Monday, January 25, 2016

Kantian ethics in a pinch

Two items from the morning’s press, illustrate the difficulty of finding guidance in the Categorical Imperative, when the snow hits the fan.

Always keep a copy in your glove-compartment!

(1)  The tragedy of the commons

An op-ed in the wake of “Snowzilla”, followed by a reader’s comment.
Note to Baltimoreans: That parking spot you shoveled out isn't yours
The message was taped to the windshield of a pickup truck parked on a public street:
"This parking space did not magically shovel itself! Be considerate of your neighbors and other people in the neighborhood. DON'T steal parking spaces that people worked for several hours to clear."
The parking space didn't magically pave itself, either — the taxpayers, presumably including the owner of the pickup truck, paid for that — but that point seems to have eluded the anonymous author of this angry missive.
And how can it take "several hours" to shovel the snow out of a parking space? What was the author using to remove the snow, a thimble?
Every time it snows in Baltimore, I am reminded of the words of noted philosopher and humanitarian (and former Sun columnist) Kevin Cowherd: "God forbid we ever get a real emergency around these parts. We'll be eating our children before the sun goes down."
You know the drill. People get out their snow shovels and clear just enough snow to make room for two wheel tracks. Then, after pulling the car out into the street, they put their chairs down in the parking space, to protect the results of "hours" of backbreaking labor, and incidentally making it impossible for snowplows to get through. Then we have a thaw and a freeze, and everything turns into solid ice, with only half as many parking spaces there would be if people had concentrated on getting the snow out of the way instead of guarding "their" parking spaces.
[Comment] Boston dealt with the place markers by picking up everything that was left on the street and carting it away. The natives were outraged but the city stuck to their guns and cleared everything away. Remember too that the mountain of snow they piled up did not melt till last July and it included hundreds of lawn chairs.

Potzteufel !  Who the hell parked in my space ??
In Washington, Nate Bergman spent 96 words stating his case, laser-printed and sealed in plastic.

He’d spent hours digging his car out of a parking place on a Capitol Hill street. He duly acknowledged the legal right of other drivers to take the public space. He appealed to their better natures not to. If that didn’t work, he promised to shovel the snow back to its “original place around your vehicle.” In all, a measured treatise touching on individual liberty and shared responsibility.

In Philadelphia, an unnamed shoveler made the same claim more succinctly: “If you park in my space, I’ll break your [expletive] windows. Have a nice day.”

The death struggle for post-blizzard parking is playing out in different ways in different places all along the East Coast. But few have escaped the plunge into anarchy that erupts when two feet of snow smothers already limited on-street parking.

To the diggers, the moral high ground is clear: Shoveling 300 pounds of snow from a patch of public pavement is like homesteading on the frontier. I cleared it — I own it.

Not so, say the defenders of the commons. Those lawn chairs, pylons and sawhorses standing guard on city streets are squatting on taxpayer property.

“No one owns a parking space,” D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said at a news conference Saturday, appealing to citizens to keep their furniture off the streets.

Before the storm even hit, Philadelphia police used a spoof of Drake’s “Hotline Bling” to urge residents to report any illegal cones or trash cans blocking parking spaces. They dubbed it #NoSavesies.

In Boston, which has a long history of snow-related parking disputes, an umbrella group of several South End neighborhood associations banned space saving last year. Now the South End Forum is raising money to compensate drivers when their cars are vandalized by angry space diggers. There were scores of confrontations over parking this week all over the city, including a nonfatal shooting Monday in Dorchester

The moral hair splitting baffled even experts. When does a private citizen earn a claim to a public resource? It’s an ethical whiteout.

Die angewandte "Metaphysik der Sitten"

(2)  Poster-children vs. free riders

That which is held in one half of the brain, is simultaneously rejected in the other.
CORSICO, Italy — After being elected last year, Mayor Filippo Errante found that this town, abutting Milan, had accrued an “alarming” debt of more than a million euros in unpaid school lunch fees. So he decided to take what he called an iron-fist approach.
Children whose parents were up to date on payments would be allowed to eat cafeteria-prepared meals. Children whose parents had not paid would not.

“The era of the ‘furbetti’ is over,” Mr. Errante said in a statement on social media last month, using a term that translates to cunning, akin to gaming the system.
Some called the decision a form of blackmail. Others criticized it for creating what they said was a schoolroom apartheid, where some children ate hot meals while the others snacked on homemade panini or a slab of cold pizza.
Petitions and protests ensued. Teachers, principals and many parents rallied in support of those children who would not be given lunches, even as nearly all agreed that school fees should be paid.
The children most affected by the provision belong to families whom Mr. Tortoreto described as “lemons that have already been squeezed dry” by life.  Some are the children of foreigners without legal permission to remain in Italy, others of parents with a history of mental illness.

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