Free As A…

Further to yesterday’s post, here’s an even better photo of that heron:

Bird photos usually feature the wings on the upstroke, but when you see them on the downstroke you really get a sense of how they lay down the power, like Pantani powering up a mountain:

Speaking of pro cyclists, I wasn’t aware Mark Cavendish and his family had been robbed in their home at knifepoint until I saw the following tweet:

There is a phenomenon the smugerati refer to as “car brain” by which people don’t apply the same logic to cars and driving as they do to other aspects of life:

This is indeed observable and has all sorts of unfortunate side-effects, from the poor design of our roads to the vicious cycle of people driving their kids to school because it’s too dangerous for them to ride their bikes because too many people are driving their kids to school.

At the same time, there’s also a phenomenon called “Advocacy Brain,” one symptom of which is an extreme form of “whataboutism” I refer to as “Butdriversitis,” by which the addled advocate relates absolutely everything–no matter how irrelevant–to the evils of driving. The above-referenced tweet is a characteristic example. Advocates often note that “if you want to get away with murder just do it with your car,” and it is indeed a maddening state of affairs. But what does that have to do with a home invasion, really? And while it’s one thing to note the irony of said state of affairs, it’s another to use it as the basis to suggest that somehow the perpetrators received too severe a punishment:

Though he did walk that back:

Still, all they did was break into his house and hold a knife to his throat while his wife and child cowered, is the sentence really “surprising”?

I wonder if he’d feel differently had there been a getaway driver idling in the bike lane.

By the way, the thieves themselves were evidently foiled by “car brain” themselves:

That’s why smart thieves always use older cars or bicycles.

Of course the “car brain” response to all this is that drivers don’t usually mean to hurt people, whereas you don’t break into someone’s house and put a knife to their throat by “accident.” (Though some people might argue it’s due to sociological factors or the evils of capitalism, which is almost like saying it’s an accident.) In response to this, advocates will correctly note that reckless driving has consequences, and that people need to understand this, and that too often the car-brained are willing to write off the willful participation in such mayhem as an “accident:”

The way the media uses the word “accident” is indeed infuriating–as is the way they so often use “car” instead of “driver,” or “pandemic” instead of “pandemic response:”

But while it’s important to be vigilant when it comes to lazy shorthand, it’s also important not to fall victim to lazy thinking, or to simply replace lazy shorthand with different lazy shorthand. “Car brain” isn’t the only reason drivers aren’t charged when we think they should be; there’s also the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof and all that other pesky stuff we so often take for granted because it’s always there in the background working in our favor. Many of us live fairly safe and sheltered lives, and so for many of us we don’t see any of these concepts put to the test until we’re involved in a crash. If someone hatches an elaborate scheme to rob you then breaks into your house and puts a knife to your throat and steals a bunch of shit and then drives off in a Mercedes with a SIM card they can make a good case to put that particular driver away. However, if someone hits you with a car on a public road while you’re riding your bike it’s a lot harder, and as infuriating as that can be it’s probably a good thing for all of us since it should be really, really hard to take someone’s freedom away. And while our inherent bias towards drivers certainly comes into play when it comes to how we deal with “accidents,” you can’t put it all down to “car brain” either, since it doesn’t really matter what vehicle you’re using:

The good news for the smuggies is that if you want to kill someone and get away with it you don’t need to use a car, you can use anything with wheels. Even a pair of Rollerblades would probably suffice.

I’m not saying drivers shouldn’t have more accountability, because holy fuck they should. It’s a complete shitshow here in New York; half the cars out there seem to have bullshit temporary plates now, and I see people just driving through solid red lights in a don’t-give-a-fuck way I never used to–and at the risk of playing right into the Police Benevolent Association’s hands the timing of this does seem suspicious:

Though at the risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy it may also just be the weed.

But as much as I find driver recklessness abhorrent and infuriating, I know punishing it is not always as simple as advocates make it out to be–or as I myself have often made it out to be in my many years of bloviating. In my travels around New York City I’ve come across the aftermath of a collision more times than I can count, and it’s often impossible to figure out what the hell happened–and the more I think about it, the more I think that the idea that a cop or some fictional agency that doesn’t exist yet or really anybody should be able to show up even later and figure out what happened is hopelessly naive. It could even be dangerous. Yes, if a driver hits you it takes witnesses and evidence and the stars perfectly aligned for them to be charged. That’s infuriating. But the alternative–that it should be even easier to lock people up–is downright scary.

I know the advocate answer is to move the responsibility upstream, to keep people out of cars in the first place, to activate more traffic cameras, to ban SUVs, to fit motor vehicles with breathalyzers, to swap plates for chips. Maybe–though I find that a lot of that stuff hits different for me since 2020. Plus, when it comes to mandatory safety technology, be careful what you wish for. It’s too easy to say what everybody else should be doing, and it’s important to remind yourself once in awhile that whatever it is you’re doing there’s probably someone out there who’d like to ban you from doing it. Rather than succumb to Car Brain or Advocacy Brain I increasingly try for Freedom Brain.

But maybe I’m just a Bird Brain.

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