Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Negative Health Effects of Mandatory Helmet Laws

I did a research paper for a class on helmet laws. It is aimed at non-cyclists, and only looks at the public health issues surrounding the laws.

It seems to be common knowledge that wearing a helmet while biking is the smart, safe, necessary thing to do. Helmets are credited with reducing head injuries from cycling by 85 percent in the most optimistic study (Thompson, et al. 1471). With expected benefits of widespread helmet adoption so high, it is understandable that governments would be interested in legislation that makes helmets mandatory for bicyclists. But, despite the common assumption, mandatory helmet laws are not as effective or beneficial as they seem at first glance. Mandatory helmet laws should not be enacted because they are not the most effective way to reduce cycling deaths; additionally, they fail to differentiate between transport and sport cycling and therefore result in an undue burden on cyclists.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Public Spaces and the Good Life

Last Sunday I took a break from procrastinating on homework to go for a ride with some friends. Our plan was to go downtown, then ride along the river on the walk/bike path, but the river was swollen so the path was underwater. We decided to head to Rosa Park's Circle, which is the closest thing Grand Rapids has to a central square. The weather was perfect, so there were lots of people out biking and walking; actually, we almost couldn't find enough bike parking, which was a quite a change from normal. While I kept reminding myself of A View From the Cyclepath's warning to “Beware the cyclists of Spring,” and not take the increase in riding that comes with good weather as a sign of a permanent increase in mode share, the vibrancy of all these people being out and about in the city was amazing.

At Rosa Park's Circle, there were people just siting and enjoying the sun. one guy looked like he had fallen asleep while tanning: no shirt, no shoes, his head resting on his backpack. A few Rasta' looking people were playing reggae music out of a Marshal guitar amp. We locked up our bikes and pulled out a frisbee. The circle is right in front of the art museum, so there were nicely dressed people walking through who looked like they were going to an event in the museum. Families out for the day came through by foot and bike.

While we were playing frisbee, I couldn't help but think that this was the promise of public spaces. We had all come for different reasons, to do different things, but we were able to share this space and enrich it for each other by being there and being different. I don't usually listen to reggae, but it was the perfect mood setter for the day, and it without them it wouldn't have have as pleasant.

The broad theme of this blog is the good life, and my growth in what I understand that to consist of and how I can live it out. In light of that theme, my experience that day led me to think of the integral importance of public spaces to being able to live out a communal good life.

When I think of the places in which I feel most alive, it is almost invariably some form of public space. National parks, city parks, piazzas and pedestrian streets. The most overarching characteristic I can find is that there is usually a broad range of people doing a broad range of things. The exceptions to this are usually places that emphasize solitude and natural beauty.

The implications for me, as someone who is studying architecture and city planning, is that public spaces are the largest factor in the livability of a city. Obviously one can live a good life in a place with no public spaces, but from a communal standpoint, they are essential.

What are your thoughts? Have you had the same experiences with public spaces?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Thoughts On Bin Laden's Death

After seeing the varied reactions and ensuing discussions following Osama Bin Laden's death, I have some thoughts. When I heard the news, I was excited, if not ecstatic. Those who were mature enough to respond with sadness at the death of another human were right do so and I hope that I can mature enough to not rejoice over the death of my enemies. I believe that part of my reaction that was a manifestation of my sin nature, but I do think there is justifiable reason to be happy that he is dead.

Bin Laden has caused much misery in the world, and if he had been captured alive, should have been tried and put to death. I think that would have been much better than him dying in a firefight, both from a strategic perspective and in light of due process of law. Despite the less than ideal methods, I believe that he was justly deserving of death, and that the U.S. had the right as a legitimate government to punish him. I can't condemn the satisfaction or even happiness of those who set out to pursue justice, and after ten years have finally accomplished their goal.

I think, though, that any celebration must be tempered with the knowledge that he is a human being made in the image of God, who is now suffering the results of his damnation. We are no better than he is and fully deserve the same fate. He was a person like the rest of us, though what he did was undeniably evil. We should pray for his family who have lost a father, and for the families of those who were killed or injured in the firefight.

Though this was a victory for the U.S. and the west, we should not forget that there will probably be reprisals for Bin Laden's killing, and they will most likely be against those who had nothing to do with it, whether it is Christians or Americans in Pakistan, or anyone associated with the west anywhere in the world where there are those who are loyal to Bin Laden's cause and are willing to use violence.

Derek Webb said it best on Twitter; "don't celebrate death, celebrate justice."