Archive for December, 2011


Under a budget signed by President Obama, VIPR will be getting an additional 12 teams.

In case you haven’t heard of this controversial program, VIPR (Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response) uses heavily armed TSA agents to conduct warrantless searches at transit stations, including Amtrak, ferries, and Greyhound.

Oh, and of course:

The TSA funding included several hundred million dollars for 250 additional advanced imaging technology (AIT) devices — the whole body imagers that scan air travelers for any contraband concealed on their bodies. The additional funding came from a congressional conference committee that approved TSA plans to move forward with deployment of the AIT machines despite a House vote on June 2 on a spending bill that would have denied TSA the money for the devices.

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Car Seat Fallacies

The “safety” lobby strikes again. A new California State law goes into effect next week, meaning kids will be stuck with booster seats until age 8:

California state law currently requires parents to keep their kids in booster seats until they reach the age of 6 or weigh at least 60 pounds. The new law does away with the weight limit and requires children to stay in booster seats until they hit 8 years old or 4 feet, 9 inches tall – a height that very few children will reach before that age.

While the new requirement is likely to provoke a collective shriek from children throughout the state, child safety experts say the change is for their own good. Studies show booster seat use for children ages 4 through 7 decreases the risk of injury by nearly 60 percent compared with seat belt use alone.

As with seat belts, ABS, and other “safety” devices, it is doubtful the new law will reduce fatalities. It is well documented that such devices fail to improve overall safety, largely because of Risk Compensation.

Indeed, we can expect the new law will fail because the original California car-seat legislation failed. Back in 1982, when California passed its first car-seat law, backers made similar predictions — which did not pan out. Guerin and MacKinnon did a time-series analysis of fatality rates for children ages 0-3 (the 1982 law mandated car seats for 0-3 year-olds). They found no reduction in fatality rates before and after the law was passed.

(And yes, Guerin and MacKinnon did report a small reduction in the injury rate, but injury reporting by police is highly subjective and notoriously unreliable.)

In practical terms, this means parents have to wait until their kids reach age 8 before being able to use car-share services. It also turns parents into possible lawbreakers everytime they ride a taxi.

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From the China Daily:

China’s largest train maker, CSR Corp Ltd, launched over the weekend its first test train that can reach speeds of up to 500 km an hour.

The six-carriage train with a tapered head is the newest member of the CRH series. It has a maximum drawing power of 22,800 kilowatts, compared with 9,600 kilowatts for the CRH380 trains now in service on the Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway, which hold the world speed record of 300 km per hour.

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It’s like a bad episode of Reno-911.

A jogger clings to life after being hit by a semi — and the police crack jokes:

Officer 1 ‘That’s why you drive a car!’
Officer 2 ‘Yeah, don’t try to jog to work, you dumb fuck!’

Click through to komo-news for the video and interview with the victim.

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Redevelopment Court Challenge May Backfire

California’s Supreme Court will be ruling on a court challenge from redevelopment agencies (RDA’s). That lawsuit seeks to block two bills passed to scale back redevelopment agencies. One bill puts in place a new revenue-sharing agreement, and the second bill just kills the RDA’s outright.

The RDA’s were seeking to overturn both laws, but it appears that strategy will backfire:

Justice Joyce L. Kennard suggested that the agencies’ challenge of both laws could backfire. She said the court could find the abolition constitutional but the revenue-sharing law invalid, a prospect that an attorney for redevelopment agencies called the worst possible outcome. Justice Marvin R. Baxter observed that it would be ironic if Proposition 22, which redevelopment agencies had promoted, ended up requiring the court to overturn the compromise and cut the lifeline that the revenue-sharing law provided. Baxter also appeared dubious that the proposition gave the agencies “perpetual existence.”

Killing the rotten RDA’s would be the best possible outcome. In case there was any doubt:

In a move that California Gov. Jerry Brown might see as L.A.’s “let them eat cake” moment, the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency has set aside $5.5 million in public help for Watts — yet earmarked $52 million for a garage for Eli Broad’s museum.

Los Angeles city officials released a list of their 275 supposedly must-have “redevelopment” projects, which can be downloaded here. The list shows:

– All of South Los Angeles, population 550,000, where unemployment among young minorities is said to exceed 30 percent, would get just $32 million from the CRA — $20 million less than Broad would get for his garage.

– More than $1 in every $10 of the nearly $1 billion in “redevelopment” money controlled by Los Angeles is to be spent in pursuit of Eli Broad’s dream of glitzing up the Civic Center’s Grand Avenue area (which is neither poor or blighted) with luxury condos, a luxury hotel, and his architecturally stunning museum.

– Watts, devastated by the recession, would get only $5.5 million from the CRA, compared to $102 million for the Grand Avenue luxury project and Broad’s museum.

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Non-Zero Energy Buildings

It is annoying how the architecture profession ignores transportation in its energy calculations. For example, a recent design contest for an infill development in Emeryville:

For the purpose of the competition, the ground floor of each building should be reserved for uses such as retail, the library, parking, or open space.

For an infill zero-energy development, the winners sure have a lot of parking. Perhaps the problem is the definition of zero-energy buildings, which makes no mention of transportation.

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Poetic Justice

Poetic justice:

The VTA is pushing for the creation of a special district within Caltrans that would focus solely on Santa Clara County. It would set up shop at VTA headquarters on First Street and state engineers would work side by side with local planners. No longer would the VTA and city engineers need to trek to Oakland to meet with state officialsOfficials with the VTA say the 40-mile distance to local headquarters in Oakland is more than just a tough commute up Interstate 880. The distance makes it difficult to set up meetings and build solid working relationships with Caltrans.

Step 1: Sabotage a voter-approved rail plan that had all the funding in place for running modern, European trains between San Jose and Union City BART.

Step 2: Spend the next 2 decades scamming billions of dollars for a white-elephant BART extension that merely replicates conventional tracks already there.

Step 3: Realize “Oh shit!” I880 is a parking lot, and ask Caltrans to relocate 40 miles south.

The best outcome is to force VTA planners to commute I880 — every single fucking day. Let them eat their dogfood for a change.

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A recent ‘Mythbusters’ cannonball experiment nearly resulted in tragedy when an errant cannonball smashed through a suburban neighborhood. The projectile sailed through a bedroom where a couple and their child were sleeping. After exiting the bedroom, it smashed into a minivan that had been parked just 10 minutes earlier.

The cannonball blast did not come from a Hollywood set. For the past 8 years, the show has enjoyed free use of the Alameda County Sheriff Department Bomb Disposal Range.

But don’t worry… the Sheriff provides a safety expert to monitor stunts. Unaware of basic physical laws, this “expert” apparently felt a cinder-block wall provides protection against heavy ordnance. Cannons, mind you, were used in medieval times to blast through castle walls.

It is the latest in a string of embarrassing episodes for the Department, which has become — if you pardon the pun — a Loose Cannon.

The Department gained notoriety in recent years over plans to build a juvenile super-jail. The jail was seen as a big revenue source for the department, and local construction contractors. Due to popular outcry, that plan was thankfully scaled back. The Department is also notorious for having scored 9-11 grants to purchase a military gunboat. The idea of Sheriff Deputies chasing after Terrorists with NATO-issue machine guns made for a hilarious episode of 60-Minutes. Soon after that report, grant funding ceased for the program.

And when not Blowing Shit Up, the Sheriff Department has spent an inordinate amount of time going after law-abiding cyclists. Just ask Chuck Pascoe, who was charged for ‘holding a parade without a permit’ – an offense that carries a maximum 6-month prison term:

Pascoe had no idea that the ride, the annual fund-raiser for Cherry City Cyclists, a San Leandro club, would cause a fuss.

But he hadn’t reckoned with the North Valley Homeowners Association, whose members were fed up with cyclists hogging the roads. After years of quiet grumbling, the 54 residents of rural Collier Canyon Road decided to act. They signed petitions, sent an emissary to Livermore City Hall and contacted the Sheriff’s Department.

Watt found a sympathetic ear when he expressed his concerns to sheriff’s Capt. Dennis Scheuller.

After inspecting the 3-1/4-mile stretch of narrow Collier Canyon Road just outside Livermore where the Cherry City Jubilee would begin and end, Scheuller decided it was too dangerous for bikes and cars to share.

Chuck was told to get a parade permit, which was denied. The ride went on anyway, with Chuck being cited. That was in 1997, but even 10 years later the department was still going after cyclists for not getting parade permits to ride on county roads.

For now, an investigation is planned over the cannonball incident. It would be nice if it results in changes in the department, with actual adults assuming responsibility. But given past history, that seems unlikely….


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What was William Shatner’s favorite ‘non-Star Trek’ role —  TJ Hooker, or maybe Denny Crane?

Favorite non-Star Trek roles?

Outside of the Star Trek series, you’ve had a large number of regular, one-off and recurring roles. What would be your favorite role prior to the beginnings of Star Trek and after the original ST series run? If different, what was your favourite one-off?

Answer: I don’t think of favorite roles like ‘This was my favorite thing to do, and that isn’t.’ I just wish they hadn’t cancelled Shit My Dad Says because I could bicycle to work.

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Marijuana “legalization” (Medical Marijuana Laws) will lead to an increase in traffic fatalities, right?

Not so, says a new study:

To date, 16 states have passed medical marijuana laws, yet very little is known about their effects. Using state-level data, we examine the relationship between medical marijuana laws and a variety of outcomes. Legalization of medical marijuana is associated with increased use of marijuana among adults, but not among minors. In addition, legalization is associated with a nearly 9 percent decrease in traffic fatalities, most likely to due to its impact on alcohol consumption. Our estimates provide strong evidence that marijuana and alcohol are substitutes.

A possible explanation is that marijuana supplants binge drinking:

Using data from the Beer Institute, we find that beer sales fall after a MML comes into effect, suggesting that marijuana substitutes for beer, the most popular alcoholic beverage among young adults.

Note: paper is still going through peer-review

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