Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Springtime for atheism

Good to hear that, according to a recent poll, people in the US are increasingly abandoning religion and turning to atheism. It's not easy to come out of the closet as an atheist, especially if you live in a small town and you're a member of the clergy.
Last Sunday's NY Times Magazine has a story on an heroic effort to do just that by a former preacher who lives in a small town in Louisiana:
[Jerry] DeWitt refuses to leave DeRidder, a place where religion, politics and family pride are indivisible. Six months after he was “outed” as an atheist he lost his job and his wife---both, he says, as a direct consequence. Only a handful of his 100-plus relatives from DeRidder still speak to him. When I visited him, in late June, his house was in foreclosure, and he was contemplating moving into his 2007 Chrysler PT Cruiser. This is the kind of environment where godlessness remains a real struggle and raises questions that could ramify across the rest of the country. Is the “new atheism” part of a much broader secularizing trend, like the one that started emptying out the churches in European towns and villages a century ago? Or is it just a ticket out of town?
Some websites for new atheists:

The Out Campaign encourages closet atheists to go public with their unbelief.

The Richard Dawkins website

Recovering from Religion

The Clergy Project "for active and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs."

Freedom from Religion


No "road diet" for Divisadero

Will Reisman has covered city transportation issues for the Examiner competently for several years, but it's not unusual for beat reporters to get co-opted by the agencies they cover. Reisman's "road diet" story last week, buying into the MTA's happy-talk about city traffic, was flawed by this sentence:

Formerly unenticing areas such as the Divisadero Street corridor and San Jose Avenue in the Outer Mission district have benefited from road diets, which slowed vehicle travel and appear to have attracted more local merchants.

The tarting up of Divisadero was misrepresented the same way by former Supervisor Mirkarimi and bike blogger Michael Helquist.

I haven't been over to look at San Jose Avenue lately, but the makeover of Divisadero, except for a long overdue repaving of the street, was strictly cosmetic. No traffic lanes or street parking were removed, and no sidewalks were widened. There's no space for that.

One negative: After the makeover, Muni buses can't move out of the lane at bus stops, which often backs up traffic into intersections as unwary motorists are caught behind the #24, the only Muni line that runs on Divisadero.

The makeover did remove redundant bus stops at Fulton and Ellis, which helps the #24 move on Diviz between Haight Street and Geary Blvd, a stretch that has a stop sign or stoplight at every intersection.

"More local merchants" on Diviz? There are new businesses here and there, but there are always plenty of empty storefronts. What prevents this interesting neighborhood from becoming more of a destination: a lack of parking for tourists and visitors from other neighborhoods.

Reisman's story has the obligatory quotes from Leah Shahum and Elizabeth Stampe who lead the city's anti-car special interest groups. Jason Henderson is identified as "mobility specialist," but he's really just a bike guy who's turned his hobby into a career as an anti-car academic.

For once Henderson has something almost sensible to say about the makeover of Valencia:

"Valencia Street is special because it's located right next to two major BART stations in the Mission District," said San Francisco State mobility specialist Jason Henderson. "It's extremely convenient for people in Berkeley and Oakland to hop on BART and get to the neighborhood. Other streets don't have that same benefit, so it could be difficult to duplicate the success of Valencia Street."

Bike lanes and wide sidewalks were only feasible on Valencia because it had an extra traffic lane that could be eliminated to provide that space. No street parking was eliminated to make the bike lanes. Just as important, Valencia, like the Mission district in general, is flat, which makes it more practical for cyclists in the neighborhood to commute to and from downtown.

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