Clint Eastwood bashes Attorneys?

OK, I love Clint Eastwood as an actor, and while his speech last night as the RNC was a bit strange (I suspect that “having a conversation with an empty chair” will be the meme of the year) I found it humorous and endearing.

It struck me, however, that Clint called for a “businessman” in the White House rather than a lawyer – due to the fact that lawyers are “so busy.”

Two issues with this: First, Romney, like Obama, possesses a law degree. And neither man has spent any meaningful portion of their career practicing law. And second, as any recent law school graduate can tell you, many attorneys are far, far from busy.

Tax Policy & Business

The jumping off point for expanding SSS to business-related topics is a post I recently wrote for Forbes on why we’ve got to undo the Bush-era tax cuts. My position is pretty self-explanatory, and, I would like to think, pretty obvious: It’s not sustainable to spend 24% of GDP on 15% in tax revenues.

Not that you’d know that from the magical thinking of today’s politics. Whether it’s the mantra of “have the rich pay their fair share” or the supply-side nuttiness that cutting tax rates will boost revenues, there’s precious little engagement with the hard work of crafting policies that will get us spending something closer to what we take in. And yes, that will require both more tax revenue AND spending cuts.

One point that deserves additional attention, however, is the pernicious effect of interest rates and a stagnating economy on businesses. Whether you run a small bike shop or a Fortune 500 company, it’s really hard to operate in such an environment. Capital dries or or gets expensive and inventory is hard to move. The door stops swinging as often.

Any business owner will tell you that they would take higher tax rates and a growing economy over the inverse, any day of the week.

Of course, it would be even better if that was combined with tax code simplification as well. But if rationality on the need for addressing the deficit is in short supply, imagine how hard it would be to get some sanity on that front.

Tuba Bike Trailer

Know what I’d like to see one of these Kickstarter bike accessory geniuses design? A set of fold-out arms for the back of my bike so I can occupy more space and maybe dissuade the idiots who insist on trying to pass me when I’m taking the lane. Weaving to block them is only so effective, you know.

Failing that, there’s the Tuba Bike Trailer. I’ve not tried a bike trailer yet, but I’ve grown increasingly fond of using my bike to run errands. For bigger loads, I use a combination of grocery bag panniers, backpacks and the MOATMB (Mother of All Timbuk2 Messenger Bags). The Tuba could simplify things; it aims to provide “the same level of convenience and spaciousness as a car’s trunk or backseat.” Not sure I could pull something this big uphill on my fixed gear, but man could you load a lot of groceries and beer in this baby.

Check the Tuba out on Kickstarter – and throw some support their way if you like the idea of moving more errands to pedal power.

Blogging Consolidation

You’ll notice a bit of a change moving forward on Single Speed Seattle – I’m expanding the focus of the blog to cover things I’ve been writing about elsewhere; namely my perspective on business and legal-related stuff. Splitting my blogging between here and Corporate Tool was too distracting, and often I’d want to write something that didn’t seem a perfect fit for either blog. I’m hoping that having a single place to blog will help me write more often.

So now you get it all here! Time will tell if that is a good thing . . .

First Ride: Capital Bike Share

On a trip last week to Washington, D.C for my brother’s wedding (congrats, Tommy and Monica – it was about time!), I decidedly to try out DC’s bike share system. Seattle is apparently going to get such a system next year, so I was curious to see how it works out.

My first concern going in was the weather. After all, DC in August has in the past driven me to take a cab to go 5 blocks (and I love walking nearly as much as I love riding a bike). Fortunately, it was mid-80’s and – crucially – relatively low humidity.

The system itself is easy to use and ubiquitous, with 150 stations around town. The idea is to be able to ride around from station to station; short rides are encouraged via a system that only charges for rides exceeding 30 minutes. Locals pay an annual fee for access; for tourists a day pass goes for $7.

I grabbed a bike at Union Station and meandered through town to Dupont Circle. Getting the bike is as simple as inserting a credit card, getting a code and unlocking a bike. The bikes are sturdy step-through 3-speeds, easy to maneuver on wide tires. The gearing felt a little low – being used to riding single-speed in hilly Seattle, even the top gear on a bike share ride felt too light. But it probably helped slow me down to enjoy the sights.

The biggest revelation was how DC has plowed forward with bike share despite abysmal bike infrastructure. Outside of a slightly-terrifying two-way bike lane running right down the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue (often occupied by pedestrians and emergency vehicles), any nod to bikes is exceedingly hard to find. Indeed, most everyone just chooses to ride on DC’s wide sidewalks. It gives me hope that Seattle’s system will work as well – and maybe even accelerate the process of making downtown more bike-friendly.

All told, I loved Capital Bikeshare as a way to easily get around town and see the sights. I’ll do a three-day pass the next time I’m in town.

Unless that trip is in July . . .

Running Red Lights

Randy Cohen, the original writer of “The Ethicist” column in the New York Times, wrote an op-ed over the weekend defending the running of red lights by cyclists.

It’s a remarkably weak effort. When your best arguments are “everyone else is doing it” and “it feels good”, it’s time to go back to the well.

Which is not to say I disagree with Cohen’s conclusion. I pass through 18 stoplight-controlled intersections each way to and from work. I don’t know that I’ve ever had a day where I didn’t run at least one of them. It’s just that I don’t see the question of whether one complies with traffic lights as an ethical quandary. We may comply with traffic rules for a lot of reasons – habit, because it’s safer to do so, because we’re coerced into it, or because of the cost of compliance is so low compared to the bad outcomes of being caught. But ethics doesn’t enter into it.

One popular theme among cyclists is that we shouldn’t run red lights because of the “message it sends” about cyclists. This is a coercive argument, disguised as ethics.

But when it comes to malum prohibitum laws (like those governing traffic), there’s no moral dimension. Unlike murder, robbery or rape, there’s nothing innate in our culture that imbues cyclists stopping at red lights with moral weight. It’s not hard to imagine a set of laws where cyclists have different signals (as in Copenhagen or Amsterdam) or different obligations with respect to signals (as in Idaho). Indeed, even Cohen’s protestation that he is not an anarchist because he (almost) never rides on sidewalks makes no sense from an ethics perspective. Sidewalk riding is legal in many places, including Seattle.

Which doesn’t mean riding on the sidewalk is an inherently good idea – just as it is not in a cyclist’s best interest to obey every traffic signal. These are pragmatic judgments to be made, based on circumstances. For me, safety comes first. I don’t stand on my rights when it comes to signals, and I don’t obey them if it feels safer not to.

And so doing doesn’t make me lose sleep, or get into neo-Kantian justifications to make myself feel better.

Cycling Death at the Olympics

News today that a cyclist died in a collision with a media bus at the London Olympics.  As told in this very affecting eyewitness account from Reddit, it was a left-hook rollover (the equivalent of a right-hook here in the states).

It’s a horrible thing, and something of an epidemic in the UK.  A study of London cycling deaths found that less-aggressive riders are actually at greater risk of death: Unwilling to take the lane, they will pull up to an intersection at the curb – putting them in position to be crushed when a larger vehicle that can’t see them makes a turn.  I see this riding behavior all the time on my commute, but fortunately Seattle’s infrastructure is not as dense as London’s and there’s usually someplace to escape to.

This video graphically illustrates the danger of hanging in the curbside blind spot (and don’t worry; no cyclists were harmed in the making of the video):