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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Traveling With A Conservative? Have You Read The Ugly American?

When I was 13-- and all my friends were studying for their bar mitzvahs-- I was making my first big hitch-hiking excursion. My grandparents were in South Beach, which was very grandparent-friendly back then, for Easter and I decided to see what hitching would be like. Brooklyn to Florida with $20 and a toothbrush in my pocket. I got as far as the New Jersey Turnpike and got arrested. They made my father come pick me up. He gave me the dough for a Greyhound. But it wasn't about the destination. I wanted to try out hitchhiking. I had plans.

A couple years later-- having sent farming implements and seeds ahead, care of poste restante-- I set out for Tonga. This time I think I had nearly $90… and it was for life. I said goodbye to everyone and hitched to California and stowed away on a boat bound for New Zealand, where I planned to stow away on another boat bound for Tonga. There were two a year back then. I was discovered on the boat in San Pedro Harbor and beaten up by some drunk watchman. So I went back to Brooklyn. But I've been traveling ever since.

And not to Disneyland or Aruba. After college I flew to Germany, bought a VW van and drove to Morocco. But Morocco was just a practice trip, like South Beach had been. After Morocco, I drove my girlfriend up to England so we could be at the Isle of Wight Festival and see Dylan and Hendrix and so she could catch a plane back to the U.S. to complete her last year at college. I drove to India. Not just India-- Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, all the way down the west coast of India to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and then all the way up the east coast of India to Nepal. And then back to Europe. I was away almost 7 years. What a glorious adventure! Sometimes I write about it on here and sometimes there's call to bring up my travels at my political blog, Down With Tyranny. This is from a post from 2009 about looking for peace in Afghanistan.
There aren't many members of Congress who have traveled extensively out of the country. In his delightful book, Fire-Breathing Liberal, Rep. Robert Wexler marvels at how many of his Republican colleagues [on the House Foreign Relations Committee] seem to think not possessing a passport is a badge of honor! Last weekend I spent some time with Rep. Barbara Lee who is no longer surprised when she talks with Republicans who haven't been-- and don't want to be-- outside of the U.S. The opposite extreme would be one member who certainly qualifies for the Century Club, Rep. Alan Grayson. When I told him I was going to Mali, he was able to give me some travel tips for remote, seldom visited villages like Bandiagara and Sanga, and a few weeks ago he told me about some odd customs I can expect to experience in Albania.
NYC Mayor Bloomberg had much the same thing to say about Republican Know Nothings trying to grapple with foreign policy: “If you look at the U.S., you look at who we’re electing to Congress, to the Senate-- they can’t read,” he said. “I’ll bet you a bunch of these people don’t have passports. We’re about to start a trade war with China if we’re not careful here,” he warned, “only because nobody knows where China is. Nobody knows what China is.”

A couple years ago, Paul Krugman recommended a post by Richard Florida, America's Great Passport Divide. That's where that map just above comes from. I couldn't help but notice that the states with the smallest percentage of passport holders-- i.e., states with people who don't travel outside the country-- are also the states that elect Republicans the most regularly. Mississippi is the worst, closely followed by West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama and Arkansas.

"It’s a fun map," writes Florida. "With the exception of Sarah Palin’s home state, it reinforces the 'differences' we expect to find between the states where more worldly, well-travelled people live versus those where the folks Palin likes to call 'real Americans' preponderate. Mostly to entertain myself, I decided to look at how this passport metric correlates with a variety of other political, cultural, economic, and demographic measures. What surprised me is how closely it lines up with the other great cleavages in America today." And, as he says, the statistical correlations are striking across a range of indices.

People in richer states tend to hold passports and people in poorer states tend to not. Same for educated people versus ignorant people. The kinds of folks who elect John Boozman, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, Lindsay Graham, Jeff Sessions and David Vitter, don't hold college degrees-- or passports. They watch Glenn Beck instead and listen to Hate Talk Radio.
States with higher percentages of passport holders are also more diverse. There is a considerable correlation between passports and the share of immigrants or foreign-born population (.63) and also gays and lesbians (.54). The more passport holders a state has, the more diverse its population tends to be.  And yes, these correlations hold when we control for income.

What about politics? How does passport holding line up against America’s Red state-Blue state divide? Pretty darn well, actually. There is a considerable positive correlation between passports and Obama voters (.59) and a significant negative one (-.61) for McCain voters.  It appears that more liberally-oriented states are more globally oriented as well, or at least their citizens like to travel abroad. Again, the correlations hold when we control for income, though they are a bit weaker than the others.

...And finally, states with more passport holders are also happier. There is a significant correlation (.55) between happiness (measured via Gallup surveys) and a state’s percentage of passport holders. Yet again, that correlation holds when we control for income.

There are stark cultural differences between places where international travel is common and those where it’s not, and we can see them playing out in the cultural and political strife that has been riving the country over the past decades. Think of John Kerry, who was accused of looking and sounding “French” and George W. Bush, who’d hardly been overseas before he became president, or for that matter Barack Obama, with his multi-cultural global upbringing, and Sarah Palin, who had to obtain a passport when she traveled to Kuwait in 2007. The trends in passport use reflect America’s starkly bifurcated system of infrastructure. One set of places has great universities and easy access to international airports; another an infrastructure that is much further off the beaten track of the global circulation of capital, talent, and ideas.
I've been reading a very research-oriented academic book by John Hibbing, Kevin Smith and John Alford lately, Predisposed. One of the themes is that "liberals and conservatives report distinct personality and psychological tendencies and have different tastes in all sorts of things from art and sports to personality traits and vocational preferences… Conservatives' cognitive patterns reveal a comfort level with clarity and hard categorization while liberals are more likely to value complexity and multiple categories."

Roland and I are planning a trip to Thailand. We would never think of taking a conservative with us. We take chances-- all the time. Conservatives don't. Our trips are always off the beaten path. Even if a conservative does go abroad, most don't venture away from the most predictable and "safe" (and shallow) experiences. We're happy because a progressive friend who's never traveled abroad is rarin' to go. Predisposed reinforces that "people who seek out new information [liberals] are simply much more likely to arrive at different political conclusions than those who are comfortable avoiding the risk and uncertainty accompanying new information [conservatives]… Conservatives' relative discomfort with the new and unfamiliar shows up not only in self-reports about themselves but in behavioral patterns like a reluctance to acquire new but potentially risky information. Such reluctance has pros and cons; it protects conservatives from negative situations but also means that invalid negative attitudes cannot be disproven… [V]ariations in people's willingness to explore new objects and situations may be at the core of the differing world views of liberals and conservatives."
The differing orientations to new information are likely to manifest themselves in differing attitudes towards science and religion, with liberals eager for more data even if those data are alarming (think global warming) and conservatives more likely to be content with knowledge that they believe has already been revealed to them. Seen from this vantage point, it is not surprising that attacks on science are more likely to come from the political right. The one-study-shows-this-but-another-shows-that nature of the scientific process is probably more bothersome to the conservative than to the liberal mindset. From the conservative perspective, referring to a set of findings and claims as "just a theory" could hardly be more damning; it bespeaks an absence of certainty that is troubling, especially if someone is proposing big and expensive changes on what is taken to be little more than debatable conjecture. To liberals, theories, even if dissent is present and i's are left undotted and t's uncrossed, are much more valuable-- the weight of current scientific evidence is likely good enough for them and future modifications to knowledge are more likely to be taken in stride.
In the last couple of years, two our our most memorable experiences were fraught with the kind of uncertainty and danger that would cause a conservative to break down. We went wandering in the Himalayas and had no idea where we were or which way went where. And it was raining. A couple years before that we wound up in a trackless bush in Mali and ran into villagers who seem to have never seen anyone like us before. It was worth the whole trip. But we're not conservatives.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Holiday Tipping

One day I went to lunch with a world-famous multi-platinum artist on my label and he did something he had never done in all the years we had been eating together. He offered to pick up the tab. I was so flabbergasted that I didn't have time to grab the check before he handed his credit card to the waiter. I was composed by the time the waiter returned but I noticed my lunch companion hadn't added a too to our rather expensive meal. I pulled out some cash and put it on the table. The parsimonious singer-- then in his 30s-- asked me why I was doing that. I explained the concept of tipping. Apparently no one had before. He also had trouble with the concept of 15% but it liked how much easier it was to figure out 20% and I expect waiters the world over have me to thank for that extra 5%-- if not the entire tip.

Last week my favorite restaurant guidebook, Zagat, asks the pressing question: Holiday Tipping: How Much Do You Give?. In line with the true Zagat ethos, it all came down to reader surveys. First off, they wanted to know how does your tip change if you receive bad service?
43% said they would leave 5% less, 29% said 10% less, 7% said it wouldn't alter their typical tip and 6% said 'no tip' at all. So it looks like, for now, service is still affecting the amount of tip being left in restaurants and hence, should be a motivator for staff to do a good job.

Also, when it came to changing our current system, we asked respondents how they would feel about a no-tipping policy if it meant higher menu prices? 28% said 'hate it' 34% said 'not sure,' 21% said 'love it' and 17% said 'like it but only in upscale restaurants. So there's still a large contingent that is unsure and against overhauling the system.

The longstanding debate: Do you tip on the pre-tax total or the post-tax total? Our data revealed that most people tip post-tax (57%) as opposed to pre-tax (43%). Also the post-tax tip was more common in the South and Midwest (both at 64%) than in the Northeast (55%) or West (54%). Also men are slightly more likely to tip pre-tax (44%), while only 41% of women do this.

If you've ever ordered an expensive bottle of wine and wondered if you should factor the full value of the wine into your tip, well, so have we. We asked surveyors this questions and found that most people didn't know what to do (34%), 24% found it appropriate to tip on the full value of the bottle, and only 21% found it inappropriate, with another 21% saying it depends on a sommelier's assistance. Guess there's no standard practice for wine tipping on the consumer front. The confusion continues...

What about tipping on on discounted meal via Google Offers or Groupon? We asked diners whether or not they tip on the meal pre-discount or post-discount. 75% said they tipped pre-discount with only 7% responding that they tipped post-discount. Good to hear that those hard-working servers are being taken care of.

Now for the question of the hour, what factors the size of your tip? When it comes to what affects tip most, attentiveness of server was the #1 factor (49%) that affected the amount of the tip. Next up was the level of friendliness (21%) and problem with an order and resolution at 9%.

  When asked "are you likely to tip more if..." attentiveness won out again, with 80% saying that this would cause them to tip more, 38% said they would tip more if it was their 'regular server,' 32% said if they got something for free and 22% said if they were impressed by the quality of the food.

…As for food delivery folks, 52% said they tipped a percentage of the total amount ordered (averaging 14.2%), while 32% they left a flat dollar amount regardless of the total, (averaging $4.52). Not too shabby!

…Which service personnel do you plan to tip?

47% said they were planning to tip their housekeeper/maid, 47% said mailman/postman, 41% said hairdresser/stylist, 40% said the paper boy, and 24% said the garbage collector.
And, yes, none of this applies anywhere but the U.S.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

If You Were Planning To Go To Thailand For Christmas… You May Have To Rethink Your Holiday

Fortuitously, we decided to skip Thailand for our winter vacation this year and go to the Galápagos Islands instead. Fortuitously because peaceful, tranquil, beautiful Thailand is engulfed in a spasm of political violence right now. Yesterday, one of our favorite rental portents sent out offers for half-price stays:

Protesters are demanding that the country's prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of deposed right-wing populist Thaksin Shinawatra, resign. Bangkok is filled with demonstrators and police have been escalating the use of force. So far at least three people are dead and over a hundred injured. This evening opposition leader Suthep Thaugsuban of the People's Democratic Reform Committee met with Shinawatra in person and gave her an ultimatum of two days to step down. He's calling for a nationwide strike by civil servants and government employees on Monday. The problem is the widespread corruption that is draining Thailand's economy.
This wave of political unrest started with a blanket amnesty bill pushed through the lower house of parliament in October, which many saw as a ploy to allow Thaksin to return from self-imposed exile.

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets daily, blowing whistles and calling for the bill to be scrapped. Bowing to public pressure, the Thai Senate voted it down Nov. 11, but by then, political scars had reopened, and adversaries of Thaksin saw an opportunity to press their cause.

Thaksin's main opponents come from Bangkok and the south and represent the traditional bureaucratic elite of Thailand. His supporters are largely drawn from the rural, northern parts of the country, where his populist economic policies such as public health care and agricultural subsidies have won him a devoted following.

Once a negligible political force, his base has grown to represent the electoral majority, as Thaksin and his related parties have won every election they've entered since 2001. In 2006, a military coup ousted Thaksin, then the prime minister. And in 2008, Thailand's Constitutional Court dissolved the People's Power Party (PPP), composed primarily of Thaksin allies, over charges of electoral fraud.

In the most recent election, in 2011, Yingluck won in a landslide with a margin of more than 4 million votes out of 26 million cast.

The opposition claims Thaksin has rigged the electoral system and buys votes. Other observers say the traditional elite of Thailand have not come to grips with the reality of a changing country.
23 countries, including the U.S. Canada, the U.K., Russia, Germany and Sweden have warned their nationals that Bangkok isn't safe. Tourism accounts for over 7% of Thailand's GDP, about $28 billion. Travel agencies and tour operators are changing their clients itineraries. So far most tourists who were planning to spend Christmas there seem to be keeping to their plans, although I suspect a lot of people are very nervous right about now.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Top 5 Ways To Keep Your Children Calm At The Airport

-by Hannah Jennings

Having recently published my Travelling with Children Ultimate Travel Guide, I have decided to write a post on keeping your children calm at the airport for the Around The World Blog, for more great tips for travelling with kids check out my ultimate guide on the link above.

Waiting in an airport isn’t fun for anybody. Finding the right check-in area, going through security and keeping an eye on the gate is stressful enough; and if you have rowdy kids in tow, it will only get worse. However, with a little pre-planning, there’s no reason why your children can’t actually relieve some of your stress. These tips will help you keep your kids under control.

Bring travel games

Your kids probably won’t be interested in the perfume counter. Having a few games packed in your hand luggage to keep them entertained in the departure lounge is always a good idea. If you have a tablet, download a few new applications or let them browse the airport Internet. Otherwise, take the classics – travel scrabble and connect four.

Manage their expectations

Always over-anticipate the waiting period. Tell your children well in advance that the plane will probably be late. Get them to expect a long waiting time and they won’t be as frustrated if there actually is a delay.

Get them involved

Give your children a few responsibilities. Getting them to feel more involved with everything will make them feel more adult, which will calm them down during long periods of waiting. Tell them to keep an eye on the departure times to see when the gate opens. Obviously, you shouldn’t rely on their word; it’ll just good to make them feel like they’re helping out.

Let them play

A lot of airports will have play areas and crèche facilities. If they do, let your children play for as long as possible. Knowing they are in one place means that you don’t need to constantly worry about them wondering off. Letting your kids engage in a little physical activity will also tire them out before they board the plane, which is especially beneficial if you’re taking a long haul flight.

Play mind games

Airports are great places for little mind games such as eye spy. Try giving your kids specific tasks. For example, tell one of them to count everyone they see who’s wearing a red coat, and the other to count everyone who has a blue coat, and see who wins after ten minutes. Or get them to guess how long it’ll take to get through security. Use your imagination. There are literally thousands of options out there that will keep your kids entertained. Make some up, or better still, get your kids to make some up!

Getting through the airport is the first hurdle when you’re travelling with children. If they make it through without causing too much trouble, there’s nothing your holiday will throw at you that you won’t be able to handle. Before you start packing, make sure you take these tips into consideration and get yourself prepared. Charge your tablet and phone; pack some travel games; and before you leave, make sure you tell your kids frequently that there’ll probably be some long waiting times at the airport.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Time To Go Back To Mali?

My first e-mail this morning was from Amédé Mulin an architect who build an amazing hotel in Mopti, Mali's second biggest city and it's biggest port. Maki's a landlocked country and Mpti is a river port on the Niger. It kind of reminded me of a cross between Chicago, San Francisco and New Orleans and it defined seedy. Mopti did-- but not Amédé's elegant hotel, La Maison Rouge. Last we heard from him was in July of 2012, when the civil war was bad enough so that pretty much all the hotels that catered to tourists were closed. Today's message-- pardon my crude translation-- is much more up-beat:
La Maison Rouge opens its doors again!

We look forward to the pleasure of welcoming you soon!

You will find attached the rates for the current season.

I remain at your disposal for any information
I sent it to Roland and we reminisced about using Mopti as a base to visit the very primitive Bozo tribe that lives along the banks of the Niger and about the amazing time we had taking a boat out to a Bozo village on a remote island that seemed centuries back in time. Roland said we should go to Mali again. "I think it's safe again," he ventured. It's not. Today was election day in Mali. It didn't go very well, mostly because people were afraid to go to the polls. People rate it as relatively peaceful because only a dozen deaths have been reported so far.
In Kidal, voters on Sunday were prevented from casting ballots by rock-throwing Tuareg separatists. In Goundam, a desert outpost near the fabled city of Timbuktu, armed men stole at least 10 ballot boxes.

And in the region of Gao near the border with Niger, a security official who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press said 16 ethnic Peul were killed in clashes with Tuaregs that occurred one day before the vote. The official said the violence was believed to be related to the death of an elderly Tuareg man about a week ago at the hands of ethnic Peul trying to rob him.

"It's for this reason that armed Tuaregs attacked the Peul in their base near the border with Niger," the official said.

Tuaregs are light-skinned whereas the Peul are black. Many Tuaregs have long clamoured for an independent nation in northern Mali, claiming that Mali's government, based in the south and dominated by the country's black majority, has marginalized them.

Florent Geel, Africa director for the International Federation for Human Rights, also said 16 were killed in Saturday's clashes but added that the organization was waiting on details. He spoke by phone from the capital, Bamako, citing information provided by a member of FIDH in Gao.

As voting got underway in Gao Sunday morning, United Nations peacekeepers and Malian soldiers outnumbered voters, though participation increased somewhat closer to midday.

The turnout appeared to have fallen short of Mali's peaceful presidential election held in July and August, when Malians elected Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to lead the country in a contest that was decided in a runoff.

"Today we have noticed that participation is weak," said Gao prefect Seydou Timbely. "There weren't enough means invested in encouraging the population to come out and vote."

Several voters said recent insecurity in northern Mali was on their minds, notably the Nov. 2 slaying of two journalists from Radio France Internationale who were reporting in Kidal. The lead suspect in that attack has previous ties to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
I mentioned the instability and violence to Roland and he said that's "only" in the north and we've seen enough of Timbuktu anyway. "Let's just go to Djenné. We loved that place." It's true, we did. Here's a picture of Roland I took in front of the big mud mosque there.

But Toronto's Globe and Mail reported in January, that tourism has collapsed entirely and just turned the whole country-- not just the north-- into "a hell."
For years, thousands of tourists flocked to see the unique mud-brick architecture of Djenné, one of the oldest and most beautiful towns in West Africa.

Today the once-thriving industry has collapsed. Almost every hotel and restaurant in Djenné is closed. Tour guides can go for months without seeing a single visitor.

…“We can’t feed our families,” says Badou Magai, a guide in Djenné for the past 10 years. “We’re suffering greatly. Everyone has gone away.”

It’s just one symptom of the crisis in Mali, where a military coup and an Islamist rebellion have devastated the tourism industry and triggered the suspension of most foreign aid, plunging the economy into recession.

Countries like Canada are now mulling a possible military training operation in Mali to push back the rebels. But the military campaign could take years, prolonging the crisis indefinitely.

Until recently, Mali was seen as an economic star on the African continent. Its economy had grown by nearly 5 per cent annually for most of the past decade, with Canadian mining companies among the biggest investors. But its GDP shrank by 1.5 per cent over the past year, according to the latest estimate from the International Monetary Fund, even though its gold and cotton industries were largely unaffected by the northern rebellion.

For people like Mr. Magai, the economic crisis is bringing misery with no end in sight. Kidnappings and political instability have driven away almost all of the foreign tourists, destroying an industry that accounted for 5 per cent of the country’s economy.

Mr. Magai remembers seeing up to 600 tourists a day at peak season in Djenné. The town was a magnet for tourists, offering views of the world’s biggest mud-brick building-- its famed Grande Mosqueé, a masterpiece that UNESCO declared a world heritage site-- and a labyrinth of ancient Sahel-style homes, along with one of Africa’s most famous markets.

The tourists began to vanish after a wave of kidnappings by Islamist radicals in northern Mali in 2010 and 2011. Only a couple of dozen tourists have ventured into Djenné over the past year-- compared to 30,000 tourists in 2005.

The guides have seen their incomes collapse. “It’s hell,” said Ahmadou Cissé, a guide in Djenné who is supporting 12 family members on his rapidly declining income.

Mr. Cissé says he can only afford to give his family one meal a day. He estimates that nearly 100 guides are unemployed in this town of 13,000 people, and more than 1,000 people have lost their jobs or income in the hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops and markets.

Sophie Sarin, owner of the only hotel in Djenné that remains open, says the impact of the crisis has been “disastrous” in a town where tourism represented half of the economy. “People are much poorer,” she said.

In the town of Mopti, a tourism hub on the Niger River to the north of Djenné, foreigners are equally scarce. The biggest hotel, the Kanaga Hotel, is virtually empty. “It’s a catastrophe,” said Amassome Dolo, the hotel’s reception manager.

Despite the tourism collapse, the reality is that towns like Djenné and the Malian capital, Bamako, are still relatively safe today. They are a long way from the rebel-controlled region. But tourism in the entire country has been devastated by the perception of danger, the frequent kidnappings by the rebels and the official warnings issued by Western governments.
We stayed at Sophie's wonderful hotel, the Djenné Djenno, and I'm glad to hear she's safe and her place is open. She's still blogging, which is how I originally met her. And she introduced me to Amédé and his fantastic hotel. Today she wrote that "The elections have one great benefit for Hotel Djenne Djenno: the International Election Observers  are staying at the hotel and eating here too. There are two nice young European men staying: one Hungarian and one Romanian, sent here by the European Union. And then there are two Africans: one from Liberia and one from Sierra Leone. Keita  giggled about this: ‘Those two  great bastions of Democracy and Human Rights are overseeing our elections!’ Malians, inspite of their two year crisis, still feel that they lie well over the West African average when it comes to progress, civilization  and democracy…"

I have a feeling Mali isn't a place I'll be seeing again. Next stop for us: Ecuador.

Monday, October 28, 2013

For the Sandy anniversary, those within reach of the afflicted NY-NJ-CT coastal area are invited to "Light up the shore!"

Blacked-out lower Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, looking northeast, with the tower of the Empire State Building poking up in the background

by Ken

It's an anniversary that has been looming ominously for, well, going on a year.

As it happened, yesterday I was in New Jersey's "Mile-Square City" of Hoboken, on the mostly flatland lip of land below the southern end of the bluffs that rise above the state's Hudson River shoreline, on a wonderful 5½-hour Wolfe Walkers walking tour with the incomparable Justin Ferate, and wherever we went -- at least until we finally reached the high ground overlooking the river where the Stevens Institute of Technology was built, with those spectacular vistas across to Manhattan and up and down the river, and on to the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge -- there were tales of the horrendous flooding from Superstorm Sandy.

In many cases, happily, the flooding stories were accompanied by subsequent stories of gradual restoration and/or rebuilding and reopening. But there were also the cases of not-yet-restored, including the very start of our Hoboken excursion, where the beautiful Erie-Lackawanna Railroad and Ferry Terminal designed by Kenneth Murchison, where connection was once made between trains running to the west and the ferry link to Manhattan. The terminal, which now connects NJ Transit's light-rail lines with the nearby Hoboken station of the PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson) subway line, remains largely closed, including the famous vaulted Waiting Room.

As Justin pointed out in the course of the walk, big storms plowing the Northest tend, for reasons of local geography, to pass over the stretch of coast surrounding New York Harbor, producing the double whammy of a storm like Sandy -- inflicting damage, yes, but not of a kind we're accustomed to.

This scene of course plays out all through the New Jersey-New York-Connecticut coastal region, and of course with special severity in the unprotected shore areas that took the hardest hits, where loss of life was highest and rebuilding has been a maybe-yes, maybe-no proposition, with the prospect of permanent changes in land use and lifestyles.

I thought of sharing some of my memories of the storm days and the aftermath weeks, but they're so much milder than the fates suffered by the hardest-hit folks that somehow they don't seem appropriate. So I was pleased to see an e-mail this morning from the Municipal Art Society with information about a remembrance tomorrow which is called either "Light the Shore" or "Light Up the Shore," depending where you look.
Join Sandy-Impacted Communities to Light Up the Shore!

On Tuesday October 29th -- the anniversary of Superstorm Sandy -- groups from across the region will be lighting up the coastline to acknowledge the impact of the storm and the on-going resilience challenges we collectively face. Groups in Staten Island, Red Hook, Lower East Side, in Connecticut and all down the Jersey shore will join together with flashlights and candles along the coast. The goal is to have the entire Sandy-impacted coastline illuminated!

All communities are welcome to join their friends and neighbors and line the coast in solidarity for a resilient future!  Information about specific community meeting spots and times are shown below:


Time: 6:45pm to 8:15pm

Where: East River Park
• 10th Street (GOLES) will be meeting at 10th Street and Avenue D at 6:45pm to walk to the East River.
• 6th Street (Henry St.) will be meeting at BGR on 6th between FDR and D to walk over at 7ish to the East River.
• Houston Street (FEGS) will meet at Houston and Avenue D at 6:45pm to walk over.


Time: Meeting at 6:30pm, candle-lighting at 7:45pm

• Brighton Beach: Shorefront Y, 3300 Coney Island Ave.
• Canarsie: Canarsie Park 84th & Seaview (6:30pm -- interfaith service; performance by local elementary school and gospel talent; 7:45pm -- candle-lighting)
• Coney Island: West 8th Street & Riegelman Boardwalk (by NY Aquarium, on boardwalk side). Contact: OHEL / Project Hope Rachel Heller,
• Coney Island (2): Stillwell Avenue & Riegelman Boardwalk Point
• Coney Island (3): Coney Island Pier, W. 21st Street & Riegelman Boardwalk
• Coney Island (4): Kaiser Park Pier, W. 33rd St. & Bayview Ave
• Dumbo: corner of Main Street & Plymouth @ entrance to Brooklyn Bridge Park. Point of contact: Alexandria Sica Email:
• Gerritsen Beach: Meet at 7pm at the end of Gerritsen Avenue, on the Shell Bank Creek shoreline. Candle-lighting at 7:45pm
• Red Hook: Coffey Park, Verona St. between Richard St. and Dwight St.
• Red Hook (2): IKEA, 1 Beard Street (join Portside and friends at the water’s edge)
• Sea Gate: Sea Gate Association Beach 42 and Surf Avenue. Contact: 917-586-7006 or
• Sheepshead Bay: 2801 Emmons Avenue


Time: 7:45pm

Where: Light a candle with your neighbor in the closest waterfront to your community in Staten Island.

[See the link for information about an earlier Walk Along the Boardwalk, Community Supper, and Interfaith Servic of Remembrance.]


Time: 6:00pm

• Raritan Bay Waterfront Park, 1 Kennan Way, South Amboy (NJ 101.5 with Raritan Bay Federal Credit Union)
• Keansburg (NJ 101.5)
• Asbury Park Boardwalk: Keansburg 9/11 Memorial , Main Street and Beachway (NJ 101.5 with CentraState and First Atlantic Federal Credit Union)
• Jenkinson’s in Point Pleasant, 300 Ocean Ave. Point Pleasant Beach (94.3 The Point with United Teletech Financial and Zarrilli Homes)
• Bradley Beach, 900 Ocean Ave. (94.3 The Point)
• Seaside Heights, 800 Ocean Terrace (105.7 The Hawk with NJ Outboards and Walters Homes)
• Chef Mike’s ABG in Seaside Park, Island Beach Motor Lodge, 24th and Central Ave, South Seaside Park (92.7 WOBM with Chef Mike’s ABG, Jersey Shore Crawlspace Enhancement, Classic Kitchens,Island Beach Mortor Lodge, Marine Max and DelPrete Construction)
• Mud City Crabhouse, Long Beach Island, Manahawkin, 1185 East Bay Ave. (105.7 The Hawk with Modular Factory Homes Direct)
• Lucy the Elephant, Margate, 9200 Atlantic Ave. (Lite Rock 96.9)
• Ocean City Music Pier, Moorlyn Terrace (Cat Country 107.3 with South Jersey Gas)
• Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, 2500 Boardwalk (97.3 ESPN / WPG 1450 with Atlantic City Electric and Xfinity)
• Laguna Grill & Rum Bar in Brigantine, 1400 Ocean Ave., Brigantine (SoJO 104.9 with Prudential Fox & Roach Real Estate, the "LePera Team"
(Note: No information is provided about Connecticut events, and with a quick search I couldn't find any. But whose to say that Nutmeg Staters can't follow the same prescription as Staten Islanders? "Light a candle with your neighbor in the closest waterfront to your community.")

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Urban Gadabout, L.A. edition: "What's Out There Weekend Los Angeles" is coming, October 26-27!

by Ken

Last October's "What's Out There Weekend New York" was my introduction to the Cultural Landscape Foundation, and it was a pretty good indication that these are serious people when it comes to exploring the ways in which public landscapes are imagined and executed. Oh, there were glitches that seemed mostly owing to the fact that the planning wasn't done locally -- not least the scheduling of this incredibly ambitious program for the same weekend as "Open House New York," which I described here recently, in connection with this year's edition of OHNY, October 12-13, as "probably NYC's most important touring weekend of the year").

But the schedule was an awesome assortment of riches. I spent Saturday exploring Brooklyn's Prospect Park from top to bottom: Grand Army Plaza with Municipal Art Society super-tour leader Matt Postal, then the park's great mile-long central Long Meadow and the Ravine followed by the exciting projects at the southern Lakeside end, both with the park's vice president for design and construction, Christian Zimmerman. (Plus I had scheduled myself then for an across-the-city trek to a tour of the Bronx's Van Cortlandt Park, but I would have needed a more instantaneous exit from Prospect Park to have any hope of making it anywhere near on time.) Then Sunday, after a tour of Staten Island's north shore that was originally planned as an MAS coproduction but wound up as an exclusively MAS event, I got a splendid overview of Queens's Forest Hills Gardens with the development's leading realtor (also a longtime resident). There must have been 20 or 30 other tours listed which I would have loved to do.

TCLF describes itself as "the only not-for-profit (501c3) foundation in America dedicated to increasing the public's awareness and understanding of the importance and irreplaceable legacy of its cultural landscapes."
Through education, technical assistance, and outreach, we broaden awareness of and support for historic landscapes nationwide in hopes of saving this diverse and priceless heritage for future generations. While TCLF seeks donations to support its efforts, it is not a membership organization.

Founded in 1998 by Charles Birnbaum, FASLA, TCLF achieves its mission by:

• Collaborating with individuals and local, regional, and national groups to understand and protect our landscape heritage and to reach the broadest possible audience. For example, TCLF is one of the American Society of Landscape Architects’ “partners in education”;

• Training professionals, students, teachers, and the general public to recognize, document and safeguard America's cultural landscapes;

• Serving as the nation’s largest and most valuable non-profit source of information about our nation’s historic landscapes and those pioneering individuals who have contributed (through design, planning and advocacy) to this legacy;

• Raising awareness of and support for individual landscapes-at-risk; and

• Recognizing and celebrating the efforts of owners, supporters and stewards of significant American places.
I should probably have taken note here of other "What's Out There Weekends" that have been scheduled, but I didn't want to let down readers and friends in the Los Angeles area by failing to sound the alert for this month's upcoming "What's Out There Weekend Los Angeles," offering an opportunity to "explore and discover two dozen historic landscapes in Los Angeles, Pasadena, and Santa Monica through a series of FREE expert-led tours highlighting the region's remarkable landscape legacy."
Landscape Legacy in the City of Angels

Los Angeles' landscape legacy ranges from its Spanish Colonial roots to the present, and includes Asian, Hispanic, and African American heritage. The region is known for its distinct Modernist design legacy, which connects indoors and outdoors in innovative ways, and it also has a unique history of Postmodernist with public spaces that meld architecture, landscape architecture and art into one inseparable unit. Explore LA's design legacy through tours that include entertaining anecdotes and intriguing stories about city shaping, landscape architecture and design history. Many are places people pass daily, but do we know their background stories?

What’s Out There Weekend dovetails with the Web-based What’s Out There, the nation’s most comprehensive searchable database of historic designed landscapes. The database currently features more than 1,400 sites, 9,000 images and 700 designer profiles.  And, What's Out There is newly optimized for iPhones and similar handheld devices, and includes a new feature -- What's Nearby -- a GPS-enabled function that locates all landscapes in the database within a 25-mile radius of any given location.
It's a much less ambitious schedule than WOTW New York, and competition for precious spaces in those two dozen tours is likely to be keen. The list of tours is here:

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Urban Gadabout: Before can go into shutdown, must report: Open House New York listings finally available (and registration begins) tomorrow morning!

by Ken

This shutdown thing sounded like such a neat idea that I was thinking of having one myself. It's true that my normal performance mode is often indistinguishable to the naked eye from shutdown, but for the sake of principle I was prepared to go the extra mile. Until it hit me that in official shutdown mode you don't get paid, and that extra mile I wasn't so eager to go -- how could I afford to?

Besides, the whole matter could be resolved easily by means of a compromise that is both fair and obvious: giving me everything I want. Anyone who doesn't see this is obviously not interested in finding a solution and is an evil person who should probably be killed.

In any case, however, shutdown isn't possible just yet, as it's necessary to report tonight that tomorrow -- that's right, Tuesday, October 2 -- at long last it will be possible to see the complete listings for Open House New York Weekend, October 12-13. Tomorrow is also the start of registration, so people with advance information will already be clogging the Intertubes to grab their places in the "hot" events.

In case you're not familiar with OHNY, here's what I wrote last year. Earlier today I described it to an out-of-town friend as probably NYC's most important touring weekend of the year.

To celebrate the city's architecture and design, the 11th Annual openhousenewyork Weekend will once again unlock the city, allowing New Yorkers and tourists alike free access hundreds of sites talks, tours, performances and family activities in neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs. From private residences and historic landmarks, to hard hat tours and sustainable skyscrapers, OHNY gives you rare access into the extraordinary architecture that defines New York City, while introducing you to the people who make the city a vibrant and sustainable place to live, work, and play.
If you're not familiar with OHNY, the first thing you need to know is that the events are free. It's really impossible to give a fair idea of either the range or quantity of the offerings, which span all five boroughs and include scads of sites that aren't accessible to the public at any other time of the year, or at least are rarely accessible. The events are so numerous that the guide really deseves several weeks of close study.

Only we don't have several weeks, people! Registration starts tomorrow morning!

I assume that at some point in the morning the online version of the OHNY schedule will be reachable via the OHNY "overview" page.

The print version is once again available bound into the current issue of Time Out New York, and can also be picked up at various locations around the city, which are listed here.

Many events require preregistration, if only to control
the number of participants, but lots of others don't

It's true that a cluster of the offerings will attract high-level interest, and theyre usually not hard to recognize. If, for example, you see that Mayor Bloomberg is hosting a session on "Achievements of the Bloomberg Administration" in his living room, with coffee cake and tea served, assume that it will fill up in seconds of the start of registration (if not sooner). Remember too that these are some pretty sophisticated folks scouring the listings, and the ones that represent truly unusual access to a distinctive site are also going to be heavily subscribed.

At the same time, many events will be offered at multiple times, and in addition there are going to be lots of events that will attract much more limited response. I'm going to go out on a limb and venture that this will include many of the most interesting ones. They just don't have the raw pizzazz of the "hot ticket" events, but they may go a lot farther toward filling in your picture of how the city functions.

There's also OHNY Kids -- "tours and workshops for the whole family." Plus there's bike tours, and "opendialogue" events ("on-site talks and tours led by architects, designers, planners and scholars and a photo competition"). and who knows what all else. Usually I find there are so many offerings I'd love to do that it serves as fodder for my own explorations for the year leading up to the next OHNY.

OHNY has a blog that has been featuring previews
of events planned for this year's OHNY Weekend:

@rtifacts illuminated, General Grant National Memorial, Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, Urban Stargazing at Woodlawn Cemetery (how cool is that?), Little Red Lighthouse, Trinity Church Bell Tower, Jefferson Market Library Tower, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, TroutHouse, Bronx Library Center, Citi Bike Warehouse (that's in Sunset Park, Brooklyn), Urban Post-Disaster Housing Prototype, PS 41 -- The Greenwich Village School Greenhouse Roof, Kathryn Scott Design Studio Brownstone, Suchi Reddy Apartment, Gwathmey Siegel Architects Apartment, Desai Chia Architecture Loft, Brad Zizmor Residence.

The Citi-Bike Warehouse in Sunset Park

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Kabul's Very Historic Garden Of Fidelity

2 paintings of Babur laying out the gardens

I was lucky I got to travel through Afghanistan when I did, in 1969 and again 1971. After that the whole thing blew up and today when Westerners think of Afghanistan, they think of off an ugly, dusty, crumbling, violent landscape. When I think of the "best" countries I ever visited, Afghanistan is always high on the list. And countries get on that list because of the people more than anything else. The Afs were always incredibly friendly and hospitable, even when I got thrown into jail for trying to smuggle 50 kilos of hash out of the country in my van.

Unfortunately, in the last decades Afghanistan hasn't been a place for foreign visitors. A Taliban spokesman a few months ago: “It is part of our war strategy to target any foreign citizen whose country has a military presence in Afghanistan and enters our country without permission from the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan." A few tourists go anyway, maybe 100 a year, fewer than when I was first there in 1969. A Canadian couple disappeared and haven't been heard of since. Another two were a wealthy Russian couple, who hired an armored car and bodyguards at $1,500 a day, stayed in the $356-a-night Kabul Serena Hotel, toured the Panjshir Valley, and went home on schedule.
Like tourism industries anywhere, Afghan tourism does have its boosters. “The security situation is fairly stable, and tourists who visit are fairly comfortable and they are pleased when they see a hotel of this standard,” said Shahryar T. Khan, the general manager of the Kabul Serena Hotel, which has five stars and “world-class security measures.”

The 177-room hotel runs at 64 percent occupancy, Mr. Khan said, and tourists make up an increasing share of the guests. “Of course, from zero it’s gone up to 1 percent.” The Serena has twice been attacked by terrorists, and in 2008 Taliban insurgents killed six guests in an attack aimed at the hotel’s health spa.
Ghulam Nabi Farahi, the deputy minister of tourism says “Afghanistan is a country very suitable for attracting tourists. It’s a place where tourists can have all their wishes come true.” And he insists that there have been no recent cases of tourists attacked or kidnapped. The WikiTravel site for Afghanistan has a bold warning on top telling would be visitors that travel there "is extremely dangerous, and independent travel/sightseeing is emphatically discouraged."

But this week, a friend turned me on to a blog by Barbara Wells Sarudy who expresses a beautiful historical appreciation for Afghanistan-- or at least for the Afghanistan of the 1500s-- and from a unique perspective.
The Bagh-e Vafa (Garden of Fidelity) was Babur's first garden in what is now Afghanistan. He wrote in his memoirs, "In 1508-09, I had constructed a charbagh garden called Bagh-i-Wafa on a rise to the south of the Adianapur fortress. It overlooks the river, which flows between the fortress and the garden. It yields many oranges, citroens and pomegranates."

What is known about its design also comes from Babur's memoirs, "There oranges, citrons and pomegranates grow in abundance...I had plantains brought and planted there; they did vedry well. The year before I had had sugar cane planted there; it also did well...The garden lies high, has running water close at hand, and a mild winter climate. In the middle of it, a one-mill stream flows constantly past the little hill on which are the four garden plots. In the southwest part of it there is a reservoir ten by ten, round which are orange-trees and a few pomegranates, the whole encircled by a trefoil meadow. This is the best part of the garden, a most beautiful sight when the oranges take color."

This type of garden, called a charbagh, was described earlier in an account from Sir John Mandeville’s travels into the East, c. 1370, “And this Paradise is enclosed all about with a wall…and in the most high place of Paradise, even in the middle place, is a well that casteth out the four floods that run by divers lands. Of the which, the first is clept Pison, or Ganges, that is all one; and it runneth throughout Ind or Emlak, in the which river be many precious stones, and much of lignum aloes and much gravel of gold. And that other river is clept Nilus or Gison, that goeth by Ethiopia and after by Egypt. And that other is clept Tigris, that runneth by Assyria and by Armenia the great. And that other is clept Euphrates, that runneth also by Media and Armenia and by Persia. And men there beyond say, that all the sweet waters of the world, above and beneath, take their beginning of the well of Paradise, and out of that well all waters come and go.”

Charbagh is a Persian-style garden layout. The quadrilateral garden is divided by walkways or flowing water into four smaller parts. In Persian, "Char" means "four" and "bagh" means "garden." Chahrbagh originated from the time of Achaemenid Persia. Greek historians, such as Herodotus and Xenophon, give extensive accounts of Cyrus the Great's palatial city of Pasargadae and his four-gardens.

The Gardens of Babur, also called Bagh-e Babur, is today a historic park in Kabul, Afghanistan, and also the last resting-place of the first Mughal emperor Babur. The gardens are thought to have been developed in the early 1500s, when Babur gave orders for the construction of an "avenue garden" in Kabul, described in some detail in his memoirs, the Baburnama.  Today, many species chosen for replanting are specifically mentioned in the Baburnama, including walnut, cherry, quince, mulberry and apricot trees.

The Baburnama was the first autobiography in the Muslim world. It is the memoir of Zahir ud-Din Muhammad Babur (1483-1530), founder of the Mughal Empire & a great-great-great-grandson of Timur. It is an autobiographical work, originally written in the Chagatai language, known to Babur as "Turki" (Turkic), the spoken language of the Andijan-Timurids. Because of Babur's cultural origin, his prose is highly Persianized & contains many phrases & smaller poems in Persian. By 1590, the autobiography was completely translated to Persian by a Mughal courtier, Abdul Rahim, in AH (Hijri) 998 (1589-90). Babur & his successors introduced a level of Persian sophistication into Northern India, founding the last dynasty of India, the Mughal Dynasty.

Babur begins his story at age 12. His father had died, & he had inherited & lost a kingdom in the lush Ferghana Valley north of Afghanistan. As a teenager, Babur captured Samarkand, only to lose it. In his early 20s, Babur seemed to strategize more. He took to the forests, where he lived for 3 years, slowly building & training an army. He had an Empire to establish.

When he was ready, he crossed the Hindu Kush mountain range, & captured Kabul, a city he grew to love. In his autobiography, he described Kabul, “It is a pretty little province, completely surrounded by mountains. This province is a mercantile center. From India, caravans of 10, 15, 20 thousand pack animals brings slaves, textiles, sugar, & spices. Many Kabul merchants would not be satisfied with 300 or 400% profit! Goods from Iraq, Antonia, China, [& beyond] can be found in Kabul.”

While in Kabul, he designed a garden. Gardens were part of his homeland, which he missed. There, they tended to be walled enclosures with water channels which ran at regular intervals, cross-sections. And that’s what he recreated, a garden with terraces & running water. The water adds background noise & the fragrance from blossoms, as it cools. When he brought water to the dry, dusty landscape, it became fertile. Water transforms the land into an image of paradise. The Garden of Eden, the Promised Land.

Despite his adoration of Kabul & his garden, Babur was not ready to retire. He conquered Kandahar, another wealthy city along prosperous trade routes. He crossed the Oxus River & conquered his ancestral lands of the Ferghana Valley. He then set his sights on India. He used the newest technologies; & his battalion of 12,000 was able to defeat an army of 100,000. He sacked what is today Northern India. He & his descendants ruled the subcontinent for 3 centuries, instilling a legacy of Persian culture & Islamic faith.

"If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this!" reads the inscription on Babur’s tomb in his Kabul Garden. Babur died in Northern India, but was later brought back to Kabul & was laid to rest in his beloved garden.
I don't recall ever seeing it. Now I want to go back to check it out!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

In Vietnam "Pet Food" Has A Whole Different Meaning Than It Does Here

I haven't been in Vietnam for years but I don't remember any restaurants serving dog meat in Ho Chi Minh City or anywhere else we went. A report this weekend in The Guardian makes it clear that eating dog meat is a very common occurrence there and that "every year, hundreds of thousands of pets are snatched in Thailand, then smuggled into Vietnam, destined for Hanoi's top restaurants and street stalls. Demand for dogmeat is so high that supply has become a highly lucrative-- and brutal-- black market." When I first started traveling in Asia in 1969, the first important survival lesson I learned was, don't eat the meat.
Down the leafy streets of north Hanoi's Cau Giay district, not far from Nguyen's family business, sits one of the city's most famous restaurants, Quan Thit Cho Chieu Hoa, which has only one thing on the menu. There's dog stew, served warm in a soup of blood; barbecued dog with lemongrass and ginger; steamed dog with shrimp-paste sauce; dog entrails sliced thin like sausage; and skewered dog, marinated in chilli and coriander. This is just one of a number of dogmeat restaurants in Cau Giay, but it is arguably the most revered, offering traditional dishes in a quiet setting along a canal.

"I know it seems weird for me to eat here when I have my own dogs at home and would never consider eating them," says Duc Cuong, a 29-year-old doctor, as he wraps a sliver of entrails in a basil leaf and takes a bite. "But I don't mind eating other people's dogs." He swallows and clears his throat. "Dog tastes good and it's good for you."

No one knows exactly when the Vietnamese started eating dog, but its consumption-- primarily in the north-- underlines a long tradition. And it is increasingly popular: activists claim up to 5 million of the animals are now eaten every year. Dog is the go-to dish for drinking parties, family reunions and special occasions. It is said to increase a man's virility, warm the blood on cold winter nights and help provide medicinal cures, and is considered a widely available, protein-rich, healthy alternative to the pork, chicken and beef that the Vietnamese consume every day.

Some diners believe the more an animal suffers before it dies, the tastier its meat, which may explain the brutal way dogs are killed in Vietnam-- usually by being bludgeoned to death with a heavy metal pipe (this can take 10 to 12 blows), having their throats slit, being stabbed in the chest with a large knife, or being burned alive. "I've got footage of dogs being force-fed when they get to Vietnam, a bit like foie gras," says John Dalley, a lanky British retiree who heads the Thailand-based Soi Dog Foundation, which works to stop the dogmeat trade in south-east Asia. "They shove a tube into their stomach and pump solid rice and water in them to increase their weight for sale." Nguyen has a simpler method for bumping profits: "When we want to increase the weight, we just put a stone in the dog's mouth." He shrugs, before opening up his cage for another kill.

The government estimates that there are 10 million dogs in Vietnam, where dogmeat is more expensive than pork and can be sold for up to £30 a dish in high-end restaurants. Ever-increasing demand has forced suppliers to look beyond the villages where dogs have traditionally been farmed and out to towns and cities all over Vietnam. Dog-snatching-- of strays and pets-- is so common now that thieves are increasingly beaten, sometimes to death, by enraged citizens. Demand has also spread beyond the country, sparking a multimillion-pound trade that sees 300,000 dogs packed every year into tight metal cages in Thailand, floated across the Mekong to Laos, then shuttled for hundreds of miles through porous jungle borders, without food or water, before being killed in Vietnamese slaughterhouses.

This is a black-market industry, managed by an international mafia and facilitated by corrupt officials, so it is little wonder activists have struggled to curb it. "At first it was just a handful of small traders wanting to make a small profit," says Roger Lohanan of the Bangkok-based Thai Animal Guardians Association, which has been investigating the dogmeat trade since 1995. "But now this business has become a fundamental export. The trade is tax-free and the profit 300-500%, so everybody wants a piece of the cake."

...In Hanoi, dog restaurants generally huddle together, with signs bearing a dog's head, or a roasted dog's torso hanging from a large metal hook. Along Tam Trinh, a stretch of road south of the city, dozens of roadside stalls sell roasted dog to customers arriving by motorbike and on foot, with lines sometimes 10 deep. Teenagers in basketball shorts chop up the dogmeat with heavy butchers' knives, sprinkling on a potent seasoning of curry powder, chilli, coriander, dill and shrimp paste, before skewering the meat to be barbecued. In the shop run by Hoa Mo-- a 63-year-old woman who has spent her entire life selling dogmeat-- a man is handed a plastic bag containing 12 dog paws. "My wife just gave birth but she's having trouble lactating," he explains. "There's an old recipe that calls for boiling the paws in a soup; we'll use that to help get her going again."

Each stall owner buys from suppliers who provide as many as 100 dogs a day, yet none of them knows where or how the dogs are sourced. Only one worker, Sy Le Vanh, a boyish 18-year-old slicing up carcasses at a family-run stall, says the dogs "must be Vietnamese". "I'm pretty sure our supplier used to get dogs from Thailand and Laos," he says, "but they were always so scrawny."

Pet ownership is still relatively new in Vietnam-- dogs here have traditionally been reared for either food or security purposes-- so campaigners have chosen to scrap the "cruelty" argument in favour of emphasising dogmeat's effect on people's health. It has been linked to regional outbreaks of trichinosis, cholera and rabies, a point activists underscore as the region looks to eradicate rabies by 2020. At the first international meeting on the dogmeat trade in Hanoi in late August, lawmakers and campaigners from Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam agreed on a five-point plan, including a five-year moratorium on the cross-border transportation of dogs for commercial purposes, in order to research the impact on rabies transmission.

...[R]esearchers stress the historical human-dog bond and point to dogs' intelligence, using examples such as Chaser-- a border collie whose vocabulary includes more than 1,000 English words-- to prove their mental capacities are comparable to those of two-year-old children. But apologists say it is hypocritical for a culture that eats sheep, cows, pigs and chickens to draw the line at dogs. Pigs, for instance, do as well as primates in certain tests and are said by some scientists to be more advanced than dogs, yet many of us eat bacon without a second thought.

This is circuitous reasoning, as Jonathan Safran Foer has argued in his book Eating Animals. He points to dogs as a plentiful and protein?rich food source, and asks: "Can't we get over our sentimentality?" He continues: "Unlike all farmed meat, which requires the creation and maintenance of animals, dogs are practically begging to be eaten. If we let dogs be dogs, and breed without interference, we would create a sustainable, local meat supply with low energy inputs that would put even the most efficient grass-based farming to shame."

His is an argument unlikely to win over many fans in the UK, the world's first country, in 1822, to make laws protecting animals from cruelty. It is a confounding issue, in part because it involves comparing cross-cultural mores with no clear answer. As the Australian philosopher Peter Singer put it in his 1975 work Animal Liberation: "To protest about bullfighting in Spain, the eating of dogs in South Korea, or the slaughter of baby seals in Canada while continuing to eat eggs from hens who have spent their lives crammed into cages, or veal from calves who have been deprived of their mothers, their proper diet and the freedom to lie down with their legs extended, is like denouncing apartheid in South Africa while asking your neighbours not to sell their houses to blacks."

Curious as to how this philosophy might play in Vietnam, I ask Duc Cuong, the doctor eating at the dogmeat restaurant, if it makes any difference to him that his meal could be someone's pet. "No," he says. "It's not my pet, so I don't really care."
Other countries where you might find dog on the menu include China, South Korea, Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria... and both Canada and Switzerland!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Urban Gadabout: World Tourism Day is this Friday -- so go someplace! (I have some NYC thoughts)

by Ken

No, I don't know anything more about "World Tourism Day," and I'm not interested enough to research it. But I do know what it means to me, and one thing it doesn't mean is booking a $10K fancy-pants trip to some exotic destination.

For reasons that probably wouldn't interest anyone but me, regular travel-style tourism isn't terribly workable for me, but as "Urban Gadabout" readers know only too well, I've become a firm believer in the "tourist in your own city" approach, and if I did have occasion to travel, I would probably try to do it the way I've been doing my local gadding. I expect that in more and more places there are more and more opportunities for walking and other kinds of tours that explore an area's past and present, appreciating what's there now and understanding how it came to be there.


As I mentioned in my recent post "Catching up with Jack Eichenbaum," Jack -- who's the Queens Borough Historian -- had to postpone this tour from its original July date. People are probably more familiar with Jack's more or less annual "World of the #7 Train," a day-long trek along the subway line that goes from Times Square to Flushing. Awhile back he brought back his "Day on the J train," to Brooklyn and Queens, and now for the first time in a decade or so he's doing Brooklyn's Brighton line.
Brighton Line Memoirs meandering off the Q train

Saturday, September 28, 10am-5:30pm

This is a series of five walks and connecting rides along what was once the Brooklyn, Flatbush and Coney Island RR dating to 1878. Walks take place in Prospect Park, Brighton Beach, along Avenue U, in Ditmas Park and Central Flatbush. Lunch is in Brighton Beach where you can picnic on the Boardwalk. Tour fee is $39 and you need to preregister by check to Jack Eichenbaum, 36-20 Bowne St. #6C, Flushing, NY 11354 (include name, phone and email address) Get the full day’s program and other info by email The tour is limited to 25 people. Don’t get left out!
As I also reported in that post, although the last I heard Jack still had a fair amount of space, "The way it often works is that there's a flurry of registrations as the date closes in, and people wind up getting closed out. You don't want that to happen to you, do you?"


I still don't know of any better place to start exploring the city than MAS's tours (what's posted now is the schedule through November), and while a bunch of tours for the coming weekend are already sold out, the last time I looked there was still space in:

Harlem Hike: 145th Street from Hotel Olga to Sugar Hill
Eric K. Washington

Saturday, 11am-1pm

Prowling the War of 1812 Seaport
Kathleen Hulser

Sunday, 11am-1pm

Note: I've done Eric Washington's 145th Street "hike" and loved it -- and also his "Harlem Grab Bag," of which there's another edition coming up Saturday, October 12.


I worried that I jumped the gun in providing a link for the fall 2013 Wolfe Walkers brochure, which I'd unearthed while doing my own Web rummaging, but Justin Ferate (who has been organizing the Wolfe Walkers program for some years now) finally attached the brochure to a list e-mail. (And if you're not on Justin's list, you're missing out on a wealth of information. Sign up now.) As it happens, there's hardly any time left till the first event on the agenda, "57th Street: Art! Music! Culture!," this Saturday the 28th at 1pm ("to approximately 4pm").
57th Street has long been a treasure trove of artistic, musical, and cultural delights. We discover the history, legends, and lore of this fascinating thoroughfare. Among the various sites will be Trump Tower, Tiffany’s, the Fuller Building, the Solow Building, Carnegie Hall, Steinway Hall, the Art Students’ League, and a selection of art galleries. Rediscover old friends, discover remnants of the street’s residential past, and view high-end new buildings. Tour will include several special interior visits.

Meet: Inside the entrance of Trump Tower, located on the east side of Fifth Avenue, between East 56th and East 57th Streets. A coffee restaurant and restrooms are available inside the building.

Fee: $23 on-site (by check to Hermine Watterson)
I've spent a lot of time on various stretches of 57th Street, and I'll bet it would be special to be able to see it through Justin's eyes, not to mention those promised "special interior visits." During the ominous weekend last October when the Northeast was girding for Hurricane Sandy, and the Municipal Art Society prudently canceled its tours, I found myself suddenly free to hook up with Justin's Halloween Greenwich Village "ghost" walk. I don't have much interest in ghosts, but I realized I'd never done a walk in the Village with Justin, and his view was bound to be different from any I'd experienced. It was, it was.

As it happens, this walk is scheduled on the same day as Jack Eichenbaum's "Brighton Line Memoirs," so I can't do it, but I'll bet that people who do won't ever look at this grand old street the same way. It's too late to take advantage of the discount for advance registration, so just show up at the meeting place (see above) with that check for $23 made out to Hermine Watterson.

Tomorrow Justin's giving a lecture at the Merchant's
House Museum on "The Real Gangs of New York"

It's a "19th Century Lifeways Lecture," "marking the 150th anniversary of the New York Draft Riots, the bloodiest urban insurrection of 19th Century America," tomorrow night, September 26, at 6:30pm. Justin will "examine the social pressures and misguided public policies that led to the powder keg that exploded in the streets of New York in July of 1863."

The Merchant's House Museum at 29 East 4th Street is a unique destination in its own right, not just for the survived 1832 Federal-style house itself but for the remarkable circumstance that a house worth's of furnishings and possessions from the family that lived there for almost a century has also been preserved. The lecture is free to museum members, $15 to others. For more information and registration, go to the museum's Calendar of Events.


One of the sites planned for Saturday's "Far Side" tour

Green-Wood is a reminder of the days before we had major parks, when cemeteries on the outskirts of the city were places where harried urbanites went for a day's outing in nature, and Brooklyn's Green-Wood was in fact the prototype for New York City's first great parks, Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted's Central Park (Manhattan) and Prospect Park (up the Terminal Moraine a piece in Brooklyn). Green-Wood has an active tour and events schedule, and while Sunday's "Historic Trolley Tour" is sold out, on Saturday at 1pm there's an intriguing-looking trolley tour called "The Far Side of Green-Wood," which will visit "sites not included on many other Green-Wood tours."

*     *    *

That's just some off-the-top-my-head thoughts, and just for the coming weekend. Don't neglect to check these folks' ongoing schedules -- including that of one of my favorite tour sources, the New York Transit Museum.