August, 2011

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Rags and Bones

by Jonathan Wallace

Speech correctives

The Supremes are starting to invalidate state laws which give matching funds calibrated to the adversary's private spending on speech. In other words, any law which gives you more money if your opponent spends more money, is suspect as an infringment on the rights of billionaires to speak their minds. Why anything which promotes more speech can harm anybody is not explained; "more speech" as a goal has happily survived generations of First Amendment jurisprudence. It seems to me one of the touchstone questions of a democracy, how it will deal with the billionaires' ability to dominate debate. The Supremes have emphatically answered that question: welcome to Billionaireworld.

Speech and money

Actually, when you think about the interaction of free speech and money, you get into some interesting and disturbing territory. On the one hand, decades ago the Supremes chose the very influential metaphor of the "marketplace of ideas". This wasn't obvious or fated or engraved in the fabric of the universe in any way; there were many other available metaphors (agora, schoolroom, etc.) Given their own life histories and the waters in which they swam, turning to capitalism as a metaphor for speech is not surprising, however. It is worth quoting the famous words first expressed by JUstice Holmes in a dissenting opinion:

[W]hen men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas-- that the best test of truth is is the power of thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution. It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment.

Holmes elucidated upon this idea in less famous but very telling language in another dissent:

If in the long run, the beliefs expressed in proletarian dictatorship are destined to be accepted by the dominant forces of the community, the only meaning of free speech is that they should be given their chance and have their way.

Read together, these two statements make clear that Holmes expected speech to triumph for the same reason products do, because the best, and not necessarily because backed by the most money. When he speaks of " the power of thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market", he means that excellence, innate qualities of ideas, will out, just as talented people will rise, just as we will all buy the best toaster or dishwasher and ignore the ones which don't work as well. Holmes never envisioned a situation where speech prevails, no matter how dishonest, contradictory or meaningless, because backed by the most money, any more than he envisioned a world in which dominant mega-corporations could force us to buy crappy products for want of alternatives (like the HP Mini I am writing this on or the Windows OS it runs).


Watching Republicans beat up the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for allowing weapons into Mexico is a spectacle indeed. In NRA-world, the flow of handguns to Mexico and anywhere else would be virtually unimpeded. This is because a major way of stopping the flow is by investigating and indicting U.S. gun dealers who make the sales. It seems BATF ran an ill-advised program in which weapons were deliberately allowed to cross the border, in the hope of tracing them to the ultimate purchaser. Sadly, some of these guns may have been used in a fatal attack on a U.S. Border cop. This would be an almost daily occurrence in NRA-world, but the sanctimonious Congresscritters, looking for any excuse to cripple BATF, are "shocked, shocked" by this bungled investigation.


Watching Republicans hold the line on tax increases is also a fascinating and repellent spectacle. While nobody, me included, wants to live in a land of confiscatory taxation, raising taxes within reasonable parameters is one of the ways a government adjusts to economic circumstances. It is no different than a family determining that it will need to pay $x per month to service and reduce its debts. Even David Brooks in the Times, an intellectual conservative I find almost unreadable, points out that this element of the Republican party is driving itself off a cliff, and potentially taking the country with it. Republicans won't even discuss removing tax exemptions on private jets, or other matters so far removed from daily middle class experience you would think they would be political fair game for discussion. There is so much wrong with this picture, I can't even begin to get started to discuss it: the Wall Street types who destroyed us all with mortgage backed securities and collateralized debt obligations, continuing to constitute a protected, cherished class at everyone else's expense; the shifting of costs such as health care to those who will be destroyed by them, instead of those who can afford the slight hit. The ultimate absurdity is that taxation as a p[ercentage of income was much higher under Eisenhower and other Republican administrations than it is today. It is hard to determine what responsibilities billionaires incur today for American citizenship, to balance their ever-expanding privileges.

Phone hacking by journalists

The British phone hacking scandal, which was already outrageous, has now crossed the line into nightmare with the revelation that News of the World "journalists" hacked the phone of a missing thiteen year old girl, deleting messages when her mailbox became full and thereby persuading police and parents she was still alive when in fact she had been murdered. What we are seeing is not a defensible exercise of journalistic initiative, like printing the Pentagon papers, but the behavior of a politically protected, billionaire-backed class, whose utility in providing covering fire to the Conservative Party previously excused a multitude of sins. Rupert Murdoch is one of those political billionaires whose gravitational pull has warped governments, in Europe and here, for decades. The fact that one of his editors, who was forced to leave the paper at the inception of the phone hacking scandal some years ago, went to work as a Conservative Party spokesman, until the scandal pursued him there, is the most eloquent indication of the nexus between the Murdoch activities and government. Fox News' status as a player in American politics is an example of the same phenomenon, without the gross illegalities so far.

Later--I hadn't realized the extent to which Murdoch had functioned as an unelected branch of British government for decades, under conservative and labor governments alike. A large part of his influence appears to be based on fear: legislators knew if they bucked him they would soon be reading about their private lives in the "News of the World". His closing that paper is a typical bold billionaire move, cosmetic and bloody at once. Cosmetic because he soon will replace it with another Sunday paper; bloody because he laid off 200 people, some of whom he will not re-hire and may never find work in journalism again. In billionaire-world, you and I have all the independence and integrity of fish food.

Later--As much as I feel contempt for tabloid newspapers with their gossip, lies, invasions of privacy and pin-ups, I can't stop thinking about the closure of "News of the World" and the firing of its two hundred people. Doubtless, many of them were innocent of any illegality or ethical breach. Murdoch should have announced the continuiation of a transformed newspaper, with new ethical standards, and saved as many jobs as possible, while chief executive Rebekah Brooks should have fallen on her sword. The meeting at which she told her employees, "You are losing your jobs, I am keeping mine"--scapegoating the innocent while the guilty skate away--was a low point in the annals of business morality.

Later--Ms. Brooks resigned and has been arrested; the universe is back in balance.

I have one more suggestion: Rupertr Murdoch should re-open "News of the World", hire back the 200 people he fired (exclusive of anyone else who committed crimes) and then give the newspaper to its employees, completely divesting his own share ownership. Then the paper can cleanse itself by fearlessly covering the phone hacking scandal and its former owner.


An MSNBC commentator got suspended for calling the President a "dick", mild rhetoric in today's world. Most of us are dicks at least at selected moments. President Nixon was a dick all the time. President Bush was a dick as governor when he imitated the voice of a woman on death row begging for mercy to reporters. President Obama is one of our least dick-like Presidents ever, but arguably would do a better job if he was more of a dick sometimes. All of which is a digression, as the question which really concerns me is why MSNBC people get suspended or fired for rhetoric like this, while commentators and guests on Fox News can call the President a "racist" as Glenn Beck did, or a socialist as so many have, without consequences. Shouldn't the rules of free flowing commentary and the boundaries of civility be the same for all journalists? Something is badly out of whack.

Health care

I was trying to arrange some minor surgery. My primary care physician recommended a surgeon in his group and I was about to make an appointment after an initial visit when my insurer called me to warn me that the doctor was out of network. While the call itself showed some efficiency I don't often encounter in dealing with health insurance matters, it gives an insight into a terribly farkled system. I can't say for sure why I thought the surgeon was in network; I meant to ask, and thought I had, as I know that doctors in the same office don't necessarily accept the same insurance. However, when I handed my card to the clerk at the surgeon's office, shouldn't she have told me he was out of network? The financial impact would have been significant; years ago, with different insurance, one of us had a $3,000 procedure, expecting the company to pay 80%. Instead, the reimbursement was 80% of the $1200 they arbitrarily claimed it should have cost. I also know from experience that when your surgeon is covered, the anesthesiologist ($1600 for a few minutes' work) may not be. The whole system is messy, confusing, and inefficient in a way that is crushing individual patients, and driving hospitals out of business. Compare car insurance, in which if your vehicle is damaged, an adjuster steps in and guides you through a logical, painless and transparent process of obtaining repairs. If your body is damaged instead, vastly more important to you than your car, you are shit out of luck.

Secret planets

I always enjoyed looking at beautiful striated planets through a telescope. But had more interest in and respect for the ones you couldn't see, somehwere out there in the darkness, the ones we inferred only because of the anomalies they caused in the orbits of the visible ones.

The shuttle

AS the last shuttle flies, I am very saddened by the thought that space travel may be over for us, for generations. We live in a world where we are beginning to accept our abilities are declining, that things we could do a few decades again we no longer can. The can-do attitude which got us to the moon by the end of the sixties has been replaced by an attitude well expressed by a French saying: tout casse, tout passe, tout lasse: everything breaks, everything passes, everything wears out.


I had somehow missed the fact the state of Minnesota has been shut down, by a similar Democrat-Republican confrontation about raising taxes in the midst of budget cuts. THe result is parks are closed, unemplyment checks will not go out, adoptions can't be processed, more than $1 million per day in lottery ticket info is being foregone. Tens of thousands of state employees are being laid off or threatened. Politics used to be a field of compromise, accomodation, of "going along to get along." It has become instead an environment of fiendish self righteousness, selfishness and stubbornness, where the worst are willing to see any harm enuse in pursuit of their principles. As one commentator was quoted saying in the Times, sometimes a game of chicken results in a car crash.


Some states, inlcuidng Wisconsin and Arizona, which could have allowed federal unemployment compensation to extend to 99 weeks, chose to cut them off at 80 instead. It is hard to understand the motivation, which presumably infuriates unemployed voters and loses them to the Republican party forever. The Cato insitute, of course, provides a rationale: people receiving benefits don't look for work until the money runs out. But unemployment is so modest in this environment, a matter of a few hundfred a week, at a time of rising prices and vanishing jobs, that it is virtually impossible to believe that almost everyone receiving benefits is not desperately looking for work at the same time. Anyone who waits until benefits are over is likely to end up homeless, as there is no other social safety net which will kick in effectively. People of course are lucky not to end up homeless today while they still have benefits. I think most Republican politicians and pundits live in an idealized 1950's world--one which didn't exist even in the real 1950's--and have no idea of conditions on the street. Or just don't care.

More technology complaints

I constantly get a dialog box on the screen of my HP Mini, telling me a script has slowed down or died. A good half the time, the script causing the problem is a part of Chrome, a Google operating environment I never installed or invited onto my computer. What is that about? When Mozilla or somnething else freezes and I hit CTRL-ALT-DEL to bring up the task manager, I learn I have 100 processes running. What are they? Its the Microsoft and HP way: the user is treated like a tool, while the computer, which should be a tool, is the master.

The Mini, or the software which doesn't quite run on it, is so lame that when I am attempting to scroll down my list of Netflix instant play movies, it inexplicably reverts to my DVD queue, and then hangs when I try to return to the page I want. That has happened three times already tonight, along with some other unexplained crashes and freezes. Whenever I work on the Mini, I spend only 30% or so of my time doing the tasks, the balance simply fighting to do the things which should be simple: loading software and files, deleting, moving, and (most agonizing of all) simply attempting to move from one window to another. This morning, trying to revise a resume and mail it to myself, it was touch and go whether I would get it all done in the minutes before I had to leave, as every application hung or malfunctioned. This is the worst PC I have ever had, and I can't afford to replace it right now.

Global warming

American Electric Power, a large utility, designed a leading edge plant to capture carbon dioxide for disposal. It is now cancelling any further development of the technology, because in the current political environment, there is no further incentive to do so, no guarantee that the federal government will help it cover its costs or the state will permit it to pass them on to consumers.

Republican denial of global warming will be remembered, in later centuries, as being one of the great crimes and misfortunes of American history. It astonishes me, however, that it is only one such black mark on the party's record. A Martian anthropologist studying American politics would likely be astonished to discover a major and powerful political party throwing the unemployed off the benefit rolls, fighting to destroy all social safety nets including Social Security and Medicare, preventing an economic stimulus, protecting bankers and traders against prosecution for their bubble-related crimes, forcing the government into default, opposing mortgage relief, attempting to perpetuate a broken health care system that crushes and destroys people, and actually doing more to harm the country and its citizens than any perceived foreign-led conspiracy has ever attempted.

Republican "leadership"

It is becoming very evident that Congressman Boehner cannot stand up to the rabidly ideological Tea Party freshmen in his party--nor can the rest of the Republican leadership. This means that the Party may force a catastrophic default on U.S. debt, despite complete understanding by the ore mature leadership that there is much to lose and nothing to gain from it. It does make me hopeful, however, that Republicans will be so busy savaging each other in 2012, they won't have time for the Democrats. The more headway Michele Bachmann makes, the mopre seh succeeds in weakening Mitt Romney, the better President Obama's chance of re-election. I have a lot of issues with the President's choices and style of governance, but I can best sum up my attitude through a campaign button I would enjoy making and distributing: "Vote for Obama. He's not crazy."

The default

If Republicans force a default on U.S. debt, won't they be harming the very billioniares they swore to protect, at least any billionaires holding U.S. paper? I can only imagine that their mindset is very similar to a drone pilot with an important Al Qaeda leader in her sights. He may be surrounded by civilians, but by God, I am taking that shot. Hatred is trumping common sense. The REpublicans are proving again what we have already known since the 1990's,when they forced a government shut-down (harming themselves more than President Clinton): they will stop at nothing to cripple a Democratic President and to inflict mortal wounds on a government they believe should not exist in its present form. As I have said a few times recently, most lately in last month's lead article: I would like to give the Tea Party a planet, then come back 100 years later to visit. I believe what I would find would be indistinguishable from Earth's middle ages: a society of opulent, brutal barons and dependent, frightened serfs.

Later--As the deadline approaches, and House Speaker John Boehner walks out of negotiations with the President for the second time, I am again astonished (though I should not be after 57 years on earth), by the rigidity and stubbornness of ideologues and the craven behavior of career politicians who fear them. Given the devastating impact on Republicans of their very similar shut-down of government in the Clinton administration-- which resulted in Newt Gingrich losing the Speakership--why is history repeating itself? Because the freshman Tea Party crowd and the people backing them would rather crash the country than reach any compromise with the people they revile, and more pragmatic politicians like Boehner would rather crash the country than take the chance of losing their jobs in the backlash for the patriotic, nation-preserving acts that morality and duty demand. American mores demand that we hang on to power at any price, rather than ever selecting the public good over personal interest: contrast the career of John McCain, who has repudiated virtually every principle he ever espoused but held on to office, with his liberal partner in campiagn finance legislation, Russ Feingold, who stood true to his and git washed away in the Tea Party inundation last election.

Speaking of Russ Feingold...

My Harvard Law School class seems to be shorter than many others on famous judges, governmental officials, or law professors. We had one successful but not very famous academic novelist, who has since removed his name from the alumni directory, in an act of apparent historical revision denying he ever went to law school as a back-up to his literary career. And there was Russ Feingold, a quiet, modest guy who went on to become the Senator from Wisconsin.

Most of the aspiring politicians I ever met already had that shifty-eyed, what's in it for me thing going. In 1975, looking for support for Congressman Mo Udall's presidential campaign, I had a ten minute conversation with a local politician who would later become a U.S. Senator, and figured out afterwards this individual had told me ten lies in ten minutes. I never got to know Feingold in law school, but remembered him precisely because he lacked that "look at me, I'm a Harvard Law student" thing so many of the rest of us relentlessly displayed.

Feingold, whose political career ended in the Tea Party irrationalism last election, stands as one of the most honest, straight-forward and sincere people ever to serve in elected office. His career gave me hope, that a model of intellectual, compassionate, issues-oriented politics might not be entirely dead in this country. But I think it is.

Pawlenty and Minnesota

Tim Pawlenty finished his second term as governor of Minnesota just six months ago--but of course the extreme fiscal mess there has nothing to do wiuth him, any more than the economy on January 1, 2009 had anything to do with the Bush presidency. A DeMocratic governor is deadlocked with a Republican legislature and government is shut down, shades of the U.S. in 1995 and a forecast of what we are facing in Congress today. His critics say his "balanced budget" was all accounting sleight of hand. As a general rule of human behavior, if something falls apart almost immediately after you stopped being in charge of it, you had something to do with the problems. This is not a Republican or Democratic thing, but a rule of human nature. "Vote for Pawlenty! He fucked Minnesota and now he wants to go national!"


In the '90's, when I wrestled with both the unpredictability of software development processes and the need for more accountability, I was entertained by a joke (yes, there is software development humor) Microsoft Project timeline which contained a little diamond labeled "Week Eight: A miracle occurs." But this appears to be the very real principle on which pension money has been invested: a financial miracle will happen, and we will be able to keep the promises we made. But there is no miracle, and twons and cities in the United States are beginning to default on unpayable pension obligations, or to threaten to, while there is no money or political will at the state or federal level to bail them out. Let us not forget there are real people out there, government workers and schoolteachers, who were tricked into devoting their entire lives to a system which promised to take care ofn them in retirement. It is all very well to demonize them now, to claim they were greedy or unrealistic, but they counted on the rest of us for a very simple matter, the keeping of promises made and relied upon, and we are betraying them.

A meditation inspired by Greece

In case there is any confusion left at this late date as to where I stand politically, I do not claim that all imaginable rightist governments are destructively evil or that all leftist governments are perfect. Greece is an example of a socialist government crashing its economy ia self delusion, corruption and too much borrowing. Today's crazed Tea Party ideologues make me mildly nostalgic for the more realistic days, believe it or not, of their hero Ronald Reagan, who raised taxes as needed to manage revenue and the economy. I believe there are liberals and conservatives alike with heart and common sense, and members of both affiliations who lack any. If Mitt Romney wins the 2012 elections, I will at least know that we have a pragmatic, intelligent President. If Michele Bachmann were to win (not that there's any chance, in the America I believe this still is), I will not.

Double tap

OK, kids, I need you to pay attention, because the following is complicated but simple: The reason that we can't afford government right now is because Wall Street gambled all our money away in mortgage-backed securities. But, via derivatives betting against the securities it issued, kept its own money. Now Republicans are happily proclaiming that government is unaffordable as an existential condition, as if an act of God caused the recession. Asking us all to cut, to give up, do without. While protecting the people who did this to us, most recently by cutting $200 million from the SEC budget.

OK, maybe this simple illustration will help. A mugger steals all your money as you walk down the street. You call a cop, who confiscates your house and car on the grounds you can no longer afford them, while doing nothing to catch the bad guy.

Foreclosure protests

In Spain, using social media to communicate, protestors are showing up to block the foreclosure of people's houses. Given the background--Wall Street greed tanking the economy, leading to unemployment and inability to pay mortgages, while the banks who benefited from the mortgage backed securities and derivatives take our houses: why is this not happening here in the United States? What is it about Americans that we allow ourselves today to be crushed without protest?

A birthday thought

If you feel the years grinding like gears, and experience the slightest self pity, read the Wikipedia article on "The Heat Death of the Universe". It will put everything in perspective for you. "I would not feel so all alone. Everybody must get stoned!" (Bob Dylan)

Greed, dishonesty and Christianity

I was so stunned by Dick Armey's proclamation that God would never allow global warming that I failed to see the subtext. It is easy to marvel at the beliefs of fundamentalist crackpots--witness my earlier befuddlement at the proclamation of Sarah Palin's church that a few of its adherents will rise up in the air on the Last Day, while the rest of us burn in a lake of fire. But that at least is consistent with millenia of millenialism (love that phrase and its implications). The belief that God would never let us hurt the planet actually flies in the face of deeply held views on free will and personal responsibility held almost universally within Christianity. That said, Armey's statement looks more like covering fire for naked greed, from a man who in his private thoughts, believes absolutely nothing.


I am again trying to read "The Origin of Species". On the one hand it is dense and over-detailed. On the other, Darwin's prose couldn't be more limpid, simple , practical and direct, compared, for example, to Jacques Derrida. I believe that anything woorth saying can be said in short, clear sentences, full of specific examples, unburdened by an overuse of adjectives or subsidiary clauses. I read far enough to encounter an unforgettable example, on the page after which I bogged down last time I tried: Cats eat mice; mice eat bee's honeycombs; bees fertilize certain flowers; therefore the presence or absence of cats determines the type of flowers which will be prevalent in a landscape. Everything connects to everything, in an algorithm so complicated man should humbly despair of ever completely understanding it. Pace Dick Armey, but when we fuck with the system we affect things iun ways we can't even begin to comprehend. Example number one: the current worldwide collapse of beehives and disappearance of bees.


Darwin also surprised me by mentioning that human population had doubled in twenty-five years. I was not aware that had alreday started in the nineteenth century, but thought it was a phenomenon of our times.

I lived in, and continue to live near, near a city which has not increased in population in fity years, New York. Population in the rest of the state is declining, and we are accordingly losing Congressional seats to California. THe United States has gone from 240 million residents when I was a child, to about 300 million, about a 25% increase. The doubling of world population has mostly occurred in the parts of the world least equipped to deal with it. I remember reading of large Indian cities in which one million residents slept on the sidewalks each night; seeing photographs of large, filthy shanty-towns and fields in which squatters built shelters from scavenged plastic, and lived without clean water or means for disposal of waste; starving children and victims of needless easily curable diseases which nobody locally has the knowledge, money or Western support to cure. Then imagine if the United states had participated in this surge, if New York had a population of sixteen million today. Where would they live? What services would support them? Would we not too have shantytowns, starvation and disease? How would we provide jobs and services for 480 million Americans?

Then look across at the Catholic Church, which seeks to aggregate its numbers by prohibiting even contraception, or at Republicans eager to roll back abortion laws everywhere. Driven by lame religious myths, refusing to take an overview of tyhe world's terrible problems, religious fundamentalism is painted into a corner: there is no where to go except to trust n God, who has proven over and over he will tolerate large amounts of suffering, death and even world wide extinction of species. I hear whispered by Christians the world over: "The LOrd helps those who help themselves." But we are refusing even to see, let alone act.


If we have maximal free speech in this country, why is Noam Chomsky virtually never quoted in major media? He is an internationally recommended acamedician, outspoken on his political views, and he has been right a large percentage of the time, on foreign policy misadventures in particular.

My brother tells a story of calling out the name of a rare warbler to a group of strangers watching birds in Central Park, and being soundly ignored until one of their old timers himself identified the warbler. The same thing is happening to Chomsky. He may be right first, but the speech isn't heard until someone far to his right says the same thing. Our national media cover every possible opinion from far right to slightly left of center.

Cities in default

The Harrisburg Pa. city council voted down a plan to accept outside management and state funds to help it escape a lamentable situation where it ended up $300 million in debt for a trash incinerator which never operated. (Maybe New York will similarly have to file bankruptcy one day when the true extent of its notorious timesheet software failure become evident.) A city has never before refused to let the state take over, so Harrisburg is on its own. Citizens who encouraged the vote say the resulting plan would have preotected the bankers and forced sacrifices on everyone else, which pretty much summarizes the Republican plan everywhere. Other coverage in recent days says there is one municipality in the South which has already stopped paying retirees' pensions, and many others on the verge. It suggests that we haven't even gotten beyond the beginning of the pain and suffering which this country is going to endure--while we talk about cutting taxes, and a massive jobs creation process is politically impossible. Roads are decaying in much richer places than Harrisburg, people need jobs, and we can't do anything about it. FDR would be ashamed of us.

The New York hospital conflagration continues

As I have written before, a third of the hospitals to which I carried people in my ambulance just four years ago are already gone. I am not sure North General in harlem is new to the list--I may already have mentioned it--but closure of Peninsula Hospital in far Rockaway was just announced last week.

The New York Times for July 29 reports a Brooklyn hearing at which five hospitals in that borough are reported as being in danger: Interfaith (part of which was formerly the Jewish Hospital where my dad worked in the 1960's), Brookdale, Brooklyn and Wyckoff.

Were they to close, 11,000 people would lose jobs, and other hospitals would have to absorb 325,000 emergency room visits, 83,000 hospital admissions and about 760,000 clinic visits, according to industry data.

The impact on poor people, the majopr constituency of the less well-heeled N.Y.C. hospitals which are dropping like flies, has already been enormous. Entire impoverished swatches of the city are losing medical services. The hospitals Brooklyn is in danger of losing are concentrated in areas like Bed Stuy and Bushwick, with griniding poverty and the widespread diabetes and asthma a lack of money brings on.

This business of running all hospitals essentially as for profit entities, dependent on payments from people who can't pay, with inadequate government support, while forcing them to treat all comers, cannot continue. Again, the choice is between single payer or something like, and piles of impecunious patienst dying on sidewalks outside the emergency room. Or just not having hospitals in the areas which need them most. Which world do you want to live in?

A railroad station

Ethical implications of design issues are among the most interesting, largely because it isn't immediately obvious that architecture or other engineering has an ethical component, though of course moral issues are pervasive there as in all walks of human life.

Here in Valley Stream, where I have spent two months of the summer, the Gibson train station has several features which interact surprisingly. It has parking lots on both sides, but a bridge over the tracks only at the east end of the station. On the western end, a much-used road crosses the tracks, and a bell rings and flimsy barriers come down whenever a train is entering the station from either direction.

This leads to the following scenario occuring frequently, as I have observed while waiting for westbound trains.

s A commuter planning to take a westbound train arrives late by car and parks in the southern parking lot, likely because that will be most convenient when he returns that evening on an eastbound train. Having miscalculated the time, the barrier has already lowered by the time he emerges from the parking lot, and he does not have the time or stamina to run the length of the platform to the bridge at the other end, so he ducks under the barrier and runs across the tracks to catch the westbound train which is already in the station.

On the one hand, this is relatively safe as he probably pauses to look at the train and verify that it is stopped in the station. If it was already moving, there would be no point in running for it. If the doors have already closed, the train will start while he is still crossing the tracks, but slowly, and a margin of about fifty feet will give him time to make it across, or return to the southern side, without danger.

A potentially fatal scenario, however, can imaginably occur when two trains enter the station simultaneously from opposite directions. Some poor shlimiehl will see the westbound train at the platform, start his dash and be hit by the eastbound train. I am sure it has already happened, somewhere and probably in many places.

Here we get into maternalistic, paternalistic and minimal views opf government. The maternalistic view would be, we must protect commuters against bad outcomes, no matter what. The paternalistic and minimalist views probably coincide, that anyone who ducks under a barrier is assuming the risk (and may even be doing the rest of the world a favor, by removing himself from the gene pool and increasing the population of humans genetically programmed to look both ways).

However, I can't help thinking that the solution to the problem would have been to place the bridge at the western end of the station, where it would be accessible from the parking lots, and not at the eastern end, where the station is fronted by private lawns on one side and an abandoned warehouse on the other. In fact, the siting of the bridge raises its own ethical issue, as it is hidden from the street, and puts you out into an apparently dangerous deserted area behind the warehouse on the northern side. Commuters avoid the bridge late at night, because it is often used by young people to congregate and drink alcohol. Placing the bridge at the well-trafficked rather than the solated end of the station wouldn't have cost any more than putting it where it is, so unlike impermeable barriers or sonar operated people snatching devices to pull the unfortunate out of the way of approaching east=bound trains, it wouldn't really be a feature of intrusive big government.