Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Bike News Roundup #7


Bicycles have become a symbol of gentrification in San Francisco, which is leading to some vandalism

In The Guardian last year:

But the growth of city cycling is not purely utilitarian. Among what urban theorist Richard Florida calls “the creative class,” the bicycle is a potent symbol of identity and status. And more bikes, it seems, means more well-paid knowledge economy jobs. “Cycling to work is positively associated with the share of creative-class jobs and negatively associated with working-class jobs,” Florida wrote in 2011Consequently, local hostility to cycling infrastructure has often been a proxy for wider anger at gentrification.

In The Guardian yesterday:

“We’re letting corporations do whatever the hell they want, while the everyday folk don’t count,” said Roberto Hernandez, a lifelong resident of the Mission district, a Latino neighborhood that is ground zero for gentrification. “When you look at the transportation privileges that have been provided for these techies, and when you now look at these bikes, it’s not for Juan. It ain’t for Pablo...The feeling of people in this community is like we don’t exist.”

See Neighborhoods Are Up In Arms Over Ford GoBike Installations.

Why would you want Ford to have all your personal information when you register with Ford GoBike?

See also Bike share users are mostly rich and white. Here's why that's hard to change.

Streetsblog asks What’s Keeping People From Using Bike-Share? and gets some unsurprising answers:

Low-income communities and people of color view traffic risk, high prices, and the potential for crime and harassment are the biggest barriers to bicycling and using bike-share in their neighborhoods, according to a new report from researchers at Portland State University.

And cycling is mostly a guy thing: Why aren't women joining the bike revolution?

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Kevin DrumSomehow, Donald Trump can always find a new way to be stupid. How does he do it?

Rob's comment:
It's so easy for him. It just comes naturally.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Steven Bannon---outside the tent

It's probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.  - Lyndon B. Johnson
izquotes.com

LBJ supposedly said that about FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, as quoted in The New York Times (31 October 1971). I thought of that quote when a TV talking head provided a sanitized version, like this from Charles Krauthammer:

"I think that's exactly why he is likely to stay on," Krauthammer said. "Because if you calculate, as you just did, it's infinitely safer to keep him inside the tent, to keep him on the periphery perhaps, but keeping an eye on him."

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White boys lost in the blues



Sonny & Brownie
White boy John Mayall sings that song with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee in 1973.

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Paul Oliver


An obituary in the NY Times by William Grimes:

Paul Oliver, a Briton who wrote some of the earliest and most authoritative histories of one of America’s great indigenous musical forms, the blues, died on Tuesday in Shipton-under-Wychwood, Oxfordshire, England. He was 90.

Mr. Oliver first heard black American music as a teenager in England during World War II. While he was gathering crops for the war effort at a harvest camp in Suffolk, not far from an American military base, a friend asked him if he wanted to hear something unusual.

“He took me down to a kind of hedge between the two farms, and there was this extraordinary crying and yelling,” Mr. Oliver told the web publication earlyblues.com in 2009. “I couldn’t call it singing, but it was quite spine-chilling. He said, ‘Do you know what this is?’ I said, ‘No, I’ve no idea,’ and he said, ‘You’re listening to blues.’

“He wasn’t quite right, really,” Mr. Oliver added, “because we were actually listening to field hollers, but nevertheless I found it quite extraordinary.”

The extraordinary sounds sent Mr. Oliver on a lifelong quest as a record collector, field researcher and historian, the British counterpart to Samuel Charters, the American historian whose groundbreaking book “The Country Blues” appeared in 1959, the same year Mr. Oliver’s biography “Bessie Smith” was published in Britain...

“He possesses broad sympathies and deep insights lacking in most American writing on the blues,” the folklorist Benjamin A. Botkin wrote in The New York Times Book Review in 1960, reviewing Mr. Oliver’s second book, “Blues Fell This Morning,” one of the first efforts to examine closely the music’s language and subject matter.

After taking a trip through the American South in 1964, interviewing and recording blues singers, Mr. Oliver wrote “The Story of the Blues.” Published in 1969, it was the first comprehensive history of the genre and remains an indispensable work...

Brett Bonner, the editor of the magazine Living Blues, said in an interview: “Paul was one of the founders of blues scholarship. He and Sam Charters set the template for everything that followed. They also set the stage for the blues revival of the 1960s. Without them, people like Mississippi John Hurt, Son House and Skip James would not have had second careers.”

...Encouraged by librarians at the United States Embassy, Mr. Oliver won a grant from the State Department and received financing from the BBC to travel to the United States and record blues artists. His journey through the South led to an enormously popular exhibition at the embassy that was attended by the singer and guitarist Lightnin’ Hopkins, whom Mr. Oliver had interviewed at his house in Houston.

The exhibition became the starting point for “The Story of the Blues,” which was accompanied by a double album tracing the music’s development from its African roots to the 1960s.

Mr. Oliver edited nearly a hundred interviews from his trip for “Conversation With the Blues” (1965), an oral portrait of the music and the American South that included indigenous musical artists of every description...


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Taylor Swift and what Trump brags about



From the NY Times:

Taylor Swift’s unfiltered testimony about a former radio host who she said groped her attracted a lot of notice for its directness and for the skill with which she parried his lawyer. The trial was a rare, high-profile glimpse into the dynamics of sexual assault cases...

The story includes accounts by women like Erika Rosney who've been sexually assaulted:

As a girl and younger woman, I did not recognize sexual harassment or assault as such. It’s not something we learned about in school or in my household. It wasn’t until college that I learned about it and by then there had been so many instances. It happened at work, school, social gatherings, everywhere.

Looking back on those situations as an adult, I feel humiliated. It makes my skin crawl and also makes me so sad because I did not have the tools to stick up for myself. I don’t think many girls do. I think if I had role models to demonstrate how to respond, I would have been more empowered and less ashamed.

Rob's comment:
What kind of people vote for a man who brags about doing this?

See also Who Is Killing American Women? Their Husbands And Boyfriends.

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How we stop those assholes

Good advice from Kevin Drum:

The truth is that white supremacist groups are pretty small. Their views are so obviously vile that they just don’t appeal to very many people. Generally speaking, then, the answer isn’t to fight them, it’s to outnumber them. 

If they announce a rally, liberals should mount a vastly larger counter-rally and…do nothing. Just surround them peaceably and make sure the police are there to do their job if the neo-Nazi types become violent. If antifa folks show up with counter-violence in mind, surround them too.

Nonviolence isn’t the answer to everything, but it is here. The best way to fight these creeps is to take their oxygen away and suffocate them. Fighting and bloodshed get headlines, which is what they want. So shut them down with lots of people but no violence. Eventually they’ll go back to their caves and the press will get bored.

Of course, all of this depends on our president not doing anything further to support their cause. If that happens, I reserve the right to revise and extend my remarks.

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

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Motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists are being encouraged to "Look Both Ways" and watch out for each other and themselves. Pedestrian-involved accidents have increased over the last few years due to several factors, such as increased traffic, increased population and distracting cell phone usage by motorists and pedestrians. The campaign reminds everyone to be more cautious and always watchful for people while you are on the road---whether you are walking, driving or riding your bike! (emphasis added)

Thanks to Streetsblog Cal.

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Friday, August 18, 2017

Again

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Evol Intent

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Hyper-gentrification



From the NY Times:

New York may be a city forever changing, but Mr. [Jeremiah]Moss argues that this time something nefarious is afoot. He describes a global phenomenon he calls “hyper-gentrification,” in which political forces join hands with corporate interests to drive up prices and drive out poor people and the places they go. “The kind of change that we’re experiencing, that kind of change is really different from change as usual,” he said. “It’s change as unusual.” At Housing Works, an audience member near the door called out: “So what are we going to do?” A man behind him grumbled, “There’s nothing we can do.” Is this a call to action or a wake? Maybe a little of both...


Rob's comment: Sound familiar?

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CreditIs this a call to action or a wake? Maybe a little of both.

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Bothsidesism

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Comment to the story below


Yes, I’m coining that phrase, bothsidesism (if it hasn’t already been coined and I didn’t see it). Historian Kevin Kruze took to Twitter to put up images of articles from the 1950s using the same kind of “both sides are too extreme” rhetoric that Trump is now peddling. 

Sometimes both sides really are to blame in a given situation. This is not one of them. Bothsidesism in this situation is a lazy way to get out of taking a stand, which is all the more absurd because what political stand should be easier to take than “Nazis are bad”? If you can’t even commit to that position, you shouldn’t be allowed to run the Tilt-a-Whirl at the county fair, much less the country.

Rob's comment:
The same idea has also been called "on-the-otherhand-ism."

Thanks to Patheos.

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Confederate monuments in California?



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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

White punks in black and "virtue signaling"

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As San Francisco braces for an invasion of unknown size of alt-right and white nationalist factions a week from Saturday, one vital thing still does not seem to have gotten through to those on the left and those who believe that fascism must be met with loud, angry anti-fascist resistance: You are giving them what they want by showing up.

It may seem insane, and antithetical to all that the Bay Area represents to many of us, to allow and implicitly condone the presence of groups who spout racial hatred like those who showed up to rally in Charlottesville last weekend. But they are coming, they have a legal right to gather, and while protest of various creative kinds should take place, battles with sticks, shields, and pepper spray should not. The sooner the passionate foes of racism and fascism understand this, the better off this country will be. 

Perhaps the liberal youth of 2017 needs to be reminded that the most powerful images of the civil rights era came out of acts of passive resistance that were met with violence and rage...

Rob's comment:
An article on "virtue signaling" in last Sunday's NY Times is, well, timely:

We all want to be good. But often, what we want more is for others to know just how good we are...Do these people really care deeply about the issue du jour? They probably aren’t, after all, out volunteering to solve the problem. What if they’re motivated, above all else, by simply looking like people who care?

...This sort of ostentatious concern is, according to some diagnoses, endemic to the political left. A writer for the conservative website The Daily Caller wrote this summer that virtue signaling ‘‘has been universalized into a sort of cultural tic’’ on the left, ‘‘as compulsive and unavoidable as Tourette’s syndrome.’’ 

There are plenty on the left who might agree. It’s not difficult to find, in conversations among progressives, widespread eye-rolling over a certain type of person: the one who will take a heroic stance on almost any issue — furious indignation over the casting of a live-action ‘‘Aladdin’’ film, vehement defense of Hillary Clinton’s fashion choices, extravagant emotional investment in the plight of a group to which the speaker does not belong — in what feels like a transparent bid for the praise, likes and aura of righteousness that follows...(emphasis added)

That doesn't mean not going to public demonstrations on this or any other issue. What many of us object to is the notion that opposing the alt-right means taking clubs and pepper spray and fists to wage literal battle in the streets with the neo-fascists. That will only lead down the violent, dead-end path taken by the Weather Underground in the 1970s.

I've written about this ultra-left political tendency before: Black bloc: White punks in black and Risk-free rebellion by BART protesters and If you have to wear a mask... 

See also Otis Taylor in the Chronicle this morning: Don't give the haters any bragging rights.

Members of the anti-car bike movement are the most conspicuous virtue signalers in San Francisco: BikeThink: The ideology of bicycles.

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Tweet of the day


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Monday, August 14, 2017

The base problem

Tom Toles


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Thanks to SF Citizen.

He's also good on Ford GoBike.

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The truth about Trump voters



David Duke is right: people who voted for Trump are racists. They got the message Trump sent when he kept insisting that President Obama wasn't born in the United States and that Mexicans are rapists. 

And what kind of people vote for a man who mocks the handicapped and brags about assaulting women?

Our sainted Founding Fathers are also responsible, since they installed a baroque electoral college system that allowed such a contemptible human being to become president of the United States even though he lost by 2,864,974 votes in the popular vote.

Who exactly Trump voters really are has also been misinterpreted since the election, as if they are a new class of victims that we're supposed "to reach out" to. Bullshit. Hillary got it right when she called them "deplorables." Maybe they aren't parading in public like the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, but they too are contemptible.

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

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The "decline of substantive content"


"I have a foreboding of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time---when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing back into superstition and darkness. 

The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance."

Sagan died in 1996 long before the advent of social media.

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

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We've seen this movie before

Torchlight parade by right-wing white men? We've seen this movie before:

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Building Trump's wall---in a wildlife refuge

How Symbolic—Trump Wall Construction Begins in a Wildlife Refuge

The director of Mission, Texas’ National Butterfly Center, Marianna Treviño-Wright, stumbled upon some unwelcome guests last month: a work crew clearing brush, trees, and native plants from the privately owned refuge. 

The habitat, painstakingly created over the last 15 years to host some 200 butterfly species, was indiscriminately torn down by work crews who claimed U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had given approval to begin preparing the area for construction of the border wall.

The 100-acre Butterfly Center stretches to the true border, the Rio Grande River, but the border wall will cut through the middle of the property. Much of the proposed border wall will be built about a mile north of the river, because riparian areas are unstable zones in which to do major construction. 

For the butterfly center, this means the visitor area will be cut off from the majority of the refuge and the many species of butterflies that call it home will have their habitat fractured and destroyed...

Thanks to Outside online.

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Oppressed white men



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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Jason Henderson: CEQA warrior?

Socket Site

Jason "Zero Parking" Henderson is doing a CEQA appeal of one of those highrise buildings at Market and Van Ness (SF Weekly One Oak’s OK Challenged).

Henderson, who teaches a bike course at SF State--this generation's version of basket-weaving---is apparently belatedly learning about CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act, the state law that requires every proposed project to undergo some kind of environmental review before it's implemented.

Bike advocates in San Francisco were outraged when we went to court in 2005 to make the city do an environmental review of the 500-page Bicycle Plan. 

Henderson in his book on transportation in San Francisco:
   
In 2006 an anti-bicycle lawsuit, litigated by two persons[sic] calling themselves the Coalition for Adequate Review (CAR), successfully delayed the city's implementation of bicycle lanes for over four years (Street Fight, page 3).

(The plural of person is "people.") Our suit was successful because the city did no environmental review of the ambitious Bicycle Plan before it began implementing it on upper Market Street, taking away street parking to make bike lanes (see also Pleas of small businesses fall on deaf ears). 

It was an easy decision for the judge to make. The city then had to do what they should have done in the first place: conduct an environmental review of the Bicycle Plan project as required by CEQA, causing the delay Henderson complains about.

Henderson's twisted account of recent San Francisco history in his book doesn't have "CEQA" in the index, though he included a murky, poorly-informed discussion of Level of Service and the court's decision in Street Fight (pages 120-123). Maybe he'll include "CEQA" in the index of his next book after his appeal is rejected by the Board of Supervisors.

More from the SF Weekly:

The [One Oak]project sounds great. But several residential developments coming to Van Ness Avenue and Market Street could derail the millions of dollars the city, state, and taxpayers have committed to speeding up this transit corridor, thanks to the impending arrival of hundreds of privately owned vehicles, which threaten to clog up this transit-rich artery. Or so claims Jason Henderson, who last month filed an appeal of the city’s decision to allow One Oak, a 304-unit luxury apartment building, to begin construction without a thorough review of the traffic impacts its 136 parking spots will have on the neighborhood.

That is, 136 parking spaces for a building with 304 housing units is too much for Henderson. He wants that reduced to 76 spaces. (There was a time when San Francisco reasonably required a parking space for every new housing unit created.) 

In Henderson's fantasy, residents of those luxury condominiums should ride Muni or bicycles (see "Smart" growth, bicycles, and Jason Henderson).

SF Weekly:

And just when the project was finalized and the plan hit the Planning Commission, nearby residents and neighborhood associations picked a fight with the city and developers over the proposed parking spots, claiming there was no need for so much personal vehicle parking in an area served by nine Muni lines. The Environmental Impact Report, people argued, was not thorough: It didn’t examine any ramifications the cars might have on nearby public transit or how the extra wind the building would funnel down Van Ness would affect the thousands of cyclists who commuted past the building each day.

I bet the only "neighborhood association" involved in this issue is the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association, where Henderson is on the board of directors. He's also on the Market Octavia Community Advisory Committee, which pushed to allow these high-rise buildings in the first place at the corner of Market and Van Ness because that's in keeping with the Smart Growth theory as practiced in San Francisco:


Market Octavia Plan

SF Weekly includes some misinformation:

It’s not easy to file an appeal against the city. Appellants must have a track record of engagement with the project, with written letters and City Hall appearances proving their interest in the case.

Nonsense. Anyone can file an appeal, though of course you have to know how to do it, which is why it's usually done by lawyers. The Planning Commission already rejected Henderson's appeal; now it goes to the Board of Supervisors, which always rejects appeals (Jason Henderson and anti-carism).

More:

But the impact of filing an EIR appeal can be huge, with construction delays on the horizon while the issue is heard by city government. In the best case scenario, “if the Planning Department wants to double down and put out some mitigations, this could take a couple months,” Henderson says. “They could make this a priority. I don’t see this as delaying the big picture...

Wrong! Henderson's CEQA education will continue after his appeal gets the inevitable rejection by the Board of Supervisors. He will then have exhausted his administrative remedies and will have to either give up or litigate. The only thing that will delay this project is persuading a judge to give you an injunction, which is unlikely here. 

We got an injunction and prevailed in court because the city had done no environmental study at all of the ambitious Bicycle Plan. Here the project already has an EIR and prevailing in court just to get fewer parking spaces is unlikely. The appeal process itself won't cause any delay or have any effect on the project:

But for now, the appeal process is just getting started. Both the SFMTA and Sup. London Breed’s office failed to respond to our requests for comment. The appeal is scheduled to be heard in front of the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 5 — when they return from August recess. In the meantime, Henderson will fine-tune his argument, gearing up to take on the Planning Department, the developers, and City Hall.

Henderson's fine-tuned argument will be rejected, and "the appeal process" will come to an end on Sept. 5.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The NRA is "coming for" us

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Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Harvard Health Letter on cycling

From the August edition of the Harvard Health Letter:

Cycling is a great way to get outside and exercise. But take care when you're on the road. Adult bicycle crashes have skyrocketed since 1999, and associated medical costs are soaring with them, according to a study published online June 1, 2017, by Injury Prevention. Researchers looked at information from federal and regulatory databases from 1999 to 2013, and observed that nonfatal crashes during that time involving cyclists ages 45 or older went from about 42,000 to 122,000 per year. 

Costs associated with adult bicycle injuries during the study period increased almost $800 million per year, reaching $24 billion in 2013. What does that mean for your health? Study authors suggest focusing on injury prevention. Make sure to wear a helmet and reflective clothing; stick to bike paths instead of the street; don't use clips to keep your feet on the pedals, which can make injuries worse if you fall; don't ride alone; stay hydrated before, during, and after your ride; and use sunscreen and sunglasses.

Rob's comment:
I've posted about this study before: here, here, here.

Given all the advice in the second paragraph, this is reminiscent of the recommendations of author/bike messenger Robert Hurst and Bert Hill in a 2005 Chronicle article:

Gaze at rush-hour traffic on city streets for about 30 seconds, and any notion of transforming yourself into a brave urban bicyclist might seem like Mission: Impossible. However, experienced wheelmen say this dream is indeed achievable for most. All it requires is: everything you've got...

That is, if you accept this "mission," you must understand that it's intrinsically dangerous, that sooner or later, in the words of former Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius who used to ride his bike downtown, "There were just too many close calls. Sooner or later I was going DOWN."

When you do take the inevitable fall, Hill and Hurst offer some advice:

Fall with style: Sooner or later, an urban cyclist will be bumped or dumped, either by his or her own action (Hill says 45 percent of all crashes are solo falls, only 18 percent involve a vehicle), or by something done unto him or her. That's why you always, always, ride wearing a quality helmet and gloves. Abrasion-resistant clothing is a plus. When you start to go over, get your arms out, but don't make them stiff. Use them to absorb initial impact, yes, but even more to steer your fall into a body roll. Want to practice falls? Take a class in judo or aikido.

More on "solo falls" that are more common than being hit by a car.

Hill had the inevitable cycling accident several years ago.

My advice: Don't do it. Don't ride a bike in the city or anywhere else. It's simply too dangerous for old people and young people---City Hall and the Bicycle Coalition are irresponsibly encouraging even children to ride bikes to school.

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Sunday, August 06, 2017

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Sit-lie vagrants and homelessness

Image: Joe Lust, 20, of Austin, Tex., Steven Grossman, 21, of Fort Collins, Colo., and Liz Mallion, 22, of Hawaii
Sit-lie practitioners: always dogs

Heather Knight in this morning's SF Chronicle:

Those opposite viewpoints are typical of how we discuss homelessness in San Francisco, and part of the reason it’s been such an intractable issue for so many years. We should either allow the down-on-their-luck residents of tent camps to do whatever they want, including chop up stolen bicycles and cook over open flames, or we should lock them all up in jail.

We should allow huge tents to block sidewalks and bike paths, or we should ban everybody from sitting or lying on sidewalks. (That last one really did, incredibly, pass muster with voters back in 2010, and look how effective it’s been. The sidewalks are entirely clear! Oh wait ...) Missing in this conversation is the complexity of solving an enormous societal problem and the complexity of homeless people themselves.

Like me Knight has been writing about homelessness in San Francisco for years, which makes her false description of the sit-lie issue of 2010 surprising. The sit-lie issue was always only about the vagrants---a subset of the homeless, to be sure---who slept in Golden Gate Park and then camped out during the day on the sidewalks of nearby Haight Street to panhandle for money to buy drugs and alcohol. 

The difference between the sit-lie folks and most of the homeless: the sit-lie vagrants weren't really looking for housing.

The issue was supposedly about a legal technicality, as described in the voters pamphlet:

The San Francisco Police Code includes laws that prohibit certain conduct on public sidewalks. It does not specifically prohibit sitting or lying on sidewalks. The Proposal: Proposition L would amend the Police Code to prohibit sitting or lying on a public sidewalk in San Francisco between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.

But the vote on that proposition was really about arriving at a public consensus on what to do about it. Since city voters passed Proposition L overwhelmingly, the police had a mandate to put a stop to it, which has been successful.

Another Heather---Heather MacDonald---described the sit-lie issue with more accuracy before city voters rendered their verdict:

The homelessness industry instantly mobilized against the [sit-lie]Civil Sidewalks law. Its first tactic was to assimilate the gutter punks into the “homelessness” paradigm, so that they could be slotted into the industry’s road-tested narrative about the casualties of a heartless free-market economy. “Homelessness, at its core, is an economic issue,” intoned the Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco’s most powerful homelessness advocacy group, in a report criticizing the proposed law. “People are homeless because they cannot afford rent"...

The outcome of the industry’s rebranding campaign—and of the Haight’s competing effort to restore order—will be known this November, when San Franciscans vote on the proposed sit-lie law. That vote will reveal whether San Francisco is ready to join the many other cities that view civilized public space as essential to urban life...

Fortunately, the people of San Francisco rejected the notion of branding the sit-lie vagrants on Haight Street as homeless victims of society and instead saw them as a public nuisance that had to be dealt with.

City progressives have always been delusional about homelessness: See The intellectual failure of SF's left from 2007. 

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Giacomo Gambineri

Letter to the editor in today's NY Times Magazine:


I’ve had two abortions. The first time was because of birth-­control failure; my diaphragm was not fitted properly. The second time was because of rape. Both occurred when I was 21. I am now 60. I have never regretted either abortion. In fact, I have always felt very grateful that I was able to get safe, legal, affordable abortions a few years after Roe v. Wade.

If women change their minds and want to reverse the process, that’s their choice. I had no doubt or uncertainty doing it, and I felt only relief as soon as I knew it was done. 

It’s all about choice. Demand for reversals doesn’t mean women really don’t want to have abortions. They just want the right to change their mind. 

Shelley Diamond
San Francisco

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Saturday, August 05, 2017

America and the lizard-brained way of life

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In Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, Michael Lewis riffs on Greece, Ireland, Germany, San Jose, and the city of Vallejo's bankruptcy:

The road out of Vallejo passes directly through the office of Dr. Peter Whybrow, a British neuroscientist at UCLA with a theory about American life. He thinks the dysfunction in America's society is a by-product of America's success. In academic papers and a popular book, American Mania: When More is Not Enough, Whybrow argues, in effect, that human beings are neurologically ill-designed to be modern Americans. 

The human brain evolved over hundreds of thousands of years in an environment defined by scarcity. It was not designed, at least originally, for an environment of extreme abundance. 

"Human beings are wandering around with brains that are fabulously limited," he says cheerfully. "We've got the core of the average lizard." Wrapped around this reptilian core, he explains, is a mammalian layer (associated with maternal concern and social interaction), around that is wrapped a third layer, which enables feats of memory and the capacity for abstract thought. "The only problem," he says, "is our passions are still driven by the lizard core. We are set up to acquire as much as we can of things we perceive as scarce, particularly sex, safety, and food." 

Even a person on a diet who sensibly avoids coming face-to-face with a piece of chocolate cake will find it hard to control himself if the chocolate cake somehow finds him. Every pastry chef in America understands this, and now neuroscience does, too. "When faced with with abundance, the brain's ancient reward pathways are difficult to suppress," says Whybrow. "In that moment the value of eating the chocolate cake exceeds the value of the diet. We cannot think down the road when we are faced with the chocolate cake."

The richest society the world has ever seen has grown rich by devising better and better ways to give people what they want. The effect on the brain of lots of instant gratification is something like the effect on the right hand of cutting off the left: the more the lizard core is used the more dominant it becomes. 

"What we're doing is minimizing the use of the part of the brain that lizards don't have," says Whybrow. "We've created physiological dysfunction. We have lost the ability to self-regulate, at all levels of society. The five million dollars you get paid at Goldman Sachs if you do whatever they ask you to do---that is the chocolate cake upgraded."

The succession of financial bubbles, and the amassing of personal and public debt, Whybrow views as simply an expression of the lizard-brained way of life. A color-coded map of American personal indebtedness could be laid on top of the Centers for Disease Control's color-coded map that illustrates the fantastic rise in rates of obesity across the United States since 1985 without disturbing the general pattern. 

The boom in trading activity in individual stock portfolios; the spread of legalized gambling; the rise of drug and alcohol addiction; it is all of a piece. Everywhere you turn you see Americans sacrifice their long-term interests for a short-term reward.

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Thanks to Daily Kos.

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Friday, August 04, 2017

Hillary Ronen and Jason Henderson: Big Thinkers

The area of Highway 101 near Cesar Chavez Street and Potrero Avenue, with its many many on- and off-ramps, is known to Mission and Dogpatch residents as the “Hairball.” Photo: Santiago Mejia, The Chronicle
Santiago Mejia, the Chronicle

Like the subway fantasy encouraged by the MTA last year, Big Thinkers Supervisor Ronen and Jason Henderson want to underground the "hairball" (S.F. supervisor pushes to untangle freeway Hairball). 

From the front page of this morning's Chronicle:

...San Francisco completed two major freeway redesigns after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, knocking down the badly damaged double-deck Embarcadero Freeway and later demolishing the overhead U.S. 101 ramp along Octavia Boulevard.

Those two projects helped inject life into neighborhoods that had previously been desolate, said Jason Henderson, a professor of geography and environment at San Francisco State University who specializes in urban transportation. “That Embarcadero (waterfront) used to be a place where no one wanted to go, and now it’s beautiful,” Henderson said.

Similarly, he said, the freeway demolition on Octavia helped reconnect the Lower Haight and Hayes Valley neighborhoods with the Civic Center, and transformed Hayes Valley into a chichi pocket of boutique shops, taprooms and expensive homes...(link added)

Since 2004 this will be post number 100 on this blog with the "Octavia Blvd." label. 

Conflating taking down the Embarcadero freeway with taking down the Central Freeway over the Hayes Valley neighborhood has been a familiar ploy by anti-car people like Jason Henderson, who hates anything that makes it easier to drive and park those wicked motor vehicles in San Francisco. (Henderson even wrote a whole book featuring an imaginary history of cars and bikes in the city.)

Unlike the Embarcadero, which has the wonderful Ferry Building Marketplace, there are few businesses on Octavia Blvd. itself, except for those near Hayes Street. Octavia Blvd. now essentially functions as an expressway to and from the Central Freeway on the other side of Market Street, which creates chronic traffic congestion for most of the day in that part of town:

[Supervisor]Ronen, who lives in the Portola and whose husband regularly bikes across the Hairball on his way to work in the public defender’s office, has refused to let cost projections get in the way of her vision. “I don’t want us to be limited by finances,” she said. “I want to think big.”

Go big and go dumb! Like her comments during the appeal of the 13th Street bike project last month, this is more evidence that Ronen is just another dim bulb on the Board of Supervisors.

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