Driving an automobile is a privilege, not a right. I hope we are seeing an overdue backlash against automobile culture and its many documented harms.
Unfortunately, your article, "Killers On The Road" (6/16/06), focuses exclusively on deaths, ignoring all driver crimes short of murder.
How many car-pedestrian, car-bike, and car-nature assaults fail to be prosecuted? The article is silent on enormously important research into this wider picture of the damage inflicted upon us all by the automobile and the lack of prosecution of negligent drivers.
Does a pedestrian or bicyclist have to die before a driver receives a citation and pays a statutory penalty for being negligent?
George J. Perkins
How many crashes in the last 15 years have been due to inattentiveness and resulted in fatalities? Is this number increasing? How many of these cases have reached criminal prosecution? Author Nathan Comp hasn't asked these questions. If we knew such numbers, we could decide whether we should have a concern for what I'll call fad prosecutions.
The result is another "worry of the week" article: "Oh dear! Victims' families are bullying prosecutors into distorting the law! How many innocent drivers will be victimized by over-zealous prosecutors?"
Inattentive driving is defined by statute as: "No person while driving a motor vehicle shall be so engaged or occupied as to interfere with the safe driving of such vehicle." This is a vague idea. Still, the first issue is whether the inattention interfered with safe driving. The second question is whether the inattention amounted to criminal negligence.
Answering these questions requires thorough investigation and careful winnowing of the facts and precedents. That this has happened is clearly demonstrated by the range of penalties meted out in the 12 cases Comp presents.
As a specialist in defensive driving myself, I am glad that prosecutors bring some cases of inattentive driving to criminal charges. Those who pay attention to these events may, in fact, be deterred from similar behavior.
Chuck Mielke Safety Program Supervisor Union Cab Cooperative of Madison
Bad driving should not be a criminal offense because it is only an accident. The drivers did not kill anyone deliberately. Inattentive drivers should be given a hefty fine, pay the victims' family damages and attend traffic survival school. And not be sent to jail.
I want to inform your readers about a new advocacy website and movement at http:// www.killacyclist.com/ This is their credo: "The intent of this website is to give bicyclists a place through which to lobby politicians, cycling advocacy groups, law enforcement agencies, road commissions, and national and state highway authorities to increase the safety of bicyclists on the road through better education of automobile and truck drivers about the rights of cyclists on public thoroughfares and by increasing the penalties for killing a cyclist on the road...." The proposed penalty is 10 years in prison and a $7,500 fine.
As a cyclist myself, I am very concerned with inattentive drivers, and I bear witness to it every day on the road.
Apparently attorney Stephen Eisenberg was able to convince some jurors in the trial of his bicyclist-killer client Tracy Sorum of the same false notion he conveys to Isthmus readers. He managed to get a hung jury. "It's called an accident the last time I checked," Eisenberg claims.
Check again. Most agencies no longer call them accidents, but rather crashes, for the very opposite reason Eisenberg implies. They're called crashes because they're avoidable. Driver error, equipment fault, bad road design, what have you; some human action or inaction causes all crashes, and proper human action can prevent them all.
Negligence is not an excuse, it's a cause; that's why the word "negligent" is in the title of the charge levied against killer drivers like Sorum. When negligence kills, it cannot be dismissed as an "accident." Sorum took his eyes off the road for a full 12 seconds.
Count to 12 right now; imagine how far your car goes in that time at 40 mph. Would you allow yourself to drive like that? Should our justice system be as dismissive of this kind of negligence, even when it kills, as Stephen Eisenberg would like?
Paul T. O'Leary
Defense attorney Stephen Eisenberg makes a valid point: A conviction will not bring back the life of a victim of negligent homicide, such as in the case involving bicyclist Jessica Bullen. However, his comment that "the victim wants blood" in such cases is interesting in its strangeness.
The victim is DEAD, and therefore incapable of the fang-gnashing state of mind he would attribute to her. If this demonizing tactic is intended to incite the public to "blame the victim" when an innocent bicyclist gets killed, it isn't working on me.
I'm one of those motorists that bicyclists loathe and I have something to say about them too ("Ghost Bikes Campaign Serves To Remind," 6/30/06).
While most car drivers have to read the rules of the road at least once in their lives, some bicyclists may never know of the motorist handbook. While some cars display bumper stickers calling to "Share the road with bikes", the pedaling public has a quite different idea about how to use our streets. Usually bicyclists do what suits them, applying what some call "minority mentality"- that members of a smaller and more vulnerable group think that everybody owes them right of way.
If we're to treat bicycles as vehicles, than riders should know rules of the game and obey them. Personally, I think bicyclists on the road are real danger - mostly to themselves. Law should be changed to require them to use sidewalks, where it's much safer.
The mayor called
In your story on the proposed mid-State Street parking ramp (Madison.gov, 7/14/06), I was quoted as questioning the leadership of Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. Like any good elected official, the mayor took great offense at the accusation. However, I think that sometimes true leadership is shown with how public officials react when they feel they have been attacked. In this case Mayor Dave called me directly and we talked. He shared with me his frustration, disappointment and concerns.
I was able to share the same with him, and we agreed to move forward and to work on getting our "issue at hand" resolved. Instead of attacking me and/or Downtown Madison Inc, the mayor chose the "higher ground"-he called me directly. With the challenges ahead, we are not always going to agree on how to accomplish the goals that have been set for our downtown and for greater Madison, but the fact remains: We all care deeply about our downtown and our community. And to take the higher ground is always the best road for accomplishing our goals. Thank you, Mayor Dave, I enjoy working with you.
Susan Schmitz, president
Downtown Madison Inc.
I've written to you before expressing my belief that the motto of Isthmus ought to be Never Let the Facts Get in the Way of a Pre-Conceived Notion. Rich Albertoni has provided more evidence of that philosophy ("More Payola Evidence Linked to Triple M," 6/20/06).
Albertoni quotes an e-mail from an independent record promoter, Michele Clark, to a representative of Virgin Records, requesting tickets for the Rolling Stones show at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago in 2002. Albertoni goes on to imply that because of this favor to Triple M, another Virgin record by Bryan Ferry was subsequently added to the station's play list.
Since I had never seen the e-mail message in question, I suggested that Albertoni call its author, Michele Clark, if he wanted a comment. He never made that call to check the facts. Had he done so, as I did after publication of the article, he would have learned that the request for Rolling Stones tickets was turned down. Nothing of value was received.
Having grown up in Chicago, I attended many shows at the Aragon over the years, but I don't believe I have set foot in that building since 1983. The Bryan Ferry record in question was added on its merits, which is how records were added to the Triple M play list during my 10-plus years there.
Had Albertoni done some basic reporting, instead of surfing the Internet to research his story, he could have printed the truth, rather than some circumstantial speculation. Evidence of payola? Hardly. Evidence of sloppy journalism? Clearly.
Rich Albertoni replies: The e-mail message implied the exchange of items of value for adding the Bryan Ferry song to the play list, which is why New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer released it as evidence to support his $3.75 million settlement with the record label EMI. I reported on the e-mail as an unproven allegation and placed calls to both Teuber and Triple M management to provide opportunities for response. It's unclear why Michele Clark's comment, as relayed through Teuber, should be accepted at face value as the last word on this matter.
Not to worry
I have long admired Marc Eisen's thoughtful prose. But his recent struggle to come to grips with a multi-ethnic world veers from xenophobia to hysteria ("Brave New World," 6/23/06). His "unsettling" contact with "stylish" Chinese and "turbaned Sikhs" at a summer program for gifted children precipitated first worry (are my kids prepared to compete?), and then a villain (incompetent public schools).
Although he proclaims himself "a fan" of Madison public schools, he launches a fusillade of complaints: doubting that academic excellence is high on the list of school district priorities and lamenting its "dubious math and reading pedagogy." The accuracy of these concerns is hard to assess, because he offers no evidence.
His main target is heterogeneous (mixed-ability) classes. He speculates that Madison schools, having failed to improve the skills of black and Hispanic kids, are now jeopardizing the education of academically promising kids (read: his kids) for the sake of politically correct equality. The edict from school district headquarters: "Embrace heterogeneous classrooms. Reject tracking of brighter kids. Suppress dissent in the ranks." Whew, that is one serious rant for a fan of public schools.
Eisen correctly observes that "being multilingual will be a powerful advantage in the business world; familiarity and ease with other cultures will be a plus." More than 20 years ago, my kids began to taste this new world in the diverse classrooms of Midvale-Lincoln Elementary, and continued on through West High with its 50-plus nationalities and a mix of heterogeneous and advanced classes.
They did just fine in college and grad school, emerged bi- and tri-lingual with well-worn passports, and started interesting careers at high tech international companies. How will Eisen's kids acquire modern cultural skills if they are cloistered in honors classes, sheltered from daily contact with kids of varied ability?
I read Bill Lueders' account of Davis Duehr Dean's disturbing treatment of Steve Puntillo, a patient Dean apparently harmed through an admitted medical error (Watchdog, 7/23/06). It is shameful that Dean has such little regard for its patients that not only did it refuse to reimburse Mr. Puntillo the modest amount he first requested, but then its lawyers threatened to "bury" Mr. Puntillo with litigation when he sought help in small claims court.
Dean's actions are an abuse of our justice system and, unfortunately, much more common than most people realize.
As an attorney representing individuals like Mr. Puntillo, I know that what he is going through now happens in case after case.
Trial attorneys can always count on insurance companies' doing whatever they can to escape responsibility for the harm an innocent injury victim has suffered. Those companies could not care less about the harm their greed and callous behavior causes for injury victims and their families.
If "tort reform" lobbyists really wanted to improve the justice system, they would have to take on their paymaster and the real source of problems: an insurance industry that routinely refuses to compensate injury victims like Mr. Puntillo and instead attempts to wear them down with needless litigation.
John W. Raihala Clifford & Raihala, S.C. Attorneys at Law
Okay, I'm not trying to give Kent Williams a hard time about this (Movies, 6/23/06). Everybody does it. It seems so easy to do, right?
I'm talking about how Williams, in a review of "An Inconvenient Truth," simply HAS to make fun of the former presidential candidate. It's a required press script to make fun of Al Gore. Members of the press ALWAYS have to be wittier and smarter than Al Gore, let alone the public they supposedly serve.
But anyone who remembers what happened in 2000 knows the main reason for Gore's stiltedness: He was being hounded by a press eager to tear him down, so eager that it simply made up lies about Al Gore.
You can check out Bob Somerby's review of these issues at his website www.dailyhowler.com. Kent Williams, who I would wager voted for Gore, feels obligated to refer to Gore's manner of speaking as if six years later we should still be thinking about his speaking style.
Six years out, I ask who would be the better president today: a "stiff" presidential candidate who was incredibly smart, right about global warming, and right about Iraq, or our current folksy, plain-talking president?
Kent Williams' comments reminded me to see the movie. As an urban-environmental activist busy evangelizing to limit landfill growth and counter global warming, I can attest to the enormous challenge of packaging our man-made crisis into a warm, fuzzy, "here's what you can do" solution that's easy to handle by the quick-fix society.
But with the help of the local Sierra Club chapter and others, we have come up with solutions. If you want to make difference acting locally on global warming, join the Recycling Away from Home projects currently under way at east isthmus neighborhood summer events. At the Waterfront Festival, RAH efforts changed beer cups to recyclable plastic ones, then prevented 1,400 pounds of recyclable containers from entering Dane County Landfill, thanks to coordinated efforts of volunteers from all over Madison.
Recycling Away From Home Coordinator