Friday, May 20, 2011

DSK, and speed traps

Well, French news media are all a flutter, covering the “DSK affair” ad nauseam. Dominique Strauss-Kahn isn't well known elsewhere in the world, but in France he's quite a VIP, a member of the old boys' club that runs the country. I won't repeat the details of the affair since they have been exhaustively reported everywhere, but I can make a few observations.

The French seem to be mainly surprised by the fact that a member of the old boys' club can be arrested and prosecuted for anything short of murder. In France, that doesn't happen. Justice is meted out based in part on a person's social rank, and the boys at the top are practically immune to its effects. France is also a Latin, macho country (albeit not as severely afflicted as most Latin countries are), and so harassment of women is considered routine.

It's not clear whether or not this particular incident is a set-up designed to bring down DSK (which, by the way, the French pronounce as “day-ehss-kah”), but his alleged history of misogynistic abuse of women will not work in his favor irrespective of whether or not he is guilty in this case. I myself don't really know. It's not hard to believe that he's guilty, but there are a lot of coincidences that could imply a set-up, too. But I don't really care. DSK was potentially slated to run in the next French presidential election, but I can't vote in French elections, so it matters not to me.

In France, justice works at different speeds, depending on who you are. In the United States, it works at different speeds, depending on how much money you have. DSK is more or less unknown in the United States, but his wife is rich and he's spending $50,000 a month on his apartment where he is under house arrest, so maybe that will work in his favor.

The other recent event that illustrates the standard Latin doublethink that prevails in legal matters in France and other countries with ties to those ancient Romans is the change in speed-trap policies. The government has announced that it will no longer publish the locations of radar speed traps. See, in France, it's illegal to have a radar detector in the car, but it's legal to have GPS and database-based gadgets that warn whenever a driver is approaching a published radar speed trap. The doublethink here is that the speed traps are intended to catch drivers who are speeding, but at the same time the government publishes information that can only be used for one purpose: avoiding the speed traps. Thus, the government tacitly approves of speeding, while creating the illusion that it's doing something about it.

It's a problem because motor-vehicle accident rates have skyrocketed recently, and most accidents involve either excessive speed, alcohol, or both. The purpose of a speed trap, of course, is to catch speeders and thereby serve as a deterrent. But it's not a deterrent at all when you tell people about them in advance, thereby allowing them to speed everywhere except in the traps with impunity. Everyone in France knows this, but practically everyone denies it, instead saying that publishing the locations of the radar traps somehow improves safety, through some incredibly convoluted line of flawed reasoning.

The companies that manufacture these gadgets are up in arms, because stopping publication of the locations of the radar traps will put them out of business. They are wailing about loss of jobs (which I guess is more important than massive loss of life in accidents), and the importance of their products to other countries (hard to believe, since nobody has quite the same policy as France as far as I know).

Of course, I favor stopping publication of the radar locations. And I hope that DSK gets a fair trial, either going to jail if he's guilty, or being set free if he's not. But I'm not optimistic on either point.

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