Thursday, June 25, 2015

Update - life as a rail commuter

From approximately December 2014 to the end of May 2015 I rode Dallas Area Rapid Transit ( ) light rail to work.  I had documented my initial reactions in an earlier post.  Link here.

I rode the train three or four days a week.  My client’s office was pretty much deserted on Monday and Friday, and there was often no one to talk to and no real point to going in.  If the weather happened to be horrible, I always had the option of working from home, since most of the team I was on were based in other cities.  So my experience is not the same as that of someone who needed to take the train every day no matter what.

The trains run pretty much on time, but there is a tendency for what they call, in the airline business, “irregular operations”.  I ran into this a few times:

  • ·      A woman had her face slashed at the Pearl Street station, which is my station.  There is only one pair of tracks through downtown Dallas, and the light rail system was effectively interrupted for half a day while they investigated the crime.  This displaced approximately 30,000 people.  As far as I know, they didn’t catch the perpetrator, despite having him on video.  They used buses to move people from the last available station to downtown.
  • ·      There was an electrical problem at Pearl Street where a train somehow snarled the overhead power lines, dragging them down to the ground.  This put the trains out of service for a while.  But I got a nice tour of Old East Dallas on the bus.
  • ·      During the torrential rains we had in North Texas this spring (2015), electrical problems put half the tracks out of service near downtown for a while.

Also, during the multitude of ice storms we had this winter, rail service was often interrupted.  When ice forms on the power lines, the trains can get no power and everything stops.  I wasn’t affected because I chickened out when it was icy and worked from home.

I learned that I wasn’t using our health club when I parked at the Bush Turnpike station.  This station has a couple of major advantages – 1) it is five minutes from the house, and 2) you can park more or less under cover, since the parking is below the elevated turnpike.  But it’s nowhere near the health club.  So I started parking at the LBJ/Central station, which is really convenient to Texas Instruments.  The health club is at TI.  Using this station had one other minor advantage in that the Orange Line goes all the way up to Plano only at peak periods, otherwise terminating at LBJ/Central.  So if I snuck out of work early, I could still get to where my car was parked.  (We have two lines, Orange and Red. Red always goes all the way north.)

To my credit, I never blew off my exercise, if the car was parked at LBJ/Central. 

The key to making the whole thing work, for me, was the DART Go-Pass app.  It is a free download. You can purchase your daily or monthly ticket using the app, and show the pass to the fare inspector when required using the app.  If you remember to bring up the app while you are waiting for the train or just as you board, it will even show that the ticket is active when you are in the tunnel and have no internet connection.  One of the fare inspectors let me know that when I asked about what happens if they check for a ticket when there is no cell service.  The app also has a panel for Where’s My Train.  You select your station and it tells you what trains are coming to that station on what lines and in how many minutes.  I used it sitting at my desk at work to time when to leave, when the weather was poor, or just too hot.  It works very well.

The office where I worked was right next to the Pearl Street station.  It was literally a stone’s throw away.  It would have been a 30 second walk except Dallas police will ticket you, or at least yell at you, for jaywalking, even if there isn’t a car in sight.  It could not have been more convenient.

The trip from Bush to Pearl was around 30 minutes.  In the mornings, I could have driven it in 15 or 20, but in the evenings that drive could be anything from 30 to 90 minutes.  The trip from LBJ/Central was less, maybe 17 minutes.  I got a seat right away all but one time. 

Seats are not comfortable, but adequate.  I witnessed some of the same passenger behavior that I saw all the years I commuted by subway and train in New York – man-spreading, people hogging the whole seat, one way or another, people standing in and blocking the exit, people trying to force their way on before letting anyone off. But in the 21st Century, we have other ways for people to aggravate you.  Talking loudly on the phone is one, and playing music on the phone at maximum volume with no earbuds or headphones is another.  And there is the ever-popular, hold a 42 ounce drink using your knees and drop it on somebody when the train stops suddenly.  Only got my shoes.

I witnessed one attempted crime – a guy had his bike on the train, and was standing up holding on to it.  A young man tried to grab the bike and run off with it as the train stopped at the Forest Lane station.  There was a scuffle but the thief was unsuccessful.  I also witnessed dozens of people who had not paid for a ticket and got caught by fare inspectors.  The fare inspectors are nice and just scold people, or have them buy a ticket on the spot using their phones.  However, one time the fare inspection was being done by a DART police officer, with a gun and handcuffs, etc.  They do not fool around.  He issued a citation to the guy sitting next to me for not having a ticket.  It was a $50 ride.  Then the cop asked for ID, and the unticketed passenger had an out of state license.  The cop asked how long he had been here, and he replied a few months.  The cop explained that he could issue another citation for not having changed the driver’s license within thirty days, but he didn’t.

As I rode the train for a while, I became less and less comfortable with it.  I started out watching movies on my iPad, until I realized some guy was watching me, and I wondered if what I was doing was really smart.  I think it wasn’t.  After that I switched to an e-reader, or just brought a book.  Mornings felt safe, but I sometimes would leave a little early in the afternoons, and, just like in New York, you felt less safe if there were fewer people on the train.

My most recent DART trip was after I stopped commuting for work.  My wife and I went to the Dallas Museum of Art, and took the train.  On the southbound leg, there was a middle-aged white woman wearing what looked like nurse attire who was talking very loudly and very clearly on her phone, with earbuds in both ears.  It was really loud, and was obvious that it was a work-related conversation.  Sitting behind her was an old black man, who started yelling at her, ‘Shut the f___ up’, over and over again.  I kind of agreed with him.  The woman got up and moved as far away from him as she could, never stopping her conversation.  Then the fare inspector came.  The man had no ticket, argued with the fare inspector for a while, and finally bolted off the train at the Mockingbird Station.  So, my wife got the full experience.  Our trip back in the afternoon was more routine.  And we had parked at LBJ/Central, and we did go to the gym.

Monday, June 22, 2015

A modest proposal

We need to do away with the anachronism known as the Bill of Rights.

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

This amendment has been an unending source of problems preventing a just and equal society.  The ‘religion’ clause has been perverted by the radical right to prevent the much needed and popular distribution of birth control, for free, to any woman who wants it.  Instead the Catholic Church has been supporting the religious right in opposing this just and progressive initiative.

Furthermore, churches have vast fortunes which are not being subjected to normal taxation, which means a less fair society.

Also, the freedom of speech has been abused so badly that it needs some sort of limitation.  As Martin O’Malley has pointed out, we need to silence the National Rifle Association.  And the relentless attacks of radical right wing organizations such as Fox News on our President should not be allowed to continue.  A just, fair, progressive society cannot be created with such a background of vituperation.

This amendment needs to be repealed.

Amendment II
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

This amendment isn’t even clear.  What it appears to say is that because the Redcoats might come back, everybody needs to have a gun, so they can get out there and fight them off.  The Redcoats are not coming back. 

We need to take guns out of our society for everyone’s benefit.  We need to allow Congress to pass laws restricting guns for all of our safety, and if Congress won’t act we need for our President to be able to take action by Executive Order.  Guns should be allowed only for licensed hunters, who have had background investigations, and hunters should be re-licensed every year.

This amendment needs to be repealed.  Even Karl Rove agrees that we can’t have gun control in this country until this amendment is repealed.

Amendment III
No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

This is another completely obsolete amendment. The Redcoats are not coming back.  It needs to be repealed.

Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

In order to enforce the new Federal gun laws, it will be absolutely necessary for the police (hopefully the Federal police, another much needed reform) to be able to go into any place in order to search for illegal firearms. The necessity for a just, peaceful, progressive society trumps the old, obsolete, Eighteenth Century notion of individual rights.  Anyone who has ever been on the Internet has already waived any right to privacy anyway.

The fourth amendment needs to be repealed.  It has been ignored for the most part by the Federal Government since (at least) the Clinton Administration and has certainly been obsolete since September 11, 2001.

Amendment V
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The Fifth Amendment has been long abused.  Look, for example, at George Zimmerman.  Why is he walking the streets and getting into more trouble?  He should have been arrested for the murder of Trayvon Martin and should still be locked up.  Why is it even necessary to try an individual such as that?  Why do we have to spend taxpayer money on this Roof individual?  Everyone knows he is guilty.

The takings clause is widely ignored anyway.  Any prosecutor can just confiscate anything he wants to for any reason or no reason.  In New York City they can take your vehicle and not even have to tell you why.  Look at what happened to AIG.  The government seized the company and paid nothing, and then sold off the stock it seized.

As far as someone being a witness against himself, ‘taking the Fifth’ is widely understood to be an admission of guilt anyway, so there is no real benefit to it.  As for the prohibition against double jeopardy, the Federal Government has worked its way around that any time necessary.  For example the police officers who beat Rodney King were retried for the same offense (they only beat him once) on civil rights grounds.

The Fifth Amendment interferes with the just, equal, progressive society and must be repealed.

Amendment VI
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

The Sixth Amendment is obsolete and should be repealed.  Do you think for a moment that an impartial jury can be found for someone like Roof?  And when that videographer made the anti-Muslim video that caused the Benghazi tragedy, wasn’t the President right to have him locked up, held with no charges, and throw away the key?  Why should a Zimmerman have to be given equal treatment in court with some innocent defendant? And why should we have to pay for his lawyer?

The Government is already ignoring this amendment whenever it needs to (cf. Gitmo) and it should already have been repealed.

Amendment VII
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Twenty dollars?  Absurd.  And courts overturn facts found by juries all the time – all you have to do is assert improper influence or bias and you can do it.  This amendment no longer serves any purpose and should be repealed.

Amendment VIII
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

This is another obsolete amendment.  The bikers in Waco were all held with $1 million bail even though most of them were just spectators.  Who decides what is excessive?  And our President imposed fines on the oil company responsible for the big leak in the Gulf without any legal proceedings at all.  With the near-elimination of the death penalty, which a more progressive Supreme Court will completely eliminate soon, the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments will be obsolete.  This amendment should be repealed.

Amendment IX
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

This sure sounds like States Rights to me, and in order to prevent outrages like the Confederate Battle Flag appearing anywhere except in a history book, it needs to be repealed.

Amendment X
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

Oh, please, more States Rights.  The power should be in the hands of the Federal Government.  It is the surest way to a fair, equal, progressive society.  The states missed their chance.  This amendment must be repealed.

The Bill of Rights is really the Bill of No Rights, according to the Federal Government, and its repeal is basically already done, but we need to make it official.  This will help lead to a more equal, just, peaceful, and progressive society for all Americans.

Let's start the movement now!  Repeal the Bill of Rights!