Monday, May 25, 2015

Leah Garchik breaks from the pack on Islam

I was surprised to see the hed on Leah Garchik's Datebook column this morning: "Hirsi Ali sees Islam as religion of violence." This is the first crack in the monolithic Chronicle approach to Islamist violence, which is supposedly only about a few bad apples in that great religious tradition.

Garchik is quoting Hirsi Ali and not presenting her own opinions, but one suspects that she agrees. This is a first for the Chronicle, which has long been wrong about Islam and terrorism, like on the Danish Muhammad cartoon riots, when it editorialized that "The caricatures of Muhammad that have ignited an international furor are offensive and recklessly off base in portraying the prophet as a terrorist." 

Maybe Muhammad wouldn't qualify as a terrorist by present-day standards, but he was a military leader who spread his new religion using military force, which seems like the same thing to me. Of course the Chronicle didn't publish any of the cartoons, but neither did the city's toothless "alternative" media. (I'm the only one to publish the cartoons.)

Garchik's colleague C.W. Nevius got it wrong during the ridiculous controversy about the anti-Jihad ads on Muni buses a few years ago. And Jon Carroll gets honorable mention, as does the editorial department again, and then there's stupidity disguised as news stories, etc.

If there had been a widespread anti-Islam backlash in the US against Moslems after 9/11, this stupidity and spinelessness might be understandable, but that's clearly not the case.

Hirsi Ali revealed the widespread lack of principle among liberals/progressives last year in her interview with Sam Harris (Lifting the Veil of “Islamophobia”). Driven out of Europe and hoping to find safety in a supposedly liberal United States, Ali was shunned by this country's liberal foundations and organizations. She was ultimately taken in by the conservative American Enterprise Institute!

So I approached Cynthia[Schneider], and she took me to the Brookings Institute, and to Rand, and to Johns Hopkins, and to Georgetown—she took me to all these institutions, and there was no interest. They didn’t say it to my face, but I got the feeling that they were uncomfortable with what I had been saying about Islam.

Then, on the last day, just before I left the country, Cynthia suggested that we try the AEI. And I said something like “I can’t believe you’d take me there. It’s supposed to be a right-wing organization.” And she said, “Oh, come on. You Dutch people are too prejudiced against the U.S. Things here are really very different than you think. I was a Clinton appointee, and one of my best friends—one of Clinton’s best friends—Norm Ornstein, is there. So it’s not what you think it is. And it’s definitely not religious.”

So we went to the AEI, and I met with Norm Ornstein and a woman named Colleen Baughman, and they were so enthusiastic. They immediately introduced me to their president, who suggested that we talk again in a month. And we just kept talking. I spoke about my work; they told me about what they do. And I didn’t hear back from any of the other institutions that I had solicited...

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Blind into Baghdad

James Fallows on the origins of the US invasion of Iraq:

...I was in Washington on the morning of September 11, 2001. When the telephones started working again that afternoon, I called my children and parents, and my then-editors at The Atlantic, Michael Kelly and Cullen Murphy. After that, the very next call I made was to a friend who was working inside the Pentagon when it was hit, and had already been mobilized into a team planning the U.S. strategic response. “We don’t know exactly where the attack came from,” he told me that afternoon. “But I can tell you where the response will be: in Iraq.” I wrote about this in The Atlantic not long afterwards, and later in my book. My friend was being honest in expressing his own preferences: He viewed Saddam Hussein as the basic source of instability in the region. But he made clear that even if he personally had felt otherwise, Iraq was where things were already headed.

Four days after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush held a meeting of his advisors at Camp David. Soon after that meeting, rumors emerged of what is by now settled historical fact: that Paul Wolfowitz, with the apparent backing of Donald Rumsfeld, spoke strongly for invading Iraq along with, or instead of, fighting in Afghanistan. (For an academic paper involving the meeting, see this.) The principals voted against moving into Iraq immediately. But from that point on it was a matter of how and when the Iraq front would open up, not whether.

Anyone who was paying attention to military or political trends knew for certain by the end of 2001 that the administration and the military were gearing up to invade Iraq. If you want a timeline, again I refer you to my book—or to this review of Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack, which describes Bush’s meetings with General Tommy Franks in December, 2001, to draw up invasion plans. By late 2001 forces, weapons, and emphasis were already being diverted from Afghanistan in preparation for the Iraq war, even though there had not yet been any national “debate” over launching that war.

Want some proof that we, at The Atlantic, took seriously the fact that the Iraq decision had already been made? By late February, 2002, our editors were basing our coverage plans on the certainty of the coming war. That month I started doing interviews for the article that ran in the November, 2002, issue of the print magazine but which we actually put online in August. It was called “The Fifty-First State” and its premise was: The U.S. is going to war, it will “win” in the short term, but God knows what it will then unleash.

All this was a year before the invasion, seven months before Condoleezza Rice’s scare interview (“We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud”), also seven months before Rumsfeld’s “trained ape” quote (“There's no debate in the world as to whether they have these weapons. We all know that. A trained ape knows that”), and six months before Dick Cheney’s big VFW scare speech (“Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction”). It was long before the United States supposedly “decided” to go to war.

In the late summer of 2002, the public began hearing about the mounting WMD menace as the reason we had to invade Iraq. But that was not the reason. Plans for the invasion had already been underway for months. The war was already coming; the “reason” for war just had to catch up...


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Sam Harris: Final thoughts on Chomsky

Sam Harris

...I tried to have a civil conversation on an important topic with a very influential thinker, and I failed. I published the result because I thought the failure was instructive—the whole purpose was to extract something of value from what seemed like a truly pointless exercise.

But that’s not the lesson many readers took away from it. Many of you seem to think that the conversation failed because I arrogantly challenged Chomsky to a debate—probably because I was trying to steal some measure of his fame—and that I immediately found myself out of my depth. And when he devastated me with the evidence of my own intellectual conduct, my ignorance of history, and my blind faith in the goodness of the U.S. government, I complained about his being “mean” to me, and I ran away. Well, I must say I find this view of the situation genuinely flabbergasting. 

Many of you seem to forget that I published the exchange—you must think I’m a total masochist, or just delusional. Now, I know that some of you think the latter...Anyone who thinks I’ve lost a debate here just doesn’t understand what I was trying to do or why, seeing that my attempt at dialogue was a total failure, I bailed out. I really was trying to have a productive conversation with Chomsky, and I encountered little more than contempt, false accusations, and highly moralizing language—accusing me of apologizing for atrocities—and weird evasions and silly tricks. It was a horror show.

I concede that I made a few missteps: I should have dealt with Chomsky’s charges that I misrepresented him immediately and very directly. They are, in fact, tissue-thin. I did not misrepresent his views at all. I simply said that he had not thought about certain questions when I should have said he had thought about them badly. 

Those of you who have written to tell me that what I did to Chomsky is analogous to what has been done to me by people who actually lie about my views are just not interacting honestly with what happened here: I did not misrepresent Chomsky’s position on anything. And, insults aside, he was doing everything in his power to derail the conversation. The amazing thing is that highly moralizing accusations work for people who think they’re watching a debate. They convince most of the audience that where there’s smoke there must be fire. For instance, when Ben Affleck called me and Bill Maher “racist,” that was all he had to do to convince 50% of the audience. I’m sorry to say that it was the same with Chomsky.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard from who think that he showed how ludicrous and unethical my concern about intentions was, for instance—he’s dealing in the “real world,” but all my talk about intentions was just a bizarre and useless bit of philosophizing. But think about that for a second: our legal system depends upon weighing intentions in precisely the way I describe. How else do we differentiate between premeditated murders, crimes of passion, manslaughter, criminal negligence, and terrible accidents for which no one is to blame?...

Chomsky seems to think that he has made a great moral discovery in this area and that not intending a harm can sometimes be morally worse than intending one. Now I’m pretty sure that I disagree, but I would have loved to discuss it. I wasn’t debating him about anything, I was trying to figure out what the man actually believes. It’s still not clear to me, because he appeared to be contradicting himself in our exchange. But in response to my questions and the thought experiments I was marshaling in an attempt to get to first principles, all I got back were insults.

But worse, many people seem to think that these insults were a sign of the man’s moral seriousness. Many seem to think that belligerence and an unwillingness to have a civil dialogue is a virtue in any encounter like this, and that simply vilifying one’s opponent as a moral monster, by merely declaring him to be one, is a clever thing to do.

Now, despite what every Chomsky fan seems to think, there was nowhere in that exchange where I signaled my unwillingness to acknowledge or to discuss specific crimes for which the U.S. government might be responsible. The United States, and the West generally, has a history of colonialism, slavery, collusion with dictators, and of imposing its will on people all over the world. I have never denied this. But I’m now hearing from people who say things like, “Well, of course ISIS and al-Qaeda are terrible, but we’re just as bad, worse even, because we created them—literally. And through our selfishness and ineptitude, we created millions of other victims who sympathize with them for obvious reasons. We are, in every morally relevant sense, getting exactly what we deserve.”

This kind of masochism and misreading of both ourselves and of our enemies has become a kind of religious precept on the Left. I don’t think an inability to distinguish George Bush or Bill Clinton from Saddam Hussein or Hitler is philosophically or politically interesting, much less wise. And many people, most even, who are this morally confused consider Chomsky their patriarch, and I suspect that’s not an accident. But I wanted to talk to him to see if there was some way to build a bridge off of this island of masochism so that these sorts of people, who I’ve been hearing from for years, could cross over to something more reasonable. And it didn’t work out. The conversation, as I said, was a total failure. But I thought it was an instructive one...

Harris responds to critics here and here.

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Steve Glazer, Democrats, the BART strike, high-speed rail

From today's letters to the editor in the Chronicle:

Steve Glazer's win

I read "Glazer records easy victory in state Senate race" (May 20). In regards to what Josh Pulliam said "Everything we see tonight is a victory for the Republican Party. Republican voters turned out, and they voted for Glazer."

I'm a Democrat and I voted for Steve Glazer. He inspired me and leads me to believe he was the correct choice to be my representative in the state senate. I was very turned off by the BART strike and the harm it caused innocent people that were trying to get to work and earn a decent living.

It seemed that the BART unions and workers didn't care how their striking affected the people that use the system and are ultimately providing money for their salaries and benefits. I believe that our local transit workers should not be able to strike and cause the disruption they did. And Steve Glazer believes the same thing. Unfortunately, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla doesn't. Labor unions are very strong and Glazer was willing to buck them and Bonilla wasn't.

Al Salazar

Rob's comment:

Glazer is my kind of Democrat, too, since he opposed both the BART strike and the high-speed rail boondoggle. A Chronicle story a few days ago mentions high-speed rail but not his opposition to the BART strike, which is why the opposing campaign included $2 million from labor unions. Randy Shaw at Beyond Chron does some hand-wringing about the system that makes the top two vote getters in the primary face each other instead of the winner of the opposing party. Shaw's concerns would worry me too if I thought "labor" could be counted on to represent sensible policy ideas, but they can't on either the destructive BART strike or high-speed rail. All the unions seem to care about: jobs for their membership.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

A "plot against trains"?

The Little Engine That Could

The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik is a good representative of the liberal mindset on trains (The Plot Against Trains). He sees the country's failure to invest in railroad projects as part of the failure to invest in maintaining the country's roads, bridges, and tunnels:

The horrific Amtrak derailment outside Philadelphia this week set off some predictable uncertainty about what exactly had happened...and an even more vibrant set of arguments about the failure of Americans to build any longer for the common good.

("Vibrant" arguments?) Gopnik is a good literary critic---see his recent essay on Anthony Trollope, for example---but his take on high-speed rail four years ago was so bad it prompted me to create a new label for posts: When Smart People Are Dumb.

The issue seems to be personal for Gopnik, who presumably rides Amtrak, which apparently is mocked back East:

This week’s tragedy also, perhaps, put a stop for a moment to the license for mocking those who use the train—mocking Amtrak’s northeast “corridor” was a standard subject not just for satire, which everyone deserves, but also for sneering, which no one does. For the prejudice against trains is not a prejudice against an élite but against a commonality.

I must have missed all that anti-northeast corridor satire. Actually, those are the only Amtrak lines that make money, since they operate in the most densely populated part of the country. And surely some people really do deserve a sneer, as do some projects, like the dumb California high-speed rail project that is supported by liberal elites and of course the unions, which like any and all projects that create jobs for their members, even dumb projects.

Gopnik's last paragraph reads like he's working on a new edition of The Little Engine That Could:

Trains take us places together. (You can read good books on them, too.) Every time you ride one, you look outside, and you look inside, and you can’t help but think about the private and the public in a new way. As Judt wrote, the railroad represents neither the fearsome state nor the free individual. A train is a small society, headed somewhere more or less on time, more or less together, more or less sharing the same window, with a common view and a singular destination.

More or less! Are bad books banned on Gopnik's train?

This puffery is like the recent and silly Why can't America have great trains? article in the National Journal. Randal O'Toole answered that question: Because passenger rail systems are too expensive, and Americans will only ride highly-subsidized trains where ticket prices don't cover operating expenses. That's why Warren Buffett invested in freight rail, not passenger rail. And that's why the country got in the rail business in the first place with Amtrak after private passenger rail went belly-up.  

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev deserves to die

Mike Barnicle in The Daily Beast (Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: A Death Deserved):

...In March 2003, when Tsarnaev was 9 years old, the United States invaded Iraq. The “cakewalk’ quickly turned into a calamity. Then the calamity turned into a cauldron of Sunni versus Shia...and soon the ethnic and religious hatred within Iraq grew so quickly, was so deep, so intense, that it thrives today. Yesterday, Ramadi fell to ISIS.

And somewhere along the line this Tsarnaev and his brother made the decision to become holy warriors, killers on a mission, claiming they did what they did on Marathon Day in Boston because they were fueled by anger over America’s disrespect of Muslims in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last week, a federal court jury took the breath out of many when it sentenced Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 21 now, to death by lethal injection. The verdict seemed to surprise a lot of people because Massachusetts has a national image and reputation of being more liberal than most states, with polls constantly showing the death penalty not favored by a majority.

But juries are made up of human beings, and this jury came to work each day bearing the burden of knowing they held the life of another in their hands. Their work, their verdict, is a tribute to a judicial system that at its best still stands as a glowing symbol to the world. Tsarnaev got more of a chance than he gave any of his victims.

“It was an incredibly emotional experience,” one of the jurors said the other day over the phone. “We sat and listened to all the evidence. And we sat and looked at him every day and his expression rarely changed.

“The evidence was overwhelming. But I believe the video the government showed us of him placing his pressure cooker directly behind Martin Richard told us, told me at least, that he simply did not care who he killed.”

Martin Richard was 8 years old and perhaps 8 feet in front of Tsarnaev when Tsarnaev placed his backpack on the sidewalk directly behind the boy. He knew where he was, knew who was around him, left it there anyway. His twisted mind’s target of opportunity? A child, his parents, and his sister.

“My conscience is clear,” the juror said. “And I don’t know that he has one...

Martin Richard

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Getting help: A post for cat people

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The Travel Decision Survey 2014

A comment from a reader:

The SFMTA has now posted their mode share market research study as well. Even less biking than previously thought.

Okay, but this study (Travel Decisions Survey 2014) is from a poll that also interviews people from around the Bay Area about how they get to the city. (The same company did the 2011 Mode Share Survey that polled just city residents and found that 3.4% of all trips in the city are by bicycle.)

Hence, the 2% bicycle number includes not only city residents but also how people in the Bay Area get to San Francisco and get around the city when they get here. Since few people ride bikes to get to San Francisco, that percentage is bound to be low. And presumably few people drive to the city and then rent a bicycle to get around. On page 8 we learn that "Data combined by assuming that among trips taken in San Francisco: 76% are trips by San Francisco residents and 24% are trips by residents of other Bay Area counties."

The MTA had the same poll done last year with essentially the same results. Maybe they hope that if they keep doing it the results will be different. We know that the city is unhappy with the 3.4% share of trips by bike and would like to see it a lot higher to justify redesigning our streets for that small minority.

The survey's purpose, page 3:

The primary goals of this study were to:  Assess percent mode share for travel in San Francisco for evaluation of the SFMTA Strategic Objective 2.3: Mode Share target of 50% non-private auto travel by FY2018... Evaluate the above statement based on the following parameters: number of trips to, from, and within San Francisco by Bay Area residents.

That is, the city wants to know how well its anti-car policies are working, and it doesn't seem to making much progress.

Note on page 9 that "Females" represent only 1% of those polled that travel by bicycle, while the testerone-fueled "Males" are 3%, that darned gender gap that frustrates the Bicycle Coalition. Note too on page 16 that 96% of those polled in S.F. have never tried Bike Share.

The study makes it clear "that trips by visitors[tourists] to the Bay Area and for commercial purposes are not included," since the city knows that most tourists---16.9 million in 2013---drive to the city in their own cars or fly in and rent a car after they get here.

Not include people driving into the city for "commercial purposes"? Most of the people who are "driving alone" and "car-pooling" are going to work, but apparently that doesn't qualify as a commercial purpose. Ditto for all delivery trips, even though all our goods are delivered by trucks.

Most people traveling to and around San Francisco still rely on those wicked motor vehicles and, in San Francisco, public transportation, not bicycles.

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Awful final scene of Mad Men

I hadn't watched many episodes of Mad Men before last night's finale, which seemed more or less okay until Don's final scene (starting at 1:34 above) that seemed like it was written by someone on the East coast who's never been to California, much like Woody Allen's jokes about LA in Annie Hall. 

When Don got up in the group session and started to move toward the sniveling guy in the blue sweater, I shouted at the TV, "Don't do it, Don!" Alas, Don did it; he gave the guy a hug.

It was all downhill from there, with Don in a group meditation at an Esalen-like retreat chanting "om" in the classic lotus position, which is difficult for beginners (The scene would have been more authentic if it had featured a more fashionable type of meditation practice). The scene suggests that some time has passed and that Don has achieved some kind of realization, which is really just a New Age version of deux ex machina, a contrived, unconvincing resolution of Don's story.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The bicycle Count report: A closer look

The decline in the number of cyclists counted in this year's report was seen at locations around the city, which is shown by page seven's "Count Comparison Map." Comparing this year and last year at the same locations, 22 of 47 locations showed a decrease. 25 locations also showed increases, but the numbers were only high enough to achieve a measly 1% increase in the total number of cyclists counted from last year.

When you turn to the "multi-modal" findings---for the first time, the city counted other vehicles and pedestrians---the report shows once again how relatively insignificant cycling is in the city's overall transportation system. 

The report puts motor vehicles in 8 different categories:

The video data collection technology enabled the classification of 8 vehicle categories: private vehicles, motorcycles, taxis, Muni buses, Muni trains, private shuttles, delivery buses, and school buses. These counts enable the quantification of vehicle mode share, defined as the proportion of each of these 8 vehicle classes traveling through each location...(page 8)

Having separate counts for different types of motor vehicles may be information useful to the MTA, but it seems arbitrary to call some motor vehicles "private vehicles," while others are called "official taxis," "private shuttles," "delivery freight," etc. Since these are all motor vehicles on the streets during the count, those distinctions seem irrelevant if you're trying to gauge traffic overall. And those different "vehicle" categories tend to dilute the count of motor vehicle traffic overall when compared to bicycles.

But page 8 provides the overall total for vehicles: 341,310, which presumably includes all categories. There were 140,648 pedestrians counted, and 21,229 cyclists (page 5). Of course there was no way of counting the number of passengers on the Muni buses that were included in the vehicle total, though a pretty good estimate could be made by checking how many people the individual Muni lines typically carry during the day. Future counts may include that information, as we learn on page 9:

Assess opportunities to capture additional trip data, such as gender and age, use of a helmet, and number of people in vehicles; estimating people in vehicles would enable the quantification of person mode share during the survey period.

Masonic Avenue numbers on page 15 for Golden Gate and Masonic are both revealing and raise an important question: there were only 82 cyclists counted, with 641 pedestrians and 6094 motor vehicles of all categories. Does the count represent both North/South and East/West traffic at all the count locations? I assume that it does, since the Masonic/Golden Gate vehicle total is more or less similar to the numbers in the city's Masonic Avenue Redesign Study (page 14).

Even if all 82 of the cyclists counted were traveling North/South on Masonic, that minuscule number highlights how misguided the Masonic Avenue bike project is. The city admits that there are few cyclists now using Masonic in any direction, as the 2011 Redesign Study (page 12) tells us: "The current PM peak volume was counted as 20 bikes per hour at Masonic and Golden Gate Avenue..." 

Nor is there any evidence that there are thousands of cyclists poised to use Masonic riding North/South after those separated bike lanes are installed on Masonic between Geary Blvd. and Fell Street, which is why I call that radical change a faith-based traffic policy. The city just hopes/assumes that there will be enough cyclists using Masonic to justify screwing up traffic for the 44,000 people who now use the street every day: more than 32,000 vehicles and 12,000 passengers on the #43 Muni line. Not to mention taking away 167 street parking spaces in a part of town where parking is in short supply.

Interesting to note too that the Polk Street count of cyclists declined from last year (page 12). Will both the Masonic Avenue bike project and the Polk Street project be dismantled if the number of cyclists using those streets turn out to be small? No, since it's all about making a small minority of cyclists "comfortable" riding on city streets, with the safety lie deployed as the ultimate trump card.

The low bicycle count in this report bodes ill for the city's goal of achieving 8 to 10% of all trips in the city by bicycle by 2018 (page 3 in last year's report), since cycling is now only 3.4%/3.8% of all trips in the city. 

There's no way the city can more than double bike trips in the city in less than three years, let alone achieve the goofy 20% by 2020 dream, but even in the attempt City Hall can screw up traffic for everyone else that now uses city streets.

A reader writes:


The bicycle trip count can be misleading. For example a bicyclist might go on Market Street, travel from 5th to 2nd St, and be counted twice.

A bicyclist on Polk St. can be counted three times if they cross Grove, McAllister, and Sutter between 4:30 pm-6:30 pm.

For vehicles and pedestrians MTA averages the count per location, highest, lowest peak volume but doesn't do the same for bicyclists.

Rob's comment:
I suspect also that the city's bike people know exactly when the count happens and turn out to inflate the numbers, given how closely the Bicycle Coalition and City Hall work on the same agenda. 

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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Bicycle count report: "Bicycle use slowed down with 1% increase"

The MTA's long-awaited Annual Bicycle Count Survey 2014 has finally been released with no fanfare, not even a press release. Hard to see why it took eight months to complete, even though the city has radically changed its methodology, since the report now counts other transportation "modes":

The 2014 citywide count effort marks the first time the SFMTA utilized video data collection technology instead of manual intersection counts for this report; this enabled counting additional modes and locations within the survey timeframe, which provided a more robust dataset. Previous annual bike count reports only focused on a single mode; therefore, this approach captures a more holistic picture of trips at key locations by also counting people walking, taking transit, and traveling in vehicles in the city.

There's no further explanation of the new methodology. Apparently volunteers and Muni employees now take videos at their locations that are then used to make the count. It does give us "a more robust dataset" showing how insignificant bicycles are in the context of the city's transportation system.

No stories yet about the count report in the Chronicle or the Examiner, unlike previous years when the annual count was quickly greeted with celebratory and inaccurate stories by the city's housebroken journalists.[Later: Typically stupid and deceptive story on the count in the Chronicle on May 20 by a "transportation reporter" who has long been embedded in the Bay Area's government agencies.] 

Streetsblog has taken the lead with a typically deceptive opening sentence in a story on Bike to Work Day: 

City officials gathered for another Bike to Work Day rally at City Hall today to cheer for bicycling, celebrating a 206 percent jump in ridership since 2006, according to a new annual bike count released by the SFMTA today.

As the report itself says, "These counts serve as a sample and do not count all trips in the City. They only account for volumes observed at the 80 locations during the evening peak period."

That is, the count is done once a year between 4:30 and 6:30 in the evening a few days in September, and of course it doesn't try to measure overall bike "ridership" in the city. The city claims, based on the Census, that cycling is 3.8% of all trips in the city, though a Mode Share Survey in 2011 found that cyclists are only 3.4% of all trips.

I laughed when I saw how Streetsblog buried the real story on the count deep in its Bike to Work story: "But the bicycling increase has tapered off recently, with just a 1 percent increase from 2013 to 2014."

The report itself doesn't provide Streetsblog and City Hall with that bad news until page 5:

Bicycle use has been steadily rising in San Francisco since counts began in 2006. In 2014, this trend slowed down with a 1% increase in counts recorded citywide. Given that the data represent snapshots in time, drawing conclusions from a single year is difficult. Therefore, looking at patterns over several years is more indicative of larger trends.

That pattern, in a helpful page 5 graphic in the report below, shows that the count is clearly leveling off in recent years, as bike use in the city is evidently stalling:

The same thing is happening in Portland as shown more dramatically in a similar graphic below:

San Francisco's "long bike stagnation" is just beginning. 

More tomorrow on this report.

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Senator Warren on the trade deal

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Warriors' arena means gridlock for Mission Bay

From the Chronicle's letters to the editor on May 13:

The proponents of the new Warriors arena want us to believe it won’t cause traffic problems. How can this be? It’s already terrible. Drive through Mission Bay any weekday between 4 and 6 p.m.

Pick a street: Third, Mariposa, 16th, it doesn’t matter. Count how many traffic light cycles it takes you to get through the next intersection. Add a Giants day game, and you don’t move at all. It’s gridlock.

Many of the people moving into all those new condos will have cars. Now you want to add an 18,000-seat sports venue with parking for only about 1,200? No impact? This is crazy. The developers reap huge profits, you get gridlock. It’s called a boondoggle, folks. Mission Bay: empty to ruined in five years.

Kevin Sarmento
San Francisco

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Obama, Democrats to blame for train wreck

ABC photo

Instead of installing a safety system, federal money went for the high-speed rail boondoggle. From Randal O'Toole (Too Much Money Going to the Wrong Places):

...In 2008, President Bush signed a law mandating that most railroads, including Amtrak, install positive train control (PTC) by December of 2015. PTC would force trains to slow or stop if the operator ignored signals or speed limits.

In 2009 and 2010, President Obama asked a Democratic Congress to give him $10 billion to spend on high-speed trains, and Congress agreed. Not one cent of that money went to installing PTC in Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

PTC would have prevented this accident. There was plenty of money available to install it, but the Obama administration, in its infinite wisdom, chose to spend it elsewhere. Two days ago, it would have been embarrassing to realize that the government-run Amtrak hadn’t yet completed installation of PTC on its highest-speed corridor. Today, it’s a tragedy. But how is it the fault of fiscal conservatives?...(emphasis added)

Later: O'Toole follows up on the Amtrak story with this.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Vision Zero and murder in the city

Murder in District 5

The Vision Zero campaign/slogan reminds me of the kerfuffle about gun violence in San Francisco ten years ago. Young Mayor Newsom was frustrated that there was apparently nothing much he and the city could do to stop young black and Hispanic men from killing each other. From the Chronicle way back in 2005:

"We are in constant communication, the police chief and I, trying every strategy we know how," the mayor said. "Gang-related homicides are down, but overall homicides are up...I've tried to deal with this in every rational way I can...I haven't been able to succeed to the extent that I'd like to succeed."

A year later, reality was sinking in. Deputy Chief Morris Tabak was quoted in the Examiner:

There is virtually no way to prevent these homicides...they are not a result of police inaction or indifference...The reality is every year[in a big city], there are going to be between 50 and 60 homicides...Holding the Police Department accountable for every homicide is like holding the Fire Department accountable for every fire, or holding the Department of Public Health accountable for every disease ("Police Mount Stern Defense of Homicide Record," Marisa Lagos, Jan. 19, 2006, SF Examiner).

Given the country's violent popular culture, thug culture, and the easy availability of guns, it's not surprising that people in the city continue to kill each other at the same rate they did ten years ago. City progressives demagogued the issue at the time, but even they have apparently given up blaming City Hall for every murder on city streets (see also this and this).

It's safe to predict the same will happen with the Vision Zero slogan/campaign, since there's nothing much the city can do to prevent most accidents on city streets, unless one of the MTA's planned "improvements" is a change in human nature itself that will result in people no longer behaving recklessly when they drive, ride a bike, and walk on city streets.

Prediction: Ten years from now, when the Vision Zero slogan is long forgotten, I'll write a blog post on the same issues saying essentially the same thing.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Bad behavior by everybody at 4th and Townsend

This is the kind of behavior---by motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists---that causes accidents. Commander Ali early this year: “A lot of it is just really, really bad behavior."

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No drought for California's rich and famous

Jennifer Lopez's casa

From the New York Post:

A source says Lopez, who put her estate on the market a few weeks ago, has been approached several times by neighbors over the years about amending her opulent garden and lawn. “She has been pretty dismissive,” said the source. “She has said, ‘Oh, so I’ll just pay some fines, what are they going to do?’”

Barbra Streisand's crib: Home Tour photo

Barbra Streisand---the lefty diva who’s lectured fellow Californians and even US presidents on energy conservation---seems oblivious to the fact the Golden State is turning into a dried-out raisin. Her pampered sprawl sticks out like a green thumb in aerial photos.

Thanks to The Snitch at SF Weekly.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Peak car?

Ever since some alarmist came up with the economically nonsensical term peak oil, we’ve been inundated with peak this, that, and the other thing. There’s peak helium. How about peak phosphorus?

More recently, the term has been twisted from a supply issue to a demand issue, such as peak smart phone. And now peak car. Yet, reading about peak car, the Antiplanner can’t help but feeling that this is neither a supply nor a demand issue but more wishful thinking on the part of city officials who are doing their best to create auto-hostile environments.

Millennials don’t drive? It turns out that’s not true, just as it isn’t true that Millennials avoid the suburbs...

The fundamental problem for anti-auto people is that cars are faster, less expensive, and more convenient than the alternatives for most urban trips. Bicycles may work for short trips and for people of a certain athletic ability, but a city that depends on bicycles is not going to be as wealthy as one that uses cars. Transit is simply non-competitive without gargantuan subsidies...

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Daily Kos on Texas:

The supposed Jade Helm 15 conspiracy may be the single stupidest thing to come out of Texas in 20 years, and for a state that has reliably given us such treasures as Louie Gohmert, Steve Stockman, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, and George W. Bush himself that is saying something.

It may not even be possible to adequately convey how stupid this story is. There may not be words in the English language—there may in fact be no words in any language, simply because no civilization has yet existed that ever needed to convey a stupidity as deep or as empty-headed as would apply here. It is a stupidity so stupid that we may be able to use it as future measure of the viability of nation-states; if a majority of any definable population is stupid enough to believe this thing, it is evidence that that population has lost the intellectual ability to maintain a government.

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Cell phones and cancer

Are government officials doing enough to protect us from the potential long-term health effects of wearable devices and cellphones? Maybe not. A letter released today, signed by more than 190 scientists from 38 countries, calls on the United Nations, the World Health Organization (WHO), and national governments to develop stricter controls on these and other products that create electromagnetic fields (EMF).

"Based on peer-reviewed, published research, we have serious concerns regarding the ubiquitous and increasing exposure to EMF generated by electric and wireless devices," reads the letter, whose signatories have collectively published more than 2,000 peer-reviewed papers on the subject. "The various agencies setting safety standards have failed to impose sufficient guidelines to protect the general public, particularly children who are more vulnerable to the effects of EMF..."

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Richard Dawkins on science, religion, and the liberal "muddle" on Islam

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City makes parking policy "while no one is looking"

A reader sends this in:

Get the facts on all the transit issues and chime in with your comments. Watch the video: Policies for On-Street Parking Management: How SFMTA Created New Rules While No One was Looking.

Sign the petition to Restore Parking Oversight.

Last week the SFMTA Citizens Advisory Council reviewed this issue for the second time and is resending a strong recommendation to the SFMTA Board that they take this matter seriously. Your support and comments are the most effective way for you to get heard.

Please help spread the word by signing the petition and informing people about the unethical methods of the SFMTA. It is time to demand the Supervisors take action and provide the oversight needed.



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Saturday, May 09, 2015

City tries to put neighborhood gas station out of business

By George Wooding in the Westside Observer:

Besides being one of the last surviving independent gas stations in San Francisco, this gas station is the last gas station servicing the Twin Peaks neighborhoods for over one to three miles in any direction...

The City’s Real Estate Department’s standard 20-year lease with Twin Peaks Petroleum expired in July 2014. In anticipation of this lease expiration, the Gharib’s began renegotiating a new lease in 2012.

By June 2013, Twin Peaks Petroleum and the City Real Estate Department had negotiated a new lease allowing the station to plan and operate for another 15 years.

In July 2013, the station received a notice from the Department of Public Health (DPH) that the station site was officially deemed clean. Twin Peaks Petroleum had removed a leaky waste oil tank, cleaned the surrounding soil, and monitored the surrounding area for contaminants for over 20 years.

The station’s “clean” land was now worth much more than if the Gharibs had kept the land contaminated. Suddenly, the City shortened the length of lease terms. Insurance deposits rose from $10,000 to $100,000, and station demolition time frames went from 18 months to 6 months. After two years of negotiations the Gharibs were placed on a month-to-month lease.

On March 23, 2015 the Department of Real Estate finally sent the Gharibs a lease that allows them to remain an additional five years. Twin Peaks Petroleum was offered a five-year term with a five-year option period, with mutual termination rights upon six months’ advance written notice. This basically means that the Gharibs will be allowed to remain for an additional five-year period if they sign the lease.

With only a five-year lease, Twin Peaks Petroleum will not be able to recoup the cost of repairs, permits, or basic station maintenance. The gas station will become a run-down broken mess...

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Bill Maher defends free speech

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Friday, May 08, 2015

The Book of Mormon test

Joell Fiss raises a good question in World Affairs (Blasphemy and Double Standards):

In June 2011, the Broadway show The Book of Mormon received 14 nominations at the annual Tony awards (more than any other production) and won nine of them, including the coveted “Best Musical.” The script and lyrics are dirty and unfiltered. One song says “F*** you, God.” Throughout the play, the Mormon Church is mocked. Its founder, Joseph Smith, is ridiculed for his beliefs. His followers are insulted. Yet the play becomes a huge hit. Broadway critics and the general public instantly embrace it. Journalists deliver upbeat reviews. Ripples of liberal laughter can be heard across a country where religion is generally taken seriously...So why is blasphemous art offensive to Mormons embraced across the country, while French satire denouncing jihadism creates discomfort? Is blasphemy only accepted when there’s no threat of violent retaliation? The violence in Paris seems to have clouded perceptions of right and wrong...

Sam Harris made the same point a few years ago:

Anyone who wants to draw a cartoon, write a novel, or stage a Broadway play that denigrates Mormonism is free to do it. In the United States, this freedom is ostensibly guaranteed by the First Amendment—but that is not, in fact, what guarantees it. The freedom to poke fun at Mormonism is guaranteed by the fact that Mormons do not dispatch assassins to silence their critics or summon murderous hordes in response to satire.

As I have pointed out before, when The Book of Mormon became the most celebrated musical of the year, the LDS Church protested by placing ads for the faith in Playbill. A wasted effort, perhaps: but this was a genuinely charming sign of good humor, given the alternatives. What are the alternatives? 

Can any reader of this page imagine the staging of a similar play about Islam in the United States, or anywhere else, in the year 2013? No you cannot—unless you also imagine the creators of this play being hunted for the rest of their lives by religious maniacs.

Yes, there are crazy people in every faith—and I often hear from them. But what is true of Mormonism is true of every other faith, with a single exception. At this moment in history, there is only one religion that systematically stifles free expression with credible threats of violence. The truth is, we have already lost our First Amendment rights with respect to Islam...(emphasis added)

Rob's comment: 

It's also okay for artists and writers in the US to mock Christianity but Islam is supposedly exempt.

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