Saturday, July 30, 2016

Another comment on Black Lives Matter

By Fibonacci Blue from Minnesota, USA (Protesters gather for Black Lives Matter march) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Fibonacci Blue (Wikimedia Commons)
Six months ago, Chris Lollie settled a lawsuit against the City of St. Paul Minnesota and the police department of that city. In response to a complaint by a private security guard that Mr. Lollie had sat in the wrong chair in an area open to the public, the police shocked him using an electric discharge device and arrested him.The courts first dismissed all the charges the police laid against Mr. Lollie, and subsequently cleared the way for his suit to go forward. At that point, to avoid the possibility of a larger damage award the city settled, although to the credit of the councilors who made the decision, they also considered the police had done wrong. As a member of council said: "I want to see our city make national news for many things. And this is not one of them."

Mr. Lollie took a cell phone video of his arrest, and the release of the video, as well as the subsequent discussion, took place just as the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson MO came to international attention. Seeing the way the police treated Mr. Lollie, and discussing his arrest, led me to see the phrase Black Lives Matter as not simply the self-evident truth that the police should not shoot people with black skin, but that Black people have a right to live a full and whole life, lived in dignity, freedom, with a sense of possibility. I do not see Black Lives matter simply as a not shooting, but as upholding the dignity of the person.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

To my American friends..

Clinton at Planned Parenthood (cropped) By Lorie Shaull (Own work) [CC 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 (],
 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".