Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Republicans vs King George

So, I happened across the Declaration of Independence today, and of the twenty five reasons our founders gave for dissolve our bonds with Great Britain, modern Republicans are violating at least fourteen of them.


He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good
Republican hostage taking, such as refusing to raise the debt ceiling, certainly qualifies.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
Republicans are refusing to attend to Obamacare out of little more than spite.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

Republican voter suppression tactics.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
Republican filibuster abuse.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

Refusing to allow any appointees through for some positions, and filibuster abuse for many more.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
Who knew the founders were so pro-immigration?

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
Filibuster abuse, yet again.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
The founders were environmentalists, too, apparently.

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

AT&T vs Concepcion, and American Express vs Italian Colors killed class action suits. Of course, they were 5-4 votes by SCOTUS. We now have no viable legal remedy for many types of small claims.

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

Extraordinary rendition and Gitmo

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments
Assaults on Social Security and Medicare

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever
Detroit and “emergency management”

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation
Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan….


At least they aren’t making us quarter soldiers or rendering the military superior to civil power yet, and I am pretty sure they will never tax us without our consent, erect a multitude of new offices to harass us with, or inflict the Indian Savages upon us. So congratulations, my Republican friends:  you are not quite as bad as King George, at least by 1776 standards.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

On Cycling...

I am a regular rider of bicycles both in the US and Japan, and it has become clear to me that a lot of folks out there really don't understand the law with respect to cycling. So as a friendly reminder, I'd like to make a short summary of car/bike/pedestrian interactions and rules. Obviously, rules vary from place to place, but in general, here are some handy reminders.

1: Bicycles, as per the law, are treated as vehicles. They not only have the right to be on the road, but in many locations, are required to be on the road. Cyclists have full rights to take and hold a lane of traffic if they feel the need to do so, or any time they are turning left.

2: Riding on the sidewalk may or may not be legal where you live. It is typically left up to local governments, and may be outright illegal, or only legal for children or small bikes, or entirely legal, or legal everywhere except downtown, or any of a thousand other variations on the law. A cyclist is never required to be on the sidewalk. They are, however, generally required to be in a dedicated bike lane, except when turning left.

3: Cycling on the sidewalk is generally considered to be 2-3 times as dangerous (accidents per mile) as riding on the road. While obviously this varies by context and on some particularly bad stretches of road or for certain types of bikes, riding on the sidewalk may be the better option, in general it is not. This is mostly because of drivers popping out of driveways without looking, or even worse, blind driveways where walls or plants block the view. This is why riding on the wrong-way sidewalk is particular dangerous - drivers simply have no reason to look in that direction, and often don't.

4: Slow-moving vehicle regulations usually apply to cyclists. This generally means they must move over to the right side of the lane and faster vehicles pass them IF it is safe to do so. It also generally means that the faster vehicles are allowed to cross double-yellows if it is safe. However, drivers should realize that it is often not safe for cyclists to slide over to the right. The shoulder may be littered with debris or parked cars, the lane may be too narrow for cars to pass cyclists safely and legally, or there may be blind driveways which are extremely dangerous for cyclists. Also, just about any major intersection is dangerous for a cyclist to navigate from the right shoulder. In all of these cases, cyclists have the right to take the lane and avoid the danger.

5: Depending on your jurisdiction, you owe cyclists 3-5 feet of space. Passing them any closer is illegal. If you can't give cyclists that much space, you have to wait.

6: Remember, virtually all adult cyclists are drivers as well. Cyclists generally have a very keen awareness of what the cars around them are up to, and are not trying to be in anyone's way*. Also please realize that automobiles and their infrastructure get in the way of cyclists at least as much as cyclists bother drivers, and that automobiles place a much greater amount of danger on cyclists as the reverse.

7: As for pedestrians, please remember that there is a good chance cycling on the sidewalk is legal where you live. Stay to the right in general, and be aware before you make any quick turns. Most cyclists will slow down, ring a bell or say "On your left" or otherwise give you warning. All you have to do is not lurch about randomly, and no one is going to hit you.

8: Cars kill about 2000 times as many pedestrians as cyclists. You should be worrying much more about the tons of steel hurling past you at 50 mph than the 30 lbs passing you at 10 mph. Note that the most common type of serious pedestrian/cyclist crashes is at red lights, and in many cases, an aggravating factor or even primary cause is pedestrians who start walking into the intersection before the crosswalk light turns green. These folks see the light turn red, can see and hear that no more cars are coming, and try to get a 1-2 second head start on crossing the street. Unfortunately, they didn't see or hear the cyclist who still hasn't cleared the intersection and may very well have entered it legally while the light was still yellow.

There is a lot we can do from an infrastructure standpoint to improve the relationship between automobiles, bicycles, and pedestrians, but there will always be some level of conflict. Everyone needs to take a breath, learn to share, and realize that your preferred mode of transportation gums up the other guy's day just as much as his does yours. Also, please don't get all hypocritically enraged about the other guy breaking this-or-that law, because all three modes have their particular laws which are routinely ignored by most of their practitioners. For example, cyclists often pass through red lights or stop signs, pedestrians jaywalk, and autos routinely speed, tailgate, park illegally, and run through reds well after they flip. There aren't any saints out there, you included.


* Unless you are a real butthead and verbally or physically try to intimidate cyclists. In that case they very well might get in your way on purpose, and you more than deserve it. In fact, you deserve a reckless driving ticket if you are intimidating a cyclist with your vehicle, which unfortunately is not an uncommon occurrence.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Our Immigrant Journey...

There are a number of reasons the US has a lot of illegal immigration. One of the largest is that our legal immigration system is one of the most complex bureaucratic nightmares on the face of the planet, mostly consisting of a contradictory hodge-podge of decades-old or even centuries-old law that have little bearing on the modern world. This is our story of obtaining and protecting my wife's green card, a process that started about four and a half years ago.

Feel free to skip all the stuff between the dotted lines...the kicker is at the end.


First we had to get a special "fiancée visa" for my wife. This is rather silly in and of itself, as Japanese citizens are visa exempt and can come to the US freely. Getting the fiancée visa requires planning almost a year in advance in order to match up your fiancées arrival with the wedding, costs around $500, and requires two in-person interviews and a mountain of paperwork.

Once we were through that hurdle, my wife arrived, we got married, and we applied for her conditional green card. This took about four months, and cost another $500. At this point, we hadn't need a lawyer yet, at about $1000 per petition, because I was stubborn and wasted a lot of weekends sorting it out myself. Another issue that crops up at this point is that your fiancée cannot work, because they won't get their work permit until about the same time as their green card. Also, because they have a pending green card application, they can't leave the country. So they are simply forcibly unemployed. This is true of almost all family-based immigrants. In January, four months after our wedding and a year after we started the process, my wife received both her work permit and her conditional green card (conditional on being married to me...after two years, she could apply for her own permanent residency unrelated to me).

Now the fun begins. I am assigned overseas. My wife needs a special "reentry permit" to live overseas. You MUST be in the US to file and you have to do biometrics at the USCIS office a few weeks later. Our company pays for the lawyer and filing fee, she receives her reentry permit, which lasts as long as her condition green card, and we are good to move to Japan.

Fast forward a year and a half. My wife applies for her permanent green card. The mere act of applying extends her residency for a year, or until USCIS makes a decision. But we get put in an "overseas hold" because were are, well, overseas. She also needs a new reentry permit, because her old one will expire before we come back. So there is two trips to the US, merely for the purpose of "being present" and getting fingerprinted for the fourth time. Oh, and all of these are costing us or my employer $500 to apply, $1000 for the lawyer, plus travel expenses and time off from work. Since my wife's temporarily-extended residency is only for one year, the reentry permit lasts only until her residency expires. That's all good, because we are coming back a few months before it expires...

Oh wait, maybe not. The company asks me stay another year. Now she has to go back to extend her residency, merely showing up at the USCIS office to get a stamp in her passport. Oh, and to "be present" in the US when we file for yet another travel permit. Of course, she will have to make a second trip to be fingerprinted for the fifth time. At this point, Senator Brown's office is helping us too, but even they wilt before the insanity of USCIS. More money, more time. Who needs vacations when you can spend all your paid holidays and spare cash flying to the Cleveland USCIS office over and over?

So we are up to the present. If all goes well, the third reentry permit will be approved, we will return to the US safely next year, the "overseas hold" will be lifted, and my wife will finally get her green card. It will only have cost us or my employer something like $40,000 in cash and lost wages, and a few weeks' of vacation time. Pretty sweet deal, eh?

Oh, and did I mention that even though she has spent less than one year of her life in the US, she has to pay US taxes on the income she is earning here in Japan (as do I)? The US is one of the few countries that does this. Not only is it costly, but it is a huge pain for both us and my company.


Now I want you to imagine a world where everything is reversed. I go to Japan to marry my wife, she is transferred to the US to three years by her employer, and I follow, both with the intent of returning to Japan afterwards. Here is what we would have done.


I fly to Japan on a tourist visa and we get married. No planning necessary other than for the wedding itself. I apply for a spouse visa, which costs under a hundred dollars, requires half the paperwork of the US, and would have been received within the 90-day tourist window. Of course, I could have flown back to the US and worked in the interim if I wanted. My choice.

After receiving my first spouse visa, probably one year, I would be free to live and work in Japan, and travel in and out of Japan to my heart's content. When my wife were assigned to the US, all I would need to do is...nothing. Just turn in my visa and alien card on the way out of the country. That's it. About six months before our return, I would need to apply for a new spouse visa, using pretty much the same documentation as before. I could whip it together in a couple hours, and when combined with the interview at the consulate, you are looking at about one day's worth of bureaucracy.

Once back in Japan, I would apply for new spouse visas whenever the old ones ran out, which would eventually be extended to three or five years at a time. After three years, I could also apply for permanent residency. Or I could just keep rolling the spouse visas. Either would be cheap and easy. Oh, and Japan only charges me taxes on money I earn in or bring to Japan.


And THAT folks, is why the US has such problems with illegal immigration - we make it hell to do it the right way. Unfortunately, the Senate's immigration bill does almost nothing to change this.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

On Aggression...

Aggression is not a binary concept, neither as a matter of practice, nor as a matter of law in most jurisdictions. Unfortunately, many people who support George Zimmerman seem to be of the mindset that aggression is a particular magic line that is crossed, and he who crosses it is The Aggressor, and therefore all other parties by definition are not. It often doesn’t work this way in the real world, however, and when it does there is not much to discuss. In practice, however, many fights arise from a series of tit-for-tat escalations, without a clear beginning, or a beginning that stretches back far before the incident in question.

Human psychology is ill-equipped for these tit-for-tat scenarios. Numerous studies have shown that we tend to underestimate how much pain and fear we are inflicting relative to what we receive, and this is even more so if our opponent is of another race. Hence, while we think we are just pushing back no harder than the shot we just took, in fact we are escalating. Our opponent then completes the cycle, and the pattern repeats until things spiral out of control.

In the magic line theory of aggression, it is not clear who is The Aggressor in the case. The magic line, such as it exists, would exist somewhere in the few minutes where we have no data other than Zimmerman’s self-serving story. Hence, Zimmerman’s supports claim of his innocence – clearly, if we don’t know who crossed the magic line, we can’t prove Zimmerman’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt!

The problem with this logic is that outside of that small period of no data, Zimmerman unilaterally escalated the conflict at every point, including the conflict’s initiation and its final, ultimate escalation.

Zimmerman escalated the conflict at no less than six points:

1: By carrying a gun. Any conflict you find yourself in while carrying is automatically escalated to an entirely different level of danger for anyone involved or merely nearby

2: By tailing Martin in his vehicle.  

3: By cursing into his phone to the 911 operator. Reading the transcript, it is clear that Martin saw Zimmerman doing this and could sense Zimmerman’s hostility, which is patently clear in the transcript and would have been more so in real life. This is probably why Martin fled.

4: By exiting his vehicle and pursuing Martin

5: By confronting Martin in a hostile manner, using phrases like “What are you doing around here?” rather than something polite and calming like “Excuse me, I’m George from the Neighborhood Watch…”

6: By countering a punch to the nose with a bullet to the heart

Martin, in contrast, may have (and in my opinion, probably, legally, and morally justifiably) escalated the conflict once, between Zimmerman’s fourth and fifth escalation, while clearly trying to de-escalate it at least twice, by first walking and then running away. Any logic that finds Martin to be The Aggressor just because some magic line lies between #4 and #5, and ignores everything before and after, is a deeply flawed logic. Fortunately, despite its many short-comings, Florida law does not follow the The Aggressor logic – aggression is based on “provocation”, and is not exclusive:  multiple parties on both sides of the conflict can be An Aggressor in the same conflict, both in real life and under Florida law.

Under Florida law, it is hard to not find Zimmerman to have been an aggressor in this conflict, having engaged in no less than five aggressive, provocative behaviors before Martin engaged in his first, and during which time Martin repeatedly tried to de-escalate the situation. As for Martin being an aggressor, it depends on some specific facts that are only known to Zimmerman, and one’s interpretation of Florida’s self-defense provisions. Specifically, Martin would have been justified in the use of force if he

 reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force”.

Is the combination of #2 through #5 a “reasonable” reason to fear the imminent use of unlawful force? I believe so. Should we judge this standard of “reasonable” from the perspective of a minor alone with a “perv” on a dark, rainy night, rather than an adult? I believe so. Children, having a lower capacity for reason and less control of their emotions, should be expected to consider a wider range of behaviors reasonable than adults sitting safely at their computer might.

Given the facts we know, Martin probably was not An Aggressor, either morally or legally. Zimmerman, in contrast, was An Aggressor both under the law and under the eyes of God. Given the long deliberation and the clarifications they ask for, I believe the jury agreed with me on that point. Zimmerman got off not because he wasn’t An Aggressor, but because of the deeply flawed Florida statue 776.041 “Use of force by aggressor”, which is written in such a way that Aggressors can too easily escape punishment. It is this law, not Florida’s famed Stand Your Ground provision, that allowed a major injustice to occur in this case. I will address my specific concerns with 776.041, which is similar to other such provisions in other states, in a later post.

Monday, July 15, 2013

On Fear...

There have been two times in my life where I feared for my life more than a fleeting instance. The most profound occurred in the dark in the lonesome wild near Old Man Lake, with nothing but a fraction of a millimeter of nylon and an arm's reach separating myself and a grizzly bear. I can still recall my desperate wish to shut off my throbbing heart, and my conviction that its loud beating was certain to attract unwanted attention as I lay there otherwise paralyzed. That primal fear is a story for another day.

The second occurred long ago, during my freshman year of college. I was driving my beater old Cutlass Supreme back from East Lansing to my parents' home in rural northern Michigan on a twilit Friday evening. I think it was in the fall. Somewhere north of Bay City, I noticed a big pickup truck following me very closely. I ignored him at first, thinking he would soon pass me by at some outrageous speed. But he did not such thing. He stayed right on my tail, even after I deliberately slowed down. It was then I caught a glimpse of the driver, a scary looking man probably around thirty, who was clearly pissed. At me. Heaven knows why.

Perhaps I had committed some real or imagined driving faux pas. Perhaps he was drunk. Perhaps he was just in a pissed about this or that, and in the mood to mess with someone. All I knew is that he was tail-gaiting me very tightly, upset about something, and not going away.

So I got off at the next exit, outside Pinconning, and headed towards the town I knew was a few miles to the east. I was hoping he wouldn't follow, but of course the truck followed me. Then he started to pass me, pulled up along side, ranted something I could not remotely hear, and then fell back again to continue his tailgating. This continued until we reached town, where I tried to quickly turn off on a little side street. He was able to follow me though. We zig-zagged through the streets until we popped out on Pinconning's main street. It was getting dark, and for some reason that I can't recall, I decided that I wanted to go anywhere that was brightly lit. There was a McDonald's just down the road, so I slipped into their parking lot at the last second. The driver stopped at the drive's edge, blew his horn, shook his fist, and finally drove off.

As soon as he was gone, I fled somewhere else. I don't remember where anymore, just some other bright parking lot. I do remember, though, the fear. I was scared, more than I ever had been scared before, and would be again until the night on Old Man Lake. I was angry, too - a deep, dark undercurrent lay hid below the fear, waiting to explode. Looking back now with a couple more decade's worth of wisdom, I dread to think what would have happened if my car had stopped (thank you, my ancient Cutlass, for not conking out that night!), or I had had an accident in my panic, or the truck had boxed me in somewhere. Would I have fought? Fled? How? Argued? Could I have, or anyone have, kept their cool in such a situation? Doubtful. Nothing good would have come of such a situation, for either me or the ranting driver of the truck.

So the next time someone tells you that a kid walking down the street, minding his own business and eating his Skittles, wouldn't have been mortally afraid when a big, obviously angry guy in an SUV started hounding them before getting out of the SUV chasing the kid around in the dark, or if that someone tells you that the kid had no right to be in fear for their life or defend himself, or even be a bit irrational and angry, you can tell that someone that they absolutely, unequivocally full of it. Such a person has either never known real fear, or is being willfully dishonest.