Monday, August 3, 2009

Real Americans

Frank Rich's editorial in the Sunday Times was one of the better bits so far about the recent torrent of race baiting from GOP barkers. The upshot of Rich's thinking is that righty-whitey accusations and rants indicate deep anxiety about their soon-to-be minority status.

There's a lot more to it than that, of course. Sure, some people are surely struggling with Big Questions about What Their Country Means; experiences other than Mayberry-certified stories now carry the President's and the Supreme Court's stamp of authority. But some of the vitriol seems motivated by a pure instinct that white folk must not cede their place at the top of the pack.

In Other News

Japan is starting jury trials. More accurately, a current case is the first jury trial in Japan in over sixty years but they are conducting mock trials to work the system out. The usual warring theories abound: jurors can't make good decisions, judge only courts lack transparency, etc.

The current system involves three judge panels. This first jury case involves both six jurors and three judges. Curiously (at least from a UK/US point of view) at least one of the judges has to agree with the jury's verdict.

The article mentions a few other interesting details. First, Japan boasts a 99% conviction rate. I have a hunch that the Japanese police are not 99% good. Second, Japan had a jury system from the mid-1920s until 1943. It seems like an odd exception to the US-designed political overhaul after the War to leave out a jury system.

As an added historical tid-bit: Japan actually adopted the German Civil Code not longer after the Buergerliches Gesetz Buch was adopted, during the Meiji period when Japan was busily modernizing everything.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Cobbles are for Suckers

If there is one word for biking around Munich, it is "civilized." This works on a couple levels. First, there's no antagonism between bikes and cars - they actually give you the right of way and pay attention - making it a lot safer (hardly anyone wears a helmet). Which means, second, that there's no dumb bike culture. Which means, third, you can ride grandad bikes without feeling like a middle-aged guy whose mom packs his lunch.

These are the only bikes you can actually ride while wearing a suit and there aren't many things to make you feel more civilized than biking in a suit. Until you reach the cobble stones. They are uncivilized. They are dumb. It was fine when they were the only sensible alternative to mud and dung but they are officially well past their sell-by date. Hours after a long ride today and my ass still hurts.

There's a batch of urban planners that advocate for reviving cobble stones in the States, claiming they do everything from reduce pedestrian injuries (slower car speeds) to emanate somethingorother that will magically undo all the real and imagined damages the car has wreaked on American community. These people are charlatans.