Thursday, August 28, 2014

Streetsblog: "Man killed by Muni bus driver"

Streetsblog thinks there should be a crosswalk here

According to Streetsblog, their team has simply suffered another casualty in the ongoing traffic war on city streets (Man Killed by Muni Bus Driver at Closed Crosswalk Outside Geary Tunnel). This man was apparently jaywalking across Geary Blvd. early Monday morning and was hit and killed by a Muni bus: "Both crosswalks across Geary are closed at that intersection, just east of the Masonic tunnel..."

Look at the photo above, and you can see there are no crosswalks there for obvious reasons. Were there ever crosswalks there? Seems unlikely, given that location near the entrance/exit to the tunnel.

I walked by that area yesterday, and it's clear that any pedestrian who tries to cross Geary there would have to be very reckless, even at 1:00 o'clock in the morning.

You can't clearly hear or see individual vehicles coming from either direction unless you are vigilant. All you hear is a dull, background traffic roar from the tunnel. One wonders if the guy killed was drunk or stoned.

The grammar of the head is what's offensive, as if the bus driver intended to kill anyone and was somehow morally responsible for this death. I've written before about Streetsblog's crude, unhinged reporting whenever a cyclist or a pedestrian is injured by a motor vehicle. It doesn't matter to them how such accidents happen or who was actually responsible. It's all grist for the anti-car mill.

More nuttiness is reflected in their terminology: Geary Blvd. is "a traffic sewer," since it's a major east/west street in San Francisco that carries more than 65,000 vehicles a day, and the #38 Geary line carries more than 50,000 passengers a day. Why can't all those folks ride bikes?

Still more nuttiness:

There are currently no plans to re-configure the intersection, or to close the Masonic tunnel and bring Geary back to grade. The tunnel also prevented center-running transit lanes from being built east of the Richmond District as part of the Geary Bus Rapid Transit project.

Like the goofy idea of filling in the underpass at Geary and Fillmore, bringing "Geary back to grade" would create a horrendous traffic jam at the Masonic and Geary intersection, a prospect the bike people view with equanimity.

Of course the anti-car Walk SF has to pile on to use a death caused by a reckless pedestrian to score points:

“His death is all the more tragic, given the crash occurred on Geary — long identified as one of the six percent of streets which make up the city’s high-injury corridors and account for over 60 percent of crashes involving pedestrians,” said Natalie Burdick of Walk SF...“The city made a laudable commitment to Vision Zero,” an end to traffic deaths, said Burdick. “However, this latest loss of life is a painful reminder of how far the city currently remains from implementing the engineering solutions critical to reducing the number of serious and fatal injuries, which continue to plague the city.”

Obviously there's no "engineering solution" to prevent this kind of accident, unless Burdick and Streetsblog have an engineering solution to human nature itself. People, whether on foot, on bikes, or in motor vehicles will sometimes do unsafe things.

These people don't seem to understand how dumb they sound when they pretend that every accident on city streets is preventable.


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Multiculturalism, Islam, and child abuse in Britain

Alexis Jay: Those who failed to act should resign

I heard the shocking story on NPR early yesterday morning: "More than 1,400 children suffered sexual abuse in a small English town from 1997 until as recently as last year. The report says local authorities were aware of the problem for years but did nothing."

Host Steven Inskeep asks, "Why? Why would authorities act like that?"

The reporter answers:

The report gives a couple answers to the question. One is that people refuse to believe something this systemic and widespread was happening in a place like Rotherham despite all the evidence that it was. Another answer is that there was a racial element to this. The report says the abusers were of Pakistani descent. And police and politicians---many of whom were white---were afraid of inciting ethnic tensions or being accused of racism if they tried to tackle the problem.

In other words, this was also about Islam and political correctness, not just child abuse. Islam is a religion, not a race. And it's about a goofy "liberal" definition of multiculturalism:

Denis MacShane, the former Labour MP for Rotherham, has admitted that as a “Guardian reading liberal leftie” he shied away from the issue of the oppression of women in the Muslim community. Mr MacShane...admitted he should have “burrowed into” the issue. He told the BBC: "I think there was a culture of not wanting to rock the multicultural community boat if I may put it like that.”

A writer in the Spectator zeros in on the issue:

How could this have happened? A clue is given by the report’s authors, who state that ‘several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist’. ‘I didn’t want to appear racist’ is truly the ‘I was only obeying orders’ of our time...Political correctness was supposed to make us nicer, but in reality it just makes people stupider.

Where have we experienced this kind of stupidity before? Right here in Progressive Land, when City Hall and all right-thinking city progressives denounced Pamela Geller's anti-jihad ads on Muni buses (see this also). Moslem terrorists were apparently considered part of the multicultural society of San Francisco.

Islam doesn't have a good record on the abuse of women and girls. Muhammad himself had a nine-year-old wife.

Recall that Theo Van Gogh was murdered ten years ago on the streets of Amsterdam by a Moslem fanatic after he made a movie about how women are treated under Islam.

The NY Times story yesterday on the British child abuse scandal (Abuse Cases in British City Long Ignored, Report Says).

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ben Kingsley as a good man and a very bad man

Richard Attenborough, who died the other day, produced and directed the epic Gandhi movie, starring the great Ben Kingsley, who won an Academy Award in the title role.



Kingsley also starred in a role that has been called the "anti-Gandhi" in Sexy Beast, in which he plays a very bad man. In the clip below, he's bullying/intimidating other gangsters:



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The Restoring Transportation Balance campaign


A message from Chris Bowman about the restoring transportation balance campaign.

Dear Colleagues:

I want to again thank you for your continued support of Restore Transportation Balance (Yes on L) both as an endorser, volunteer, and donor.

We've just completed a flurry of activity over the past two weeks which has constructed the framework of a successful campaign on the solid foundation that you helped build.

On the 14th, we submitted our proponents' argument which will appear in the Voter's Information Pamphlet. The VIP will be mailed to all 428,000 registered voters of the City starting in late September.

On the 18th, we submitted our rebuttal to our opponents' argument, as well as seven paid arguments---two from the campaign, and five from our coalition partners.

During the same period, David Looman, Claire Zvanski, Jason Clark, Howard Chabner, and I have been going to myriad endorsement meetings to ably represent Proposition L.

As a result we are pleased to report that we recently received the endorsements by the San Francisco Firefighters Local 798, Chinese American Democratic Club, Polk Street Merchants Association, Building Owners and Managers Association of San Francisco (BOMA-SF), Save Muni, and the Westside Chinese Democratic Club...

Jason Clark and his team recently revamped our website to include a Facts and Myths page promoting our vision for the future and countering the attacks and misrepresentations coming from our opponents. Please take a look at our website at restorebalance14.org...

Christopher L. Bowman
Campaign Coordinator
RTB (Yes on L)


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Monday, August 25, 2014

Brits burned Washington 200 years ago


The White House burned in 1814

In yesterday's Washington Post, Joel Achenbach didn't forget "a war that no one remembers." We Americans probably prefer to forget that the White House and the Capitol building were both burned by British forces 200 years ago yesterday during the War of 1812.

The Capitol building was also burned

President Madison's account of that day.

Washington D.C. burned again in 1968 after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Aftermath of the 1968 riots

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Portland Comparison

Something's gone wrong in Portland

After a 17-hour train trip, Jason Henderson finally got to Portland with his bike:

But I'm on vacation, and problems of Amtrak's ugly politics aside, once in Portland it all got beautiful. Cycling around Portland is fantastic. With excellent, well-connected bicycle facilities coupled with attentive and polite drivers, bicycle-oriented innovation and businesses flourish in Portland. I've never seen so many cargo bikes and families with children out shopping, cycling to school, and making other utilitarian trips by bicycle.

But Portland's bike news site, BikePortland.org, tells a story of stagnation and political apathy, with commuting by bike stuck for years at 6%.

Commuting by bike in Portland

And Portland-based blogger and cyclist Randal O'Toole tells a tale of deteriorating streets and an increasingly decrepit streetcar system, which, instead of spending to maintain, Portland is planning to expand, even though ridership on the existing system is stagnating:

Instead of worrying about trivial things like future streetcar maintenance or current street maintenance, city officials dream of building new streetcar lines on 140 miles of city streets. The city’s streetcar plan projects that the first 18 miles will cost $36 million to $41 million per mile (including streetcars)...This emphasis on clunky streetcars is misplaced. For one, it does nothing for transit riders. From 2005 to 2012, the city of Portland saw a remarkable 20 percent increase in jobs, yet the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey reports that transit commuting has remained essentially flat. Of the 50,000 new workers since 2005, more than 18,000 drive to work, 20,000 walk or bicycle, close to 11,000 work at home–and fewer than 100 take transit.

Portland rail tracks

Henderson on local opposition to expanding Portland's streetcar system:

I should also add that Portland does have its own ugly right-wing backlash against bikes and transit. For example, in suburban Clackamas County, dubbed "Clakistan" by some, Tea Party-types voted to stall light rail expansion. But in the city, the bicycle and rail transit are embraced with enthusiasm.

O'Toole writes about that, too:

In all the times it has been on the ballot, Clackamas County has never voted for Portland light rail. But Portland planners were determined to run a light-rail line into the urban heart of the county...Residents, who had previously recalled several city commissioners from office over light rail, didn’t take this sitting down. Instead, a group that calls itself “Clackistanis” put a measure on the ballot directing the county commission to spend no county resources on light rail without voter approval. The commission responded by scheduling a $19 million bond sale to take place a few days before the vote. Rail opponents filed a lawsuit attempting to stop the measure. The county responded by canceling the bond sale just a day before the Oregon Supreme Court issued a restraining order against the sale.

A majority of voters in Clackamas County are Tea Party extremists?

Just like voters in San Francisco, according to Henderson, will qualify for Tea Party membership if they pass Proposition L in November.



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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Jason Henderson takes a vacation


Guess what Jason Henderson did on his vacation? Yes, it had to do with riding his bike.

But before he tells us about that in his latest Guardian piece (Contending with cars, at the polls and on vacation), he unburdens himself about the political situation in San Francisco:

San Francisco's politics of mobility devolved into a cesspit this summer. Beginning with Mayor Ed Lee's retreat on Sunday parking meters, purportedly to garner support for his transportation bond and vehicle license fee proposals, Lee's bait and switch ultimately backfired. Rather than nudge the city's transit finance debate in a sensible, progressive direction, confusion and duplicity by the mayor and some supervisors over parking policy has instead empowered a Tea Party-like faction that's placed a backwards initiative on the November ballot.

Mayor Lee is worried about getting city voters to approve the $500 million bond, which needs a 2/3 vote to pass. Since it apparently isn't polling well, the mayor tried to placate voters by rescinding Sunday parking meters for two years and keeping the raise in the vehicle license fee off the ballot.

Seems to me that the mayor has been straightforward about his concerns. No "duplicity" is evident.

What Henderson calls "a backwards initiative"---Proposition L on the November ballot---was in the works long before the calculations by the mayor Henderson mentions. Some Republicans are prominent supporters of Prop. L, but so are a lot of Democrats like me.

Henderson tries to pin the Tea Party label on those who support that proposition and oppose the city's anti-car, pro-bike movement, but he and the Bay Guardian left are the only thing in San Francisco's close to Tea Party-like political extremists (see this and this).

As I've argued for years, the left-right political labels are not helpful in understanding local politics and issues. The reality seems to be that opposition to the anti-car movement has united many city liberals and conservatives against the anti-car policies pushed by City Hall and the Bicycle Coalition.

On his vacation, Henderson took Amtrak to Portland and rode his bike back to the city:

The trip to Portland takes more than 17 hours on a good day. I'm not necessarily arguing for high-speed rail, but this length of time is a big problem for Amtrak. It's not a technology problem — it's politics. Amtrak is caged by the timetable of freight railways that own the tracks. This often results in delays since the freight railroads have eliminated double tracks and rationalized their routes to maximize profit while having little concern about passenger rail.

That's not "politics"; it's economics. Passenger rail hasn't been profitable in a long time, but freight rail is, which is why Warren Buffett invested in freight rail instead of passenger rail. Amtrak is already subsidized by the federal government with a billion dollars a year. What does Henderson suggest?

Rail is critical infrastructure and key to our national energy and climate policy. It should not be left to the whims of freight haulers and private profit. It's time for the political will to coordinate the right-of-way to improve travel times as well as increase frequency of passenger trains. Six years ago, improving Amtrak was a signature platform of the Obama Administration. But Republicans — many filled with racist vitriol — have fought anything he stands for. And they hate Amtrak almost as much as they hate Obama. During the 2012 presidential campaign, Republicans vowed to gut Amtrak and mocked Obama's pro-Amtrak policies. In Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin, the hate ran so deep that funding for rail was simply sent back to Washington, even as cities in all of those states pined for rail as an economic development strategy.

This is muddled and poorly-informed. Of course Republicans tend to oppose whatever Obama supports, and some of them may be racists. But what Henderson is referring to in Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin is not support for Amtrak or "rail" in general but Obama's high-speed rail program. The governors of those three states are Republicans, which of course made it easy for them to oppose the president's program. One suspects that if a Republican president was proposing the program, they wouldn't have opposed it!

But they weren't necessarily motivated by "hate" or racism or even politics; they understood that by accepting the federal high-speed rail grants their states would be responsible for the inevitable cost overruns in building the systems and then have to pay to operate them after they are built (see Governor Scott's statement on why he rejected the money).

Governor Brown doesn't seem to care about these issues; he seems to think he can find the money somewhere to build his high-speed rail system. He recently hijacked $250 million in cap-and-trade money for the project---a lot of money but not a significant sum for a project that will cost at least $100 billion.

I support President Obama on most issues, but his high-speed rail program is the kind of thing that earns Democrats their tax-and-spend reputation. 

See Megaprojects and Risk, by Flyvbjerg, Bruzelius, and Rothengatter, where the authors study cost overruns on a number of large infrastructure projects all over the world, including rail projects: "There is a massive and highly significant problem with inflated forecasts for rail projects. For two-thirds of the projects, forecasts are overestimated by more than two-thirds" (page 26). This of course is also true of rail projects in the United States:

The US Department of Transportation study of ten rail transit projects calculated viability by cost-effectiveness analysis, which related cost to ridership. As mentioned, cost overruns in the ten projects ranged from -10 to +106 percent, whereas actual ridership was 28 to 85 percent lower than forecast ridership. The result was actual costs per passenger on the average 500 percent higher than forecast costs (ranging from 190 to 870 percent) and, accordingly, an actual project viability much inferior to that projected (page 42).

The issue of inflated ridership projections is one of the many issues raised by critics of the California high-speed rail project (see pages 32-37 here for a more thorough analysis of the ridership issue).

But Henderson doesn't deign to grapple with the thorny details about how much rail projects cost. Instead, those of us supporting Prop. L are haters like the president's opponents: "This kind of zombie-like Republican hate towards Obama and Amtrak is remarkably similar to the posturing of the anti-transit, car-firsters pushing Prop L."

More on Henderson and Portland tomorrow.


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Friday, August 22, 2014

An exchange with the Bay Guardian on the UC study

On Aug 20, 2014 at 5:12 PM, Steve Jones wrote:
You seem to have an exaggerated sense of your importance, Rob. I can assure you that your post had absolutely nothing to do with our decision.

Steven T. Jones
Editor-in-Chief
SF Bay Guardian
835 Market Street, 5th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104

On Aug 20, 2014 at 5:19 PM, Rob Anderson wrote:
Okay. But when is the Guardian going to write about that UC study?

On Aug 21, 2014 at 3:05 PM, Steve Jones wrote:
Should we stop the presses to reveal the results of an obscure study from December 2012 finding that cyclists crash sometimes? It may fit into your persistent thesis that cycling is dangerous, but I don't see anything in this report that would surprise anyone or have any significant public policy ramifications. It says that most cyclist injuries are caused by automobiles (58.5 percent), although cyclist-only collisions were more likely to result in admissions (not surprising given that if you're a cyclist who crashes and then decides to go to the hospital, then you're probably pretty injured, whereas in collisions that involve cars and a police response, cyclists may be persuaded to the go to the hospital even if there's not sure they need it). What are you seeing here that I'm not, Rob?

On Aug 21, 2014 at 3:36 PM, Rob Anderson wrote:
Jesus, Steve, you either haven't read the study or you have a serious reading disorder. The whole point of the study is about the city's method of counting cycling accidents. The city has been relying on police reports and ignoring a lot of cycling accidents---and these are serious injury accidents---treated at SF General Hospital: 1,300 by my count between 2000 and 2009. And the other finding: that those "cyclist-only" accidents are the most under-counted and just as serious as those involving another vehicle.

On Aug 21, 2014 at 4:27 PM, Steve Jones wrote:
Again, what's your point, Rob? If cycling accidents are being undercounted, and you believe pedestrian and automobile injuries are as well, why does that matter? What should people do with this information? People still need to get around in this dangerous world we live in, and the best the city can do is try to make that as safe as possible with infrastructure that helps protect people (such as bulbouts for pedestrians and protected bike lanes for cyclists) and by trying to slow down automobile traffic, which is by far the greatest public safety threat on the roadways and one in which numerous studies show become substantially less dangerous when they slow down.

On Aug 21, 2014 at 5:17 PM, Rob Anderson wrote:
Just for the record and to get a complete copy of the study, you should contact Dr. Dicker, who will send a downloadable copy to you: DickerR@sfghsurg.ucsf.edu. Even my transcription of the study doesn't have all the graphs that make the numbers clear.

If the city is over-relying on police reports and neglecting thousands of accidents treated at SF General---the primary trauma center for the city---we don't know how dangerous and/or safe our streets really are. The city's annual Collisions Report not only provides a count of cycling, pedestrian, and auto accidents, it analyzes those accidents and then lists the most dangerous streets and intersections and how it tries to make them safer.

It can't do that without knowing where the accidents are happening. Anyone who writes about the safety of city streets needs to have that information. On my blog, I've been assuming for years that the Collisions Reports have accurately tallied the accidents and where they happen. But that can no longer be assumed if the city has a such a seriously flawed system of counting and analyzing accidents.

On Aug 21, 2014 at 5:28 PM, Steve Jones wrote:
I'd be happy to look at the study, but I just don't find this as interesting or compelling as you seem to. I doubt that even a 50 percent undercounting of bike accidents, which is what the report found, would significantly alter street design or enforcement.

On, Aug 21, 2014 at 5:36 PM, Rob Anderson wrote:
How can you not be interested in a better understanding of how safe/unsafe our streets are? The MTA can't even make its "improvements" to our streets without accurate information on where and why accidents happen.

Of course I think riding a bike is a lot more dangerous than you folks and the Bicycle Coalition have been assuming, and, as the study found, solo falls by cyclists are the most under-counted type of accident, which aren't necessarily prevented by improvements to the infrastructure.

On Aug 21, 2014 at 5:52 PM, Steve Jones wrote:
Most bike accidents involve a car, as the study found. And infrastructure (particularly potholes and pavement quality) does indeed have a big impact on solo crashes. It's not like cyclists are just crashing for no reason, Rob. So I see no reason to believe that better bike infrastructure won't help with safety, particularly with such huge crowds of cyclists during rush hours these days. Rob, people have been riding bikes for centuries, and they are a clean and efficient mode of transportation that is growing popularity by all accounts, even if cyclists are definitely exposed to danger and sometimes crash. Sure, better reporting of cyclists accidents might help the city identify dangerous streets a little better than they do now, but this report is never, ever going to support your unrealistic and extreme position that cycling is an inherently dangerous activity that the city shouldn't support. That's not what its conclusion says and there's no way this report is ever going to convince me that you the city should agree with your fanaticism and stop trying to make cycling safer in San Francisco.

On Aug 21, 2014 at 9:15 PM, Rob Anderson wrote:
Okay, Steve. But I still have the impression that you haven't read this study and don't really understand its implications. You seem to think that you already know enough, that doing any more reading and thinking is unnecessary. You don't seem to know what you don't know, not a good position for an editor to be in. It's not a matter of agreeing with me about anything. It's about coming to grips with this specific document and what it means for the overall safety of city streets (Please email Dr. Dicker to get a copy of the study.)

The study does in fact support my view a lot better than it does yours, since it found that both the number and the severity of cycling accidents in San Francisco have been significantly under-counted for more than ten years.


Of course the document doesn't conclude that riding a bike is "inherently dangerous," but that's the implication of its findings after comparing records at SF General with the police reports. Hard to conclude anything other than that cycling is more dangerous than you, the Bicycle Coalition, and City Hall have been saying if between 2000 and 2009 there were more than 1,300 cycling injury accidents that we didn't know about before this study.


The first I heard of this study was in a NY Times story last October about how people in emergency rooms were shocked about the number and severity of cycling accidents. They wanted to learn more about that, which is why they made the study we're talking about.


And there's another study that says the city has been making the same mistake in counting pedestrian accidents.


But, dude, I know you are busy. I don't want to crowd your mind with a lot of bothersome details about the safety or lack thereof of our streets as you're getting ready to go to Burning Man.


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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Rich techies take over Burning Man









From today's NY Times (A Line is Drawn in the Desert):

...“Anyone who has been going to Burning Man for the last five years is now seeing things on a level of expense or flash that didn’t exist before,” said Brian Doherty, author of the book This Is Burning Man. “It does have this feeling that, ‘Oh, look, the rich people have moved into my neighborhood.’ It’s gentrifying.”

For those with even more money to squander, there are camps that come with “Sherpas,” who are essentially paid help.

Tyler Hanson, who started going to Burning Man in 1995, decided a couple of years ago to try working as a paid Sherpa at one of these luxury camps. He described the experience this way: Lavish R.V.s are driven in and connected together to create a private forted area, ensuring that no outsiders can get in. The rich are flown in on private planes, then picked up at the Burning Man airport, driven to their camp and served like kings and queens for a week. (Their meals are prepared by teams of chefs, which can include sushi, lobster boils and steak tartare---yes, in the middle of 110-degree heat.)

“Your food, your drugs, your costumes are all handled for you, so all you have to do is show up,” Mr. Hanson said. “In the camp where I was working, there were about 30 Sherpas for 12 attendees”...

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Becoming Elizabeth Warren


In The Washington SpectatorMyra MacPherson reviews Warren's book:

It is hard to remain dry-eyed reading Elizabeth Warren’s description of the pivotal moment that she considers the day she grew up. She was 12, watching her mother rubbing tissue over a tear-drenched face, then stuffing herself into the only good dress she had, struggling to get the dress “across her belly, and pulled down over her hips.” As she tugged and pulled to close the zipper, “tears dropped off her chin and onto the floor.”

She asked her daughter, “How do I look? Is the dress too tight?” Elizabeth looked at a dress ready to burst, the ripples and rolls gathering the material. “You look great,” she said. “Really.”

Her mother was off to save the family’s small house. After a heart attack, Elizabeth’s father had lost his job selling carpets at Sears, Roebuck and the family car had already been repossessed. That day, Elizabeth’s mother applied for and got a minimum-wage job answering phones at Sears, Roebuck.

“That was the moment I crossed the threshold,” Warren wrote. “I wasn’t a little girl anymore”...

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Who is really "standing up for the injured" on city streets?

Bay Area Global Health Film Festival

As of last night, the Bay Guardian has stopped accepting comments to its politics blog:

There’s a tipping point between constructive criticism and destructive disparagement, and when the latter category is layered with an onslaught of spam from spellcasters, solicitors, and scammers---well, those scales have now tipped for us at the Bay Guardian. We’ve decided to indefinitely suspend comments on SFBG.com.

That's a problem I also have, though the ugly, anonymous comments I get are usually from supporters of the city's bike movement. All the Guardian has to do is monitor the comments and delete the spam and the ugly stuff, which, in my experience, is always anonymous. 

My substantive, not anonymous, comment to a subject that's supposedly of interest to the folks who wrote the article I was commenting on, was dumped with the rest. 

My message this morning to Steve Jones, the editor of the Guardian:

Steve:

Funny but your decision to shut down comments was made shortly after I posted a comment that linked both the abstract and the full text of that UC study you and the rest of the city's media have been trying to ignore. Just a coincidence, right? 

My comment was made to an article by representatives of UC Medical Center and SF General about "how all-too-common accidents can permanently injure pedestrians and bicyclists."

That study by their colleagues shows that the city has been radically under-counting cycling accidents by ignoring a lot of those injury accidents treated at SF General Hospital, the city's primary trauma center. The study shows that riding a bike in San Francisco is a lot more dangerous than the Guardian and the Bicycle Coalition have been telling us---and that "cyclist-only" accidents that don't involve cars are the most under-reported and just as serious as "auto-versus-bicycle" accidents.

"But the anonymity that Guardian commenters enjoy on our current website has poisoned the well and rendered this forum a poor place for respectful public debate." 

Like all my comments, my comment was not made anonymously, by the way. Why not just ban anonymous comments?

Regards,
Rob Anderson


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Islamic fascists behead American



Muhammad Karim, one of the soldiers, said that when they arrived at the first abandoned militant checkpoint, they discovered a woman, naked and bound, who had been repeatedly raped. Farther into the neighborhood, the Iraqi forces discovered another woman in the same state...Stories of women kidnapped by the militants have filtered through various minority communities, but Mr. Karim’s firsthand account, corroborated by colleagues interviewed separately, seemed to confirm the troubling rumors.

President Obama should accept the challenge by increasing the air attacks on ISIS whenever that can be done without civilian casualties. Bring on the drones!

Since the executioner had a British accent, Brits are now talking about how they are allowing the export of Jihadists.



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Monday, August 18, 2014

Streetsblog's latest anti-car propaganda

Tom Radulovich

The anti-car bike movement in San Francisco has the Bicycle Coalition to lobby City Hall on its behalf, and it has Streetsblog to provide a daily account of the traffic war it claims is happening on American streets: those wicked motor vehicles are methodically mowing down cyclists and pedestrians. Streetsblog provides a daily account that one might expect to see in The Onion when it links stories of every accident in the Bay Area where someone is hit by a motor vehicle, regardless of who was at fault (See Streetsblog's body count in the traffic war).

Like the Bicycle Coalition, Streetsblog often has a sketchy relationship with reality and the facts as it pursues its anti-car agenda, as I pointed out earlier this year.

Like the Valencia Street Lie, Streetsblog's latest falsehood (Car-Free Households Are Booming in San Franciscohas gone national, since it was picked up today by Planetizen.

A succinct account of the issue on Streetsblog:

According to the American Communities Survey Census data, 30.7 percent of SF households were car-free in the average of data collected between 2010 and 2012. That’s up from 29.8 percent in 2009, and 28.6 in 2000. (Note: The 2013 SFMTA Transportation Fact Sheet incorrectly cited the latest stat as 21 percent.)

I get a result from the ACS website that confirms the Transportation Fact Sheet: only 21% of city households are car-free. Enter "Means of Transportation to work by vehicles available" in "advanced search" and it takes you to the table for San Francisco, where you are told that there are 445,739 households in SF and 95,154 of those have no vehicle available.

Streetsblog links to a different table that shows that there are only 376,653 households in the city, which of course gives them the 30.7% car-free percentage they prefer. Hence, the issue here is how ACS counts households. I have to admit that Streetsblog is right if the lower household number is correct.

But they couldn't leave it alone, adding this:

The stats show that car ownership is declining[in SF] almost as fast as the population is growing. The data don’t distinguish which specific housing units have cars, so this doesn’t necessarily mean that the residents of all the new condo buildings going up are car-free. But the broader effect is reverberating throughout the city — whether car-free residents are moving in where car-owning residents previously lived, or residents are selling their cars.

This is pure anti-car ideology, since, as a commenter to the article pointed out, motor vehicle registration is in fact increasing in the city: as of December, 2012, there were 463,923 in San Francisco, but as of December, 2013, there were 477,314 motor vehicles registered in the city (You have to subtract the trailers).

I've been tracking the DMV's numbers for more than ten years, and they show a steady rise in motor vehicles registered in San Francisco. In 2000 there were 451,879 in SF and now there are 477,314, which is the opposite of "car ownership is declining."

That means that Streetsblog's source has to denigrate the accuracy of the DMV numbers in a comment, though as "cwalkster" points out, it's unlikely that many vehicle owners fail to keep their registration up-to-date, unlike the ACS numbers, which are estimates.

Streetsblog also relies on a source that shares their anti-car ideology, Tom Radulovich, whose Livable City shares an office with another anti-car group, Walk SF.

Apparently not all local realtors got the no-parking space memo:

It probably comes as no surprise that the vast majority of San Francisco home sales include at least one on-site parking space in the sale. It also probably comes as no surprise that 80% – 90% of buyers include parking on their must-have list when home-searching. That’s not to say that a home without parking can’t sell at a good price. It does mean that on average it will take somewhat longer to sell, and is likely looking at a lesser price sales price than a comparable home with parking.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Our not-so-mysterious universe




“For me … it’s part of a larger question, which is ‘Why are things the way they are?’ That’s what we scientists try to find out, in terms of deep laws. We don’t yet have what I call a final theory. When we do, it might shed some light on the question of why there is anything at all. The laws of nature might dictate that there has to be something. For example, those laws might not allow for empty space as a stable state. But that wouldn’t take away the wonder. You’d still have to ask, ‘Why are the laws that way, rather than some other way?’ I think we’re permanently doomed to that sense of mystery. And I don’t think belief in God helps. I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it. If by ‘God’ you have something definite in mind---a being that is loving, or jealous or whatever---then you’re faced with the question of why God’s that way and not another way. And if you don’t have anything very definite in mind when you talk about ‘God’ being behind the existence of the universe, then why even use the word? So I think religion doesn’t help. It’s part of the human tragedy: we’re faced with a mystery we can’t understand,”---physicist Steven Weinberg, responding to the eponymous question of Jim Holt’s Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story.

Rob's comment:

Andrew Sullivan's blog is essential reading for me, except on Sunday, when he always has a lot of religious guff. The above foolishness---Sullivan's Quote for the Day---by a smart guy goes in my When Smart People Are Dumb file.

If by ‘God’ you have something definite in mind---a being that is loving, or jealous or whatever---then you’re faced with the question of why God’s that way and not another way.

Watch the Christopher Hitchens video above, and it's obvious why he thinks God is "that way"---or any other way: it was obviously invented by humans thousands of years ago---with the Old Testament God of the Bible invented around 800 BC---to provide humans with an explanation for things they couldn't understand.

The Moslem god, according to Islamic scripture, is apparently "another way"---a god who approves of killing Jews and others who reject Islam. 

Creating god/gods is also a clear instance of a rather pathetic wishful thinking---that human life is the creation of a morally engaged supreme being very much interested in human history---even the behavior of individual humans. And, crucially, that there's some kind of afterlife when a moral reckoning takes place based on how we live this life. 

The reality that there's nothing after this life, that we are dead forever, is a tough one for most people to accept. "Life's a bitch, and then you die," as the bumper sticker has it. But it's a bigger bitch for a lot of people than it has to be, which is why I'm a liberal, more or less. We need to forget about an afterlife and instead make this life better for everyone.

Weinberg claims that this is "part of the human tragedy: we’re faced with a mystery we can’t understand.” No, there's no mystery. All you have to understand is human nature and our powerful motivation to believe what we want to believe: in a meaningful universe in which we have a special place. 

Our species started out with many gods, and now we're mostly down to one. See the pattern there?

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Sam Harris: Making sense of Gaza

The difference between Muslims and Westerners?

Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan debate Gaza:

Andrew Sullivan:...It seems as if when you criticize Israel, every Jewish American takes it personally. That, I think, makes debate about this very tough. Do you not think that your being a Jew affects the way you talk about this thing? I mean, you seem more emotional about this than many other subjects I’ve talked to you about.

Sam Harris: No, I really don’t. I get emotional trying to keep words like “genocide” from losing their meanings. But I think my being Jewish is irrelevant. I’ve told you that if the Jews decided to assimilate perfectly and cease to be Jews, I would celebrate this decision. And this is how I live my own life. I’m Jewish only in the sense that when it came time to have children, I needed to get screened for the Tay-Sachs gene.

Sullivan: So you feel the same way about Israel as you would feel about Pakistan or England?

Harris: Well, I’m still a Jew in the sense that I know a good pastrami sandwich when I see one. So I’m acculturated in a way that I’m not with respect to Pakistan. But do I harbor any sympathy for the religious project of Judaism? Not at all. Nor do I have any nostalgia for an ancestral homeland in the Middle East. In fact, when I walk the streets of Jerusalem and feel a romantic thrill for antiquity, it’s the Christian thrill that I feel: I think about Jesus having walked those streets. So, I’m not the Jew you’re looking for. The truth is that I just want to live in a sane, global, civil society where religion no longer divides human beings from one another. It is time we recognized that we are all members of the same sect: humanity.

However, there is another thing I do get emotional about—and that’s the threat of Islam, especially when it is systematically obfuscated by my fellow liberals who should know better.

If you want to get to the core of my response, emotionally, here is the kind of thing that drives me absolutely nuts: If a Jewish artist in New York covered a copy of the Koran in pig blood, and the act were well publicized, half the Muslims on earth would take to the streets. But when a group like ISIS starts crucifying noncombatants, or attempts to starve 40,000 men, women, and children to death on the side of a mountain, there are no significant protests at all. This psychopathic skewing of priorities extends not only to the “Arab street” and its lynch mobs; it extends to the talking heads on CNN. Spokesmen for a group like CAIR, devious blowhards like Reza Aslan, and liberal apologists like Glenn Greenwald would also attack the artist—and, if he got butchered by a jihadist on Park Avenue, they would say that although such violence had nothing at all to do with the noble of faith of Islam, the poor bastard surely got what was coming to him. He was too provocative; he should have had more “religious sensitivity.” And yet these people say scarcely a word about the mass murders of Muslims, by Muslims, committed on a daily basis in a score of countries.

Of course, some Muslims do denounce terrorism or groups like ISIS, but they almost always do this in a dishonest and self-serving way. They will say that these people “do not represent Islam.” But this is just obscurantism. When not actually lying and seeking to implement their own sinister agenda—here I’m thinking of a group like CAIR—they are just expressing their fear of being associated with such sickening behavior. Most Muslims don’t want their faith tarnished. They don’t want any hassles from the TSA[Transportation Security Administration]. They don’t want to be stigmatized.

All of this is perfectly understandable but perfectly wrongheaded, given the reality of what is going on in the world. The scandal here is that so few Muslims are speaking honestly about problematic doctrines within their faith. The few who are—such as Asra Nomani, Irshad Manji, and Maajid Nawaz—are heroes. The crucial difference is that they admit that the doctrines related to martyrdom, jihad, blasphemy, apostasy, the rights of women, etc. really are at the bottom of all the intolerance and violence we see in the House of Islam. And, needless to say, these brave people are regularly denounced and threatened by their fellow Muslims.

Everything we needed to know about the masochism and moral blindness of the Left, we should have learned during the Salman Rushdie affair. There we saw the whole problem in miniature—the infantile rage of religious maniacs concerned about their so-called “dignity” side-by-side with the complacency, sanctimony, hypocrisy, and cowardice of their liberal apologists. And it’s this same schema that is shaping world opinion about the war between Israel and the Palestinians. If you detect any emotional charge in me, that’s where it’s coming from...

...The final point I’ll make is to remind people of who those neighbors[of Israel] are: Hamas is a death cult—as are ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabab, the Taliban, Boko Haram, Hezbollah and every other jihadist organization we could name. Despite their differences, they are in fact the same death cult. And in case our readers imagine that jihadists don’t have global aspirations, they should pay attention to what they say among themselves (read, for instance, The Management of Savagery). It’s in this sense that I claimed in my blog post that we’re all living in Israel—an assertion you found ridiculous. 

This death cult is springing up everywhere: It’s more or less ubiquitous in the Muslim world, obviously, but it’s also in Boston, with the Tsarnaev brothers who woke up one morning and decided that the best use of their short time on earth was to bomb the Boston Marathon. The fact that they didn’t have a formal link to any established terrorist organization is irrelevant. It’s the ideas of martyrdom and jihad that are the problem. These ideas have entranced millions of people, and they are spreading...

Andrew Sullivan's blog is The Dish.

Patrick Cockburn is good on ISIS.

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