Showing posts with label global warming. Show all posts
Showing posts with label global warming. Show all posts

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Recommended Reading for Thoughtful Americans: "The Limits of Power" by Andrew J. Bacevich

Andrew J. Bacevich
I have wanted to read the book "The Limits of Power" ever since hearing Andrew J. Bacevich at the Wisconsin Book Festival a few years back. An idea he expressed there that made my jaw drop was that America's empire building was the activity of citizens uninterested in reforming their own nation.

Referring to the work of United States theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (author of the serenity prayer), Bacevich felt expansionist militaristic activity represented almost an addict's way of denying the reality that there are "limits to power."

His book was just as compelling as the talk I had originally heard. I admired his ability to dissect American thinking from within America.

Bacevich urges readers not to look to their politicians with blame for their dependence on foreign oil, necessary military expansion to access it, and demands that the world conform to America's way of thinking. He argues the politicians have just sold Americans what they want to buy: a foreign policy based on grandiosity without the budget or wherewithal to achieve it.
“History will not judge kindly a people who find nothing amiss in the prospect of endless armed conflict so long as they themselves are spared the effects. Nor will it view with favor an electorate that delivers political power into the hands of leaders unable to envision any alternative to perpetual war.
Rather than insisting the world accommodate the United States, Americans need to reassert control over their own destiny, ending their condition of dependency and abandoning their imperial delusions. “ - page 13
I found this to be deeply inspiring, deeply patriotic reading. Bacevich asks Americans to ask more of themselves. Bacevich's book made me want to read everything else he has written. He has a new book soon to come out called "Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country."
"The Limits of Power" is part of a whole series of titles called "The American Empire Project" devoted to asking Americans to consider whether empire is the highest expression of the American idea. More titles can be found at
If you would like to hear an interview with Andrew J. Bacevich from when the book was published, click here for part one. To learn more about this public intellectual who attracts interest from both sides of the political aisle, click here. 
Andrew J. Bacevich believes Americans are still in denial and not ready to face that we are choosing a life of dependency on foreign oil and credit. He says there is nothing in the preamble to the Constitution to try and "remake the World in our image" and our perpetual war to 'spread freedom' actually detracts from freedom at home.
While Americans view our projection of military power as a strength, Bacevich actually argues our perpetual war is a way of delaying our acknowledgement that we have chosen to squander our power (and our moral authority, when we choose global preemptive war) for our generation and generations to come.
An example from the book of what Americans should be working on vs. what we are working on:
For the United States, abolishing nuclear weapons ought to be an urgent national security priority. So too should preserving our planet. These are the meta-challenges of our time. Addressing them promises to be the work of decades. Yet ridding the world of nuclear weapons is likely to prove far more plausible and achievable than ridding the world of evil [something Bush said he would do - an example of American foreign policy grandiosity]. Transforming humankind's relationship to the environment, which will affect the way people live their daily lives, can hardly prove more difficult than transforming the Greater Middle East, which requires changing the way a billion or more Muslims think. -page 178
What do you think? Is American engagement with the world attempting that which we can not pay for or even accomplish (eliminating evil, establishing Western democracy in countries that don't have it)? What's your view? How would America go about changing our priorities, especially when continuing with perpetual war and lack of reform benefits those in power?
You may also be interested these other posts:

Friday, August 10, 2012

How Hot Is it In Istanbul? Part 2

These guys gathered a small crowd
of cheerleaders at the bottom of the stairs

News comes from America that it has been the hottest July on record. I believe it. Truly, it had to have been equally hot here in Istanbul. The heat has made animals and people alike want to move as little as possible. Only 5% of Istanbul is air-conditioned.

But what if it is your job to work outdoors in this crushing heat? These workers were moving a generator up to the 5th floor of the building being renovated on the right on one of the most intensively hot days of the summer. A crowd of us gathered at the bottom of the stairs as the guy on the lowest stair used a wood board for a lever and they slowly moved the generator up one stair at a time through team work as coordinated as a coxswain and rowers. Us office gawkers were a bit horrified at the level of intensity required on such a hot day. Add in that it was Ramazan here, and these men could possibly be fasting from sunrise to sunset. We all let out a cheer when they cleared the landing. It seemed appropriate to acknowledge the effort under such circumstances!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

My 7 Links Blog Project

Thanks to Miss Footloose (aka Karen van der Zee) I've been invited to participate in the My 7 Links project organized by Tripbase, the wonderful organization that has recognized both our blogs with Expat Blog of the Year awards.

In this post, I am sharing 7 of my old posts you might not have discovered yet, at the end I list five other bloggers I've nominated to do the same.

My Most Beautiful Post - This is from one spectacular afternoon overlooking the Vltava River in Prague with my friend Sher. If you know nothing about Prague, this will help you understand why people fall in love with it. A Springtime Stroll Around Letna Park

My Most Popular Post - I'm deeply committed to doing what I can as an individual consumer and citizen to prevent climate change.  So I decided to sell my car and live without it.  Then one day I realized I had survived just fine without it for quite awhile. Starting My Third Year Without A Car

My Most Controversial Post -Looking back, I can't say I write very controversial posts. This one might not be the kindest one I've ever written, and I did try to put the behavior I was describing into historical  context. Little Corruptions

My Most Helpful Post - The American lifestyle has a cost structure that feels unsustainable to me. In this post, I try to help Americas imagine a lower cost structure. The Czech Republic is the same size as South Carolina.  Imagine if you were able to travel around a state the size of South Carolina for $400 a year.  How the Czech Government Delighted Me As A Consumer

The Post Whose Success Surprised Me The Most - Who knew a visit to a gift shop would generate such discussion? My post The Swedish Tourist Attraction That Did Not Attract Me ended up featured on the Displaced Nation Blog where ABC News Royal Correspondent Jane Green and I debated the idea of monarchy. 

A Post I feel Didn't Get the Attention It Deserved - Is it my idea? Or my blog post? What do I need, pictures? I only received two commented on this post, and I still like my idea.  Why not give the opposite of a Nobel Prize to countries that could use, well, an intervention?
Does the World Need the Opposite of a Nobel Peace Prize?

A Post I am Most Proud Of - In 2009, I was struck how my Czech friends felt their opinions were ignored on a proposed American missile system that was slated for installation in their country.  I wrote a blog post asking President Obama to come to the Czech Republic and either sell them on it or announce it would end.

He came, gave an amazing speech, and won the Nobel Prize. And the anti-missile system moved away from the Czech Republic. What a win/win.  All because of my blog post!

I hope you're smiling here. I don't actually believe President Obama came to Prague because of my blog post. But I was contacted by the BBC to provide commentary about his speech (didn't happen due to logistics) because their producers had been reading my blog.

I do feel I showed my Czech friends, feeling their way through their new democracy, that taking action makes you feel better rather than being paralyzed.  They marveled that I felt I could effect positive change.  They didn't (which is exactly what politicians want you to think cause then you'll leave everything to them).
Dear President Obama, Please Come to the Czech Republic

I live for comments so tell me what you think!

Here are the links to five blogs I've nominated to join the project:

Adventures in the Czech Republic

Black Girl in Prague

Blogging Gelle

Ricky Yates

Senior Dogs Abroad

Thursday, January 21, 2010

How Czech Government Delighted Me As a Consumer

"Can you tell me," asked my native-Czech student shyly near the end of a lesson one day, "anything you see here that is better than in your country?"

"Can I? YES!" I answered enthusiastically. "Czech people haven't the faintest idea how FABULOUS their transportation networks are. They are simply amazing."

Hlavni Nadrazi
the Main Prague Train Station
 What I admire:

1) Czech transport makes Czechs more competitive. Here's why: In America, it is suggested that 15% of the average household budget be devoted to paying for transportation. That usually includes cars for both parents and possibly for any teenagers living at home, car insurance, gasoline, and licenses for the car and drivers. That's 15% of American salaries, which run higher than Czech salaries.

Czechs don't need to spend so much of their salaries on transportation because it's possible to survive, indeed thrive, without a car. Not only can companies locate in the Czech Republic and get high-quality, hard-working, highly educated, often multi-lingual employees, it's possible to pay them less because they don't have these household costs that exist in America.

How low are the transport costs in the Czech Republic? Envision living in a city of 1.3 million and paying a mere $300 a year to get around. And if you want to be able to travel through the entire country (similar in size to the U.S. state of South Carolina), an annual train pass is only $100 more! Can you imagine, my fellow Americans, being able to get around your entire state for only $400? As far as I can tell, Czechs spend around 8.8% of their salaries on transportation.  What a competitive advantage in the global fight for jobs!

On the Hlavni Nadrazi
train platform
where you can catch a train to Plzen
or another city or village 

The comfortable seats
on a City Elephant Train
What's missing: stress!

Czechs have the most extensive rail network density in the entire EU.  Railways were built to transport the military in the 19th century.  A CFO for a construction company pointed out to me Communist government also made it easy to create this incredible system of national and metro railways because the apparatchiks just 'appropriated' whatever property was needed from the citizenry. Property owners weren't compensated. If a government such as mine were to develop this today paying retail prices to property owners, the cost would be exorbitant.  Bummer.

Right up this Metro escalator
is one of Prague's newest malls.
Prague kids don't need their parents
to drive them there.

The kids can't get in too much trouble.
See those spiky things?
There will be no sliding down that shiny metal
all the way from the top!

2) Czech parents don't have to be chauffeurs! When children are between the ages of 10-16, American parents spend their "free" time chauffeuring them from one activity to another. Think about this, America.  Imagine your city safe enough that your 10-year-old and his friends could get on the metro and go to hockey practice without you driving them there! Yes, remarkably, Prague is that safe.  Tweens and teens travel on the metro and trams unchaperoned as they pursue their interests.  When Czech children are free to explore the city, Czech parents have a vested interest in making sure that all parts of the city are safe, not just their neighborhood. Surely, that lessens crime.

Czech students on a field trip
using the Prague metro
to get from Point A to Point B
3) Superb public transportation facilitates learning outside of a classroom. It's a giant hassle to take kids on a field trip in America.  The teacher has to coordinate a school bus, discuss it with all the other teachers, get liability release forms from each parent, etc., etc.  Plus securing that bus is all dependent on whether or not there is budget for it that year.  Is it any wonder field trips are dying out? In the Czech Republic, the teacher can just take her class on ever-present public transit that serves everyone! No need to call ahead and order a bus just for her and her kids.  Kids don't need school buses to take them to school either.  They ride the metro like everybody else.

Poetry in the Metro

4) Public transportation creates readers which is good for democracy and good for wealth creation.  One issue poor families face in America is 'a poverty of print.'  No books in the household and no billboards even in their neighborhoods (companies don't bother advertising to folks with no disposable income).  Low-income children don't start kindergarten with the pre-literacy skills developed by observing readers and reading materials on a daily basis.  A sight seen again and again on Czech transport is a variety of people greedily opening their book with such reverence it reinforces the message that reading is fun. At-risk kids in the Czech Republic have other role models beside their parents.  I've even see Czech parents use that transit time to read to their kids!

All those readers create a healthy market for print newspapers and weeklies which is great for democracy.

Good readers grow up to earn 20% more than average readers. Constant reading builds up a skill critical to wealth creation.

5) Public transportation is safer than driving. Americans curtail their activities because they fear driving when drinkers could be on the road.  I went out with full confidence on New Year' Eve in Prague because I knew I didn't have to worry about dangerous people on the road. It's a little crazy, isn't it, to deprive ourselves of activities because we fear driving?

A new, less predictable, driving danger is becoming known: texting while driving. It results in driving so distracted it is the equivalent of twice the impairment of driving while intoxicated.  Why not bring laptops and electronic devices on public transit to use that time to accomplish work undistracted rather than try to work and drive at the same time?

6) Public transportation creates a pedestrian culture that limits obesity.  I offer my own experience.  Twenty pounds lost in the Czech Republic in six months without trying! But think of the money slimmer people save the country's health care budgets with less chronic diseases caused by overeating and inactivity.

Life goes on!
Here a Czech takes home
a Christmas tree on the metro

 7) Public transportation limits human isolation. You know how people who have just broken up with someone have a grudge against the opposite gender?  It would be hard to keep that attitude alive using Czech public transit. You may not be in love, but everyone else is.  My goodness, I've never seen so much public smooching in my life! On the metro, you'll see couples in love, families moving their household furniture, students studying madly for a test, and people on their way to a potluck with a dish balanced on their lap.  I think it's healthy and gets people outside of their own head to see the wonderful parade of humanity that happens on the metro.  It's a conversational banquet too.  I can't count the number of interesting five-minute conversations I had with perfect strangers on the metro!

The futuristic feel
of the Prague Metro
is part of the fun

8) The Czech Republic is already armed with an infrastructure that limits global warming. Every family that uses public transit saves 20 lbs. of carbon emissions annually from entering the atmosphere. Czech people already have it built!

9) Public transit keeps the air cleaner. - the street my language school was on was like a valley of trapped car exhaust.  I'm sure vehicle traffic has made the air in Prague less healthy for the people who live there.

10)Public transit creates a very livable city. In a city of 1.3 million people, I could go home for lunch!  That's what delights me the most.  The incredible, extensive transport network allowed me to move into Prague without a car and get about the city without any anxiety.  An English teacher in Prague gets to know how to use the metro, trams, and buses in combination with each other so extensively it would be normal to get from one side of Prague to another in 20 minutes.  If I was going someplace new I just used a first-class website to help plan the trip.  All included in my $22 a month transit pass.

An elevated Metro tube
headed into Luziny Metro stop
in Prague
The Challenge for Czechs

Czech families with the funds available are purchasing cars.  Because that strata, articulate in their demands, tends to get listened to in a democracy, there's a danger that public transit budgets will begin to favor highways more than public transit.  In America, 80% of the money goes for highways and 20% for transit. Our transit looks like it too. It's not world-class.  How will the Czech Republic maintain it's fabulously competitive transit system if the loudest citizens value something else?  Are you rich enough as a country to afford both? We aren't - or at least haven't prioritized it that way. What would Prague and other cities be like to live in if the car became the dominant vehicle of choice? Would you have additional costs to your society if obesity was higher, carbon emissions, pollution, and foreign oil imports were higher, stress was higher, human isolation was higher, educational costs were higher, and household expenses were higher?

Czechs, do you understand what an infrastructure gem this is? Have you purchased a car? What do you think will be favored more in the next twenty years? Vehicle traffic or transit traffic?

Americans, does this appeal to you at all? Is there any American area that comes close to this level of transit service?  What kind of public transit do you wish you had where you live (I would love high-speed rail from Madison, WI to Milwaukee and Chicago, Illinois. Rockford, Illinois is a city the size of Plzen that would explode if it had any kind of rail service to Chicago, 90 miles away.

You can also read my previous post about what I valued about the United States Government:

The United States Government Saved My Life

Friday, November 13, 2009

Free Beer and Chillin' with President Vaclav Klaus

One of the blogs I love to read is Czechmate Diary, by Tanja, a Czech immigrant to the United States. Tanja is in love with all things Czecho and is so proud to be Czech! Her wonderful subtitle to her blog is "Small Bohemian Steps to World Domination."

Someone in power must have recognized this because she was recently invited to a party in Washington D. C. to meet Czech President Vaclav Klaus. Tanja's enthusiasm on her blog for preparing for this party and getting to this party are a delight to read. Every woman will identify with her plaintive cry "what shall I wear???"

On her last post, she featured a link to her husband's take on the event. I enjoyed reading it so much I decided I had to link to here. Tanja's husband also got me to watch the nine minute interview Vaclav Klaus did with Glen Beck (sorry Mr. Beck can't pronounce 'Vaclav' properly, Mr. President) . It was the first interview I've seen in English with the Czech President. He made me think. And as a librarian, I couldn't help but agree with his contention that the marketplace of ideas needs all voices.

I'm also always struck by how good the President's English is each time I hear him (well actually, the only other time I've heard him was when he started the Prague Half Marathon race). The hardest thing for Czech learners of English is to understand native speakers using normal native speed when they talk. The President followed Glen Beck's English perfectly. Usually someone of his age in the Czech Republic has perfect Russian as a second language, not English. He has really invested the time in his English language. I want to give President Klaus his props for that.

Click on my title to read Tanja's husband's blog post about their visit to Washington D. C.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Five Environmental Ideas I Admire from the Czech Republic

Sometimes when you go abroad, it's the little things that bring delight. Here are five environmental ideas that probably exist in other countries but I saw them first in the Czech Republic. I find them admirable, how about you?

#1 In America, retail establishments sell aluminum foil, plastic trash bags, and cling wrap on a roll. Then that roll is put inside a long rectangular box as additional packaging.

Once you have the initial box, why is it necessary to keep buying it? Why not just put the next purchased roll in the first box so it doesn't have to be manufactured and paid for again? I saw these foil rolls sold "boxless" in the Czech Republic and thought this was a great idea.

#2This toilet paper roll is from my neighborhood kavarna, or coffee shop. The user pulls out individual sheets of toilet paper much the way one pulls out an individual tissue from a Klennex box. When you pull an individual tissue out of a tissue box, do you say to yourself, "why am I being rationed?" No, you get just what you need. Same idea here. It has the additional benefit of not creating a bunch of torn scraps of paper all over the floor.

#3 This picture is from a restaurant on Wenceslas Square. All over the Czech Republic there are bright and shiny new bathrooms because there has been so much remodeling after 50 years of communism.

As you can see, the user has a choice to use more water or less depending on the need of the moment. I haven't seen a single toilet like this in America. Maybe I don't get out enough, you tell me.

#4 The most wonderful transportation system I have personally experienced is in Prague. It's an absolute marvel. For $22 a month, I could travel all over the city on trams, buses, and the metro. It's completely stress-free. In a city of 1.3 million, I could go home for lunch frequently. I rarely had to wait more than five minutes for a ride (maybe 10 minutes on a Sunday morning) I love it so much I want to devote much more blog space to it than what I am doing here.

Not only does a great public transport system save gas because people share a vehicle rather than drive individual ones, it also saves the air. Four-story buildings line a typical Prague street. Mobile pollution devices (otherwise known as cars) choke the air with exhaust that doesn't move on.

#5 This vehicle is called a "trike" and is manufactured in China. It's a perfect size for urban living. It seems safer than a motor scooter because there's more frame surrounding the driver. I don't know how much gas it saves, but I'm sure it's substantial.

What do you think are some of the best environmental ideas in Europe that America should copy? What have you seen design-wise that inspires you?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

We Can Solve It, post two

This week I devoted an hour to help solve global warming:

1. Watched Al Gore's speech about America moving to all clean power within ten years. Time invested was about five minutes.

2. Emailed my friends to ask them to join the campaign. This move to clean energy is equivalent to Americans setting a goal to have humans on the moon within ten years. Two of my most politically active friends joined. I hope more will as we get closer to election day. Time invested was about five minutes. I think this was my most important action because it's leveraged with millions of others behind a leader, Al Gore, with a detailed vision and the credibility to make it happen. Actually, what's really exciting, is that I just noticed how new it all is and I'm in the first 1.5 million Americans to join. Nothing like being on the cutting edge of a political movement - want to join us?

3. I ran into my congressman, Congressman Don Manzullo, this week and lobbied him to move America toward clean power technology and away from dirty coal technologies. At his request, I also went to his website to see his 12-point plan for lowering gas prices. I am not as interested in lowering gas prices as I am in developing alternatives to fossil fuels, but it's only fair that if you ask to be listened to that you listen back. Time invested about thirty minutes.

4. I went to my utility's website to get the phone numbers of the executive office so I could call and advocate for clean power. While at the site, I noticed the CEO was recently president of the nuclear power trade association and gave a speech about the future of the industry. I read the speech. I will change my phone call from asking them to switch to clean technologies to asking the execs how I can help them make it happen. They seem to be all over this. Time invested was about twenty minutes.

It was interesting and fun. Click on the title to see the website.

Monday, July 21, 2008

We Can Solve It

Hey, we can do this.

Al Gore is asking every American who cares about global warming to join together in a group called so that by the time a new president is elected in the fall of 2008 there are several million Americans assembled who can pressure our government for immediate action on this issue.

I can do that. Join a group with my countrymen to actively pursue policies that keep our planet healthy. There's no cost. I just receive their email mailings. Will you join us? It'd be a lot easier than trying to do this on our own.

The issue of climate change has been very confusing in America because there has been no federal governmental leadership. I actually know more about what energy policy oilman T. Boone Pickens wants us to pursue because he tells me several times a day in commercials that we are engaged in the largest transfer of wealth from one country to another with our addiction to foreign oil (four times the annual cost of the Iraq war).

Even Exxon is busy telling me what needs to be done and they constantly extol their new technologically-advanced battery in the works.

NBC had an entire week where every single show on the network discussed green living and they sent their Today show crew to the four corners of the earth to show what global warming is doing to the environment. But on this subject of climate change my president has been pretty silent.

Two things I do know about my administration's view:

1) It has finally gone from denying global warming to admitting it exists.

2) The president wants to open drilling in the Artic Wildlife Refuge and off the coast of California to "reverse the psychology" of the markets so gas prices go down. That's it. That's his whole energy policy, I think.

3) Oh yes, I forgot, the occupation of Iraq to set up no-bid contracts for global oil companies. How could I forget that?

I've never seen an international issue that business leads on rather than the government. I honestly can't think of another one that's happened in my lifetime. Frankly, it's confusing and more than a little, ahem, whussy/alarming/depressing to see my government standing around rubbernecking on this. America is supposed to be the knight on the white horse leading the charge.

The first action that Al Gore has asked from us individually is to know what sort of power we consume. My utility company actually gets more power from nuclear power than most American towns: 47%. It buys 42% of it's energy from other companies that use coal.

I like that they don't own the coal-fire plants so that when I and others ask them to switch to another source, they can! That's Al Gore's second request. Call your utility company and demand clean technologies for your power. I can do that. Can you?

Third is to contact every single one of our elected representatives and demand clean power. I can do that. Actually I love doing that. It's shocking what you learn when you call and write your reps. They often tell you stuff that doesn't hit the mainstream media.

Both of my parents were elected representatives. They used the rule of thumb that if one person contacts the office concerning a particular issue, 100 other people are thinking that way.

Al Gore's fourth request is to recruit 25 people to join the cause. Link on my title to reach the website put together to organize all of us to demand action from our government. Let me know if you sign up. I'll count you as one of my 25!

Let's saddle up that white horse!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Walking to Work

In a perfect confluence of gorgeous Spring day, $4 gallon gas, and a continuing desire to lower my carbon footprint, I decided to try walking to work yesterday. The path looked pretty.

It took me an hour each way. There was only sidewalk 10% of the way. The rest of the way pedestrians were expected to walk in the street, I guess. The assumption was likely there would be no pedestrians. American has a long way to go before we have all of the varied infrastructure to combat global warning.

I also decided whatever I saved on car gasoline probably was spent heating the water for the second shower I took because of my walk. I did get two hours of free exercise though and it was fun.
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