Category Archives: ethics

>Attitudes & Platitudes

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Mankind has invested more than four million years of evolution in the attempt to avoid physical exertion. Now a group of backward-thinking atavists mounted on foot-powered pairs of Hula-Hoops would have us pumping our legs, gritting our teeth, and searing our lungs as though we were being chased across the Pleistocene savanna by saber-toothed tigers. Think of the hopes, the dreams, the effort, the brilliance, the pure force of will that, over the eons, has gone into the creation of the Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Bicycle riders would have us throw all this on the ash heap of history. 

~P.J. O’Rourke
Image info here.

Consider these two stories:

  1. Driver gets 90 days in jail for hit-and-run involving bicyclist
  2. Rich Vail Fund Manager Hits Cyclist And Runs, Gets Off Because Charges Might “Jeopardize His Job”
Both of these stories have something in common: In both cases the DA refused to press charges. In one story, however, bicycle activists (read: people who think cyclists should not be unfairly discriminated against) helped get the case to court and the hit and run driver got 90 days.
I have written about bike safety before, and about attitudes of both cyclists and motorists. I am curious about traffic in general and why it is the way it is, and why people are the way they are. (Read Tom Vanderbilt’s great book Traffic.) Why is it that our society, not that different from others, has such deep seated prejudices against bicyclists? I know all the arguments about cyclists running red lights, but that is still no excuse to hit one with your car and then drive away like nothing serous happened. And many of these kinds of cases (there are quite a lot) involve very responsible, law abiding cyclists on their way to their professional jobs [which allow them, like every one else, to pay for the roads that cars wear out at a far greater rate than any number of bicycles could ever do. This is not hyperbole. If you don’t believe it, or have not thought about who really pays for the roads, then read this.]
The problem with prejudices is that we all have them even if we don’t see it. There are many people who would be incensed if called racist, but still hold racist views because they just don’t see their views as racist. Sometimes the best solution is just to let someone speak their mind. That way the prejudice is out on the table for all to see. Maybe we just need more people to say out loud their thoughts about cyclists so we can ask, “really?” As a piece of evidence in this line of reasoning (poor as it is), here is some anti-cycling prejudice from a (sadly ironic) video clip that’s been all over the Interwebs:
Those cyclists deserve what they get, right? Roads (read: the world) is made for cars and, apparently for Rob Ford, cars are for getting you to the all-you-can-eat endless-platter-special at the Hog and Heifer.* Maybe Mr. Ford should just keep his opinions to himself from now on. So much for that theory
But general contempt for others around oneself, or at least around one’s speeding car, comes in many forms. Most of the time contempt does not display itself as outright hostility, but masquerades as benign indifference. We know that many states now have hands free laws that forbid drivers from holding cell phones to their ears while driving. I think that law is somewhat debatable, but there is no doubt that we are all far more distracted while driving than we either realize or admit. Some drivers, however, take it to a new level, like this driver who (it’s fair to say) does not care about anyone else around him, including you or your children:
According to the Bush Doctrine it would be completely appropriate to physically run his car off the road into the ditch before he hurt anyone. He is “driving” a lethal weapon after all.
I wish these were isolated cases, but I fear they are not. Every day I still see people driving with their cell phone to their ear, even though it is against the law in this state. I also see cyclists riding without lights at night, riding the wrong way on bike lanes and roads, running stop signs and lights, and generally navigating their bikes like they learned to ride when they where thirteen and never advanced beyond their adolescent brain.
Which makes me think we live in a society that, for the the most part, views bicycles as toys; either toys for kids, or toys for adults. If a bike is not being used as a toy then it must be for someone who cannot afford a car, which means they are poor, which means they deserve double contempt – cycling while poor – right? Well, societies don’t change overnight. I don’t see a new world anytime soon. As soon as we figure out why nice, kind, ordinary, god fearing, family loving individuals turn into maniacal, cursing, foaming at the mouth tyrants as soon as they get behind the wheel of their car we just might figure out why there is so much contempt between drivers and cyclists.

I end with this quote, a kind of bookend to O’Rourke’s at the top:

It is curious that with the advent of the automobile and the airplane, the bicycle is still with us. Perhaps people like the world they can see from a bike, or the air they breathe when they’re out on a bike. Or they like the bicycle’s simplicity and the precision with which it is made. Or because they like the feeling of being able to hurtle through air one minute, and saunter through a park the next, without leaving behind clouds of choking exhaust, without leaving behind so much as a footstep. 

~Gurdon S. Leete

* I don’t intend this to be a “fat joke”, though Mr. Ford is rather rotund, for I am somewhat doughy myself and in my weaker moments, of which there are many, I  have dreams of binging at the Hog and Heifer.

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>is that a stop sign?

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I have a family, so I tend to ride my bike cautiously. I stop for stop lights, I stop (or nearly so) for stop signs, and I tend to ride defensively. I’ve made a few mistakes, but I have not paid dearly for them, thank God. I do, though, understand the raging debate (yes it is raging, in case you were unaware) about whether cyclists should be required by law to come to a full stop at stop signs. As of now, in Oregon and most states, cyclists are required to obey the same laws as autos, including coming to a full stop at stop signs.

To not stop completely is to encourage the wrath of motorists.

Cyclists are often the target of road rage. I have written about this before. Motorists accuse cyclists of never obeying laws designed for automobiles, but which are also applied to bicycles, like stopping at stop signs. And the motorists are somewhat correct, and also hypocritical. Bring the topic up with someone who has not commuted on a bike since they were in short pants and you are likely to get eye rolling and something like, “Those crazy cyclists! They never stop, never signal, and they just don’t give a damn about the law. Too bad if some of them get hit by drivers. It’s their own fault.” Not only does this lump all cyclists together, it’s filled with pro-car/anti-bike prejudice.
When it comes to comparing drivers and cyclists though, I can’t help but wonder at the potential and real implications of a motorist running a stop sign versus a cyclist. And the problem is that motorists run stop signs all the time, and I mean all the time, just like cyclists do. Of course, rarely do either motorists or cyclists blow through stop signs as much as they roll slowly through, making the judgement call that doing so will cause no harm. This has been called a California stop. But cyclists are the ones most thought of as the prime offenders. They are also the ones most vocal (naturally) in calling for stop signs to be, by law, merely yield signs for cyclists.

As an aside, think about road rage. If a cyclists exhibits road rage it’s almost laughable. What’s he going to do, throw his shoe at a car? What happens when a motorist exhibits road rage? Sometimes it’s also comical, but it can have very lethal consequences for a motorist has a heavy vehicle at his disposal. But regardless of road rage, think about the driver who is generally unconcerned and unaware of cyclists and just happens to not look for the biker coming up the path on the right. When he turns across the biker’s path who is most in danger? I think about these things all the time. But I don’t let it keep me from biking.

What is more interesting to me is the issue of the rolling stop, the law, and all the assumptions of both cyclists and drivers. Should a cyclist have to come to a complete stop at a stop sign (or even a red light), put their foot down, and then start pedaling again once the way is clear? Even if the way was already clear and obviously so?

The point I bring up is one that has been discussed, written about, and debated in state capitals and city councils for decades. Hundreds of bloggers have weighed in on the subject, mostly from the cyclist’s perspective. The problem is that drivers, of which I am one, often consider that all roads belong to them and bikers are mere guests. Many drivers also feel it is unfair if cyclists get to treat stop signs as yield signs while drivers have to completely stop. Those pedaling their way through life, of which I am also frequently one, know they are allowed (by law) on the road as much as cars, though some do not know the law as well as they should.
Part of the problem is that some cycling situations are unclear. In those situations cyclists, as motorists do, will usually make a judgement call in their favor. In other situations, following the law seems downright unsafe. All too often cyclists face unsound roadway solutions supposedly created for cyclists but, in fact, are dangerous. This is compounded by the fact that cyclists also frequently face unsafe conditions as well, such as bike lanes containing debris or even a delivery truck. So cyclists often feel they already get the short end of the stick. Being allowed to roll slowly through a stop sign is just a small concession.
The truth is, most cyclists are very aware of the vehicles around them, the needs of motorists, and their own perilous relationship with three tons of inertia. Most cyclists value their own lives and do not want to tangle with a car. But a bicycle is a very different kind of vehicle than a car. It takes human power to make it go. It takes balance to keep it upright and to turn it. And though I like cars too, I have to say I would argue that bikes are intrinsically better than cars for many reasons. And that might be one of the issues. Cyclists and motorists often approach the tension between the two with their own sense of moral superiority and intrinsic superior self worth. If that’s true, then it is going to be hard to get both groups to agree on anything.
Back to the rolling stop idea. Known these days as the Idaho stop, a bill in the Oregon legislature did not advance and died in August of last year, apparently for lack of interest. Here is what the Idaho stop is all about:
For many motorists that’s a weak argument. In my mind, however, that argument makes a lot of sense. I would like to see more thoughtful legislation in favor of cyclists that consider the true nature of what cycling is and what it can be. I would also like to see more cyclists riding safely and courteously.

As for me, I will continue to ride cautiously and defensively, and slowly roll through stop signs when my judgement says it’s safe to do so.

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>Dark Clouds: Looking Back at Security Preparations for the G20

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States are not moral agents, people are, and can impose moral standards on powerful institutions.

~ Noam Chomsky
Wars, foreign policies, economic meltdowns, immigration laws, state of the union addresses, military budgets, pomp, closed door meetings, state secrets, police forces, fear, all point to what Jesus referred to as the Kingdom of the World. It is a world of “power over” others, as Greg Boyd describes in his book, The Myth of a Christian Nation. Power clings to power, wealth builds protection around itself, and for good reason. Those without power, without wealth, sometimes what to tear down, or at minimum call into question, power and wealth. And for good reason as well. Power over others inevitably leads to cruelty and death, to loss of fundamental rights and freedoms, and to official lies and false promises.
“Power over” also produces tactics of self-protection, including violence and overwhelming force.
A lot of people claim to like or even love Jesus. I would guess that many, maybe most, of those people also cling to and justify kingdom of the world ideologies. We have a tendency to seek security and comfort. We we often give up many freedoms as long as we are promised personal peace and prosperity. We like the example of Jesus, but all too often fall into the trap of believing in the safety of “power over” social structures. Sometimes, however, people rise up to challenge “power over” assumptions.
The first three videos below, from Press for Truth, were made in the weeks prior to the recent G20 Summit that took place in Toronto. The fourth video documents some actions at the summit, including members of the Black Bloc causing property damage, and large numbers of police harassing protesters in the official protest zone. The fourth video also asks the question of whether disguised police infiltrated the Black Bloc and helped to lead some of the riots in order to justify other police actions and an enormous security budget. The news reported that the protest riots got out of hand at the summit. Hundreds of people were arrested.
I find these reports fascinating.
Clearly, the use of violence is exactly not in the tradition of Jesus. In fact, the Black Bloc is committed to a “power over” position as much as the bankers of the WTO or the IMF, or the police forces they so love to hate. Their use of violence, regardless of anything else they might say, gives them away. But the others, those that seek a new paradigm through peaceful protest (that is designed to publicly call into question the prevailing ideologies), are living, at least in part, within the tradition of Jesus – even if they would never call themselves Christian or darken the door of a church.

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>Tuesday 3:00 PM Jean-Luc Godard…

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From 1968 to 1973, [Jean-Luc Godard] stated repeatedly that he was working collectively. He was never tied to a party or a Maoist group, although the politics evidenced in his films seem loosely “Maoist.” For about three years he drastically reduced the technical complexity and expense of his filming, lab work, compositions, and sound mix. Partly he wanted to demonstrate that anyone could and should make films. He did not concern himself with creating a parallel distribution circuit. He said most political films were badly made, so the contemporary political filmmakers had a twofold task. They had to find new connections, new relations between sound and image. And they should use film as a blackboard on which to write analyses of socio-economic situations. Godard rejected films, especially political ones, based on feeling. People, he said, had to be led to analyze their place in history.

1968: Godard films some events
(Photo by Serge Hambourg, Hood Museum of Art)

1972: Jean-Luc speaks on intellectuals making films for the oppressed…

Are not these questions still relevant today? Possibly today there are more alternative voices being committed to various media because the means of production (e.g. ultra-lightweight HD cameras and laptop editing) and the means of distribution (e.g. the Internet) make it possible to do so. However, the questions facing media producers have not significantly changed. As Godard states, making a film “in the name of…” comes with a host of issues that, though intentions are good, may sabotage from within and without the film and its message. In the U.S. we are less likely to call filmmakers “intellectuals.” Certainly, U.S. filmmakers may not be intellectuals to the same degree (or as obviously so) as those in France once were. On the other hand, anyone who actively seeks to understand the world beyond the given and controlled ideological constructs we all inherit should be called an intellectual. Many social documentary filmmakers, it could be argued, fall into that category.

There is a trap, however, for contemporary would-be revolutionaries (filmmakers or otherwise) to borrow from the past what should be left in the past. The struggles of the 1960s (the period from 1956 to 1974) are inspiring and worth studying, but today’s struggles must be dealt with directly and not through a process of memory and hagiography. Today’s issues require their own terms. On the other hand, it is worth noting that (probably) all revolutions/reformations start from a re-examination and re-interpretation of the past – in particular the primary documents of the past.

In 1972 Godard had just completed Tout va bien. The interview above was made in relation to the film. Here is the “supermarket scene” from the film:

On a side note, doesn’t Godard (in the interview clip above) look like a slightly crazed hipster? I mean it’s apparent he just had a double cappuccino before the interview and afterward will ride away on his fixed gear. Also, is that a red bathrobe he is wearing? Marxist morning dress? Leftist lounge wear?

*From Jump Cut, no. 28, April 1983, pp. 51-58 copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1983, 200. This is a great article on Godard’s movement from his Nouvelle Vague and more popular period of 1960-1968 to his more overtly political and less popular (but maybe more interesting) period of 1968-1973. Note: Julia Lesage was my thesis committee chair for my MA.

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>John Zerzan: On Modernity & the Technosphere*

>John Zerzan lives in Eugene, Oregon. He is an author, speaker, and the host of AnarchyRadio. I have only recent discovered Zerzan, but I like a lot of where he is coming from.

Here is a lecture from Binghamton University on April 2, 2008.

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/gbs5zcYhAg%5D

* Grabbed from Essential Dissent. Discovered by way of Jesus Radicals.

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>The World According to Monsanto

>I know you may have already seen this video, but if not, it is worth taking the time.

Part One

Part Two

Part three
Part four
Part five
Part six
Part seven
Part eight
Part nine
Part ten

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>What’s really going on in Copenhagen? The Yes Men arrive!

>Did Canada just promise to dramatically reduce its greenhouse gases and pay their climate debt? It looks like it:

Uganda responds:

Will the real Canada please stand up:

Oops, its the Yes Men being, well, the Yes men.

I feel rather sorry for Uganda, but not for Canada.

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