Monday, November 5, 2007
Last Year 1,944 New Yorkers Saw This Blog and Did Not Leave a Comment
Did you know that last year 1,944 New Yorkers saw something and said something? You probably did if you ride the New York City subway. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is intent on telling everybody how fiercely their riders combat terror—it’s a post-9/11 beacon of pride on the scale of electrified rail cars. There are signs in every subway car boasting, in imposing bold letters, “Last year 1,944 New Yorkers saw something and said something.” What “something” means is anybody’s guess—a man vomiting on the F train at three in the morning, or exposing himself and eating crab legs during rush hour? A torn, inseminated pair of leggings on the Columbus Circle platform? We don’t know what people saw last year—the MTA merely advertises that a few less than 2,000 people vigilantly reported having seen something they thought to be suspicious.
Maybe the proclamation is supposed to be farcical, since even the MTA bureaucracy isn't so myopic as to laud the fact that not even 2,000 people reported something. According to the MTA's website, 8,272,117 people, on average, use New York's public transportation every weekday. The weekend averages are a bit lower—the website doesn’t specify, so let’s assume that, on the average day, 7 million people use subways and buses. Extrapolated over 365 days, that’s 2,555,000,000 people—TWO BILLION, FIVE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-FIVE MILLION PEOPLE—using MTA transportation every year. And just 1,944 people saw something and said something? That’s .0000761% of riders.
The SUBWAYblogger interprets the statistics in terms of day-to-day occurrences. If 1,944 people saw something and said something, that’s about 5.3 people per day. “There’s easily that many people passed out in the middle of a hallway every day,” the SUBWAYblogger astutely notes. “That alone can account for all the reports in a year.”
5.3 people per day. Out of eight million, two hundred and seventy-two thousand, one hundred and seventeen. That’s unreal. That’s earth-shatteringly, bone-jarringly, soul-numbingly infinitesimal. That’s buying-drinks-for-underage-girls-at-a-Nickelback-concert low. That’s so low, in fact, that one must assume the MTA didn't crunch the numbers before they signed off on the ad campaign. I’d bet four Nickelback tickets that there isn’t a single precedent in the history of civilization for celebrating failure on so grand a scale. The only thing that comes to mind is when, in 1967, then-Egyptian-president Nasser told his country that they'd triumphed in the war against Israel, while, in reality, Israel had decimated the Egyptian military in a matter of hours. But that wasn’t so much celebrating failure as much as it was covering it up with a lie—the MTA, in fact, might have been better served by lying. That they didn’t is what’s shocking.
So, translated into terrorist, “Last year 1,944 New Yorkers saw something and said something” means, “Do whatever the hell you want.” The ad might as well read, “7.61 x 10^-4 percent. Last year we asked two and a half billion people to watch for suspicious activity. We can only represent the percentage that did in negative scientific notation. We’re fucked.” Ironically, any infidel-hating fundamentalist with a calculator could deduce from the MTA's own advertisement that the subway is a soft target.
Besides, can you really blame the riding public for its silence? As a frequenter of New York City’s subways and buses, I can assure you of three things:
1) Something that could possibly be a mass terror attack occurs once every five minutes. Any veteran rider is irreversibly desensitized to any and all weird, suspicious, and flagrant behavior.
2) There’s nobody to whom one might "say something." If Osama bin Laden was sitting in my subway car and lighting a stick of dynamite, I wonder who I’d tell first—the passed out crack addict with his head in my lap or the crocheting grandmother sitting under the “Last year 1,944 New Yorkers saw something and said something” sign?
3) If I did manage to find somebody in any position to thwart a mass murder, he/she wouldn’t care. The men and women who work for the MTA are some of the hardest, most terrifying people I’ve ever met. They’re a million times scarier than any terrorist. In order to save the day, one would have to, in a matter of seconds, see a terrorist attack in progress, find somebody to tell, take a few moments to relate what I'd witnessed, and cajole that individual to do something about it (as if an unarmed subway operator could overpower an armed terrorist. But that's another issue). I'd say one's chances are about .0000761%.
This is why I keep my mouth shut on the train. Which is typical: according to the MTA, last year 2,555,499,056 New Yorkers saw something and did not say something.
Stay Silent, New York