Sunday, July 24, 2016

To my American friends..

Clinton at Planned Parenthood (cropped) By Lorie Shaull (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
photo Lorie Shaull (Wikimedia)
From social media, I get a strong sense that some of you feel a deep and abiding disappointment about Democrat primary voters going for the "establishment" candidate, Hillary Clinton.

I don't normally like to tell voters in another country whom they should elect, but one thing makes the United States a special case: the largest thermonuclear arsenal on the planet. All voters, everywhere, vote for the people they think will do the best job for themselves, their children, and the unborn generations to come. When Americans vote to decide whom they will hand the keys of a 6,000+ megaton nuclear arsenal, they also vote on behalf of the 95% of people on Earth who do not get a vote in American elections, but can still die in a nuclear war.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

How not to argue for the rights of cyclists

When cycling on streets and roads where motorists may have permission to operate their vehicles, cyclists have the right to decide our lane positions for ourselves. Human vision has a narrow acute range: the optimum resolution of our eyes covers just a few degrees. To cope with this limit, aviators train to scan the sky in small sections; without this training, surface motor vehicle operators focus on the road in front of the vehicle. Cyclists occupying the center of the lane have the best chance motorists will see and avoid us. Visibility plays a particularly critical role at intersections, and there cyclists riding to the side have the greatest chance of coming into conflict with motor vehicles.

There you have the safety case for cyclists riding in the center of the lane. It exists in tension with another safety imperative: separating traffic operating at different speeds, to avoid the need for sudden changes in speed and to minimize the consequences of an impact. Those two hazards: getting sideswiped by a driver passing too close and getting hit by a driver who sees us too late define the choices for cyclists. Taking all the risks and the known limits of drivers into account, it makes a lot of sense for cyclists to ride in the center of the lane when we don't have, at minimum, an adequate bicycle lane, and, preferably, a protected bike lane. Most of us who ride in North America can't count on bike lanes every where we go, or even most of the places we go. Most of us need to take the lane, and taking the lane serves us best when we do it without fear and without apology. At an absolute minimum, cyclists have, and ought to vigorously defend, a right to make our own choices about where in the lane to ride.


I ride in the center of the lane because I consider it safer. That covers it in three words: I consider it safer. John Forester and some of his supporters clutter the issue with irrelevant and frankly offensive detours from the single objective that matters: getting everyone from point 'A' to point 'B' alive and uninjured, notwithstanding the presence of two-tonne steel bombs.

Friday, July 15, 2016

#blacklivesmatter vs. #alllivesmatter: a different perspective

By Fibonacci Blue from Minnesota, USA
[CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)],
 via Wikimedia Commons
To judge by my facebook feed, just about everyone I know who forwards thoughts about the original #blacklivesmatter and the rejoinder #alllivesmatter see the difference as one of urgency. The vast majority of comments I read use an analogy of a building on fire or a child who got left out at dinner. By this analogy, black lives don't matter more, but black people, at least in the American context, have a more urgent need for justice right now.

I agree with this analogy, but I can see other ways of looking at the issue as well. A hashtag, after all, has some flexibility; we can see it in many different ways. And by seeing the hashtag #blacklivesmatter in a slightly different way, I have also come to see the problem with the attempted retort #alllivesmatter in a different way as well.

Imagine the hashtag #blacklivesmatter, not as a plea or as a proposition. Imagine it as a simple statement that we all long ago signed onto. In this light, the hashtag contains an accusation: the lives of Black people matter; you know it, I know it, we all know it, but our society, and particularly our justice system do not act according to our understanding. The power of the #blacklivesmatter hashtag stems from our recognition that our actions and the behaviour of our institutions do not reflect our stated ethics: therefore, #alllivesmatter will always embody a weak response, a feeble denial. Simply acknowledging the phrase "black lives matter" as a statement that calls for a response shows that at some level those who respond understand the problem exists. If black lives matter did not call our attention to a real problem, we would respond with "of course", rather than with "all lives matter".

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Pulse nightclub Orlando. Rest in peace, rise in glory

Stanley Almodovar III, Amanda Alvear, Oscar A Aracena-Montero, Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, Antonio Davon Brown, Darryl Roman Burt II, Angel L. Candelario-Padro, Juan Chevez-Martinez, Luis Daniel Conde, Cory James Connell, Tevin Eugene Crosby, Deonka Deidra Drayton, Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, Leroy Valentin Fernandez, Mercedez Marisol Flores, Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, Juan Ramon Guerrero, Paul Terrell Henry, Frank Hernandez, Miguel Angel Honorato, Javier Jorge-Reyes, Jason Benjamin Josaphat, Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, Christopher Andrew Leinonen, Alejandro Barrios Martinez, Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, Kimberly Morris, Akyra Monet Murray, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, Joel Rayon Paniagua, Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, Enrique L. Rios, Jr., Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, Edward Sotomayor Jr., Shane Evan Tomlinson, Martin Benitez Torres, Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, Luis S. Vielma, Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, Jerald Arthur Wright

Editing the list of names of people killed at Pulse nightclub in Orlando last Saturday brought home to me how long a list of names forty-nine victims makes.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Would simplifying the laws help?


 A participant tests a text-while-driving simulator at the
Distracted Driving event aboard Marine Corps
Air Station Miramar, Calif., Nov. 4.
Ontario has a the provincial law on distracted driving. What would happen if we repealed it? The criminal code of Canada already has a section (249) prohibiting the operation of a powered vehicle or aircraft in a manner that endangers the public. Does anyone not think tooling down the road while taking a selfie, texting, or talking on a hand-held device endangers the public? Creating a special category of "distracted driving" allowed the legislature to create special (specially lenient) penalties. Dangerous driving carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Distracted driving carries a maximum sentence of a thousand dollar fine and three points on your license. The real distinction, however, kicks in if a distracted driver kills someone. Provincial laws do not increase the penalties for driving offences when a death or bodily harm results. If the province didn't have specific legislation on distracted driving, but rather a regulation requiring prosecutors to pursue charges of dangerous driving against distracted drivers, driving into someone and killing them while answering a text could mean up to a up to fourteen years in prison.

Section 252 of the criminal code of Canada prescribes penalties for leaving the scene of an accident. What if we replaced it by a law that made it a criminal offence to hit someone with a vehicle and injure or kill them? The law could allow drivers to present, as an affirmative defence, that they had operated according to the law and prudently given the conditions, and that the crash came about because of factors they could not control. A driver who left the scene of the crash would only escape criminal liability if they could escape detection indefinitely. Drivers who left the scene of a fatal crash would find it impossible to explain their behaviour, and the courts would convict and sentence them for the essential offence: killing someone with a motor vehicle.

Legal simplification only works if the courts will apply common sense when enforcing the law. It makes sense that when manually controlling an automobile that covers twenty meters every second, a person taking their eyes and concentration of the road for the thee seconds it takes to send a text endangers everyone within sixty meters, but how many dangerous driving charges did the police lay against texting drivers before the province passed the distracted driving law?

As long as we stay with the social convention that we will never require drivers to apply even the most rudimentary logic, that no act behind the wheel violates the law unless the law specifically prohibits it and a police officer witnesses it, we will always need more and more detailed laws. The penalties these laws prescribe will always fall between the need to deter and denounce truly dangerous behaviour, and the impulse to keep motoring available for everyone. We have to live with that situation, at least for now, but that does not mean we should accept it. In principle, fewer laws, backed by a social and legal consensus that we need not pay our road tolls in blood and that we ought not to condone behaviour that endangers other people, would serve us much better.

Monday, May 09, 2016

The heart of the matter

In a previous post, I wrote about the so-called "Overton window": the conviction that policy proposals have a simple linear value; that setting them out, ordered, on a line makes it possible to define a range, or a set defined in linear order from a minimum to a maximum value (the "window") that opinion makers empowered to do so will deem acceptable.

This linear view has no relation to the complicated reality of politics. Using it distorts and even corrupts approaches to politics in many ways: ultimately, treating politics as symbols with single ordinal values offers considerable scope for attempts to control the process.


Saturday, May 07, 2016

Daniel Berrigan, presente

Conventional movies have contained few genuinely moving, as opposed to sentimental moments. One of the most moving occurred at the beginning of the film The Mission with Jeremy Irons, a story of the involvement of the Jesuits with the Guarani people. Near the beginning of the film, three Jesuits walk toward the viewer coming over a rocky knoll. Two of these are actors dressed as Jesuits: the third is Dan Berrigan.
By Thomas Good GFDL

While protests against the American Imperium and its exploitation and war would inevitably have arisen, Dan Berrigan had a profound influence on the shape they took. His embrace of a non-violent, ethically based resistance to war and domination helped inspire activist movements of the past generation. He followed the example of Jesus, whose ministry, by the world's standards, ended in the utter failure and disgrace of the cross. By separating the pursuit of truth and ethics from fame, from success, from power, Dan Berrigan helped create a movement that political defeat could not stop and that darkness could not stifle.

He is at peace now. Let light perpetual shine upon him. Let us who remain continue the great work he has nobly advanced.

Politics through the window (please, just not Windows 10...)

Politics, as an art, a practice, and discipline and a commitment has one real purpose: to make good policies for the peace, welfare, and just ordering of the polity. Politics aims to find solutions that allow us, as disparate, imperfect people, to live good lives together in a functioning community.

It also makes for terrific theatre.