Reflections

It was Emilia’s 11th birthday today. We went to a Badeland (pool leisure centre) to celebrate with her and some of her friends. It was nice and enjoyable to spend time with the family.

Earlier, I was flying from Bucharest back home. I feel annoyed by the turned on LED reading lights on all the empty seats. I feel the itch to go around, and turn them all off. So there is some order in the world. And some savings. But, I got caught myself thinking about it, and how ridiculous that thinking is.

I really would like to have a blogging platform that allows anonymous blogging, but with a fixed identity attached to the anonymity. So, pseudonymous blogging, I guess. A brand, an identity, but anonymous.


Elverum

Today was the final Norwegian gymnastics cup, in Elverum. Gjovik’s under 11, was represented by Lidia. And, over 11 was represented by Emilia and Emilie. Emilie is 14, and she is already in group 1. She did pretty well, scoring high and securing second place overall, which, given that all other clubs had in excess of 10 girls in their teams, is pretty awesome. Lidia and Emilia did well, although the reduced training hours do show in their performances. It went well, even though some minor imperfections made their scores lower that it could have been, they both were pretty pleased with their performances. Emilia shortened some of the routines, because she has not practised enough. It was the first cup this season for the girls, but the last in the series. We will see next year.

Gymnastics is an interesting sport, in which the confidence and self-awareness are as important as the skills themselves. If you select elements in your routine that you cannot fulfil, you will score suboptimally. But, if you pick too easy elements then you will score below your abilities. Judging what should be tried, is the key. You should select elements that are at your very limit. And this is hard. Running a marathon is similar – if you overestimate your capabilities, and run too fast early, you finish with a worse time compared to running slower. But, if you run too conservatively from the start, you will not achieve your true potential. You have to run just with the speed that aligns with your limit.

 


My first day in school

Today was my first day in a new, polish school. It is much different to what I am used to in Dunedin. There is about 120 kids here. A bit more to my school in Dunedin. The school hosts classes 1, 2 and 3, and each has two classes, A and B. I am in class 1A, together with 18 other children. I sit in a desk next to Lisa. I was a bit overwhelmed today. The school breaks are far too short, and the actual classes far too long. I do not have my books yet, and my parents need to organise various things for me. I have my new uniform – I like it.


Moj ostatni dzien w przedszkolu

Dzis obchodzilam swoj ostatni dzien w przedszkolu. Uroczyste pozegnanie. Jednoczesnie obchodzilam urodziny, pozegnanie, i przywitanie szkoly. Za tydzien skoncze 5 lat! Po wakacjach letnich juz nie wroce do przedszkola, tylko pojde do szkoly. Obchodzilam slonce 5 razy, i wszyscy zyczyli mi radosci i powodzenia w szkole. Kolezanki beda za mna tesknic, i ja za nimi. Panie w przedszkolu zwrocily uwage na moje rysunki, malowidla i inne rzeczy ktore tworzylam w czasie pobytu w przedszkolu. Bylo bardzo sympatycznie. Mama zrobila super piekny tort w ksztalcie biedronki. Wszystkim bardzo sie podobal. Bylo 5 swieczek i oczywiscie dmuchanie. Tato i mama mieli lzy w oczach. Czas szybko przebiegl. Z malenstwa 4 miesiecznego wyroslam na 5 letnia samodzielna dziewczynke. Rozpoczyna sie kolejny etap mojego zycia.


Emilia’s first race

Emilia and Alex

Emilia and Alex

Emilia run today her first running race. A big event for her as much as for her dad, of course!

How it all started… Emilia was interested in my evening runs, and wanted to join in. So, Ula has bought her snickers, and she came with me one day to run around the block (1km). We did half walk, half run then. Later, she came again once or twice, and another time we tried a longer distance, 2km. On every run she got side-stitch and we had to walk for a while. Given that she enjoyed the time, the idea was born for her to participate in the Outram 2km kids race. We tried to practice, but the reality was that we only run twice for the practice. Despite the lack of the preparation Emilia signed up on Saturday. At 4 years and 9 months she was one of the youngest kids that signed up. The day turned out to have pretty awful weather. It was drizzling and cold. With hot hearts and great spirits, we have turned out with the whole family at the start. Tony and Kirsten with their kids were there, too. Alex, Emilia’s friend decided to run  as well, and, inspired by her older sister, Danny has also decided to run on the day!

There were 50 kids in total on the start line. The race is for kids under 12 years old, and most were on the older side. All the older kids grouped in the first row, with the youngest staying a bit behind. And they went.

Outram start

Outram start

Tony was assisting Alex, I run with Emilia, and Kirsten with Danny. Alex had quite a fast start, which turn out quite nerve wrecking for Emilia, who couldn’t keep up. Emilia bursed into tears and with a little hysteria, we had to stop to have a little chat and cuddle. Everyone was gone by the time we started running again, including Danny. 2km is a pretty long distance for smaller kids, and most of them are incapable of pacing themselves accordingly. They run a bit too fast, then had to walk, then run again, and walk again. Emilia tried to keep a steady slowish pace instead, without the walking. We slowly caught up with the first few of the walking kids. Some started running and overtook us again. After we caught up with  Danny, Emilia’s confidence grew, and we tried to follow up Alex. Around the first kilometer we caught up with Alex who had to walk to have a bit of rest. We continued. Emilia had few problems with side stitches, and we had to slow down. She did run almost entire race without stopping. Well, we did stop on few occasions. Once, to fix the lace on the shoes, once to take the jersey off. Another time, when running around a playground, Emilia decided that it might be a great idea to just hop for few moments onto a swing. She stopped to check if that would be OK with me. I had to explain that the swing can wait and we can come back there later on, and that we need to just go on for a little more. And she did. We continued to run. Emilia was very pleased to see the finish line.

Emilia's finish
Emilia’s finish

It was a huge achievement to be able to run 2km. I think with just a little bit of practice, she might have enjoyed it even more. Stitches on both sides were causing some problems, and the weather was not so great. But, Emilia did finish, and has now a permanent record in the running history of the Outram hill free race!

The race has rather sentimental value for me, because it is the very first running race that I’ve even took part in. It was two years ago, and I still remember pretty vividly the event itself. Now, hopefully, we will share with her the memories of her and mine first ever running race. Lidia was a bit jealous and I’m sure she’d like to run with us next year. She did come for one practice too, and she she did very well, running around half a kilometer on her own. We will see…

Both, Alex and Danny finished the race too! Danny was very pleased, as he finished the race earlier than her older sister. It was great fun for everyone, and even though the weather could have been better, everyone enjoyed the day out. This year from the adults only Peter took part in the 10km race.



Who can constitute a passenger?

The children argument

This is an appendix to what I’ve written before about Dunedin ride share scheme. A friend provided me with a sketch of an arguments about why children might be excluded from the scheme. The argument goes like that:

“children do not own cars and do not drive cars and they do not contribute to the traffic, therefore they should be removed from the carpool scheme as their participation does not INCREASE the number of unused vehicles in the city.”

The argument is actually a special case of a more general argument:

“any person who does not own a car does not contribute to the traffic, therefore they can be removed from the carpool scheme as their participation in no way INCREASES the number of unused cars in the city.”

I think this argument is irrational and will actually lead to more people owning more cars. Let me explain why.

Let us imagine that there are two students’ flats on the outskirts of the city. In the flat A there are 4 girls, each of which is a driver and owns her own car. In the flat B, there are also four girls, but only one owns a car and she has a driving license. The other three do not own cars and may not have driving licenses. As before, we have a single parking spot left and all 8 girls decided to come to town. We have the following situations:

  1. All girls from flat A came in their own cars. Cars on the road and trying to park: 4. Number of people trying to park: 4. Happiness if 1 car can park: 1 person. Unhappiness if the car cannot park: 4 people (3 are always unhappy: only 1 car can park – limited resource). Number of cars left unused: 0.
  2. All girls from flat A came in a single car, leaving 3 cars by their flat. Cars trying to park: 1. Number of people trying to park: 4. Happiness if they can park: 4 people. Unhappiness if they cannot park: 4 people. Number of cars left unused: 3.
  3. The driver from flat B came in her car, and all the 3 flatmates took a bus. Cars trying to park: 1. Number of people trying to park: 1. Happiness if the car can park: 1 person. Unhappiness if the car cannot park: 4 people (3 are always unhappy, taking the bus regardless). Number of cars left unused: 0.
  4. All girls from flat B came in a single car. Cars trying to park: 1. Number of people trying to park: 4. Happiness if they can park: 4 people. Unhappiness if they cannot park: 4 people. Number of cars left unused: 0.

Remember, there is only 1 empty space left, so we have to decide who gets the preferential treatment. Who is entitled to use it, so that we maximise the happiness and the use of the limited resource (our one single parking space). Let us put any moral considerations aside and look exclusively into practicality of the scheme (in other words let us be free to discriminate).

In cases 1 and 3, if the driver is entitled to park, the overall happiness value would be 1, which is pretty poor. If we compare it to cases 2 and 4, where the happiness value is 4, we have a clear winner. Ride share works. Clearly, we should give preference to 2 and/or 4 by implementing carpool scheme and discourage single-occupant vehicle usage. A simple ride share scheme would eliminated any incentive for cases 1 and 3 to occur. Done. Easy.

Benefits of maximising unused cars

Now let us take a closer look into cases 2 and 4. These cases are almost exactly the same, but, in the case 2 we have 3 unused cars parked by the flat. So we could be tempted to claim that we could achieved MORE by giving preference to girls from flat A, because we have INCREASED the total number of unused vehicles in the city in this case. This claim is correct: in the case of flat A we have an increased number of unused cars in the city.

We have 2 possible ride share options to decide:

  • [A] We DO NOT give preference to Flat A. There is NO preference of WHO constitutes a Passenger.
  • [B] We DO give preference to Flat A. The preference is for DRIVERS who OWN their cars. Rationale: increased number of unused cars in the city.

The example above shows the paradox. Let us see what will happen, if we were not to give preference to flat A (option A above)? The following assertions would be true:

  1. Girls from flat A have a strong incentive to sell their unused vehicles and share a single car for their commuting. If they cannot park or travel in special lanes why bother owning so many cars? Better to sell some of them and share a smaller number of cars for commuting and travel.
  2. Girls from flat B would have strong incentive NOT TO PURCHASE vehicles for themselves. They would continue to share the single vehicle that they currently own in their flat.

Conversely, what will happen, if we were to give preference to flat A (option B above)? It would be correct to assume that:

  1. Girls from flat A have now a strong incentive NOT to sell their cars. They need to OWN cars and NOT USE THEM to be able to participate in the scheme.
  2. Girls from flat B have a strong incentive TO PURCHASE their own cars, and become drivers, so that they can start participating in the scheme.

The effect of option A and B above is quite the opposite to what it supposedly intend to do. It sends a message about benefits of car ownership and being a driver.  Besides, the argument of maximising the number of unused vehicles is irrational and has nothing to do with a carpool scheme as such. Why should it matter how many cars are not being used? The goal is to have LESS cars on the roads, less cars parked by the properties, and less cars parked in the city. The goal is to have LESS cars. Period. Not to have MORE unused cars. Option B does not work. It provides incentive to increase the total number of cars.

Children revisited

So where does it leave the  children? Flat B example is equivalent to the household with a single mother and 3 children. Same as flat B a “mom with kids” do not “leave” any unused car behind. So even if the argument was correct and there was a benefit of maximising the number of unused cars and restricting the scheme to drivers and car owners only, a flat with single mom and 3 kids would be indistinguishable to a flat with 4 adults out of which only 1 owns a car. Therefore, the Rule [1](a) restricting the age of the scheme participants is NOT justified by the argument itself, and it is illogical to claim that “children do not contribute to the traffic….”. Most passengers in the ride share scheme do not contribute to the traffic – this is what the scheme is.

Summary

Option A, even though does not directly reduces the number of unused vehicles, overall reduces the incentive for car ownership. And this is what I think what carpooling is all about. The only long term and rational choice is to chose option A, where car owners and drivers are not in any way treated preferentially. “Second passengers are considered any living person. Additional passengers may be adults, children or infants.”

If either of the parents can share their car with the children and take part in the scheme, the scheme would provide a strong incentive to encourage a single vehicle per household. If we take that out we encourage families to own multiple vehicles per household.

Everywhere else in the world the authorities made the rational choice of making “any living person” to constitute a passenger. Not only does it make perfect sense in the context of equality and human rights, but it makes sense in the context of what carpool scheme is all about too. Not in Dunedin.


Dunedin’s ride-share

The big questions.

What constitutes inequality? What constitutes age discrimination? Legally and morally? Is immoral behaviour always illegal? What is needed for institutional irrationality to occur? Who personally takes moral responsibility for institutional decisions? Is it possible for a local governance representatives to make a debatable or morally wrong decision and turn it into bylaw (or law)? If that happens, what are the mechanisms for the system to correct itself? How transparent the system is? If a debatable decision is made, is it OK to give in and follow the rules, even though they might be morally wrong? Should people continue “to do their job”? Or should they actively oppose the wrongdoing by refusing to follow the rules? What at the end of the day defines what’s moral, and what’s not? How did Nazism happened? When should Civil Disobedience be justified, or encouraged?

I would like to hear YOUR opinion thoughts and examples.

A simple case: a limited public resource.

Let us imagine that in your city the traffic and parking situation got out of hand. There is more road users than road or parking space. In other words, there is more people that would like to use a public resource than the amount of the resource itself. Due to the fact that the resource is limited, some people will simply not be able to use the resource (will not be able to park their car or example, or will queue in long delays caused by traffic jams).

One of the ways to deal with the situation is so called ride-share or carpooling scheme. This is how it works: imagine that there is only a one single empty space left for parking in front of a large shopping centre; there are four cars, that arrived EXACTLY at the same time, and are now negotiating/deciding who should park in the last empty space:

  1. a car with a single driver,
  2. a car with a driver and 1 passenger,
  3. a car with a driver and 3 passengers,
  4. a minibus, with 8 people.

Which car would you give preferential treatment to? The dillema is, only ONE of these cars can park, and all the other people will have to return home and take a bus instead (because there is no more parking space left). So, what scheme would work best in the scenario? What scheme would maximise the happiness, and also, the VALUE out of the resource itself?

According to utilitarian morality, the moral preference should be given to a car with more people, as this simply creates more happiness: “the greatest good for the greatest number of people”. By giving preference to the option (4) we would make 8 people happier, and 7 unhappy. If we give preference to option (1) we would end up with 14 unhappy people, and only 1 happy. With option (4) more people get the VALUE out of the limited resource. So, if we follow that principle, the ordering of our preferential treatment could be: 4, 3, 2, and 1. Option (4) utitlises the resource better than (3), (3) does it better than (2), and (2) does it twice as good as (1).

And this is EXACTLY how ride-share/carpooling schemes work. The schemes provide preference to vehicles with more people, so that the greatest number of people get the value out of a resource.

How to implement it?

The ride-share/carpooling is in many countries implemented by a set of articles in the traffic regulations, enforced by police, traffic officers and traffic cameras. There are usually dedicated lanes with marking (for 2 or 3 people), which drivers can take advantage of if they have sufficient number of people in their cars. See for example: California’s carpool/high-occupancy vehicle lanes, or a general description of carpool laws (Note this: “Second passengers are considered any living person. Additional passengers may be adults, children or infants.”)

The rules simply provide preference to vehicles that have a driver together with one or more passengers. Interestingly, in the case of the carpool lanes, the provision is to allow busses and motocycles to use these too. I’ve participated in the scheme in many countries, including toll-free bridges and carpool lanes in California. The system is simple: if you have more than 1 passenger, you are privileged. If you are on a motorbike, you are privileged. If you are alone in your car, you cannot make use of the preferential lanes. The system in its core is very simple, straightforward. It is a simple addition to traffic regulations (in most cases). It also leads, as a side-effect, to many very interesting social phenomena, such as “slugging”.

The preference scheme: a puzzle.

So far the argument was quite straightforward. We have identified that a simple ride-share (carpool) scheme is a good way to deal with the traffic problem. The scheme generates greater happiness. It makes the best use of a limited resource by providing it to the largest amount of people, it encourages sharing of resources, it encourages young children to be aware of environmental and social issues, and it limits the single-occupant vehicles on the road, by providing strong incentives for sharing. The scheme is fair, treats everyone equally, does not discriminate, at anytime anyone can use it provided that there are at least 2 people in a car.

Let us imagine now the following dilemma: as before, we have just ONE single parking space left, and we have the following situations to decide the preferences:

  1. A couple, in their 30s, with two friends, also in their 30s.
  2. A single mother with 3 children: 2-, 3- and 4-years of age.

In this case we have 3 possibilities:

  • Option A: we could give no preference to anyone. Both of the cases: (1) and (2) are THE SAME, indistinguishable, and will qualify for the limited resources in an exactly the same way. In both cases 4 people benefit, therefore, the cases are indistinguishable. (Recall the phrase: “Second passengers are considered any living person. Additional passengers may be adults, children or infants.”).
  • Option B: we could give preference to the mom and her children, as she most likely needs it the most. Taking a bus with 3 small children is a major hassle whereas taking a bus if you an adult with your friends is not a problem at all. We could call upon Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article [25](2), and give preference to the mother and her children, on the basis that she probably needs it the most, and should be treated with special care. This would constitute a case of “positive age discrimination”, where children were given preference over the adults.You can check for example in the Australian Age Discrimination Act 2004Articles 14, 15, 16, 27, 28, and 33. The purpose of Age Discrimination Act 2004 is to ensure that people of all ages are treated equally and have the same opportunities, among others, in “getting or using services” and “accessing premises and facilities” provided by governments and local administration.

Which option would you choose? A, B or C? Which option is FAIR? Which option is discriminatory? In positive or negative sense? Which option would meet your moral standards?

The world of carpool laws.

All the ride-share and carpooling schemes quoted above go simply with Option A and this is probably what most of people would choose as a FAIR option. What’s wrong with options B and C? Option B make sense and seems fair, but is impractical to implement and enforce. It would require somehow to give preference to children which in the case of carpooling is impractical (separate lanes?). “Positive age discrimination” seems fair, and there is nothing wrong with option B.

How about option C? Would it constitute a negative age discrimination case? If you are a lawyer, and you know the answer, please let me know.  From my layman reading of Articles 14, 15, 16, 27, 28, and 33 of Austrialian’s Age Discrimination Act 2004, I would guess that Option C is or is really close to, breaking the law.

If you know of carpool schemes in your country that use Option C, please let me know.

My hometown case: Dunedin, New Zealand.

Some years ago Dunedin City Council (DCC) together with Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, University of Otago and Otago Polytech has setup a ride-share parking scheme on its own. This is an applaudable and forward looking initiative that provides a mechanism to deal with the traffic problem.

The scheme is overly complex though. Much more bureaucratic as compared to carpool schemes around the world. It worked more or less for the last 8 or 9 years, and the traffic officers were issuing fines to single people trying to park in the ride-share zones. You’d have to have at least one passenger. The passenger could be anyone, and children were not fined, until 2010, when the DCC amended the rules. Please have a look into the Dunedin ride-share rules. The 2010 rules include the new clause, that was not there before:

1. The Rideshare parks can only be used by Rideshare users who:
a. Are at least 15 years of age

Apart this extra rule, the scheme is pretty much consistent with previous years rules. The change, however, means that people that used to park in the ride-share zone with their kids, are now fined if there were no other adults with them in the car. A child is not anymore considered “a passenger” (or, like locals want to call it, a ride-share scheme participant).

What reasoning could possibly lead my local governance reps to opt for Option C instead of opting for Option A? How could that possibly happen in a freedom and fairness loving country like New Zealand? Do they really mean to negatively discriminate children under 15 years old? The rules are pretty much black and white, and there is not much space for interpretations or misunderstanding. Since the start of the year, the traffic officers were eagerly (at least some of them) issuing fines to the single moms and dads with their small kids trying to take part in the scheme.

Of course, the City Council officials do not mean to negatively discriminate children. The arguments vary depending who you talk with:

  • according to Ride-Share administrator, Bruce, the current scheme is fair. According to him, the scheme is designed only for staff and students of the University of Otago and Otago Polytech, and since there are no staff or students under 15 years of age, all is good. As far as Bruce is concerned, the correct understanding of the 1(a) rule “are at least 15 years of age” is:

“are students or members of faculty of the University of Otago and/or Otago Polytech”

  • according to G.Fraser from DCC who deals with customer requests, the scheme is actually designed ONLY for licensed drivers. Since there are no drivers under age of 15, all is good. So, as far as G.Fraser is concerned, 1(a) rule “are at least 15 years of age” should be understood as:

“hold a valid New Zealand driving license”

So why the rule 1(a) does not use the actual words that the DCC official use for interpreting the rule, but instead talks about people under 15 years of age? This is a bit of a puzzle. Interestingly, with both of the interpretations (being a member of faculty, or holding driver license) there are certain legal consequences, which, as far as I understand it, would not hold a legal scrutiny and might constitute an inequality case. I am not a lawyer, and it is rather difficult to get to the bottom of WHY EXACTLY this particular rule (the age-limit rule) has been introduced into the scheme  with this particular wording, instead of the one of the “proper” rules: the faculty membership rule, or the driving license rule. I am not sure also what regulations govern the management of public parking spaces, such as in this case. It would seem unfair to me to restrict public parking space to a selected subgroup of the local community – but this is probably a completely different issue.

It seems children in New Zealand constitute a “special case” as far as human rights are concerned. Children do not have all the rights that are attributed to adults. To put it simply, people under 16 in New Zealand do not have the same level of protection that adults enjoy, and it is somewhat easier to discriminate children. Unfortunately, New Zealand does not have the equivalent  of the Australian’s Age Discrimination Act 2004, and even then, I am not sure if that could be used in this case.

Reality check.

With the wording as is, with the “no people under 15 years of age” rule, can a non-faculty member and non-student or person that does not hold the valid NZ license take part in the scheme? Yes. The parking officers do not enforce membership to any of the institutions, and do not check driving license. This somewhat contradicts the interpretations given above.

Can a child use the scheme? No. The parking officers will enforce the age rule simply by visually judging the age of the passenger to be or not, 15 years of age. Little children are not allowed to participate in the scheme – the smaller the child the easier it is for the parking officer to issue a fine. If the child look as if it is 15 years of age or older, well, you may be lucky to pass the parking officer’s scrutiny (they tend to observe the parking from a distance). With infants and very little children, you really out of luck. Sorry.

Is the system fair?

Civil disobedience.

I know this is a trivial issue, and there are much more serious tragedies in the world to worry about. Yet, there is something beautiful about this case: by being so simple, yet, so eagerly defended by local authorities it demonstrates that mistakes can happen, and that it is not trivial, to have them corrected.

Who introduced the rule? What went through their head when they have done that? Are people’s moral barometers completely out of whack? If trivial issues like that cannot be simply and swiftly fixed, are we running a risk of repeating some of the history’s biggest nightmares again?

What would you do if you were a parking officer issuing fines to single moms and their kids? Most of the officers do not dwell onto moral dilemmas, I guess. Or show much empathy and compassion. For them, the rule is the rule, and they just do their job. Is that what we all should be doing? Are we justified?

Epilog.

After 8 years of using the ride-share scheme I and my two daughters are using buses now. There is nowhere else to park in the morning. I have to admit that my girls enjoy riding the bus. I just do not quite know how to explain to my older daughter what the Dunedin’s ride-share scheme is all about.


Moja pierwsza wizyta w kinie.

Dziś byłam z tatą w kinie. To była mój pierwszy w życiu pobyt w kinie. Poszliśmy do Regent Theatre, na Japoński film “Ponyo”. Ponyo ta taka mała dziewczynka, która kiedyś była rybką, ale później zamieniła się w dziewczynkę. Film bardzo mi się podobał i oglądałam go z przejęciem. Na niektórych scenach, szczególnie jak pokazywali wzburzone morze i te olbrzymie czarne ryby, to się bałam i troszkę się trzęsłam. Było to dla mnie wielkie przeżycie.


Jaskinia na Long Beach

Wczoraj i dzis bylismy na plazy, na Long Beach. Bylismy tam razem z Lidia, mama i tata, oraz Alex i Danny, i ich rodzicami, oraz Peterem. Bylo bardzo fajnie, szczegolnie w poniedzialek rano – biegalysmy po plazy, kapalismy sie w oceanie i razem z Alex i tata wspinalam sie tez na skalkach. To byl dla mnie wyjatkowy weekend bo po raz pierwszy razem z Lidia spalismy w jaskini. Tato upiekl ziemniaki i kumare w ognisku, Tony i Peter grali na gitarach, a mama rozmawiala z Kirsten.