I've been putting off posting about the final outcome of the West-East Cycle Route confrontation at Edinburgh City Council's Transport and Environment committee, in part because there was no final outcome.
I sat through four hours of Edinburgh Council's Transport and Environment Committee. The end result was a fudge. The Council heard adamant depositions from both sides, and decided not to decide. They will form a stakeholder group, with representatives from all involved, and attempt to come to a compromise that satisfies all sides. But it's hard to see how that can happen: if we don't get a straight route it will be a disaster, but if we do folk in Roseburn will fear an impact on their businesses (studies show cycle routes don't harm business, but they seem to be taking the Gove line: they are tired of hearing from experts).
Though perhaps we were lucky to get a fudge. Had it gone to a straight vote, following the whip Greens and Labour would have voted for Option A (7 votes) while the SDP, Conservatives, and Liberal Democrats would have voted for Option B (8 votes). As it was, the Greens gave a rousing defense of Option A, with fantastic speeches from Nigel Bagshaw and Chas Booth. Everyone else supported the 'compromise', and took the opportunity to excoriate the Greens for taking a principled stand. Even those who would have voted for Option B expressed support for cycling, and perhaps that is something we can build on.
Dave duFeu of Spokes posted an excellent summary, including links to the webcast of the meeting and a list of the steps you can take to support the West-East Cycle Route.
The Edinburgh Evening News offered coverage in the two days before: Cyclists take to street to support £6m cycle “superhighway” and D-Day for cycleway in Edinburgh amidst anger and division. The first of these features a couple of photos of me arguing with opponents of the cycle route in Roseburn. I don't look calm and collected. Oddly, I can't find any coverage the Evening News gave to the outcome of the Transport and Environment committee meeting. Was there any?
Not only are Roseburn residents up in arms. A similar cycleway in Bearsden, near Glasgow, is attracting comparable ire from its locals. What is our best way forward to fight bicycle bigots?
Previously:Option A: Think about the children
A correspondent on Quora explains the insider's view to an outsider. Some selections:
- You can answer many seemingly difficult questions quickly. But you are not very impressed by what can look like magic, because you know the trick. The trick is that your brain can quickly decide if a question is answerable by one of a few powerful general purpose "machines" (e.g., continuity arguments, the correspondences between geometric and algebraic objects, linear algebra, ways to reduce the infinite to the finite through various forms of compactness) combined with specific facts you have learned about your area. The number of fundamental ideas and techniques that people use to solve problems is, perhaps surprisingly, pretty small -- see for a partial list, maintained by Timothy Gowers.
- You go up in abstraction, "higher and higher". The main object of study yesterday becomes just an example or a tiny part of what you are considering today. For example, in calculus classes you think about functions or curves. In functional analysis or algebraic geometry, you think of spaces whose pointsare functions or curves -- that is, you "zoom out" so that every function is just a point in a space, surrounded by many other "nearby" functions. Using this kind of zooming out technique, you can say very complex things in short sentences -- things that, if unpacked and said at the zoomed-in level, would take up pages. Abstracting and compressing in this way makes it possible to consider extremely complicated issues with one's limited memory and processing power.
- You are easily annoyed by imprecision in talking about the quantitative or logical. This is mostly because you are trained to quickly think about counterexamples that make an imprecise claim seem obviously false.
I've long known that ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) is one of the worst aspects of TTIP, TTP, and CETA. But I've thought the main problem with ISDS was first, that it enabled businessmen to sue governments over laws enacted to save their citizenry (as in the cartoon below), and, second, its secrecy. What I did not understand was how it enables corruption. Kudos to Buzzfeed for their detailed investigation.
Say a nation tries to prosecute a corrupt CEO or ban dangerous pollution. Imagine that a company could turn to this super court and sue the whole country for daring to interfere with its profits, demanding hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars as retribution.
Imagine that this court is so powerful that nations often must heed its rulings as if they came from their own supreme courts, with no meaningful way to appeal. That it operates unconstrained by precedent or any significant public oversight, often keeping its proceedings and sometimes even its decisions secret. That the people who decide its cases are largely elite Western corporate attorneys who have a vested interest in expanding the court’s authority because they profit from it directly, arguing cases one day and then sitting in judgment another. That some of them half-jokingly refer to themselves as “The Club” or “The Mafia.”
And imagine that the penalties this court has imposed have been so crushing — and its decisions so unpredictable — that some nations dare not risk a trial, responding to the mere threat of a lawsuit by offering vast concessions, such as rolling back their own laws or even wiping away the punishments of convicted criminals. This system is already in place, operating behind closed doors in office buildings and conference rooms in cities around the world. Known as investor-state dispute settlement, or ISDS, it is written into a vast network of treaties that govern international trade and investment, including NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Congress must soon decide whether to ratify.
These trade pacts have become a flashpoint in the US presidential campaign. But an 18-month BuzzFeed News investigation, spanning three continents and involving more than 200 interviews and tens of thousands of documents, many of them previously confidential, has exposed an obscure but immensely consequential feature of these trade treaties, the secret operations of these tribunals, and the ways that business has co-opted them to bring sovereign nations to heel.
The series starts today with perhaps the least known and most jarring revelation: Companies and executives accused or even convicted of crimes have escaped punishment by turning to this special forum. Based on exclusive reporting from the Middle East, Central America, and Asia, BuzzFeed News has found the following:
- A Dubai real estate mogul and former business partner of Donald Trump was sentenced to prison for collaborating on a deal that would swindle the Egyptian people out of millions of dollars — but then he turned to ISDS and got his prison sentence wiped away.
- In El Salvador, a court found that a factory had poisoned a village — including dozens of children — with lead, failing for years to take government-ordered steps to prevent the toxic metal from seeping out. But the factory owners’ lawyers used ISDS to help the company dodge a criminal conviction and the responsibility for cleaning up the area and providing needed medical care.
- Two financiers convicted of embezzling more than $300 million from an Indonesian bank used an ISDS finding to fend off Interpol, shield their assets, and effectively nullify their punishment.