Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Rebuilding What?

April 18, 2019

Like many of you I watched in horror as the images and live-feeds of Notre Dame de Paris engulfed in flame flickered across my computer screen.  I’d last been there in 2016, and that was my third visit in my lifetime.  It’s an amazingly beautiful architectural achievement.  The crowds are lamentable but, since I’m part of them, it’s hardly reasonable to complain.  Each visit I stood in increasingly long lines to march up the steps to the twin towers.  Last time I snapped a Facebook photo of one of the rose windows that miraculously survived the recent conflagration.

Now it has been grievously damaged by the fire, and will require substantial rebuilding.  But the question becomes whether it should be rebuilt as it was, the reflection of nearly 1000 years of changes and additions?  Or should it be made into something new, something representative not of its past but rather today or the future.  A reflection not of Christianity and the God of the Bible, but rather some undefined representation of a now mostly undefined French or even European culture.

It may sound strange that people would want to reimagine a Christian house of worship – particularly one so famous – into something not a Christian house of worship.  But there are those who are promoting exactly such an idea, as this article describes.

There would indeed be a bitter irony if this beautiful place of worship was recreated into something atheistic or secular.  While numbers have undoubtedly dwindled in recent times, worship is still something that occurred in Notre Dame each day, the last service about an hour before the fire broke out.  But with houses of worship – even great cathedrals  – falling into disuse and subsequent disrepair as the European exodus from the Christian faith nears completion, it’s hardly surprising that many people see them as nuisances rather than useful places for continued Christian worship.



I Can’t Quit Laughing

January 17, 2019

Nancy Pelosi’s move.

President Trump’s counter-move.

I score this 0-1 for President Trump.  Let’s see what  the next round brings!

Wet Bar Wednesday – La Paloma

October 24, 2018

Crafting delicious cocktails can be a lot of fun, but it can also lead to a certain snobbery.  What, after all, is a basic rum and Coke (never Pepsi!) compared to a beautifully balanced Sazerac (here is my version, and here’s another)?

Well for starters, it can be delicious.  Complicated is not always better, and sometimes a good, refreshing drink is great weather it’s basic or not.

But still, the snobbery can persist.  So it was that while I was in Las Vegas this summer playing pool, I walked to a well-reviewed Mexican restaurant for a late lunch and relaxing afternoon one day.  The bar was large and well-appointed with a variety of tequilas, and as I have enjoyed doing for  decades, I asked the bartender to set me up with a recommended tequila-based drink.

Her immediate response was La Paloma (the dove).  It’s just Squirt (grapefruit flavored soda) and tequila.  I was disappointed once I understood properly what was in the drink.  I was hoping for some complicated and impressive drink to enjoy and impress others with.  Instead I get a gross soda messing up my tequila.

But, it was tasty.  And tasty is more important than complicated.  I’ve mixed some very impressive looking drinks over the years, but if they don’t taste good, all that effort (and money!) is for naught.

La Paloma

  • 1 part tequila (I suggest a basic one rather than a nicer/pricier one)
  • 3 parts Squirt (I would like to try this with Fresca instead, as I think the flavor is better)

Pour into a glass over ice and stir.  If you want to make it look prettier, put a wedge of lime on the rim of the glass.  It’s light and refreshing either way, so enjoy!



Automated Vehicle Ethics

October 24, 2018

I’ve blogged before on the push for automated vehicles – self-driving cars.  While it seems an inevitable application of technology – and may in fact be safer in the long run, it’s still going to take some considerable work to figure out the nuances of it.  There’s the technology aspect, as well as the necessity to direct vehicles in how to behave if they think an accident is unavoidable.  How do  you teach a car to make an ethical decision?

Traditionally, this is talked about in terms of the Trolley Problem, a philosophical scenario developed in 1967 by philosopher Philippa Foot.  It’s a fascinating little thought experiment.  But the first problem is nobody has a good solution for it.  And the second problem is that it’s going to be difficult to program a car how based on it.

The third problem is the assumption that, in a split second reaction time, there can be a pre-defined way of solving the problem.  After all, it’s hard enough to solve given a few moments (or years) to contemplate it.  Save more or fewer lives?  Save more important people or less important people?  Save younger people or older people?  And how do you define and quantify more, fewer, more important, less important, young and old?

I’m not sure how I would react in a split second decision.  Reflexes and some sort of sub-conscious thought no-doubt kick in.  But would I regret my decision after the fact?  Would I castigate myself for what I viewed as an incorrect choice after the fact?  Would I be willing to sue myself to that extent?

I’m not sure I could answer these questions in advance (hence the compelling nature of the philosophical scenario), let alone in a moment of instinctual thought and action.  I pray I am never in such a situation, where such a decision needs to be made.  There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong decision, at least not in any sort of unquestionable and always-and-forever sort of sense.  I can say with a far greater certainty about who I wouldn’t intentionally set out to hurt, but in the midst of a split second decision between two equally undesirable choices?  That’s hard.

At the very least I feel bad for self-driving cars.  Just another reason I will likely never own one.


What You Do Matters

October 11, 2018

In our Internet-connected age and world, more and more of our lives are open to public scrutiny.  Part of this is based on what we ourselves actively share through various social media platforms, but also what others – whether private individuals or organizations – share about us through their accounts.  People my age and older often joke about how relieved we are that we didn’t grow up in this sort of technological era, as our stupidity and poor choices could follow us the rest of our lives.

But sometimes even our considered choices and decisions have long-lasting repercussions that could affect us in ways we don’t anticipate.  Take, for instance, the situation of Lara Alqasem.  Lara is a US citizen of Palestinian heritage.  During her university studies at the University of Florida, she rose to the position of president of a student organization called Students for Justice in Palestine.  SJP’s web page indicates that while it rejects anti-Semitism, it views the situation of Palestinians as living without basic rights under Israeli military occupation and colonialism since 1948.

Lara applied and was accepted to Hebrew University in Jerusalem to study human rights.  She obtained a legal student visa, but then was detained by Israeli authorities when she arrived in Israel, under suspicion that she might be a sympathizer with a movement referred to as BDS, which stands for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions against Israel.  As per a 2017 Israeli law, foreigners seeking entrance to Israel who espouse anti-Israel stances (such as supporting boycotts, divestments, or sanctions against Israel) may not be admitted to the country.

Predictably, this has outraged some, including, presumably, Lara.  Her appointed Israeli lawyer (I presume) claims she isn’t part of the organization any longer.  I assume this could be attributed to her graduating, as opposed to her renouncing her involvement in the organization.  Her mother insists that while Lara may object to certain Israeli policies, she respects the nation and culture and sees no contradiction in her views and actions.  Her Hebrew professor insisted that she has a positive view towards Judaism and Jews and the state of Israel.

All of which may be true, but then still leaves the question of not only why she would choose to participate in, but actively lead an organization that most people would say is anti-Israel not in terms of select policies but in terms of the country’s existence.  Certainly some people join clubs and organizations to fill out their resumes without ever really participating in the groups.  But to actually lead the organization paints a different picture.

I’m all for free speech.  Go ahead and formulate your ideas and opinions and articulate them intelligently.  But recognize that there may be ramifications for your statements and your involvement.  If your lifelong dream is to study the culture of Israel, then heading up an anti-Israeli student organization in college may not be a good idea.  Some countries retain the idea that while their citizens may have rights of self-expression to varying degrees, they are under no obligation to knowingly let outsiders in who are critical and may seek to work against the interests of the State.  Lara is one of 15 people who have been blocked.

The Israelis indicated they would admit Lara to the country if she willingly and directly (as opposed to her lawyer releasing a statement on her behalf) renounce her former involvement with SJP and the principles it espouses.  The article doesn’t provide any indication that she is willing to do this.  Her case remains at a standstill after an Israeli appeals court decided not to intervene.  Lara is apparently considering an appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court.  But it seems to  me that if she really doesn’t believe in the principles of SJP, it would be a much simpler matter to say so herself, rather than have others insinuate that she might not have believed them or may not believe them now.  It may not solve her current situation, but it would be a good-faith move towards clarifying her own intentions.

I’m not sympathetic to this young woman who complains about the bedbugs in her Israeli jail cell and the fact that she’s not permitted much contact via her phone or the Internet.  Unfortunately, it might be that living in the US these days Lara was under the impression that laws in other countries would not be enforced like some of the laws in our own country are not enforced.  She took a great risk in seeking admittance to Israel, even if she was accepted by a school  there.  Jail  is not supposed to be pleasant or conducive to free communication – these are incentives to avoid jail.  Her case sounds to me like another petulant person  demanding that the law not apply to them, while remaining steadfast (at  least thus far) that their past words and actions should not be held against them even if the law says that they can and should.  Hopefully she and others will continue to learn that there are sometimes consequences for what you say and do, and so you need to consider your words and actions carefully.  It doesn’t mean that laws are always right, but they are dangerous things to trifle with.





Back in the Saddle

May 23, 2017

For the past month I’ve led my family on an international exploration.  Over 30 days we were in ten different countries working with five different languages (six if you include Swiss German) traveling by plane, train, automobile, bus, boat and on foot.  We visited 20 different people and while I haven’t calculated the total distance we covered yet, I’m estimating that including the flights to and from the US West Coast, we’re a bit over 15,000 miles.  We saved four years to make this a reality, planned and executed every step of it on our own, and had an amazing experience that will stay with us the rest of our lives.  It was exhilarating and exhausting, every bit as fantastic as we imagined and better than we could have hoped.  We are grateful to God, friends, family, and all those who prayed for us and helped to make it a reality.

But now we’re home so I’ll start writing again.  Talk more with you soon!

Contingency Planning

January 21, 2017

Space travel in and of itself is pretty cool and neat.  But what about if something goes wrong?  It turns out contingency planning in space can be a pretty curious area for consideration even though most people are never going to hear about it.  This article changes that, providing a glimpse into an important but not very cheery topic – what do you do with the body of someone who dies in space?  It’s an important question, but not one that has been completely and thoroughly thought out.

It’s an important consideration soas not to endanger or even inconvenience other crew members with bacteria or smell.  Though jettisoning a body out of an airlock – an interstellar equivalent to a burial at sea – may seem beautiful, the practical considerations of such an action – especially when instances are multiplied over time – is hardly as poetic.

Equally curious to me was the offhand comment about burning up trash during the re-entry of resupply ships.  Is it common practice to arrange trash on or outside a ship re-entering Earth’s atmosphere with the intention of that material being burned up?  Are there risks to this in terms of bacteria or other nasties floating about in the atmosphere and perhaps gradually working their way to the ground?  If not, is this another possible solution to mounting concerns about what to do with all the trash we generate?  Fascinating!



A Long, Strange Trip

November 4, 2016

We’re traveling to Vietnam.  To see the sights and visit friends and there isn’t much we can say beyond that which is frustrating but what can you do about it?  Towards that end we drove our kids to Phoenix on Sunday to stay with family, an 8-hour drive that went smoothly.  Tuesday afternoon my wife and I flew from Phoenix to LAX, there to wait for six hours for a flight that left at 12:30am Wednesday.  I was in pain from a lower back problem, but we were getting by.  The Asiana ticketing person was very kind and bumped us out of the middle of a five seat row and upstairs on the big plane to a 2-seat row of our own.

The flight went well.  Painful, but what do you do?  You try to sleep, and I was able to get a few hours and my wife was able to get a few more.  But 13 hours on a plane is not fun no matter how you slice it.  I’ll simply say that this flight was worlds better than the United flight we took to Europe over a year ago.  Despite the strange food, the staff was very friendly, always ready to serve a cup of water or juice.

We arrived in Seoul at 5:00am.  The airport was pretty deserted, and I could barely debark the plane the pain was so bad.  I took another 600mg Ibuprofen and prayed for it to kick in.  It took a while, and in the meantime I couldn’t even stand up.  The thought crossed our mind in more than a fleeting way that we might not make it to Hanoi, that I might not be able to tolerate the 5-hour flight from Seoul to Hanoi.  We prayed and tried to rest, and eventually the ibuprofen kicked in and we got on the plane.  I was uncomfortable, but not in pain at all for the flight.  I watched Leonardo DiCaprio in Revenant to try and get some inspiration.  If somebody could live through a bear mauling, I could make it through a 5-hour flight on a padded seat.

We had to pick up our visa in Hanoi and wait through the line for customs and immigration.  Our friend, J.P., was there to greet us outside the baggage area, and he had an appointment for me in a few hours with a chiropractor in town.  We checked into the hotel first.  The staff was very friendly, bringing us small cups of green tea.  They also arranged for banh mi, a Vietnamese sandwich with a variety of marinated pork meat cuts and pates on a French roll with some fresh veggies.  They were delicious, and we wolfed them down in time to catch an Uber ride to the chiropractic clinic.

That turned into a 3-hour effort on the clinic’s part to get me out of the worst of the pain.  Nothing seemed to help.  They did some light manual manipulation.  They used lasers.  They used ultrasonic treatment.  They used ice packs.  They used acupuncture.  They used electro-therapy on isolated muscle groups.  By the end of the day I hurt as much if not more than I did that morning.  Eventually they gave me some codeine pain medicine and some anti-inflammatories and told me to come back in the morning.

It was 5:30 PM and just about dark  by now.  Walking out of the clinic was difficult, and they were going to send one of their staff with us to help make sure I could get to our hotel all right.  I eventually convinced them this wasn’t necessary, returned their back brace, and under my own power and stubbornness hobbled out the door.  I was still in a great deal of pain, waiting for the drugs to kick in as we headed back to the hotel.  J.P. and the Mrs. headed out to pick up some cash at an ATM.  He headed home, and she opted to go out shortly after to get us some food.  We munched on a couple more banh mi sandwiches – chicken this time, and not nearly as tasty but still more than adequate.  I prayed that I would be able to sleep.

God is good, and I did sleep very well.  Jet lag didn’t seem to be much of an issue so far other than being tired at the end of the day.  The next morning I felt better and was able to have breakfast downstairs at the hotel before heading out again via Uber for my follow-up chiropractic appointment.  I was feeling much better at this point, and they did a few minor things before suggesting that I return that afternoon.  Elated, we headed out for lunch.  J.P. took us to a newly famous site, a typical Vietnamese restaurant newly dubbed Obama Bun Cha.  It’s famous because on President Obama’s recent visit to Vietnam, he ate here with famed media chef Anthony Bourdain.

I doubt the food was exceptional, but it was delicious after enduring so much in the past few days!  Bun cha is a traditional Vietnamese dish consisting of a broth with meat bits (pork, this time) that you put over rice noodles.  We had a few deep fried egg-roll type things that were also delicious.

We walked around a bit, stopping in for some coffee at the most delicious chain of coffee shops called Cong Ca Phe.  They serve a coconut coffee that consists of a small amount of coffee mingled with a coconut milk/ice/sweetened condensed milk slushee sort of concoction.  It was amazingly delicious, and our host pointed out the decor that highlighted some of Hanoi and Vietnam’s Communist past.

I went back to the clinic for a few more adjustments and another round of acupuncture.  I left feeling less good than in the morning, but overall still much better.  We headed back out, this time to see the famous Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the  Hanoi Hilton, the prison in the middle of Hanoi where American prisoners of war were held during the Vietnam conflict.  More than half of the self-guided tour and exhibits emphasized the prison’s less famous past, as a French prison for Vietnamese rebels and revolutionaries from the late 19th century to the mid 20th century.  It was a fascinating perspective, to say the least, and we left recognizing the power of perception and how things are portrayed in determining what we believe to be true.

We returned home with J.P. to meet his two daughters.  Then the group of us headed out to our first street food experience – a place known as Street Sushi.  And the name is exactly accurate.  It’s a sushi place that sets up each evening in an area that, by day, serves as a parking lot.  The sushi is served from a portable cart.  You sit at low plastic tables on small plastic chairs.  The menu is an impressive assortment of hand rolls, sushi, and sashimi.  We enjoyed several rolls and sides for a fraction of what it would cost in the US.  I think dinner for all of us came to about $20 US!

Afterwards we walked a short distance to Lotte building.  We headed to the rooftop to enjoy a cocktail for the adults and juice for the kids.  The view was spectacular in all directions, with the twinkling lights of Hanoi splayed out far below.  A beautiful way to end the evening, before heading back to our hotel in the Old Quarter and falling blessedly asleep!  I still had pain and discomfort, but it seemed clear at this point that I was going to be able to continue to function and get through the trip.  Thank you Lord!

Getting Things Done

August 3, 2016

How do you deal with national issues like food waste and traffic congestion?  We have our traditional approaches that we think of, but it’s fascinating to see how other countries deal with these situations.

China is experimenting with solutions to traffic congestion that don’t require as extensive a support infrastructure as light rail or subways.  Their approach is to elevate buses – but not on separate tracks, but rather on existing roads.  The buses are designed to actually travel over vehicles on existing streets!  Some infrastructure is required but it doesn’t look as massive as building a completely separate transportation system.  I wonder how they deal with trucks and other large vehicles on the road?  Maybe they design a separate transportation system for *those* vehicles instead?  Hmmmm….

Food waste is a major issue around the world, particularly in Western countries.  Italy passed laws with the goal of eliminating 20% of food waste nationally, going from five million tons of food waste per year to four.  Part of the solution is bureaucratic – making it easier for food to be donated to those who need it, even if it’s slightly out-of-date.  Legislation about making it easier for farmers to donate excess produce is also part of the mix.

But the other aspect is cultural – changing the way people deal with the food they have on their plates at restaurants.  Apparently in Italy it isn’t very common to ask for to-go containers for leftover food. Money is being spent on advertising and educational campaigns to convince Italians that there’s nothing demeaning about taking unfinished food home and making another meal out of it.

Small steps can make a big difference.  And sometimes it’s just helpful to see how other people approach a problem – something I love about traveling.

Meanwhile, in Kentucky…

June 27, 2016

…an ark is born.

While I’m not sold completely on the young earth issue, I do believe the Noah account is literal and historical, and it would be fascinating to see a replication of that boat!