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Colors of the medieval world

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Credit (for the photo and the craftsmanship) to Rowena Dugdale (@redrubyrose), who notes that these are "Plant dyes - all the colours achievable from leaf, flower and root within around a five mile radius. The red hot poker root was a gift from a friend on Skye but that’s only several miles across the water…"

Via Reddit.
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mareino
2 days ago
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Washington, District of Columbia
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Why advocates hope a recently proposed right-on-red ban in DC sparks national reform

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This article was first published in Streetsblog.

The nation’s capital is poised to become the second major city in the United States to repeal a dangerous law that allowed drivers to make right turns at red lights — and some advocates believe other communities are overdue to follow.

In a preliminary vote last week, the Washington, DC Council unanimously approved the Safer Intersections Act, which will prohibit right-on-reds except at designated intersections, as well as allow cyclists to treat stoplights as yield signs, since they’ll, ostensibly, no longer have to worry about “right-hook” crashes with drivers. (Warning: footage depicted in the previous link may be disturbing.) The proposal, which still must pass a final vote, would go into effect in 2025, contingent upon (because this is the District of Columbia) Congressional approval.

But if it passes, DC will join New York City as one of just two major metropolitan areas in the US that have made the reform.

Street safety advocates hailed the news — and questioned why the dangerous maneuver was ever allowed at all.

Rights-on-red are currently illegal throughout much of Europe, and they were also banned throughout much of the US prior to the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act, whose authors argued that the US could cut down on emissions and fuel usage by allowing them. Under the law, states still can’t receive federal funding from what is now known as the State Energy Program unless they allow drivers to turn against the stoplight — despite the fact that the program, which was once helped states create sweeping energy conservation plans, is now largely used to weatherize buildings and isn’t even administered by the Department of Transportation.

Opponents of right-on-red laws, though, say that there are better ways to save on idling emissions today, including the advent of electric and other fuel-efficient cars, modern technologies like “Stop-Start” systems that automatically shut down and restart engines at red lights, and even just creating communities where it’s safe and convenient for residents not to drive at all.

Those strategies are all the more important considering the troubling safety trade-offs of right turns on reds. Though motorists are technically supposed to come to a complete stop and confirm that no one is in their path, advocates say many drivers don’t — either because they mistakenly believe they have the right of way, or because they physically cannot see a person in an immediately adjacent crosswalk from behind the windshield of an ultra-large vehicle.

A recent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study found that drivers of the massive SUVs that have saturated the American car market are three times more likely than a sedan driver to hit a pedestrian in their path while turning. Pick-up truck drivers, meanwhile, are four times more likely, thanks to those vehicles’ high clearance from the ground and thick “A-pillars” on either side of the windshield, both of which create massive front and side blind zones.

Even before megacars became Americans’ favorite way to get around, though, right-on-reds still weren’t safe for vulnerable road users. As far back as 1982, researchers had already found that the law increased bicyclist crashes involving right-turning vehicles at signalized intersections as much as 82% in some states, while causing pedestrian crashes under those conditions to more than double in others.

Repealing a nearly universal 47-year-old traffic law, though, is never easy — and it may not be in DC, either.

Despite the fact that the nation’s capital already banned rights-on-reds at certain intersections in 2018 and recorded safety improvements for pedestrians and cyclists, opponents of the proposed new law have claimed the council “lacks data” to prove that enough residents were saved from death and serious injury to justify taking the reform district-wide. (The National Transportation Safety Administration made a similar argument in 1995, when it found that less than 1% of fatal and injury crashes on US roads involved a right on red — though 22% of those crashes involved a bicyclist or pedestrian, and that person was injured a staggering 93% of the time, to say nothing of the harrowing impact of near-miss crashes that aren’t recorded in federal stats and might scare travelers off of active transportation entirely.)

Others said the restriction causes traffic back-ups that could cost hourly employees a small fraction of their wages, even if it does save lives — an argument that was echoed in local debate over a similar proposed law in Ann Arbor, Mich., and was widely dismissed as outrageous.

Still others worried that the burden of steep fines for red-light turns would fall disproportionately on low-income drivers — even if the District’s almost entirely automated enforcement division would likely save them from direct contact with police officers that could lead to violence, particularly for people of color.

Proponents of the ban, though, point out that the council is pursuing separate legislation to hold wealthy recidivist motorists accountable by assessing points on their licenses, too — and that traffic violence, which disproportionately effects DC’s Black communities, is an equity concern as well.

“I am very clear-eyed in recognizing that this is a controversial conversation that we are going to have,” said Council Member Christina Henderson in an interview with DCist about the latter bill. “I am also very clear in knowing that when we talk about traffic violence, the vast majority of incidents are occurring in communities of color. And so we have to talk about this in a way that deals with that tension.”

Whatever the fate of DC’s right-on-red bill, advocates in other cities are already getting inspired to pursue similar moves in their own communities — and if the Safer Intersections Act passes, it could serve as a template for their efforts.

“There’s not much that’s complicated about right turn on red: you ban it, or it’s legal,” said Alex Baca*, DC policy director for Greater Greater Washington. “To the extent that other jurisdictions are looking for model legislation, they could gank text from this; to the extent that they are looking for an excuse to do it because someone else has done it and therefore doing so doesn’t seem like so much of a liability …they can [possibly do that too].”

*Editor’s note: Alex Baca, GGWash’s DC policy director, is quoted in this article. She has no editorial input.

Top image: A "no turn on red" sign. Image by GKJ

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mareino
5 days ago
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We can do better than special accommodations

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The last time I boarded a train at Union Station in D.C., it was on the low platform tracks.

That means for people to board the train, they need to climb up some pretty steep stairs that descend from the train car doors. This is no problem if you, like me, are taking a very short trip with a simple daypack. But lots of people riding an intercity train have larger bags that they may struggle with. I was right behind a woman who was on the smaller side and really struggling with her roller bag. I had a moment of indecision as to whether it would be chivalrous or condescending of me to offer to help her, but I decided to go with helping out.

The low platforms also, of course, make it impossible to roll a wheelchair onto the train, which is an Americans with Disabilities Act no-no.

But because adversarial legalism is weird, the upshot of the ADA is that instead of spending the money to create better train platforms, Amtrak has “accommodations” for people in wheelchairs. If you need a special ramp to get onto the train, they have special mobile ramps available at all the stations, and an Amtrak employee will go get one for you and wheel it over so you can board the train. If you’re just struggling with a heavy bag, then maybe someone with free hands will help you out.

I was thinking about this when I read Freddie deBoer’s ’stack on self-diagnosed mental illnesses on social media, where he makes this observation:

What I can tell you for a fact is that society cannot possibly give special accommodation to everyone. This, more than anything else, is the project of social justice in 2022: the demand that more and more people be treated with special dispensations that in some way exempt them from the more unpleasant aspects of modern life. If you’re Black, you deserve special dispensation; if you’re a woman, you deserve special dispensation; if you’re gay, you deserve special dispensation; if you’re trans, you deserve special dispensation; if you’re neurodivergent, you deserve special dispensation; if you’re suffering from chronic illness, you deserve special dispensation. And in general I agree with all of that. But the actual expression of what special dispensation means is everything. The Americans with Disabilities Act standard is one of the most elegant and useful in law - that we should extend every reasonable accommodation, but not every conceivable accommodation, to those with disabilities. This is why we have elevator and ramp rules in public buildings but no legal demand that blind people be able to become pilots, because the former is reasonable and the latter is not. But what happens when the demand for accommodations expands beyond just those with disabilities and comes to encompass those with all manner of other identity categories? And what happens when demands overlap and compete?

I think the point he is offering about the incentives this discourse creates for people to invent ever-finer-grained forms of marginalization is correct. But I don’t really agree with the implication that we should see this primarily as a good impulse gone bad.

There are worse things than making special accommodations so that people in wheelchairs can get on a train. It would be worse, for example, not to make the accommodation and deny them access. But what would be better is investing the money necessary to create level boarding. Not just because that would be a more dignified solution for people in wheelchairs, but because it would be generally better — better for people with roller bags, strollers, young kids, and people with knee pain. There’s room in life for special accommodations, but I think our society’s current obsession with identity groups reflects the triumph of a scarcity mindset and a genuinely catastrophic loss of focus on how we can find big levers to make positive changes in the world.

It’s good to solve problems

Joe Biden recently remarked offhandedly that “the pandemic is over,” which is, of course, completely correct in a political sense.

It prompted backlash, though, from the usual quarters on Twitter where the people who’ve spent the past year fighting a losing rear-guard action in favor of continued non-pharmaceutical interventions tend to invoke the specter of Long Covid and the needs of marginalized communities. It often seems to me that the people claiming personal vulnerability in these cases are not necessarily the most objectively vulnerable; they’re simply following the norm that if you want something, that’s the way to press your case for it.

But whatever their motives, they’re clearly not winning the argument. The mass public isn’t going to (and I think shouldn’t) embrace an essentially permanent state of siege for the sake of minimizing Covid-19 transmission.

What I think is important to acknowledge, though, is that even though “the pandemic is over” is a better option than “non-pharmaceutical interventions forever!” the existence of endemic Covid-19 is in fact very bad. If you went back in time five years and said you could eliminate the flu by pushing a magic button, everyone would think pushing the button was a really good idea. Yes, the flu is just the flu, but lots of people die every year because of it. Plenty of school is missed. It’s annoying being sick. But instead of making the flu go away, we now have the burden of a whole new respiratory virus over and above everything else. It’s bad.

The best solution, though, isn’t just to hector for more consideration for the most vulnerable — it’s to try to attack the virus with science.

Right now the government, sadly, has lost any sense of urgency about developing next-generation Covid-19 vaccines that could target multiple variants at once and block transmission by putting defenses in our noses. Better vaccines would reduce Covid-19 just by virtue of being better. But better vaccines would also be more widely used, so the social efficacy of superior vaccines would be dramatically higher.

Something I think about sometimes is that while I’m “not disabled,” my eyesight is in fact terrible. If you plopped me far enough back in time, my inability to see anything would be a huge issue. In the real world, it’s not a big deal because eyeglasses are very effective — nearsighted people don’t need special affordances because we can get glasses and contact lenses. It doesn’t fully level the playing field, of course. If my glasses slipped off my face while I was boarding the train and fell onto the tracks, my whole trip would be ruined. But for practical purposes, developing a technical solution for nearsightedness has solved our problems.

Better policy is better

Back to trains. In D.C., all metro stations are accessible by elevator.

I never thought about that until I found myself in possession of a baby who needed to be pushed around town in a stroller. Then for several years, I was a frequent user of the metro system’s elevators. My kid has now outgrown the stroller, but I have taken my bike on the metro using the elevator. It’s a nice feature to have.

The New York City subway system is much less accessible since it’s older. But back in June, they announced the settlement of some ADA litigation that will lead to 95 percent of the system being accessible by 2055. Why does it take a full generation to install some elevators? Well, as Alon Levy explains, the cost per elevator is so astronomically high that it’s just not feasible to do more than eight or nine stations per year.

The current program to make 81 stations accessible by 2025 is $5.2 billion. This is $64 million per station, and nearly all are single-line stations requiring three elevators, one between the street and the outside of fare control and one from just inside fare control to each of two side platforms. Berlin usually only requires one elevator as it has island platforms and no fare barriers, but sometimes it needs two at stations with side platforms, and the costs look like 1.5-2 million € per elevator. Madrid the cost per elevator is slightly higher, 3.2 million €. New York, in contrast, spends $20 million, so that a single station in New York is comparable in scope to the entirety of the remainder of the Berlin U-Bahn.

Alon’s point is about the limits of adversarial legalism.

ADA litigation can make New York launch an elevator program, but it can’t force the city to figure out contracting and management practices to get it done in a reasonable time. ADA litigation can force Amtrak to make special provisions for people to board trains at low platform stations, but it can’t make America’s passenger railroads prioritize level boarding projects.

But the even broader point is that the situations of people with special needs are less “special” than you might think.

New York’s construction costs are exorbitant not just for elevators, but for everything the MTA does. A successful campaign to drive the region’s construction costs down to Nordic levels would unlock dozens of potentially useful mass transit projects all around the metro area, speeding commutes and increasing housing flexibility for everyone. In the context of a dysfunctional system, money for elevators crowds out other capital projects. The most relevant question becomes distributive — who wins and who loses — and we need to ask which groups we care most about and which get special affordances. But elevators, like level boarding, are good for everyone. The problem is inadequate ability to undertake construction projects, which ultimately comes down not to stinginess or poverty, but to poor management.

Winners, winners, everywhere

Something that a lot of people who I like and respect are probably too good at is explaining why this or that problem can’t be solved because of dysfunctional contracting relationships or bad labor unions or whatever.

What I always want to say in response is that while of course these problems would’ve been solved already if they were easy to solve, I reject the idea that they are genuinely unsolvable. When a problem is genuinely very severe, the upside to solving it is large. And when the upside to finding solutions is large, it should be possible to align incentives. After all, whatever contracting fuckery is making it too expensive to reconstruct train stations to have level boarding is currently generating $0 in revenue, not a windfall. A cost-effective proposal might actually be implemented and generate revenue for contractors and jobs for labor.

The elevator situation isn’t quite as bad, because they are going to build some elevators. But it’s still true that the exorbitant cost of building in New York City is leading to less total spending on new projects rather than more because there are all kinds of projects — like a rail tunnel from Hoboken into lower Manhattan and then out the other side to connect to Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn — that are just inconceivable under the current cost paradigm.

It’s very challenging to come up with ideas for reform that make literally everyone better off. But the point of a good reform should be to create so much value that it’s possible to strike win-win deals with a large share of relevant stakeholders. That’s not easy — both policy design and politicking require skill and effort — but it’s not impossible either. But it does require people to get out of the habit of trying to come up with particularist claims to make on behalf of themselves and getting them in the habit of advocating for positive-sum ideas that happen to be aligned with their interests. If you’re fired up about Covid-19, get fired up about obstacles to vaccine development. If you’re mad about the poor transit service in your neighborhood, try to understand why overall costs are so bad. If you’re feeling social anxiety about whether it’s appropriate to offer to help someone lift a bag up the stairs, ask why there’s a staircase there in the first place.

In other words, the answer to the impossibility of getting a special accommodation for everyone isn’t to ask for less, it’s to ask for more — for more profound solutions to bigger problems.



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mareino
5 days ago
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Mystery Translator.

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A reader writes “this article about the Yiddish translation of that NYtimes yeshiva article is super interesting,” and it certainly is; Zach Golden reports for the Forward:

The NYT report has been translated into an extraordinarily high-quality Hasidic dialect of Yiddish. The online version has been widely read and shared on Hasidic online forums. A PDF version, created to circumvent the community’s strict internet filters, has also been making the rounds.

In the Hasidic community, even worse than people who reject their way of life are those perceived as betraying their own community. Known as moyserim, or informers, they can face harassment, excommunication or even extrajudicial violence.

Members of advocacy groups for improved secular education in Hasidic schools have been labeled as such, making anyone perceived as supporting them — say, a Yiddish translator of a critical New York Times report — a persona non grata within the Hasidic community. It is for this reason that the identity of the Yiddish translator remains a secret.

The fear of backlash was so strong that many Yiddishist colleagues — including librarians, journalists and academics — asked us not to make public even the names of those who were suggested to The Times as possible translators. One directed us to a Twitter thread by the formerly Hasidic Forward contributor Elad Nehorai, who wrote that a Haredi Jew who had spoken out in favor of the report was threatened with eviction. The New York Times, for its part, has refused to share the name of the translator, how long the process took or how much the translator was paid.

But here’s what we do know, from someone with knowledge of the situation: A Yiddish translator and a Yiddish editor worked on the piece — and they are both Hasidim in good standing. We also learned that The Times allowed the translation to be interpretive rather than literal, to the degree it would help the report garner acceptance within the community. The translator took this liberty in many passages, while ultimately staying loyal to the article’s original meaning.

That much is clear from the language of the report itself. Only those who grew up in the Hasidic community could have properly done this translation. Most speakers of Yiddish outside of the Hasidic world use “Yiddishist” Yiddish (YIVO standardized Yiddish), which differs significantly in spelling, grammar, syntax and vocabulary from Hasidic Yiddish. Any hint of inauthenticity or inaccuracy in Hasidic Yiddish terms and usage would have made The Times’ translation easy to mock and dismiss. Instead, Hasidic newspapers, including Der Yid and Der Blatt, have written full responses to the article, suggesting that it is not easy for leaders to ignore.

Translation is an art, not a science, and the translator actively made choices to reflect what in the original report matters to their culturally different readers. The changes appear to fall into three broad categories. Some changes were made to demonstrate familiarity with Hasidic society. Several passages were changed to preserve the original language of quotes given in Yiddish. And notably, some language choices tone down negative descriptions of Hasidic groups or practices, while others underscore the seriousness of misusing public funds.

I refer you to the Forward piece for details, e.g.:

Conversely, the translator often refers to religious schools by their colloquial names instead of the official names used in the original article. For example, the school Kehilath Yakov is called simply Pupa (as pronounced within the community), after the Hasidic court that they follow.

(One think that slightly puzzles me: the Yiddish word for ‘informers’ is given as “moyserim,” but my Weinreich dictionary gives “mosrim” as the plural of מסור moser, which is backed up by this webpage. Dialect difference?) The whole thing is extraordinarily interesting; thanks, Andrew!

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mareino
9 days ago
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hannahdraper
11 days ago
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Washington, DC
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it’s so cool that the new york yankees have their own baseball team. if you think they’re just a hat company you’ve got it all wrong

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it’s so cool that the new york yankees have their own baseball team. if you think they’re just a hat company you’ve got it all wrong




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mareino
11 days ago
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Thursday Thread

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mareino
13 days ago
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