Unfortunately, I Told You So

Published at 19:36 on 26 February 2013

Remember back when the Establishment media were waxing triumphant over the defeat of the Tamil Tigers? I was skeptical that it would result in any improvement of human rights in Sri Lanka, given the past record of the racist government there.

Well, it looks like I was right on the money. In case that Reuters article disappears, here’s the report from Human Rights Watch that it cites.

The Hornit is Here

Published at 19:33 on 22 February 2013

I received my Hornit bicycle horn today, and damn, is the thing ever loud. Painfully loud, in fact. As it needs to be; there’s a layer of glass and steel and a fog of oblivion it needs to penetrate.

It’s already been installed, with the trigger button in the somewhat odd location of the underside of the left side of the handlebar grips of each bike (I bought extra trigger buttons and mounts, so I can shift the horn to the bike I am using). Reason for putting it there is it’s easy to hit the button with my thumb while using the rest of my fingers for braking.

I will definitely be braking at least 90% of the time I use the thing. A horn is not a substitute for slowing down to avoid a crash; it’s an adjunct. It’s a way of announcing “Wake up! I am here! Pay attention!”. If push comes to shove, a car will win any disagreement with a bicycle, and decisively. The differences in mass and shielding are just too great.

But, if more bicyclists had loud horns and used them to blast oblivious drivers of motor vehicles, it would have the positive effect of getting more drivers to watch for vehicles other than large, motorized one; that is the real virtue of equipping bicycles with loud horns.

Western Media Double Standards

Published at 08:19 on 20 February 2013

NPR had yet another example this morning: they reported how British PM David Cameron became the first PM to visit the site of the Amritsar Massacre, then added parenthetically that his visit fell short of issuing an apology.

I doubt the same spin would be put on a Japanese PM visiting a Pearl Harbor memorial. Instead, it would doubtless be “Japanese leadership still refuses to issue formal apology.” As it should be, in fact: the fact that nationalism leads its adherents to overlook or minimize their own side’s atrocities is something that should be exposed whenever it happens.

Given that’s how nationalism operates, then, it’s particularly important to focus on what one might be overlooking about one’s own country’s past. Keep that in mind you hear the next preachy story condescendingly talking about the Japanese refusal to fully face what their side did during World War II. While the story is valid, the condescension is not: just consider the Wounded Knee massacre.

Highway 9 is Still Highway 9… Sort of… for Now

Published at 20:04 on 18 February 2013

Today I had a chance to drive on Highway 9 north of Arlington. The first time I drove that stretch of road, about 25 years ago, I was shocked at how quickly it changes character. Between Arlington and the Seattle suburbs, it was a wide, straight 2-lane highway with paved shoulders.

Past Arlington, it was like a different road altogether. The road abruptly became not much more than 20 feet wide as it started climbing into the foothills. The speed limit dropped from 55 to 35. Many curves were far slower than that. Bridges were typically wooden and single-laned. The traffic volume also dropped to practically nothing at about the point the road changed character.

Well, it’s still not as straight and fast there as it is south of Arlington, but it’s been widened to some degree; it’s probably more like 22 or 24 feet now. There’s been a depressing amount of suburban development in those hills (well, two subdivisions, but that alone is depressing considering how rural it used to be).

But there’s still a 10 mile stretch that’s as narrow and windy as it ever was, and I was floored when I discovered that the last of the one-lane bridges was still there. This time, I had to wait for traffic coming the other way (I don’t think I ever had to way back when; there was almost no traffic on that stretch then).

It’s not going to last, however. Not that I’m surprised.

What really frosts me is that the need for widening and straightening on that stretch of highway is driven by the suburbanization. The logging-road-with-a-layer-of-blacktop that was the old highway had plenty of extra capacity to handle the odd logging truck or weekend vacationer from the city. If the land had stayed rural, that old road would still have no trouble handling the little traffic using it.

Being a state highway, it is my taxes which are helping to pay for those upgrades. If the full cost was charged back to those moving to the remote subdivisions above Clear Lake, I doubt those subdivisions would have happened: the fees would have rendered them economically uncompetitive.

It puts the lie to the capitalist individualist rhetoric against growth management laws: even if you just focus on economics and ignore the environmental costs of sprawl, it’s not just a matter of a freely-chosen set of economic transactions between landowners, builders, and home-buyers. If those homes had been built up against existing developed land in Burlington or Arlington, it would have taken much less (dozens of miles less, in fact) road building to serve them, and the road-building would have been done mostly at the municipal level, paid for by local property taxes.

Something You Will Not See in Seattle

Published at 09:17 on 16 February 2013

About 7:00 PM on a weekday at the Lloyd Center MAX Station.

And no, it’s not just because there are no suburbs here with the names “Clackamas” or “Gresham”.

One of the standard amenities of a major city is a rapid transit system which runs on a right-of-way independent from the streets and highways and which has more than token coverage of the metro area. That latter aspect means multiple lines, so when the lines converge in the inner city, headways end up being very frequent.

I chose the wording above deliberately. It’s a standard amenity of a major city. As such, cities that lack the amenity can be characterized as being deficient in what services a city should offer to its residents.

If all goes as planned and there are no bumps in the road, Seattle may be at such a point in thirty years or so. By which time I will be age 80, and probably have only a limited ability to enjoy such an amenity (and I will have no ability to enjoy it before then, because it won’t exist).

And the other two options for getting around in Seattle basically suck, too. Driving sucks, because the roads are congested and parking is difficult in many areas. Bicycling sucks, because street maintenance has been badly neglected, the city is spread out, and there’s steep hills almost always involved.

Every option for getting around Seattle sucks; there simply is no escape. It’s one aspect of why I’m not planning to stay in this city for the long term.

Seriously, This Sucks

Published at 22:35 on 15 February 2013

One of the more depressing things I saw on last week’s trip to Portland.

I actually know — or, used to know; I cut off all contact with him when he started cavorting with fascists — the guy they are talking about. He’s a longtime activist that had done many positive things in Portland.

He was always deficient in the critical thinking department, which might provide some explanation for what he’s been up to in recent years. I remember him once trying to convince me that David Icke’s conspiracy theory about shape-shifting space aliens infiltrating human society was plausible and reasonable.

Perhaps even a more plausible explanation is that what he’s seeking is to mainly be the member of an exclusive “club” which is “in” on some knowledge that the rest of the world is not. Any sort of non-mainstream scene can furnish that; its values and whether or not its shared beliefs conform to logic and observable reality are irrelevant for such purposes.

Regardless, it’s tragic. It’s particularly tragic that Citybikes hasn’t taken the commonsense step of voting the guy out of any sort of position involving power or prestige in their organization. (It’s a worker’s co-op, so they easily could.) Yes, he did play a key role in forming the collective. Too bad — past good works should not serve to excuse one from present accountability.

And yes, Calvert does cavort with known fascists. Here’s him shamelessly and fawningly introducing one at a so-called “9-11 Truth” society meeting in 2009.

As such, it’s especially tragic that I have to say I find Rose City Antifa’s call to boycott the establishment sounds like a reasonable response. Though I do take issue with their demands that Calvert be fired; I think a demotion would be sufficient. He has a right to express his views, reprehensible though they may be. What he has no right to is any sort of respect for those views.

It’s a great store, and I generally believe that worker’s collectives deserve all the support they can get, so it really pains me to come to any sort conclusion in favor of boycotting one.

Carbon Trading is a Scam

Published at 19:27 on 10 February 2013

Unlike most liberals, Peter DeFazio gets it.

For a particularly egregious example of just how wrong the outcomes of carbon trading can be, consider how it is enabling indigenous people in Chiapas who live very modestly being moved off their land so that Californians can continue their fossil-fuel-intensive lives unchanged.

If you want a modest first step that can easily fit within Establishment politics, it would be a carbon tax (levied at the point of purchase of any fossil fuel), not casino capitalist games with “trading” carbon emissions. Worries about such as scheme being regressive taxation or leading to growth of government can be addressed by making it an “untax“: a revenue-neutral tax that simply goes into a trust fund which is refunded to all equally on a per-capita basis. Wastrels will end up losing, and the carbon-thrifty will be rewarded; the poor will tend to come out winners simply because they can’t afford to consume much, even though they might spend a higher percentage of their income on fossil fuels than the non-poor.

Giving Giuliani Too Much Credit

Published at 10:05 on 7 February 2013

The conventional wisdom is that Rudy Guiliani as mayor was responsible for turning around New York’s crime problem. Not so fast:

crime_chartGiuliani took office in 1993, when the declining-crime trend was well underway. Crime rates were dropping rapidly when the much-maligned liberal David Dinkins was mayor, and had first started dropping when centrist Ed Koch (whose terms are off the left edge of the chart) was mayor.

New York’s turnaround from its low point in the 1970s has been a long process which has spanned the terms in office of three mayors. Giving all the credit for it to Giuliani is like giving all the credit for building a house to the drywall hangers and painters.

Moreover, a big part of the decline in NYC and elsewhere has been simple demographics and not public policy at all: Statistically, young men are the most likely to commit crimes, and the US population has been aging, causing that demographic to represent a shrinking fraction of the nation’s population.

Now Just Where Does This Logic Lead?

Published at 07:47 on 5 February 2013

So, it’s OK to kill Americans extrajudicially overseas, not because of any specific evidence they are planning to launch attacks, but simply because they are part of an organization which is “continually” planning attacks. (Which is not to imply that extrajudicial executions of anyone are ever morally justifiable, just pointing out the ever-slipping standards.)

Well all righty now.

By the way, just when is the President planning his next overseas trip, anyhow?

Update: full document here.