TIME Education

The Long, Sad Tradition of College Admissions Mistakes

People walk on Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus in Baltimore on July 8, 2014.
People walk on Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus in Baltimore on July 8, 2014. Patrick Semansky—AP

This sort of thing happens pretty much every year

The news that Johns Hopkins University had mistakenly sent acceptance letters to applicants who didn’t actually make the cut was especially cruel for the nearly three hundred kids who were actually rejected. But it was not, unfortunately, uncommon. This kind of spirit-crushing mixup has become a nearly annual rite of college admissions, particularly since application processes went electronic in the early 2000s. Here’s a rundown of some of the worst offenders:

1995: Elizabeth Mikus, a 17-year-old, is among 45 early-acceptance applicants who receive a fat envelope with a form letter that says “Welcome to Cornell!” But it turns out that the envelopes were sent “due to a clerical error.” Mikus suffers a second time in April when she gets a thin envelope rejecting her again. The family threatened to sue the school over the mishap.

2002: Administrators at the University of California, Davis pick a cruel date to correct a mistake. After sending letters of acceptance to 105 high school students the previous month, the school sends follow-up emails on April Fool’s Day explaining that those letters had been sent in error.

2003: Cornell again. This time the university sends an email saying “Greetings from Cornell, your future alma mater!” to nearly 550 high school students who had already received their rejection letters in December. The school sends emails explaining the mistake a few hours later, in an era when news outlets still called them “email letters.”

2004: UC Davis has back-to-back mishaps. First, the school allows personal data from some 2,000 applicants, including SAT scores and Social Security numbers, to become viewable by other applicants. Soon after, the school acknowledges that they mistakenly sent emails telling 6,500 applicants that they had won $7,500 scholarships. It is the first year UC Davis had sent scholarship announcements by email. “Clearly, we have bugs in that system,” a school representative told the Los Angeles Times.

2006: About 100 high school students receive a congratulatory note welcoming them to the University of Georgia, only to get another letter a few days later explaining that those notes should be disregarded. Someone picked up “the wrong file,” an administrator explains, and failed to send what the students should have gotten: a letter thanking them for applying.

2006: Thousands of applicants to law school at the University of California, Berkeley are invited, and then uninvited, to an alumni-sponsored party for students who had been admitted early. “Anybody who’s made this sort of error can imagine my feelings at that point,” says the admissions director who had accidentally sent the email to the entire applicant pool. “It was a shocking kind of realization: ‘Oh my goodness, what have I done?'”

2007: More than 2,500 students are emailed a congratulatory note on their admission to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — only to be told the following day that decisions about their applications had not yet been made. “I’d give anything to go back to 3 p.m. yesterday and change what happened,” the director of undergraduate admissions told WRAL.

2008: About 50 students are welcomed to Northwestern University’s renowned Kellogg School of Management, before being informed that they were actually rejected. Officials describe it as a “technological glitch” in their “automated mail-merge process.”

2009: Yet another unwelcome April Fool’s surprise. About 500 applicants to New York University’s graduate school of public service receive emails announcing their acceptance. About an hour later, they receive emails saying they had not, it turns out, been selected.

2009: Perhaps the largest ball-dropping yet occurred when the University of California, San Diego sent 28,000 students an email saying they had been accepted. Of course, they were not.

2010: Roughly 200 students who had sought early admission to George Washington University receive notes that, as the Washington Post put it, “welcomed them to the Class of 2014 — for several hours.” The mea culpa follows shortly after. The same year, 56 applicants to Vanderbilt University are mistakenly sent acceptance letters, as well as 2,500 applicants to Middlesex University in the U.K.

2011: About 2,000 students are sent acceptance letters from Virginia’s Christopher Newport University, followed by a apology (and take-backsies) about four hours later. The culprit is a database error committed by a human.

2012: Nearly 900 students are informed, wrongly, that they got into UCLA. Hundreds are told, in error, that they’re welcome to attend Ireland’s University of Ulster. And 76 students are led to believe, for 30 minutes, that they have been accepted early to Vassar College.

2013: About 2,500 early-admission applicants to Fordham University are sent financial aid notices congratulating them on their acceptance to the school, though their fates had not actually been decided. “Fordham and its undergraduate admissions staff are acutely aware of the high hopes prospective students and their families have regarding college acceptances,” the school told the New York Times. “The University deeply regrets that some applicants were misled by the financial aid notice.”

TIME language

Why It’s Best to Avoid the Word ‘Transgendered’

Laverne Cox Transgender Time Magazine Cover
Photograph by Peter Hapak for TIME

Katy Steinmetz is a TIME correspondent based in San Francisco.

With a federal LGBT non-discrimination bill in the pipeline, it's a good time to think about the words we use

Last week, Sen. Jeff Merkley announced that he will be introducing a comprehensive LGBT non-discrimination bill in the spring, which means, among other things, that a lot of lawmakers and media outlets are going to be making decisions about how they talk about LGBT people.

Reporting for TIME on transgender issues (particularly for what became the cover story “The Transgender Tipping Point”), there was one maxim that pretty much every person I interviewed seemed to agree on: there is no single story about being transgender that sums it all up, much like there’s no one story about being Hispanic or blonde or short or straight that sums that experience up. But I also came to learn that there are some good rules of thumb to follow when it comes to language.

For instance, if you meet a trans person—someone who identifies with a gender other than the sex they were assigned at birth—it’s generally a good idea to ask which pronouns (he or she, him or her) they prefer and to use whatever that is. If you meet a trans person, you should not ask about the particulars of their body, much as you would likely prefer strangers not to inquire about yours. And if you meet a transgender person, you should not refer to them as “a transgender” or “transgendered.”

Referring to someone as “a transgender” can sound about as odd as saying, “Look, a gay!” It turns a descriptive adjective into a defining noun and can make the subject sound distant and foreign, like they’re something else first and a person second. This guidance is part of GLAAD’s media reference guide, under the heading “Terms to Avoid”: “Do not say, ‘Tony is a transgender,’ or ‘The parade included many transgenders.’ Instead say, ‘Tony is a transgender man,’ or ‘The parade included many transgender people.’” These key language nuances haven’t been consistently adopted by the media. For example, on Dec. 15, the Associated Press listed this story in among their “10 Things to Know For Today:”

4. PHILIPPINE AUTHORITIES CHARGE US MARINE WITH MURDER

Prosecutor says the 19-year-old American is accused of killing a transgender in a hotel room. (The story has since been updated to say a “transgender woman.”)

This is something TIME has done in the past, too.

Of course it’s hard to find a word in identity politics that goes undebated, that is universally panned or lauded as just right. Julia Serano, author of Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, says that older transgender people might prefer and use transgendered when speaking about themselves; in the 90s she recalls that term being de rigueur among trans activists.

But the language people use to refer to themselves, particularly minority groups, changes. Today some people prefer the abbreviated trans or trans*, and transgendered has largely fallen out of favor (though some media outlets are still using it). When I recently asked San Francisco-based attorney Christina DiEdoardo, a transgender woman, how many out of 10 trans people she knows would say they dislike the word transgendered, she quickly answered: “11.”

“The consensus now seems to be that transgender is better stylistically and grammatically,” DiEdoardo says. “In the same sense, I’m an Italian-American, not an Italianed-American.” The most common objection to the word, says Serano, is that the “ed” makes it sound like “something has been done to us,” as if they weren’t the same person all along. DiEdoardo illustrates this point, hilariously, with a faux voiceover: “One day John Jones was leading a normal, middle-class American life when suddenly he was zapped with a transgender ray!”

Moving away from the “ed”—which sounds like a past-tense, completed verb that marks a distinct time before and a time after— helps move away from some common misconceptions about what it means to be transgender.

One is that being transgender might be a choice that involves a person simply deciding to be that way or a result of something that happened to them, like sexual abuse. The majority of trans people I’ve spoken to have said they knew they had feelings of identifying as a boy (when assigned female) or girl (when assigned male) as far back as they can remember—even if they didn’t have the vocabulary or understanding to articulate what was going on—and even if they tried to change or stifle those feelings for half their lives. Imagine how it would sound if one described people as “gayed” or “femaled,” as if there was a point when that wasn’t the case.

Another misconception is that the defining part of being transgender is having surgery, as if a trans person isn’t really trans until they’ve gone under the knife and come out the other side fully “transgendered.”

“There’s a tendency in American culture for entertainment and news outlets to focus on surgery, surgery, surgery,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told TIME in a previous interview. But, she says, while surgery is very important for some trans people, others have no desire to have surgery; they might not have surgery for medical reasons, religious beliefs, financial constraints and so on. There’s an “authenticity issue that trans people face,” says Elizabeth Reis, a professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Oregon. “People are so focused on whether or not they’ve had surgery, as if that’s the pinnacle of authenticity. Even if they haven’t had it or if they haven’t had it yet or they’re never planning on having it, they still have these feelings about their gender.” Avoiding the ed isn’t going to solve that authenticity issue, but it doesn’t hurt.

However, Keisling also says that focusing on whether the “ed” is tacked on the end of transgender can be a distraction. She believes it’s more important for everyone to be having a conversation about LGBT civil rights issues than to wag fingers at people over terminology. “I don’t ever want to say that communities or cultures can’t have language variations,” she says. “Language is very important and what people want to be called is very important. But we have to have a common language that we can bring people into. We have to have language that they can grasp.” And, she says, just as transgendered has become unpalatable, there’s no telling what will be preferred down the line.

Still, “for now,” Keisling says, “I would use the word transgender. Particularly if you are outside of the family, that’s going to be okay.” (If you have more questions about terminology, the GLAAD media guide is a great place to start.)

Katy Steinmetz is a TIME correspondent based in San Francisco. In addition to writing features for TIME and TIME.com, she pens a feature on language called Wednesday Words and organizes the occasional spelling bee. Her beat is wide but it thumps hardest in the Northwest.

Read next: Laverne Cox Talks to TIME About the Transgender Movement

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Drugs

Texas Lawmaker Proposes Lower Marijuana Possession Penalties

File picture shows marijuana plants at a indoor cultivation in Montevideo
Marijuana plants are seen at a indoor cultivation. Andres Stapff—Reuters

A new bill would make the possession of up to one oz. punishable with a $100 ticket

On Monday, Texas State Rep. Joe Moody introduced a bill that would remove criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

“Our current marijuana policy in Texas just isn’t working,” Moody said in a statement. “We need a new approach that allows us to more effectively utilize our limited criminal justice resources. This legislation is a much-needed step in the right direction.”

Under current Texas law, possessing up to two oz. of weed can yield six months of jail time and a $2,000 penalty. Under the proposal, adults caught with up to one oz. would get a $100 ticket, similar to a parking violation. Larger amounts would still lead to criminal penalties. The measure would make Texas the 20th state plus the District of Columbia to remove the threat of jail time for the possession of small amounts of weed.

The bill is backed by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the pro-legalization group that spearheaded the passage of Colorado’s historic legalization measure. The bill is also the first in a series that the MPP expects to be introduced in Texas this year, the next attempting to legalize medical marijuana and the third attempting to legalize recreational marijuana.

The latter two are long shots, and the first won’t be an easy sell to the Republican-controlled legislature. Texas Governor Rick Perry has said he opposes legalization. He has intimated that he supports decriminalizing weed, but has also said that the state has “kind of done that.” In 2007, Texas passed a measure giving local governments the power to respond to marijuana possession with a summons rather than an arrest, but few counties have adopted it and someone issued a summons may still end up in jail.

Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, another pro-legalization group, says that Texas is in a tier of states that are the least likely to ease marijuana restrictions. These “third tier” states, he says, are ones in which “the legislature has never shown any want to move in this direction and/or there is an executive at the top who is going to oppose and veto any reforms.”

A poll commissioned by MPP in 2013 found that 61% of Texas residents would support a penalty reduction like the one Moody is proposing, while 58% would support the legalization of medical and recreational weed.

At a press conference on Monday, Moody was joined by representatives from other groups who support the bill, such as the ACLU of Texas and Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition. Support from such libertarian-leaning conservatives will be crucial in the heavily Republican state.

“Texas doesn’t seem to be ready for a full legal market,” acknowledges Heather Fazio, a representative for MPP in Texas. “That doesn’t mean that the conversation shouldn’t be happening.”

TIME language

Merriam-Webster Announces Its Word of the Year

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A.L. Christensen / Getty Images / Flickr Open

This word saw a big spike in lookups this year, for lots of good reasons

Culture.

That is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2014. If it sounds awfully broad, that is because the editors based in Springfield, Mass., rely more on hard data than feeling to choose their lexical time capsule. But this big idea, broken down into specifics, does a fine job of summing up the past year.

While Oxford chose vape for its connections to health and society, and Dictionary.com chose exposure to tie big news stories like Ebola and Ferguson together, Merriam-Webster settled on culture by figuring out which of their most popular words experienced the biggest spike in lookups this year.

Looking back to see what helped drive those lookups, the editors point out that “celebrity culture” and “rape culture” and “company culture” all had big years. “Culture is a word that we seem to be relying on more and more. It allows us to identify and isolate an idea, issue, or group with seriousness,” Peter Sokolowski, editor-at-large for Merriam-Webster, said in a statement. “And it’s efficient: we talk about the ‘culture’ of a group rather than saying ‘the typical habits, attitudes, and behaviors’ of that group.”

In addition to the phrases Merriam-Webster points out, plenty of other brands of culture made headlines in 2014, including:

pop culture, consumer culture, military culture, culture wars, the “culture of free,” startup culture, cultural clashes, cultures of violence, cultures of silence, drug culture, Western culture, Scottish culture, surf culture, high culture, teenage culture, culture shocks, police culture, the NFL’s culture, media culture and hookup culture.

Other words that saw big lookup spikes this year, each with their own connections to what was going on in American culture, were nostalgia (our long goodbye to Mad Men), insidious (a certain horror movie franchise gets another installment), je ne sais quoi (Sonic selling us chicken wings) and feminism (the Gamergate controversy, for starters). In their press release, Merriam-Webster points out that TIME’s nod to 2014 as “the year of pop feminism” sent many people running for the dictionary.

Here are the three top definitions of culture that Merriam-Webster returns when someone looks up the word, one we clearly can’t get enough of:

: the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time

: a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc.

: a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization (such as a business)

TIME Environment

Environmentalists Go to Battle Over Face Wash

Vials of microbeads alongside products that use such small, plastic spheres.
Vials of microbeads alongside products that use such small, plastic spheres. Photo courtesy of 5 Gyres

Environmentalists are hoping a landmark report about how much plastic is in the world's oceans will help get bans on small plastics passed

Face washes claiming to be “blackhead erasers” or “superfruit scrubs” may seem appealing for scrubbing your way to a fresh new face, but some of them also contain an ingredient that environmental advocates and lawmakers are trying to ban. Tiny, round bits of plastic known as microbeads, no bigger than a grain of couscous, may pose hazards in the natural world.

These little orbs, introduced to replace harsher exfoliants like pumice, are so small that after they’re washed down the sink or tub, they sneak through sifters at water treatment plants and end up in the ocean and other bodies of water. Once in the ocean, researchers have found, these plastics act like sponges for toxins, and can be accidentally ingested by fish, thus ending up in the food chain.

Several states considered bills to ban microbeads last session, but only Illinois passed a law, becoming the first state to do so. Now lawmakers in at least three states are gearing up for another go in 2015.

“We were outgunned,” says Stiv Wilson, associate director at 5 Gyres, a non-profit dedicated to fighting plastic pollution. In California, the industry group Personal Care Products Council—which represents companies like Johnson & Johnson and Clinique—lobbied members to oppose a bill that would have banned the use of microbeads, saying it was “overly aggressive and unrealistic.” The bill failed by one vote. The same state assemblyman who proposed that bill, Richard Bloom, plans to try again, with what Wilson says will be a “much broader coalition” of supporters.

5 Gyres has also been working with lawmakers in Hawaii and Vermont, and hopes to find sponsors in Ohio, Florida and Maryland. The group developed model legislation that states have used as the foundation for bead-banning bills and hopes that a new report published on Dec. 10 in journal PLOS ONE will bolster their cause.

Part of the problem in getting these bills passed is that microbeads, just one type of plastic ending up in the ocean, only became de rigueur among companies about a decade ago, so there’s little hard science showing their particular effects on the environment.

The new report, based on 24 expeditions from 2007 to 2013, produced the first global estimate of just how much plastic of all sizes is in the ocean—including microplastics. According to the investigation, there are more than 5 trillion pieces afloat at sea. “There’s 20 times the amount of plastic in the North Pacific as there are stars in the Milky Way galaxy,” Wilson says.

Many companies have voluntarily vowed to phase microbeads out of their products, including giants like Johnson & Johnson, L’Oréal and Proctor & Gamble. But environmentalists have continued to pursue legislative bans to make sure no companies slip through the cracks and to hold companies to a firm timeline. Wilson believes that just a few states need to pass bans for companies to entirely reformulate products, to avoid cumbersome distribution challenges.

“The fundamental question is going to be: do we wait to take this material out until we prove that this microbead causes harm?” Chelsea Rochman, a marine ecologist at the University of California, Davis, who specializes in microplastics research told TIME in an interview for a previous story. She’s currently working on research to find out more about how much of a threat microplastics pose to marine life.

“This is not rocket science,” Wilson says. “We’re running out of time. These policies need to be passed.”

Read next: Know What’s In Your Face Wash: Why Illinois Banned Microbeads

TIME LGBT

A Comprehensive LGBT Nondiscrimination Bill Is Coming

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., defends the Senate Democrats’ vote to weaken filibusters and make it harder for Republicans to block confirmation of the president's nominees for judges and other top posts, on Capitol Hill in Washington on Nov. 21, 2013.
Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, defends the Senate Democrats' vote to weaken filibusters and make it harder for Republicans to block confirmation of the President's nominees for judges and other top posts, on Capitol Hill in Washington on Nov. 21, 2013 J. Scott Applewhite—AP

At an event unveiling a "landmark" report on LGBT discrimination, a lawmaker will announce his plans to subsume ENDA in a much broader bill

A bill that would make it illegal to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in hiring and firing has been introduced in some form — and then failed to become law — in nearly every Congress for the past two decades. On Wednesday, a champion of that bill, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), will announce that rather than having another go in the upcoming session, he’ll turbocharge it instead.

Democratic Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley will propose a much broader measure aimed at preventing discrimination against LGBT Americans, not just in employment but also with regard to public accommodations, housing, jury service and financial transactions. “It can’t be right that people are thrown out of their rental housing because of their LGBT status or can be denied entry to a movie theater or to a restaurant,” Merkley tells TIME. “That simply is wrong and we need to take on this broader agenda.” He hopes to have a bill, complete with bipartisan co-sponsors, ready for introduction in four to six months.

Despite the popular conception that such protections already exist — one poll put the number at 87% — there is no federal LGBT nondiscrimination law. Twenty-one states currently prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and 18 of those, as well as the District of Columbia, also include gender identity. State lawmakers in places like Florida, Virginia and Utah are gearing up to fight for such measures in the coming session, while lawmakers in Michigan are currently in the throes of that debate.

Merkley’s announcement will coincide with the unveiling of a comprehensive report on LGBT discrimination by the D.C.-based think tank Center of American Progress (CAP). Opponents of bills like ENDA, including House Speaker John Boehner, have argued that they’re an “unnecessary” solution in search of a problem. The authors of the report, who spent four months compiling studies and research on the topic, say they hope this “landmark” study will put those objections to rest.

“The reality is that LGBT people face pervasive discrimination in all areas of life throughout the country,” says lead author Sarah McBride. “Marriage equality is an incredibly important issue … At the same time, our country shouldn’t be pacified by that progress. We shouldn’t mistake that progress for victory.” One of the report’s catchiest, most poignant arguments is that in 11 states, a same-sex couple could now get married on Saturday and then be legally fired for being gay on Monday morning.

The report, titled “We the People,” is packed with statistics to arm lawmakers in arguing for the passage of nondiscrimination laws: in the realm of employment, up to 28% of lesbian, gay and bisexual people report not getting a promotion because of their sexual orientation; and 47% of transgender workers say they’ve been fired, not hired or denied a promotion because of their gender identity. Gay men may make one-third less than heterosexual men working similar jobs, the report adds, and the rate of poverty experienced by transgender people is nearly four times that of the general population.

Arguments over nondiscrimination bills often get heated when it comes to public accommodations — shorthand for the businesses and services available to the public. The proverbial scenario (based in reality) has become a gay couple who goes to a baker for a wedding cake and is turned down because a shop owner’s religious beliefs include opposition to gay marriage. Under nondiscrimination laws, such shop owners could be subject to legal penalties, and Merkley says that’s how it should be. “If you choose to be the proprietor of a restaurant, you should be expected to operate that restaurant in a fashion that does not embrace discrimination,” he says. Lawmakers in places like Kansas have disagreed with that notion and attempted to protect such business owners from liability.

The CAP report reveals that up to 27% of LGBT consumers have experienced “inappropriate treatment” or hostility in a place of public accommodation, while 6% have been denied service outright. Up to 70% of transgender people report experiencing some form of harassment when trying to use a public restroom, which is another hot-button area and has led state lawmakers to propose bills mandating that people only use the restroom that aligns with the sex on their birth certificate.

In 2013, ENDA reached a historic milestone, passing the Senate in a bipartisan vote 64-32. Though the House did not take up the bill, Merkley says it helped propel President Barack Obama to issue an executive order in June that created LGBT nondiscrimination protections for roughly 28 million federal contractors and employees. “The sky didn’t fall,” Merkley says. “This is a positive thing. It’s positive for the employers. It’s certainly positive for the individuals involved. It’s certainly positive for the overall economy.” Proponents of nondiscrimination bills argue that in order to capitalize on the best possible talent, LGBT workers need to feel welcome and protected no matter the company or state.

The CAP report details discrimination in medical care, homeless shelters, law enforcement, rental housing and myriad other fields. The authors also have to admit that there’s data lacking, in parts where discrimination is treated more as a possibility than a fact. McBride says LGBT people will only file complaints after nondiscrimination laws are in place, while many government forms and medical forms don’t ask questions about sexual orientation or gender identity that would help fill in those gaps.

Some state lawmakers are trying to do their own research. In Virginia, state delegate Marcus Simon is working with advocacy groups to test the rental market, having “same-sex” and “married” couples call and inquire about the same property. Early results, he says, show there is a difference in treatment about 30% of the time. That’s data he’ll use to bolster a LGBT nondiscrimination housing measure he plans to introduce in the coming weeks.

A federal bill like the one Merkley is proposing has several obstacles to overcome. One is finding a way for a Congress with two Republican-controlled chambers to actually take it up. Another is fighting the notion that with the scales tipping so far in favor of same-sex marriage, LGBT Americans have already achieved equal status in all spheres. Lawmakers and LGBT rights advocates argue that the legalization of marriage will lead to more people being public about their sexual orientation and therefore afford more opportunities for conflict, meaning bakers could only be posed with an order for a same-sex wedding cake if same-sex marriage is legal in the first place. “It is going to become more and more obvious who the LGBT people are, and that’s a good thing,” McBride says. “But it also is going to mean there might be more instances where people are discriminated against.”

McBride acknowledges that getting a comprehensive nondiscrimination bill passed is going to be an “uphill battle.” Advocates like Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, say there’s no “clear path” to passing ENDA or a broader measure in the next two years, but believe the votes are there if those proposing the bills can get them to the floor.

Merkley, taking a long view, seems cautiously optimistic. He worked to pass a similar measure as a state lawmaker in Oregon and ran on supporting same-sex marriage in 2008 when it was legal in only two states. “No one imagined that within this six-year span that I’ve been in the Senate, my first term in the Senate, that we would be on the verge of ending marriage discrimination across the country, yet here we are,” he says. “It’s very important to recognize how fast the world is changing, and another two years will bring additional changes as well, as people come to terms and understand this discrimination is wrong and it needs to end.”

TIME Transportation

Prosecutors in San Francisco and Los Angeles Sue Uber, Settle With Lyft

Uber At $40 Billion Valuation Would Eclipse Twitter And Hertz
The Uber Technologies Inc. logo is displayed on the window of a vehicle after dropping off a passenger at Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Lawsuits surrounded "misleading" claims to consumers about how they vet drivers

Prosecutors in Los Angeles and San Francisco announced a settlement with ridesharing company Lyft on Tuesday for making “false and misleading statements” to consumers about background checks for vetting drivers, but filed a similar lawsuit against Uber.

The civil suit against Uber alleges that the company not only made “untrue and misleading” statements about the checks, according to a statement from the office of Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, but has also been illegally operating at airports across the state and charging San Francisco riders a “fraudulent” $4 airport fee despite drivers not paying one to the airport. The suit seeks civil penalties as well as reimbursements for affected customers.

At a press conference, according to Bloomberg, the prosecutors said Uber had touted strict vetting requirements to justify a $1 “safety fee” passed onto riders, “when in fact taxi drivers by law undergo more comprehensive background checks that include fingerprinting.” Though the company no longer uses the phrase, Uber has called their safety checks “industry-leading.”

Previous reports have surfaced about aspiring Uber drivers applying for background checks through a third party by submitting information online, with no requirement to appear in person before gaining approval to work through the system. One driver told Valleywag that, “One person could fill out all the info and hand off the approved account to another person” and that he was aware of multiple drivers “sharing an account.” Gascon called background checks without assurances like fingerprinting “completely worthless.”

Lacey and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón had threatened to levy civil penalties against the companies in September, for failing to meet consumer protection standards.

Lyft has agreed to pay a $500,000 civil penalty, as well as submit its app to additional government scrutiny and obtain express permission for operating at airports in the state. The settlement, according to the statement from Lacey’s office, also includes a permanent injunction that prohibits the company from making “misleading statements about its background checks.”

This comes at a time when cities like New Dehli and Portland are moving to block services like Uber from operating, due to concerns about oversight and safety.

TIME LGBT

Meet the Republican Who Lost His Election Fighting for LGBT Rights

Michigan Rep. Frank Foster (R) speaks on the floor in the Michigan House of Representatives in Lansing. Michigan House of Representatives Photographer Mike Quillinan

A young star in Michigan is spending his final days as a lawmaker working to expand the state's civil rights protections

In Michigan, a 28-year-old Republican state lawmaker is using his lame-duck session to fight for a bill that cost him his reelection in a primary this summer. Rep. Frank Foster is trying to extend the state’s civil rights act—which protects people from discrimination on the basis of age, race, religion, sex and weight—to also include sexual orientation. Even though he puts his bill at a 10% chance of passing, he says he has no regrets. “This is important, and if it’s not law in 2014, we’re still having the conversation,” Foster tells TIME. “Until it’s equal, it’s not equal.”

On Dec. 3, the commerce committee, of which Foster is the chair, was the site of a heated debate about tolerance and persecution. The public was invited to give testimony on Foster’s bill and another bill to amend the civil rights act to include both sexual orientation and gender identity. Supporters of the bills made arguments that passing them wasn’t just about protecting another class of citizens but about Michigan’s reputation and making the state feel welcoming to the broadest possible array of workers and companies.

One of those testifying in support was Allan Gilmour, a former second-in-command at Ford who made headlines when he came out as gay after his first retirement from the company in 1995. Updating the law, he said, “is necessary if Michigan is to attract and retain talent. And on an individual basis, no one should live in fear that they will lose their job or injure their careers should they live openly.”

Those opposing the bills, largely representatives from Christian groups, argued that the measures threaten to jeopardize religious freedoms, like those of Christian small-business owners who would prefer not to bake a cake or take photographs for a same-sex wedding—and might lose their business license for such a refusal under an amended civil rights law. “Why should that baker or photographer be forced against their religious beliefs and conscience to participate in that? And if they refuse to because of their religious conscience, to be put out of business?” said David Kallman, speaking on behalf of Michigan Family Forum, a conservative Christian organization. Multiple speakers also argued that there was no hard data showing that LGBT discrimination was a problem that needing solving. (There are reports on the issue and more research is being done on the topic.)

After giving his own testimony, Foster oversaw the meeting stoically, with one exception. Stacy Swimp, President of the National Christian Leadership Council, gave a speech about how he was “rather offended” that anyone would equate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans to black Americans when it came to fights for civil rights. “They have never had to drink out of a LGBT water fountain,” he said, recounting that black Americans had been lynched and denied many basic rights in the past. He called any comparison “intellectually empty, dishonest” and accused the LGBT community of exploiting the struggles of black Americans.

Once he finished, Foster pulled his own microphone toward him. “Sir, I will agree with you on the fact that African Americans in this country’s short history have been discriminated against,” he said. “But if you don’t think the LGBT community has been discriminated against, been drug behind cars, been hung up by their necks til they’re dead, been denied housing, been denied commerce opportunities, then you’re just not looking very far.”

It was an impassioned speech from a native Michigander who never met a homosexual person until going to college at Grand Valley State University. Foster grew up in the tiny town of Pellston (pop. 831) in the midst of his current district, which spans the water where the state’s upper and lower peninsulas nearly meet. It’s an area known for fishing and hunting and tourism on islands like Mackinac, whose residents are also among his constituents. It’s also socially conservative.

By the time he finished his degree at Grand Valley State, Foster had been elected student body president, twice. He had organized rallies and marches against an amendment to ban affirmative action (which eventually passed by a nearly 20-point margin in 2006). He had accompanied administrators to Washington, D.C., to argue for better higher education funding. And he had worked to get gender identity added to non-discrimination policies in the student and faculty handbooks. “That was really the first time I socialized with people of different ethnic backgrounds and different races,” he says. “College was the way it was supposed to be for me.” He won his first race for a seat in the state House of Representatives in 2010, with 63% of the vote, and became one of only two freshmen to be appointed committee chairs.

After Foster was reelected in 2012, a Democratic colleague approached him about helping to support a non-discrimination bill. Like many people—one poll put the number at 87%—Foster assumed it was already illegal to fire someone for their sexual orientation, though there is no federal protection and only 21 states have passed such a law (18 of those, and D.C.’s, also include gender identity). Eventually, Foster and his colleague decided it would be more powerful if the Republican didn’t just co-sponsor the bill but introduced it. “I had no idea we did not have those folks included in Michigan’s civil rights act. When I found that out, it became a passion of mine,” he says, adding that he thought “as a young Republican, I could communicate to my colleagues and the party where we needed to go.”

Before Foster got around to actually introducing a bill, word got out that he planned to and he did interviews that confirmed people’s suspicions. In late 2013, Foster also called for the resignation of his Republican colleague Dave Agema, who caused an uproar after posting an article on Facebook that decried the “filthy” homosexual lifestyle. Agema was among those who encouraged a teacher at a Christian academy—who was considering running for Foster’s seat when he hit his term limit in 2016—to run against Foster in 2014 instead. Foster says his opponent, Lee Chatfield, gave him a deadline to publicly come out against legislation that would amend the civil rights act. “I wasn’t able to make that deadline, didn’t want to make that deadline,” says Foster. “So he filed in January and made this the center point of the campaign.” Foster lost by less than 1,000 votes in the primary against Chatfield, who had support from the Tea Party.

That loss not only cost Foster his job, but hurt his chances of getting the bill passed. The prospects had been looking good. He and other supporters of the bill had been rallying support among his fellow Republicans and gained the backing of the Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition, a group with big-name members like Chrysler, Delta Airlines, Google and Kellogg that formed to support the legislation. “After my election, they slowly faded away,” Foster says of his GOP colleagues. “It was a pretty successful, religious-mounted campaign that beat me, and if that can happen in my community, that can happen anywhere.”

Foster says he’d like to see a bill pass that includes both sexual orientation and gender identity but had limited his to the former thinking that it would have a better chance of passing. When Michigan’s civil rights act was proposed in the 1970s—named Elliott-Larsen for the lawmakers who championed it—the inclusion of sexual orientation threatened to kill the bill, so it was removed. “Forty years later, here we are still trying to add sexual orientation, and it’s the transgender piece that was slowing the bill down,” Foster says. He also knows that by compromising, he may lose the support of Democrats. “Democrats are not going to vote for anything less than fully inclusive, and Republicans will not vote for fully inclusive,” he says. “So, in my mind, we’re sort of stuck.”

After winning his reelection, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, sat down with the Detroit Free Press and its editorial board reported that “he will encourage the Legislature to take up an expansion of the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act to also include the LGBT community, prohibiting discrimination in hiring and housing decisions.” Foster is somewhat hanging his hopes on that report. “He can add some muscle to the argument and help me get this thing across the line,” Foster says. For now, both bills remain in the commerce committee. After potentially being voted out, a bill still has to win a floor vote in the House before repeating the process in the Senate.

Regardless of what happens, Foster is going home at the end of the session. He’ll work full time at Rehabitat Systems, a company which provides long-term care to people with traumatic brain and spinal-cord injuries, where he’s currently an executive officer. Right now, he’s frustrated with where the two-party system has gotten him. “I don’t want to necessarily be in the box anymore, where if I’m Republican it means I’m x, y and z,” he says. “The rest of my demographic, the 20-somethings, don’t think that way.”

But he says he’d like to have another go at being a Republican politician down the line, especially because their fiscal policies resonate so strongly with him. “There needs to be some more time,” Foster says. “My party has to change some of its social stances. And if that can happen, I think I’ll become more appealing to the party and vice versa.”

TIME Environment

The Real Wilderness of Wild: A Brief History of the Pacific Crest Trail

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Hikers cross Agnew Meadows on the Pacific Crest Trail in California. Danita Delimont — Getty Images/Gallo Images

The path that Reese Witherspoon walks in her latest film took 60 years to become a reality

Wild, a film based on Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir, in theaters Dec. 5, tells the tale of a woman wandering over more than 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. And that means one of star Reese Witherspoon’s most important co-stars is the trail itself.

Today there are more than 1,000 official national trails that sprawl across America like a nervous system. But in the beginning there were just two: the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. The latter, spanning about 2,650 miles of America’s West Coast, from Mexico to Canada, was the dream of a fellow named Clinton Clarke. In 1932, the avid hiker formally proposed a border-to-border trail connecting the peaks of the Pacific Coast, to preserve and protect America’s “absolute wilderness” before it was overrun by “motor cars” and industry.

“In few regions of the world—certainly nowhere else in the United States,” he later wrote in 1945, “are found such a varied and priceless collection of the sculptured masterpieces of Nature as adorn, strung like pearls, the mountain ranges of Washington, Oregon and California.” The Pacific Crest Trail, he said, “is the cord that binds this necklace.”

Clarke’s hero, and cause, was the explorer who would pitch his or her tent in the mountains night after night, desperate to hear the snowfall and see nothing brighter than the stars, seeking a “simpler and more natural life.” He believed that the “PCT” wasn’t just some track of dirt, but a means of forging “sturdy bodies,” “sound minds,” “permanent endurance,” “moral stamina” and “patriotic citizenship.” (As if it needed to be mentioned, Clarke was a dedicated Boy Scout.)

Clarke wasn’t the only person to dream of such a trail, but he was the most organized. To further the cause, he put together a whole federation of hiking clubs and youth groups dedicated to the project, known the Pacific Crest Trail System Conference. For years, he oversaw the massive task of scouting and constructing a route through the wilderness, connecting existing trails by building new ones, all while avoiding as much settled area as possible. Clarke served as the president of the conference for 25 years, which included big-name members like the Sierra Club, YMCA and photographer Ansel Adams. For this, he earned his place in history as the “father” of the trail.

The Pacific Crest Trail officially became the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail in 1968, 11 years after Clarke died at the age of 84. The popularity of hiking had been growing and, as of 1963, America had a President and First Lady who were very interested in preserving the outdoors: Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson. Johnson proposed the study of a national system of trails, which would give the federal government a way to establish and oversee footpaths that weren’t on federal land. The volunteers who oversaw the Appalachian Trail were anxious for that kind of mandate, worried that handshake agreements allowing hikers to pass through private lands might otherwise dry up.

People like the Department of the Interior’s Daniel M. Ogden, who recounts the political battle for establishing a national system of trails in a 40th anniversary newsletter, pushed Congress to pass a bill based on the study Johnson requested. And Oct. 2, 1968, Johnson signed a “conservation grand slam” of four environmental measures: the National Trails System Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the Redwood National Park Act, and the North Cascades National Park Act. The only two national scenic trails at the time, which require an act of Congress to be designated, were the Appalachian and the Pacific Crest.

By 1972, a council created by the government had come up with a final route for the trail that Clarke had imagined 40 years earlier. After years of construction and negotiation with private property owners, the trail was completed in 1993 with a “golden spike” ceremony reminiscent of the transcontinental railroad. That was also the year that the non-profit Pacific Crest Trail Association forged a partnership with the federal government to oversee and keep up the trail.

Many people have since completed the whole-hog, end-to-end trek. Others, like Cheryl Strayed, have settled for three-month, 1,100-mile adventures. So long as the hikers come out a little different on the other side, they should all be satisfying Clarke’s wish for what the trail would be. “It is simply a ‘track worn through the wilderness,'” he wrote in 1945, “for hardy adventurers who can enjoy the experience and benefits of a friendly struggle with Mother Nature.”

TIME language

Oxford Dictionaries Adds ‘Duck Face,’ ‘Man Crush’ and ‘Lolcat’

Dictionary
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'Five second rule' and 'Obamacare' also made the cut

In their latest — and biggest-ever — quarterly update, Oxford Dictionaries Online added words that remind us who we are and what we care about in 2014.

Take xlnt (adj.), a symbol of our desire to skip tedious letters in today’s fast-paced conversation. Consider digital footprint (n.), a phrase that encapsulates our increasing worries about privacy and being monitored online. Or ponder man crush (n.), which explains modern man’s natural, platonic reaction to Benedict Cumberbatch.

All told, Oxford added about 1,000 new entries this quarter. It’s important to note that this deluge is flowing into the branch of Oxford that reflects modern usage — the words we’re using now and how we use them. The bar for entry into the historical Oxford English Dictionary is much higher, requiring words to prove they have greater staying power.

Here’s a selection of the new admissions:

al desko (adv. & adj.): while working at one’s desk in an office (with reference to the consumption of food or meals).

chile con queso (n.): (in Tex-Mex cookery) a thick sauce of melted cheese seasoned with chilli peppers, typically served warm as a dip for tortilla chips.

cool beans (exclam.): used to express approval or delight.

crony capitalism (n.): (derogatory) an economic system characterized by close, mutually advantageous relationships between business leaders and government officials.

digital footprint (n.): the information about a particular person that exists on the Internet as a result of their online activity.

duck face (n.): (informal) an exaggerated pouting expression in which the lips are thrust outwards, typically made by a person posing for a photograph.

five-second rule (n.): (humorous) a notional rule stating that food which has been dropped on the ground will still be uncontaminated with bacteria and therefore safe to eat if it is retrieved within five seconds.

hawt (adj.): (chiefly US) informal spelling of “hot.”

IDC (abbrev.): (informal) I don’t care.

jel (adj.): (informal, chiefly Brit.) jealous.

lolcat (n.): (on the Internet) a photograph of a cat accompanied by a humorous caption written typically in a misspelled and grammatically incorrect version of English.

MAMIL (n.): (Brit. informal) acronym: middle-aged man in Lycra. A middle-aged man who is a very keen road cyclist, typically one who rides an expensive bike and wears the type of clothing associated with professional cyclists.

man crush (n.): (informal) an intense and typically non-sexual liking or admiration felt by one man for another; a man who is the object of another’s intense liking or admiration.

misery index (n.): an informal measure of the state of an economy generated by adding together its rate of inflation and its rate of unemployment.

Obamacare (n.): (in the U.S.) an informal term for a federal law intended to improve access to health insurance for U.S. citizens. The official name of the law is the Affordable Care Act or (in full) the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

permadeath, n.: (in video games) a situation in which a character cannot reappear after having been killed.

Secret Santa (n.): an arrangement by which a group of friends or colleagues exchange Christmas presents anonymously, with each member of the group being assigned another member for whom to provide a small gift, typically costing no more than a set amount.

shabby chic (n.): a style of interior decoration that uses furniture and soft furnishings that are or appear to be pleasingly old and slightly worn.

simples (exclam.): (Brit. informal) used to convey that something is very straightforward.

tech wreck (n.): (informal) a collapse in the price of shares in high-tech industries.

the ant’s pants (n.): (Austral. informal) an outstandingly good person or thing.

WTAF (abbrev.): (vulgar slang) what the actual f-ck.

xlnt (adj.): (informal) excellent.

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