Bicycles for the Many
It has taken the United States more than 40 years to begin to catch up with Europe’s bicycle sharing programs. What started in Amsterdam in the 1960s and was later copied in Paris, Copenhagen, Barcelona and other European cities took root in Portland, Ore., in the 1990s. Since 2008, though, major programs have been initiated in Washington D.C., Minneapolis, Chicago and Denver. This year Miami started a bike share for tourists, and later this year San Francisco and Boston will start pilot programs. New York City plans to make available 10,000 public bicycles in 2012. China, Mexico, Canada and Australia also have bike sharing. While these programs differ in target audience, size, sponsorship and method of payment, they allow users to take a bicycle from one “station,” sometimes several racks of bikes parked off a main street, and leave it at another.
To succeed a bike share program must work with a city not only to mark bike lanes, map sensible routes and install bike traffic lights, but also to ensure that pedestrians, bikers and drivers negotiate them safely, lest accidents ensue and public support wane. Stations must be conveniently positioned with bicycles available when needed, and bicycles need protection from theft and vandalism. Still, the potential benefits are enormous: better health for those who exercise regularly, which means less spending on health care; fewer cars used for short commutes, which conserves energy and lessens air pollution. Over time bike sharing could create an urban culture of do-it-yourself transportation, drawing more people outside where they can see and be with each other, building community and enhancing the quality of life.
Et Tu, Superman?
“‘Truth, justice and the American way’—it’s not enough anymore.” So says the Man of Steel in the current issue of the venerable Action Comics’s series. Has it come to this: Superman renouncing his U.S. citizenship? Apparently the hero who is faster than a speeding bullet, dismayed that an attempt to support demonstrators in Iran was misconstrued as an act of U.S. aggression, has decided that this is the best course of action. Unlike celebrities who are forever threatening to take up residence elsewhere when federal policy or personalities shift in a manner not to their liking, Superman appears to be a man of his word. “The world’s too small, too connected,” he says. Superman needs to be free to defend the universal common good, unconstrained by U.S. parochial interests.
Superman’s embrace of internationalism has been deplored as a betrayal by some commentators. What’s next, a U.N. seat for Krypton? This is another sign, they say, of an encroaching political correctness that is eroding American exceptionalism and reducing the United States to just another mere nation under Superman’s benevolent gaze. It is hard to understand their complaint. It is not as if Superman’s U.S. citizenship has not been dubious since the beginning. Rumor has it that he did not even enter the United States legally. Has anyone ever seen his long-form birth certificate? And what kind of name is Kal-El, anyway? So bon voyage, Superman; enjoy your fortress of stateless solitude. Let the free market catch the next falling busload of schoolchildren.
Peace Corps Problems
After leaving the Peace Corps in South Africa in 2009, Casey Frazee returned to the United States a changed woman, but not in the way one might think. After being sexually assaulted during her time as a volunteer, she went home with a desire to help other volunteers who have met a similar fate and to force the Peace Corps to recognize and adequately respond to cases like hers.
Between 2000 and 2009 more than 1,000 Peace Corps volunteers reported having been the victim of a sexual assault, a low estimate considering the fact that, according to a 2010 Peace Corps survey, close to 40 percent of those raped and 50 percent of those sexually assaulted did not report their attacks.
Now Ms. Frazee and other former volunteers who were victimized are speaking up, saying the Peace Corps staff took a “blame the victim” mentality and that the organization failed to educate volunteers about how to properly report an attack or seek counseling. Some were even encouraged to lie about what had happened to them.
The Peace Corps has committed to re-examining its policies on the matter, with the help of a newly hired victims’ advocate, but Ms. Frazee’s advocacy group is pushing for more Congressional oversight of the corps.
The good work of the Peace Corps should not be overshadowed by this news, but the need for reform cannot be ignored. Volunteers are often placed alone in remote villages. It is crucial that the Peace Corps maintain strong ties to these volunteers and provide a support network. The organization must look not only at its policy regarding sexual assault but at larger structural challenges to examine whether it is properly positioned to fulfill its mandate and to keep volunteers safe.