Metro Red Line Crash Anniversary: Honoring Jeanice McMillan

22 06 2010

After the collision of two trains on the red line of the Washington DC Metro system, the top part of one train car rests atop the lead cars of the train that crashed into it from behind.  Workers from the Loudon County Fire Department are climbing ladders and walking on top of the train.

The Washington Post has an article up about a memorial for the nine people who died in Metro’s Red Line collision, one year ago today.

The National Transportation Safety Board held hearings in February, but they have not yet released their report on the accident.  Tons of information about the investigation is available on the NTSB website.

I want to talk a little bit today about the train operator who died in the crash.  Her name was Jeanice McMillan, and she loved her job.  I understand where she was coming from on that.  One of the reasons I fell in love with the city of Washington, DC, visiting as a tourist in high school, was the grandeur of the accomplishment that is the DC Metro: all of it, from the beauty of the station designs to the fact that every single day it moves as many as 800,000 people.  The million plus who descended on DC for Obama’s inauguration? Metro got ’em in and out.  Historian Zachary Schrag wrote a book about the construction of Metro called The Great Society Subway.  Metro, he argues, is not only a product of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society but an embodiment of its highest ideals: a public work, grand and ambitious in scope, not just functional, but memorably beautiful.  Who wouldn’t want to be a part of something like that? Read the rest of this entry »


“Self-regulation” is about hoarding wealth

21 06 2010

In this article about the “self-regulation” of business the writer lists a number of historical examples, going back to the early 20th century, of supposed regulation gone badly awry because of conflicts of interest that arose when government permitted industry to “regulate” itself.  BP is only the latest and most egregious example.

The pitfalls of self-regulation are clear. BP, which the government left to devise its own safety measures for deep-water drilling, chose maximizing profits over minimizing risk. In financial regulation, the industry-funded Financial Industry Regulatory Authority—whose board is rife with banking titans—ignored the shifty dealings of Wall Street mainstay Bernie Madoff. By the same token, self-policing credit-rating agencies had little incentive to question the faulty debt ratings of their high-rolling clients.

The article is worth a scan for the list of examples, but it mostly misses the forest for the trees – or, if you prefer, it assumes good faith where there is none.  What conservatives who advocate for “self-regulation” believe in is the preservation of political & economic elites in their positions.  One really good way to do that is to privatize the profits and socialize the risks of doing business, so they favor that.  The move toward “self-regulation” is just one of the means by which that happens.  It’s not a philosophical difference, or a difference of opinion about the “best” way to achieve regulation; it’s just a practical means to an end — keeping the rich rich and keeping everyone else’s dirty hands off “their” money.

Link Roundup 6/21/2010

21 06 2010

Carlessness and the radius of everyday life

20 06 2010

Atrios writes:

On those occasions that I head out into the burbs I’m struck by just how much space is used. It reminds me of when I was living in Pwovidence, Vo Dilun, during a time when they were trying (somewhat successfully) to revitalize the downtown area. A presenter noted that you could fit the entire downtown inside the footprint of one of the local malls. Anyway, it’s helpful for understanding why people see mass transit as some sort of alien and at best unpleasant thing, given the distances involved. For me, 3 miles is a a rather generous estimate of the radius of my every day life. For many, 3 miles is the minimum distance to anything.

This got me thinking about how access to different types of transportation — car, bike, bus, train, feet — radically changes your experience of the place you live.

Living without a car dramatically reduces the radius of your daily life.  Right now I live in a city that has excellent bus service and limited rail service. I do not own a car or a bicycle, so I depend on the bus and my feet to get from place to place. The radius of my everyday life is about 4 miles.  My threshold for a decision to take the bus rather than walk is usually about half a mile.

But there are exceptions to this rule – lots of them.  Yesterday, I was healthy and uninjured and had lots of free time, and the weather was beautiful, so I walked about three miles total to get to and explore a park near my home.  I never would have done that in below-freezing winter weather, though.

On one occasion last month, I had planned to go out, but it was pouring rain and windy so that I would have gotten wet even using an umbrella.  So I stayed home instead.  A couple of weeks ago, I was ill and I seriously considered waiting an extra day to fill a prescription that I needed rather urgently, so that I wouldn’t have to deal with all the extra walking and waiting required by Sunday bus schedules.  With a car, it matters a lot less if it’s raining or if you’re sick: I wouldn’t have changed my plans in either of the above cases if they had involved transport by car.

Not owning a car also means that I have to carefully plan my grocery shopping.  I can’t buy too much at once, so I have to shop more often.  I’m also largely on my own when it comes to bagging: there’s a strategy I’ve settled on*, but the baggers at the stores where I shop don’t understand how I need to have my bags packed, and it’s easier and quicker to just bag my own groceries.**

All this is to say that even if your place of residence is arranged so that a smaller radius of everyday living is feasible and comfortable, little things – like being sick or injured, or bad weather, or having to carry a heavy load – can make not having a car suddenly and strikingly inconvenient.

That said, one of the best things about my current city is that there is no social expectation, at least among the people I work and socialize with, that I should own a car.   In my previous city, acquaintances would get annoyed and frustrated with me for being unable to immediately provide driving directions to places I had been – even knowing that I habitually used public transit rather than a car.  Some people had odd ideas about what counted as a good enough reason not to own a car: the politically active Democrats I spent time with often assumed my lack of car ownership was due to personal convictions about saving the environment.  I quickly learned to just let them assume away; if I admitted it was really because I didn’t have enough money to buy and maintain a car, they responded with contempt – not always, but often enough.  There were other ways that I was subtly and not-so-subtly treated as a lesser person because I did not own a car.  Fortunately, that isn’t the case here.  As a result, even though the ease of access to my workplace and other places I needed to go is about the same for the two cities, I’m immeasurably more comfortable with my transit situation in my current city.  (It’s ridiculously cheaper, too – that helps!)

Conclusion: Land use matters.  Availability of transit matters.  But so do the attitudes of people around you.

Readers: what’s the radius of your everyday life, and how do day-to-day circumstances cause it to expand or contract? Are you happy with your transit situation?

* Heaviest things in a backpack, the rest divided into two loads of equal weight using either two or four bags – one or two for each arm/hand.

** I don’t mind bagging my own groceries, but I can’t do that and pay at the same time, so I wind up being that awkward person who’s holding up the line.


20 06 2010

Hello! Welcome to “Crowd Noise,” a new blog.  I am a lefty feminist anti-racist activist and a graduate student worker in history.  I plan to write about history, academia, politics, activism, and whatever else strikes my fancy.  We’ll become better acquainted in the coming months, I’m sure.

I’ve spent far too much time today setting up a blogroll and tweaking the header image.  Did you know that if you do a google image search for “crowd” or even for “diverse crowd” you turn up a LOT of photos of crowds that look like they are all or almost all white people? One photo I found had a wonderfully diverse mix of races and ethnicities but it was all men. I did find a few other non-uniform crowds but the photos were not the size I needed.  So I finally gave up and settled for a photo of a crowd that is too blurry for me to tell whether there are any people of color/non-white people in it.  Not ideal, but I’ll be on the lookout for a better image.

Because I don’t have time for a proper post right now, I’d like to share links to two bloggers whose work I especially enjoy:

Cara’s Gratuitous Beatles Blogging at The Curvature is fun to read and listen to.

Mike the Mad Biologist is the best aggregator of interesting links I know of: his link collections are not to be missed.