Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Against the Flow

A couple of years ago, a woman in a wheelchair crossed a driveway in front of my car. She was on the sidewalk moving in the opposite direction from street traffic, where my attention was fixed. If it hadn't been for a passenger who yelled Watch out! my SUV would have hit her. The image of her head barely cresting the hood, and the neon-tipped antennae on her chair, waving an almost comically placid warning, is seared into memory.

Let's dispense for the time being with the question of fault: My fault.

Let's also dispense with the SUV. (Done, thanks to cash for clunkers.)  

Consider instead the complexities of moving against the flow of traffic.

Several of us bicyclists routinely ride against traffic on a particular section of sidewalk. Pedestrians on this section are rare and don't seem to mind; street traffic is heavy and there is no bike path; crossing to the other side can add up to a quarter mile, and the walkway is wide enough for two SUVs.

Wise bicyclists pause at every intersection and visually make contact with drivers waiting at the lights. It is more fun, however, to tear along, timing the lights, visual contact be damned. And, if there are no cars waiting, the temptation is strong to sneak through against lights rather than listen to noisy signs policing the crosswalk, "WAIT, WAIT, WAIT, WAIT, WAIT ... Walk Sign is ON Across ____ Road."

In other words, the trust shown by the woman in the wheelchair as she ventured in front of a stranger's SUV, is familiar territory. From the SUV driver's point of view, it bordered on bravado, maybe even defiance. Who knows? Maybe from the woman's point of view, too. And unlike the duck who almost fell victim to my bicycle (assuming that the woman was not developmentally disabled), we are not innocents. We know the risks.

What if the alert passenger hadn't been there? A driver asleep at the switch + a woman moving against the flow of traffic = recipe for tragedy. The question of fault would be revealed for what it is: a legal technicality, overwhelmed by the the awful and wondrous truth of human frailty, mine and hers.

In a time when Ben Bernanke is named Man of the Year for saving us from an economic disaster he helped create; when the President, much as I like him, is named Nobel Peace Prize winner, as he increases troops in Afghanistan; when seed saver-suing Monsanto is named Company of the Year, it is important to follow the laws, but sometimes listening to the WAIT, WAIT, WAIT, WAIT... just isn't practical. We also need people willing to go against the flow, and more than ever, we need companions on the lookout.


  1. Hopefully, like the ducks, or the eagle, or the wheelchair driver, or the cyclist ex-SUV driver - we stay lucky and avoid catastrophe a little longer.

    Meanwhile, everything you thought you knew has to be deconstructed and reassembled into a new non-koyaanisqatsi way of life. Food, transportation, shelter, livelihood, etc.

    The monetary system has failed, and we have lost touch with the value of things. Can anyone tell me what a dollar is worth, a barrel of oil, an ounce of gold, a house, a basket of stocks, a fresh duck egg, or a bunch of organic kale?

    Even the well intentioned have their roles to play (Bernanke). But it is those in power who write the scripts. It is late night at the United caSinos of America, the music has stopped, the punchbowl put away, and there aren't enough chairs. Time to carefully watch the endgame: as the powerful players struggle to profit from one final collapse (inflation, deflation - or both). Welcome to the end of the era, and the beginnings of NewMerica.

    The Battle of the Titans: JPMorgan vs. Goldman Sachs, or Why the Market Was Down for Seven Days in a Row.

    We are witnessing an epic battle between two banking giants, JPMorgan Chase (Paul Volcker) and Goldman Sachs (Geithner/Rubin). Left strewn on the battleground could be your pension fund and 401K...

    you can read more here


  2. With permission, below is a response to this via e-mail, and our dialogue that followed:

    Before I comment, please tell me if you listened to President Obama's Q & A with GOP leaders last night and, if so, would you comment on whether or not his performance bears on your opinions, as expressed in your blog.

  3. My reply:

    Obama was terrific with the Republicans, giving them face without giving an inch. Or not much of one. And boy, did he give it to the Supreme Court in the State of the Union. How about that, a constitutional lawyer as president, standing up to the Supreme Court for a dumb decision. This one might come back to bite business in the butt.

    It is also great that Obama was awarded the Nobel Prize, and his refusal to be hurried in his decision about Afghanistan is admirable. His generals require soldiers to read Mortensen's Three Cups of Tea. But Afghanistan isn't a problem we can solve. The army is clumsy, dependent on McDonalds and mercernaries, and the situation calls for finesse. We should get out.


  4. A's reply, with permission:

    Thanks for sending the blogs.

    If you read the Court's majority and minority opinions you found there was no need for the sweeping concessions to corporate interests made by these Republican Judges any more than there was a need for them to vote Bush into Office. The long (and windy) dissent covers most of what I think about Corporate citizen "rights."
    These partisan, conservative Judges naively assumed their loosening of corporate restrictions will not facilitate buying of legislators by foreign interests. What do they imagine goes on Illegally in Rupert Murdoch's boardrooms? Now it has all been made perfectly legal. If I were the President I would hammer this issue until it is beaten flat.
    You are right that business is likely to have regrets, especially small business and religious, educational and charitable organizations operating under 501(c)3 of the US tax code. I hope there is a backlash that results in permanent changes to our rogue corporate culture.

    After much thought I now disagree with you about pulling out
    of Afghanistan. This is one of several millstones around the President's neck, one which has been kicked down the road, by both US parties and by several invading nations, for somebody else to solve. We should keep our military there to prevent our military-industrial economy from collapsing, to keep our promises of aid to the Afghan people and to give them a chance to recover from a century or more of foreign meddling. I have changed from cringing over Bush diplomacy to pride in what we are now trying to do.


Time is relative. Comments absolutely appreciated.