2013-09-27

Law vs. Responsibility

I've been thinking a lot over the last few years about the idea of law versus responsibility. In our society, the lines are often very blurred between the two, and we are encouraged to think of them as the same thing - that if you are following the law, you are being responsible. That if you are breaking the law, you are being irresponsible. In fact, that following the law is the definition of being responsible, and that breaking the law is the definition of being irresponsible.

I think that this view of things is, in fact, very harmful. There are several effects it has that cause a lot of problems in society, make us feel justified in harming each other, and provide a lot of power and profit for the people making up the laws.

Firstly, this view is based on the assumption that all the laws were written with the best interest of the least of humanity in mind. This is simply not the case. Many laws were written specifically to put money in certain peoples' pockets. Many of them were made to support a societal paradigm that, in the end, is harmful to society. Many of them were well-intentioned, but poorly written, or weakened by strong opposition or societal conditions that prevented them passing any other way.

Secondly, it causes us to forget our conscience. We have an innate sense of whether what we are doing is harmful or helpful, whether it is responsible on some level, or reckless. However, when we learn the viewpoint of law as responsibility, we come to simply ignore this innate sense, because it's much easier to just follow a set of rules that tells us what we can and can't do. This has the extremely negative effect of making people perfectly comfortable doing things that should repulse them, because someone either made a law that says it's ok, or someone who has the power or influence to set social rules and norms seems to be saying it's ok.

Thirdly, because we are not tuned in to our conscience, but rather simply following the instituted laws or social rules, we become unable to respond, to resist, to critically evaluate what we're doing. Essentially, we become lemmings, and whatever the political and social norms tell us is ok, we go and do, thinking all the while we're being good, responsible humans, when in fact, we could be causing people irreparable damage.

I'm not saying the law has no value, or is all bad. I do believe it is generally a good idea to follow the law, but I also believe it is critical to think about it, evaluate it, and break it sometimes when it would force you to do something you should not do. I think it is critical to be able to separate following the law from being responsible, so that you can see that, while they sometimes overlap, they are not the same thing.

This applies to political, social and religious law. Any system set up to govern behavior. Because, frankly, nobody has it all right, and everyone has ample opportunity for harboring ulterior motives.

2013-09-20

Swifts

Swifts!
Last night we watched approximately 4,620 vaux swifts swirl around the air and then dive into the chimney of the old boiler at Chapman School in NW Portland.

At one point, a hawk came looking for dinner, and the hundreds (yes, hundreds) of people sitting on the lawn to watch sat in rapt attention as the hawk dove through the cloud of swifts over and over, only to be chased away by the swarm, harried on all sides. Flying past the outer edges of the cloud of swifts, it would then swing around widely and make another impossibly fast dive through the scattering fray. I've rarely seen a crowd so enthralled at any film, drama or music event I've been to. 

As the hawk was attempting to find dinner for itself, the swifts started, in small groups, swirling down the chimney like a genie being sucked back into its bottle. The remaining large group of swifts continued to fend off the hawk, as if the group were sending escape pods into the chimney.

After about 10 minutes of diving, being chased, retreating, diving again, the hawk finally caught its dinner and retreated.

The remaining swifts continued swirling around the air for some time, continuing to send small groups down into the chimney, and finally larger and larger groups would spiral themselves into the small opening. At last, just as it was almost so dark you could no longer see them, there was only a small cloud left high up in the air that you could just make out against the darkening sky, like the cloud of gnats you see across the room in the summer, lazily buzzing away and seemingly doing nothing in particular.

As the last remaining swifts retreated to their evening rest, the crowd clapped and cheered, as if the actors had just taken their bows, and the curtain had returned to gently brush the stage floor.

We walked home in the cool darkness through the quiet, suburban neighborhood, to arrive back to the almost jarring lights of NW 23rd Ave. On one street corner, a banjo and fiddle playing, and on the opposite corner, a man with a guitar interpreting Prince's Kiss for the massive crowd at Salt and Straw ice cream (how do they always still have a 30 minute line at 9pm?).

Portland has its moments.

2013-09-09

Unorthodox Bicycle Repairs

My Bicycle Broke.
Just about a month ago, I was riding my bike over the river to go take in a couple rolls of film I had shot. Just as I was coming off the east side of the Hawthorne bridge, I felt the bike start to shimmy in a weird way, so I got off and looked at it, and after a couple of minutes, noticed that the seat tube was cracked just above the lug where it meets the top tube.

This was obviously distressing, but I had to get my film in, so I locked it up to a bike rack and walked from there. On the way back, I picked my bike up and took it on the streetcar back home and brought it inside.

I spent a little time asking around about possible repairs, and the response I got was all "If the tube is cracked, the frame is trash."

So then I started looking around at bike replacements, and there was nothing in terms of similar bicycles for less than $1000, which we simply cannot afford by any means right now.

At this point, I started getting really sad, and decided I had better strip my bike and try to get rid of some of the parts and and least make some money off of it. So the bike slowly came apart, piece by piece.

Stripped Down.

Going to pieces.
Then Henry Cutler, who owns WorkCycles in the Netherlands, saw my photo of the cracked tube, and suggested taking a seat post (since it fits exactly inside that tubing already), sand off the chrome, jam it down into this joint, and plug weld it into place. This appealed both to my love of this bicycle, and to my love of repairing and re-using things, so I got excited about the idea. Plus, I kind of like just trying things that most people say are impossible or crazy, so I was sure we had to do it.

We happened to mention this while out to dinner with a friend who is a carpenter, and he mentioned that he had a good welder contact in town. He gave us the contact info, and I wrote the welder and asked him about it, and he said the repair made sense, and he'd be up for giving it a go, so we went and bought a used steel seat post from City Bikes for $2, took that and the bike in to the welder, and a day later and $140 shorter, I had a bike frame again.
She's Back!
So, I put the bike back together (thankfully, I hadn't sold any of the parts yet), and rode it to work the next day, and I've been riding it since (over two weeks now).

I got a little can of oil-based enamel paint to touch up around the weld (unfortunately I accidentally got matte, so I'll be getting some gloss paint at some point in the near future and doing a coat of gloss over it).
Back In Action!
I decided not to put the front rack back on, as I'm just not using it nearly as much for carrying things since we've moved to NW Portland. The headlight had previously been attached to the front rack, so we had to find a way to re-attach it without the rack on, as I had gotten rid of the Raleigh mounting bracket that was there for the original headlight some time ago.

I took it into Clever Cycles, since they are fantastic, and Jeremy not only went looking around at other shops to find a Raleigh headlight mounting bracket, but since he couldn't find the piece that slips over the bracket (the piece that the light attaches to), he made one out of other pieces of metal they had sitting around the shop. How's that for full-service?
Headlight!
So, at least for now, all is well in bike-land. According to Henry and the welder, this repair should actually be at least as strong as the original frame, if not a little stronger. So, hopefully I'll be riding this bike for some time yet. We shall see!