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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

#1 Elevator

The office building I work in has a bank of three elevators. Normally one presses the call button and one of them soon arrives and you get in and go up to the suite or down to the Lobby and that is it. Most times it is a solitary ride unless it is lunch time and a group of us leave and return together after going out to the same lunch spot for whatever we chose to buy that day. Occasionally there is someone to hold the door for to share the ride up to various floors. On the way down at the end of the day more that one person has the same idea for when to leave work for the day.

On this particular day I met a coworker as she returned from dropping mail in the Lobby mail bin. I pressed the hall call button and waited the requisite amount of time for one of the three units to rise to our 10th floor suite. This day the #1 and the # 3 car arrived nearly simultaneously. My first thought was 'this is odd.' However when Stephanee stepped out of the #1 car, I realized that it was a coincidence that she arrived from the Lobby just as the #3 arrived at my call. Since she was there I commented that both cars arrived and I used the one she came out of. My choice was a 50/50 one but weighted on the #1 by a social factor of talking with a coworker at that moment.

On the way down the car stopped on the 7th floor to pick up Brian as he was leaving. I did not know Brian just then, but circumstances would soon change that. We did the usual process of ignoring each other than to briefly nod to acknowledge each other. He continued to view his cell phone screen as the door closed and we proceeded down to the Lobby.

Before we reached that elevation, the car stopped abruptly just as we were expecting to stop gently at the Lobby. I commented, "that was a rather abrupt stop." Brian looked up and noted that the floor indicator still showed "2". I continued my comment with, "that's not good."

We began to speculate whether the ride would soon be completed and whether the elevator car would reset and continue. It didn't. The lights stayed on so we were not left in the dark stuck in a small space. None of the panel buttons would light when pressed. I tried the obvious "door open" and "door close" just to be sure. The red emergency indicator light kept flashing and beeping at irregular intervals. It read "Fire Emergency Indicator Retuning to Lobby Level". We did not believe that report. We could hear the other cars moving up and down as we pondered our next moves and fate.

Brian rang the emergency bell to try for the lobby guard's attention. I reached for the telephone box to see if it actually worked and if some one would actually answer. Operator 54 answered and I provided the rundown of our situation. "Colorado Building, Car #1, two people, no crises other than we are bored and really want to get home." Op 54 said he was calling the service people to come get us out. He suggested we call back every 3 to 5 minutes to keep them informed.

This is when I learned Brian's name. We began exchanging basic information about what we do, how long we worked in the building. That such stuff. I told him that one of my prevalent anxiety dreams involves elevators that don't do what they are supposed to do and do weird things that are not. They do things like go sideways and diagonally. The won't stop on the floor I want. I can see the rickety tracks and funky cables. They will go down below the last floor and become subway trains or run on train tracks until they emerge into the daylight and run along rainy streets until the rusty tracks disappear in the woods. For me this is a reoccurring theme. He said, "this will probably add a lot." I agreed.

The cell phone service was non-existent in that small metal car, but SMS and email would get out on a lower power comm channel. Brian reported that there was no data service for browser connectivity. I started emailing my colleagues on the company group address. The Subject was "Party in the #1 elevator tonight." Msg: "It's been nearly an hour here in #1 waiting on the ele-tech. Maybe I can just stay over tonight *sarcasm*"

That message elicited a half dozen responses:
  • In our own dear sweet Colorado Bldg?
  • Are you alright? ==>Yes. But no music or beer. Tech is on the roof now.
  • R u in our building? ==>Yes ==> Take tomorrow as a work at home day-----minus the hours you're waiting!!! ==> Still in the 'vader at 1341 as of 5:40. I'll be sure to send the all clear when freed.
  • In our building? ==> Yup. Somewhere between the Lobby and 2. Techs are working on it. ==> Great way to end the day. Hang in there.
  • Are cocktails being served? ==> The band is playing '80s covers and room is getting hot.
While the email dialog was going on so was an SMS conversation with one of the guys from the 5:20 Marc train. He was checking on whether I was going to be there because the Conductor was waiting for me. I inferred that that meant the train was on the 16 Track and the Conductor needed to use the lift. I asked if it was Track 16. He replied that it was 16 and at the far north end. The group I usually ride with also keeps the seat up for where I will park my wheelchair. They defend it against people who want to sit there. I try to let them know when I won't be there so they don't get into needless arguments and the Conductors don't wait when I won't be there. I made sure to tell them that Wednesday and Thursday I would not be there for various reasons.

When the first hour mark arrived so did the ele-techs. We could hear them but no one was checking on our status. Since we are both okay, we did not worry about that. Brian pondered the prospects that if they could not get the car to move what would they/we do? I suggested that they could drop us a line through the ceiling hatch and pull us up. We agreed that that would be a huge rescue effort that probably would not be needed.

I told Brian about the BWI elevator history with the 3 or 4 times the Anne Arundal Fire Department had to pry the doors open to get people out. I also pointed out that transit system elevators must have visibility panels to see in and see out. He said that was a good idea because he has been in the Metro late in the evening and was not interested in riding with some of the people who were also there.

Then after about an hour and a half the car settled to the lobby level but the door still did not open. I pressed the door open button and voila – the lobby and a rush of fresh cool air blew in. I reported our status as "Free at last free at last…" and "5:51 and in the Lobby"

Then responses:
  • I was afraid they were going to have to cater dinner. ==> Through a Straw... On the Red Line now taking my chances there.
  • I asked about it on my way out and they said you weren't the only one in there. I hope it wasn't traumatic! ==> One other guy from the 7th floor was there. We were in good spirits for being significantly delayed getting home. The phone worked and the central dispatch folks were there. Now on the 6:20 train with 5 seconds to spare. No time to dwell at the Center Cafe.
  • Where were you? Where was elevator? BWI? Union Station? Our lobby? Sounds bad wherever? ==> Left end elevator in the Colorado bldg, you know, the wonky one. Stephanee had just come up in it from dropping mail. She got the elevator. I got the shaft. I'm home now with a DVD and a Long Island Iced Tea, feeling no pain.
After getting out I had to go right back up to the suite for the restroom before embarking on the remainder of my trip home. Except for all the rain, there was no further fubars.

My last messages on the events of the day were: "just came from being stuck in a stalled elevator in the Colorado office building for nearly a hour and a half. Managed to catch the 6:20 MARC after an uneventful Metro ride to Union Station. It remains to be seen if there are any other buggaboos between here and my livingroom." And "No bugs in transit and wound up in my living room with a DVD and a LIIT. Movie was fair the LIIT awesome." This day too passed into foggy recesses of days that are done.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Undiscovered Lie (Part 98)

The Undiscovered lie takes down yet another great American icon, Joe Paterno. He did his duty to report the abuse he was made aware of, but failed to follow up when nothing was done. Therefore he is not liable for criminal indictment, but the court of public opinion has him signed, sealed and delivered into his permanent retirement. He, himself committed no crime, but now after years of allowing criminal activity to continue, he is the bum. He was perceived as a great man for decades until... the Undiscovered Lie broke him. Now his reputation, the reputation of Penn State, its football enterprise are all forever tarnished.

The Undiscovered Lie makes its impacts even after decades of being undiscovered. Herman Cain is just now realizing that what he did many years ago have followed him into his Presidential aspirations. There is no way that enough Americans will overlook the alleged actions, and particularly his reactions to the accusations. He doesn't have the poise and grace under fire to stand up to the onslaught of questions and further revelations for accusers who purported are revealing the Undiscovered Lie. If he cannot stand up to the media scrutiny he certainly cannot stand up to the pressure that the POTUS will have to endure. Just ask Mr. Obama.

Friday, November 4, 2011

When will the Riot Police Realize The Nobody is Rioting?

The #OWS protesters purpose is to speak out, be arrested, bailed out and come back to speak out some more. They are NOT there to be beaten, gassed, shot at, run over, body-checked, slammed to the ground, knelt on and dragged. On the other hand, the police officers ARE there to beat, gas, shoot at, run over, body-check, slam to the ground, kneel on and drag away people who are there to speak out against the disparities that embody the economy, wealth and power of this nation. Just look at the way each side is dressed and what implements of destruction they wield. One has placards with WORDS and the other holds batons and guns. One side is protected by the Constitution & parkas while the other is by rubber padding and plastic shields. Just who afraid of whom out there? Don't read this if you already have yours and are not worried about losing it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Wall Street an Abusive Parent?

Peoples' relationship with banks and Wall Street is like that of a child and abusive parent. The child just wants the pain and abuse to stop but doesn't want the parent arrested. If the parent is arrested, the child risks losing his home and ending up in foster care. The child is completely dependent on the abusive parent and must turn to him or her even though the abuse will continue. The parent knows the child is totally dependent and subject to whatever rules are set forth. Sometimes the abused child propagates the abuse and some times the child turns on the parent with violence. This is the hazard of being abusive. People who 'know' the parent all say that it is impossible that the child is being abused or has any right to complain. They blame the ungrateful child. As the child reacts more, eventually even his playmates get in on the harassment after listening to their parents talk about the unruly child. It is all a downward spiral into intractable failure.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Debriefing the DC Earthquake

Debriefing the DC Earthquake

I was surprised as was everyone when the ground rippled and the buildings shook. Being in DC and mere blocks from the Whitehouse some first thoughts were "Not Again." While sitting at a desk or up getting copies made or coffee poured one has no idea of the width and breadth of the event. Tenth floor suites make observing the street a difficult task. There was no immediate telling of how narrow or extensive the unknown event was. An explosion typically would be of limited radius. A building fault would be contained in the immediate area of the building. An earthquake on the other hand affects whole cities, counties and regions. As we now know the seismic waves traveled from Richmond, Virginia up into Massachusetts and west into the Midwestern states.

The shaking of the ground and the swaying of the buildings prompted many people to leave their office suites and congregate on the sidewalks outside their buildings' doors. Actually, that is a poor place to stand after an earthquake. Many other people choose to remain inside and wait for information about what had happened. Yes, it was an earthquake. No, there was no significant damage. There were no collapsed buildings or debris strewn streets. This doesn't mean the streets remained clear and passable.

The throngs of office-workers now aimlessly milling about on the sidewalks made walking on them very difficult. Most people were talking with each other or trying to make cell phone calls and were not very cognizant of their surroundings. They were focused on distant matters, listening with ear buds and not paying attention to anyone who was trying to get from one end of the block to the other.

Not long after the mass egress of the office buildings came the second flow of humanity. People who drive their cars into the District and park in the garages beneath the office building began to pour out onto the streets. There they stagnated and created a gridlock by not honoring the traffic signals that were still operating. They did not honor the traffic policy of reverting an intersection to a "Four Way Stop" when the lights go out entirely. Each driver contributed incrementally to his/her own delay and to the many more thousands of bus riders who in the absence of so many automobiles would have made the trip much faster. Fortunately this was not a massive destruction event. Fortunately we all did not need to evacuate the city in a hurry, although a lot of people seemed to think there was a reason.

The MetroRail system was brought to a stop due to the unknown conditions of the tracks, signals and station roofs. When tentative service was restored, people mobbed the trains. The densely packed commuters on the platforms made a sea of humanity that was impounded by the lack of trains to move them out. The first train at Metro Center arrived already fully packed. Still people pushed to get on. The next two trains arrived nearly empty. Those who waited or had to wait had a much easier time getting on the train and on their way.

The D6 shuttle bus that goes passed the Metro Center entrance on the west side had been delayed for about 30 minutes before arriving from the K Street area. A man sitting in the bus shelter said that the D6 had to get out of the K Street area and "it's probably a big mess up there." K Street is the big Lobby Firm area of the city. There is a higher concentration of parking garage spaces up there for all the wealthy lobbyist-types. The D6 finally arrived with a nearly full load. It inched along in the gridlocked streets taking 40 minutes to go the distance to Union Station that usually takes about 10 minutes by subway.

Car drivers ignored the attempts of the bus to pull over to the curb to take on and discharge passengers. Cars parked at the curb made the going very slow when the bus had to change lanes to go around. Additional drivers emerging from their underground lairs intensified the slowness of the trip to Union Station by bus. A woman on the bus pointed out that all the bike rental racks were empty. People peddled passed the bus making faster headway than either the cars or the bus. Pedestrians were moving far faster that the vehicles too.

At Union Station they closed the building for a short time due to small chunks of plaster falling from the vaulted ceilings. MARC, VRE and Amtrak services were all suspended while an assessment was completed. Once the building was reopened and the hopes for commuter train rides were rekindled passengers mobbed the gate to try for a space on the first trains out. Scheduled trains were departing about 1 hour later than the schedule. The first MARC train out took 2 hours to make the 35 run up to the BWI Airport Rail Station. The next train departed about an hour late and took 90 minutes. By 7:40 the 7:40 train departed on time, with plenty of seats available and took the customary 40 minutes to reach BWI.

The Center Café had plenty of seats available, beer on tap, wine and liquor, and a full menu of food items for wise commuters who chose to be patient and wait for the first flush of humanity to dissipate and make the remainder of the day a pleasant journey with interesting company.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Metro Police Officer and the Escalator

A Metro Police Officer and the Escalator

First let me say that the officer in this posting was very polite and officious. In my 16 years of using the Metro Rail system in DC and particularly while riding escalators using a wheelchair, I have been approached only a dozen times by Station Managers, an escalator tech or two and only two Police Officers. On the other hand, 16 years times 250 workdays, times 2 rides up and out in the morning and 2 rides down and in the evening each day equals 16,000 escalator rides on the DC Metro system alone. This introductory information should put the remainder of this posting in proper perspective.

The Police Officer followed me onto the Metro Center South entrance escalator to tell me it was dangerous to ride it with my wheelchair. I am always facing up the incline regardless of the direction of the stairs. I saw him step on and come to the step above me.

The ironic part of this story is that he and I would not have met this day except that the West entrance lower level escalators to both tracks were stationary. I discovered this only after going down to the plaza level on the one escalator that was going down from G Street at 14th. Fortunately the other side was going up and I could get back out to the street.

"You know we have elevators for this."

"Yes, it's on the far side."

"This dangerous."

"You're new at this. What you have to know is that I have been riding Metro escalators for 16 years, every day twice a day."

"If you would fall you could get killed."

"I could also get killed crossing the street to get to the elevator or by getting shot by someone who is over-reacting to the situation."

"You should use the accommodations that are provided. This equipment was not designed for this."

"I think there is nothing wrong with this way." We reached the bottom and I rolled smoothly off and turned to go to the fare gates.

"Well have a good day."

"Thanks." I went on my way and he made the return trip to the street. I thought about all the times that Metro escalators and elevators have been out of service and I have had to make some accommodation to get to work and more importantly, back home.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Another Way to Make MARC Delay

Another Way to Make Delay

Aug 10, 2011. The BWI Rail Station platform got busy just before the 8:03 train pulled in to the station. Back along the platform sat two other passengers with wheelchairs. I knew this would be a busy morning. My jaded attitude made me believe that we would arrive on the 16 Track. The 16 has no high-level platform and requires the conductors to position a lift to get passengers with wheelchairs off the train at Union Station. My early assessment was well founded.

Due to constrained space, the three of us were in two different cars. I was at the head end of the train in an older single level car. The other cars are bi-levels. This fact will be important later. As usual the first car attracted a significant number of people who will stand in the aisle. This morning my Car 5 buddy, Trish, was with me and stood nearby as other passengers dragged their wheelie-bags across my feet.

At 8:42 we arrived at Union Station and on the 16 Track as I had figured. The passengers of the fist car were taking an inordinate amount of time to file out of the train due to the both the required use of the steps and the fact that the outer door did not open. Two cars full of passengers had to exit out one door and down the steps. I said good bye to Trish and a couple of others whom I know. Soon I was he only one still waiting to get off the train.

The Conductor, Alice, soon poked her head in the far doorway and said that they would be there shortly after handling the other two people who needed the lift. She came up and keyed the door to open it. It didn’t open. Repeated attempts at the key panel failed to open the door. The door mechanism inside the car could not be activated to open the door. After awhile another Conductor, Warren, arrived and said that in Baltimore “they locked out the door because it was not opening properly.” He did not know exactly what had been done, but it was not operational.

A train mechanic stopped by and boarded the train when he saw Alice’s bag sitting on the ground by the door. He was checking on her and that unusual situation. He worked on the door for a while, too. I told Alice that because the inter-car passage was from a single level car to a bi-level car the doorway was too narrow to pass my wheelchair. I suggested that sometime another conductor opens the door on the 15 track side of the train and I get out that way. Warren tried to do that but the electrical substation equipment and a heavy cart were in the way and there was insufficient width to turn a lift to get to the door.

Car 7747 left side door. After about 10 more minutes the mechanic had gotten the stuck door half way open. It kept hitting something inside the door pocket and reclosing. With a few more tweaks and twists, the door finally opened. After 20 minutes I was on my way to work. As Warren poured sweat in the humid DC morning and cranked the lift down to track level, I told him that what MARC lacks in good reliable equipment they make up for with good personnel. Well almost. The personnel is good, but the equipment situation and the track assignments are huge problems. The yard controller directs trains in a manner that is convenient for the railroad and fails to address customer needs and comfort. The factor that is most disturbing is the fact that the door was purposefully disabled and was a disaster in the making had there been a need to evacuate the train. Fortunately such emergencies are rare, but they do happen. Newspapers are full of stories of nightclubs and other venues that lock and chain doors to keep gate crashers out only to have dozens of people trampled, crushed or burned trying unsuccessfully get out.

Today remained a good day.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Stormy Morning, Center Track at BWI Rail Station

Most people who travel through the BWI rail station in the valley below the BWI airport on a daily basis have at one time or another had to board or exit a train on that infamous center track. For them it is a nuisance that makes them queue up to walk to the far end of the platform and wait to walk down the steps there and up on to the train.

For the commuter who uses a wheelchair or is otherwise unable to negotiate the steps, the train that dwells a mere 10 feet away might as well be on the far side of the Grand Canyon. Actually being on the far side of the Grand Canyon would be far better because the view would be spectacular rather than this dreary morning. It is just another day in the life of a long-term commuter. BTW, I-95 had the two left lanes blocked this same morning due to an accident.

Although this location is not WMATA, per sa, Metro Fail riders were not spared the train malfunction at Fort Totten this morning that backlogged rail traffic to and from Shady Grove once again. The entire Metropolitan DC-Baltimore region is in failure mode and in need of major infrastructure improvements. Particularly in this time of nobody wanting to pay a tax to keep America on the move, and Congressional Freshmen all wrapped around the axle about not raising the debt limit, travel will get worse. Even as WMATA tries to overhaul its aging hardware, the money is getting pulled back by legislators who fail to see the Equals Sign in the equation.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Just Another Day At Metro Center Station

July 21, 2011 9:02 AM

This will be the worst year for DC MetroRail riders. Two factors are converging to create headaches and backaches. First, the entire system is older than it ever has been (35 years in most places.) Second, they have so many Elevators and escalators shut down to overhaul them. This premier subway system has never gone through a major overhaul in its short history. New York, Boston and Chicago and many similar systems have been built over a period of 100 years or longer. They have seen the ups and downs of service quality while never having to have the entire system be the same old age.

The center escalator was barricaded for imminent repair work. The one on the left was a "down" and the one on the right was stopped. The plaza was packed with hundreds of morning commuters.

Today's Commuter Hero

A bold commuter pushed aside the barricade and ran up the center unit. A flood of delayed commuters quickly followed him up .

In a few minutes everyone was gone. The Station Manager tried to restart the stopped unit without success. Just another day in the live of a DC commuter. When did commuting become an adventure?
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Author's Note: The book cover images in the side margins of this blog are my own publications of eBooks available at both Amazon and B&N. Please take a moment and go to the sites and read about them. Then if you like it, buy one or two.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Ironies Metro Fubar

The Weather Personalities on TV were warning us all of the Killer Heatwave that was moving eastward across the nation in Mid-July. DC had not yet seen the peak temperatures that were to reach over 100 degrees. That notwithstanding the rail infrastructure in the region was already being stressed beyond it abilities to operate reliably.

MetroRail operations had suffered several single-tracking events due to rail misalignment and other systems failures. HVAC in some rail cars had failed and the summer tourists were making the cars extra crowded. MARC service had already experienced three 1-hour long afternoon delays on its Penn Line in July by the 20th.

MetroRail stations have been severely impacted by a major effort to overhaul its hundreds of aging escalators and elevators. At many locations where one escalator is being torn apart and rebuilt, passengers must walk the other stationary unit in both directions at the same time. Few people realize it, but they have the transit accessibility standards to thank for 40-inch wide escalators whet to people can actually pass each other in opposite directions. Just look at most private building escalators to see that most are only 24-inches wide. Those people who are unable to navigate the stationary steps with their bags, their baby strollers, bad knees and hips can thank the radicals who protested and sued WMATA to have elevators in every station not just the originally planned 1-in-3 scenario.

July 20th my afternoon commute started out relatively ordinary. I already knew to avoid the Metro Center West Entrance because the platform escalator would most assuredly be stopped. My daily commute requires the use of escalators while using a wheelchair. I freaks out some people but they have no idea that I have been doing that ride nearly every day for 16 years. The number of time I use a Metro escalator now tops 12,000 times.

My irritation with the state of MetroRail station hardware is more oriented with the escalators not working than with elevators not working. After all there is only one elevator at most stations to get anywhere. There are usually two or more escalators that all have to be stopped in order to reach the fubar status: You can't get there from here.

This particular afternoon the humidity was 100% and the temperature hovering around 95. I got to the Union Station train platform to find a barricade across the elevator door. The adjacent escalator to the left was one of the one that was being rebuilt. The one to the right was the two-way path that had a hundred foot queue waiting to get up. Even the people who were merely reluctant to walk the steps were doing so.

I turned around to go the far end of the station. The pair of escalators there were both stopped. The single one beyond them was also stopped. The only way out of the station was by rail car. The Station Manager told me I had to go to New York Avenue to get the shuttle back. I boarded the next train outbound to New York Ave. When there, that Station Manager knew nothing about the Union Station elevator outage or a planned shuttle bus. His call to Operations yielded the instruction that Judiciary Square was where they were going to stage the "bus bridge" back to Union Station.

I went back up to the platform to wait for the train. The Station Manager came up and said I had to look for the D6 bus because they hadn't gotten the shuttle set up yet.

I arrived on the street across from the National Building Museum just in time to miss the current D6 bus. But now the butterfly effect was setting in. The irony of fubars was about to kick into high gear. All I wanted to do was get up from the platform to the mezzanine of the station, a mere 25 feet of elevation and catch my accustomed 5:20 MARC train back to Baltimore.

Another Metro rider using a power wheelchair also needed to get back to Union Station. She was looking for the special shuttle. I knew the D6 bus would do the trick. We both boarded the bus after the driver clears the securement seating areas for our wheelchairs.

In a few minutes the bus was sitting across from Union Station ready to discharge passengers and the two of us. They who wanted to get off did and the driver began to deploy the lift. It stopped and stuck in the nearly down position and would not budge. He tried over and over to make it go. It didn't. He even tried the Microsoft Approach and shut off the bus and started it up again. Still nothing. He tugged it. He pushed it. He lifted it and tried again and again.

When the next D6 pulled up behind us the rest of the passengers abandoned ship. The driver called in to Operations for a maintenance truck. Soon he was calling again and got the, "we know your situation." We had to wait. At least the AC worked even though the door could not be closed. I had my Car 5 Gang buddies with which to send text messages with such that they were not holding a flip up seat open for me. Mike and Trish spread the word about my absence. What a great gang.

My fellow "detainee" was anxious to catch the next MARC Brunswick train at 7:15 because it was the last of the day for her. I could get trains as late as 11:00 if necessary. At 6:09 a supervisor and maintenance truck arrived. Out wait had been 40 minutes. She was already checking on hotel rooms for the night in necessary.

The driver and supervisor talked for a minute or so then the supervisor climbed into the bus and sat down. He fiddled with the buttons and switches for a minute and the lift started to run. In another minute the woman was out the door and on her way across the street to Union Station. On my descent, the lift failed again. "Do the laying-on-of-hands again and get this thing working," I said. He laughed.

The driver stood there looking a bit embarrassed. "What did you do," he asked the supervisor?

"I prayed on the way in," he said. I added that he laid on hands and drove the lift demon out. The driver and I crossed the circle together because he needed to use the restroom. "I really needed to go but couldn't leave you on the bus. There would have been hell to pay, if I had."

He left me with a parting thought. "You know, I choose that bus over another one today because the AC on the other one didn't work."

This entire episode was precipitated because every escalator in Union Station was stopped at the same time and the elevator failed. All the people who had already been on that bus were also delayed by the same equipment failure in the rail station.

Post Script: When I mentioned this misadventure to a colleague, he was puzzled because he said all the D6 buses are 'low-floor' and have fold out ramps. I said, this one didn't. So now I realize that the bus I was on was a spare that was not up to current standards.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Reminder From the Principle of Imminent Collapse

Japan survived it latest brush with the Principle of Imminent Collapse on March 11, 2011 when the earth's crust ruptured sending an 8.9 Richter jolt through the crust and moved a mountain of seawater a few meters. The movement of that water propagated as a tsunami wave across the Pacific Ocean splashing the Northern Marianas Islands, Hawaii then the West Coast of the Continental US. The wave moved at the velocity of about 600 MPH taking upwards of 10 hours to reach our distant shore.

Here the wave of water tossed boats in the marinas about and killed a handful of people who were sightseeing the awesome forces of nature. One man was swept to sea while taking photographs. A friend of mine emailed a video clip of a three foot wave sweeping into the bay at San Francisco and into the normally calm waters of Sausalito where he lives on a houseboat. Everybody in the continental US had many hours of advance warning about an event that could be as bad as the doomsday messages of recent disaster movies or as innocuous as a the wave it turned out to be.

The people of the northern islands of Japan were not as fortunate. First they endured the few minutes of massive shaking when the earth moved. Then many of them were subject to the tsunami waves that followed within minutes. Although the epicenter of the quake was about 240 miles off shore the velocity of the wave being upwards of 600 MPH it did not take long for the devastation to begin.

Japan is the most well prepared nation in the world for dealing with earthquakes. They are no strangers to tsunamis either. Their national policies have required that all new construction be as quake resistant as is practicable. Most urban areas have been 'hardened' against the forces of the earth but the outlying regions have not received that same level of attention.

When the plans are made and the construction complete, there is a general improvement in resistance to the quakes and floods. When the warning systems are all in place and operational, there is still only a modicum of additional protection that can be derived with the technology. When a person lives near sea level and near the sea, a tsunami warning that can provide only 15 minute of advance notice is not going to be very effective for a large portion of the population.

The US was fortunate that such an earthquake event happened 5000 miles away and not in our backyard just off the west coast where there the underwater geography is very much the same at it is in Japan on their eastern side. This begs the question of what would have happened to LA, San Diego, and all the other southern California communities had this type of seismic event happened here. There are no tsunami sirens here. There are no transportation systems that could transport millions of people inland to escape the wall of water that would sweep across the cities.

The Principle of Imminent Collapse assures us that the event will ultimately happen. It assures us that we are arrogant to think we will not be home when the event happens. We can only be lucky to be away somewhere to avoid the catastrophe when it takes place. Planners say plan for the big event. Fiscal conservatives say wait for the event to happen then fix what is destroyed. There are even those factions that advocate doing nothing so we can start over and build from scratch. Still others estimate that the timeframe will be such that they will be long dead and buried from other causes before such an event comes to pass and they have to deal with it.

Although the interrelation between far flung events such as the Japanese Islands and the West Coast of the US may be infinitesimal, there remains a small relationship. The Japanese Islands moved about 8 feet eastward during the quake. This means the earth has changed shape, even if negligibly. The tilt of the axis of the earth has also been modified. We have no idea what long term effect this will create, or whether the outcome will be positive, negative or neutral. We noticed the movement of the islands which made the circumference of the earth at that latitude 8 feet smaller. This would act to increase the internal pressures in the earth. What we haven't seen is whether somewhere else a bulge developed that relieved the pressure. If the pressure has not equalized somehow, we can expect it to be released somewhere. I hope it is not in my backyard.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Attack on the Middleclass

Our learned opinionators from the Conservative alternate universe, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and the passel of like-opined commenters, have been beating the drum and chanting that the American Middleclass and its way of life is under attack. They allege that Liberal policies and out-of-control government spending are to blame for the looming problems we are just beginning to experience. What they conveniently leave out of their presentations is that Republican politicians are poised to curtail and eliminate the modest gains that many American acquired during the past generation.

Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) seeks not only to bypass collective bargaining contracts with Wisconsin state public employees, but to legislatively eliminate their collective bargaining rights altogether. He wants the WI Legislature to directly dictate to the employees how much they will contribute to their pensions and for healthcare. Much like Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick and the other steel industry magnates of a 100 years ago, he seeks to have absolute control over the lives of his employees. In actuality, the state public employees work for the Governor who is like the CEO of the company.

Carnegie knew (opined) how much an employee's labor was worth based on the price he could get for a ton of steel and how many tons the employees could produce per unit of time. He also did not provide any health care coverage for the employees and relegated to poverty anyone who was unable to produce a day's work due to illness or injury. Change in those conditions required bloody conflicts between the striking workers and the private police the Company hired to beat down "those people who hate this society."

A single worker has zero influence to improve his/her economic condition. This employee can be summarily dismissed for any reason at all. A bargaining unit has only two tools in its kit for improving the working conditions and compensation of the members. First is the voice of reason and when that fails, the have the ability to stop work and wait for the employer to capitulate. Strike breaking has been a Republican goal from the beginning. The practice was epitomized when President Reagan fired all the striking Air Traffic Controllers during his Presidency. Striking PATCO employees were barred from being employed again in the air traffic control jobs which were and remain Federal jobs. Men and women seeking to improve their economic standing and improve air travel safety stood their ground and lost everything for it. The Republican attack was swift and exacting.

Republicans hate the public school system in this country and aver that it is inefficient, wasteful and rife with overpaid, under-performing teachers who cannot be fired because of tenure and teacher union control. What they do not say is that public schools do not allow the administration or individual teachers to conduct prayers in class and a public school board decides what can and cannot be taught to the children. Public school classrooms are beyond the reach of the Conservative Agenda. In private school classrooms, Creationism can be substituted for Evolution, children can be made to bow their heads and say a prayer or at least listen to one that is recited on their behalf.

Private school tuition can be as high as the parents are willing to pay for the education and the children of poorer parents can be economically relegated to lesser funded schools. Even in a society of inequitable distribution of educations funds, the conversion to a private system only further divides the population. People who are marginally middle class in the first place and whose only hope of improvement is the education of their children get pushed out and down.

The attack on the public education system is one where the Republican Agenda seeks to not spend money on anyone's children but their own. Tuition vouchers for paying for private school tuition are the Republican way of circumventing the diversity of a public school education. Conservatives lost control of the curriculum and therefore went after creating ways of not having to participate under that paradigm.

We must study our history to realize from where the American Middleclass came. It was the creation of the combined desires of millions of workers who wanted a larger part of the economic pie that the Aristocrat Class always enjoyed. Each improvement was a hard won victory over the barnacle encrusted old-money class who owned everything. Every gain for the middleclass was a loss on the balance sheet of business. A 40-hour work week limited the per-person productivity of a worker. Each paid day of vacation, holiday and annual leave was drawn from the purse of a business owner who felt that he was being robbed by a union thug. It was the unions that made all of the improvements possible. It was the unions that made the middle class possible. Without them, all workers would be at the mercy of the company and the willingness of another person to underbid his labor rate.

Under those conditions no one would ever be able to make a plan for the future. Without the ability to make a reasonable plan, no lender would be willing to fund a mortgage, a car loan, an education loan, etc. If at any time an otherwise competent worker could be discharged, have his income reduced, there is no stability to the economy.

What is being wrought upon the state and local employees in Wisconsin is nothing less than an attempt by an upstart newcomer to enter the picture and not honor the rules by which everyone else played up to now. Governor Scott Walker has rushed in and decided that the rules must immediately be changed. His threat to lay off 1500 employees at the beginning of March 2011 is only a small part of the plan to change the rules of the game. The follow-on threat to eliminate another 5000 jobs unless he gets the rule change through is a further threat to the middleclass. The state's budget shortfall of $137 million would cost each of the 2.08 million Wisconsin households less than $68.50. So instead of raising a "budget repair tax" of $68.50 he will gut the compensation packages of 175,000 employees by between $5000 and $10000 each. Actually, if only state employees were asked to pay the budget repair tax each would have to pay only $782.86.

There is a non-sequitur here. The elimination of collective bargaining rights has nothing to do with balancing the budget. It does have to do with shrinking the American Middleclass. The Middleclass has always been a thorn in the side of dictators, but never for a democracy.