Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Critique Is Not An Attack

An email to the New York Times Washington bureau, and reporter Patrick Healy.

The piece I am responding to is a short blog entry at the New York Times website. Click here to read it, won't take long.

To Mr. Healy or whom it may concern,

The quality of our political writing matters.

There is a tendency to cover political campaigns or debated issues as if they were sporting events, which lends some excitement and drama but can also do a disservice to the nature of debate. I thought of this when reading this blog entry by Mr. Healy.

Starting with the headline: "Bernie Sanders Attacks Hillary Clinton Directly on Trade Deal." Of course, I understand that writers rarely write the headlines. But whether this is a note for Patrick Healy or for the editor, the headline is absurdly misleading. On the substance, all candidate Sanders did was say that candidate Clinton should take a clear position on TPP. That isn't an attack, and here is my point.

There is a tendency for lots of people to lose any distinction between an argument and an attack. If I say "My opponent hates America," that is an attack. If I say, "My opponent's position on Issue X is misguided, and instead we need to consider my policy," that is a political debate. Sure, candidates can muddy that line, but the line exists and political writers have to emphasize that line.

One reason there is less civic engagement is that people are loathe even to engage in political discussion. The negative impression people have of political argument is based on the behavior of our national politicians and media figures. The press has an important role to play not only in reporting the facts and telling a compelling story about political campaigns - but in demonstrating constructive discourse.

Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Prosecutorial Discretion

This morning, 14 indictments or so were handed down in connection with some corruption in professional soccer. ("Soccer" is what we in the United States call football, or calcio.)

Instantly, I created this meme and set it loose on social media. So quickly, in fact, that I failed to notice a typo. (Very hard to correct at this point, but the point is made.)

Friday, May 15, 2015


So, Buddhist Peace Fellowship and a contingent of American Buddhists went to the White House. They met with some Obama officials and took this photo on the White House lawn. One of the concerns they brought up, I guess, is militarism. (Militarism means more than just having a way to defend your country, by the way. Militarism is about extending military power, projecting it elsewhere, and creating an industry around it. So talking about militarism is not talking about 'self-defense.')

One zen teacher and author, Brad Warner, posted the image on Facebook saying he wasn't too sure about the message but did not elaborate. The comments were fascinating to read. Some outright defenses of imperialism - including the sentiment that empires might be necessary for order, that peace can only come at the price of war, and some very blurry sophistry about how the whole universe is inherently violent, suggesting that the violence of microbes or volcanoes might be indistinguishable from human violence or violent institutions. Nothing mean-spirited, mind you, just a lack of meaningful distinctions and political analysis. ‪#‎ShitBuddhistsSay‬ ? Except I don't know if the commenters consider themselves Buddhists.

In one zen center where I spent several years, there were people who actively discouraged reading/thinking/discussing politics or history or economics because, the caveat went, it would ensnare you in the realm of opinions and ideas, leading to arguments where you defend those ideas, and thus you become personally attached and depart from your practice. A wise caveat in itself.
But you have to use discriminatory thinking for operations as simple as crossing a street. And seeing the world clearly, penetrating false consciousness, is a correct function of thinking. A monk once told me he was not part of the material world and its affairs. So I got up and got his mail out of the mailroom. He had an IRA statement (investment in the economy, meaning investment in production and distribution of goods), he had a bill for his automobile insurance, he had a medical bill, and other things tying him very much to worldly affairs. He also had a cell phone. This is false consciousness. I heard a lot of strange opinions in that community including defenses of monarchy (much like the defense of imperialism).

Having some political analysis is part of seeing the world clearly. Understanding your own biases and assumptions is part of that, too.

The violence of microbes is grossly different than the violence of a thief. The violence of a hunting animal is different than the violence of an angry or frightened human being. The violence of a volcano or other natural event is grossly different than the forced expulsion of human beings. Erasing that distinction is reckless. Justice can be dismissed as a mere concept to which we can become attached - but the same could be said of "enlightenment" or "freedom" or any of the Buddhisty things we talk about. In one way or another, we end up selecting certain ideas as useful and correct in finding our direction.

Which ones we choose (and which ones we ignore) says a lot about our own consciousness.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Ask A Trucker: Preparation, Safety, and Accountability

My cousin Christopher Glover, who drives trucks for a living, continues his public service of answering your questions about trucks, the men and women who drive them, and how we share the road.

This is a roundup of comments left on this blog and on Facebook.

Quid from Tampa, Florida asks, "How much sleep do you get"?

The federal motor carrier safety association (FMCSA) and the federal department of transportation (DOT) have established a strict set of guidelines that all commercial drivers must adhere to. They dictate how long we can drive, how long we can be in an "on duty" status, when we must take a break, and how long we must rest.

All commercial drivers must fill out a daily log to show what they were doing in a 24 hour period.  As the law reads we are allowed to be in an on duty status for no more than 14 hours in that 24 hour period.  Out of those 14 hours, no more than 11 of them may be used for driving, leaving us three hours for loading, unloading, and getting fuel.  As implemented last year we must now also take a mandatory 30 minute break within the first eight hours of coming on duty.  The remaining ten hours of the day are for us to sleep, shower, eat, and relax.  We also must complete a 34 hour restart every week  meaning we must be in an "off duty" status for 34consecutive hours with two time periods of 1 a.m. To 5 a.m.  Basically what that means in regards to our restart is if I get back in to my home shop at 12:15 a.m. Saturday , then I can leave out again at 10:15 a.m. On Sunday.  But say I get home at 1:15 a.m. Saturday then I cannot leave out again until 5 a.m. Monday.

Anyone who has driven for a long period of time eventually becomes drowsy.  Some things that I do to help me stay awake are to open my window in the winter and let the cold air circulate around me (its amazing how awake you get in -30).  I'll also start singing along to the radio to keep my mind moving.  Of course this only works so well and if I find I'm really getting tired, then I'll pull into a rest area or truck stop and lay down and sleep.  No load on earth pays enough to risk my life or the lives of the other motorists.

*     *     *     *     *
Danny from Las Cruces, New Mexico asks, "Why doesn't everyone drive as carefully as truckers"?

Let me begin this one by saying that some of the best drivers I've seen are truck drivers, and also some of the worst drivers I've seen are truck drivers.  I can also easily say the same for regular motorists.

Driving a tractor trailer brings with it an added responsibility .  When I'm driving down the road fully loaded I am thoroughly aware of my surroundings. I am always checking my mirrors, looking out both windows , and constantly keeping one eye out the windshield watching and anticipating what the other drivers are going to do.  As a commercial driver I am under constant scrutiny from several federal administrations to ensure that I am operating my vehicle in the safest possible manner.  We are required to complete a daily pre-trip inspection of our vehicle.   We check tires for proper inflation and tread depth, we check all components of the steering controls, we check that all fluids are at proper operating levels, we check that all lights are working as they should, we check that all drive line components are tight and properly aligned , and we check and double check that our load is secured so we won't lose it going down the road.  I'm curious to find out how many regular motorists crawl underneath their cars and check break wear every morning before they leave for work?

So the quick and dirty answer to your question Danny is quite simply:  regular motorists do not have the same responsibility as commercial drivers.  Yes, I understand that we all share the road and need to work together to ensure that everyone gets home safe to their loved ones, but in my experience far too many drivers on both sides adopt a "me first" attitude and I have seen the tragic results far too often.  We ALL need to slow down. Our families would much rather have us home 10 minutes late than not at all.

[Image at top: Chris snapped this picture of his truck after an accident last August. It happens.]

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Who Accommodates Who?

Eben Weiss wrote a piece for the Washington Post on April 15 about how bicycles and automobiles share the road. His article is partly tongue in cheek but also delivers a pointed analysis of how Americans have, over just a few generations, radically adjusted their expectations and learned to accommodate the interests of a major industry without consciously reflecting on it.

See, in the early days of the motor vehicle, there used to be this quaint idea that the person operating the giant machine should look out for other people. Then came mass production and the Model T. Suddenly there were automobiles all over the place, and by the end of the 1920s, cars (or, more accurately, their drivers) had killed more than 200,000 people.

We clung to our humanity, though. Cities called for stricter traffic laws and better enforcement. The auto industry responded by mounting a propaganda war masked as a safety campaign. One of their most successful salvos was inventing the concept of the “jaywalker,” which effectively robbed us of our right of way. (You can read more about all this here.)

It’s still carnage out there now, but we’ve long since sublimated any outrage over death-by-auto into victim-blaming. Crossing the street has long been criminalized, save for the handful of seconds you get when the “walk” signal appears. Effectively, we’ve lost equal access to the public roadways unless we’re willing and able to foot the hefty bill for a car. Instead, what we have is an infrastructure optimized for private vehicles and a nation of subsidized drivers who balk at the idea of subsidizing any other form of transit, and who react to a parking ticket as though they’ve been crucified. Sure, drivers, cyclists and pedestrians are all supposed to “share the road,” but see how equal you feel riding in the gutter on broken glass as cars speed by. It’s the American idea of “equal,” an insidious form of inequality in which we pretend the powerful and the weak are exactly the same.

That perversion of the notion of "equality" is stated very well there, and reminds me of the curious way "democracy" is often used as a synonym for capitalism.

Weiss goes on to ridicule the way responsibility has been shifted onto bicyclists in order to accommodate the dominance of the automobile in daily travel. Weiss jokes that bicyclists are being required to turn themselves into cars, strapping foam bumpers onto their heads and painting themselves with bright paint, which makes bicycle use more onerous and shifts responsibility away from the driver to pay attention or society to build an infrastructure that incentivizes bicycle travel.

I hit a bicyclist once. This individual pulled a really dangerous and unexpected move in traffic; I slammed on my brakes and almost caused a car accident trying to avoid him; the bicyclist nearly made it but I kissed his back tire at a slow speed and he fell to the ground. There were bleeding cuts. The police called an ambulance. I was given a citation with no fine on it - I would have to appear in court. This seemed appropriate. I did not (and do not) believe I was entirely at fault, but I was still responsible. I figured I would have to tell a judge what happened from my point of view, he or she would assess my fault and decide my penalty. 

Not at all, as it turned out. I went to court and a clerk told me I would only speak with a judge if I wanted to contest the fine. What was the fine? Ninety bucks, in and out. I did not contest the fine - I had hit the guy, after all. So I paid. My insurance company asked me questions and took pictures of my car, but wouldn't tell me anything about the bicyclist or the extent of his injuries. I never heard about it again. It just went away. My premium didn't even go up. The way things work, the infrastructure and business arrangements and laws, cushioned me as a motorist.

Weiss doesn't argue against the existence of cars (he drives), nor does he absolve bicyclists of any responsibility for safety. He simply points out the lopsided power dynamic and how it has shaped our expectations. 

At this rate, it won’t be long before you need a license and registration to operate a bicycle, and you’ll be wearing a giant Dayglo bodysuit with illumination circuitry, one of those Australian “smart hats,” and a GPS beacon up your posterior so you don’t get hit by an Apple iCar. Poof! You’re an SUV!
The choice to build our infrastructure and social customs and laws around cars is a political choice that most of us never got to participate in. It was industry led. And so it now makes more sense in our culture to have bicyclists paint themselves white and wear foam hats to protect them from cars, rather than tame automobile culture. I think there's a pretty happy middle here where we can meet, but for the most part the U.S. isn't having that conversation. Why? Because it's inconvenient for business and that is reason enough.

[Image: One of several Latvian activists who rode bikes on the streets of Riga wearing bamboo skeletons the size and shape of regular automobiles, to show how much space was being used to move one person around. Click here for the story and more images.]

Monday, April 06, 2015

Really? We still capitalize the word "internet?"

This week's "Desert Sage" column hit the streets today, as well as the Deming Headlight's web page. (You can read it by clicking here.) While reading it over, I noticed that the editors had gone in and carefully capitalized the word "internet," which I had used as a common noun throughout.

Really? This is still a thing? When new technologies emerge, there has been a tendency to capitalize its name as if it were a god - for example, for a while the phonograph was the Phonograph. The picture above shows President Warren Harding recording a message into a Phonograph in 1923. Harding was quite the tech president, being the first president to have a Radio in the White House.

At some point, the technology becomes familiar enough that its name becomes less potent, its status downgraded from proper noun to common noun.

This is not a complaint, just -- cute. I suppose I assumed that by now most journals had gotten over the rush of mystical excitement about the internet and were using it was a common noun. Turns out, not so much. Usage varies. The internet is still young enough to get the proper noun treatment in a wide swath of publications and media.

So hail to thee, Internet.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Ask A Trucker: Flashing Lights and Secret Codes?

Welcome to the second installment of "Ask A Trucker," in which my cousin Chris (a truck driver) answers your questions about sharing the road with trucks. I am really enjoying this and encourage readers to send their questions to me via nogate at gmail.

Okay, let's go to the mailbag. 

Jason from Greeley, Colorado writes in with a two-fer:
Do truckers appreciate when regular car or truck drivers flash their lights at them to tell them it's safe to change lanes? I used to drive interstates long distances and would notice truckers doing this for each other when they passed each other and i started doing it as well.  I almost always get a kind on/off of the running lights by the drivers but have always wondered if they really need me to do it or not.
Second question.  Is there a secret trucker code after passing a big rig accident?  I was stuck up in Wyoming once after a nasty storm and when the highway finally opened up again we passed a bad wreck involving a semi.  For the next 10 miles the truckers on the road refused to let anyone pass them.  They took up both lanes and drove really slow.  If a car tried to get cute and use the shoulder of the road to pass they would block that too.  We all stayed single file for miles until they finally let us pass.
And here's Chris...

Before I start, I'd like to apologize for the delay in my response.  It's been a crazy couple of weeks because with the weather finally breaking there have been several demolition jobs starting up in New England and we've been running around like chickens with our heads cut off.  We have two questions this time around so let's get to it.

The first question is from a reader asking if we truckers appreciate when a regular car flashes their lights to let us back over.

When driving down the highway at night, it gets harder to gauge distances.  As a result, a driver will dim his headlights when another trucker passes them to signal that it is safe to move back over.  In response the passing truck will flash his marker lights to say "thank you" to the truck that they passed.

We do appreciate when a car does this because it is harder to see a car in comparison with another big truck.  But I must STRONGLY recommend that if you do this that you do a quick flash because high beams in the mirror hurt...a lot!

Second question:  is there a secret code among truckers in regards to a big truck crash.

This question had me stumped for awhile and I had no idea of how to answer until I had a conversation with a 41 year veteran of the road.  I told her of this concept and she thought it was great, and when I told her about this particular question, she jumped all over it and to be honest I was kind of surprised by the answer.

When there is a crash involving a big truck, once the road is opened back up,the truck drivers would drive in a slow procession for approximately 10 to 15 miles to pay respect to the driver that was injured or killed. This practice dates back many years, back to when drivers would look out for one another and were always willing to help fellow motorists in need.

As always, I hope I have answered your questions and look forward to answering more.  Please everyone, stay safe and keep the rubber side down.  We'll catch ya on the flip.