Friday, May 27, 2005

Left Lane Hogs

From time to time the thought has occurred that I am the only person still alive who believes that the left lane of an interstate highway is for passing only. Apparently, however, there are others out there who think the same way and who are growing weary of both the rudeness and the hazard posed by drivers who drive in that lane but don't pass anyone. This article talks about two states that are doing something about it. Some highlights:

Some good news: Left lane hogs are finally getting the attention they deserve from traffic cops -- and traffic laws.

In at least two states -- Colorado and Florida -- cops are begiining to target drivers who squat in the far left lane and refuse to move right to let faster-moving traffic get by. For decades, these drivers have been allowed to create rolling roadblocks and interrupt the smooth (and therfore safe) flow of traffic with virtual impunity because "faiure to yield" laws were either not on the books -- or not enforced. And twenty-plus years of ddumbed-down, politicized "driver's education" and "safety" campaigns had effectively propagandized the populace into believing their was only one cardinal sin -- "speeding."

In Colorado, state police have written more than 500 tickets to left lane hogs since the beginning of the year; in Florida, a bill is on the legislative docket that would impose a $60 fine and four DMV "demerit points" on the driving record of motorists who refuse to allow faster moving traffic by.

Twenty years ago, this would have been an unthinkable violation of the politically correct orthodoxy that only "speed kills" -- and therefore only enforcing speed limits (no matter how absurd or contrived) matters.

But in fact, people who refuse to move right represent a major traffic safety hazard -- whether "they doing the speed limit" (as they often bleat in self-righteous high dudgeon) or not.

By refusing to allow other motorists to get by, the left lane dawdler causes traffic to back up unnaturally; drivers then angrily jockey for position -- and typically are forced into making a passing attempt in the right lane to get around the hog -- who seems to get some sort of weird passive-aggressive satisfaction from his obstinacy.

The situation is frustrating, distracting -- and very unsafe. In fact, the lack of reflexive lane courtesy in this country is arguably the biggest single safety problem we have -- not "speeding."

It will take time for the facts about the danger of left lane hogging to sink into the general consciousness -- the consequence of 20-plus years of neglect and outright disinformation peddled by know-nothing "safety" advocates. But, at last, things are beginning to change for the better.

Now if they can do something about two other pet peeves I'll be a much happier driver. The first is people who zoom ahead of merging lines of traffic and then cut in at the bottleneck, essentially slowing down the progress of everyone who has already merged. This is an act of incivility so rude as to merit, in my mind, severe flogging.

The second is drivers who make left-hand turns from well to the right of the median, thereby preventing traffic behind them from passing them to their right. Related to this is the driver who wishes to turn left at an intersection but who, while waiting for oncoming traffic to clear, doesn't move into the intersection to make the turn. This causes traffic to pile up behind the turning car, and if there's a traffic light at the intersection the backed up traffic often has to wait another light cycle before they can proceed.

All of us make thoughtless mistakes on the highway from time to time, but some people just never ask themselves what effect their driving has on everyone else. Their obliviousness is inadvertent, of course, but it's nevertheless inconsiderate and discourteous.

The Embryonic Stem Cell Debate

The controversy surrounding the use of federal funds to subsidize embryonic stem cell research is culminating in legislation which the president has promised to veto.

It should be noted that research on or with embryonic stem cells is not illegal. The president has simply said that tax dollars will not be used to subsidize what many regard as a deliberate taking of human life.

This position is based upon an important principle: Human life should never be created simply to farm its tissues. We agree with that principle. To permit tissue farming would place us on a slippery slope where ultimately babies could be conceived simply to allow for the sale of their tissues and organs.

Parenthetically, it's curious that Pro-Lifers who oppose the extraction of stem cells from surplus embryos produced at fertility clinics aren't more vociferous in their opposition to the work of those clinics. The clinics fertilize a number of ova in order to insure that at least one will be viable. If it is, then the others are discarded. It's hard to understand why those who oppose abortion from the moment of conception have not been more fervent in their objections to this practice. The fact that they haven't been suggests that there is perhaps some ambiguity in the thinking of at least some of them concerning the deliberate disposal of excess embryos.

Viewpoint's opinion, ill-informed as it probably is and subject to revision upon further argument, is that the government should neither underwrite nor permit the production of embryos solely for the purpose of harvesting tissue. In the age of Roe it may be hard for government to prohibit such a practice, but certainly it can refuse, as GWB has done, to finance it.

It should in any case, however, remain legal to produce embryos in fertility clinics, even though those embryos may subsequently be destroyed, since they are not being produced solely for the purpose of providing cells or tissue. Fertility clinics should be monitored to insure that they're not producing more zygotes (fertilized ova) than is consistent with standard industry practice, and they should be permitted to donate those extraneous embryos to researchers working on stem cells. They should not, however, be permitted to sell them for profit and the government should require a strict accounting of the clinics' practices along these lines.

Nor should the federal government subsidize research on embryonic stem cells (although research on other stem cell lines could, and perhaps should, be subsidized) through grants and other tax-based sources of support. Rather, financing for this work should be sought from private foundations and individual donors.

An article in The Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal shows that this is already well underway:

So what's happened, research-wise, since 2001? Given the rhetoric of some of the President's critics, you might think the answer is nothing. In fact, federal funding for all forms of stem-cell research (including adult and umbilical stem cells) has nearly doubled, to $566 million from $306 million. The federal government has also made 22 fully developed embryonic stem-cell lines available to researchers, although researchers complain of bureaucratic bottlenecks at the National Institutes of Health.

At the state level, Californians passed Proposition 71, which commits $3 billion over 10 years for stem-cell research. New Jersey is building a $380 million Stem Cell Institute. The Massachusetts Legislature has passed a bill authorizing stem-cell research by a veto-proof margin, and similar legislation is in the works in Connecticut and Wisconsin.

Then there's the private sector. According to Navigant Consulting, the U.S. stem-cell therapeutics market will generate revenues of $3.6 billion by 2015. Some 70 companies are now doing stem-cell research, with Geron, ES Cell International and Advanced Cell Technologies being leaders in embryonic research. Clinical trials using embryonic stem-cell technologies for spinal cord injuries are due to begin sometime next year.

President Bush has taken a stand on this matter that appalls his critics, but seems nevertheless to be a perfectly reasonable position, one which does not preclude those who disagree with him from doing research on embryonic stem cells nor from contributing as much to that work out of their own pockets as they desire.

Editorial Judgment

It's easy to get somewhat discouraged when trying to discuss the controversy surrounding Darwinism and Intelligent Design because it's a complicated issue and some of the concepts are not easily made understandable to lay-people. It's even more discouraging when the local media choose to edit your attempts to explain so as to render them almost incomprehensible.

Recently, a representative of the Ayn Rand Institute named Keith Lockitch had a piece published in the local newspaper which was critical of ID. I wrote a reply to Dr. Lockitch's column which I posted here and forwarded to the paper for publication.

This, however, is what appeared in the paper after suffering the ministrations of the paper's editor.

Oh, well.