Saturday, September 27, 2008

Rant: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Warning: The content of this post may raise your blood pressure. The story told here is true. No names have been changed to protect anyone.

As someone who frequently works in downtown Chicago and has to schlep large instruments to and from my car, parking occupies a far-too-large space in my consciousness. For those who don't know, the first ten minutes of every gig is spent discussing where everyone parked and how much (if anything) each of us had to pay for the "privilege" of stashing a vehicle in the downtown area for a few hours. Often the most challenging aspect of my work is figuring out where to park and how to gain access to the venue in the most efficient allowable way. Strategies for parking in this town are as mulled over and discussed as presidential politics - actually more so, since there isn't a parking "season".

Sometimes mistakes are made. I put that in the passive tense not only to ridicule Ronald Reagan but also to soften the harsh reality that smacks one in the face when one's car gets towed by Streets and Sanitation. Yes, it happens, to some of us more frequently than others. I have been particularly unlucky in this regard, having somehow missed the "tow zone" signs too many times to count, usually because I'm in a hurry and (I'll admit) reluctant to give up the hunt for street parking and actually put my car in a parking lot. Perhaps it is my version of going on safari. Every once in awhile you get mauled by a lion, or a tow truck, as the case may be.

The tow truck drivers have been known to get a little over-zealous. My car has been forcibly removed from several spots unjustifiably. And whenever you get towed, it's the double whammy: you get a parking ticket ($50-75, depending on the type of alleged violation) AND you have to pay $160 for the tow. Then there's the ignominious task of going down into the bowels of hell to retrieve your vehicle from the auto pound.

But the important point here is that when you get towed you are presumed guilty until proven innocent. It is up to the driver to prove that he was NOT in violation of the law. You are slammed with a fine before you even have a chance to make a phone call, let alone have your day in court. It is no secret that collecting parking fines and towing fees is a major source of revenue for the city; so the chances of getting actual justice in these instances is slim to nil.

About ten days ago I was parked on a downtown street early in the morning. I'd carefully observed the posted signs and had put my car in a loading zone: no parking 8 AM to 6 PM. I returned to the spot at 7:50 to discover that my car was gone, no doubt having been glommed by Attila the Tow Man. Within an hour I was down in Dante's Inferno negotiating all the paperwork needed to reunite me with my old minivan and, of course, forking over $160.

The vehicle had been towed in violation of a "No parking 7-9 AM" regulation that supposedly applies to the street where I had parked. Only... there are NO signs stating that anywhere on that block. I was pretty sure of this but I decided to go back with my digital camera to take a batch of pictures that I could use as evidence to support my case. Friends, there really aren't any posted warnings that one might be towed between 7 and 9 AM. I took photos of the actual spot, and the immediate area surrounding the spot, as well as close-ups of the signs and the address.

For added irony, on the day of my hearing I had parked at a meter and was 5 minutes late getting back to that spot, having paid for 2 hours of parking. As I approached the car I saw both Rita the Meter Maid and the little gift she had left for me on the windshield. Ah, what's another $50 at this point? I drove to the City of Chicago Parking Violations Bureau, or whatever the hell its called, paid to park in a lot (which distressed me to no end) and sat myself down in the dreary hearing room waiting for my case to be called.

It turns out that you don't get your case heard by an actual judge. The guy making the call is an attorney contracted by the city to take care of its parking dirty work. I found him to be a small-minded toady, like a character from a David Mamet play. Captain Bringdown informed me that this hearing is just about the towing; dealing with the $60 ticket is a whole separate matter, which I could pursue on another day if I so chose. He found my evidence irrelevant because, get this, I didn't have photos of the entire block showing that there are no signs regarding the 7-9 AM restrictions. The photos only showed that I was not in violation of the loading zone, not the more global (and invisible) regulations.

Needless to say, I was fit to be tied. The only way to appeal this decision is to file a civil suit against the city, which would eat up who knows how much time require me to pay filing fees. I might even have to hire an attorney. So the deck is stacked entirely against the driver, even if he has truly not violated the law. I plan to pursue a defense against the ticket itself, more on the principal of the thing rather than to save the money. I am presently armed with photos of the entire block; up, down and sideways, plus the aerial views.

Have I mentioned that I hate everything having to do with parking downtown?

Palin Makes Quayle Look Good

It's hard to believe that anyone could make me feel nostalgic for good ole Danny boy, but...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Deepak Chopra on the Appeal of Sarah Palin

From: Deepak Chopra | Posted: Friday, September 5th, 2008

Sometimes politics has the uncanny effect of mirroring the national psyche even when nobody intended to do that. This is perfectly illustrated by the rousing effect that Gov. Sarah Palin had on the Republican convention in Minneapolis this week. On the surface, she outdoes former Vice President Dan Quayle as an unlikely choice, given her negligent parochial expertise in the complex affairs of governing. Her state of Alaska has less than 700,000 residents, which reduces the job of governor to the scale of running one-tenth of New York City. By comparison, Rudy Giuliani is a towering international figure. Palin's pluck has been admired, and her forthrightness, but her real appeal goes deeper.

She is the reverse of Barack Obama, in essence his shadow, deriding his idealism and exhorting people to obey their worst impulses. In psychological terms the shadow is that part of the psyche that hides out of sight, countering our aspirations, virtue, and vision with qualities we are ashamed to face: anger, fear, revenge, violence, selfishness, and suspicion of "the other." For millions of Americans, Obama triggers those feelings, but they don't want to express them. He is calling for us to reach for our higher selves, and frankly, that stirs up hidden reactions of an unsavory kind. (Just to be perfectly clear, I am not making a verbal play out of the fact that Sen. Obama is black. The shadow is a metaphor widely in use before his arrival on the scene.)

I recognize that psychological analysis of politics is usually not welcome by the public, but I believe such a perspective can be helpful here to understand Palin's message. In her acceptance speech Gov. Palin sent a rousing call to those who want to celebrate their resistance to change and a higher vision.

Look at what she stands for:
--Small town values -- a denial of America's global role, a return to petty, small-minded parochialism.
--Ignorance of world affairs -- a repudiation of the need to repair America's image abroad.
--Family values -- a code for walling out anybody who makes a claim for social justice. Such strangers, being outside the family, don't need to be heeded.
--Rigid stands on guns and abortion -- a scornful repudiation that these issues can be negotiated with those who disagree.
--Patriotism -- the usual fallback in a failed war.
--"Reform" -- an italicized term, since in addition to cleaning out corruption and excessive spending, one also throws out anyone who doesn't fit your ideology.

Palin reinforces the overall message of the reactionary right, which has been in play since 1980, that social justice is liberal-radical, that minorities and immigrants, being different from "us" pure American types, can be ignored, that progressivism takes too much effort and globalism is a foreign threat. The radical right marches under the banners of "I'm all right, Jack," and "Why change? Everything's OK as it is." The irony, of course, is that Gov. Palin is a woman and a reactionary at the same time. She can add mom to apple pie on her resume, while blithely reversing forty years of feminist progress. The irony is superficial; there are millions of women who stand on the side of conservatism, however obviously they are voting against their own good.

The Republicans have won multiple national elections by raising shadow issues based on fear, rejection, hostility to change, and narrow-mindedness. Obama's call for higher ideals in politics can't be seen in a vacuum. The shadow is real; it was bound to respond. Not just conservatives possess a shadow -- we all do. So what comes next is a contest between the two forces of progress and inertia. Will the shadow win again, or has its furtive appeal become exhausted? No one can predict. The best thing about Gov. Palin is that she brought this conflict to light, which makes the upcoming debate honest. It would be a shame to elect another Reagan, whose smiling persona was a stalking horse for the reactionary forces that have brought us to the demoralized state we are in. We deserve to see what we are getting, without disguise.

The Real McCain

Meanwhile, on the other side of the universe...

Gotta Love Obama (Sometimes)