Month: February 2014

Flashing – A Debate on Freedom of Speech

There’s a speed trap back there, dude. You better slow down and heed my flashing headlights before you get to it.

That’s what I think as I so thoughtfully flash my headlights at 4:30 in the afternoon on my way home from work. I drive the route twice a day, so I pretty much know all the places law enforcement likes to sit in waiting, like a spider waiting for a big fat insect to fly into it’s web. Of course, they change things up a bit and they aren’t always in the same places at the same times. I can’t blame them because that is what they are supposed to do, catch people speeding (although I honestly think there are probably more productive things law enforcement could be doing other than sitting around waiting for violators – that is a debate for another day).

Now, I know. I shouldn’t speed. No one should ever speed. I try not to but it happens sometimes. So, before we get side tracked by the whole “You wouldn’t need to flash your lights if they (or you) weren’t speeding in the first place” argument let me just say that if you have never sped (either on purpose or inadvertently) then you may throw the first stone. Otherwise, bite your tongue.

The questions is, “Can I flash my headlights to warn other drivers of a speed trap?” Recently there has been a minor debate about this question and I have even had driver’s ed students ask about this during classroom instruction. For the most part, my answer has always been that in Washington state it is illegal, per RCW (Revised Code for Washington) 46.37.230. However, this has always bothered me because I believe that flashing my headlights is a form of communication (speech, if you will), which is obviously much more effective than me rolling down my window and yelling at passing cars.

Background

This RCW seems to be open to a bit of interpretation however. It is typically the one cited in “flashing light” tickets, but there is nothing in the language specifically that says “flashing,” only that a vehicle must lower their headlights from high to low for oncoming vehicles within 500 feet and when approaching from the rear of a vehicle within 300 feet. This article from the Seattle Times (2008) where, according to Trooper Pratt, “they are for illumination, not communication.” The article continues, “It’s illegal to flash your high beams or activate them within 500 feet of an approaching vehicle, and 300 feet if you’re coming up behind another vehicle.”

First, Troopers Pratt and Merrill (the latter was also interviewed for the article) must be misinformed. The RCW didn’t say anything about flashing headlights and yet they say that the fine for “inappropriate flashing of high beams” has increased from $101 to $112. So, if our law enforcement officers don’t know the law, then how are we supposed to be clear on what is allowed and what isn’t? Second, there are parts of our state that have signs that say, “Daylight headlights section,” or something to that effect (signs probably vary). If it is during the day, there is plenty of light and the headlights are clearly not for illumination so they must be for communication to other drivers so they take notice of the vehicles on the roadway.

Your Rights – The First Amendment

There have been several cases in recent years that have started to shed some light (no pun intended) on laws such as the one in Washington. First, let me highlight the one in Florida. In this instance, the court eventually ruled that indeed the First Amendment had been violated and that flashing your headlights is a legitimate form of communication. Florida soon changed it’s laws to reflect the protection of this civil right. In Missouri recently, once again, a court decided that flashing of one’s headlights was not illegal and is protected free speech. There have been cases in Utah and Tennessee that follow along the same lines.

Jonathan Turley, a criminal attorney and a professor at George Washington University Law School, said courts across the country are dealing with the same issue. In virtually every case except those still being decided, the person cited has prevailed, Turley said.

“This has sweeping implications for the First Amendment,” Turley said. “What this citizen is doing is warning other citizens about the violation of law. People regularly warn others about the possibility of arrest. There’s no difference between a verbal warning and a mechanical warning. Both are forms of speech.” (Missouri article)

The ultimate point is that if you are given a ticket that involves flashing your headlights, your First Amendment rights likely have been violated. Whether you are in my state or another, law enforcement doesn’t have a clear handle on what is permissible and what isn’t and in most cases they are just miffed because you seemingly were interfering with what they considered a need for enforcement. Could you be causing a danger in flashing your lights? I suppose you could be, but that is a purely subjective call, one law enforcement seems to have expanded beyond reasonable application.

If you are wondering where your state falls on this issue, Wikipedia has a pretty good list of not only states where it may or may not be illegal but even some countries that address the issue as well. As far as I can tell from my research, there are no pending cases for this issue currently in Washington state. So, if you get a ticket for it, you could be the one to challenge it and change the law for all in Washington state. In the Missouri case, the ACLU took on the case which likely didn’t cost the individual much money, if any at all.

I think the key here is that no matter the intent, whether to warn someone out of their criminal intent or out of legitimate concerns for public safety, it has the same effect – it causes people to slow down, even if only briefly. That, in and of itself, may be all that is needed to prevent an accident or a ticket – that clearly isn’t be a negative thing.

So, I say, “LET THE FLASHING BEGIN!” Fight for your First Amendment freedoms.

Prisoner of Time

I don’t have time to read this, but I’m gonna anyway!

Time.  Too much or too little.  There is never enough time to do the things we need to do and never enough time to do the things we want to do.  “Time flies when you’re having fun.” Yet, when we have, or seemingly have, nothing to do there is too much time and time does not pass quickly enough.  Perhaps this is where the saying, “Time on my hands,” came from?

Whether we know it or not, we are all prisoners of time.  Everything we do is measured in small or large amounts of time.  Seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years, decades, centuries, or millennia.  Everything is measured by these or varying increments of these.

It used to be that people measured their time by the sun.  It was usually sun up and sun down.  ALL the important stuff had to be done somewhere in between.  Hunt, plant, clean, gather – as long as there was light, it was still possible.  As the years passed away, the time from sun up to sun down varied, but always the work was done.  Once darkness came, there was nothing left to do because you could not see it.

Eventually someone figured out that fire was possible and, under control, could be used to do more things after it was dark.  That is when we really started to become prisoners.  More light means more work, and it never ends.

Now a calendar, the timepiece for a year, tracks our daily schedule.  “I’ll be there on Tuesday”, “Your visit last month”, “I’ll see you next year,” are all statements we hear often.  Seasons are tracked, appointments scheduled, deadlines met or missed, a calendar is meant to manage our time on a grand and larger scale, but are we better off or do we just schedule ourselves to death?

Soon, a calendar was not enough.  We filled our schedules with so much to do; we needed a better way to manage even more activities.  The day, 24 hours longs, needed to be broken into smaller increments.  Thus, a timepiece known as a clock came to be.  Now the possibility of telling time no longer relied on the sun and shadows.  Wandering into an open space or leaving a building was not necessary.  Simply look at a face on the wall and the hands tell of time past or time left.  Inevitably, entering a building took too much time and was inconvenient and so someone developed a way to carry time with you.  Now time was carried on your wrist or in your pocket.

Because time was not portable, people began to break days down into smaller increments still.  Hours were broken into quarters or halves and still further into individual minutes.  Minutes into seconds.  A face, hands, and 12 numbers dominate time, to this day.  The form of clock may vary, but the function is the same.  “I’ll be there in 15 minutes,” is transmitted from place to place.  “You’re five minutes late,” is heard at meetings and appointments, or in you home.  “You have three minutes to finish . . .,” whatever it is you are doing at the time.  The smaller amount of the time something takes, the more things we can cram into our lives.  Schedules are made to be kept.

We have become such prisoners of time that we now are impatient when things take too long.  It used to take hours to prepare a meal, but now it can be done in minutes.  The stove was a time saver from the campfire and, eventually, building a fire was not necessary at all.  Electricity was a time saver, but not fast enough.  Microwaves have saved even more time.  Now we have foods like “instant” potatoes and pre-made meals.  “Microwave on high for 1 – 3 minutes . . .,” the package reads.  Yet, when our food is not ready when we want it, we complain.  When we have to put it back into the microwave, we wail!  “Minute Rice” takes three and “instant potatoes” require some assembly.  Complaints galore are heard when “fast food” is not fast, yet the time it takes to assemble a meal of similar size and quantity at home would take much longer than the time you had to wait.  A poached egg takes 30 seconds, yet we complain that it is too fast because we cannot get the rest of our breakfast ready before it is done.  What gives?

Other inventions have not helped either.  The automobile was a breakthrough because people could get from here to there more quickly.  Ironically, when we all try to get from here to there more quickly, it ends up taking longer because we are stuck on the highway.  As it turns out, walking may actually be faster at times.  Of course, sitting in traffic is a result of someone trying to make better use of “wait time” in traffic.  Cell phones we created to save time by not connecting us to something stationary, like a wall.  The same with laptop computers and personal digital assistants (PDAs), they save time, but by saving time, we can do more work.  If we can do more work now, we have more time to what we want to do later.  Which is precisely the reason we end up sitting in traffic – the person ahead of us was trying to save time by unsuccessfully multi-tasking.  As it turns out, driving and saving time by working causes others to wait.

At night when we cannot sleep, we stare at the clock.  Thoughts such as, “If I fall asleep right now, I’ll get six hours of sleep,” race through our heads.  We know we need to sleep, but because we are trying so intently to do it, we cannot.  After what seems like an eternity of tossing and turning, we look at the clock again only to discover 15 minutes have passed and we are not asleep yet.  Then the routine starts all over again, “If I fall asleep right now, I’ll get . . .

Some of you might find you are such a prisoner of time that when you go to a movie you cannot really enjoy it.  The problem is that you have to know what time it is.  You know what the length of the movie, approximately, is and yet you find yourself looking at your watch or cell phone constantly.  “How much time has passed?” you wonder.  “If an hour has passed, there must be x amount of time left.”  What does it matter?  It does not; we are just prisoners to it.

Time controls everything we do.  When to get up or go to bed, where to be and when, schedules, deadlines, – all have a control over us that is not easily altered.  Time is our prison and there is no escape, only a beginning and an end.

The Eternal Hope of Spring

How can one not love this time of year?  This time of the year brings forth all sorts of newness and spawns the eternal hope of renewal for so many things.  The eternal hope of Spring comes every year, but rarely lasts longer than a few months.  The joy of this season for me is almost uncontainable and I look forward to it with immense anticipation.  At times, hope swells beyond control and occasionally bubbles to the surface on my face or even in the sparkle of my eyes.  This Spring, nothing has changed.  I eagerly await that which I have yearned for since it last left.

For some, Spring means the chance to get out of doors.  Spring brings forth the desire to shed the confines of the abode and venture to new places, seeing new sites along the way.  The chance to attain mountain highs or the valley’s depths inspire many to don quickly packed clothing and devour hastily prepared snacks as they clamor towards a space of solitude amongst God’s great creation.  I, too, long for these spaces and, in the past, have heeded their call.  I have been fortunate enough to gander upon hidden wonders and soak up rays of sunshine as I traverse among the stately pines on the Northwest.  Again, these spaces are calling to me, but my eternal hope of Spring does not lie there.

For others, the eternal hope of Spring brings forth new growth.  As the sun warms the Earth and the falling rains soak the land, new life emerges from what appears to be death’s grip.  Naked trees begin to clothe themselves in green buds, seeking a rebirth of sorts.  Soon, bare soil comes to life with carpets of green and the grass coats vast valleys with its protective blanket.  Flowers begin their delicate lives from nothingness, it seems.  Suddenly they make their appearances everywhere, shining forth the joy they bring to so many.  Yes, this time of year brings new life and hope.  Nature reminds us that all is not lost and that we can start anew once more.  Again, I find joy in this part of Spring’s emergence.  I am awed at the struggle in which many partake to coax their yard’s landscape to be revitalized.  Can they make the lawn lavishly lush again?  Can they control the warrior weeds?  Will the flowers flounder or flourish?  Yet, while these struggles are calling, my eternal hope of Spring does not lie here.

For still others, Spring brings new and budding romance.  The hope of emerging nature and silent solitude is overrun with fluttering hearts and heals over heads.  Much like the reminders of that which comes with this Spring, we are reminded that companionship is what all humans clamor for.  Shared experiences are better than those of loneliness.  The romance of the season lurks under the surface, waiting to be released.  For those lucky enough to find it, smiles and laughter are intertwined with moments of tenderness such as holding hands, hugs, and kisses.  Sun provides the warmth for the earth, but romance supplies warmth for the heart.  As I have experienced these times in the past, I treasured them for I knew they may only be fleeting moments; however, my eternal hope of Spring does not lie there either.

My eternal hope of Spring lies, like so many other sports fans, with the “Boys of Summer.”  My eternal hope comes with the reporting of pitchers and catchers to warmer climes such as Florida and Arizona.  My eternal hope springs forth as the snap of the glove and the knock of the bat are heard once again.  My eternal hope rises to the surface as anticipation of a new season, a new year, a new chance comes.  For me, Spring is the re-emergence of the greatest sport known to man.  No games have been played and everyone has an equal chance at immortality.  The off-season has come to a close and soon dusty diamonds all over the world will once again ring with the laughter of children learning the game.  Fields of dreams will come alive, daring men to dance upon them.  Fans will gather in homes, in stands, in stadiums to witness delightful deeds of the diamond or witness foolish field follies.  We will yell at men in blue and at televisions as though it will make a difference, believing in “our” team once again.   The eternal hope of Spring gives me and all other fans the chance to dream once more that our team will stand alone in October.  Champions!

The real eternal hope of Spring is . . . baseball.

Valentine’s Day W(h)ine

Valentine’s day is the SECOND WORST day of the year to have a birthday, especially if you are male. The first worst day is, for obvious reasons, Christmas. But let’s focus on the day at hand…

Today is my birthday. It sucks. It sucks, not because I am getting older but because the “holiday” overshadows it. Am I being petty? Am I being childish? Maybe. Should I just suck it up? Maybe. However, I am going to whine just a little today.

“You are the best Valentine I ever received.”

OK, mom, thanks. I appreciate you telling me this every year. It makes me feel better, a little. So many years ago my mom was in a hospital in a little town in eastern Washington trying to push me out. I arrived on this day and have for evermore been called a “Valentine’s baby.” My mom says that my dad bought a little can of Almond Rocha candy and told her that she couldn’t have it till I was born. I am not so sure how long it took for my arrival after that, but at least she had a goal (the candy or me?). TA-DA! There I was.

Growing up with a Valentine birthday was a little strange. I would go to school and while all my friends were running around putting little paper Valentines with those candy hearts in them I was just wishing someone would say, “Happy Birthday!” As I got a little older, some of my friends actually realized that the day was also my birthday and they somehow managed to find Valentines that were BOTH a Valentine and a birthday greeting. They were my heroes for the day, for sure.

As I got older, middle school and high school, I realized that this was going to be a “no win” kind of day for me. Girlfriends were the winners and I was going to be the loser. The expectation around this day is that someone (usually the male) is required to do something nice for a significant other (usually the female). This usually involved a flower or two and some little stuffed animal with a cutesy heart on it. Closer to the end of this stage, it may have even involved reservations to some place, but I lived in smallish town so the fancy places were out of the question and I had a limited budget. Usually, just “going out” was enough but not always.

I don’t think I had too many girlfriends around the time of Valentine’s Day in college, so I don’t really remember too many from that period. However, I watched a lot of my friends go through the trials of navigating the day. Reservations to places that were “special” and hard to get into suddenly became like a bloodsport competition. Flowers that were normally $12.99 a bouquet most of the year suddenly became $54.99, and that was three weeks in advance (if you could remember to order them). Don’t even think about buying them on the day! Of course, the bigger the bouquet the better. Heart thingy boxes filled with candy and cutesy stuffed animals filled store shelves while Hallmark stores made money hand over foot for brightly colored paper with a sappy words and sentiment inside. As a result, friends who were poor college students before the day just ended up being poorer college students.

Aren’t I entitled to have one day a year about me?

In general, I don’t really like to make things all about me. Yes, I have those days where I might whine and be a tad selfish. But can’t I at least have my birthday?? Can’t I feel more special than normal on one day of the year?

So, that brings me to my current life. I am fortunate to have a wife that understands me and my need to feel special on my birthday, which of course means that she has to sacrifice feeling special on Valentine’s Day. She tries to do the little things for me (coffee, a special lunch or dinner, offering to rub/scratch my back, etc), though I must admit that I only allow it begrudgingly. I know that she loves me though and that is all that really counts. I love that she understands that I would really like to have a day that isn’t overshadowed by everyone else’s expectations for what the day should be. She is OK with having a Valentine’s Day “something” later in the month, and I try to make an effort to show that I love her then (maybe not in the usual ways I show or tell her).

My family has been pretty indulgent as well. They make sure that they try not to include “Happy Valentine’s Day” in my birthday greetings, so that makes me feel special too. I get texts from my siblings, my kids, and from friends. I am glad they are thinking of me whilst planning something special for those they love too. I guess I can share a little.

I guess what I am trying to say is that while it sucks to have a birthday on a day like today, it isn’t the end of the world either. It is nice that so many people want to show their love to others in their lives. I am just not sure why it has to be a special day…can’t we just show that we love people every day of the year?

So tonight, after my special birthday dinner, I’ll whine a little about getting older. I’ll whine a little more about this stupid “holiday.” Then I’ll sit on the couch, watch a movie or TV program with my family, and have a little wine with the woman I love. That will be grand.

Happy birthday to all those other Valentine babies that might be out there!

PS. I am not a complete idiot…I do get my wife a little something anyway.  😉