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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.