The Fish
for 1 May 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
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Matt Beer
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Morality Play

I was reading your column
today at Suck and decided to
offer you some friendly
advice on your traffic
ticket. California has
something called "the basic
speed law" or code 22350. If
you got written up for a
violation of this then you're
in luck - fight the ticket
and tell the judge that under
those conditions 45 was not
an unsafe speed.

The civil code for violating
a posted speed limit is 22352
- if he wrote you up on this
one it's much tougher to
fight. But most officers
don't know the difference and
always write you up for a
"basic speed law" violation.

Chris Beron

True enough. But I live in
Colorado, now ... Although I
sure do plan on hitting the
law library, pleading not
guilty, and being generally
unpleasant about the whole
thing. I'm not much of a
giver-inner when it comes to
this stuff. Actually kind of
looking forward to the

Ambrose Beers

Fish With Letter Icon

Having sacrificed eight hours of
a beautiful sunny day
yesterday to attend traffic
school I feel that I should
share the benefits of the
education I have been
privileged to partake of: Any
sign which says "Speed Limit"
is merely a recommendation.
It is legal to drive at safe
speeds above the speed limit.
Of course the definition of
safe is up to the officer,
but I imagine that one could
debate it in court. Signs
which say "Maximum Speed," on
the other hand, do indicate
the legal limit.

Also turns out that driving
barefoot, changing lanes in
intersections, and cutting
through gas stations are all
legal when safe in
California. Cool, eh?

Disclaimer: I'm not a legal
expert. This is just what the
traffic school guy told me.

Luke Dahl

A secret: I used to teach
traffic school, about a
million years ago. Let's just
say that I should never, ever
have been asked to work at
something that required me to
be alert and
fully-functioning at eight
o'clock on a Saturday
morning. I'm fairly certain
there are still people out
there who resent my very
existence for the 8 hours I
inflicted upon them.

I apologize for the loss of
your sunny day. Perhaps your
message is my opportunity for

Ambrose Beers

Fish With Letter Icon

Damn, Homey!
Go get 'em with the continued
rabid, weasel-in-heat ferocity
that I enjoy reading.


Jonathan Wright

Rabid weasel? In heat? You
haven't been talking to my
ex-wife, by any chance, have

Thanks for the message. The
support is much appreciated.

Ambrose Beers

Fish With Letter Icon

Whatsa Matta wit you AB,
An ex-girlfriend's father
(he, a retired lieutenant
corporal or something) once
explained to me, "Son, a lot
of very smart people, people
much smarter than you and me
very carefully made these
laws, it is our
responsibility to follow the
laws, not to question them."

How dare you question the
speed limit? It was imposed
for your safety! We need to
have some laws against people
like you!

Christopher Dahle
Attorney at Law


Jah, gut point - I vill just
obey der orders.

I have worked as a reporter.
I have met many lawmakers. I
have marveled, often, at the
fact that some of them could
do things like "stand" and
"read." If these are the
alpha males, I'm thinking the
pack's gonna go mighty hungry
come winter.

Your ex's dad sounds like a
hoot: Men wake at dawn, boy!
Now drop and give me twenty!

Ambrose Beers

Fish With Letter Icon

I cannot thank you enough for
taking on the ultra-hypocrisy
associated with the Religious
Right and Christian
Coalition. I speak today as
probably the only person on
Capitol Hill with the
complete collection of
"Happyland" fanzines. For
those lucky enough to not be
in the know, it was a
publication lauding the
degenerate lifestyle of Times
Square as chronicled by
Selwyn Harris (now peacefully
departed to another place).

I was especially horrified by
"Meet the Press" this Sunday.
The panel consisted of Rep.
Steve Largent ( NFL
Hall-of-Famer who recently
admitted to the NY Times that
his new favorite game is
"Name that Biblical Verse"
played with Alpha-Bits), Sen.
John Ashcroft (A teetotalling
member of the horrendous
"Singing Senators," Ashcroft
actually released a gospel
album titled, obviously, "The
Gospel According to John"),
and the all-time great Pat
Buchanan. I sat in my bed
hungover and dazed as these
goofs tried to continually
outflank each other to the
right. There was so much
tacking going on I felt like
I was watching a yacht race
where the winds blow only
west to east. As I watched, I
knew only too well that this
wasn't some form of joke
being played on the American

Earlier last week I spent
some time with members of one
of the three "Meet the Press"
guests. I was a bit shocked
at the hateful nature of
their rhetoric. Beating up on
the poor and on immigrants
isn't helping the value
system of our nation, it is
in fact undermining it.
Claiming that there is no
room for compromise and
understanding isn't
courageous morality, it's
inexcusable ignorance. I have
often heard people talk of
erring on the side of the
Angels, and I have often
wondered if those who do so
can actually see these
Angels, and if they can,
where I can get some of the
stuff they're smoking.

If you believe any of
Einstein's theory, it is
clear that all things are
relative, with the exception
of the speed of light, which
is constant. (But after
seeing photos of Mr. Einstein
one is left wondering what he
smoked to get his hair to
stand up like that, and what
Angels he was kickin' it
with.) Morality is
ever-changing, we call this
phenomenon evolution. Of
course there exists both
right and wrong, but between
them is a whole lot of gray
area. People searching for
"simpler values" are usually
simpler people, and between
the black and white they have
created in their minds is
usually not a lot of gray

See You in Hell, Pagan,
Seamus McFatso

Thanks for the message, but
wow - you can't go letting
people know that you think
like this and still expect to
hang on to a job on Capitol
Hill. Haven't you been
briefed on poli-speech yet?

Anyway, yes: People looking
for simpler values are
usually running like hell
from something called "life,"
which persists in being messy
despite every imaginable
effort to order it into neat
straight lines through
legislation, regulation,
religion, prosecution,
persecution, morally outraged
letters-to-the-editor, and
Sunday morning hate-fests.
Darn that life thing, anyway,
for not playing along. The
problem is that, in addition
to all that gray, no issue
ever plays along a single
axis; there's almost never
simply a nominal good
competing against a nominal
bad, but instead a whole
bunch of conflicting nominal
goods competing against a
whole bunch of conflicting
nominal bads. I actually kind
of love this - wouldn't a
simple, highly ordered,
guaranteed-safe life just
bore us all to death? I like
to think of the complexity as
nuance, rather than
difficulty. Which probably
means that I won't be running
for Congress any time soon.

Who do you work for, anyway?
What's it like being sane in
that environment?

Oh, okay, one more thing. I'm
taking a congressional tour
with my mom, and we pass this
old man in a hallway. And mom
leans over and whispers:
"It's Jesse Helms - and there
are no cops around! Quick!"

Mom's a card.

Ambrose Beers

Fish With Letter Icon

Morality Play

Why was the April 20 column
such a poorly-edited mess?
You had the message right
with no attention paid to
form- the result is that you
may have blown the most
important column of the year.
Your columns usually have
wicked sharpness, but today's
was a sloppy bore (the
traffic anecdote was
especially lame).

Why did today's column appear
late and with so few links?

Incidentally, thanks for the
Gingrich file. What a
pathological freak he is.

Best wishes,
Jay B


Okay, easy one first: it was
late because of a nasty
server error. It happens, OK?

Furthermore: finding
archived, linkable news
stories about religious
freedom in Turkey or
elections in Paraguay is not
so easy. Most of the
information I got for this
one came from members-only
news archives, and I paid for
access to some of the
stories. The Miami Herald,
for example, got a buck out
of me. So the choice is: Only
write about things that are
widely accessible for linking
on the Web - dirty teens,
Bill Gates is bad - or write
about broader things and give
up some links.

As for the traffic

I do think that the way we
view things in the aggregate
- and I recognize that
there's no such thing as a
monolithic aggregate, but
let's say that we're talking
about what the wide majority
of us are willing to accept
and live with - shows up
consistently in the
behavior of the institutions
that we support and pay for.
When we accept a rigid view
of the law's purpose at
the levels most of us
interact with law-enforcement
agencies - traffic court, the
zoning board - how likely is
it that we'll demand or
expect a nuanced application
of the law at more removed
heights? A traffic cop who
views his job as enforcing
what the sign says, without
regard to questions of actual
safety, has colleagues who
enforce drug laws and vice
laws and on and on; is the
traffic cop the only
thoughtless person down at
police headquarters, while
all the other cops have their
heads screwed on straight and
their priorities in careful
order? There really are
organizational cultures,
shared notions; bad laws, and
bad law enforcement, have
brothers and cousins.

As for the formlessness...

Well, hard to say, from here.
It's pretty tough to step
back and see something you
just wrote with a clean eye.
If it is formless, though,
it's not because it's a
"poorly edited mess." It's
because it's a poorly written
mess. I do think, or maybe
just hope, that it all
connects at least well enough
for the argument to be
recognized and understood.

But, in any case, I do
appreciate your message. I'm
guessing that you wouldn't
have bothered if you just
didn't give a shit.

And I sincerely hope that at
least some of this makes a
bit of sense.

Ambrose Beers

Fish With Letter Icon

I just read your parking
ticket piece, and it was, I
must say, quite nice. Very
good examples, very clearly
written. However, you
probably realize that you are
bound to see that same dazed
expression on the courtroom
faces as when you asked the
officer if there was any

I've recently gone through a
similar experience, and it
only added to my beliefs that
the traffic laws in this
country are more about
economics, and less about
public safety. Add to that
the fact that these laws are
enforced by police officers
who, for the most part, have
outlooks and world views that
could hardly be considered
enlightened, and it makes you
wonder. Perhaps all those
militia 'enthusiasts' aren't
that far off base.

Best of luck with your

Andrew Boyer

Ahhh. One of my favorite
subjects, and one of my
favorite stories...

I used to live in a town that
had a "no overnight parking"
law: No parking on any street
between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. You
were supposed to park in your
driveway or garage, instead.
But I lived in a house with five
other people, and our garage
held two cars, tops, and we
had no driveway (the garage
was in the back of the house,
off an alley). Oh, and it was
L.A., so we each owned a car
- you do the math. So we used
to get five or six $25
tickets, each, every month.
And we fought every ...
single ... one in court. And
we usually convinced the
judge to toss the tickets out
- dismissal, not a not guilty
judgment - at arraignment, by
explaining our circumstances.

But then, one day: A new,
hugely unpleasant traffic
court judge. She refused to
dismiss any of our tickets.
So we all pled not guilty -
like 25 tickets, written by a
dozen different night shift
cops. Most didn't show for
the afternoon trials. But one

And my roommate Ken held the
ticket written by that
particular officer. So. The
officer testifies - "I
determined that the vehicular
unit in question was parked
in an unlawful-type fashion,
and proceeded to commence
with the issuance of a
citation," the full dose of
official-speak - and then
stayed on the witness stand
for Ken to ask him questions.
Ken had done some research,
and found that the law
required the officer to prove
that the car had been
registered to him when the
ticket was written; he asked
the cop to do this. And the
cop smirked - he'd done his
homework, too, sort of - and
pulled out a print-out of the
registration information for
Ken's car, which he'd pulled
up that morning at the police
station. He handed it to Ken.
Ken scrutinized it for
several very quiet seconds,
with the judge and the cop
looking on impatiently. Then
he finally looked up, and
said: "Well, officer, this is
interesting. And it does
prove that the car is
registered to me today. The
question, however, was: Can
you demonstrate that I owned
this car on the day you
issued the citation
? The cop
just kind of stared, but the
judge immediately asked:
"Well, did you own the car
when the ticket was written?"

And Ken said: "Your honor, I
will make reference to the
fifth amendment. I decline to
answer the question."

Long, long, long silence.
Long silence.

And then the judge, laughing
really pretty hard, found him
not guilty - and
congratulated him for knowing
the law. The cop, who looked
almost implausibly furious,
stopped us in the hallway -
most of the roommates had
shown up, and we were all
laughing and sort of
staggering around outside the
courtroom - to let us know
that he'd be looking for an
opportunity to impound our

He apparently never got that
opportunity, because we never
heard from him again.

And then, a few months later,
the state of California
"de-criminalized" parking
tickets - eliminating the due
process rights of people who
receive them. The law, gosh
darn it, just kept getting in
the way of their revenue
collection, and so had to be
removed from the picture.

Thanks for writing. Perhaps
one day I will have an excuse
to tell about the cop who
chased me, for supposedly
making an illegal turn, in an
unmarked car. I looked up,
saw this guy on my tail, had
no idea who he was or why he
was after me, and so began to
try to lose him. After a
couple of French
Connection-style miles, he...

But that's a story for
another day.

Ambrose Beers

Fish With Letter Icon

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