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And you wonder why

So, here is the problem, in miniature, right here in New York. Take a break from trying to get your mind round the catastrophe in New Orleans. If you're wondering how, how, how - well, here's how. Right here in the Big Apple.

About a hundred passengers were held up in a Roosevelt Island tramway glitch for two hours. I'll get to what the tramway is in a minute. Let's just see, first, why the ordeal lasted so long.

The delay in getting the tram running again was made more difficult because the only engineer familiar with the system was in Westchester County. He was brought in on a police helicopter.

Once the engineer arrived, he was able to start the power generator quickly and get the tram moving.

Link to the whole story, at least according to the Times. The tram is a no-longer-necessary link between Manhattan and Roosevelt Island, the twenty-five block long sliver in the East River where you will find that even New York City boasts a Main Street. (It's just about the only street on Roosevelt Island.) Subway connections were built years ago, and the city - or whoever it is in the city that's responsible for Roosevelt Island - would like to dismantle the tram. But that would be like telling the descendants of pioneers that they could no longer drive their Conestoga wagons to the shopping mall, and, hey, it's a scenic ride. So the save-the-tram constituency is pretty rabid.

New York is the American capital of low-budget engineering. There are a jillion elevators, and the density of outfits requiring mechanical know-how, from the backstages of Broadway theatres to the trains and subways and on to the  three major airports, may make our town a hub of Mr Fixits. Tell me, please, why there we are talking about "the only engineer familiar with the system." It's a tram - an amusement park ride with a slightly higher safety record - not a nuclear facility. It's true that the tram was imported from Europe. It may even be Swiss. But why was there only one guy in the vicinity - and not all that much in the vicinity - who knew how to flip a couple of switches? One guy fixed the tram quickly. With all due respect, I'm sure that this guy could have explained the necessary information over the phone to any intelligent handyman.

My legal training suggests that the tramway people are overly picky about who gets to look at their junk. Only tramway-authorized personnel can operate the light switch in the control room! I propose this explanation because I am certain that no better argument could possibly be advanced in defense of current operational procedures. That's how stupid they are. Sadly, they are not unusual. Our America is a procedurally fragmented place in which a million little Napoleons make up their own rules and don't care if anyone outside their jurisdiction knows them. If you think about it for a minute, you'll have no trouble seeing why New Orleans's levees weren't beefed up despite widespread consensus on their inadequacy. 

My favorite detail: the passengers conveyed their cell-phone numbers via "hand signals" to circling helicopters, which allowed the rescuers to keep the passengers informed and calm. I'm certain that there's nothing in the handbook about hand gestures, but I'm glad to see that they weren't ignored.


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You could change "Our America" to "My company" or any other characterization that would apply to a large group and very likely strike a deeply resonant chord with a good number of people who work or serve under poor or faulty leadership. Sad to say, but it's probably just human nature taking its full expression where adequate leadership doesn't exist. All of us need to be leaders, at a minimum we need to lead ourselves, leading the less skilled to a better place. Lack of leadership or faulty leadership results always in chaos or perversity both personally and corporately. It's a tall order, leading, it works from the top down, but only, if it works from the bottom up as well. Those who can't lead, at least themselves, generally can't follow either. Those without personal inwardly directed leadership can't follow even a good leader. Good leaders have led themselves to a better place and can thus move others in the same direction. Being a leader, exercising leadership skills, growing up in short is much different from being designated a leader. We all have the requisite seed of leadership inside us, we just need to germinate the seed, water it, turn into a flowering plant that bears fruit. Many of us, perhaps most of us, are not good gardeners, we don't tend our sprouted seed of leadership very well over the course of a lifetime. Most of us get a fairly healthy plant going, produce a bit of annual fruit and sort of plateau out. Some of us get more interested in the flowers than the fruit. And, some of us never sprout. You don't poke a tomato seed in ground today, water it a bit and expect to make a salad tomorrow. No parallels here to current events or contemporary American culture, no certainly not.

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