Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Waving the bloody shirt on Masonic

Michael Helquist

Let's start with a little US history and a definition:


In the history of the United States, "waving the bloody shirt" refers to the practice of politicians referencing the blood of martyrs or heroes to criticize opponents. In American history, the phrase gained popularity with an incident in which Benjamin Franklin Butler of Massachusetts, when making a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, allegedly held up a shirt stained with the blood of a carpetbagger whipped by the Ku Klux Klan. (While Butler did give a speech condemning the Klan, he never waved anyone's bloody shirt.) The idea may be traced back to Julius Caesar's funeral in 44 BC when Mark Antony showed the toga to the crowd during his funeral oration...Southerners mocked Butler, using the fiction of his having "waved the bloody shirt" to dismiss KKK and other atrocities committed against freed slaves and Republicans.

The anti-car bike people at Streetsblog wave the bloody shirt daily in their "Today's Headlines," where they link stories on every cyclist and pedestrian injured anywhere in Northern California by those devilish motor vehicles.

The death of Nils Linke last year---he was hit by a drunk driver late at night while riding a bike on Masonic Avenue---prompted an orgy of bloody shirt-waving by Michael Helquist at Bike Nopa and the folks at Streetsblog to push the city to screw up traffic on that busy North/South city street on behalf of the city's bike people. Linke's death had nothing to do with the design of Masonic, since the driver was drunk, it was late at night, and, tragically, Linke wasn't wearing a helmet. But those realities didn't deter the shameless demagoguery by Helquist over the accident.

Now the anti-car movement has a new martyr and another bloody shirt to wave with the woman who was hit in a crosswalk on Masonic the other day.

Matt Smith of the SF Weekly apparently scooped everyone in the bike community on the latest accident, with the lede on the story, "Masonic Avenue: Is it a Death Trap?" Turns out that Smith was a witness to the accident because he was riding a tandem bike on Masonic Avenue with his 8-year-old daughter!

More than six years ago, Smith came out of the closet as a daredevil cyclist when he wrote about his death-defying daily commute via bicycle to the SF Weekly's office south of Market Street. It's one thing for a guy to risk his own life with that sort of foolishness, but his daughter's, too?

Smith was so distraught when we got the injunction against the city's Bicycle Plan that he wrote a vicious personal attack on me and my lawyer.

All the bloody shirt-waving is evidently unnecessary, since the city is apparently determined to screw up Masonic avenue, even though, according to the city's own numbers, it's not particularly unsafe for anybody.

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