1647 stories
·
10 followers

Hairy situation: DC’s rail system may be taken down by human shedding

2 Shares

For residents of our nation’s capital, news of a fire on the city’s rapid transit system—the Washington Metro—is not surprising. It catches fire and smokes quite regularly. At some points last year, there were reports of more than four fires per week (although there’s some dispute about that rate). There’s even the handy site—IsMetroOnFire.com—to check the current blaze status.

Yet, despite the common occurrence, residents may be surprised to learn a potential contributor to the system-wide sizzling: their own hair.

According to a safety specialist with the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), a thick, felt-like layer of human hair, skin, and other debris has collected on the aging tracks of the city’s rails. In particular, hair has built up on insulators supporting the transit system’s electrified third rails, which run cables carrying 750 Volts of electricity to power the trains. The hair coating delivers a real threat of electrical sparks and fire.

“I was flabbergasted” at the amount of hair in the Metro, ATU specialist Brian Sherlock told

a local NBC news station

. “The amount of debris is just beyond vulgar to think of.”

Arcing and smoking insulators is a problem that has dogged Metro for years. In 2015, an arcing insulator was linked to a smoke incident that left one passenger dead and more than 80 others sickened by thick smog.

“A lot of the issues with the insulators is actually fiber and hair that literally comes off of people and clothing, and gets sucked up” and into the tunnels, Paul Wiedefeld, general manager of Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, told NBC News.

However gross, the collection of hair from riders may not be that surprising. The system provided 97 million rides in 2016. A single healthy person sheds anywhere from 10 to 200 hairs per day. But those with health issues or hair loss can shed far more. Stress—a common problem around DC—can also up the head shedding.

In addition to hair, riders also let loose dead skin cells as they commute on the rails. A healthy person sheds about a thousand skin cells per centimeter squared of skin every hour. That works out to about 500 million cells a day. And each one of us shed our entire outer layer of skin every two to four weeks.

Metro spokesperson Dan Stessel told NBC that Metro is working to boost track cleaning considering the hairy situation.

Read the whole story
mareino
1 day ago
reply
Washington, District of Columbia
acdha
5 days ago
reply
Washington, DC
rosskarchner
5 days ago
Please unshare this
Share this story
Delete

The Cause and Consequences of the Retail Apocalypse

3 Shares
The Macy’s near my house is closing early next year . The mall where it’s located has seen less and less foot traffic over the years, and losing its anchor…
Read the whole story
mareino
1 day ago
reply
Washington, District of Columbia
acdha
7 days ago
reply
Washington, DC
Share this story
Delete

Bill Clinton should have resigned

1 Share

What he did to Monica Lewinsky was wrong, and he should have paid the price.

Many years ago, when I was a high school student making my first visit to Washington for a two-week summer camp for weird politics dorks, the dominant news story was then-President Bill Clinton’s August 17, 1998, admission that despite earlier denials, he “did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate.”

“In fact,” Clinton conceded, “it was wrong,” and it “constituted a critical lapse in judgment and a personal failure on my part for which I am solely and completely responsible.”

In the days before the admission, there was considerable conviction in the chattering classes that the allegations, if true, would end up leading to Clinton’s resignation. That proved to be incorrect. Clinton was not shamed into resigning, and senior leaders of the Democratic Party did not pressure him into resigning.

At the time I, like most Americans, was glad to see Clinton prevail and regarded the whole sordid matter as primarily the fault of congressional Republicans’ excessive scandal-mongering. Now, looking back after the election of Donald Trump, the revelations of massive sexual harassment scandals at Fox News, the stories about Harvey Weinstein and others in the entertainment industry, and the stories about Roy Moore’s pursuit of sexual relationships with teenagers, I think we got it wrong. We argued about perjury and adultery and the meaning of the word “is.” Republicans prosecuted a bad case against a president they’d been investigating for years.

What we should have talked about was men abusing their social and economic power over younger and less powerful women.

The United States, and perhaps the broader English-speaking world, is currently undergoing a much-needed accountability moment in which each wave of stories emboldens more people to come forward and more institutions to rethink their practices. Looking back, the 1998 revelation that the president of the United States carried on an affair with an intern could have been that moment.

It was far from the most egregious case of workplace sexual misconduct in American history. But it was unusually high-profile, the facts were not in dispute, the perpetrator had a lot of nominal feminist ideological commitments, and political leaders who shared those commitments had the power to force him from office. Had he resigned in shame, we all might have made a collective cultural and political decision that a person caught leveraging power over women in inappropriate ways ought to be fired. Instead, we lost nearly two decades.

We didn’t even have the right argument

In the midst of the very same public statement in which he confessed the error, Clinton also mounted the defense that would see him through to victory — portraying the issue as fundamentally a private family matter rather than a topic of urgent public concern.

"I intend to reclaim my family life for my family," he said. "It's nobody's business but ours. Even presidents have private lives. It is time to stop the pursuit of personal destruction and the prying into private lives and get on with our national life.”

To this line of argument, Republicans offered what was fundamentally the wrong countercharge. They argued that in the effort to spare himself from the personal and marital embarrassment entailed by having the affair exposed, Clinton committed perjury when testifying about the matter in a deposition related to Paula Jones’s lawsuit against him.

What they should have argued was something simpler: A president who uses the power of the Oval Office to seduce a 20-something subordinate is morally bankrupt and contributing, in a meaningful way, to a serious social problem that disadvantages millions of women throughout their lives.

But by and large, they didn’t. So Clinton countered with the now-famous defense: “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” Ultimately, most Americans embraced the larger argument that perjury in a civil lawsuit unrelated to the president’s official duties did not constitute high crimes and misdemeanors.

But looking back through today’s lens, this whole argument was miscast. The wrongdoing at issue was never just a private matter for the Clinton family; it was a high-profile exemplar of a widespread social problem: men’s abuse of workplace power for sexual gain. It was and is a striking example of a genre of misconduct that society has a strong interest in stamping out. That alone should have been enough to have pressured Clinton out of office.

The affair itself was seriously wrong

In Clinton’s defense, of course, the wrongdoing at hand was different in degree from some of the more recent cases in the news.

In her 2014 Vanity Fair article looking back on the scandal, Lewinsky wrote, “I will always remain firm on this point: it was a consensual relationship. Any ‘abuse’ came in the aftermath, when I was made a scapegoat in order to protect his powerful position.”

As Clinton himself said, it was “not appropriate,” “wrong,” and a “critical lapse in judgment” — phrases that could easily have appeared in the introduction to a resignation message. Alternatively, one could easily imagine Democrats’ then-leaders in Congress Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle — joined perhaps by prominent Cabinet members such as Madeleine Albright and Janet Reno — repeating them back to Clinton in an Oval Office meeting the next day urging him to resign.

Instead, Democrats embraced the narrative that the wrongdoing, though real, was ultimately not serious — or at a minimum, not a matter of public concern.

This was a mistake. Clinton admitted he was wrong but stayed tellingly cagey as to what exactly was wrong about it, before implicitly sliding to the stance that the problem was marital infidelity. Marriages, of course, really are private and, as they say, complicated. By the broader issue of men in general abusing positions of power to obtain sexual gratification is most certainly not a trivial issue or a private matter. If word had gotten back to the White House of an unmarried Cabinet secretary having a clandestine affair with one of his interns, the administration might have taken action or (perhaps more likely) might have tried to cover it up. But they certainly wouldn’t have played dumb and pretended not to see that there was a problem.

“My boss took advantage of me,” Lewinsky writes in the same article, a piece in which she correctly argues that the ensuring debate ended up entirely slighting highly relevant issues including “the balance of power and gender inequality in politics and media.”

Had Clinton resigned in disgrace under pressure from his own party, that would have sent a strong, and useful, chilling signal to powerful men throughout the country.

Instead, the ultimate disposition of the case — impunity for the man who did something wrong, embarrassment and disgrace for the woman who didn’t — only served to confirm women’s worst fears about coming forward.

Democrats had a good alternative to Clinton

Politics ain’t beanbag, and oftentimes political actors have very good reason to stand by problematic actors. If New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez is convicted of the corruption charges for which he’s currently on trial (the jury is deliberating as I write), Republicans will argue that he ought to resign his seat. Democrats will strategically resist this, knowing that if Menendez steps down today, the vacancy will be filled by Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, while if he hangs on until mid-January, the state’s Democratic governor-elect, Phil Murphy, will fill it.

But in the case of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, there were no real policy stakes. Had Clinton left office, Al Gore would have become president and pursued essentially the same policy.

It’s not a coincidence that when The West Wing did its fictionalized version of the Clinton impeachment drama, it went out of its way to establish Vice President Hoynes as dislikable and ideologically unreliable (“the guy practically has corporate sponsorship,” Josh Lyman quips at one point before dismissing him as the “Tostitos vice president”), in order to make Bartlett’s effort to cling to office seem sensible and honorable.

Reality provided no such convenient plot contrivance. Gore was a centrist DLC Democrat just like Clinton, one who could easily have stepped into his shoes.

Had Gore become president, perhaps he would have run and won as an incumbent. Or perhaps, as in the real world, he would have lost. Either way, to admit that the Republicans had uncovered something genuinely scandalous would not have entailed making any crucial ideological or policy concessions. It would, instead, have required Democrats to look past knee-jerk partisanship. And, more importantly, it would have required them to acknowledge that what Clinton did was seriously wrong.

The time is right for a reevaluation

Over the past 18 months, the combination of an excellent profile by Katie J.M. Baker and a cynical stunt by the Trump campaign has prompted a reconsideration of Juanita Broaddrick’s allegation that Bill Clinton raped her in 1978.

This is an important conversation to have, due to both the serious nature of the charges and their interplay with the commonplace progressive idea that we should “believe women” when they come forward with allegations of sexual assault.

The Lewinsky case, however, is important precisely because the facts are not in dispute. Cases that involve unprovable, years-old allegations of assault pose an inherently difficult problem for almost any institution. But what’s striking about the charges leveled in recent months against Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Leon Wieseltier, and so many others is the extent to which misconduct was an “open secret” in the relevant communities.

They kept getting away with it not because nobody knew, but because the people who knew treated it just how the American public treated Clinton’s abusive behavior — as something that was maybe wrong but fundamentally unimportant compared to an important man’s work.

In Clinton’s case, of course, part of the endgame is that a few months after his acquittal on impeachment charges, his wife launched her first Senate campaign. Once Hillary Clinton threw her hat into the ring, she immediately became America’s presumptive first woman president, creating a kind of reputational vortex that shielded her husband’s behavior from scrutiny. Attacking Bill was, by extension, an attack on Hillary — an attack that most people in leading positions in American progressive politics had no desire to make.

But now that Hillary is out of electoral politics and has emerged as a bigger draw and more potent political force than her husband, there’s no excuse for Democrats not to look back on these events with more objectivity. Fifty-something leaders of organizations shouldn’t be carrying on affairs with interns who work for them regardless of whether the affair is in some sense consensual.

We can’t change the past, but we should be clear about it

Building a firm line around that kind of activity would give any organization a stronger, healthier culture. Our expectations for the conduct of the president of the United States should be high, and we should treat men’s abuse of authority over younger female subordinates for sexual purposes as a serious, endemic social problem, not a private marital issue between the boss and his wife.

My guess is that in the years to come, most left-of-center people born in the 1980s will say that if they’d been old enough to have a view on the matter back in 1998, they would have favored pressuring Clinton to resign. I hope that is the case, at least. Most young Democrats backed Bernie Sanders over Clinton in 2016 and are accustomed as a result to the idea of an emotionally and intellectually hostile attitude toward “the Clintons.”

Unfortunately for me, I’m a little too old to get away with claiming to have had no opinion on this at the time. My version of a sophisticated high schooler’s take on the matter was that the American media should get over its bourgeois morality hang-ups and be more like the French, where François Mitterrand’s wife and his longtime mistress grieved together at his funeral.

As a married 30-something father, I’ve come around to a less “worldly” view of infidelity. As a co-founder of Vox, I’d never in a million years want us to be the kind of place where men in senior roles can get away with the kind of misconduct that we’ve seen is all too common in our industry and in so many others.

Most of all, as a citizen I’ve come to see that the scandal was never about infidelity or perjury — or at least, it shouldn’t have been. It was about power in the workplace and its use. The policy case that Democrats needed Clinton in office was weak, and the message that driving him from office would have sent would have been profound and welcome. That this view was not commonplace at the time shows that we did not, as a society, give the most important part of the story the weight it deserved.

As the current accountability moment grows, we ought to recognize and admit that we had a chance to do this almost 20 years ago — potentially sparing countless young women a wide range of unpleasant and discriminatory experiences, or at a minimum reducing their frequency and severity. And we blew it.

Read the whole story
mareino
1 day ago
reply
Washington, District of Columbia
Share this story
Delete

Why Companies Like Toys ‘R’ Us Love to Go Bust in Richmond, Va.

1 Comment
The federal courthouse in Richmond, Va., where Toys “R” Us filed for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy court there offers several features attractive to the executives, bankers and lawyers trying to get an edge in Chapter 11 cases.

Read the whole story
mareino
5 days ago
reply
Forum shopping: one more reason that the laws for rich people aren't the same as the laws for the rest of us.
Washington, District of Columbia
Share this story
Delete

HoloLens Just Brought a Star Trek: TNG Game That Nearly Killed the Crew to Life

1 Comment and 2 Shares

Turning Fiction Into (Augmented) Reality

The sixth episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s fifth season introduced an augmented reality (AR) game that nearly took over the entire Enterprise crew. It was a deceptively simple game that used a person’s emotional state to enter red disks into blue funnels. In the TNG episode (aptly titled “The Game), when a player successfully gets a disk into a tunnel, they’re rewarded with a pleasurable signal, increasing the game’s addictiveness.

Anyone interested in trying the game for themselves can now do so, as it has been almost perfectly recreated using Microsoft’s Hololens AR headset and a biometric sensor. The only difference is that it doesn’t reward players by sending a pleasing signal to the brain, save for the satisfaction you may feel after managing to get a disk into one of the funnels.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) graduate Robert Burke brought the TNG game to life last year, noting on his website that “Star Trek has a history of envisioning technologies that eventually become real. Often faster and more addictive than anyone expects!”

Visualizing Stress

Burke used Hololens because it provides the same AR field of view demonstrated on Star Trek, but since it has no biometric scanning capabilities, he also used the Pip biosensor from Galvanic. The Pip is a handheld device that can measure one’s fluctuating stress levels through their fingertips. Pip “accurately captures these changes and through biofeedback, allows you to visualize them.”

When used in the game, stress is shown by the aforementioned red disk entering — or being rejected by — the blue funnels. The Pip isn’t required to play the game, though, as you can also use voice commands to move the disks to the funnels.

Burke’s game isn’t the first time we’ve seen science fiction become reality. Artificial intelligence (AI) was once thought to only be a sci-fi concept, but now we have Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant. Smartphones are another sign of sci-fi made real and are essentially a real-world counterpart to Star Trek’s Tricorder (though, it could be argued that our smartphones are much more stylish and feature-rich).

The post HoloLens Just Brought a Star Trek: TNG Game That Nearly Killed the Crew to Life appeared first on Futurism.

Read the whole story
wreichard
8 days ago
reply
No....
Earth
mareino
7 days ago
reply
Washington, District of Columbia
Share this story
Delete

The tax reform debate is stuck in the 1970s

1 Share

The economy has changed radically; Republican priorities have not.

The biggest policy fight left in 2017 is stuck in the 1970s.

Tax reform is lining up like this: Republicans want big, business-friendly tax cuts to spur savings and investments while Democrats complain it’ll blow a hole in the deficit. These terms of debate made sense 30 to 40 years ago. Back then, the economy was stuck in a particular kind of rut. With inflation high and profits low, companies weren’t investing and creating new jobs even as a torrent of new workers was flooding the labor force. Very high interest rates lurked in the background.

Both Republicans and Democrats agreed this nexus of issues was a problem, so they had a debate over what to do. There were ideological disagreements about the prescription but consensus on the diagnosis. In his first term, Ronald Reagan implemented the conservative prescription. In his second term, the much-lauded bipartisan 1986 tax reform bill represented a reasonable high-minded compromise of the two poles of the debate.

But today is different. Corporate profits are high, not low. Inflation is low, not high. The workforce is growing slowly, not quickly. Borrowing is cheap, not expensive.

Everything about the situation has changed— except the tax policy debate. And the result is that Congress’ No. 1 priority has almost nothing to do with the biggest problems facing the country.

We’re having a very familiar argument about taxes

“By immediately lowering the corporate tax rate to 20 percent,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said last week, “this bill will stimulate investment, job creation, and economic growth in the United States.”

Nancy Pelosi, the day before at a Rhode Island fundraiser, slammed the plan in equally familiar terms. “It blows up the deficit while saying it is going to pay for itself,” she said. “It never has.”

These basic lines could have been copied from an argument about George W. Bush’s 2001 or 2003 tax bills, from a debate over Bob Dole’s 1996 campaign proposals, or from Ronald Reagan’s first year in office.

Will a big tax cut spark investment by shifting incentives, or stifle it with too much borrowing, or can we find a magic solution in revenue-neutral tax reform?

Reagan’s argument with Jimmy Carter about tax cuts versus deficit reduction made sense because it related to what everyone agreed was the main problem of day. But that was a long time ago. America’s big contemporary problems — poor public health, weak labor force participation, ecological sustainability — won’t be addressed by policy ideas cooked up in the high-inflation, low-profit pressure cooker of the 1970s.

The whole tax reform debate is, in crucial ways, a time-wasting distraction.

The ’70s were a crazy time

In the late 1970s, the American economy was mired in a state known as “stagflation” — meaning high unemployment and fast-rising prices.

Unlike today, the actual pace of raw job creation was pretty fast. Baby boomers were leaving school, women were entering the workforce in droves, and the economy was adding jobs — just not enough jobs to accommodate all the people who wanted them. Inflation was high too, with consumer prices rising a staggering 13 percent in 1980.

Corporate profits as a share of national income had sunk to an unusually low level, and stock market returns were dismal once you took inflation into account.

Reagan’s response was to come up with a plan around increasing the financial rewards for investors and rich people. The idea was that by making it more profitable to be in the job creation business, you would spur job creation. Whether you agreed or disagreed with his approach, it at least made some kind of clear sense — profits and investment really were low.

The Democratic objections that Reagan’s program would excessively balloon the budget deficit also made sense. Big deficits force the Federal Reserve to choose between inflation and higher interest rates that stifle investment — and at the time, both inflation and interest rates were high. The argument was, miraculously, a basically sensible disagreement about the best way to tackle a legitimate problem.

“Tax reform” is the higher synthesis of ’70s politics

In 1986, we reached the apogee of Reagan-era policymaking with a tax reform bill that pulled the amazing trick of sharply reducing marginal tax rates (hooray for the supply side) while actually raising revenue (hooray for deficit reduction) by closing loopholes.

Post-’86, we’ve seen various swings of the pendulum back and forth between budget-busting Republican tax cuts and penny-pinching Democrats. Republicans are currently trying to implement a somewhat weird mashup of early-Reagan supply-side tax cuts with late-Reagan high-minded tax reform. And for much of this year, the savvy journalistic thing to do has been to scold Republicans for trying to enact deficit-busting tax cuts under the guise of high-minded tax reform.

But the better question might be why we are still talking about this.

The politics of the 1970s, after all, would have been totally different if inflation, unemployment, interest rates, and labor force growth were all low while corporate profits were high. And yet here we are in 2017. Inflation is low. Unemployment is low. Interest rates are low. But the labor force is barely growing, and corporate profits are high. So why are we still having an argument about whether big marginal tax cuts to incentivize investment are a good idea with the main Democratic counter being that big deficits will create their own investment roadblocks?

The Republican proposal solves a non-problem

The centerpiece of the current Republican tax initiative is a giant cut in the corporate income tax. And one can certainly imagine a situation in which excessively low after-tax corporate profits would be considered a serious policy problem. Businesses won’t invest, after all, unless it’s profitable to invest.

But at 6.4 percent of GDP in 2016, the share of national income going to after-tax corporate profits isn’t low — it’s high.

Indeed, throughout the entire 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, corporate profits never got this high. And when profits did rise to 6.5 percent of GDP in 2006, that didn’t touch off an investment boom — it was the calm before the storm of the Great Recession.

Republicans on some level must recognize that their core idea doesn’t make sense, since you never hear them say that the big problem with the American economy is that corporate profits are too low. If you said that, people would think you were stupid. Not only are profits high, but stock market returns have been extremely good in recent years. The American economy, whatever else you might think of it, is being very kind to business owners right now. Making it even kinder isn’t going to accomplish anything useful.

The Democratic countercharge — that the GOP plan adds too much debt — has the virtue of at least being correct, mathematically. On the other hand: Who cares?

When Democrats started raising the debt objection to Republican tax plans during the Carter administration, nominal interest rates were very high and the specter of inflation loomed large. Democrats weren’t just arguing about accounting ledgers; they were arguing that the GOP plan to boost investment would fail and backfire by raising interest rates. But these days both inflation and interest rates are low. Blowing trillions of dollars on making big companies and rich people richer doesn’t seem like a great idea to me, but a bigger deficit per se won’t make the sky fall.

Congress should try to solve some real problems

Once upon a time, we had stagflation and low corporate profits. But today we don’t.

Instead, we have a set of new, different problems. For example:

  • There is an acute scarcity of housing units in most of America’s most prosperous metropolitan areas.
  • The process of regional convergence by which poor parts of the country have historically grown faster than rich ones has halted and may even be reversing — with communities built around now-shuttered factories especially lacking in opportunity.
  • Opioid overdoses have reached an unprecedented level and show no sign of slowing down.
  • Greenhouse gases emitted as a byproduct of fossil fuel consumption are putting the planet on a trajectory for unsustainable levels of warming.
  • Despite a fairly high college enrollment rate by international standards, the large share of Americans who don’t finish their degrees has left us with a mediocre ranking in terms of college completion and a lot of people saddled with useless debt loads.
  • Exorbitant child care costs are limiting women’s ability to fully participate in the workforce as well as limiting families’ ability to have as many children as they say they’d like.

Those are not the only problems in America today, but they all seem like well-known and important issues that were genuinely not big problems when Reagan and Carter faced off in 1980. Things change. Alongside new problems, we have a couple of hardy perennial issues in the American economy, including rates of child poverty and lacking health insurance that are very unusual for such a rich country. America has long had an unusually high murder rate, and after 20 years of decline it’s been on the rise recently.

Reasonable people can disagree about the relative priority of these issues and, of course, about how best to solve them. But having disputes about priorities and solutions is what the give and take of making policy is about. The point is that unlike a paucity of available capital or adequate financial rewards for successful business investment, these are all real problems. And they’re problems whose solutions probably do involve some form of large financial commitment, potentially on the scale Republicans are contemplating for their tax bill. But instead of considering any of these issues, the political class is frozen in a back and forth that’s now decades out of date.

Read the whole story
mareino
8 days ago
reply
Washington, District of Columbia
Share this story
Delete
Next Page of Stories