Tuesday, August 02, 2016

An apology to Rob Ford

By West Annex News (Flickr: Rob_Ford_in_David_Pecaut_Square) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By West Annex News
(Wikimedia Commons)
Rob, if you can hear me... sorry.

Earlier in this election, I compared the brash populism of Donald Trump to the populism of Rob Ford. At the time, the comparison seemed to make sense. Rob Ford had, and "Ford nation" still has, the same sort of supporters who turn out for Donald Trump: lower income individuals who have trouble getting ahead and who see, often correctly, that people who know the secret handshake get breaks from governments the rest of us do not.

But I don't for a second believe Rob Ford would ever have treated the Khans the way Donald Trump treated them, making insinuations about Mrs. Khan's silence as she stood by her husband, or fatuously insisting the "sacrifices" he made to get rich compared with those of the Khans.

By Gage Skidmore https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/ [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Gage Skidmore 
(Wikimedia Commons)
When I asked myself how Rob Ford would have responded to Khizr Khan's speech, it occurred to me: Rob Ford would have called the Khans. He would have talked to them. Rob always called people who disagreed with him. He would have listened the he Khans. He would have expressed sympathy with their sacrifice. He would probably not have changed any of his positions, but he would have given the Khans the courtesy of a hearing.

All Rob Ford's most vehement opponents, which some
times included me, acknowledged his ability as a retail politician. He listened to people, and whether he agreed with us or not he gave the impression he cared what we thought. I think he genuinely did; I think he had a real desire to help and connect with people, and unlike Donald Trump, he did not respond to opposition with the fury of wounded vanity.

I had the experience of watching Rob Ford as mayor and as councilor. Mr. Trump, you're no Rob Ford.

An inadvertent Faustian bargain for cyclists?

The Ontario Highway Traffic Act says that cyclists have to ride in the right hand lane, but does not specify a position. It also requires motorists to pass cyclists with at least a meter of clearance. At the same time, it says that when passed, cyclists must move over and allow the overtaking vehicle to proceed. The law makes it unclear whether the cyclists must, as another part of the section on passing states, leave no more than half the road free, or whether the cyclist must move over regardless.

In the United States, the Uniform Vehicle Code, published by the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances in 2000, says the following:
(a) Any person operating a bicycle... at less than the normal speed of traffic... shall ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except.... When overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle.... When preparing for a left turn.... When reasonably necessary to avoid conditions' including but not limited to: fixed or moving objects; parked or moving vehicles; bicycles; pedestrians; animals; surface hazards; or.... a lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to travel safely side by side..... When riding in the right-turn-only lane.
In both cases, the law manages to say the bicycles should ride in the right hand lane and ride, or give way, to the right side of the road, except when they shouldn't. Conversely, cyclists can take the lane, when allowed to, under certain conditions.

For the past three decades, laws, practices and attitudes have evolved under pressure from environmentalists and cyclists. For much of that time, various people with an emotional or an economic stake in the current heavily motorized transportation system have attempted to resist this process. Laws in the process of change inevitably contain contradictory and unclear segments, as the legislature changes laws piecemeal.

As different legislatures change laws differently, it makes sense to expect the laws will evolve differently. In this case, the laws in very different jurisdictions have changed to the same effect: they all acknowledge the right of cyclists to take the lane where safety requires it, but they do so ambiguously. In all cases the application of the law depends on a judgement; in the case of the Ontario law, it requires a judgement about what the law means.In the case of the Uniform Vehicle code, a cyclists's right to take the lane depends on whether conditions require it; again, a matter of assessment.

The laws in Ontario and elsewhere have taken a particular shape: articulate cyclists with considerable personal resources, of the sort who tend to lead legislative campaigns, can take the lane with some confidence the courts will uphold, or at least permit, their actions. Meanwhile, the laws retain enough ambiguity to permit the police to push cyclists without the resources or time to study the law or prevail in court to the side of the road. I do not consider this a compromise cyclists should or can accept. As long as cyclists' right to ride in safety remains subject to ambiguities in the law, then some of us do not have the right to take the lane, which means none of us really do.

At a minimum, this means we haven't won the battle for the right to cycle, safely, and to choose the best road position. We need to say so. We need to keep pushing governments to remove all the qualifications in the law regarding our right to the road.

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 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/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 (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.