Stuff to read

  1. The making of the Active Water video. (Cool advert, but Gatorade is a waste of money — compared to water — for 95% of drinkers.)
  2. Quitting the Mormons is hard when they are calling your kids…
  3. Sand (!) is running out… and a podcast with an author on the topic 
  4. It’s not going to be perfect but it can be DONE.
  5. The garbage man knows everything — including burning beats recycling
  6. Facebook’s Libra is no crypto currency, but it may have big impacts
  7. The Economist’s “What if?” visions of the future: Antibiotic resistant bugs, Facebook vs EU regulators, and  fights over geoengineering.
  8. It’s time to switch from “he or she” to “they”
  9. Watch “Nothing to Hide” if you worry about internet privacy (you should!)
  10. A reasonable overview of water policy (and problems) in the Western US

Review: Travel as a Political Act

Rick Steves is perhaps the most famous American giving advice on traveling abroad. I have never used his guidebooks (thinking that they were perhaps too generic for my “advanced” backpacking skills), but I just bought one for Italy.

This book (subtitle: “How to leave your baggage behind”) is not a guide for tourists but a guide for understanding other countries and cultures. What I especially enjoyed was how Steves clearly explains foreign ideas in terms familiar to Americans. I would have loved to have this book as a response to the many people who have asked why I travel and what I’ve learned.

This book very easy to read, so it’s also a good one to take on vacation. (These data are a few years old but they show that 40 percent of Americans took zero vacation years in the prior year while only 12 percent vacationed outside the US.)

But let’s get to some interesting parts of the book:

  1. “Travel as a political act” refers to the ways in which we might import new ideas and perspectives from abroad back to the US:

     We can learn more about our own country by observing other countries—and by challenging ourselves (and our neighbors) to be broad-minded when it comes to international issues. Holding our country to a high standard and searching for ways to better live up to its lofty ideals is not “America-bashing.” It’s good citizenship (loc 74).

  2. Travel is also good for YOU. Travel has changed what I eat, how I commute, what I read, and so on. My revelation is not unique. In the 14th century, Ibn Battuta wrote that “traveling leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” For Steves, “travel has taught me the fun in having my cultural furniture rearranged and my ethnocentric self-assuredness walloped. It has humbled me, enriched my life, and tuned me in to a rapidly changing world” (loc 64).
  3. Steves and I agree that travel helps us understand our own countries better, and we both lament the FUD that our house-bound neighbors espouse. For him, the lesson was to protest war and push for cannabis legalization. My lesson was to accept that Dutch culture was better for me in some ways. Sadly, most people are too afraid to travel or question the status quo:

    As the news becomes more sensationalized [Congress repeals the FCC’s Fairness Doctorine in 1987], the viewer becomes more fearful. And eventually, all that fear metastasizes into the political realm. In the long run, the transformation of news from information to entertainment—making us feel that we’re less safe—threatens the fabric of our democracy…and, ironically, actually makes our country less safe (loc 385).

  4. I agree with Steves that we could bring far more security to ourselves (and the world) by spending money on aid instead of bombs, but corporate war mongers mean that the United States American taxpayers spend $600 billion on the military and 15-times less ($40 billion) on all international affairs. I am sure that the “war on terror” would disappear if we shifted  7 percent of the military budget to doubling the international budget.
  5. Steves captures the tradeoffs for living in “socialist” Europe (loc 1093): 

    European housing, cars, gadgets, and other “stuff” are modest compared to what an American with a similar job might own. It’s a matter of priorities. Just as Europeans willingly pay higher taxes for a higher standard of service, they choose less pay (and less stuff) in exchange for more time off. Imagine this in your own life: Would you make do with a smaller car if you knew you didn’t have to pay health insurance premiums? Would you be willing to give up the luxury of a cutting-edge TV and live in a smaller house if you could cut back to 35 hours per workweek and get a few extra weeks of paid vacation? Would you settle for a 10 percent pay cut if you knew you’d never get an email or phone call from the office outside of work hours? For most Americans, I imagine that the European idea of spending more time on vacation and with their family, instead of putting in hours of overtime, is appealing.

  6. Steves captures the essence of economic migration, immigrant culture and the refugee crisis in three excellent passages:  
    1. If you’re wealthy enough to hire an immigrant to clean your house, you do it—you get a clean house, and the immigrant earns a wage. If you don’t want to trade away your personal freedom to care for an aging parent, you hire someone else to care for them…and it’s generally an immigrant. That’s just the honest reality of capitalism. (loc 1406).
    2. 99 percent of Americans descend from immigrants, whereas much of Europe has been largely homogenous for millennia. In some European countries, large-scale immigration is a fairly recent phenomenon. This makes many Europeans particularly vigilant about ensuring that Europe’s homegrown culture continues to thrive. I share their concern, and yet, it’s easy to fall into contradictions: If diversity is a tenet of EU beliefs, what’s wrong with immigrants wanting to preserve their home cultures? Is it hypocritical to celebrate the preservation of the Catalan language, but expect Algerians to learn Dutch? (loc 1425)
    3. I think the real refugee crisis is the human cost of a failed state. The refugees coming to Europe today are a direct result of poorly drawn borders by European colonial powers a century ago. If Europeans (or Americans) complain about the hardship of housing those refugees, they should ponder the hardship brought about by their ancestors’ greedy colonial policies a century ago (loc 1440).
  7. Steves is also perceptive on (un)sustainable choices and lifestyles:

    In America, we have freezers in our garages so we can buy in bulk to save money and avoid needless trips to the supermarket. In contrast, Europeans have small refrigerators. It’s not necessarily because they don’t have room or money for a big refrigerator. They’d actually rather go to the market in the morning. The market visit is a chance to be out, get the freshest food, connect with people, and stay in touch (loc 1511). 

    The bottom 40 percent of humanity lives on roughly 5 percent of the planet’s resources. The top 20 percent lives on over 75 percent. The greatest concentration of wealth among economic elites in the history of the human race is happening at the same time our world is becoming a global village. Meanwhile, even in the countries that benefit (such as the United States), the spoils go mostly to the already wealthy—padding profits for shareholders even as working-class American jobs are exported south of our borders, leaving many citizens of the rich world underemployed and disillusioned (loc 1859).

    Any society needs to subscribe to a social contract—basically, what you agree to give up in order to live together peacefully. Densely populated Europe generally embraces Rousseau’s social contract: In order to get along well, everyone will contribute a little more than their share and give up a little more than their share. Then, together, we’ll all be fine. The Danes—who take this mindset to the extreme—are particularly conscientious about not exploiting loopholes. They are keenly aware of the so-called “free rider problem”: If I had to identify one major character flaw of Americans, it might be our inability to appreciate the free rider problem. Many Americans practically consider it their birthright to make money they didn’t really earn, enjoy the fruits of our society while cheating on their taxes, drive a gas-guzzler just because they can afford it, take up two parking spots so no one will bump their precious car, and generally jigger the system if they can get away with it. We often seem to consider actions like these acceptable…without considering the fact that if everyone did it, our society as a whole would suffer (loc 2258).

    A perfect example of Danish “social trust” is the image of babies sleeping in carriages outside a restaurant while the parents eat inside. You might say, “But no one is watching!” A Dane will say, “Everyone is watching” (loc 2310).

  8. What about drugs, prisons, terror and the Holy Lands??

    When it comes to soft drugs, policies in much of Europe are also more creative and pragmatic than America’s… Much of the US seems afraid to grapple with this problem openly and innovatively. Rather than acting as a deterrent, the US criminalization of marijuana drains precious resources, clogs our legal system, and distracts law enforcement attention from more pressing safety concerns (loc 2909).

    While America is still building more prisons, the Dutch are closing theirs. My Dutch friends needle me with the fact that the US has the world’s highest incarceration rate—nearly 10 times the Dutch rate—at an annual cost of $60 billion (loc 3037).

    Yes, there are evil people in Iran. Yes, the rhetoric and policies of Iran’s leaders can be objectionable. But there is so much more to Iran than the negative image drummed into us by our media and our government. I left Iran impressed more by what we have in common than by our differences. Most Iranians, like most Americans, simply want a good life and a safe homeland for their loved ones. Just like my country, Iran has one dominant ethnic group and religion that’s struggling with issues of diversity and change—liberal versus conservative, modern versus traditional, secular versus religious (loc 3707).

    Religions around the world seem to always be stoking turmoil—even though the teachings of those religions say “love your neighbor,” and all of them have the “do unto others…” Golden Rule. I’ve decided that fundamentalism is the crux of the problem…For a person of faith to travel without letting the experience stir what’s inside them is a lost opportunity. Of course, many people actually go on religious trips—pilgrims on pilgrimages. While I’ve never done exactly that, every time I’m at a pilgrimage site, I endeavor to keep a positive attitude about the devotion that surrounds me. It’s easy to be cynical about the reverence given to relics I don’t understand, the determination many have to believe in what seem like silly miracles, or the needless pain someone suffers in the name of their faith—whether by climbing a mountain in bare feet or a long staircase on their knees (loc 3898 and 4097).

    The conditions in Balata [a Palestinian refugee camp] are dismaying, particularly when you think that people have been living this way here for decades. But Israelis point out that Israel has taken in many Jewish refugees and assimilated them into their prosperous society. Meanwhile, they claim that Palestine—and the Arab world—has intentionally kept the West Bank refugee camps in squalor in order to stir public opinion against Israel (4379).

  9. And… finally… coming home:

    On returning from a major trip, you sense that your friends and co-workers have stayed the same, but you’re…different. It’s enlightening and unsettling at the same time (loc 4513).

    Mark Twain wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” These wise words can be a rallying cry for all travelers once comfortably back home. When courageous leaders in our community combat small-mindedness and ignorance—whether it’s pastors contending with homophobia in their congregations, employers striving to make a workplace color-blind, or teachers standing up for intellectual and creative freedoms—travelers can stand with them in solidarity (loc 4548).

    My one-handed conclusion is that all Americans should read this book. Travelers will recognize echoes of prior thoughts while the sedentary will (I hope) understand the common humanity that binds us all. 

Stuff to read

  1. Guess what? House Hunters (a reality TV show) is scripted
  2. An incredible detective story: tracking down a fake Rolex “brand”
  3. Here’s an interview with me [mp3] on the Future of Agriculture podcast. (I’m not optimistic.)
  4. I recommend listening to “Hash Power, a three part audio documentary that explores the world of blockchain and cryptocurrencies,” which was published in 2017, thus providing some interesting predictions of where crypto was going (and not!)
  5. Three delusional visions of smart cities
  6. How Boeing lost its way
  7. Thomas Sowell explains why “trickle down economics” is a lie
  8. A new report on water governance in China
  9. Marriage is more complicated than just a couple making promises
  10. Oceans are absorbing carbon at a rate likely to cause mass extinction within this century. So, yeah, we’re fucked.

Five case studies of water scarcity

I began teaching (!) water scarcity this year. The main assignment for the course was a case study explaining water scarcity (from physical to political) affecting a city of the student’s choosing. 

Although this was the first time I gave this assignment (it draws on my 2014 Water Smarts calendar), I was very pleased with some of the results and asked the students if I could share their work. So here are their PDFs!

Please leave feedback on these cases and/or additional information that would improve the treatment of scarcity. I will be using this format again next (school) year!

This team wins. Everyone wins.

I’m no fan of advertising, but these Nike adverts make me tear up:

At the beginning of the Women’s World Cup: And after US women beat the Dutch women’s team: What’s the context? This:

My one-handed analysis? Congrats to the women… and Fuck Trump.

Addendum (10 July): “The women’s world cup team is the most American thing out there.

Stuff to read

  1. Exercise is not just about losing weight
  2. When is a “burger” a burger — and other naming nonsense
  3. Americans only started working too much (rather, taking too few vacations) in the 1980s
  4. Here are some excerpts from a new documentary on Elinor and Vincent Ostrom and the study of the commons, which will come out in May 2020
  5. In an experiment, students lived in the desert on 15 liters of water per day “without difficulty adjusting to a low-resource lifestyle.” Could you?
  6. Thirty people are sailing from Europe to the COP meeting in Chile. Support their mission?
  7. The most important wind in the world — the monsoon — is failing.
  8. China is exporting its digital surveillance model, beginning with BRI countries. Related: Read this 1993 essay on Singapore: “Disneyland with the death penalty
  9. Bluntly stated, we should accept the grim reality that victory in modern major wars was most often achieved by mass slaughter, not by heroics or the genius of generals.” Related: I agree with Bernie Sanders on “ending America’s endless war
  10. I’m quoted in this essay on over-population, sustainability and the Bay Area.

Raising boys better

I won’t bother to provide evidence that boys have a lot of energy, take risks and cause lots of “accidents” (some of which win them Darwin Awards).

Given those facts, I suggest that we reconsider how we raise — or educate — boys. Here’s my logic:

  1. Boys are likely to grow up to be men. With longer life expectancy, there’s no need to rush boys from school to work and family.
  2. The world is getting more complex, which means that education needs to reflect that complexity. Back in the day, boys only needed muscles and energy to do a job. Now they must wrestle with abstract concepts, office politics and 30+ years of evolving, cumulative responsibility.
  3. Somewhat paradoxically, but also obviously, there are fewer men willing to do manual labor and service jobs that involve low wages and hard work. The resulting shortages can result in a society of middle managers doing bullshit jobs while the working classes make big wages just for showing up. 
  4. Boys are less considerate and communicative than girls, especially when they are told that the route to success involves taking risks (but no prisoners) and they are judged according to their salary, car model, etc. 

From all of these trends, I think we should rethink male careers and education along these lines:

  1. Make sure boys complete their high school education.
  2. Do not let them into higher education until they are 25 years old.
  3. In the middle years (18-25) encourage them to do manual labor, military or civil service, go traveling, etc. The goal here — and the point of this post — is that these “aimless” years will help them learn about themselves, work off excess energy, deliver on obligations to employers and friends, and so on.
  4. After these rumspringa years, they will have more knowledge, patience and confidence, such that they may go to higher education — or not. The key is that they will be able to benefit from the experience and opportunities, unlike the case now where lots of young men seem more lost than found (I’ve seen a few examples).
  5. I’m guessing that men who are graduating at 30 years old will have plenty of time to start families and careers that will last a lot longer than many families and careers now do for young men who lack the emotional depth and confidence of experience that comes from taking care if yourself for some time. (I’m biased, as I traveled between 25 and 30, only starting graduate school when I was 32. I’ve also met plenty of “mature” students who got far more out of their education.)

My one-handed conclusion is that men mature later than women, and that our systems and institutions need to reflect that fact and the ways that the modern world has complicated “traditional” male roles. It’s time to raise boys in a system that recognizes how they mature.

What do you think?

Stuff to read

  1. #Greenblood: Dozens of journalists have been killed while reporting on environmental crimes
  2. #ExtinctionRebellion activists are using drones to disrupt flights from airports. I’ve predicted that they will go beyond this, to actually down planes that are contributing to climate change. 
  3. The Dutch are pretty honest. Read the story of my returned gold ring
  4. An interview with Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist
  5. The DeGrowth movement is growing (see my post)
  6. Life without wireless in your face
  7. Amazon doesn’t care if its site is full of counterfeit books (I see this firsthand with fraudulent copies of my books).
  8. The entrepreneurs behind Worn & Wound (a watch-enthusiast site). Related: Dan Henry turned his watch passion into a business.
  9. A long tale on the short life of SpeedX/BlueBird (shared) bikes
  10. The market is going nuts for companies promising big profits on zero capital. Be afraid.

Decline

I have time to write this because my return to Amsterdam has been delayed by 34 hours.* To say that I’m angry is a considerable understatement.

The reason I’m delayed (American Airlines declared a plane unfit for flying) is not on its surface objectionable, but let’s step back a moment…

On my flight to a conference here, American changed my connecting flight to one that was 4 hours later, which forced me to stay at a shithole airport hotel in Indianapolis and delayed my reunion (after 25 years) with my family on my mother’s side. That cost me $80 and a lost night of sleep.

I had to rent a car to get to my family because there’s barely any public transportation in a country built around cars. That cost me another $200.

Yesterday, we heard “Flight 204 to Amsterdam is cancelled.” I, along with 250 other people, scrambled. I was able to improve on their initial offer (a flight 48 hours later) by flying to London for a day-long layover. I will be home 34 hours late. In compensation, American gave us sandwiches and a hotel voucher. There was no transportation, so I paid $30 for a taxi.

While I was reveling in the ongoing bad news, I met other passengers who had already had other flights cancelled and delayed. One (un)lucky one knew  what to do, as she’d already been cancelled, so she was one of perhaps a dozen able to escape last night.

(I blame these delays and snags on a corporate culture that trims maintenance and redundancy to a minimum, which leads to cascading failures when anything goes wrong. Second, these corporations “follow the law” in terms of minimum compensation — $12 of food and a hotel room — without regard to the value of our time or other costs. Many people will miss work on Monday without AA paying any damages.**)

When we arrived at the hotel, the taxi driver resisted my credit card (drivers pay massive surcharges to use the credit card terminal). He wanted a tip (for driving?), but I did not pay, so I unloaded the massive bag of my pregnant companion. People on the edge do not have time to help.

Although this hotel room is nice, the lobby looks like a 60s relic. I didn’t feel like going out (City Hall is across the street) as I’d already walked past a dozen homeless people and beggars. I gave one of my sandwiches to a homeless woman who was setting up for the night.

My main goal over the next two days is to not lose my luggage, to use the least dirty of my clothes, and try to enjoy my involuntary 24 hours in Philly and 10 hours in London. Let’s see.  

America’s president is a conman and human rights abuser. Its Congress is a dysfunctional scrum beholden to lobbyists from the swamp. Its streets are lost to the homeless, idiots in cars blasting music after midnight, and predatory cabbies. Farmers are losing their crops to storms caused by climate change their tribe denies. Businesses profit through extortion and lies. Send thoughts and prayers.

This country is not becoming “great again.” Its decline echoes that of the USSR, which imploded from failing systems, corruption, greed, and the departure of anyone who could excape.

I am done with America. It’s no longer the land of my birth, of opportunity, of righteousness, of compassion. I have many friends here. I have family here. I know that there are many innovators, caring individuals and passionate problem solvers here, but I have lost faith that these good people can overcome the downdraft of America’s failing institutions, greedy oligarchs, and corrupt politicians.

It’s time for me to exchange my citizenship for another, so that I can live permanently in the system that’s improved my life for the past 9 years.

What a pity.


Updates from 25 June:

* I ended up changing flights 3 times (routing thru LHR to arrive 34 hours late, then to arrive 30 hours late, then getting on the same flight 24 hours later, which was 4 hours late — thus 28 in total — due to another plane failure). In the process of making these changes, I was told by three different AA staffers that this summer has been hell due to grounded 737Max planes (caused by Boeing’s lies about safety) and weird weather (climate change).  I can see how these problems can cause delays, but I think they are actually caused by a system that’s set up on a “run to fail” basis, overworked staff and undermaintained planes are always on the edge. (The staff are only paid when the plane is in the air, so they got nothing for 4 hours of sitting on the ground.)

** This is AA’s entire apology:

I find it comically inadequate and asked for my $988 ticket to be refunded. Note that I would have received €600 back under EU regulations if I’d booked the flight via KLM, which codeshares with American 🙁

Stuff worth your time

  1. The economics of migration, explained.
  2. A useful, if slightly frustrating, conversation on climate change with Bjorn Lomborg, who believes that “people will find ways to survive” — a policy recommendation I do not support. 
  3. How Satoshi channeled greed into value (blockchain institutions)
  4. Way too much data on watches and male perspectives on their wrists
  5. A decent overview of how the Americans won, then lost, the world
  6. If men want to ban abortions, then they need to pledge celibacy. Related: Women don’t just casually abort 
  7. A big Dutch technical university wants more female professors, so they are only accepting female candidates for positions over the next few years