Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The difference, sometimes, between professional and amateur commentary

Pearl Eliadis, writing for Maisonneuve, single-handedly reminds the world of why, delights of the blogosphere notwithstanding, it's so important to have a professional class of journalists.

Here she is with the absolute final word on the Macleans/CHRC issue, and why we should take media controversy-baiting very seriously.

AND she's a human rights attorney. Be still, my beating heart.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

On Dalton McGuinty and gradual adulthood

Impudent Strumpet has a post up about this stunner from Dalton McGuinty:

"Perhaps the most precious thing we have in society is our children, and that includes our older children," McGuinty said.

"We owe it to our kids to take the kinds of measures that ensure that they will grow up safe and sound and secure, and if that means a modest restriction on their freedoms until they reach the age of 22, then as a dad, I'm more than prepared to do that."

Essentially, the McGuinty Liberals have proposed a law that would place a number of further restrictions on drivers under the age of 22, including a blood alcohol limit of 0 and, for 16-19-year olds, a ban on having more than one teen passenger in the car at a time. New, special consequences for breaking driving regulations would also be introduced (including a 30-day license suspension for teens caught in their first instance of speeding, and growing more severe with each subsequent instance).

All of which seems appropriate and reasonable, unless you've been under the age of 22 recently, are related to someone who's been under the age of 22 recently, and/or think about it for half a second.

The article points out a few obvious issues, including the idea that 3 bone-dry 19-year olds (read: legal adults) couldn't share a ride to the movies (or church, or work). It points out that this means a group of 19-year olds, perhaps during their first year of college, would need to find twice as many cars and twice as many designated drivers every weekend, which can already be a difficult process.

I have a few more.

A 30-day license suspension for speeding. Let's think about that.

I'm one of 3 siblings in my family, all of whom are drivers, and two of whom, at 18 and 19, are both teens and legal adults. In the summers, when we're all at home, that's 5 adults trying to get to their 5 jobs (6 jobs, back when I had two), at least two of which are shift work, using two or three cars. That involves a hell of a lot of co-ordination, and a hell of a lot of dropping off and picking up and planning every evening. If any one of us had our license suspended for a month, that would be a huge deal. It's more than an inconvenience - it makes getting to work for whoever lost their license all but unfeasible. My 19-year old brother works a 45-minute drive away, in the opposite direction the rest of us go. No one could drop him off and pick him up every day.

And you know what? I worked all through high school, too, and volunteered and had a social life, and it wouldn't have been any better then.

It sort of seems like the more responsibilities you have, the worse this provision is for you. If all you do is go to the movies with friends, I guess you can probably work around a suspended license. The people who are most vulnerable here are those who do more - who commute to college or university from home, who work, who volunteer, who are helping take care of family members they don't live with, etc etc. That's right, young people do these things.

I suppose the argument is that this should be added incentive on my mature, responsible (and, I'll say again, legal adult of a) brother not to speed.

Again, let's think that through. The flow of traffic, at any given time, is generally speeding by a little bit. Like many Canadians, I took Young Driver's, back in the day, and they specifically teach their students to go with the flow of traffic, even if it is a little over the speed limit, because that's the safer option. Under these new laws, by doing what I was taught in driver's ed, I'm putting myself at risk of a suspended license.

And don't anybody point out that no one gets tickets for going 5km over the limit. We all know someone who's been nailed for 5-10.

I think the root problem here is that a lot of people generally don't perceive young adults as having the same needs as 'full adults' (which I apparently became on Jan 8, 2007). There's a reason why 'full adults' need to seriously fuck up before they lose their license* - adults need to be able to drive. They need to get to their jobs, shuttle their families around, etc. A lot of people don't really buy the idea that young adults need these things, too. They're wrong. Anyone who's had to finance any part of their post-secondary education will understand how catastrophic it would be to lose a month (or a summer) of work because you were caught doing 115 on the QEW. Young people need this autonomy in a very real way.

Impudent Strumpet, I think, hits the nail on the head when she raises this point:
I'm a horrible, nervous, skittish driver who hasn't been behind the wheel in a decade (aren't you glad?). I didn't finish graduated licensing within the allotted five years, but I have a G1 to use as ID. I also happen to be 27 years old. Under these proposed rules, I could go to one of those crammer driving schools that promises to get you through the road test in 24 hours, pass my G1 exit test and get a G2, and drive around with as many screaming idiots as I can fit in the car. However, a fully-licensed 21-year-old who's been driving every day since they were 16 (and who is, in fact, qualified to be my accompanying driver as I frantically practice for the road test) can't road-trip to the cottage or drive their whole band to the gig in the same van.
This is discrimination against youth.

McGuinty is not suggesting adding extra qualifications to graduated licensing - he's not saying, "Let's add another step where new drivers, for the first 5 years that they're on the road, can't have any alcohol in their blood at all, can't have more than one passenger, and will face heightened penalties if they mess up." He's saying youth**.

When unclear, I endorse the age equivalency test: what other legal rights and obligations do people of x age have?

Age 18: You can vote, go to war, become a sex worker, whatever sex you like with whoever you please, get married, be tried for your crimes in adult court, and receive an adult sentence.

But having two of your friends in the car with you while driving is, according to McGuinty, too much responsibility.

Oh, I see.

*Demonstrative sidenote from my Criminal Law class: driving more than 50km over the speed limit can get anyone's license suspended for a full year. Yet some people, when charged as such, will actually try to plead up to a higher-level offence like careless driving or dangerous driving as a summary offence which can yield a huge fine ($1000-2000) but has no suspended license provision. That's because having no license sucks, for most people.
**Interesting how he's arguing for harsher penalties for young people where generally the law thinks young people shouldn't be penalized to the extent that adults are. Cops used to scare the shit out of me when I was younger - now, not so much.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The very early morning of Nov 5, 2008

It's almost 5am, I'm still awake from last night, and I'm wired.

It's a tense, artificial energy I'm familiar with, which always arrives around this time at the end of a long night.

I watched the election tonight with some friends, had a few drinks, didn't touch my assignment for tomorrow. I felt something lean and strong inside me pull taut as the evening progressed, and stopped worrying about getting it done; my nerves have carried me through far harder nights.

We watched CNN without flipping. We joked about their holograms, ogled Anderson Cooper, and coloured in a map of the US red and blue as the states were called. We made rude jokes.

At the same time, as that old something pulled taut inside me, it became harder and harder to ignore how much I had invested in this election - not only in the man I've never met but have a guilty trust in, but in the process that's unfolded over the last two years and in something even larger than that. That taut solid something could feel my eyes flickering across the screen, cracking my wrists and pulling at my fingers as I watched the numbers and, more importantly, listened to what was being said.

My search for decency in the human race is all-consuming. It is happening at every moment of my day. Every gesture of respect and compassion, from a nod between strangers to much larger sacrifices, gets tucked away and archived as evidence that the faith which sustains me is not a foolish one. My most fundamental faith is that, given two options or positions argued with equal skill, people will generally choose the more decent of the two. At moments like tonight, I realize how fragile and edifying that faith is, and how much it sometimes takes to maintain.

I think this is where my attraction to Obama comes from. His rhetorical gift (and maybe his political gift generally) is in reconnecting us with our place in the larger picture - of a community, a society, a moment in history. And reconnecting Americans with their finer selves. I guess I see in his approach to politics (or at least to this campaign) a mirror of my fundamental faith: that whenever it makes sense to do so, people will be higher, better, good.

I cheered when CNN called it for Obama. I teared up a bit. But I realized - after McCain's speech, which seemed so dignified after the last few weeks, after thinking of Obama's grandmother who missed this moment by only a single day, after seeing Jesse Jackson crying in the crowd - that for all the validation, the relief, the release of tension and the renewal, this moment was bittersweet.

We saw tonight the realization of dreams which were long overdue, hard-earned, and glorious in the truest sense of the word. But to be honest, to be selfish, I need to admit that around 11.30 I suddenly wanted to see Hillary Rodham-Clinton... badly.

I was really surprised to be having that reaction. I had a hard time getting too excited about Clinton during the primaries - too centrist, I guess, too 'establishment,' and of course a little resistence to the idea that I ought to support her for her femaleness - although I had no trouble getting worked up about the sexist bullshit heaped upon her. But god damn. God damn.

Some day I will get to feel what Jesse Jackson felt tonight. But not today - and possibly not for a long time yet.

I was moved when Obama came out with his family. I was choked up through the first part of his speech - choked up and reminded that there's a very, very good reason why this man won. He had no real reason to include Clinton in his acknowledgements, but I couldn't help wanting to hear her name. It didn't come.

Obama's acceptance speech was probably the most memorable public address I've ever heard. By "waited for hours," by "gay and straight, disabled and not disabled," by the time we were putting our hands on the arc of history and bending it towards a better day, my mind was blown. I laugh-sobbed at Sasha and Malia's puppy.

Mostly, though, this speech was remarkable for the things it put to rest. I have cringed, at times, at the way Obama rhetorically collapses his own electoral victory with the accomplishment of the "change we need" idea, especially when he links his own fortunes to those of the voters and his campaign volunteers. Tonight, somehow, the next step happened: he rolled that momentum seamlessly, self-evidently, into the idea that what began 21 months ago in the depths of winter cannot end on this autumn night; that what's been earned is not a victory but an opportunity; that the spirit of service is renewed not concluded tonight.

That this man will seek to belong even to those whose faith he hasn't yet earned.

Needless to say, by the time he got to Ann Nixon Cooper, the bittersweetness was gone. A good friend who I spoke to afterwards said it felt like watching the moon landing, and that's exactly correct. I caught myself mouthing "yes we can," I nodded and shook my head at the New Deal and the buses in Birmingham.

But it was a shot of a black woman nodding along in the crowd that made me break down and cry.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Smug Grammarian Joke Alert!

... "Syntactic Time Travel" Edition!

Rupert Murdoch, after FOX called the election for McCain today:

"While Obama has run a strong campaign, what we have seen is that Americans have made a choice against socialist extremism and have voted overwhelmingly for McCain this coming Tuesday," said Murdoch. "We have always been correct when calling the winners of Presidential elections and we strongly urge Obama to concede prior to Tuesday to ensure that his supporters don't go to polling places and eventually riot. Obama must do what's good for the nation and concede."