Archive for June, 2014

It would be an understatement to say that Dr. John Yoo’s tenure at the UC Berkeley School of Law is controversial. After writing the infamous “torture” memos for the Bush Administration, he returned to teaching at the nation’s best public university. His classes had to be conducted at a secret undisclosed location, because of all the protests.

Due to strong tenure protections, it is perhaps understandable that the Dean did not fire Dr. Yoo. But I wonder how many will still sympathize with the University now that it has honored Dr. Yoo as the new Emanuel S. Heller Professor of Law:

The intellectual aspirations of law faculty emerged in full display last month, as Berkeley Law honored five of its own. The distinguished scholars are the new recipients of endowed faculty chairs, chosen for their contributions to legal education and scholarship. The celebratory event was held at the Memorial Stadium’s University Club, where faculty and family members mingled together and admired the Bay Area view.

After an opening welcome by Interim Dean Gillian Lester, the honorees strolled to the podium to share bits of the research that had captured their imaginations. Each expressed gratitude to the donors whose gifts enabled them to delve into a specific course of study. During the presentations, a passion for analytical pursuits emerged, as did an interest in a broader social context: no armchair scholars in this crowd.

John Yoo, is the Emanuel S. Heller Professor of Law and co- founder of the law school’s Korea Law Center. He paid tribute to a previous holder of the chair, Paul Mishkin, a long-time Berkeley Law professor and expert on the role of federal courts. Yoo praised Mishkin for “recognizing that courts had to respond to society’s broader political demands.”

The Heller professorship was the first chair ever endowed at the law school, established by Clara Hellman Heller in the early 1900s in honor of her late husband.


Read Full Post »

Last year, the NTSB studied several safety issues with tractor trailer trucks. The NTSB proposed measures to reduce blind spots, and a requirements for side guards on new vehicles. The good news is that the NTSB has now officially adopted those safety measures.

The need for these safety measures is clear.  Bicyclists and pedestrians are particularly vulnerable to truck accidents. They are not visible to the driver up in the cab, and they have no external protection:

The NTSB analyzed data from vie states (Delaware, Mayland, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Utah) that linked hospital records with police reports under the auspices of NHTSA’s Crash Outcome Data Evaluation System (CODES). Data from these states showed that death rates of vulnerable road users involved in collisions with tractor-trailers were high: 152.8 per 1,000 involved pedestrians/cyclists and 119.5 per 1,000 motorcyclists. In comparison, death rates were 2.0 per 1,000 involved tractor-trailer occupants and 10.9 per 1,000 involved passenger vehicle occupants.

The NHTSA has 90 days to respond to the NTSB safety recommendation.


Read Full Post »

The NEC is a legacy 100 year-old infrastructure, whereas the Calfornia high-speed rail project is clean-sheet design. There was never a rational explanation as to why California should use NEC-compatible equipment when the corridors are so completely different. And now, thankfully, sanity has prevailed:

It became clear in meetings with manufacturers during the last few weeks that the requirements were too different to incorporate into one set of trains, said Lisa-Marie Alley, a spokeswoman for high-speed rail.

“The feedback that we got from the industry was that Amtrak and high-speed rail need such different things, it was almost impossible for them to build a train that meets both our needs,” she said. “We’d hoped that the industry had evolved to where they can accommodate both.”

The agencies concluded that too many compromises would need to be made to meet both their needs, which would “move us away from a service-proven design and create significant risks as to schedule and costs,” Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz said in an email.

One of the puzzling things about the CHSRA has been its inability to work with its California partners (Caltrain, Metrolink) on really basic things, like compatible platform heights and signal systems — while at the same time design its high-speed trains to be compatible with a rail line 3000 miles away. The NEC requires high-platform trains, which precludes Caltrain and CHSRA from sharing platforms. Hopefully, with this decision, Caltrain and CHSRA can at least use trains with the same platform height.

Read Full Post »

Buy-America (Solar Panel Edition)

When the US government subsidizes green technology, that is considered a good thing for the environment. But when a foreign government does it, that is considered anti-competitive:

The Commerce Department on Tuesday imposed steep duties on importers of Chinese solar panels made from certain components, asserting that the manufacturers had benefited from unfair subsidies.

The duties will range from 18.56 to 35.21 percent, the department said.

The decision, in a long-simmering trade dispute, addresses one of the main charges in a petition brought by the manufacturer SolarWorld Industries America. While it is preliminary, the ruling means that the United States will begin collecting the tariffs in advance of the final decision, expected later this year.

It is hard to see how this tariff will save jobs. Solar panel installations had been one of the bright spots of the economy — particularly in places like California’s Central Valley where there is high unemployment and high electricity bills.

Read Full Post »

Representative Kevin McCarthy, the new House Majority Leader, is apparently an avid bicyclist:

McCarthy pulls on some ratty gym clothes, descends three flights of stairs and exits the building, where, when the weather is agreeable, he meets up with about a half-dozen other GOP members on their mountain bikes. Together they cruise along the Mall, past the Lincoln Memorial, across a bridge and along the Potomac River.

This will surely mean more bike funding from the Republican Congress, right?


Read Full Post »

In December 2012, Dr. Fred Rivara gave an alarming TED Talk about the spread of bikeshare programs across the nation. This was a big problem, he argued, because bikeshare riders generally do not wear helmets. He predicted mass carnage as a result, and published a paper that purported to show a 14% increased risk of head injuries as a result of bikeshare.

But when the data in the paper was examined, it was clear that bikeshare had the opposite effect. Cities with bikeshare programs saw a substantial reduction in head injuries.

It is not the first time Dr. Rivara has cried wolf.

Beginning in 1989, he published a series of papers claiming that bike helmets reduce the risk of head injury by a whopping 85%. He is the original bike helmet alarmist. And while his papers were heavily criticized for their methods and conclusions, that did not prevent legislators from passing mandatory helmet laws.

But following passage of the helmet laws, a funny thing happened: There was no change in the rate of bicyclist injuries or fatalities. For example, a study of Canadian helmet legislation in the BMJ states: “we were unable to detect an independent effect of legislation on the rate of hospital admissions for cycling related head injuries.” A study of Australia helmet legislation (“No clear evidence from countries that have enforced the wearing of helmets”) made the same conclusion. Australia, by the way, is the most perfect laboratory for bike helmet effectiveness, because the entire country overnight instituted strict helmet laws. The fact that no effect was detected is astonishing, given Rivara’s claim that helmets are 65% effective against motor vehicle collisions.

When real world experimental data fails to validate a theoretical model, it means the model is wrong. Twice now, Dr. Rivara’s theory has failed in dramatic fashion. The fact that he refuses to give up his theory means he is nothing more than a crackpot.


Read Full Post »

NPR and many other news outlets are reporting that brain injury rates have increased in cities with bike-share programs. The implication is that these bikeshare riders are not riding with helmets, and getting brained. That is the conclusion of a paper published by Dr. Janessa Graves  of Washington State University.

And yet the data in the paper showed the exact opposite. Total number of head injuries in cities with bikeshare declined significantly — despite an increasing number of bicyclists. All that changed was that there was a marginal increase in the proportion of injuries that were head related. However, the paper can’t ascertain whether those head injuries had anything to do with bikeshare, or even whether those injured were wearing helmets.

This is the worst kind of junk science. While it is understandable that journalists could be fooled by this bullshit, how did this paper ever pass peer review?



Read Full Post »

Over at Railway Age, Frank Wilner has some scathing criticism of the FRA’s proposed two-person crew mandate. According to Wilner, there is no factual basis for two-man crews, which leads to the suspicion that the purpose is union featherbedding:

In 2009, the FRA said it had “no factual evidence to support [a] prohibition against one-person crew operations.” The California Public Utilities Commission concluded a two-person crew “could aggravate engineer distraction,” while the National Transportation Safety Board does not oppose phasing out two-person crews as other safety enhancements, such as PTC, are implemented.

Yet in April, the FRA, at the urging of labor, said it would promulgate a rule requiring two-person crews. Privately, some at FRA disparage the agency’s effort as “the Book of Mormon,” saying FRA lacks data, and its arguments are ubiquitous with the term, “we believe.”

Regulatory actions should be data driven. Yet when a carrier official suggested a data-driven approach, an FRA official responded—according to FRA-prepared meeting minutes—“What would be the objective of this exercise?” That the FRA administrator is a former union officer legitimately adds to anxieties.

Congressional oversight may soon probe what really is going on, and surely if the FRA proceeds, a federal court challenge, accompanied by extensive pre-trial discovery, will focus sunlight. Clearly not the FRA’s finest hour, this may well be its nadir.

The FRA has never been data-driven. It is all hocus pocus and pseudo-science.

Read Full Post »

San Jose’s Diridon Station Area Plan will build a Sea of Parking around the new BART and HSR stations. And you don’t have to take my word for it — even Rod Diridon agrees. So you might expect the Greenbelet Alliance to come out against the plan….or not:

The plan also calls for creating a dynamic world-class community next to the station that’s designed around people, rather than cars, to create an attractive urban village in the heart of San Jose.

The Diridon Plan provides one of San Jose’s best opportunities to carry out many of the goals from its Envision 2040 General Plan, especially increasing walking, biking and transit trips. Now the hard part: Making the vision a reality. This will require strong leadership and cross-jurisdictional collaboration. The San Jose City Council should start by approving the Diridon Plan.


Read Full Post »

Hollywood Wants Blockbuster Tax Subsidy

Does Hollywood really need $400 million in tax credits for producing its crappy blockbuster movies? That is the argument being put forth by the industry group Film-LA:

In a study released today on feature film production in California in 2013, FilmL.A. has added its voice to the chorus wanting an increase to the entertainment industry tax incentives the Golden State offers. While the opinion is nothing new for the nonprofit local-permitting organization, the basis of its latest argument is: We need more blockbusters.

According to FilmL.A.’s 6-months-in-the-making report, California is tied for second place with the entire country of Canada for the location where most feature films released last year were made. Introduced in 2009, California’s current $100 million Film and TV Tax Credit program does not allow pics with budgets of more than $75 million to be eligible for its annual lottery. “For a program intended to help reverse runaway production, California’s incentive entirely ignores film projects carrying the greatest economic value with the greatest propensity to run away: big‐budget features,” says the 2013 Feature Film Production Report.

Surely there are more important programs to fund than Hollywood blockbuster movies. For example, the $400 million film credit dwarfs the $100 million annual spending for the state’s bike/ped program. I make that comparison because Film-LA recently had a green bike lane removed from Spring Street.

But what about all the Teamsters Local 399 jobs that might be lost to places like Toronto or Vancouver? Think about it: tax credits are being used to subsidize the production of crappy Hollywood blockbusters, when that money could be spent hiring workers to develop new infrastructure, green technology, housing, etc. You know, things that have an actual social benefit for Californians.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »