Java Zen:Thinking Out Loud Sunday, 2022.07.03
Getting rid of your common sense is the first step on the road to understanding
the law.

		James Grimmelmann


Archimedes and Parking Laws

In his column from June 04, 2004, Jim Spencer treats us with a rare and fabulous repartee – an insightful and probing exchange which delves to the very ontological foundation of our society, no less – he enjoyed with one of our city’s parking enforcement officers. (I’ll pause while you collect your ribs…)

The facts, as presented, are that Mr. Spencer pulled in next to a parking meter, turned the car off, got out of the car, blew kisses at the parking meter (or some such thing), got back in the car, drove around the block and pulled in next to the same parking meter. And yet, “I never parked.”, proclaims Mr. Spencer, when tagged with the “can’t return to the same parking space or any space within 100 feet of it for 24 hours” law. The Parkinazi1 disagreed and wrote him a ticket.

It appears Mr. Spencer is invoking the Archimedean principle of infinitesimals2 as he seeks to enlighten the Parkinazi as to the error of his ways, the flaw in his logic. According to some internal, amorphous and whimsical definition of what it means to be “parked”, Mr. Spencer couldn’t possibly have parked his car. In order to do that, he would have had to cross half the distance from “moving” to “parked”. And once that distance had been crossed, he would have had to cross half the remaining distance. According to infinitesimals, there would always be some remaining fraction of distance to cover before the car is parked. In fact, citing the ancient wisdom of Archimedes, he, nor anyone else, can every truly completely park.

Let us rise above this, called again by the ancient wisdom of Archimedes, and climb toward that elusive Archimedean point.3

This is why we, as a society, have laws. They are agreements, actually. Order is maintained in society in part because most of us agree to follow the law. My theory as to what is primarily responsible for maintaining order in this society is fat-ass laziness. More of the American idle punch phone buttons to vote for the next American Idol than vote for the next president of the most powerful nation on the planet. But, I digress.

Laws, in and of themselves, do not present physical limitations. You can still jay-walk, run a red light, steal and murder. But, as they say, ignorance of the law is not a defense. You should know there are consequences for each of these actions. Consequences defined by representatives elected by the public at large. The citizens of Denver must be thrilled to know that in order to relieve Mr. Spencer from the burden of a parking ticket, he has marshaled the resources of Mayor Hickenlooper, parking manager Lindsey Strudwick, assistant city attorney Vince DiCroce and councilwoman Jeanne Robb. Better the tax payers of Denver pay several orders of magnitude more than Mr. Spencer for his parking ticket just to preserve the integrity of his private parking rules.

How might his column have read, I wonder, if on a different day he were unable to find a parking spot because countless cube dwellers were skipping out on breaks to “rotate their tires” in an effort to avoid the monthly parking lot fees?

As an alternative, Mr. Spencer, consider your parking ticket a maintenance fee of sorts. Tuition to further your education and avoid that “ignorance of the law” defense tar pit. Perhaps even your own personal privilege fee which allows you to park according to your own rules. See, we can all buy justice, if even on the smallest of scales.

Dude. Pay the ticket, pay attention or change the law if it offends you so through the processes made available in a democratic society.

Update – Thursday, June 24, 2004

I stand corrected. Mr. Spencer did NOT receive a parking ticket. To quote my sources deep within the city’s parking structure, “He was just informed that by him parking his van, getting out, locking the door, going over to the meter, returned to his van, pulled up one space to the next meter would be grounds for him to receive a ticket. The employee was merely educating him as to the regulation. Mr. Spencer became irate with the employee because Jim wanted to argue and verbally abuse him and the employee walked away.”

Somehow that makes this all the more egregious. “It is a Tale told by an Ideot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”, quoth Macbeth
1I have no affection for the parking enforcement officers. Years ago, I delivered pizzas in downtown Denver for a year and a half. Between the affluent legal firms that would demand free pizzas because they were delivered in 31 minutes (and drop the tip as well) and the nickels and dimes from those living in “the projects”, one parking ticket could erase an entire day’s tips. Yes, I truly loathed them. But I learned how to watch for them, too.

2In mathematics, an infinitesimal is a number greater in absolute value than zero yet smaller than any positive real number.

3An Archimedean point is a hypothetical vantage point from which an observer can objectively perceive the subject of inquiry, with a view of totality. The ideal of “removing oneself” from the object of study so that one can see it in relation to all other things, but remain independent of them, is described by a view from an Archimedean point.

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