The Metric System is one of the things you’ll start missing most after a transatlantic move. Distances are no longer distances, voluminas and weights are messed up, soccer-fields and hectares don’t mean anything to anybody in this world. Smartphones and little converter apps are the only things that give you some clue about what’s going on.
Now, over a year after my move over the ocean, I still catch myself responding to a “400ft on the left hand side” with a silent “whatever”, and trigger a recalculation-process to the system I’m familiar with. Seriously, given the fact that there is absolutely no easy way to master feet, miles, yards, acres, sq mi, ounces (volumina and weight in one measure, for Christ’s sake!), pounds, pints, cups, gallons, etc. I started asking myself, how did this country even get so far?
The one scale I started appreciating however, is Fahrenheit. In terms of human readability and usability, I think Fahrenheit is a great scale. First you need to know that people refer to temperature here with “it’s going to be in the 60ies”, meaning the temperature will be between 60F to 69F. 9 deegree variation seems a lot if you’re used to Celsius, but it’s not that big of a deal in Fahrenheit. I’ve learned that the term “in the 60ies” gives you very precise information about how to prepare for the temperature. Much more than I’ve ever learned to correctly read the Celsius scale. Let me illustrate this with my personal Fahrenheit scale, that I’ve sort of developed over the last year:
In Celsius the same information would be much more granular and not as easy to memorize. Usability of Fahrenheit is way superior to Celsius’. Despite the insanity of all the other scales, I really came to like Fahrenheit a lot here.
For the first time in my life I got pulled over on my bike. It was three of us running a red light this morning in Cambridge (Hampshire / Windsor btw). To be clear: there were absolutely no cars in the street we were crossing. No suicidal attempts or speeding blindly into a busy crossing. Just a totally empty street and a cop hiding between parked cars on the other side.
At least it was a cop on a bike, so we were all somewhat equal. The first cyclist tried to fight it, claiming the light was green. “Here is a $20 fine that you can fight”, said the cop, who apparently was not in arguing mood at all that morning. I and the cute blond girl switched to “Yes Sir, sorry Sir” mode and got away with a warning. Or maybe it was just the cute blond girl effect.
My favorite: “Car Alarm Over 10 Minutes” for $300 – nervous car security systems can be expensive in The People’s Republic of Cambridge!
At the last StreetTalk we watched the very interesting and highly recommended documentary “Taken for a Ride“. It’s the story about GM’s lobbying and initiatives, together with oil and tire companies, to destroy public transport in American cities, use public money for highway construction instead of railways, promote suburbs and urban sprawl, make people car-dependent and eventually push car (tires and gas) sales of course.
GM’s strategy, in a nutshell, was to pull public transport into a vicious circle. GM’s funding apparently helped to buy up local transportation companies, mainly with the goal to reduce their service. Cutting down quality led to loosing riders. Bad service and decreasing ridership caused troubles justifying public money and investments in public transportation. The downward spiral was completed and public transportation stagnated or was even shut down entirely in some places.
The really sad aspect of that story is, that America’s public transport was just about the same level as in European countries in the 1950′s. It could have made the same development as it did in the rest of the industrialized world during the past 50 years. It could have reached a status, were people are still free to choose their preferred transportation vehicle. Most Americans nowadays are left with only one choice for their daily commute: the car.
It’s hard and expensive for America to catch up and repair what GM’s lobbying has caused. Even though the highway lobbying might be less in the year 2009, car companies found new, mostly ridiculous, ways to use public tax money for their own interest and to eventually sell more cars: IntelliDrive is definitely among them.
Michael Moore suggested 9 action points to President Obama regarding the bankruptcy of GM. Bottom line of his article: convert GM’s car factories to mass transportation factories and promote energy efficient technology. Basically I would agree, though, I think it’s only one side of the medal and that there are a few more things one might consider:
Working on symptoms never cures the disease. Transportation needs are caused by urban planning. I’ve seen Jacksonville, Florida and I can’t possibly imagine how an urban structure like that one can be run by mass transportation. Providing public transportation services for such spread out areas – I’m talking about population densities as low as 970.9/sq mi in Jacksonville compared to 12,172.3/sq mi in Boston with decent public transportation for instance (source: Wikipedia, see map below) – is a tough task, and not very cost efficient or green. Urban sprawl at such dimensions leaves in most cases no other options than to rely on cars.
Other ways of individual transportation – bicycles, walking – require shorter distances to daily services (groceries, schools, doctors, etc.). Again, a large residential area and a huge mall somewhere along the highway make it impossible to introduce anything but car transportation.
Apart from being the most unpopular word in that country, increasing taxes on energy prices, like proposed in point 9, will hurt poor people first if the policy is not balanced out well. Wealthy people don’t care as much about gas prices, they can afford better cars and probably live somewhere close to city centers where they don’t even need them so much. Poor people on the other hand are the ones who have to take a 2 hour daily commute in an old inefficient car to get to work or bring kids to school. Taxes are an interesting lever in transportation and energy policy, but not the holy grail.
Rethinking urban structures, transportation and energy policies is a time consuming issue. It took almost a century to create the status quo, it’s not gonna change in a single presidential term of 4 years. I believe this country must be prepared for a long way ahead.
Friday evening on my way home from work, after a pretty intense week, I started feeling the first symptoms of an upcoming flu – cold, probably little fever already, body aches and generally feeling very exhausted. Great, I thought, right on time for the weekend.
Vienna seems to be the center of flu-word these days btw, every other person I know is or has been sick lately.
Not really in the mood of becoming sick and actually, looking at my agenda, not the best timing for a week out of order either, I tried with the help of some good old home remedies to conquer the beast. With great success as it turned out today, 48 hours later all symptoms are gone.
The following combination worked for me so far:
Vitamin C and resting makes sense to me, but the thing with chicken soup is still surprising. I just can’t see the connection between chicken and fever, maybe it’s only the hot liquid and it can basically be any soup. Don’t know…
Right on time to praise the great new American leader: Krocha-Obama-mashup T-Shirts out now at the Tupalo merch store!
Wow, it would never ever have occurred to me that our ultra right nationalist party leader is a big admirer of marxists, socialism and people with multicultural migration background. In his current campaign for the Austrian national elections he copies the famous image of Che Guevara to make himself look like somewhat revolutionary and he is using graphic and textual elements (“yes we can”) from Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.
Makes me wonder if he has ever read more about the people he’s trying to imitate than some catchy slogans on t-shirts. Maybe somebody should tell him that Barack Obama’s doesn’t really stand for xenophobia, fear and anger. I guess both of them would have a hard time to find a single point in their politics they could agree on. Nor would Che Guevara throw people, who come and ask for help, out of a safe and wealthy country and send them back, even to war zones, where they came from.
Even though I never had the chance to attend a Sade concert, I have to say that after the performance of Madita today at a free afternoon Jazz Fest Wien concert, I think she’s on the best way to become Sade’s successor. Madita combines a light soul voice with smooth lounge sounds, and she does it in a very easy and stylish way when she’s on stage.
It was a really great show and we need more afternoon concerts of that kind!