This is your life, in a chart

If you are an average American, this is how your life is broken down into little boxes (of course, you can click to enlarge):

2014-07-22-4WeeksblockLIFE1The sad part is I’m more than halfway through it and not so slowly moving from red to blue. How did that happen?

I’m reminded of a Tom Lehrer line: When Mozart was my age, he had been dead for 24 years.

“Who’s Tom Lehrer?” you ask. Yes, this is a true sign of age, because not only do millennials not know who he is, A lot of baby boomers are in the dark. Here you go:

I think he’s one of the great songwriters of the 20th century. If you get a chance, check out “Werhner von Braun” and “The Vatican Rag.”

Here’s what surprises me. Tom Lehrer is still alive! He’s 86 and living in New York CIty (where else?!). Of course, that means he’s running out of chart space.

I’ve got to get to Stockholm

Just to ride the subway:

I’ve been on Metros in New York, Washington, Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Montreal, London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Rome, Hong Kong and places I don’t even remember, and I’ve never seen anything as cool as this.

I’m ready to book a flight.

Russians can’t drive

One interesting subsection of the YouTube world is watching dash cam videos from Russia. I’m not exactly sure why every car in Russia is videotaping everything it does, but it does lead to a constant flow of car-crash footage.

Like this:

And that was pretty mild. Just go to YouTube and type in “Russian Road Rage.”

The hits keep coming.

Brussels Express: A view from a bike

As one who’s bicycled in Brussels, I found this surprising because riding a bike was pretty convenient as far as I was concerned. I regularly rode from my commune in Boisford in the southeast part of the city by the forest to work near Park Cinquintanaire, on the side away from the European Union buildings. It was pretty much straight bike path the whole way. I never dealt with much traffic, even when I took an alternate route and went down side streets.

But to hear these guys talk, Brussels is a bicyclist’s nightmare.

Obviously, they have never been to the States.

But I do agree with them in one regard. The automobile drivers in Brussels are insane. And their insanity is encouraged by the law.

They have this amazingly stupid traffic rule called “priorité à droite.” That means that if your driving straight down a road a car approaching from the right has the right of way.

Crazy, right? But that’s not the absolutely psychopathic beauty of traffic in Brussels. Not every street has a stoplight or stop signs. In any direction.

The director of the city’s traffic management agency was once asked why that was, and his response was: “traffic signs cost a lot of money!”

So, drivers from sane parts of the world were constantly driving along and getting hit on their right side because “priorité à droits.” That’s why you see so many car accidents in this video. The law encourages them.

But I drove in Brussels for 6 years and never got into a car accident. I had to move to England for that to happen. There, I was going along straight and go hit on the left. Student driver.  My car, which I bought in Brussels, took a beating in England.

And note that the video says Brussels has 4 percent bicycle traffic. Compare that to the U.S.

us-cities-bicycle-commuting-chart.jpg.662x0_q100_crop-scale

Compared to the U.S., Brussels is overrun with bicyclists.
 

Football vs. football: What do people really want to watch?

Every year, the Super Bowl comes around and the mavens in the sports media tell us that it’s the biggest sporting event in the world.

Then every four years, the World Cup comes around and mavens in the sports media tell us that it’s the biggest sporting event in the world.

So which one is it? (Via Beutlerink):

World-Cup-viewersBut (the NFL fans whine) you’re comparing something that happens every four years to something that happens every year.

Really, are you going to make me do the math?

Multiply the Super Bowl number by four, and you’re still short by the entire population of North America, where the only people who care about the Super Bowl live.  And when you think about it, lots of people in the world don’t have televisions. So the World Cup is a community event where villages gather in front of a lone TV to see what’s going on.

And unlike the Super Bowl, they’re not tuning in just to watch the commercials.

I was in Belgium during the 2006 World Cup, and the city put a huge monitor in the middle of the street near the Bourse (the stock exchange building) downtown and closed off the area to automobile traffic. We roamed the streets with an Italian flag and joined all the Italians after Italy beat France in the final. That year in Paris, they put a big screen on the Eiffel Tower which allowed everyone to see Zidane’s headbutt heard around the world.

In 2010, we were in a restaurant/pub in London watching Spain beat the Netherlands in the final, although the highlight of that tournament was when the U.S. tied England because goalie Robert Green let this get by him. We were watching that match with a bunch of Brits who were ragging us on how badly American asses were going to be kicked. Let’s just say, the Americans were the ones gloating at the end.

Check out this photo gallery at the Washington Post to see how people are watching the World Cup around the globe. This is not how we watch the Super Bow.

The Idaho stop: a sane bike safety law

Most people who ride bicycles regularly in busy cities would completely agree with this law in Idaho:

Yes, you don’t go zooming into cross traffic on a bicycle. Who cares about a fine. You’d end up dead. A stop sign does mean a slow rolling through the intersection. And a stop light is the equivalent of a stop sign to a bicyclist. If nothing is coming, there’s no reason to wait.

Here’s a better explanation from Vox:

For drivers, the idea of cyclists rolling through an intersection without fully stopping might sound dangerous — but because of their slower speed and wider field of vision (compared to cars), cyclists are generally able to assess whether there’s oncoming traffic and make the right decision. Even law-abiding urban bikers already do this all the time: because of the worry that cars might not see a bike, cyclists habitually scan for oncoming traffic even at intersections where they don’t have a stop sign so they can brake at the last second just in case.

There are even a few reasons why the Idaho stop might even make the roads safer than the status quo. In many cities, the low-traffic routes that are safer for bikes are the kinds of roads with many stop signs. Currently, some cyclists avoid these routes and take faster, higher-traffic streets. If the Idaho stop were legalized, it’d get cyclists off these faster streets and funnel the bikes on to safer, slower roads.

I’ve ridden regularly in New York, Washington, Louisville, Brussels, Amsterdam and the English countryside. I use the New York and Washington bike share systems regularly. The safest roads are where there are designated bike lanes, which Amsterdam and Brussels have plenty of and are growing in the states. In a lot of these places, biking is faster than mass transit.

But finding the right combination of safe streets is critical, and the Idaho stop would add more safety. Take a look at the linked Vox article for a more comprehensive look at the Idaho law.

The ‘R’ word

We have a professional football team in Washington, D.C., that’s drawing a lot of anger because of its name.

How much anger?

Watch this:

That ad was scheduled to run during the NBA Finals last night, but given the buildup, the California-based Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation could have saved its money, because the ad already had two million hits on YouTube.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an ad like this before. A group saying that a team name that has been used for decades is racist. But we’ve seen this change in attitude over the years. In case you don’t know it, look up the name of the St. John’s University basketball team before it became the Red Storm.

One thing that is intriguing, though, is that the tribe is OK with the use of the word “Indian.” Here’s what I mean:

And it’s a confusing term. Whenever I the the news and there’s a reference to an Indian, I have to work out in my mind … well, does that mean someone from Southwest Asia or the native population of North America?

And Louis is right. The name is a mistake. The Europeans were looking for a western trade route to India, spent an ungodly amount of time on the water, realized they’d screwed up and when they spotted land, they said, “Oh, yeah. Right. We’ve found India.”

Here’s what Christopher Columbus wrote in a journal about to his first voyage to America in 1492 (via Britannica)

…and I saw the Moorish king come out of the gates of the city and kiss the royal hands of Your Highnesses…and Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians…took thought to send me, Christopher Columbus, to the said parts of India, to see those princes and peoples and lands…and the manner which should be used to bring about their conversion to our holy faith, and ordained that I should not go by land to the eastward, by which way it was the custom to go, but by way of the west, by which down to this day we do not know certainly that anyone has passed; therefore, having driven out all the Jews from your realms and lordships in the same month of January, Your Highnesses commanded me that, with a sufficient fleet, I should go to the said parts of India, and for this accorded me great rewards and ennobled me so that from that time henceforth I might style myself “Don” and be high admiral of the Ocean Sea and viceroy and perpetual Governor of the islands and continent which I should discover…and that my eldest son should succeed to the same position, and so on from generation to generation forever.

Yep. He’s looking for India. Along with insulting Muslims and Jews. So when he finally gets to America and figures, we’ll maybe this isn’t India, I guess the first thing on his mind isn’t to go back to Spain and tell the king and queen: … Look, your highnesses. About that voyage you funded to get to India? Well, I ended up God knows where. …

Guess he just went back and said: … Yeah … Sure … India … Nice place!!!

And get this! According to the Library of Congress, a map of the new world with the name America didn’t appear until 1507. Columbus died in 1506. Could he have been calling the place India up until he died?

Of course, none of this has anything to do with football.

What the hail? A weather delay in Brussels.

You know, when the weather guy says there was hail the size of golf balls, I used to think it would be cool to see that. I’ve seen hail before, but it’s usually the size of BBs.

But there was a football (soccer) match in Brussels today at King Baudoin Stadium (which, as all of you Bruxellois out there know is near the Atomium and Bruparck) between Belgium and Tunisia, and this happened.

There you are. Hail the size of golf balls, and, according to photos, a few chunks the size of tennis balls. Any ideas what the broadcaster is saying. It isn’t French (which I understand) or Dutch or German (which I don’t), and those are the three official languages of Belgium. (Actually, it’s Portuguese.)

Now, for an attitude adjustment. I’ve decided it would not be cool to see that. And it would be horrific to be in it. But if you want a similar experience, go to a crowded golf driving range and stand in the middle of the open field as dozens of golfers all swing full force and take shots at you.

And note that is you were to do than, it would be less dangerous than what happened in Brussels. When the sky dumps chunks of ice on you, there’s no way you can avoid them in the open,

(Oh, the match was suspended until the storm ended. Belgium ended up winning 1-0.)

 

Passenger rail in the Northeast Corridor

Here’s something for all you train junkies to ponder over for a few hours: A map of all the available commuter rail service from Boston to Washington, D.C., and not just Amtrak. (Click to enlarge, because this is one huge poster)

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People use the rails far less in the U.S. than Europe, which is too bad, because when you factor in all the time it takes you to get from, let’s say, Midtown Manhattan to downtown D.C., a train will more often get you there faster than a plane will, because you have to add extra hours getting to and from airports.

But even with that, trains in Europe are faster.

Compare two cities: Brussels to Paris and New York to Baltimore. Both roughly the same distance from each other, about 185 miles.

It takes the Thalys in Europe an hour and 20 minute to get from one gare (station) to the other. But on Amtrak, it takes 2 hours and 20 minutes to cover a similar distance. I think we should do better.