As The Stomach Churns
OK, it was a really strange weekend, and I didn’t get a chance to write the Pulitzer prize winning blog I had planned. It will have to wait for another day, today my readers will have to wade through random observations on random news events. Fortunately both the world and I are full of random thing, so this shouldn’t be too painful. Some people think I’m full of something else too, such is the price of fame. Granted I’m not famous yet, so this is like paying in advance.
Moving right along, the King of Saudi Arabia has pardoned the woman rape victim who was sentenced to be lashed for her crime. The crime of consorting in public with an unrelated adult male. It’s not going to turn Saudi Arabia in a secular human rights respecting democracy over night, but it’s a step in the right direction. At the very least this case has focused a bit of world media attention one easily one of the most repressive regimes when it comes to how their female citizens are treated. Half the traffic accidents in Saudi Arabia are legally caused by women for example, a mind numbing “statistic” since women aren’t allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.
In local justice news, the State of New Jersey became the first state in decades to ban executions. And for all the right reasons too, but basically because as they out it, capital punishment is “not consistent with evolving standards of decency.” Thank God. There are certainly crimes that call out for the death penalty, but the truth is the human justice system is way too flawed (it is run by humans after all) to impose the ultimate punishment in a fair and just manner. Plus it’s more expensive to execute someone than life in prison, look it up. And the deterrent value of the death penalty is more wishful thinking than social policy.
In even more local news, a city committee has come up with a new plan to save Berkeley! Is Berkeley in danger? You betcha. Businesses have been fleeing for twenty years, and it looks more like a ghost town every year. Everyone blames everyone else, it’s not really clear what the problem is. I suspect it’s mostly demographics, the typical UC Berkeley student is far more affluent than twenty years ago, and likely has a car and does their shopping at Target, thank you. Add that to the amazing proliferation of beggars in the past few decades, and it’s clear that a lot of students and a lot of locals are going elsewhere to shop and hang out. And the tourists hardly even bother to come anymore.
Frankly the plan looks like it was written by developers, it calls for spending enormous sums of money rebuilding parts of the downtown, but doesn’t really address the core problems. “Build it, they will come” is a recipe for redevelopment disaster in my books. It all seems like a shame to me, if they just designated a few key shopping/cultural districts as “panhandling free zones” and both enforced and publicized it, I think the city would turn around overnight. High courts in the USA have approved such laws, as long as only a small proportion of the city is included, it is not an unconstitutional infringement of freedom of speech. Because goddammit, having a beggar ask you for money a few times a block or even inside stores (!) is really, really, annoying.
I’m not talking about banning street performers or hippies sitting on sidewalks hawking their wares, this is Berkeley after all. I’m talking about the people who approach you and ask for money. I would just love to go to Telegraph Avenue or downtown to catch a movie knowing that I am not going to have to say “Not today” to a few dozen beggars. And I’m a pretty liberal open minded guy, but there’s a point where tolerance goes too far and lowers the quality of life for everyone. They won’t even talk about such a move of course, just more nonsense about “aggressive efforts”to get people “off the street.” Um, decades of having the best homeless services in the country has led to more street beggars, not fewer.
You aren’t going to get rid of them, so the best thing to do is manage them for the well being of all. Yeah, they will be cut off from their richest “feeding grounds” so to speak, but over all the situation would likely improve. If the local economy improves, the panhandling will just be all the better in the rest of the city. I’m resigned to the guy camped outside my local video store, but if I could take an out of town friend to a few local venues without being panhandled every 30 feet, my attitude toward beggars would improve vastly.
From a Saudi gang rape case to Berkeley’s beggars. It’s a Monday, what can I say?
(The above image of Saudi women is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is a low resolution grey scale version of the original, it is not being used for profit, and it is central to illustrating the post. It’s use here does not impinge on any commercial use for the image by the copyright holder. Credit: AFP. And no, I’m not trying to be mean by calling beggars what they are, beggars. You know, people whose avocation is the stand in the street all day and ask other people for money. We routinely call people by their avocation, lawyer, doctor, teacher, blogger, etc. It’s making up euphemisms like “homeless” for them that is condescending and judgemental.)