Licensed to Rant


As someone who uses a bike to get around it scares us to think about how easy it is to renew a driver’s license, as one of the Homegrown Revolution compound members did this week. Can you breathe? Great! Here’s your license. Are you homicidal, schizophrenic, elderly, partially blind, or all of the above? No problem! Just step up, have your picture taken, take a vision test that could easily be cheated on, pay $27 and you can legally get behind the wheel of a 4,000 pound exhaust-spewing death machine.

While our country does everything it can to facilitate everyone getting behind the wheel of a car, there’s one big thing you have to give up, in addition to lots of cash–your privacy. It’s been many years since we renewed our license in person and this time around there was one big change–a sign taped to the wall just below the grinning portrait of the actor who played Conan the Barbarian saying in effect that if you don’t want to be electronically fingerprinted you won’t get a license. Which brings to mind an article by Claire Wolfe in the most recent issue of Backwoods Home Magazine, the Martha Stewart Living of the off-grid set, in praise of walking and biking (triking to be precise) from a radical libertarian perspective.

One of my aims in choosing this life has been, as Thoreau said, to “simplify, simplify, simplify.” In the case of transportation, my notion of simplicity involves a few special requirements.

First requirement: No permits, licenses, government registrations, or bureaucratic involvement at all. I know it’s naive in this super-governed age, but I’m foolish enough to hold fast to the belief that in a truly free country people travel peaceably on the roads without being stopped and hassled by “the authorities” and without asking the permission from the king (or the president, or the governor, or the Bureau of Lawn Mowers, Motorbikes, and Small Radio-Controlled Widgets). Motor vehicles are not only expensive and prone to breakdowns (anything but simple), but with driver’s licenses becoming national ID cards, unconstitutional highway “checkpoints” everywhere, and our every move being tracked through our licenses, registrations, and purchases, those vehicles we rely on are being deliberately used by government as the vehicles of our unfreedom.

The Real ID Act of 2005, which Bush signed into law on May 11, 2005 sets up federal standards for state drivers licenses. Two of the requirements of the law “physical security features designed to prevent tampering, counterfeiting or duplication for fraudulent purposes” and “a common machine-readable technology with defined data elements” sound a lot like incentives for fingerprinting and RFID, a kind of computer chip which stores information that can be read from a distance by a radio frequency device.

Currently all motor vehicle records in California, including the fingerprint and photo databases are open to district attorneys, city attorneys and law enforcement agencies as put forth in section 1810.5 of the California vehicle code. In addition banks, insurers, attorneys and auto dealers can access certain parts of license records. The Real ID Act will set up a massive nationwide database open to any law enforcement agency, “A state shall provide electronic access to all other states to information contained in the motor vehicle database of the state”.

We can take some comfort in the incompetence of the California DMV. A December 2000 article in the Orange County Register shows that DMV clerks had so many problems using the electronic fingerprinting machines that over half of the fingerprints were deemed unreadable and useless.

Fingerprinting and RFID are presented as ways to deter counterfeiting and identity theft, but aside from the obvious privacy concerns and the government handouts to dubious tech companies marketing these gadgets, our drivers licenses becoming national identification cards raises bigger philosophical questions. What further steps will be taken to monitor our mobility? How will governments and corporations use RFID chips, not to mention the global positioning capabilities of cell phones? And why is automobile travel so entwined with our very identity? Are we free-thinking citizens, participants in a democracy or are we merely motorists?

It’s time to opt out of the system. It’s time to walk and it’s time to ride a bike . . .

Selling the Revolution

“Revolutionary urbanists will not limit their concern to the circulation of things and of human beings trapped in a world of things. They will try to break these topological chains, paving the way with their experiments for a human journey through authentic life.”

-Guy Debord “Situationsit Thesis on Traffic”

So it’s got singing hippies and it’s basically an ad, but we just can’t help but love this mini-doc about the creators of our fun and useful Xtracycle:

Bike to Work Week

It’s bike to work week and time to RIDE! That being said, we’re a little disappointed by the iconography our Metropolitan Transit Authority is using to advertise what we otherwise think is a worthwhile cause. It reminds us of an essay by Michael Smith about a poster designed for the equally clueless New York City Department of Transportation.

Our MTA seems to feel that only children should ride bikes–at least that’s the unconscious subtext of the image on the left. The hand-less and foot-less cartoon figures they use, with their small doll-like bodies look like kids. Even though they don’t have faces, they also don’t look particularly happy. Is that because they are going to work (who wants to do that!) or because they are riding a bike in the notoriously bike-unfriendly Los Angeles? The hidden, and I’m sure unintentional message from MTA seems to be, “we’re advertising biking in LA because it makes us look good, but if you actually do it you are a childish dork.”
And speaking of dorks, check out the pained and terrified dude on the cover of the outdated and useless Los Angeles Department of Transportation bikeway guide (click to biggify). Flip to the backside of the map and there’s another copy of this same image, this time occupying fully a third of what could be useful space for tips on how to bike in LA. Like the MTA, the LADOT seems more interested in spending lavishly on curious promotional efforts that simultaneously make it seem like they are doing something while subconsciously discouraging anyone from actually riding a bike. After all, if the kind of middle class folks this map and the bike to work propaganda is aimed at took to the streets in great numbers LADOT would have a problem on their hands given their fondness for building pedestrian and cycling unfriendly high-speed blighted freeways through our neighborhoods.

A tip to the powers that be–first spend your money on making LA more walkable/bikeable and if there are any dead presidents left over for advertising at least try for some sexier imagery. Start with a look at Urban Cyclist–even the old codgers at SurviveLA know these hip kids at are on to something with their free issue #1.

And while we’re not thrilled with the MTA ad campaign, we like some of the festivities planned for this week:

Monday– a free concert by the Ditty Bops and a guest appearance by the ubiquitous greenmeister Ed Begley Jr from 11:30 am to 1pm on the south lawn of city hall.

Tuesday–Blessing of the Bicycles at Good Samaritan Hospital.

Thursday–The Hollywood and Western Pit Stop hosted by illuminateLA who promises voluminous swag and refreshments from 7 am to 10 am followed by barricade storming.