My daughter and I just returned from a trip to Europe, where travel guru Rick Steves served as our primary guide. We relied heavily on his travel books regarding Berlin, Paris and London. These travel guides are detailed, well-organized and well-written. I highly recommend them to anyone intending to travel to Europe.
What I especially like about Rick Steves, though, is his constant urging to live close to the ground while traveling, to work hard to interact with real people and to avoid expensive travel arrangements that prevent you from interacting with others on their terms. This approach does not come naturally to many Americans. Steves thus works hard to prepare Americans for visiting places that are not America. He doesn’t mince his words. Consider, for example, this passage from his London 2011 book, at page 17:
We travel all the way to Europe to enjoy differences-to become temporary locals. You’ll experience frustrations. Certain truths that we find “God-given” or “self-evident,” such as cold beer, ice in drinks, bottomless cups of coffee, hot showers, and bigger being better, are suddenly not so true. One of the benefits of travel is the eye-opening realization that there are logical, civil, and even better alternatives. Europeans generally like Americans. But if there is a negative aspect to the image the British have of Americans, it’s that we are big, loud, aggressive, impolite, rich, superficially friendly, and a bit naive.
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As the new year began, I found myself finishing up the January, 2011 edition of National Geographic. This is not a magazine to be merely scanned. In my experience, National Geographic deserves its own special time. It needs to be read slowly so that its exquisite prose and photography can be deeply appreciated. Every minute invested is paid back tenfold, and National Geographic has been written in this high-quality way for as long as I can remember. So… If you’re going to put me on a deserted island and I can only have one magazine subscription, please make it National Geographic.
The cover story of the current issue is “Population 7 Billion: How Your World Will Change.” In the introduction, the Editor notes that “the issues associated with population growth seem endless: poverty, food and water supply, world health, climate change, before station, fertility rates, and more.” Therefore, it would seem that we would insist on discussing the carrying capacity of Earth. We talk about the capacity of motor vehicles and houses and hotel rooms and conference centers, because we can’t deny that human animals take up space and use up resources. We can’t put 12 people in a boat that is designed to carry four, because it would cause a disaster. Yet many of us simply refuse to consider whether there is such a thing as a carrying capacity of the earth, and we utterly refuse to attempt any sort of quantification of the carrying capacity of the earth. Therefore, as we are approaching 7 billion people on earth, it is preordained by many people that population is simply not a problem, even though societies all over the earth, rich and poor, traditional and modern, are exhausting the resources that are available to them.
The Onion network News reports on the new federal high-speed bus system:
I wonder sometimes if road trips will become a thing of the past. For my wife and me, they’ve certainly dropped a bit on the list of things to do, but that may simply be a product of schedules, interests and rising gas prices. We used to drive multiple many miles just to see things, turn around and drive back. In California, 13-14 years ago, we decided one day to take our kids to see the sequoias, so we drove 400 miles, saw them, said, “Cool.”, and drove back. In the same day. Now, a custom van makes it a comfortable option, but we take fewer of those trips.
Nertz is a card game that is best described as group solitaire on speed. There are different sets of rules, but we play a “Navy” way taught to us in the 1990s and almost always play in teams of two. We have since evangelized it across the continent and halfway across the world, and my wife taught it to many of her Korean students during our seven years there. After teaching the game to very good friends also stationed in Korea, we would often answer the door at 10:30 on a Friday night to Barb, pitcher of margaritas in hand, saying “Rick’s taking out his contacts and grabbing a bottle of wine….you guys up for some Nertz?”
Road trips and Nertz converged this past weekend as we decided to drive from Dallas (actually Rowlett), Texas to Memphis (actually Atoka/Millington), Tennessee to see Rick and Barb, our friends from Korea; a weekend which we thoroughly enjoyed and did manage to squeeze in several hours of Nertz playing. We left at 5:00 pm on Thursday with me driving the one way 7.5 hours (without stops) of 440 miles in a different (but now 11 year old) custom van, accompanied by my wife, two younger sons and the ADD-wired brain that has been my companion for near 50 years.
I sometimes wonder what it is like to be “normal”.
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Use of public transit simply means that you walk more which increases fitness levels and leads to healthier citizens. More importantly, increasing use of public transit may be the most effective traffic safety counter measure a community can employ,” noted APTA president William Millar. Apparently communities with vast public transportation networks don’t just live longer because of the exercise — they’re also less likely to be the victim of a fatal auto accident. The traffic fatality rate in the Bronx, New York is four in 100,000 contrasted by the traffic fatality rate in auto ridden Miami, Kansas which is 40 in 100,000.
Using public transportation also saves you a lot of money: “Riding public transportation saves individuals, on average, $9,381 annually and $782 per month based on the August 10, 2010 average national gas price ($2.78 per gallon- reported by AAA) and the national unreserved monthly parking rate.”
It is also important to note that when you pay $35 to fill your tank with gasoline, you haven’t actually paid for most of the costs of using gasoline.
Have you been to the most spectacular tourist attractions in our solar system? If not, here’s your chance, compliments of artist Ron Miller and writer Ed Bell at Scientific American. Packing the right clothes for these warm and cold locations won’t be easy.
William James once wrote that “habit” functions as “the enormous fly-wheel of society, its most precious conservative agent.” (Principles of Psychology, Vol. 1, p. 121). With regard to transportation, I’d like to think that I’ve taken care of more bad habits than most people. For instance, on most workdays, I commute by bicycle, and it’s a 10-mile round trip (my odometer just rolled to 14,000 miles, accumulated over 11 years). Although I don’t often go on trail rides for fun, I do ride 5-miles to work, 5 back home again, 5, 5, 5, 5 . . . . I also pride myself on walking one or two mile distances every few days, distances many people would insist on driving.
A couple days ago, I was buying a replacement hard drive at a local computer store. After coming out of the computer store, I decided to pick up a few food items at a Trader Joe’s that was located about 100 yards away, across a big parking lot. It occurred to me that I should get in my car and drive the 100 yards in order to shop at Trader Joe’s, and I almost did get into my car for that purpose.
Then it occurred to me what an absurd thing it would be, so incredibly unhealthy, to not walk 100 yards. To fail to walk would be to turn down a chance to get the blood flowing–free exercise. After scolding myself, I walked briskly across the lot, which took all of one minute, and then wondered how it ever got to be this way that anyone would consider driving such a short distance. I took a photo of that “long” walk after returning to my car (see below)–I wanted to drive the point home with an image, to remind myself that it should never be an option to drive a car 100 yards. Never. Yet I know that numerous people would have driven 100 yards rather than walked. It’s part of American culture to waste fuel and avoid exercise.
I used to live next door to a family that often drove their cars 1/4 mile to the nearby church and school, even though they were perfectly able to walk. I often see another neighbor taking almost 45-minutes to cut his small lawn with a power mower. He’s needlessly out there breathing 2-cycle engine fumes three times longer than necessary. What gives? For some people, I think the problem is that they forget how to walk fast. Walking fast turns walking into a bona fide mode of transportation (the Obama Administration has recently recognized this).
I know people who will always wait for elevators rather than walk even one flight of stairs. The St. Louis County, Missouri, Courthouse escalator has been broken for a few months, and I have seen dozens of people dragging their bodies up a single set of stairs as if they were about to die. I know what the problem is: they are not used to walking up stairs. Much of the time, these people weigh 50 – 100 pounds too much. Two-thirds of Americans are not physically active on a regular basis, and one-fourth get no exercise at all. Two-third of Americans are overweight or obese.
It’s so easy to slip back into bad habits, especially when in a hurry. We’ve designed our environment so that it’s easy to not walk and it’s too easy to eat lots of high-calorie non-nutritious food that we pop into our mouths with or fingers while we watch television. Anyone looking at our situation and our physiques from the outside would immediately know that we are living an unhealthy/dysfunctional lifestyle. It’s not just a matter of opinion.
I think that I’m getting more and more tuned to these issues of bad eating and poor exercise because I’ve been watching a fantastic new show called Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution (on ABC). Check it out, and you’ll be amazed at the dozens of hurdles we put up to keep ourselves and our children from being healthy. It’s truly mind-twisting. And I’ve decided that Jamie Oliver is one of my heroes, and I’m not alone in this thinking–he was recently awarded the 2010 TED Prize. You can watch the Food Revolution trailer and all of the individual episodes on the Internet here. It’s time to get angry about the way that we are abusing ourselves and our children, just like Jamie says on his show and at his recent TED lecture–it’s time to join Jamie’s revolution. Give just 20-minutes to watching this video and get angry enough to do something. Talk it up with the people you care about.