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.


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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.


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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.

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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.

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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?


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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.


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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?



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