peristaltor: (The Captain's Prop)
Last Wednesday, I volunteered to take a road trip to our state capitol, Olympia, and lobby my State Senator and Representatives on the importance of maintaining public transit. Yes, that position serves me well since I drive transit; but that is something I would support even if I didn't. All one has to do is live in Seattle to see how important buses and trains are to our economy. If all the people in those conveyances had to switch to cars, there wouldn't be a way to drive in our fair city half the day. Our roads would become near-permanent parking lots.

Thanks to a persistent tooth ache, I haven't been following State Legislative politics lately. Frankly, it's taken a turn for the weird. )

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
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I recently heard of a few data points I found interesting. The first, from Mother Jones Magazine, presents a strong case linking violent crime with earlier exposure to tetraethyl lead, "the gasoline additive invented by General Motors in the 1920s to prevent knocking and pinging in high-performance engines." As automotive use increased, so increased the lead flowing from the tailpipes; in cities, the concentration of cars increased each city dweller's exposure. As lead was phased out, the exposure likewise phased out. Researcher Rick Nevin made the first connection:

The biggest source of lead in the postwar era, it turns out, wasn't paint. It was leaded gasoline. And if you chart the rise and fall of atmospheric lead caused by the rise and fall of leaded gasoline consumption, you get a pretty simple upside-down U: Lead emissions from tailpipes rose steadily from the early '40s through the early '70s, nearly quadrupling over that period. Then, as unleaded gasoline began to replace leaded gasoline, emissions plummeted.

Intriguingly, violent crime rates followed the same upside-down U pattern. The only thing different was the time period: Crime rates rose dramatically in the '60s through the '80s, and then began dropping steadily starting in the early '90s. The two curves looked eerily identical, but were offset by about 20 years.

So Nevin dove in further, digging up detailed data on lead emissions and crime rates to see if the similarity of the curves was as good as it seemed. It turned out to be even better: In a 2000 paper (PDF) he concluded that if you add a lag time of 23 years, lead emissions from automobiles explain 90 percent of the variation in violent crime in America. Toddlers who ingested high levels of lead in the '40s and '50s really were more likely to become violent criminals in the '60s, '70s, and '80s.

(I emboldened.)

Ah, but that was only one data point, and I did promise two! )

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
peristaltor: (Mr. Drippy)
For those of you still unfamiliar with M. King Hubbert and his now-famous theory of "peak oil," do look up Wiki entries on his name and theory. If you don't, not only will this entry seem curious (if not completely unhinged), but so will reality.

If you're still curious about what this might mean for, well, everyone on earth, join me as I point out landmarks on the road to simplicity. )

X-posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
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Regular readers here know I am no fan of General Motors. Today I got even more reason for the hating season.

A guy at work bought a Volt. I tried to talk him out of it, but it's his money. This was Friday. Today I hear through a mutual friend that he won't be getting the $7,500 Federal tax credit for his Volt. Why? The dealer that sold him the car got it from another dealer . . . who took the credit.

At no point, as far as I know, did the selling Chevy dealer actually inform my friend that he was buying a used car for top dollar.

Look, GM, if you ever want to buff the tarnish out of that crappy image you like to think you don't have, start by not cheating your customers.

I'll update everyone as the details come in. Meanwhile, a new tag is called for.
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Co-worker VeloBusDriver turned me on to yet another boner popped by our nation's nemesis General Motors: GM ads that mock bicyclists and pedestrians.

Embiggenate the shame of cycling.

It gets worse. As if this ad (which ran in UCLA's student paper) weren't enough, GM tried to apologize in a very, very ham-fisted and obviously untruthful way. Mark Degnan, Director of Local Advertising and Marketing, actually wrote, "It was not our intent to make light of a healthy lifestyle and cycling." I ask you, people, if that ad doesn't "make light of a healthy lifestyle and cycling," what exactly does it do?

A little digging in the comments revealed that, at least a day after Mark published his official "apology," GM was still running banner ads which I think are even worse. This little number to the left was, according to a commenter, an intro to a feature that allowed people to toggle between different GM pedestrian-splashers currently on the market . . . at the GM College Discount web site. Showing cyclists to be shamefully un-date-able is one tactic; showing pedestrians to be worthy targets of driver derision borders on goading hate speech.

I got the title for this entry after I described it to The Wife. She has admittedly far more experience dealing with corporate culture. She notes that this kind of "taking the lead" in "making a difference" talk is pretty common in meetings everywhere. I countered that all of us differ on what steps can be considered forward leading and which just carry the walker backward. Why? Each of us has in our heads different definitions of utopia and hell. Your utopia might very well be my idea of hell.

People who gather together every day and interact with each other every day form a society of their own. They can reinforce each other in ways that might very well seem alien to those outside the culture, even contrary to devices designed to catch errors and correct them. General Motors, formed of people, is no exception. Are we in agreeance?

When someone in a board meeting suggests an ad campaign mocking cyclists because focus groups show that cycle riders (especially in LA, where the paper ad ran) would rather drive, someone else in that group (probably in Detroit, one of the least pedestrian and cyclist-friendly cities in our nation) thought that was a fine idea and green-lighted the campaign. After all, whatever sells more cars the better, no matter how despicable the idea might seem to non-auto industry people.

Why, I bet these ads were run by some of the same people who thought those kooks over at the electric car division were tilting at windmills with their wacky wiz-bang battery cars. Those EV-1s, some of the most advanced modern electric cars every produced commercially, got exactly what GM corporate culture thought should come to them.

Crushed, just like the naive hope of every pedestrian and cyclist that General Motors will ever, ever change.
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Just read a very revealing opinion piece about the BBC show Top Gear faking electric car breakdowns. They're being sued by electric car maker Tesla for trying to pretend a car that can usually drive hundreds of miles on a charge only managed 55. It looks like they repeated the prank with a new Leaf.

The author of the article is dead-on in noting that the Beeb is not in the hands of corporate hacks, in that they are not supported by commercial advertising. What that same author fails to appreciate is that Top Gear definitely is.

Really, think about it. How many electric vehicle makers are there? How many are selling their cars right now? Not many, folks, not many.

By contrast, how many gas and diesel powered car makers are out there? How many are selling their cars? And how is it that an albeit top-rated show gets access to all those flashy gas and diesel cars? Do they pay for the privilege of driving the latest Rolls or Ferrarri? I highly doubt it.

No, Top Gear must tout the party line on electrics as long as that party line is dictated by the sellers of competing petroleum-fueled cars. If they actually dare to like the Tesla or appreciate the Leaf, they can kiss goodbye their next test of the latest Corvette, Bentley, Fiat, Rennault, Ford, Peugot, Volvo, Aston Martin, GMC, Land Rover . . . need I continue?
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In 2008, the price of fuel skyrocketed. All of the people barely able to afford their new and overpriced McMansion out in the boonies suddenly couldn't afford to get to work. Foreclosures followed. They continue. Until home prices get down to pre-bubble levels, they will continue.

Some were able to hop on a bus to work. Ridership at work skyrocketed, even after raising the fare for the first time in 9 years.

Then, the fallout really hit: by late November of 2008, ridership — and, more ominously, traffic — dropped. The economy nearly tanked. Refer to any number of documentaries on what happened.

Since then the sales tax and property tax funding for transit has been dropping at the same time the price of bus fuel has held fairly steady. It has finally come to this: either the King County Council approves a two-year $20 per year surcharge on car licensing, or service will be cut to Holy Shit! levels, meaning 17 percent of the Metro bus system. Really, download and peruse that linked PDF. The number of canceled routes should scare anyone who has ever ridden a bus in or near Seattle.

Last night, hundreds came to voice their concerns. They were not happy. More are expected at the next gathering, scheduled for Burien.

This is, as I mentioned in December, what the Gas Ceiling looks like. The economy can't afford fuel, so it tanks. Just as it recovers, fuel spikes again, leading to another economic downturn. Fuel prices always run just ahead of inflation.

What scares me most about this current kerfuffle, though, is the fact that the County Council is proposing a two-year surcharge fee for plates. They expect it will tide the transit system over until the promised recovery returns and boosts tax revenues back to pre-bust levels. Translation: They are in complete denial. What is needed immediately is, yes, a quick infusion of cash; but what is needed for the future is a restructuring of the taxes that fund transit, a new paradigm that gives public transit enough money every time the price of fuel rises.

The trouble is simple: How does one explain that necessity? To what history can one refer to cite precedence? After all, we have been extracting fossil fuels in growing earnest for 200 years now. The voices that could have guided us regarding sustainable development have been dead silent for centuries.
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I've been vocally against but largely absent from the debate about Seattle's proposed replacement for the Alaska Way Viaduct, a bore tunnel right through the heart of downtown. Given the volume of the existing voices, I didn't think my voice was necessary, especially after voters rejected it and the only other proposed solution on that ballot, a straight viaduct replacement. For some reason, the ballot did not include an approve-or-disapprove vote on just tearing down the viaduct and making due with upgraded transit and surface streets (the so-called "surface option", which I support).

Well, now it seems the fix is in. )
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Lenny loves to tell stories about his old Barracuda. One, I just realized, helps to illustrate the potential -- and more than a few problems -- with biofuels. Click here. You know you want to. )
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A few years ago, I kinda saw the direction our energy shortages would have on the overall economy and coined a term to describe the phenomenon -- "The Gas Ceiling." It's a play on the Glass Ceiling, the invisible employment/income level above which women could not achieve in a male-dominated corporate business environment, but refers instead to the unknowable ratio of the currently available petroleum fuels to the current economy's demand for those fuels. This article articulates the idea well:

In 2009 the peak demand story seemed confirmed, as prices stabilized around $70 in June, and U.S. consumption remained well off its previous high. Most people thought the nearly 2 mbpd decline in U.S. petroleum demand from 2007 through 2009 owed to efficiency and people driving less.

In reality, only about 15% owed to reduced gasoline demand. The other 85% was lost in the commercial and industrial sector: jet fuel, distillates (including diesel), kerosene, petrochemical feedstocks, lubricants, waxes, petroleum coke, asphalt and road oil, and other miscellaneous products.

Very simply, when oil got to $120 a barrel it cut into real productivity, and forced the world’s most developed economies to shrink. At $147, it wreaked serious damage.

As I explained in “Investment Themes for the Next Decade,” the new normal will be cycles of bumping our heads against the supply ceiling, falling dazed to the floor, rising back to our knees, then finally standing, only to bump our heads against the ceiling once more.

And every time we hit that ceiling, we find it lower relative to the floor. Meaning we can stand only as tall as the last time, but probably not that tall. Our economies will contract. Why:

The reason is simple: Energy is the only real currency. Every dollar of fiat currency or GDP was ultimately derived from cheap energy. Trying to print your way out of energy decline is like prescribing ever-higher doses of aspirin for a headache caused by a brain tumor. Yet those at the levers of monetary policy are, by all appearances, completely ignorant (or in willful denial) of this fundamental fact.

This makes using the remaining energy available to improve the efficiency of energy-dependent systems (like transportation) problematic: experimenting with new fuel injection systems, building prototype high-mileage cars, installing electric transit and electrifying older routes -- all will compete for money, which (as noted above) is generated by burning fuel. Less fuel means fewer dollars. The competition will come down to the very immediate need for individuals to get to work with the cars they own now, verses some speculative system that (cross you fingers!) might work.

I find the "completely ignorant" and "willful denial" folks the most problematic. Sadly, most of the prognosticator "economists" fall into that category, even some of my closest friends. The rise in our standard of living started, after all, way back in 1820 (or so -- it's troubling to come up with exact numbers):

From 1820 to 1970, over every decades, average real wages rose, enabling a rising standard of consumption. These 150 years rooted workers' belief that the US was a "chosen" place where every generation would live better than its parents. (Richard D. Wolff, Capitalism Hits the Fan, Olive Branch Press, 2010, p. 51.)

George Stephenson's Rocket, the first
commercially practical steam locomotive.

1820 . . . a few decades after coal started to efficiently power industrial processes and a few years before this fossilized energy was used to propel transportation. We have been living in a period of increasing expectation for almost 200 years. The economic models on which we depend have only ever been subjected to temporary shortfalls in fuel supplies, never systemic, increasing and permanent shortages. We literally don't have the tools -- conceptual or, by extension, mathematical -- to appreciate our predicament, let alone predict what will likely happen next.

In the last few posts on monetary policy (now tagged How to Make Money), I noted that our economy has never been designed for resilience, that instead it is predicated on systems that increase our money supply or simply go bust. We have no mechanisms in place to carry our society through deflationary periods of bust that will prevent further cascading loan default and continuing economic shrinkage. We instead have constructed a system that tries to walk a tightrope between rampant inflation and collapse spirals.

Without a recovery/depression prevention mechanism, it's no wonder that our economists have been instilled with a selective historicity, education that answers "What will happen if the recessions continue?" with "They never have in the past, so things will undoubtedly look rosier in the future." Nassim Nicholas Taleb has written two books (so far) about why this answer is simply wrong.

Consider a turkey that is fed every day. Every single feeding will firm up the bird's belief that it is the general rule of life to be fed every day by friendly members of the human race "looking out for its best interests," as a politician would say. On the afternoon of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, something unexpected will happen to the turkey. It will incur a revision of belief.

[This is the gist of] . . . the Black Swan problem in its original form: How can we know the future, given knowledge of the past; or, more generally, how can we figure out properties of the (infinite) unknown based on the (finite) known? Think of the feeding again: What can a turkey learn about what is in store for it tomorrow from the events of yesterday? A lot, perhaps, but certainly a little less than it thinks, and it is just that "little less" that may make all the difference.

(Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, Random House, 2007, p. 40.)

As a society we are all about to incur Taleb's revision of belief. The first linked article author concludes with a question or two: "All of which begs a final question: If the answers are transition to renewables, and rebuilding our infrastructure for high efficiency, then where will the money and energy to do it all come from? And how long will it hold out?"

The answer may come not from economists, but from archeologists, especially those studying the remains of cultures that no longer exist, or those that made the necessary transition successfully. Whichever we as a society choose, expect a few surprise bumps on the noggin along the way.
peristaltor: (Default)
. . . There's something you should know. The buses are running late, sometimes very late. The King County Council wanted to do "something" about its massive budget shortfall, but didn't want to do anything that might piss off voters (you know, like cut the services that eat up the budget). They tried something that affects Metro and many Sound Transit runs -- reduce the amount of time drivers get between runs to recover their schedule. It's called "recovery time":

Central to the idea that efficiencies can be found in schedules was and is the claim that King County Metro buses spend too much time in layover/recovery mode. That is – the time between trips that buses use to catch up to subsequent legs of a shift if running late. These periods are also when drivers get vital rest, restroom and meal breaks. Some – but not all – layover/recovery time is designed to be “down time” for the driver to prepare the bus for the next trip (change signs, search for lost articles, change transfers, inspect the coach), and to have a bit of personal time in what is often a long, grueling day. The King County Council – acting on recommendations from the audit – decided that drivers have had too much of this “down time” compared to other transit systems, and ordered the purchase and implementation of Hastus software. . . .

As more and more routes and runs are re-worked according to the Hastus metrics – more and more buses are routinely (or worse – unpredictably) running late.

There's a reason we in King County have more "down time" between departures: our area's traffic is all but unpredictable. Those "breaks" are historically necessary. Schedule a bus too tight and a series of red lights can easily make it run late for the next departure. Add a passenger in a wheelchair or even one with a simple question or request, and you're very late. Throw in the fact that you're often running during rush hour, sharing the road with too many other cars for all to move quickly (if at all), and forget it. The schedule becomes as fictional as the budget.

This is something I hope the Council will realize soon enough -- that when one tries to nickle and dime a system into budgetary compliance, the system is weakened. Weaken anything enough and it will break, usually at the points already the most fragile. Because they attempt to use the schedules as published to get to and fro, people are missing work and appointments. This will continue.

Thought you would want to know, just in case you need to get, well, anywhere.
peristaltor: (Default)

Ellen Dunham-Jones talks about taking dated, energy intensive neighborhood development and turning it into what we should have been building all these years. It's more than just turd polishing.
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. . . but not to your own facts.

After a year of use, red light cameras have failed to deliver the promised safety benefits in Baytown, Texas. The Houston suburb activated the majority of its cameras on July 13, 2008. Since then, the number of accidents at eight camera locations has increased 40 percent, contrary to predictions from city officials. The increase in accidents has not been in minor "fender benders," as is frequently claimed by photo ticketing advocates. Rather, the number of collisions resulting in an injury jumped 75 percent. Rear end collisions increased 39 percent. Results from comprehensive, independent studies elsewhere in the country have yielded similar results.

(I had to emphasize.)

I've got other examples of where the facts don't conform to the popular opinions, but this one jumped out at me. Maybe putting in 13 hours a day at work this week got me thinking a lot about traffic patterns.
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The oil workers from the Deepwater Horizon rig were held in open water until they signed legal documents.

I mention this because I briefly captained and crewed these crew boats. Few of them are provisioned for long trips away from port. Fewer of them have large holding tanks (though, come to think of it, with oil gushing from the benthic depths, what's a few overboard turds gonna hurt?).

I highly doubt they could have pulled this off without provisioning ships delivering food and supplies and to change out the boat crew. This smacks either of a fabrication or (more likely, IMNSHO) additional costs that could have been applied to the disaster response and clean-up.

Rigs blow up. Accidents happen. This I can accept. The above, though? Unacceptable by any stretch of the imagination. If it proves true, whoever made this call to detain should be imprisoned at the very least and the attorneys who drafted the documents disbarred.

Addendum, The Next Day: It looks like BP has a sordid history when it comes to cost-benefit analysis:

. . . The Daily Beast has obtained a document — displayed below — that goes to the heart of BP procedures, demonstrating that before the company’s previous major disaster—at a moment when the oil giant could choose between cost-savings and greater safety—it selected cost-savings. And BP chose to illustrate that choice, without irony, by invoking the classic Three Little Pigs fairy tale.

See that little hand-written note just aside the brick house option, the one that says "optimal"? That's a BP executive deciding that shelter substantial enough to protect workers is worth more than the workers the shelter might save. Really. Read the story.

[ profile] nebris hath been pointing me to both stories of late.
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In a couple of entries under the "transportation" tag, I've kvetched about GM in the past. This tasty number comes to mind. Well, PRI's This American Life has answered a lot of my nagging questions about how GM came to become such a sprawling crap factory in their recent episode, NUMMI.

It turns out that GM had the opportunity to learn from Toyota's success way back in 1984, but only a fraction of their workers embraced the lessons learned from that venture. If you've ever wonder why the quality of American-built cars suffers to this day, you really must hear this story.


Feb. 19th, 2010 12:56 pm
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By now, I'm sure you're fed up with (or just getting started wading in) the details behind Kevin Smith's now well-known ejection from a Southwest Airlines flight. I combed a few of the news sites looking for details, but found the best and most entertaining source in Smith himself. The lies flying around on SWA's part speak of a vast ass cover-up attempt.

This was bound to happen. I only hope that the din doesn't bury the story before it happens again. Why?

Like many airlines, SWA flies Boeing 737s. That's one way they keep their costs down, by having only one model in the fleet. Standardizing the fleet reduces the complexity of the maintenance staff and equipment.

737s have six-abreast seating. Depending upon the model of 737 -- and the pitch of the seating, the length of space between seats that we sitters translate as "leg room" -- these planes can carry almost 200 passengers.

The trouble is, folks, that people -- passengers -- have been getting bigger since these planes were introduced in 1965.

I'm not talking "bigger" as in "just look at that freakish excuse for a human Smith." I'm talking bigger on average. And not just Americans. People. More secure food sources over generations makes people subject in the past to occasional but regular famines bigger three generations down the family line. Think Yao Ming.

This means the situation for people crammed together in a tight space gets worse as the average size of each of these people increases. Less leg room. Less elbow room (literally). Less everything.

More tension. More demands upon whoever has the unenviable job of relieving that tension.

Which brings up a nagging question: At what point does common sense override the need for the airline to cram in as many seats as a plane can physically carry? As Smith notes, we are human beings. We should demand our dignity.

I say this as a person who doesn't fit, but lengthwise. My femurs are either freakishly long or the pitch of the last plane I flew was freakishly short. I got jambed in hard when the sitter ahead of me decided to recline. Not fun. Still, even if I bought another ticket, as Smith does, I'm out of luck. Those seats aren't removable.

I just decided not to fly for a long, long time.

Update, February 26, 2010: I just got to Kevin Smith's day-of-incident SModcast, where he lays down the story according to himself. A snippet:

I get it. South West is like, "Why should we have to give up fucking two seats to fat people? They take up more seats than one." Build thicker seats, motherfucker! This is the United States of America! More people are fat than fucking thin! Be realistic, you sons of bitches. You try to cram as many seats on to a plane as possible, so the seats are doubling fucking thin, but the people in this country are wider!

At many points he notes, once again, that he was able to buckle his belt and drop his armrests, so he actually conformed to South West's stated policy regarding size. At another point in the SMod he notes that this isn't, therefore, about him. It's about the abuse of power. If someone who fits in his or her seat can be arbitrarily and capriciously ejected (my words, his sentiment), anyone can.

I highly recommend a listen.
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I just got off the phone with The Wife's folks. It turns out a local hot story about a beating in our Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel has just gone national. As part of their traditional call to catch up, they wanted some explanation for what they saw on the news. While explaining things, I realized you readers out there might want a bit of perspective from someone within the organization that runs the tunnel.

It's no surprise, really, that this story went national and viral. There's video! Of a beating! And Guv'ment employees LETTING IT HAPPEN!!! Hell, read how the AP piece run by MSNBC chose to open the story:

SEATTLE - Three unarmed security guards were following orders last month when they stood by without intervening as a 15-year-old girl was badly beaten in a downtown Seattle bus tunnel.

(Emphasis mine.)

Really, all they had to add was "just" and those employees would have been branded Nazis standing trial at Nuremburg.

This whole episode is making me ragey. Why? Because it was so very avoidable. First, let's ask why were those employees are in the tunnel in the first place. From the AP article, we learn: "The guards' duties include helping customers and reporting suspicious objects, disruptive behavior and equipment problems." That last, "equipment problems," needs to be further emphasized.

Happily, I posted an entry outlining the equipment problems these guards were later hired to mitigate. Here's the situation. The tunnel was modified a few years ago to allow for both light rail and buses. Sadly, the modifications for the light rail meant compromises had to be made for the buses:

Most of the mods involved carving out the roadbed and re-leveling it. Trains ride higher than buses. Were the bed to remain constant, train riders would have to step down from and step up to the rail cars. Given that trips and falls constitute the greatest danger in transit agency liability, this change of elevation was deemed unacceptable. However, again, what was good for trains doesn't work for the bus. This change now puts the new hybrid low-floor floor level below the curb. . . .

What happens when people on the platform get too close to the curb when buses approach? Ah, now the fun begins. Buses are equipped with mirrors mounted just ahead of the front door. With no platform -- that is, standing on a surface equal to the bus -- the very top of my head can touch the base of that mirror. Were a bus moving when I was standing there, I might get a very minor bonk on the noggin. I stand at six feet.

That means that on a typical curb, folks between 6' and 5' 9" would be in danger of conking the mirror. It's something we drivers keep in mind when approaching the curb, I can assure you.

In the new tunnel, the conking goes to anyone 5' 6" or taller. Furthermore, remember, the bus needs to be closer to the curb than on the downtown surface for reasons I mentioned above. Combining this curb nearness with the fact that far more people stand over 5' 6" than over 6', that statistical likelihood of conking Shoots Way Up. Bonking a head, even brushing it a little, constitutes an accident.

Furthermore, in most stations where trains run passengers waiting to board traditionally crowd the edge of the platform. This makes the bus mirror situation critical.

In the days and weeks after the station opened, changes were made to mitigate accidents this poor design situation caused. A yellow strip a couple of feet from the edge was installed as a no-stand zone. To emphasize the importance of not standing there, very loud and very clear announcements flood the stations at all times warning against standing within that zone until buses have come to a complete stop. And additional personnel were trained to stand watch in the tunnel and personally remind people not to stand to close to the edge. At first, Metro used its own supervisors to stand this watch duty. The contractors shown in the video "not intervening" were trained and hired later.

That's right, people. The guards in the DSTT are there not to keep the peace, not to protect passengers from sudden attack, but primarily to protect waiting passengers against injury from a design situation that should never have been allowed to happen.

And that's what the news has been talking about not at all.

Look, it's all about the bottom line. Would we all love for police to be stationed in the tunnel stations? Probably. The sad fact, though, is that the stations are (like transit stations the world over) strangely safe places. Very little crime happens there relative to the crime on the street above the stations. Why should trained law enforcement personnel waste their precious time and the taxpayers' resources ($90 an hour for an off-duty police officer, verses $17 an hour for a non-intervening contractor are numbers I've heard batted about) to stand by and protect people against violent crime and other incidents that statistically happen at far greater frequency elsewhere? As brutal as this attack was, it was also very, very anomalous.

Here, though, I get even madder. Look what Metro's head, Kevin Desmond, is saying in the AP article:

Olympic Security is working up a proposed contract revision that could include additional training and new guidelines on how and when guards should intervene, Desmond said.

"They are highly motivated to make changes very quickly," Desmond said. "I am motivating them, and they have a reputation to keep."

Other options include hiring armed guards.

Unarmed guards could put themselves and others at risk if they intervene in certain situations. But this incident was largely a fight between two teenage girls, and there does not appear to be any indication that the larger group would have become involved if the guards broke it up, Desmond said.

"If I was there on the platform I don't know that I would have stood there," he said. "It's their job to be down there. The people at Olympic Security had the same human response: 'Why didn't we step in to protect the girl on the ground?'" (Emphasis mine.)

Desmond, you mendacious cretin. You weren't there. You weren't being paid a pittance to watch the tunnels primarily to guard heads against flying mirrors that you were probably responsible for okaying. And you weren't as a result given very specific instructions not to intervene in other situations. So why, if only to deflect attention away from your office, are you insinuating that these "guards" did anything wrong at all?

Shame on you. You are doing nothing less than throwing those contract employees under the bus.

Update, February 24, 2010: On that last sentence, I called it! Under the bus the guards have officially been thrown:

King County Metro Transit is planning within the next few days to replace
Olympic Security, the firm whose guards called police but didn't intervene
while a girl was kicked in the head at Westlake Station Jan. 28. . . .

Though crime is generally low inside the Seattle transit tunnel, video of last month's
assault angered people here and around the country.

He said after the briefing that "in a matter of days" he'll announce a plan,
involving another security firm in the tunnel.

For nearly five years, Olympic's unarmed security guards have been under
work rules to avoid intervening physically.
Now they are getting a few hours
of additional training, while the county has assigned armed King County
sheriff's deputies to tunnel stations. (Emphasis mine.)

I emphasized that sentence to reinforce the injustice these poor guys are suffering. Don't do what you're told, and you'll be punished. Do what you're told, and you'll be crucified.

Mendacious cretin.
peristaltor: (Default)
This Pharyngula post dredged up a lingering anger that I realize now I forgot to articulate. In it, PZ notes a Toys 'R' Us catalog with microscopes and telescopes. You know, science equipment for kids.

Both the telescope and the microscope come in special pink versions, just for the girl who is apparently more interested in getting an instrument that matches her nail polish than being functional, and note also . . . that in every case the pink model is less powerful than the black and gray model.

There is a message being sent here. Being feminine, being girly, means you belong in a separate category in the science world, and it's a category that needs less utility and more concern about appearances. (Emphasis mine.)

He's got an image of this ad you really must see to appreciate.

And this has to do with me . . . how? Last year, I was contemplating buying a new electric scooter, the Vectrix. (I reviewed my first test drive and compared it to other electric scoots I've known a few summers back.) The price had dropped significantly. I needed to make sure it would get me to work on the freeway, so I took it for another ride. Damn, that was nice.

Still, though lowered, the price was high. I decided I needed to do a gas-to-electric cost comparison. The Vectrix is a scooter-styled motorcycle, with plenty of oomph to keep my 200+ pounds cruising at freeway speeds. Therefore, I needed to find a comparable gas bike with the same styling and freeway ability and compare what I would have been paying for the Vectrix with what else was available. I could then note the difference in purchase prices and cost savings in fueling, and see if I would be spending (yet again!) more than I would have otherwise.

I ran into an interesting wall. I couldn't find a comparable freeway scooter at the local cycle shops.

For those who have never bought a motorcycle, click here to dive into the rantarrhea. )

So I never got my comparison shopping done. I also never got my bike, since I started looking for financing right about the time the banks stopped lending.

I also never got over this hyper-masculinization, this marketing testosterone fest, of simple transport vehicles, one that relegates the practical to the realm of the unappealing and therefore unavailable. Motorcycles, telescopes, microscopes -- nothing is safe from these despicable style nazis.
peristaltor: (Default)
Remember just a few weeks ago Warren Buffett bought BNSF outright? The press blather was predictable: "Our country's future prosperity depends on its having an efficient and well-maintained rail system."

Last night, though, while discussing an oil-poor future, my economist friend mentioned an alternative situation for buying the rail: electrification.

From The Journal of Commerce:

Earlier this year, BNSF Railway’s chairman, president and CEO, Matthew K. Rose, said he was in talks with transmission line companies that want to install new power lines in the railroad’s right of way. And he said BNSF was exploring whether that could help the railroad convert large parts of its sprawling western network to electricity.

Industry sources indicated other large carriers were looking at the same options, as Congress and the Obama administration push to upgrade the capacity of the U.S. electricity grid and tie in more alternative power sources including wind energy farms.

My friend also sent me a post from a rail site (sadly, one locked down to members only) which said:

If the wind- and solar-power crowd are really able to create some critical mass in their plans for mass conversion to such energy generation, transmission corridors for new high voltage lines are going to become necessary in the West. The battles for these rights-of-way are already starting to brew in several places in the West. . . .

Single steel pole towers, which are more easily situated on a railroad right-of-way than the old wider-footprint lattice-work towers, are now capable of handling up to the 765,000 volt lines being discussed for transmission from potential wind and solar fields in the West. . . .

Combine this observation with Buffett's planned wind farm facilities and one sees a definite business plan shaping up.

Buffett started as an oil man. He knows what's coming: Fuel shortages leading to ever higher fuel prices. Electric rail lines -- fed by the power lines sharing the corridor -- give him an incredible advantage, if he can get the major routes powered in time. And because he bought the rail outright, he won't have to dither about with quarterly stockholder reports. This means he can take his sweet time electrifying without worrying about "enhancing shareholder value" every few months.
peristaltor: (Default)
My brother [ profile] metalmensch was sent to work in India a few years ago. Being my brother, he had his eye trained for things I, too, would find interesting, things beyond the travel brochure, things alien enough to folks like he and I that they verge on the outright fascinating.

He found such fascination in . . . trash cans. They weren't ordinary trash cans, no sirree. Check out one such can:

Litter can in Ramoji Studios

A few details simply must be noted. First, his Indian friends consider these cans "fiercely" embarrassing. That he was constantly shooting pictures of them in scenic areas like Ramoji Studios and the Taj Mahal was even worse. Shouldn't he be taking pictures of things worth viewing? Details of Indian life that might put the sub-continent in a pleasing light?

I'll get to why his friends thought his actions embarrassing in a bit. Right now, though, I'd like to share some podcast material that illustrates why I think we in the United States might have even more reason to feel fierce embarrassment: Simply, many of our buildings and neighborhoods are just as freakish and ugly as these cans. )


peristaltor: (Default)

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