Hoping to cut down on air pollution that in recent days has reached dangerous levels, city officials in Paris on Monday began trying to cut automobile emissions by enforcing an odd-even system of traffic rules.
For the most part, only cars with odd-numbered license plates could be on the rues et boulevards Monday (since it's the 17th of March). On Tuesday, the city's streets will mostly be open only to cars with even-numbered plates.
The restrictions apply in the city and 22 surrounding suburbs, according to France 24. There are exemptions, the news network adds, for electric and hybrid cards, and "any vehicle carrying three people or more." Motorcycles are subject to the odd-even rules.
City officials have taken another step, as well: Public transport systems will be free as long as the odd-even rule applies. How long the odd-even rules will last isn't yet known.
As for why this is happening, France 24 explains that:
"Paris and much of northern France have been suffering under high pollution levels for several days after an extended period of cool, dry nights with much warmer daytime temperatures — climactic conditions that do not allow pollutant particles to disperse.
"Paris is also more prone to smog than other European capitals because of France's diesel subsidies and its high number of private car drivers."
The odd-even restriction has been used in Paris once before, in 1997.
The BBC's Hugh Schofield reports that on Monday it wasn't hard to spot even-numbered plates on the streets, but that "most cars on the roads [were] indeed odd-plated, and traffic [seemed] lighter than usual." Still, according to The Associated Press, by midday police had issued nearly 4,000 tickets and 27 cars had been impounded.
The wire service also notes that:
"Paris' anti-pollution efforts trail far behind those of some other cities. Athens has had a similar alternate driving ban in place for many years; in the Greek capital is has contributed significantly both to reducing pollution and reducing traffic.
"Sao Paulo, Brazil employs a more complicated license plate-based system that assigns each car a day of the week on which it cannot be driven during morning and afternoon rush hours."
Chinese officials imposed odd-even driving restrictions in Beijing before and during the 2008 Summer Olympics there, both to help clear the air and cut down on traffic congestion.
Some Two-Way readers, and this blogger, are old enough of course to remember the gasoline crises of the 1970s and the odd-even gasoline rationing they led to in the U.S. The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 also forced officials around in the New York-New Jersey region to impose odd-even restrictions on gas purchases.
St. Patrick's Day is my excuse to present you with the following illusion in green, courtesy of Akiyoshi Kitaoka, a psychology professor at Ritsumeikan University in Japan.
This image includes two spirals in different shades of green, one a yellowish light green and the other a darker turquoise green. Right?
At least, that's not what the pixel color values on your monitor will tell you, or what you'd find if you used a photometer to measure the distribution of lightwaves bouncing back from the green-looking regions of either spiral. In fact, the two spirals are the very same shade of green.
If you don't believe me, here's a trick to make the illusion go away: replace the yellow and blue surrounding the green segments with a uniform background. Here I've replaced the blue with black:
And here the yellow is gone, too:
Tada! The very same green.
And just in case you think I've swapped the greens on you, here's a final demonstration. If you follow a single green region across a section from the original image (with yellow and blue) to a modified section (with black), you'll see that the shade of green remains the same.
The fact that the illusion disappears when the surrounding colors are replaced with a uniform background illustrates an important feature of color perception. Our experience of color for a given region of space isn't just a consequence of the wavelengths of light reaching our retinas from that region. Instead, the context matters a lot!
When a version of this illusion first made the Internet rounds in 2009 (thanks to folks like Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy), a few explanations were offered, including the idea that "our brain judges the color of an object by comparing it to surrounding colors" (from Richard Wiseman) or that it's a consequence of "simple downsampling" (from Dan Kaminsky). It turns out both of these ideas are partially right and that vision scientists have been studying the phenomenon for some time. (They've found, for example, that patterned backgrounds can have a larger effect on color appearance than uniform backgrounds.)
To find out more, I turned to an expert: friend and vision scientist Ben Backus, an associate professor in SUNY's College of Optometry. He kindly
explained one of the most important factors behind the illusion:
This illusion works because the visual system measures color at a coarser spatial scale than luminance (i.e., brightness). Thus the apparent color of a small object can be contaminated by the colors of neighboring objects, which is very nicely demonstrated by this illusion. When green is sandwiched between yellow it looks much yellower than when it is sandwiched between blue.
Why does the visual system do this? Basically because it can. Usually. Since there is almost always a change in luminance at the border between two objects in an image (which is why black and white photographs are interpretable), you don't need color to detect where the borders are. You can fill in the object colors after you know where the edges are, using a coarser color map.
This normally works just fine, and it allows your brain to save tremendously on wiring. Your optic nerves are already by far the thickest nerves in your body, with about a million axons coming out of each eye. They use a lot of energy transmitting the luminance information at high resolution. Why also transmit color at high-resolution if you don't have to?
Incidentally, color television signals transmit luminance information in greater detail than color, and digital cameras collect the luminance data at twice the resolution of color. This all works fine because natural images don't have sharp color borders except where they also have a sharp luminance border.
And finally, because I can't resist, one more image from Akiyoshi Kitaoka's website, an impressive variant of the peripheral drift illusion. (But first, a warning: anomalous motion illusions like this one make some people dizzy, so look away if that happens to you!)
Almost like shamrocks blowing in the wind ...
You can keep up with more of what Tania Lombrozo is thinking on Twitter: @TaniaLombrozo
Westboro Baptist Church founder Rev. Fred Phelps Sr. is in hospice care and near death, according to family and church members say. His estranged son says the longtime pastor's passing would put his followers in a crisis, because the church's members "think that death is a judgment from God."
"So far, that illusion has held because none of them has passed," Nathan Phelps continues in an interview with The Topeka Capital-Journal.
The church's members are convinced they will be taken up by Jesus Christ, he tells the newspaper. "They're clear about that, that they're not going to feel the sting of death," he says.
Phelps says if that belief isn't borne out, the church's members will likely see it as a test of their faith. He predicted that some would find a "palatable justification" to continue on with Westboro Baptist.
News that the founder of the church known for using controversial funeral protests to carry out a campaign against gays and other groups was in hospice care came out over the weekend, along with a statement from Phelps that his 84-year-old father had been excommunicated last summer from the church he built.
Fred Phelps Sr. "is now on the edge of death at Midland Hospice house in Topeka, Kansas," Nathan Phelps wrote in a Facebook post. He also said church members were preventing him and others who have broken with the family over the church's teachings from seeing the ailing pastor.
The reason for Fred Phelps' excommunication isn't known. A church spokesman interviewed by the Capital-Journal didn't deny the action, but he refused to elaborate. Another of Phelps' sons contacted the newspaper to say its version of events was accurate.
Nathan Phelps told The Associated Press in a phone interview Sunday night that church members had voted Phelps out of the church "after some kind of falling out."
He added that Fred Phelps and his wife were moved out of the space they had long occupied above the church and into a nearby house. Afterward, the church founder stopped eating and drinking, the younger Phelps said.
The AP reports that Nathan Phelps "said he has no doubt some people would want to protest his father's funeral but added, 'I wish they wouldn't.' "
The possibility that Fred Phelps might die has led to questions over how Westboro Baptist might continue, and whether the church's followers would persist in their attempts to garner publicity for their views at funerals and other events.
A look at the church's website shows no break in its "Picket Schedule," which lists upcoming shows by the singer Lorde and comedian Kathy Griffin as targets. The site also features a video titled "Aye, God Hates St. Patrick's Day," featuring spokesman Steven Drain, who is mentioned by Nathan Phelps as a possible successor to his father.
On Sunday, Drain told the Capital-Journal that Westboro Baptist doesn't have a central leader. "The Lord Jesus Christ is our head," he told the newspaper.
Nathan Phelps says both his brother Tim and Drain have "shown the fire" that would be required of the church's pastor. But he also tells the Capital-Journal that several long-time church members "could get up and do the same job as the old man has done. They've heard [the preachings] a million times."