We’re not as bad as they are

Posted in at 9:53 by RjZ

New York Daily News – Politics – Feisty Dem appears to help W’s cause

Another top Bush aide who had predicted Democrats would do something to take the heat off Bush was gleeful over Feingold’s move. “The saving grace for us is just how inept they are,” he said.

Senator Feingold had the clever idea to censure Bush. Unfortunately, his party didn’t have the guts to back him up, and the Republicans got to laugh it off. I personally think that censuring Bush for his illegal spying on Americans might be appropriate, but also a waste of time. The problem for the Democrats, and I’ve been saying this over and over again, is that repeating how much the other guys suck isn’t a policy that U.S. citizens can get behind.

We wouldn’t have gone to war. You guys didn’t plan. You couldn’t handle Katrina. Your Medicare system doesn’t work. Long on criticism, but short on policy. I’ve got more commitment to actual policy here in this blog than most politicians seem to muster. Here’s an open letter to Democratic leadership. Feel free to mail a copy to your senators and representatives. Let me know if you get an answer.

Dear Democratic Leadership,

What are you going to do differently?
Thanks for your interest in this matter.
Yours sincerely,

A. Voter.

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Presidential censure

Posted in at 10:11 by RjZ

CNN.com – Feingold to call for rare presidential censure – Mar 13, 2006

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist told ABC on Sunday that Feingold “is flat wrong, he is dead wrong.” The Tennessee Republican — also a potential presidential candidate in 2008 — added that “attacking our commander in chief … doesn’t make sense.”

Uh, what? So whatever Mr. Bush does is beyond reproach? Beyond criticism? Ridiculous. And embarrassing that Mr. Frist would even make this claim. It’s a tired observation, but my right and freedom to criticize even our leaders is one of the things that makes the United States of America such a great place, and it makes perfect sense!

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Tibeten prayer flags everywhere

Posted in Travel at 10:44 by RjZ

Mt. Audobon, Colorado

Originally uploaded by chuha.

I haven’t been to Tibet, but I have been to Nepal, where Tibetan food and Tibetan prayer flags are very popular. You can buy them in all the bazaars, and they decorate the many wonderful temples of Kathmandu.

Why are there are more prayer flags in and near Boulder, Colorado than there are in Nepal?

The real point of this post, however, is to test blogging photos from flickr. Check out more of my photos there; there’s a new badge in the sidebar.

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Greenspan is a libertarian

Posted in Liberty at 8:11 by RjZ

One of the most influential people in the economic prosperity of the 90s, Alan Greenspan, “told the [New York Times] he plans to write some of his early life history, including the influence of his mentor, the author and novelist Ayn Rand, who shaped him as a young man into a libertarian.”

I just hope his writing is more intelligible than what he came up with while Fed Chairman:

I do not deny that many appear to have succeeded in a material way by cutting corners and by manipulating associates, both in their professional and in their personal lives. But material success is possible in this world and far more satisfying when it comes without exploiting others.

Couldn’t he have just said “Yeah, you make money by screwing people over, but there are other ways, too?”

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Hey, I thought of that!

Posted in , Travel at 9:36 by RjZ

First, I practically single-handedly start this whole blogging thing, and now, somebody’s gone and seen my little world map and made a nifty program to enable anyone to make such a map! All right, I am rather late to the blogging party, but I know of at least five blogs that started after mine, so clearly I am responsible for the second wave of personal blogging. (Check out the new links in the “Friends” section.)

And second, I can’t verify it, but I a guess I’ll admit that this visited countries site was up before I even came up with the idea to demonstrate that, in spite of my impressive list of visited places, it just doesn’t look like much on a map.

Mr. Osinga’s map highlights the whole country, which is misleading. But it does say I’ve visited 13% of the countries, which feels pretty good. Still, I feel robbed.

Osinga's Visited Countries map

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Travel tips, part 2, or going with the flow

Posted in Travel at 8:56 by RjZ

We’ve got a plan. Dehli is such big a city, and hardly a way to ease ourselves into India. What we’re going to do is leave Dehli as soon as we arrive. All we’ll have to do after traveling for 18 hours on three planes, including a five-hour layover somewhere near Transylvania, is get to the train station. Well, actually, we’ll have to change money, buy a train ticket, select a bus, figure out where the train station is and which track our train is on, and then we’re on our way to Bikanir and the Shri Karni Mata, the famous rat temple! That’s all we’ve got to do! No problem.

Changing money requires a judgment call. We know that the airport rates aren’t going to be the best, but we also know that there is going to be a fixed charge for each exchange, so we don’t want to have change money too often. We settle on an amount, sign a few traveler’s checks over, and receive a bundle of Rupees that’s over four inches tall and tied together with twine punched right through the center of the stack. It’s enough bills to make you feel like you’ve just robbed a bank or completed a clandestine deal with a suitcase of cash. It’s so much money that we divide up the worn bills into bulging pockets, neck pouches and even our packs. Pockets bulging, we make our way to the convenient ticket counters to get bus and train tickets. It’s nice. The airport is air-conditioned and most everyone seems to speak English. No one is bothering us with offers for taxis or hotels. It’s the calm before the storm.

Through the doors of the airport terminal, the real India awaits. “Taxi!” “Taxi!” “Taxi!” It’s hot. It’s dusty. There are people milling about everywhere, in every direction. Still, the bus to town isn’t so bad, or at least what I remember of it, because we’re both dozing off from lack of sleep. In another post, I’ll write about how a German traveler decided to ‘help’ some of the beggars who tap on the windows nearly every time the bus stops. When we arrive at the bus terminal, the usual touts gather round us, offering trips to hotels and sites and even right back to the airport. We must select a tuc tuc, the three-wheeled motorbike taxis with room for two fussy tourists or ten frugal locals. The tuc tucs are named after the “tuc tuc tuc tuc tuc tuc” sound the two-stroke motors make as they speed through the traffic. (By the way, if the seats are behind the driver, most folks call that a tuc tuc. If the seats are in front of the driver, most call that a motor-rickshaw–just so you know, because it’s not like anybody actually cares.) I’m already an “experienced” vagabond, so I’ve seen touts and tuc tucs before. I firmly select one, which means, of course, I make eye contact with one. I inquire how much it will cost to get to the train station.

“No problem, where you going?” “To the train station. How much?” “No problem, get in. Why are you taking the train, where you going?” “How much to the train station?” “No problem, 50 rupees.” So we finally get in and he starts driving, and weaving and honking his tiny little horn. He asks again where we’re going and we repeat that we’re going to the train station, which he now announces is closed! But we’ve already got tickets for today, so we can’t really see how this is possible. He says it’s a holiday. I smell a scam and demand he drop us off at the train station anyway. He drives around a few more blocks and deposits us on a sidewalk in the middle of town–somewhere.

It looks like we might be at the train station. There’s a big wall and we can’t see behind it, but there’s definitely no place to enter it. Cars, busses, cows, people are all passing by, all honking, talking, mooing. We try asking people and they point, and the tuc tuc drivers start collecting around us and offering to take us there. We’re confused and steamed now, because the last guy has obviously not brought us to the train station. Or maybe he has and we’re too bewildered to find it. We find ourselves in another tuc tuc, speeding around town, hearing the same questions we heard before, and giving the same answers we did before. After a short ride, the driver drops us off and points across the road. But across the road is obviously not a train station, it’s a private tourist office. He’s helping us across the street into the tourist office, and everyone is extremely helpful and telling us they can get us to Bikanir, no problem. The train is not running today, he explains, but no problem, they can help us.

I am not enthusiastic about this. I don’t really see why I can trust these people who won’t even take me to the train station. We listen to the pitch by one of them for just a minute, but I want to see for myself that the damn train station is closed! That’s it! I walk away and I choose another tuc tuc driver based on the promise that he will, indeed, take us to the train station. He’s been hanging out with all the other tuc tuc drivers, though, so he’s obviously in on the conspiracy and anyway he seems only to understand, or pretend effectively that he understands, but barely speaks, English. He repeats the story that the train, for which we have tickets already, is not running today, but he’ll take us there.

A few moments later, he slows down and picks up a friend, who hangs onto the outside of the tuc tuc to talk to us. Hanging on is precarious at best while careening through the streets of Dehli, but it doesn’t break his concentration. He’s well dressed and speaks much better English, and he is trying to clarify that the train station is closed anyway but, naturally, he can help us. We show him the tickets and he tells us that these tickets are no good, but he’s looking at them almost as if he’s never seen a train ticket before. I have the urge to take them from his hands and turn them right-side up for him. He insists the train station is closed, but he’s noticing that I am not happy anymore. He asks if he can take us to his tourist office. He shows us the professional and very official business card, and says this tourist office is different than the others because it’s not a private tourist office, which it is, of course. If they can’t help us, he promises, very sincerely, to bring us to the train station, except that it’s closed today.

They’re starting to win. I can feel my chin nodding slowly in affirmation and it doesn’t matter anyway, because we’re driving to a quieter part of town and I don’t see any buildings that look like they could even be the train station. Next thing, we’re sitting at a desk, and another man is extracting information about what we plan to visit in India, and punching away at his calculator and showing us numbers. He’s offering us a car and driver who will take us to all of these cities, and figuring out how much it will be per day. Our chauffeur will take us to each city on the itinerary and to all the sites we wish in each city. India is very cheap, and the numbers he’s showing us seem positively first-world. He keeps telling us there is nothing to see down in Khajaraho, but it seems more like he doesn’t like how far off-route that is. We’re both getting positively lightheaded now. Bouncing around in tuc tucs and busses hasn’t stopped since we left the airport doors, and time is running out because we’re not even going to make the train even if the station isn’t closed.

My companion finally whispers to me that we should consider his offer. It’s so much more money than we intended to spend, but in truth, if everything he’s promised is true, it’s at least fair. I am so resistant because this just isn’t the way decisions like this are made, and we already have train tickets. But I get the message that my partner has had it and he’s convincing her, and I am broken as well, so I switch from “no” to “that’s too much.” I am not sure if the man selling us on this package has noticed or not, but the prices start to come down, and the offer starts to get better. We’re deep in the haggle. He’s saying that I’m crazy and that my offer won’t even cover fuel. And I am saying I have no way of knowing who this driver is and how good the car looks and he needs to at least cover the cost of these train tickets. Back and forth; my arms are crossed, his brow is furrowed, but we both know I’ll be saying yes and handing over enough traveler’s checks to buy at least 12 inches of Rupees.

He shows us to our car–a cute, white, tourist taxi–and introduces us to a man who will be our driver, Mukeesh. We’ll see dozens of tourist taxis on the rest of our journey, each with a one, two or three tourists sitting on the hard bench seat in the back or, some, as we did, occasionally sharing the passenger seat next to the driver up front. Mukeesh is a small, gentle looking man who speaks pretty good English. It looks like he and the other drivers wait in the garage with their taxis until tourists arrive, and then they drop everything and drive away with them for two weeks at a time. He asks politely if we wouldn’t mind if he stopped home before we embark on our journey. Uh, sure? Remember, we’re drowsy, and don’t really know what’s going on. We think we’ve just hired a driver, but it’s not altogether obvious how this works. Is this guy it? When do we leave?

We get in the cab, and off he goes through narrower and narrower streets in Dehli. He starts honking his horn to urge anything smaller than him out of the way, and he jerks the wheel right and left rapidly when he is approached by anything larger. We stop on a tiny, busy, street and he asks us to wait. “This is where his gang beats us up and takes our stuff,” I whisper. After about 15 minutes, he returns with a duffel even smaller than the one we brought (and I travel light) and we start driving.

We literally ride off into the sunset. We pass a huge statue of Shiva and continue on a horrible road that has become a beautiful mosaic of reflecting pools made from rain-filled potholes, which Mukeesh deftly dodges at the breakneck speed of around 80 km/hr–about as fast as any grand prix driver would be willing to go on these roads. Mukeesh is amused that we want to go Bikanir at all, especially when we explain that we want to see the Rat Temple, where there are some 20,000 holy vermin crawling around. (Check out Vermin Brewing for more info on the rat temple) It’s pitch black when we get to town, and he brings us to a hotel which I’ve requested be “rather cheap.” Only when I crash onto my bed, completely exhausted, do I realize that it’s really only a piece of plywood with a threadbare sheet on it. Considering the squalor of the en suite bathroom, I’m actually happy that the bed isn’t made of a material in which little critters could live.

The next morning, we’re both wondering if he’ll even be there. We’ve already paid for the next two weeks; so that’s an easy scam. Bring the tourists to their first destination and they’ll be lucky to make their way back to Dehli, let alone find the shifty travel agent. In fact, Mukeesh is waiting for us in his white dress shirt, and he’s ready to bring us to our first attraction. “How was the hotel?” “Um, actually, maybe not so cheap next time.” For two weeks, he’ll bring us to hotel after hotel, city after city, and sight after sight, and drive more than 2000 miles. (He’ll honk his horn about 2 million times, and we’ll even have to stop and get it repaired when it fails during the trip. There’s nothing more sad and impotent than an Indian tourist taxi driver without his horn.) He’ll explain language and Indian culture, and he’ll run interference for us with the mobs of touts that we’ll encounter. He’s more than a chauffeur; he’s a guide, travel agent, body guard, and he ends up being a friend. Mukeesh works this job for the tip, and he earned a big one from us.

Exhausted and confused, we had completely changed our plans for India. We more than doubled how much we intended on spending, and risked being robbed or worse. We also got an inside look into a country, made a friend and had an unexpectedly easy time traveling in an amazing country. And I have enough stories from that trip alone to keep this blog going for at least another month or two! Having your own driver during a tour of India wasn’t even mentioned in guidebooks. It sounds so luxurious and, indeed, it is more expensive than taking the train, but, in spite of the sleepy circumstances under which we chose this route, I can now recommend it while wide awake.

Trusting people in a foreign environment can be frightening. During that trip, we met up with a Sikh teacher who described life (and in his case spirituality) like a river. You can swim upstream if you wish, struggling against the current and trying not to drown. Or you can go with the current, and you’ll get a lot further and gulp a lot less water. The river doesn’t care either way. India doesn’t, either.

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Repeating the lie

Posted in at 17:08 by RjZ

I didn’t see the State of the Union 2006 because all the constant and choreographed applause drives me nuts. And because I don’t have a TV that gets any broadcast television. So I decided to read it. The first thing I’ve noticed is

On September the 11th, 2001, we found that problems originating in a failed and oppressive state 7,000 miles away could bring murder and destruction to our country.

To which “failed and oppressive state” are Bush’s speech writers referring? Afghanistan or Iraq?

Bush later states “Dictatorships shelter terrorists, and feed resentment and radicalism, and seek weapons of mass destruction.” I think the implication is that the failed state is Iraq, because we all know they had weapons of mass destruction there. I mean, they were seeking weapons. We know that. Our intelligence says so! Except that the 9-11 terrorists had nothing to do with Iraq, and I thought that making this connection was discredited already.

Keep repeating the lie until it becomes fact. Didn’t I read about this in a science fiction novel? 1984, I think it was called.

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Fire when ready (or sooner)

Posted in , Travel at 8:58 by RjZ

I don’t edit. It’s a common problem. That’s why we have proofreaders, but I don’t edit. I can be quite the grammar Nazi over other people’s work, but it absolutely amazes me the kind of mistakes that I, myself, make. It’s not like I don’t know better. Meanwhile, one of my friends writes about the pitfalls of editing your own work: you don’t produce as much.

I am reminded of my trip to Costa Rica. My traveling partners had told me that they would learn some Spanish for the trip. They both had phrase books at the ready, but when the time came to speak, they didn’t seem to come through. I don’t know any Spanish except for naughty phrases I learned while growing up in southern California, and German will get you much further in Argentina than in Costa Rica, so I didn’t think I’d be much help. Still, by the end of the trip, the phrase books had been yielded to me, and I had mustered a few important phrases and established myself as the primary communicator for our trip.

Why is this? Am I some language savant who picks up foreign tongues in days? Hardly. Is it because I talk too much and not knowing the language doesn’t seem to be much of an impediment? Well, yes, it probably is that, but it’s also because I am willing to try. It doesn’t seem to penetrate my thick skin that I might make embarrassing mistakes. The few languages I have learned a little of have been most successful when I was immersed in the culture and just forced to speak with people, no matter how poorly.

Writing this blog is very similar. I know there are mistakes in my writing. On the occasion that I do re-read a post, I am often shocked at some of the glaring errors. I mean, these are bad! Lame! “I might be only marginally literate” kind of errors. I’ve engaged a proofreader, and she seems to think the same thing (even if she was extremely kind to me otherwise) but the point she is also making is that, like the way I learn a language, it’s just that I keep trying.

So again, I’ll mention that Emerson quote from my last post and suggest that we all might have something to gain if we were to “speak what [we] think to-day in words as hard as cannon balls, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradicts every thing [we] said to-day.”

Bombs away!

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Like cannonballs after the rain

Posted in Society at 13:28 by RjZ

Have you noticed the blog roll there on this blog? The section labeled “friends” that has a few links to people I know? New ones have been sprouting up like mushrooms after the rain. Just in the last two weeks, there are three new blogs on that list. I think I may have started a trend with this whole blogging thing! ;-)

Go and read Hedda’s World andTurpentine Vindication in particular (those are the two newest ones) and you’ll notice something very different from my blog.

I’ll wait…

What did you think? Funny, aren’t they?! Sigh. Traveling Hypothesis is not funny! Now I know that’s not the only reason to write, and my huge audience of six regular readers who’ve stuck with me for six months now (Has it really been six months already?)(Yup, check out that archive section…) tells me that I must be doing something entertaining, but it’s still a painful realization that I’m, uh, not funny

It’s odd. People laugh sometimes when I am telling my stories. People even go so far as to tell me I’m funny, which they would hardly have to do just to keep my spirits up, but that’s not what I do here, and I don’t think I could be as funny as those other blogs even if I tried. Of course, trying would be a good way to assure that nothing I wrote was funny.

But I really like this blogging thing and, even if I am not as funny as I wish I were, I am glad to see friends doing it too. I hope they say funny things and important things and have fun. My goal, when I got started was simply to tell some of the stories I tell everyone anyway, and see what people thought about them. Nothing tests the validity of your ideas more than the marketplace. I don’t have a huge audience, but I do know that if I put something out there that is really silly, they won’t hesitate to let me know.

I like that writing down these ideas forces me to think things through and even do some research on occasion. I’ll think “I ought to blog about that,” and then I’ll start writing (which is about how much planning I did for this post) and half way through I’ll realize I don’t really have any idea what I am trying to say. Fortunately, the process of formulating ideas into a reasonable clear essay really often crystallizes them. My post on abortion was a great example of this. I had a plan about what to write about all right, but I realized pretty quickly that my whole argument was really half baked. When I was finished, I had a whole new idea and a lot more confidence in my conclusion.

The original intention of the blog was to create a community of traveling partners with interesting conversation about things that people are sometimes loath to talk about, just like my train trip to Hungary some ago. Feedback from others has been that the travel stories I tell are definitely the favorite for most readers. For a time, I considered focusing on those, but the something else I love about blogs, personal blogs in particular, is that I don’t really have to do that. There are categories there–if you only want to read the travel posts, click on “travel” and that’s all you’ll have to see. Instead it’s been great fun to get ideas out there that I share with people now and then because I think they’re interesting. Sometimes they’re unexpected takes on common things, like my views about national parks. (Try the search feature on this blog to find that post.)

And sometimes I just feel like sharing something I am thinking with friends, old and new, like a conversation at a party. It doesn’t have to be about much, so long as I find it interesting. Since my audience is usually reading this when they’re bored at work, I don’t have too much competition for them to find me interesting!

Even though it’s a personal blog and I really can write about anything I want, I remember that you, dear readers, all six of you, have certain expectations. You’ve gotten to know me a bit through all these posts. There is hopefully a consistent style to my posts (aside from embarrassing typos and wrong words) that you’ve found entertaining enough to keep clicking back. Sure the blog is for me to write down whatever the heck pops into my brain, but I won’t forget that, if I am sincere about creating some dialog between people, it’s for you, too. I hope you’ll remember that and let me know what you think–as often as possible.

Dialog, commenting, community. These are even more challenging than writing the posts in the first place. Many of my “in real life” friends tell me that they do read my blog. (Thanks!) They comment on it in person. We have conversation thanks to my efforts here. Why then are they unwilling to do so in this only barely more public forum? In some cases, like me, they think that other readers have certain expectations, and are not sure what’s appropriate. Well, I’ve decided to continue writing whatever pops into my head, even if I am not that funny and the travel articles are the only ones anyone reads. I want you to speak out! Think about how ‘appropriate’ your comments are, how much or little you have to say, how important, humorous, or even non-sequitur your comments are, but remember your comments still the voices that make the party more entertaining.

I will be honored when I realize that those who read my blog are the geniuses that Ralph Waldo Emerson says we can be simply by trusting what we believe:

To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men—that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost—and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment.

But more importantly, Emerson reminds us to speak out, even if we’re likely to change our minds:

If you would be a man, speak what you think to-day in words as hard as cannon balls, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradicts every thing you said to-day.

If I can’t get you to speak out, maybe Emerson can. I look forward to the fireworks. And if I’m wrong or that gets too boring, hopefully my friends will still be blogging. Cause they’re funny!

(Please check ‘em out! Click through the friends list on the right. If you have other suggestions for blogs (or you’re a friend of mine and I don’t have your blog listed there), let me know!)

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So much to see, so little time

Posted in Travel at 9:17 by RjZ

I like to travel. I like to share my stories about where I’ve been with others. It’s fun for me to relive these tales, and maybe to inspire others to go and gather their own experiences, too. Many friends and acquaintances hear about all these places and think “Wow, he’s sure traveled a lot!” (Or they wonder “Who’s this guy trying to impress?” but I’ll just pretend those people don’t exist. They’re probably not reading my blog, anyway.)

Here’s where I’ve already been: several states and national parks in the U.S., England, Scotland, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, Israel, Egypt, Indonesia, India, South Africa, Iceland, Morocco, Costa Rica, Mexico, Thailand and Cambodia.

I like that list. I am proud of that list. I’ve seen and learned much going to all those places. It looks pretty impressive, too, doesn’t it? But wait, I have a point here. Have a look at this map:

where i've been
Red indicates regions I’ve been to.

It’s not so impressive, is it? Sure, I realize this is obvious, but the world is a big place. I am not really planning on coloring in the whole map, either. It is such a big world, I can’t possibly see it all, and you’ve got to have your priorities. Some places are unsafe thanks to the reputation of our government, some places don’t offer enough to see to outweigh the great difficulty in visiting them, but the map sure shows there’s more to do. So, for those I mentioned above who shouldn’t be reading my blog anyway: Well, I get it. I’ve got a lot of traveling to do if I am actually going to get to know this place before I’m done.

Meanwhile, I (and my travel partner) did take some nice pictures…

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