by psychology and anthropology.
It's really too bad we can't use science to guide our collective decision-making.
I was reading The Democrat and Chronicle the other day and, once again, was irritated by the kind of stories they cover. But then it hit me: the "news" is not about "what's going on" but "what are the exceptions to what's going on."
The story that made me think this was on page 2 of the first section — a rather prominent place for a news story. It was about a girl in Rhode Island who was run over by a school bus. It's thankfully rare that students are not killed (particularly in such an ironic way) but the article made a point of noting that the girl was not paying attention — she was apparently listening to headphones and looking at her cell phone.
Now as a pedestrian, a cyclist, and a driver, I know that motor vehicles are very dangerous. [Ok, maybe because I'm curious, I'm observant, and I rely on factual data to form my opinions … lots of pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers don't seem to pay much attention … anyway …] So I wondered why this story was considered so important. It seemed to have to do with the girl being distracted — perhaps amplifying a commentary that youth are oblivious to the world around them today.
But then I realized that I should be looking at the "reciprocal" of the story — to look at what the norm was that this case was an exception. The norm is that children cross the street safely almost all the time, school buses rarely get in accidents with pedestrians, and if there is an accident involving a vehicle and a pedestrian, it is almost always the fault of the driver of the vehicle. (And by that, I'm referring to the fact that the driver, as the controller of a potentially deadly device, must guard against harming anyone at all times.)
So I took a look at the rest of the paper and found the same to be true. I couldn't find the articles from Saturday, but some of today's headlines are as follows: "Greece officer faces additional charges [of coercing sex from a woman]", "Teen testifies about alleged sexual attack by [former county legislator William C.] Bastuk", and "[Latasha] Shaw's 911 tape [of a call prior to being killed by a mob] played at trial".
None of these things are normal. They are all exceptional. As such, the news does nothing to inform the public about what is happening — they are claiming to do just that, but instead report only on exceptions. In doing so, most people I know believe that the world is this terrible and dangerous place when the opposite is really true.
My idea on all this is to start a paper called something like "The Rochester Mundane" that would report things like "100.0% of Rochester residents not murdered" (rounding from 99.98%) or that "police officers do not generally coerce sex," "legislators do not attack people," and "for most calls to 911, help arrives in time."
The first problem is that I don't have the time. The second is that it would be wildly unpopular. I mean, who wants to know about what's really going on?
Ali and I had a late breakfast at The Blue Horizon Restaurant (1174 Brooks Ave.) As diners go, this is one of the best: of late my number one qualification is that my coffee stays full — and not only did it not get empty, it barely hit the halfway mark. The food is good diner-grade food and the prices are low diner-grade prices.
We left around 1 or so and on the way home I thought, "I should just take Brooks Avenue" but I got on 390 anyway. As I was getting on the ramp, I saw that traffic was at a standstill. We got in line anyway, figuring it would clear up. However, a steady stream of emergency vehicles kept coming. Some cars behind us rushed ahead to get to the second lane, but we were in no hurry and didn't mind being one of the last ones through. State Police closed 390 at Brooks behind us and were directing all traffic off the highway. A State Police officer started having cars entering at the exit turn around and drive the wrong way up 390 then turn off on the exit. We followed suit. It's the only time I've ever driven the wrong way on the highway. It was wild — it made me feel all sophisticated like I was driving on The M1 or something.
We decided to see what happened so we got back on at Mt. Hope but traffic ground to a halt around Scottsville Rd. Police were directing all traffic off the highway at that point as well, but we could see a multiple-car pileup — rubbernecking, we saw at least 6 cars involved. The hill formed by the new tunnel under the runway for the Scottsville Road access road had caused drifting snow to form a whiteout and had coated the road with snow. As it turned out, there were way more than 6 cars involved: 36 in all. As you've probably heard on the news, one young girl got killed and there were about 20 people taken to the hospitals with various degrees of injuries. The accident was apparently caused by a driver who stopped in the middle of the white-out.
People say the "cause" was the driver who stopped, but that was just the final straw. A whiteout totally sucks and there's no ideal solution. Initial wisdom says that if you can't see, stop, but it's also a highway, so you don't stop. Second best is to proceed slowly. In my opinion, that means very slowly compared to highway speeds (i.e. 20-30 miles-per-hour) but judging by the damage to cars, it appears that people scarcely took their foot off the accelerator and instead plowed into whatever was in front of them at full-bore. Then again, it was clear skies and dry roads right up to the bend, so only the properly attentive drivers even had a chance.
I also think it's interesting that nobody faults the airport. If it were a private residence and they had put up a privacy wall, they'd have hell to pay. But because the airport presumably wanted to extend a runway to accommodate larger planes, it's all good — dead girl and all. I'm not so much advocating suing the airport, but I'd like to see a fair assessment. Rather than let it slide with a passive-voiced "the conditions were dangerous," I think it's important to realize that prior to this construction project, this was not an issue. And as such, to determine if there is something that can be done to change the structure of the tunnel to prevent these kind of conditions from forming again.
I started thinking about how it's the start of 2008 and what I can be hopeful for. And by "hope", I'm referring to a "belief that things will be better in the future". Not necessarily a specific time period, but I guess "in my lifetime" or "reasonably soon". Something like that.
I watched this video on YouTube called How It All Ends by a high-school science teacher named Greg. In it he outlines the response to the possibility of global warming in terms of risk-assessment. Either global warming is happening and caused by us, or it isn't, and either we do something about it or do nothing. His argument is that there are two positive outcomes: we do nothing and the threat of global warming was false, or we do something and it was true but we fix it. However, if we do something and global warming wasn't happening then — the worst case — is that we have a large economic hit; if we do nothing and global warming is happening, then — the worst case again — is that there are floods, droughts, and famines on a scale humanity has never seen. His bet, therefore, is to just take the economic hit and not worry about it.
But remember the last "catastrophic event" that was to happen?: the Y2K bug. And what happened? Nothing. And why? Because we took the economic hit of fixing everything we could find. And what did people believe? It was all a lie to start with.
So likewise with global warming, if I'm out there saying "travel less" and "use less energy" and that becomes forced upon people and then nothing bad happens, people will simply believe that global warming was a myth. They'll blame us "global warming freaks" for ruining their lives. And then if catastrophe does strike, they'll blame us "global warming freaks" for doing the wrong thing and not fixing everything for them. Therefore, my best bet is to quietly go off and figure out how to live in the catastrophic post-global-warming world without being seen. But that's not really hopeful at all — it's just surviving disaster.
The catalyst for this post, though, was in trying to do taxes. I wanted to get my taxes done early because I'm self-employed and need to hand over checks to the U.S. Government on a regular basis. If I don't estimate correctly, I get hit with a huge fine. But I can avoid it entirely if I file by January 31 and pay everything I owe. The only problem is that the forms I need from my bank and mortgage company won't arrive until after January 31, so it would be essentially illegal to file before January 31. So I've got my fingers crossed that I won't get in trouble.
I really wish taxes were simpler, but it's only me and other small business owners that even see it. I remember puzzling about how bad it really was in the 1990's — after all, the company I worked for handled all the hard stuff, and at the end of the year I'd fill out a few lines on a 1040EZ and get a check in the mail. Awesome! What's wrong with that system?
But worse is that I actually write a check to the government. If I don't, I'd go to prison which I don't want to do. I don't want the government to kill more people in Iraq, but my voice is not represented in the U.S. Government — I still have to pay taxes, though. [And here I thought that's why we fought that big war 230 some-odd years ago against England.] My big lament, though, is that I voluntarily sign the check to pay fund the war. If I were just a regular working person, I could claim that I don't get a choice — that taxes automatically come out of my paycheck.
And it's not like we're getting out of Iraq any time soon. It's a question of "how many Iraqis do we need to kill before they believe in freedom?" The real answer is, "we are the problem," but W. doesn't believe in being wrong. By the way, what ever happened to Osama bin Laden? We apparently failed to hang him, so I can only imagine he's planning another 9/11. I don't see any hope at all on that whole situation.
It used to be fashionable to help the poor — to ensure they have food, shelter, and water. Somewhere along the way "shelter" got eliminated, so it was just to feed the poor, but lately it's food stamps and welfare that are crippling the country. And water? Well if you can't afford to buy the clean stuff in the bottles you deserve what you get. What's next, air?
What about providing youth programs to keep kids off the street? Nah: just get more police to shoot them when they form gangs and start killing people. Health care? Hopeless. Public education? Hopeless.
The other day I was riding home from the Public Market — I took my bike with the trailer to get stuff — and I went to turn onto my street. I had to get into the left lane and I didn't see anyone behind me. As I turned into the turn-lane, someone tried passing me just at that moment and broke off the mirror on my bike. I was less than an inch away from getting knocked off the bike, and barely a foot away from being killed.
But did they stop? Hell no. I was just an obstacle in their way — a nuisance. Probably some worthless beggar who'd be better off dead than alive. I mean, can you believe that I thought I was permitted to ride on the street? That's for cars, moron!
And so goes the last shred of human decency: that nearly killing someone else is okay — in fact, it was my fault anyway for making them decide whether they needed to touch their brakes.