Two big pieces of news out of San Francisco this week: Barry Bonds started a brief stint coaching for the Giants, and the city made significant progress toward outlawing plastic water bottles. As a result, the average level of self-satisfaction exhibited by San Franciscans increased by a factor of three.
And that's just from Bonds' ego! Did you really think we were going to shame a city for striving to be more environmentally conscious? Not that we’re ruling out that San Francisco might have done it just a little bit to make every other American city look even worse. (Oh, come on! You were thinking it too!) Still, this is downright cheery news.
Here’s an unsettling look at the Walmart-ification of the U.S., starting in Arkansas in 1962 and ending with total domination more than 3,000 stores across the country. First the chain spreads throughout the state, then the Southeast. Then Walmart crawls north and west, looking for all the world like an invasive species:
The media was impressed by a piece of good news on Monday: Last year, the number of trips Americans took on mass transit reached its highest point since 1956, according to a report from the American Public Transportation Association. Unfortunately, stories on the subject are leaving out an important statistic: How many Americans were there in 1956?
The answer, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is 168.9 million. In 2013, the population was 314.1 million. Keep that in mind when you read articles about transit ridership’s rebound.
My Momma got cancer in her breast, Don't ask me why I'm motherfucking stressed, things done changed
-- The Notorious B.I.G., in “Things Done Changed” from the album Ready to Die
Yesterday marked the 17th anniversary of the death of “Brooklyn’s finest” hip hop artist, The Notorious B.I.G., a.k.a. Biggie Smalls, who was gunned down in Los Angeles when he was just 24 years old.
Biggie’s murder seemed part of some self-fulfilling prophecy that God perhaps took too seriously. His inaugural 1994 album, Ready to Die, is a series of tone poems illustrating the kind of drug war gunplay that would eventually claim him as a homicide statistic. The Brooklyn rapper imagines multiple scenarios under which his death might occur: In a shootout with cops while pursuing pathways out of poverty that President Obama would not approve of (“Gimme The Loot”); killed by jealous acquaintances who want to rob him for his riches (“Warning”); or, by his own finger on the trigger (“Suicidal Thoughts”).
Most of my friends (and Biggie fans in general, I’m sure) took the album as pure artistic liberty, no different than Martin Scorsese’s cinematic canon on mafia life. We no sooner thought that Biggie would actually die in a shootout than we did Robert De Niro would get shot like his character Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. When Big, whose birth name was Christopher Wallace, was actually killed by gunfire, it stunk too much of life imitating art.
But of all the ways Big imagined himself dying on that album, none of them reflected the real climate of death that existed in Brooklyn at the time, or even today. Deaths for African Americans in Brooklyn usually look less like Wallace's murder and more like his mother's life. When he rapped about his Momma having breast cancer, that was true. Voletta Wallace survived two bouts with the deadly disease, in both cases proving that she was not yet ready to die.
Good news about the world’s most famous clock! Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster are gonna get a little greener in the coming months. Specifically, Parliament is thinking about adding solar panels to the iconic clock’s face. (You can’t turn back the hands of time, but you CAN make them greener.)
The idea came from one of Parliament’s passholders. The palace and clock need to boost energy efficiency by a third by 2020. (According to Parliament, that could “save 22 power stations’ worth of electricity.”) So Parliament asked its stakeholders for energy-saving suggestions, and voila!
[T]he House is carrying out a number of other green measures this year, including installing voltage optimization technology to reduce energy wastage, exploring energy efficiency improvements for all buildings, and replacing lights with low energy LEDs.
It's that time of year again! Do the Green Thing is celebrating Earth Hour by releasing a new poster every day until March 29. The posters, often created by big designer names, are aimed at encouraging folks to, well, do the green thing. Here are some of our favorites. See more great posters and follow the project.
Fong Qi Wei is a super-talented photographer from Singapore who happens to have combined two of our favorite things: time lapses and GIFs. (Oh yeah, and cities. Three favorite things.) The artist captured China, Indonesia, and Bali over a several-hour period, usually sunset, and then spliced the photos together to create beautiful animated images:
Have you ever scoffed at a subway delay? Rolled your eyes at yet another crowded Q train? Looked at a veiny metro map and said, "Give me five minutes and a Sharpie and I'll show you a more efficient system?"
Well, my friend, it's time to put your fingers where your mouth is (unless, oh god, you've recently been holding onto a train pole). The free, in-browser game Mini Metro lets you design your own subway system. Players simply drag and extend lines between an ever-increasing number of stations while tiny symbols wait to catch a ride. A polished version of the game will eventually be released on tablets, PCs, and Macs, but for now, the online version is fun enough.
It's a potent timewaster, too: A cursory look by this reporter turned into a full hour of frantic clicking and cursing at traveling triangles who just want to get home to see their kids. OK, full confession: I'm playing right now.
The morning I wrote this I took public transportation to work. I hopped on the bus around the corner from my house, then the train for a few stops farther. I took mass transit because it was convenient, because my card was already preloaded with the cash that diverts from my paycheck, and because the ride gave me 20 minutes to start the day browsing Twitter.
Baked into this decision, however, were a number of other nearly subliminal calculations about the alternatives not taken. I did not drive the car (yes, my household has a car) because downtown Washington, D.C., is a hot mess at rush hour, and because parking near the office costs the equivalent of a fancy hamburger a day. I did not bike because it was snowing. (Again.) And I did not walk because the distance was too far.
My commuting choices -- just like everyone's -- are the sum of the advantages of one transportation mode weighed against the downsides of all other options. Or, more succinctly: My feelings about the bus are mediated by what I'm thinking about my car.
Thanks to the sharing economy, you can use a stranger’s hammer, car, or even apartment -- but what about life’s most basic needs? With Airpnp you can find (and if necessary, pay for) the nearest toilet. If the line for portapotties is too long, why not at least see which nearby neighbors and businesses will take your No. 1 for a couple $1s?
Airpnp is now available for users to lease out their bathrooms through a mobile optimized web app, and native apps are in the works. The service itself will be put to test during Mardi Gras 2014 in New Orleans, which happens on March 4. There are currently a handful of toilets listed on the site spanning a range of prices -- some bathrooms are free, while urinating at a hotel bathroom where “Tom Cruise, Nicholas Cage, Frank Sinatra, and Walt Disney have all peed” requires a payment of $10.
I think I’d actually pay to AVOID a toilet some of those guys had used, but that’s just me. (The throne that has witnessed Ryan Gosling’s turds, on the other hand ...)