Archive for March, 2011

Edit:  ok, so this post was done in a bit of a ‘ranting’ mood, when my wife and I were trying to find something to do, or somewhere to go, in rural Belgium, which did not cost 100 Euros for the family, between gas and/or restaurant fees.  Note at the end I begin to reiterate what I have said in other posts, which is that I am very fond of many things European, enough that I’d rather live here than in North America.  But anyway, take the first part of this as shorthand, which tries to make a number of points quickly, without pausing to be nice; I had a lot to cram into this one post, and b/c I write for a living I have relatively little time to devote to this sort of post, so I had to do it fast… anyway, it’s not at all intended to be rude, as you’ll see if you get to the end, but instead to get European continentals (who whether they wish to believe it or not can be just as smug and culture-o-centric as anyone…) to think beyond some of their cherished stereotypes of North Americans.  (It also should have the effect of causing American liberals to look beyond some of their stereotypes of the ‘European person’ as a liberal person’s Jesus figure.., and realize, in other words, that some of the things they continually criticize in the American right’s economic policies might actually be empowering their own lifestyle, to a degree that they could never realize until they lived in Europe, and found that much of what they hold dear cannot exist here due, I think, to relatively rigid continental modes of thought, which could use some shaking up.  And finally, Hey, I’m a progressive, I shake things up, whether it’s in the U.S. or Europe, so it’s good for everyone to get the cobwebs out.)

Like most progressive folks in the US, I spent most of my conscious life under the assumption that Europe was of course culturally more progressive than the US.  Because Europeans are generally quite socially liberal, and because some European countries have laws in place which tend to favour working moms, and working people in general, together with liberal views on healthcare, the environment etc., one gets the impression that European culture and society in general are not only liberal, but innovative, and interesting.  Based on the fitishization that Americans do of “European” food, furniture, clothing, cars, etc…, one would imagine that when one came to Europe that one would find fashion-forward trends in clothing, housewares, restaurants, eating habits, Eco/Green items, etc.  And based on the worship that American greens have of European green-ness, including the environmentally friendly laws that Europeans are supposed to have in place, against things like GMOs, nuclear power, and the like, one would imagine that coming to Europe one would find people who are super green, super aware, and super into green eating., etc.

I have had these ideas from the American media and advertising, and they were generally confirmed from the vegetarianism and progressivism that I found while living with British and German students for a few years in England during and after undergrad, and I found that they were also somewhat confirmed from living in Barcelona.  There were cool and hip and progressive stores and magazines, and other cultural forces at work in Barcelona, but not much of this anywhere else in Spain – but I figured that, hey the Spanish are Latins after all, and so surely the northern Europeans, such as the Dutch, Scandinavians, Germans, etc., would be that much more Green and progressive, right?

Well, imagine my surprise when I move to Holland and find that, au contraire, the Dutch are at least 10 years behind the Americans and Canadians in terms of progressive culture.  For one thing, the Dutch eat horribly.  Totally blandly. (more…)


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So I guess it was J. M. Keynes who said “In the long term, we’ll all dead.”  Fair enough.  But what about our society, our species, and our planet (or even–despite Keynes– us, once we figure out how to stop ageing)?  I’ve already written a post about what our goals should be as a species, over, say the next few hundred years.  But what if we move beyond this timeframe?  I find it’s always good to give you some perspective.  And it helps us to answer, in a more serious fashion, that high-school and comic-strip metaphysics question, ‘what is the meaning of life?’  One can actually be more precise than one might think, nowadays.

When I was a kid, I was a big astronomy buff.  I memorized most of the constellations and their brightest stars; I remember standing out on frigid, crystal-clear winter evenings and checking out Aldabaran in Taurus, the Pleides, Betelgeuse the red giant  in Orion, and Rigel, the ginormous blue star at the other end of Orion.   I subscribed to Astronomy magazine, saved my allowance and bought an 8″-wide  mini ‘light bucket’ dobsonian telescope, which was very economically priced by the way, and when it arrived, it turned out that it was made of a big tube of cardboard, painted red.  That was a bit of a disappointment, but the thing was still so big, that it was magical.  On summer evenings, my best friend and I, and maybe a parent or two, would sit on our back porch in the dark; we had an unobstructed south view, and we were on a bit of a hill, so we could clearly see Scorpio crawling along the southern horizon; the sinisterly red Antares is truly wicked in the context of the scorpion, and is perhaps my favourite star.  Although Vega in Lyra is also a favourite.  With my telescope, I remember checking out the globular cluster near Antares; my favourite was M13 in Hercules.  They still looked incredibly faint and patchy through the lens, and my parents would never have chipped in to buy a camera and tracking apparatus to take photos, but it was magical nonetheless.  At first I wanted to be an astronomer, until I realized that they have to be total math whizzes, and basically just spend their entire time looking at and analyzing data streams.  It seemed unbelievably sterile and tedious to me as a late teen, and so I went for the arts and language instead.  And the really interesting stuff, theoretical physics and cosmology require a math ability that I might have had, but I jumped off the math train in middle school, and once you’re off for a year or two, you can never catch back up.  At any rate, it’s been a bit too long since I’ve really enjoyed the stars on a summer’s evening.  Many years of living in urban apartments have driven a wedge between me and the sky, even though now we finally have the possibility of enjoying it again from our back porch.  (more…)

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