Friday, September 25, 2015

"Share the Road"...and Die.

On Saturday, September 19th, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy adviser Jacob Thomas "Jake" Brewer was killed in Howard County, Maryland when he lost control of his bicycle, crossed a double yellow line into oncoming traffic, and collided with a car during the 160-mile "Ride to Conquer Cancer"  benefitting Johns Hopkins, Sibley and Suburban Hospitals. 

Brewer's death might have been less noted, had the late 34-year old Obama aide not been husband to Fox News celebrity Mary Katharine Ham. Noticed it certainly was, by a host of Washington insiders including President Obama, who issued an official statement saying he was "heartbroken at the tragic loss of one of my advisors."

The death of any young person is indeed tragic, but the White House statement and most news coverage failed to emphasize that Brewer had died in a charity cycling event in which bicycles had irresponsibly been routed onto highways filled with cars. 

Thus, Brewer had become yet another victim of a "Share the Road" transportation ideology apparently based upon the premises of the civil rights movement, which in an absurd attempt at vehicular integration inevitably puts cyclists and vehicles on a collision course, only making such tragedies ever more likely to recur.

Brewer's death was avoidable. In the 20th Century, transportation engineers figured out the principles used to separate bicycles from automobile traffic, based upon the reasonable premise that the two different types of vehicles had incompatible characteristics. 

Cars and trucks are heavy, drive fast, and take up a lot of space. Bicycles are slower, lighter, and take up less room. The optimal solution, obviously, is to segregate bicyclists from drivers. Separate bikes lanes are a first step, completely isolated bicycle paths even more desirable. Under no circumstances should bicycles "share the road" with cars, trucks, and buses.

The most advanced bicycle networks have been built in Holland, a country that has established the world's most successful form of cycling apartheid...after realizing in the 1950s that unless cars were separated from bicycles, as the chief inspector of Dutch traffic police declared in 1967, "Cycling is tantamount to attempting suicide." 

By 1973, according to the Boston Globe, over 3,000 pedestrians and cyclists were being killed annually in Dutch traffic accidents. 

"STOP THE CHILD MURDER," read signs held up by protesters who poured into the streets. On one of Amsterdam's most congested thoroughfares, hundreds laid down in the street next to their bicycles.

And so bicycle apartheid was established. Streets were closed to cars, and new "cycle tracks" established across the country. Holland even installed traffic lights at intersections, just for bicycles, and required cyclists to come to a complete stop.

As the Boston Globe reported: Rule number one of Dutch cycling: If you want regular people to ride bikes, you've got to separate them from the cars.

Despite the success of the Dutch experience, however, a countervailing "Share the Road" policy, which perversely places bicyclists in harm's way, now appears to be firmly in place in the United States. 

The most visible evidence of this ideological shift may be found is the appearance of so-called "sharrows" painted on city streets across the country. The nickname is short for "Shared Lane Markings," which according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials

Shared Lane Markings (SLMs), or “sharrows,” are road markings used to indicate a shared lane environment for bicycles and automobiles. Among other benefits shared lane markings reinforce the legitimacy of bicycle traffic on the street,  recommend proper bicyclist positioning, and may be configured to offer directional and wayfinding guidance. The shared lane marking is not a facility type, it is a pavement marking with a variety of uses to support a complete bikeway network. 

Transportation officials sing the praises of "sharrows," to integrate bicycles with vehicular traffic, on their website
However, these officials irresponsibly champion a policy of shared lanes, without sufficient attention to reports of increased pedestrian and bicycle fatalities and injuries, as cyclists are forced into closer proximity to speeding traffic.

For example, a recently published medical research letter, Bicycle Trauma Injuries and Hospital Admissions in the United States, 1998-2013, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on September 1, 2015, described a 28% increase in injuries and 120% increase in hospitalizations among bicyclists from 1998 to 2013, including a 60% in head injuries and 20% increase in body injuries, including genito-urinary injuries. The impact was most severe among those over 45.

Likewise, Dr. John Pucher and Lewis Dijkstra concluded that American cyclists are three times as likely to be killed per mile as Dutch riders, and twice as likely to be killed as German bicyclists, in research published in The American Journal of Public Health in 2003.

According to the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, 743 bicyclists were killed in 2013, and 48,000 were injured. Meanwhile, a  review of pedestrian-cyclist accidents in New York State from 2007-2010 by Hunter College professors Peter Tuckel and William Milczarski revealed that bicycles were hitting more pedestrians than previously reported:

Earlier research, based on a sample of hospitals nationwide, estimated that there were approximately 1,000 pedestrians hit by a cyclist each year in the United States who needed to obtain medical treatment at a hospital. This present study, based on every hospital in New York State, has found that in New York State alone, there were approximately 1000 pedestrians struck by cyclists each year necessitating medical treatment at a hospital. 

So, not only is bicycling in traffic clearly unsafe for riders, it is also demonstrably unsafe for pedestrians. Although Ralph Nader has not issued an Unsafe At Any Speed: Bicycle Edition, you don't need to be a traffic engineer to realize that any bicycle at all is far less safe than a 1964 Chevrolet Corsair.

Given the terrible toll of suffering and death "sharing the road" policies inflict upon cyclists and pedestrians alike (not to mention the trauma suffered by drivers who hit cyclists), why have counterproductive strategies like "sharrows" spread across the United States?

The answer may have been provided at a recent seminar I attended, where a cycling activist with a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics described his world-view.

He was, he told us, educated at a school for the "transnational global elite" and as a cyclist felt himself to be a member of an "imagined community" which distinguished itself from the "other" community--those who drive cars. His community of cyclists was "green," but automobiles were destroying the planet. His cycles were so much better than cars, that he felt good about organizing groups of bicycle riders to travel in groups, blocking entire lanes on heavily traveled roads in order to slow down traffic, using laws that treat bicycles equally to cars. 

In fact, he came to realize that mere equality for bicycles was not enough, rather he sought to transform existing motor vehicle law to secure additional privileges for bicycles--such as not stopping at red lights. 

In effect, his goal was to reinforce "bicycle privilege."

This kind of logic is premised upon a religious conception of the "Elect" and the "Damned" going back to John Winthrop and the Puritans in Boston. Bicycling is "green" and a sign of Grace. Driving is not "green" and a sign of Damnation.

Additionally, the cycling advocate pointed out that fewer than 1% of commutes are done by bicycle--which means that the "elite" cyclists are by definition more "elite" than the 1% who have $1 million. Indeed, it is highly unlikely that committed bicyclists are overweight, disabled, or aged--you must be very fit to ride a bike to work every day.

Therefore, a community of cyclists is by definition exclusionary as well as elitist: able-ist, ageist, and size-ist, among other things. Transnational globalism is the least of the problems that bicyclists have. 

The 2013 music video by Sons Science in the YouTube box below gives a hint of the sense of entitlement contemporary cycling advocates hold:

Unfortunately, the world-view of cycling advocates is seriously flawed, because people don't divide neatly into "communities" of cyclists v. drivers. We are all both.

People are able to both ride bicycles and drive cars--you can't haul a lot of stuff on a bicycle, and you might not enjoy the fresh air as much in an air-conditioned SUV. When it pours, it's nice to have a car or bus to take. When it snows, All-Wheel-Drive comes in handy. Which is why there are bike racks on cars, trucks, and buses.

Needless to say, the streets of Mao's China, once filled with bicycles, now host traffic jams of BMWs, Mercedes, Audis and Volkswagens (Chinese like German engineering as much as everyone else). The future cycling advocates claim to envision is actually the past the Third World wishes to escape.

Unless American cycling advocates are determined to make  "Share the Road" a "right-to-die" issue, it is time to abandon a dangerous ideology that puts the lives of cyclists and pedestrians at risk. Instead of "Share the Road," American transportation engineers and legislators need to enact stricter "Where to Ride" laws governing the conduct of bicyclists, separating them from vehicular traffic to the maximum extent possible until America is able implement the Dutch model of vehicular apartheid. 

Otherwise, the streets of America are doomed to become killing fields in a new kind holy war between cyclists and automobiles--a war no one could possibly win. And that would mean, tragically: One, Two, Three--many more Jake Brewers.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Len Downie Has Seen The Future Of Journalism--And It Is NPR...

Former Washington Post Executive Editor (and current Editor-at-Large) Len Downie spoke about his personal history, as well as the future of journalism at Washington, DC's Tenley-Friendship Public Library on September 10th.

It could have been stirring to hear from a news legend. However, while still a vigorous 73, the former Metro desk editor--who supervised Woodward and Bernstein's Watergate coverage--appeared downbeat and dispirited. His wife and two children were in the audience, giving the occasion as well something of the elegiac feel of a memorial service: The News--May She Rest in Peace.

He said he was concerned with the rise of the internet as a competitor to newspapers, and made an allusion to the departure of Washington Post staffers to Politico. Yet Downie's praise of NPR as a future model for newspaper publishers was chilling, since NPR is a government-subsidized propaganda network protected from audience and market forces. NPR is a model for corruption and cronyism that should be anathema to any principled reporter, editor or publisher. That NPR's incestuous "circle-jerk" coverage is apparently held in high esteem by the editor of what was once a far superior competitor is a sad commentary on the state of journalism in the United States of America today.

To quote Glenn Garvin:

And now we've come to the real secret of NPR news: Bad journalism is not just an occupational hazard, the occasional and inevitable accident that occurs in every news organization. Bad journalism happens on the quarter hour at NPR. Bad journalism is, often, policy at NPR. 
How shall we count the ways? 
The dull scripts, so formulaic that even the reporters privately make fun of them. Last year, when NPR was running a long, long, long series of stories on local people shunted aside by development in Latin America, several reporters formed a pool. Recalls one: "We bet on how long each story would go before it cued a strumming guitar, followed by a grandfather mourning his lost son, then singing long-forgotten revolutionary songs."
It was not always thus.

Downie recounted his Horatio Alger career path: from editor of the Wilbur Wright Junior High School newspaper, to helming The Ohio State University newspaper, then rising from intern to Metro Editor of the Washington Post, to Watergate, Buckingham Palace (he covered the wedding of Princess Diana to Prince Charles),  Monica Lewinsky (Drudge forced him to run it) and insider negotiations with President George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and CIA Director Porter Goss over his paper's coverage of secret American prisons (they agreed the Post would run the story without naming countries that agreed to host black sites), to a post-Post career as author, professor, novelist, and foundation-funded journalistic sage.

Yet in retrospect, Downie's future world of journalism seemed a bleak one indeed, far from the fun and frolic of Ben Hecht's Front Page or even the romantically crusading reporters of All The President's Men played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman (John Devlin played "Metro Editor"--i.e., Downie). Of course, the author of The News About The News: American Journalism in Peril and The Reconstruction of American Journalism was never known as a Pollyanna, but this requiem for a heavyweight session was downright depressing to sit through, as gloomy as the graph below:

This doomsday feeling was especially apparent in the Question and Answer session.

Predictable questions about Iraq war controversies drew predictable apologies (although Downie did somehow mention that Senators  Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, the head of the CIA and all major world leaders believed Saddam Hussein had WMD, as well as Saddam Hussein himself declaring that he possessed WMD, prior to the start of the Iraq war).

Then, when asked to name five major news sources he admired, he could only come up with three: The Washington Post, the New York Times, and NPR. Not a very exciting media landscape, as the Post's paid print circulation has dropped by half, from a high of 800,000 to 400,000 in 2015, and the Times showed a similar slide.

Queried why the Post didn't do more local reporting under Jeff Bezos' ownership, the former Metro boss offered statistics on increased numbers of reporters, yet concluded that the Post would never be able to match reporting by "The Current" (a free local weekly throwaway), because of his company's emphasis on "analysis," national and international news. Considering that Downie just finished telling the audience that Watergate grew out of a local news story, and that Post scoops by local reporters (Woodward & Bernstein) under Downie led to the resignation of a President of the United States, the implication was dismal.

Likewise, when someone who looked like a grizzled ex-newsman asked about the fate of the "beat" system, commenting that he didn't recognize bylines of Post reporters anymore, Downie responded that nowadays young reporters are too busy making videos, writing blogs and sending tweets to cover beats the way that they did in the old days. Which could explain why there are so few scoops in the Post nowadays...the reporters are tweeting, or perhaps twerking.

In the end, Downie avoided mention of the real reason for the decline of newspapers--they no longer do their job. Instead of reporting news, hiring reporters who deliver scoops to, in the words of Mr. Dooley (Finley Peter Dunne), "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable," they have undergone a perverse transformation into sandboxes for lunatic academic fads and fashions, that bully their readership with crackpot political propaganda, laying off Pulitzer prizewinners to replace them with younger and cheaper "writers" of "narratives" who appear to know nothing, learn nothing, and add nothing to the party line they clip and paste from internet listservs. They just can't break a story that sells papers.

One example of this phenomenon was Downie's words of praise for the work of Ezra Klein, whose "JournoList" group of 400 reporters co-ordinating news stories by email was shut down after The Daily Caller exposed  messages urging journalists to kill reporting on Rev. Jeremiah Wright's relationship with then-Presidential candidate Barack Obama.

The future of news has been a concern of Downie's past written work. Yet, in praising Klein, Downie had exposed precisely the problem with American journalism today--it's not journalism, it's not reporting, it's not muckraking--it's "JournoList."  Klein wasn't a reporter, he was a propagandist.

Downie's  talk confirmed that newspapers have lost their audience not because of a lack of advertising, circulation, or technology; rather because they have surrendered their mission, lost integrity, abandoned subscribers and betrayed advertisers. American journalists no longer "speak truth to power," in the words of the Quaker saying. Rather, more often than not, they speak lies to the powerless.

That is the only real problem facing American journalism today--they don't do their job.

In the words of Mark Steyn, whose epic freedom of the press court trial, Mann v. Steyn, is taking place in a Washington, DC courtroom--curiously without significant Post editorial support or news coverage (although the Washington Post Company joined other media outlets in an amicus curiae  brief,  on Steyn's behalf):

There is nothing worth reading in American newspapers and they entirely deserve to go out of business. An old editor of mine in Fleet Street liked to emphasize the importance of what she called a "f**k-me headline". In the United States, if a story does not fit their ideological needs, the media prefer a sedate-me headline. From The New York Times:
Suspect in Virginia Shooting of News Team Commits Suicide. Not quite passive and enervated enough for you? Try The Boston GlobeSuspected gunman in Virginia TV killings dies at hospital.
Contra Downie, the solution for the problems facing the news media does not lie in more of the same, supported by NPR-style government and foundation funding.

It is this simple: just report the news.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Life Imitates Art: "The March" (BBC-TV, 1990)

Media coverage of the current "migrant crisis" in Europe is eerily reminiscent of The March, a 1990 BBC-TV docudrama directed by David Wheatley, written by William Nicholson, and starring Juliet Stevenson. The film aired on BBC One, Britain's main channel, during what they called "One World Week," and was reportedly broadcast in 20 countries simultaneously to draw attention to the dangers of global warming, as it was then called, and the North-South Divide.

The TV plot is simple and straightforward, based upon Ghandi's 1930 "Salt March" to protest British colonial rule in India. It recalls as well as Jean Raspail's dystopian 1973 French novel about an Indian invasion of the French Riviera, The Camp of the Saints. In The March, 250,000 African migrants march from the Sudan to Europe to demand entry to their Promised Land.

At the time of production, the BBC filmmakers denied any connection to their French precursor, as well they might. For while the plot is similar, the attitude is not.

Raspail's novel is thematically xenophobic, racist, and nationalistic, a Custer's Last Stand type of depiction of French Civilization under assault from barbarian masses--presumably influenced by the traumatic episodes of May 1968.

On the other hand, this BBC 1990 docudrama was clearly made to promote increased spending on  international aid, with the ultimate goal of a "world without borders."

In "The March," the mob of 250,000 migrants from Africa, led by "Isa el-Mahdi" (Malick Bowens) are the heroes of the story, for demanding that rich Europeans share their wealth with the people of the Third World.

The message of the Mahdi is calculated to tug at the guilty heartstrings of progressive Europeans: "We are poor because you are rich."

Unlike Raspail, who portrayed Europe engulfed and destroyed by a wave of impoverished humanity, Wheatley and Nicholson made their protagonist an Irish EU commissioner of international development, Clare Fitzgerald (Juliet Stevenson), who helps the marchers to reach the Gibraltar shores (or perhaps beaches in Spain) from Algeria, on live TV, to teach Imperialists a lesson. With deference to another Irish celebrity, Oscar Wilde, it seems Samantha Power was played on TV by Juliet Stevenson in 1990, before there was a Samantha Power.

Clare Fitzgerald concludes the movie by declaring that Europe may not yet ready to admit all the people of the Third World, but someday, perhaps, they will be.

That day appears to have come. Given the reporting on recent events in Europe, The March seems truly prophetic, providing insight into the mentality of the governing European elite...for now in 2015, European Commissioners--depicted critically in the The March as resistant to sharing their wealth with the Third World--appear to have come down categorically against Raspail's Eurocentric attitude in his 1973 Camp of the Saints.

Instead, by admitting hundreds of thousands of marching migrants, they are making their stand on the side of Nicholson, Wheatley and the BBC in 1990.