Strakon Lights Up, No. 39

We side with the cabbies;
we have always sided with the cabbies


From a segment on NPR's "All Things Considered" today, I'd guess that one small department of the Ministry of Truth has been humming recently. Yes, comrades, I imagine that exhausted hero-workers have been snatching a couple hours' sleep on mattresses laid out in the corridors after laboring eighteen hours at a stretch. And that faithful proles from the cafeteria have been trundling by with trolleys laden with sandwiches and coffee, so that the front-fighters for Truth need not leave their cubicles for sustenance. And that hundreds of Winston Smiths — healthy  Winstons, never infected by crimethink — have been bending over their computer screens and microphones, frantically rectifying, rectifying, rectifying. And that now that it's all over, the bone-tired, red-eyed functionaries of Minitrue know that "a mighty deed, which could never be mentioned," has been achieved.

Actually, some of the news I have to talk about has been wandering around unsupervised since 1996, when it was released by the Ministry of Love: to wit, that driving a cab is America's most dangerous occupation. But NPR found more-recent news pegs. First, in New York City, nine cab drivers have been slaughtered so far this year; the most recent victim was buried yesterday. And, second, various municipalities, such as New York and Washington City, are rushing to do something about the situation, which — "Attention, comrades!" — shows all the signs of overnight promotion to crisis status.

According to NPR, Washington City is planning to give cabbies the choice of carrying cell phones, installing video cameras, or putting in safety shields. And according to today's New York Times, New York has already started handing out donated cell phones that are programmed to dial 911 with a single touch. In addition, the Times was authorized to report, Giuliani's regime has "created a $5 million city program to provide some of the city's 41,000 livery cabs with partitions and security cameras." But the city is doing even more than that, and it's this final, perfect touch that has me looking for that thousand-foot-high white pyramid in the center of town and calculating how much overtime was put in by the hero-workers. According to the Times, the NYPD "plans to have undercover detectives pose as drivers in a small number of livery cars equipped with hidden cameras....

"The department recently bought some Lincoln Town Cars, and a police official said yesterday that as many as 10 of the decoy cabs might be on the streets at any one time." ("Police to Pose as Cabbies to Stop Crimes," by William K. Rashbaum)

I almost feel as though I'll be vaporized for revealing this, but as recently as November there came into my possession a column by Mona Charen in which she reported that NYPD undercover cops were taking another approach to serving and protecting the New York taxicab industry. In fact, Charen — clearly an agent of Goldsteinism — wrote that "they were out looking for cabbies who engaged in illegal racial profiling"! Instead of impersonating hero-cabbies in order to arrest hooligan-riders, you see, they were impersonating hero-riders in order to arrest trrrraitor-cabbies.

Some of us who haven't yet done our stretch in Room 101 may even have unhealthy memories — resulting from what Winston Smith's mentor O'Brien would call a failure "in humility, in self-discipline" — of a long-running Hate Campaign by the established media and the Racial Thought Police against "racist cabbies" who declined to pick up members of the more crime-prone minorities. That Ten Years' Hate was maintained despite the fact that a very high proportion,  let us say, of big-city cabbies are themselves nonwhite. Only enemies of the regime — servants of Goldstein, all! — ever seemed to write accounts of the "racist cabbie" phenomenon that portrayed the cabbie's viewpoint sympathetically or set the phenomenon in the context of those mean, dark streets. Very few, if any, stories that I saw in the established media mentioned, let alone trumpeted, the awful casualty rate among cabbies that is now being trumpeted.

But now the Times is authorized to report that police are pleading with cabbies "not to pick up street hails, especially after midnight." We must presume that that rule is intended to cover hails bearing a close resemblance to the dark-complexioned actor Danny Glover, who raised a racial ruckus last year when a cabbie declined to answer his hail.

Why this is happening isn't all that significant. No doubt it's just an unpredictable, evanescent sorting-out of the constant kaleidoscopic tossing and tumbling of competing interest groups. For all I know, some politically connected transnational has wound up with too many video-surveillance cameras in its inventory and needs to move them fast. No, what is significant is the how.  And I don't mean only the "how" as it relates to Minitrue's spinning of the story. Once the municipalities with a high cabbie-fatality rate have gotten all their programs on track and their funding underway, they will have ended up with at least four good things that I can think of off hand.

First, city officials will have more control over existing cabbies. More control over anything is always good. Second, they'll have more control over would-be cabbies, because the requirements for expensive equipment will raise the barriers to entry once the subsidies are curtailed. Think of the new opportunities for bribery and for rewarding friends with arcane exemptions and rule-suspensions! Third, even more slobby-looking undercover cops will be sneaking around at all hours. Heightening the public's fear that secret cops are everywhere — are we reaching Stasi levels yet? — is certainly a good thing in itself, although such cops do tend to be especially trigger-happy and productive of scandals. On the other hand, some large part of many mayors' constituencies seem to appreciate a high level of wild police gunplay. Fourth, City Hall will contain more bureaucrats and will have more taxpayers' money to play with. And that, comrades, is a very  good thing.

City Hall would have none of those good things if it simply let cabbies decide whom to pick up where and when, based on their experience and tolerance of risk. That leads me to expect that the "racist cabbie" chanting will start up again — and the death toll return to the back pages — just as soon as mayors are ready to announce breakthroughs that "bring the war against the cab robbers within measurable distance of its end." After all, while we've always been at war with Eastasia now,  by this time next year we might always have been at war with Eurasia.

Elian Update

According to a report today by Reuters, "A judge has temporarily blocked Miami Mayor Joe Carollo's efforts to fire his city manager." What. A. Surprise.


May 3, 2000


© 2000 by WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.

If you found this column to be interesting, please donate to our cause. You should make your check or m.o. payable in U.S. dollars to WTM Enterprises and send it to:

WTM Enterprises
P.O. Box 224
Roanoke, IN 46783

Thanks for helping to assure a future for TLD!

Notice to visitors who came straight to this document from off site: You are deep in The Last Ditch. You should check out our home page and table of contents.