Way to go, TRB leadership

I mentioned in my post on harassment that I abandoned going to TRB (Transportation Research Board) because for me, it felt like open season on harassment. I neglected to point out when I did so. I got a Twitter response from a woman I do not know saying that wasn’t her experience at TRB, but she didn’t respond when I said I was glad she was made to feel more welcome. I wasn’t crazy about the tone of the original response; women shouldn’t have to deal with other people basically hinting that they are wrong/oversensitive/dishonest in discussing their experiences because the questioning person hasn’t had the same experiences in the same spaces. They may have, simply, been fortunate. But with Twitter, who knows if that was what she meant at all, so whatevs.

In any case, a few hours later, I got a very nice email from a member of TRB’s current leadership asking about my experiences and what they might do. It was a really positive and effective thing to do, and it makes me very hopeful. It drew my attention to a problem in my original post–a problem of accuracy on my part, but still a problem for TRB, too, nonetheless.

I didn’t point out in the original post that I gave up on TRB in 2000–nearly 20 years ago. I am sure that much about the conference is different now, but I am still pretty sure that there is still harassment because when I say harassment happens everywhere, I mean, it happens everywhere. But still; back when I first started attending TRB (1993), there were some years where there were only about 7 to 10 women on the entire conference program for the policy groups in TRB. It was manel after manel of depressing grey and navy suits and polyester ties. There was so much condescension towards women, it was often palpable, and I was a PYT back then. Don’t get me wrong: women of all ages, sizes, and appearances face this crap all the time, but youth is a marker of potential vulnerability, and harassment is about power and domination.

And even with the wonderful leadership that TRB reps showed towards the issue with me this week, and even though transportation has changed as a profession, a lot (and thank heaven), TRB’s losing me at a young age is a genuine and unrecoverable loss. There’s not much TRB can do about it now. By failing to look after me as a young professional, the dudes back then squandered an opportunity to capture a potential lifelong contributor: I now have a much bigger voice and platform, and I still never think to direct young people there, and I have little reason to attend myself at this point in my career.

I’ve heard again and again among transportations scholars that TRB is an important conference, that I should want to be on the various committees, and so forth. I’m sure they are right. I can’t know for sure what my career or research would have been had I stayed engaged. I do know that a) lots and lots of people want my time and human capital now, b) TRB isn’t getting any of it*, and c) I haven’t missed going one bit. The thing is: when you stop going to conferences, it can be very easy to discover that you don’t really benefit from them all that much, especially if you, like me, tend to be a relatively introverted scholar anyway. I have wonderful relationships with scholars I have only met through their books, and sometimes, it’s good to maintain the mystery.

The idea that conferences are all just fabulouso-networking-jams might be true for people capable of myriad social interactions, but it is not the case, no matter what, for those of who us die tiny deaths during small talk and thus hide in our friend’s Georgetown home binge-reading Harry Potter, which is what I did after I walked out of TRB the last time in 2000, on the first day of the conference, having been called “cute” by a senior male scholar, now dead. (That was my first Harry Potter book; it was a wonderful experience, and I left the house the next day to get the next two books and pie, at Kramer Books, four blocks from the the Hilton where TRB was, which I rode by on the bus feeling not one twinge of obligation to go back.)

That isn’t the outcome that these organizations want. And that’s what I mean when I urge leaders to do what TRB leadership attempted this week: listen, work for change, and cultivate young people and difference in an environment of genuine goodwill, free exchange, and safety for vulnerable members. Young people will be the ones paying conference fees and contributing human capital (or not) long after the old guard fade away.

*Whatever marginal contribution I might have made to TRB, eh, there are plenty of great scholars and practitioners who do go. But still: too many youngsters dropping out the way I did is not good.

How to help people being doxxed and cyberbullied?

I have been following Rose McGowan-Twitter dispute since it happened, with with some of her supporters calling for Twitter boycott. There were generally criticisms of this suggestion. The first came from women who rejected the idea that women should silence themselves as a form of protest to protest…women’s silencing.

The second came from women of color who rejected the idea that they should undertake activist work to protect white women when white women do not do similar work for them.

And this is where I got stuck. This response is, naturally, reasonable and we’ve seen it before. The point that I got stuck on was one particular example: one writer used Jemele Hill and Leslie Jones as examples.

I spoke out about both these women and the injustices they faced, but I have to say, that doesn’t feel like very much. Boycotting ESPN would be fine, but in my instance it’s useless since I already don’t consume their channel. So I doubt they care very much about my opinion at all, let alone my plan to continue not consuming their brand.

With Ms. Jones, I did join in an organized online effort to support her directly and draw Twitter’s attention to those subjecting her to abuse. From what I can tell, they banned Milos Yiannopoulos, but I don’t think they went after his little troll army. Should white hats go after them behind their screen names? Doxx them out to their employers and media? I’ve flooded people’s feed with positive messages when I see that starting in and I’m aware of it, but that doesn’t feel like much, either.

When I joined the Leslie Jones donnybrook, I got plenty of hate-tweets in response, with comments about my weight, threats, etc. I wasn’t doxxed, but honestly, I tweet as myself. If you go to my office at USC, you’ll find me. (I’m pretty sweet in real life, or so people tell me.)

Cyberbullying women with opinions is pretty much constant, and the only way to avoid it is, I’ve found, to avoid having an opinion, and well, screw that. I tend to just stop responding to people on Twitter when I decide they are bullies, and since I wrote the Smartest Boy Urbanist thing (what I’ll probably die being known for despite killing myself to do good research), I have plenty of dudes looking to take me down a peg. But that’s what Smartest Dude Urbanists are: bullies. They don’t actually care about cities. They care about being right about cities, and getting people to submit to their rightness–winning arguments, the jousting, the coming-out-on-top. If they did care about cities, they’d want to work through dissent and difference–in addition to just winning policy change–in cities instead of just trying silence it and conflate it all with the worst aspects of NIMBYism. To some degree, that “win win win” stuff is just politics. But when it’s combined with white maleness, it’s power-down crap that the rest of us shouldn’t have to put up with.

I generally just ignore the dudes doing that; I’m in a position where me going off on a feminist rant on my own blog can’t really get me fired. Yet. But I am in a very privileged space to be able to do that–which is one reason why I do it–but I don’t feel as though I’m using the power I have to respond in particularly effective ways to women getting cyberbullied and doxxed. I often just don’t notice it. I tweet at the beginning and the end of the workday and just don’t see stuff. In addition, I really don’t know what works as intervening versus what has the potential to make it all worse. I do the positive social media things to support women & people of color, such as promoting their work, etc. But I don’t really feel like I have any strategies to help in the instances where things have turned negative.


Male dominance is everywhere, and thus, so is sexual predation: Miramax, FoxNews, USC, ACSP…everywhere

The week has been another terrible one, with the Rohingya, Puerto Rican Americans still suffering, fires destroying so much in northern California, and all actions on gun control are likely to go paff into the void.

But I want to talk about sexual harassment because I have to, apparently, otherwise I am a faux feminist. It’s not my role to discuss my employer, USC, and this is not a post sanctioned by the university. I don’t speak for USC, obviously. But I have spent the entire week listening to people yell at ‘FAUX FEMINIST HILLARY CLINTON FOR NOT SPEAKING OUT ABOUT HARVEY WEINSTEIN” because you know, it’s feminists’ job to fix the problems they point out but didn’t create. And you know, women are in the best position to stop abuses of power because they hold so much power in all these institutions…oh wait.

I suppose conservatives are having a heyday with Weinstein because they feel they were picked on, horribly picked on, when Bill O’Reilly and (insert long list of conservatives) were outed as domestic abusers and sexual predators. This flouncing around about how “liberals aren’t denouncing Weinstein, the hypocrites!”…yeah, ok, that’s politics, but it does seem like there is plenty of denouncing such that things have come home to roost on Weinstein, insofar that rich privileged predators retire into their luxurious private lives with their status moderately lowered. Goodness, such consequences.

The problem with denouncing these guys, without more reflection, is that it tends to create the impression that they are the exceptions instead of the rule in the world. Like denouncing the jerks in Charlottesville without accepting the everydayness of white supremacy, all this lather about Weinstein seems to leave the impression that it undoes all the wrongs he committed over the very long period in which he was rewarded and his behavior tolerated because he was, supposedly, a rainmaker, the one guy who could do the one thing that nobody else could ever do for the organization he’s supposedly working for.

That’s the story. A misunderstood genius. A Dr. House. A boy so exceptionally wonderful that we all just tolerate his shitty behavior because he’s just so darn special. Their benefits to the organization supposedly outweigh their costs.

Horseshit. These Dudes don’t work for the organization. The organizations work for them. These Dudes please higher-ups, and because higher-ups only care about money and status, the people that these dudes hurt become the eggs broken in making an omelet to the people at the top. Because the “rain” that these dudes make flows upwards, not downwards, and those at the top have bought into the “hey, the exceptional individual is what changes the game.”

Do you see how my language has become general, moved away from Weinstein and/or USC? Because this stuff is everywhere. I said in class the other day “Every single one of your female colleagues has a story, if not many stories, to tell you about dudes like Weinstein.” The women in the class were nodding their heads; the guys were looking at their phones, laptops, or out the windows.

The LA Times has smelled blood in the water at USC, and it looks like people have decided to go straight to informing the Times about what has gone on. I honestly do not know if we are worse than other places. I just don’t have the evidence one way or the other. With the Times scrutinizing us, the proliferation of stories could be scrutiny bias. Or USC could be worse than other universities. I honestly do not know.

But Penn State. But Berkeley. But Yale.

Even though the LA Times isn’t running stories about them, I’d bet real money the same thing, in various shades of egregiousness, is happening right now in various departments at UCLA, Loyola, Pepperdine, Irvine, Cal Tech, Occidental….LA Trade Tech.

Why? Because it’s everywhere. There was That Dude in the substance abuse rehab I worked in. There was That Dude in the Econ department at the University of Iowa. And so on, and so forth.

That Dude is everywhere, protecting That Dude is something male privilege does…until that dude somehow gets outed, and then errrbody shocked that That Dude was allowed to be That Dude for so long.

Dr. House gets to make openly racist comments to Dr. Foreman, a very accomplished man who deserves better, and who puts up with it and handles it, “because it’s worth it.”

Nobody ever thinks that there are decent men who can do the exact same thing that the Stars do if they were given the same institutional support and attention–and who wouldn’t abuse the people around them.

I no longer attend TRB because it just wasn’t worth the constant propositioning.


The mindset of US society is dominating, exploitive; it’s about taking, controlling, winning. And among spoils of that winning is the ability to abuse power. Bare-knuckles winning. Or abject losing. That’s the world, deal with it. Supposedly.

Our sitting president.

Some fiddling about with text mining comments from Metro survey former transit riders, non-riders, and infrequent riders

So Twitter Smarty Henry Fung (@calwatch) let me have some data from LA Metro’s 2016 survey. I’m going to have my students learn a little text mining on it; there aren’t a huge amount of comments, but I find it can be good to learn to mine text on smaller files, just to avoid over-plotting and shorten the run times. Some of these are interesting:


Sad word cloud.


If work requires people to use a car, people use the car. Sigh. I sit through a lot of lectures from very smart people who tell me that nonwork travel is important, and it is, but paying your rent and eating are also important, and if people get cars because of work, then they have invested a lot of money in that mode of travel and it’s just hard to get them on to transit. As long we are talking about MOAR SUPPLY, more work destinations served by transit would probably help us out here.


“Long” and “expensive” do not reassure us much, either, and neither does the frequency with which parking gets mentioned. I often say to my students that Metro does not have an easy job. Even this little bit of fiddling backs that up pretty well.

Good study on drivers’ poor behavior toward black male pedestrians from Dr. Kimberly Kahn , Tara Goddard @GoddardTara @TRECpdx

On the Black Lives Matter themes in the world a new report from PSU’s TREC shows that, like Donald Trump, drivers are nasty to black men, too. Here’s the report–it’s free, but you will have to register with TREC, which you should do so that you can get their updates and serve as a reviewer for them.

Nice little field experiment done here. Here’s the summary from the abstract:

Specifically, this study investigates the roles of 1) pedestrian race, 2) pedestrian gender, 3) crosswalk design (unmarked intersection crosswalk vs. marked crosswalk), and 4) drivers’ identity characteristics (male vs. female, White vs. minority) on drivers’ yielding behavior with pedestrians. A controlled field experiment in which Black and White male and female pedestrians crossed the street at two different types of crosswalks (unmarked vs. marked) was conducted, while trained coders marked drivers’ yielding behavior. Results indicated that overall stopping rates were very low at the unmarked crosswalk, and few differences emerged based on pedestrian race and gender. When the crosswalk became marked, stopping rates greatly increased; however, treatment was less equitable. Drivers were less likely to stop for Black and male pedestrians, and when they did stop, they were more likely to stop closer to Black male and Black female pedestrians. These effects occurred regardless of drivers’ race and gender.

So basically, drivers are rude and trying to kill everybody relatively equally at unmarked crosswalks.

Well done, drivers. Jeez.

Marked crosswalks have, as we know, a positive effect on drivers’ yielding behavior, but drivers treated black male pedestrians with less care than everybody else in the experiment:

Ppms trec pdx edu media project files NITC 869 Racial Bias in Drivers Yielding Behavior 5YnmTku pdf

It’s hard to assign race based on visuals in studies, and yet people do it all the time in everyday life.

So yeah, this sucks. It’s a nice study; go read it. The follow up with focus groups, too. This is just a report on a small grant so the publications will have more detail. It would be nice to see this study scaled up through funding via NIH. The exercise of observing crosswalk behavior would be nice for a class exercise.

What do we gain from calling the Vegas shooting a terrorist act?

I had a good comment from one of my students about framing mental illness in the aftermath of mass violence, and I did a bad job in class of responding to it. (I sucked in class in general this week.) Her point: people who have mental illnesses are much more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence. That gets drowned out in the narrative around shooters: he snapped, he was mentally ill, he was crazy. I pointed out that Republicans at least pretend to care about mental illness in the aftermath of mass shootings as a way to deflect responsibility doing anything rational on gun policy, and I always hope we might get some gains there even if it’s from the wrong reasoning. She persisted on her point; she was right and I wrong. One of the problems with age, I suspect, is too much willingness to gain policy ground even on specious assumptions. Ends-means stuff.

In that vein, I’ve been following the discussions around the Vegas shooter, and the inevitable critiques that arise over the way white and male privilege creates cover for white male violence: he was a “lone wolf” instead of a terrorist. The resistance to this narrative makes sense to me: the double standards of privilege don’t deserve to stand, and every group has its violent-minded discontents with grievances against the world who, unfortunately, can hurt many people. Denying that part of whiteness, let alone the systemic violence of white supremacist institutions, perpetuates dangerous illusions about who is violent and who isn’t.

So equality in term usage makes sense to me, but there are to me some useful conceptual distinctions between terrorism and mass shootings. In terms of damage done, I doubt it really matters much about whether the shooter is an “individual malcontent” or part of an organized group, non-state-sponosered with an articulated political goal, but I think it does matter in terms of policy (as opposed to state-sponsored acts of violence.) I remember reading a very thoughtful piece from a woman of color (and I can’t freaking find it now, damn it) challenging the terrorist label with Dylan Roof and questioning the demands that he be labeled a terrorist: given how unreflective Americans are when that label comes out, why would we want to promulgate it in any context?

I don’t know. I don’t buy that somebody like the Vegas shooter “isn’t political” even if he didn’t issue some creepy manifesto. Mass shootings are attacks on the body politic. And just because he’s not with some organization that has a name and a manifesto, he is supported by an encompassing ecology of violence for white men in the US.

The reason I am thinking about this problem and how badly I handled my student’s point is that I think they are outgrowths of the same problems with the individualistic narratives that Americans indulge in. Whatever the problem, whether it’s mental illness or white violence, whatever attempt we might make to resource and address the problem, it’s always possible for people to discount systematic interventions by laying blame on individual moral turpitude. “Evil” says Donald Trump, not “evil” enabled and made infinitely worse with excruciatingly poor gun policies and a culture of male violence so thick you can’t turn away from it.

Again, I dunno. I’d love to hear answers either way.

It’s time to require gun owners to carry liability insurance

I am a mess today because I underestimated how much VT trauma the Vegas shootings would bring up for me, so please be kind to me in what is likely to be an intemperate post.

Since the NRA and little boy culture in the United States have made owning a gun into a subculture, and you have to be entitled to be able to consume semi-automatic weapons because it’s so cool, they go BANG BANG BANG and who cares if other people die because of your self-indulgence so that we can’t make getting these idiotic weapons hard as hell, let’s just make sure whoever buys anything more powerful than a revolver or a rifle has to buy lifetime liability insurance at point of sale in order to cover the deaths they cause.

Including guns purchased at gun shows.

So every time our excruciatingly stupid public policy around guns causes another set of mass deaths, idiot people cite cars. Well, Uh, cars cause deaths so let’s ban them, huhhhhhhh huhhhhhhh huhhhhhh? Sure, I’ll accept the analogy, but let’s complete it: we know full well cars are dangerous and it’s illegal to operate one without liability insurance.

The same needs to be true of guns, since we’re not banning assault because the NRA.

We’ve got people lining up to sue the *hotel that the Vegas shooter shot from* because that super well-compensated hotel staff whose entire job involves kissing consumers’ butts didn’t use their x-ray eyes to know that a guy with a lot of luggage was carrying guns and demand he open his bags. Instead,we should have people lined up to sue the company who made the AR-15 with such a crappy design that you can modify it so readily to shoot even faster.

Hey, you don’t like the catalytic converter in your car? Go modify it. Don’t like the air bag? Go disable it. Don’t like your advanced braking system? Go modify it?

You don’t know how to do that? (The one is much easier than the others.) That’s right. BECAUSE INSURANCE COMPANIES AND ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATORS DON’T WANT YOU TO. If we had insurance companies on the hook for guns rather than FREAKING HOTELS, anything like the AR-15 would be designed up the wazoo to keep idiots from doing idiot things that were going to cost the insurance company money, and you’d have to be an experienced machinist and welder to modify it rather than just some numbnut with an internet kit. Oh, and no, there would be no internet kit because whoever was out selling those would get sued, too, probably by the original gun maker because there is no way that any insurance company would insure you on a gun that any Johnny Putz could hack open and do whatever he wanted to with it.

With liability insurance for guns, you get some insurance companies on the hook for paying for this carnage, long after the original shooter leaves his mortal coil and we’d have another powerful industrial lobby in legislation instead of just the NRA, with the opposite interests as the NRA.

Yes, this is what American politics has come to. I don’t like it. But I can work with it.

Oh, oh, you say that you can’t afford insurance with your very expensive gun? Well, according to the same party that is devoted to protecting your gun rights, poor people don’t deserve health care so I assume that they also don’t deserve to have guns if they haven’t saved prudentially for a gun, or had the American Consumer God bless with them money blessings because they are so deserving and special. Go get a third job if you want a semiautomatic and the liability insurance it requires. That’s what a right-living American would do.