Thursday, August 9, 2007

How many times have I been on camera today?

Remember the Bellamy Brothers’ song? “I’m an old hippie and I don’t know what to do, should I hang on to the old, should I grab on to the new?” That lyric is exactly how I feel about surveillance cameras everywhere.

The whole camera surveillance issue is a dilemma for me. Cameras are everywhere. Is all that security necessary? Is it protective overkill?

I suppose when I’m out there in public, where people clearly have no realistic expectation of privacy, it’s not really intrusion. But even that simple logic doesn’t seem to matter to me. I hate the idea of all those cameras.

Every time I drive through an intersection, am I on camera? Who gets that date- and time-stamped photo, and if I was not doing anything wrong, whose business is it what time I was there?

I despise the idea of that lens zeroing in on me. No, I am not a secret shoplifter and yes, it’s a no-brainer that terrorism and crime in our world reminds us that we must value our security, too. This “say cheese” world is new for me and I have to come to grips with it. It doesn’t really raise my comfort level a lot to know that if someone murders me, cops will have the tape out and maybe find the killer a little more quickly.

It’s those ugly “invasion of privacy” words – words that should not go down well with most freedom-wired Americans. And I don’t believe that they do. Or do they?

Last week at our daily editorial meeting, Reed Black said that ABC News reported that, by a 3-to-1 margin, Americans favor the increased use of surveillance cameras. Reed reported it in a newscast on “Land Line Now” on XM radio.

He tells me that in a recent ABC poll, 71 percent of the respondents said they are more concerned about deterring and solving crime than they are about privacy issues.

Today’s world sure gives us some tough choices to make.

The right man for the job? I don’t think so

I don’t think a one of us has traveled over a bridge since the I-35W bridge collapse this past week without catching our breath just a bit. Its collapse was a disaster of monumental proportions. The federal government is scrambling for answers on why the bridge collapsed – as expected. In addition, just a few short days into the investigation, I have to tell you that the handling of the bridge collapse already reeks. A key player in the search for answers will be Richard Capka. For those of you who recognized that name immediately, good for you for reading Land Line religiously. For those who don’t know who he is, here’s a quick biography/history lesson for you. Richard Capka is the head of the Federal Highway Administration and former head of Boston’s infamous, problem-plagued Big Dig. Here’s what we reported in Land Line in 2006:
“The ongoing problems in the tunnel system have prompted investigations, which, according to The Associated Press, Federal Highway Administrator Richard Capka recused himself from after questions arose about an apparent sweetheart deal he was involved in before leaving the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority four years ago. “As head of the Authority, Capka oversaw the Big Dig operation, but in 2002 handed his powers over. “With Capka already planning to take a job as deputy administrator for the Federal Highway Administration, it was voted to terminate Capka – which kicked in a severance clause in his contract. “As a result, The AP reported Capka walked away with more than $82,000 when he moved to FHWA. “In March 2006, when Capka was first nominated for the top job at FHWA, Land Line Magazine contacted the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office and the Turnpike Authority regarding Capka’s departure from the Authority. Some officials said they were unsure of the details, and others said it was a personnel issue and was not public record.”
In August of 2006, Capka dropped out of the investigation into the ceiling panel collapse in the Big Dig that killed a woman on her honeymoon. Wednesday, Aug. 7, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters deployed a team to operate on-site in Minneapolis to coordinate the federal response, recovery and rebuilding effort following the collapse. With none other than Capka at the helm. Sure, the feds are quick to tout his engineering prowess, but when looking at the Big Dig, he does not have a banner career to back up the accolades. With every Big Dig disaster, the incompetence during his watch becomes more and more obvious. Putting him in charge of anything big scares the hell out of me. Sorta like FEMA’s Michael Brown being placed in charge of Katrina recovery.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Cardboard cutouts of kids? You kiddin’ me?

We see stories like this one all the time. People in neighborhoods, cities, heck, even on highways who are tired of speeding traffic take matters into their own hands to slow things down.

Usually, the Land Line crew finds more humor than ingenuity in their tactics. Take for example a case a while back where an individual hired scantily clad men and women to stand alongside the roadside holding signs encouraging motorists to drive with care. Talk about distracted driving!

But, the most recent efforts were far more worrisome to me than funny. Click here to read the report.

I fully appreciate being worried about traffic speeds on residential streets where children live and play. I live that life every day. I’ll even acknowledge that this tactic will be effective – for a little bit.

The problem is that he’s dismissing human nature.

Speed trap scams only work for a time. Eventually motorists wise up to the farce and proceed as usual – maybe even a little faster in retaliation. I used to live near a Podunk speed trap town in Oklahoma. When the one cop was off duty, he would park his cruiser along the side of the highway with a dummy in it to slow people down. Didn’t take long for everyone to figure out his work schedule and know when his stand-in was watching the roadways.

Back to the newest tactic – cardboard cutouts of children. That scares me.

No sooner will motorists wise up to the situation and begin ignoring the cutouts, will a real, live child dart into the road chasing a ball or a dog. While his concern and attempt at a creative solution can be commended to an extent, common sense has to kick in. He has to realize that he may very well be creating a deadly scenario right before his own eyes.

The cardboard cutouts aren’t an all-bad idea. Desensitizing motorists to children playing alongside a road is just bad form. He needs to stick with one of Barney Fife holding a radar or maybe even hire the scantily clad crew.

Let’s hope this obvious reality is pointed out before it’s too late.

Monday, August 6, 2007

The good, the bad and the ugly

A trucker, I’m not. But, most of you know that I’ve been around the industry long enough and fought enough battles with you to know that I am a huge fan and advocate. I love my job and what I do.

One of the things I face every day it seems like is debunking the myths, tall tales and outright misconceptions of truckers. You know what I’m talking about. The one where truckers are wild-eyed, drugged-up, sleep-deprived, running-with-scissors renegades.

I proudly explain that’s not the case, spout off statistics to back it up, talk about those of you I know personally and do whatever I can in my personal life to change those perspectives.

But, I honestly have to say after spending last week on the road with my three kids that I’m more than ready to kick a few idiots in the butt. They’re honestly screwing it up for all of the professional truckers on the road.

I’m a professional road-tripper, if you will. It’s nothing for me to load up my kids and my dog and head out on a 1,000-plus-mile trip. The kids travel great and the dog loves it.

I’ve been around trucking long enough that I’m a share-the-road kind of gal. I’m not passing you on the right. I’m out of your blind spot. I don’t hang out in the left lane. And for crying out loud, I would never dream of cutting a big truck off in traffic.

I’d have to say that 95 percent of the truckers I encountered on my most recent trip afforded me the same respect.

A few of you even gave the kids a honk – I thank you for that. I’m trying to get them out of the “give me a honk” mode. But, they’re kids and they love it. Then again, you could have been honking at my OOIDA stickers.

I was grateful for the tanker driver who led me through the stormy weather. And then there was the Long-Haul Truckin’ driver who slowed down and let me over when we crested a hill and immediately ran up on a wreck. Common courtesy stuff, but it is appreciated. You’re the good guys in my book.

But then, there are those other drivers. The bad and the ugly.

They are the numbskulls that were out there acting like they were in a road race in Monte Carlo. Running up on stopped traffic like they really could stop on a dime. Hanging out in the left lane going 60 mph in a 70 mph speed zone. And that’s the minor stuff.

These yahoos need to have their CDLs yanked. They are a menace on the highway and they are making the image problem this industry faces harder to combat.

Knowing my frustration with them, I can’t even begin to imagine how sick of it the professional truckers are. Again, I find yet another reason to respect your patience and professionalism when you’re faced with wannabe truckers who won’t even follow the rules of the road.

So, the next time I talk to one of you and end the call telling you to “be safe,” I mean it. The four-wheelers are bad enough, but when you’re battling your own to stay safe, that’s just downright wrong.

Crumbling or not, these bridges are ours

When tragedy happens, the public reacts – usually with support, concern and aid. Human compassion has been strong in the aftermath of the bridge collapse in Minneapolis.

Politicians and officials were among those who acted quickly, calling for investigations, widespread bridge inspections and to allocate funds to the rebuilding and relief effort.

While a noble gesture, their actions have shed more light on an important problem. What happens when – not if – the inspectors find more deficient bridges?

Wait a minute. They already have – more than 73,000 of them.

I’m afraid we may be heading for a crisis of “too little, too late” with the nation’s infrastructure.

Good roads and bridges are taxpayer investments, and taxpayers have certainly been paying. So where has our money gone?

The government – including the politicians who acted in the aftermath in Minnesota – need to bear down and preserve these investments. We demand it.

And nobody wants to pay more than our fair share or see our infrastructure sold off to private investors. The roads and bridges are ours, crumbling or not.