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March 26 2015 8:01 PM

McDonald’s Launches Big Mac Fashion Line In Case You’ll Wear One Even if You Won’t Eat One

McDonald’s is having a bit of an existential crisis at the moment. It’s sales numbers continue to slide—perhaps because the exchange rate for “lovin’” isn’t what they anticipated it would be—and the company is looking for ways to reinvent itself, to make its glorious comeback. Until that eureka moment dawns on the company’s executives, here’s their interim big idea to get the mojo flowing again: a Big Mac fashion line. If the internal company memo announcing this grand plan wasn’t titled If People Don’t Like Eating It, Maybe They’ll Like Wearing It—it should have been.

The online shop launched in Sweden this week because Swedes apparently have already bought everything else in the world or were just in the market for some hamburger themed wallpaper. Along with Big Mac wallpaper these are also burger thermals and linens for the Big Mac-lover in your life.


Unlike the McDonald’s menu, these lifestyle accessories are not cheap—most of the products are in the $50 range. While the clothing line probably isn’t the silver bullet to restore the company to profitability (the proceeds go to Ronald McDonald House charities), at least we can look forward to a higher quotient of hipster irony out of the company. Because that’s what this, right?


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March 26 2015 7:30 PM

The 2013 Airplane Crash That Is Eerily Similar to the Germanwings Tragedy

The initial evidence suggests that the first officer of Germanwings Flight 4U 9525, a 27-year-old German named Andreas Lubitz, locked himself in the cockpit and flew the plane into the ground, deliberately killing himself and the 149 others on board. It’s hard to overemphasize how unusual this is—nothing like this has ever happened aboard a European or North American carrier before—but it’s not totally unprecedented. Around the world, a number of pilot-suicides have taken place in recent years, including one that bears uncanny similarities to Tuesday’s crash.

At 11:26 a.m. on Nov. 29, 2013, LAM Mozambique Airlines Flight 470 took off from Maputo, Mozambique bound for Luanda, Angola with 27 passengers and six crewmembers. LAM is not a great airline—it’s been banned from flying in Europe—but the plane, an Embraer E-190 narrowbody, was nearly new, having been delivered to the airline just the year before. About halfway through the flight, shortly after 1 p.m. local time, the plane was passing over Botswana when the co-pilot left his seat to go to the bathroom.


Left alone in the cockpit, the captain, Herminio dos Santos Fernandes, locked the door and changed the autopilot altitude setting from 38,000 feet to 592 feet, which happened to be lower than the elevation of the terrain in that region. He also deployed the plane’s spoilers, which protrude from the wing to reduce lift and make the plane descend more quickly. Over the next eight minutes, the plane descended at about 6,000 feet per minute, somewhat faster than Germanwings 9525 but considerably more slowly than SilkAir Flight 185, whose pilot put the nose down and flew the plane into the surface at tremendous speed.

The Cockpit Voice Recorder picked up sounds of shouts and banging on the cockpit door as the first officer struggled to gain access, to no avail. The plane crashed into a swamp in Namibia’s Bwabwata National Park amid heavy rain in an area so remote that it took recovery teams 24 hours to reach it. Due to dangers posed by roaming lions, the search team was armed with rifles.

The force of the impact clearly had been tremendous: Only one body was recovered intact. “There is no plane. There are just pieces of metal scattered around,” an official declared.

To this day, the motive for the pilot’s actions remain unclear, though rumors have circulated online that he was struggling with domestic problems. Mozambique has still not issued a final report on the crash. Yet what little we do know about the case does line up eerily with what little we know so far about the Germanwings crash: the perpetrator who waits until he is left alone in the cockpit, then appears to lock his colleague out; the use of autopilot to command an orderly descent down into the ground; the resulting high-speed crash that leaves the aircraft ripped to shreds, without the slightest possibility of survival.

An air of mystery surrounding the incident is not unusual in cases of what appear to be pilot suicides. Such a horrific act, in which an individual not only takes his only life but slaughters the passengers who have been put into his care, defies easy psychological classification. Suicide notes are rare, as are words of explanation on cockpit voice recorders. With the pilot dead, and the scene of the crime destroyed, all that remains is the unsolvable riddle: Why?

March 26 2015 5:55 PM

Powerful New York City Explosion Causes Raging Fire, Building Collapse

An explosion in New York City’s East Village Thursday caused a five-story apartment building to catch fire and collapse causing at least a dozen injuries, several of them critical. The New York Fire Department said early reports indicate the fire was caused by a gas explosion and some 250 firefighters were actively fighting the seven alarm fire. CNN is reporting that several people may be trapped inside the burning building.

As firefighters battled the blaze, thick smoke clouded the city skyline. Portions of the neighborhood, near New York University, have been evacuated.

March 26 2015 5:51 PM

Mike Pence Declares Public Health Emergency Over HIV “Epidemic” in Indiana

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has declared a public health emergency in a rural county in his state following an "epidemic" of HIV among intravenous drug users. The New York Times reports that Scott County, which sees approximately five new HIV infections in an ordinary year, has recorded 80 cases as part of a recent outbreak, an explosion that public health officials believe is due to the sharing of infected needles. From the Times:

Gov. Mike Pence said the infections constituted an epidemic, and he pledged state resources to help local health officials contain the virus. In his emergency declaration, which lasts 30 days, Gov. Pence authorized a short-term, state-supervised needle exchange program that would provide drug users with access to safe needles.*
"This is all hands on deck," said Gov. Pence, who met this week with officials from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "This is a very serious situation."

The creation of a needle exchange signals the level of urgency in the state's response, since such programs are explicitly forbidden under Indiana law and Pence, a Republican, has vowed to veto any attempt to reverse that ban. "I do not enter into this lightly," he said, according to the Indianapolis Star. "In response to a public health emergency, I'm prepared to make an exception to my long-standing opposition to needle exchange programs."

Using a multifaceted approach including a mobile enrollment facility for Healthy Indiana, the state's Medicaid program, and a command center to coordinate efforts to get drug users tested for HIV and into drug treatment programs, Gov. Pence promised that the state would both contain the outbreak and aid those already affected by the disease and by drug addiction. "I have deep compassion for people who have been trapped by this addiction," he said, "and we want to make sure people know they're not alone."

*Correction: This post originally misquoted the New York Times as talking about “local help officials.”

March 26 2015 5:34 PM

Dean Smith Buys His Players Dinner from Beyond the Grave

Dean Smith was a pretty good dude. As Jason Zengerle noted earlier this year in Slate upon the former UNC coach’s death, Smith was an early warrior for civil rights and a man who spoke out against injustices wherever he saw them—be it on the basketball court, or in the political arena.

Now Smith has continued to do cool things even after his death. As Jim Dempsey reported on Twitter, Smith’s trust has been sending his former players $200 each on Smith’s behalf with the notation “Dinner out.”


The above letter, to former UNC guard Dante Calabria, states: “Each Player was important and special to Coach Smith and when he prepared his estate plan, Coach wanted to reach out to each of his letterman. Accordingly, Coach wanted each letterman to be sent a two hundred dollar ($200.00) check with the message 'enjoy a dinner [out] compliments of Coach Dean Smith.'”

USA Today confirmed the letter’s authenticity with accountant Tim Breedlove, who said that the letter was sent to about 180 of Smith’s former players. Sports Illustrated, meanwhile, estimated that Smith coached 184 players between 1961 and 1997.

It remains to be seen if the NCAA will attempt to sanction Dean Smith’s estate for this final gesture of friendship, or perhaps add it on to pending charges against UNC.

March 26 2015 2:13 PM

A Week Before Indiana Final Four, NCAA Is “Concerned” About State’s LGBT Discrimination Law

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a law Thursday that permits businesses to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers. A number of national groups have already threatened to move planned events outside the state as a result, and one week from Saturday, the NCAA men's basketball Final Four is scheduled to begin in Indianapolis (which is also the location of the NCAA's national office). The organization's president, Mark Emmert, issued a critical statement about the law soon after it was signed:

"The NCAA national office and our members are deeply committed to providing an inclusive environment for all our events.  We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees.  We will work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors attending, next week’s Men’s Final Four in Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill. Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce."

While Emmert's statement suggests the NCAA could seek to avoid holding future events in Indiana (which has hosted six previous Final Fours) while the law is in effect, the organization does have a contract with the city of Indianapolis that stipulates the Final Four must be held in the city once every five years until 2039.

March 26 2015 1:10 PM

Federal Agency Issues Report on Cartel-Funded DEA “Sex Parties”

Drug Enforcement Administration agents took part in cartel-funded “sex parties” with prostitutes in Colombia, according to the Justice Department’s inspector general.

The damning new report paints a portrait of agents who put potentially confidential information at risk and acted with impunity, with some of the agents involved receiving punishments of just two-to-10-day suspensions.


The incidents allegedly occurred between 2005 and 2008 when a host-country police officer helped set up the parties, according to interviews with Colombian police officers:

The foreign officer allegedly arranged “sex parties” with prostitutes funded by the local drug cartels for these DEA agents at their government-leased quarters, over a period of several years. Although some of the DEA agents participating in these parties denied it, the information in the case file suggested they should have known the prostitutes in attendance were paid with cartel funds. A foreign officer also alleged providing protection for the DEA agents’ weapons and property during the parties. The foreign officers further alleged that in addition to soliciting prostitutes, three DEA SSAs in particular were provided money, expensive gifts, and weapons from drug cartel members.

The report stated that the “sex parties” occurred on government-leased quarters while the agents involved held “Top Secret clearances,” which raised the possibility that “DEA equipment and information also may have been compromised as a result of the agents’ conduct.”

Specifically, “agents’ laptops, BlackBerry devices, and other government-issued equipment were present [creating] potential security risks for the DEA and for the agents who participated in the parties, potentially exposing them to extortion, blackmail, or coercion.”

As Politico reports, the investigation was part of a wider look by the Justice Department into allegations of “sexual harassment and misconduct" in the DEA, FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the U.S. Marshals Service.

Politico has a rundown of some of the other key allegations in the report, including a deputy U.S. Marshal maintaining a “romantic relationship” with the spouse of a fugitive against agency orders, an ATF official disabling a hotel fire detection system and “[modifying] a hotel room door to facilitate sexual play,” and an ATF Program Manager failing to report consensual sex between training instructors and their students.

“You can’t ignore this. This is terribly embarrassing and fundamentally not right,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz told Politico. “We need to understand what’s happening with the culture … anytime you bring a foreign national into your room, you’re asking for trouble.”

Chaffetz promised major action from his committee when Congress returns from an upcoming two-week recess and said he wanted those involved in the alleged misconduct to be fired.

March 26 2015 12:47 PM

Cory Booker and Newt Gingrich Want to Redefine What Is Considered a “Violent” Crime

Speakers at Thursday's Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform in Washington, D.C. — co-sponsored by the ACLU and Koch Industries—have played it safe, using their time at the podium to decry the country’s incarceration rate in general terms, express support for pending legislation that would make the justice system less punitive toward drug offenders, and marvel at the cooperation on display at this conference between Democrats and Republicans.

But then Cory Booker got onstage with Newt Gingrich and went, to use his phrase, “off-script.” Booker, the junior Democratic senator from New Jersey, made an argument that caused audience members to applaud more loudly than they had all morning: "We need to redefine what is considered violent crime," he said. 


Booker then told a story about a man who had served five years in prison for driving the getaway vehicle after his friend held somebody up with a plastic gun. Booker's point was that, even though this person had not done anything violent, his offense was classified as such. There are untold numbers of offenders in that same position, and none of the reform proposals that are currently being discussed on Capitol Hill addresses them. 

Booker’s remark cuts right to the central anxiety hanging over the apparent momentum surrounding the criminal justice reform movement: Unless policymakers who have championed leniency toward nonviolent offenders start thinking about violent offenders as well, the country will not be able to achieve any significant reduction in the prison population.

Gingrich, who did not weigh in on Booker's point while they were onstage, told me in an interview afterward that he agrees with him. “There are people who do things that are clearly not violent but who are technically labeled as violent—so you have to ask yourself, what’s the purpose of that? When I worry about violent crime, I worry about someone who has the potential to harm you or me. And those people, I think, should be kept off the street until they’re too old to threaten anybody. And I’m prepared to be very tough with genuinely violent criminals. But I don’t want to have a broad, sweeping series of laws that become felonies that in fact shouldn’t be felonies.” 

The idea that the criminal justice system is too tough on violent felons is not something we’ve heard a lot from politicians who have come to the table for prison reform over the past few years. It will be interesting to see if Booker’s attempt to inject the point into today’s high-profile discussion, and a high-profile Republican’s embrace of it, will embolden others to act. 

March 26 2015 12:23 PM

What We Know and Don’t Know About the Apparently Deliberate Crash of Flight 4U 9525

Why do authorities think that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz intentionally crashed Germanwings Flight 4U 9525?

French prosecutor Brice Robin—who is investigating the crash as a possible criminal event—says that evidence indicates Lubitz, while alone in the cockpit, initiated the plane's descent and refused to open the cockpit door to allow the pilot to re-enter.* The CEO of Lufthansa, which owns Germanwings, held a press conference in which he said the plane seems to have been intentionally crashed. He also suggested that "suicide" might not be the right description of what happened: "I would say if one person kills himself and 149 people, I wouldn’t call it a suicide."


Is it possible that Lubitz simply passed out because of some sort of medical emergency and that the door locked accidentally?

Prosecutor Robin says that the procedure required to cause the plane's descent would be almost impossible to enact accidentally and that breathing could be heard on the cockpit voice recorder until the moment of the crash. He also says the pilot could be heard asking to be let back in and passengers could be heard shouting. At the very least, there does not seem to have been any plane-wide hypoxia event of the type known or thought to have caused other crashes.

Why couldn't the pilot unlock the door?

Per available details about the security features of the Airbus A320 involved in the crash, the door has three settings: unlocked, normal, and locked. For the door to be opened simply by turning the handle, a switch inside the cockpit must be pressed to the "unlock" setting. In the "normal" setting, the door can be opened from the outside only by inputting an emergency code into a keypad. But if the switch is set to the "locked" setting, the keypad is completely disabled and the door is completely locked for five minutes. The pilot can apparently be heard on Flight 4U 9525's voice recorder "pounding" on the door, but it's not known whether he tried to input the emergency code. Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr says it is very unlikely that the pilot would have forgotten the code. If the pilot never tried to enter that code, the events described by Robin could have occurred with the door set to "normal."

Why did the pilot leave the cockpit in the first place?

Unknown, but it wouldn't have been unusual for him to get up to use the bathroom.

Can you breathe while you're unconscious?


Have other planes been intentionally crashed by their pilots?  

Why would Andreas Lubitz want to kill himself and the passengers of the plane?

It's not clear. German authorities say he hadn't ever come under the suspicion of police or intelligence agencies. Initial accounts from those who knew him say that becoming a pilot had been a longtime life goal and that he seemed to be a happy, satisfied person. A Facebook page that appeared to belong to him has been taken down, but did not apparently indicate any signs of depression or radical beliefs.

What else don't we know?

In addition to confusion about Lubitz's motives and what the flight's pilot did to try to re-enter the cockpit, we don't know what was on the flight's data recorder—investigators reported locating the recorder's casing but not the memory card inside. They also apparently have not recovered Lubitz's remains, which would presumably be checked for evidence of an incapacitating medical event. And we don't know exactly why Robin, the prosecutor, is certain that Lubitz initiated the plane's descent.

*Correction, March 26, 2015: This post originally misstated that Brice Robin claimed Andreas Lubitz deliberately locked the plane's door. Robin in fact said that he believes Lubitz deliberately refused to open the door, which if kept at its setting of "normal" would have required Lubitz to take action to let the pilot into the cockpit. It's possible that Lubitz set the door to "locked," which would have prevented the pilot from entering even via emergency code, but we don't know if that happened.

March 26 2015 9:00 AM

French Authorities Believe Co-Pilot Intentionally Crashed Flight 4U 9525

Slate will post running news updates about the crash of Germanwings Flight 4U 9525 below.

Update, March 26, 8:55 a.m.: French authorities say they believe that Flight 4U 9525 was crashed intentionally by its copilot, 27-year-old Andreas Lubitz.* Prosecutor Brice Robin says that after the flight's pilot left the cockpit Lubitz initiated the plane's loss of altitude and refused to allow the pilot to reenter. From the New York Times:

He said it appeared that the co-pilot’s intention had been “to destroy the aircraft.” He said that the voice recorder showed that the co-pilot had been breathing until before the moment of impact, suggesting that he was conscious and deliberate in his actions. He said that his inquiry had shown that the crash was intentional.

The door of the Airbus A320 involved in the crash, according to reports, could have been opened by the pilot outside via keypad unless it had been actively switched to a "locked" setting by the co-pilot inside the cockpit.

Lubitz's potential motivations for crashing the plane are unknown.

Original post, March 25, 9:05 p.m.: While investigators are still trying to figure out what exactly happened to the Germanwings flight that crashed into the French Alps on Tuesday, on Wednesday a bit of eerie evidence came from the cockpit voice recorder, which showed that one of the pilots left the cockpit before the plane began its 10-minute, 38,000 foot descent and never returned.

The New York Times is reporting that, according to an investigator, one of the two pilots left the cockpit, and when he tried to re-enter the door was locked, leading him to knock progressively louder. Here’s more from the Times:

A senior military official involved in the investigation described “very smooth, very cool” conversation between the pilots during the early part of the flight from Barcelona to Düsseldorf. Then the audio indicated that one of the pilots left the cockpit and could not re-enter. “The guy outside is knocking lightly on the door and there is no answer,” the investigator said. “And then he hits the door stronger and no answer. There is never an answer.” He said, “You can hear he is trying to smash the door down …” “We don’t know yet the reason why one of the guys went out,” said the official, who requested anonymity because the investigation is continuing. “But what is sure is that at the very end of the flight, the other pilot is alone and does not open the door.”

The plane took off from Barcelona around 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning and last contacted air traffic control at 10:30 a.m. Ten minutes later, however, the plane began to descend at a normal speed, without signaling an emergency, before hitting the side of the mountain killing all 150 onboard.

“A senior French official involved in the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the lack of communication from the pilots during the plane’s descent was disturbing, and that the possibility that their silence was deliberate could not be ruled out,” according to the Times. “This official said that the lack of communication suggested that the pilots might have been incapacitated as a result of an onboard failure such as a loss of cabin pressure, which could have deprived the crew members of oxygen.”

*Correction, March 26, 2015: This post originally misstated that Andreas Lubitz'was 28. He was 27.