No babies!

The negative population growth of Europe is well documented at this point. The New York Times two weeks ago did a great job of summarizing the situation in an extended article entitled No Babies, and outlined a number of interesting causes.

One unintended “take away” from the articles was that world population growth as a whole has been reduced to 2.9 children on average, down from a whopping 6.0 as recently as 1972. This is apparently because the vast majority of earth’s population is urban at this point, so having a huge number of children is no longer the option it was a generation ago.

Anyway, the article makes an interesting observation: educated working mothers in Europe are having more kids than stay-at-home moms. It goes hand-in-hand with masculinity issues amongst the men, and the role of the woman. Simply put: if the man is willing to give a hand, the family will end up with more kids. But if the husband is having macho issues about changing a diaper, his ultimate kid-count will be much lower.

A study released in February of this year by Letizia Mencarini, the demographer from the University of Turin, and three of her colleagues compared the situation of women in Italy and the Netherlands. They found that a greater percentage of Dutch women than Italian women are in the work force but that, at the same time, the fertility rate in the Netherlands is significantly higher (1.73 compared to 1.33). In both countries, people tend to have traditional views about gender roles, but Italian society is considerably more conservative in this regard, and this seems to be a decisive difference. The hypothesis the sociologists set out to test was borne out by the data: women who do more than 75 percent of the housework and child care are less likely to want to have another child than women whose husbands or partners share the load. Put differently, Dutch fathers change more diapers, pick up more kids after soccer practice and clean up the living room more often than Italian fathers; therefore, relative to the population, there are more Dutch babies than Italian babies being born. As Mencarini said, “It’s about how much the man participates in child care.”

Personally I find that highly amusing.

The article points out that at 2.1 children per woman, the US is actually beating it’s “replacement rate” and has a high birth rate. The author puts a positive spin on it by showing that the US has more positive attitude toward working mothers than some southern European societies (true) and that it might have to do with the US’ deeper commitment to religion (who knows.) But one thing I believe it fails to mention is the absence of a social network, which means the poverty in the US is more akin to the Third World – I’m talking about the same regions that Barack Obama described as the places where they “cling to their religion and their guns…”  Immigrants obviously contribute to a higher birth rate, but they tend to have more kids in the first generation for the same reason they had them back home – to ensure someone will be there in the future as they get older.

Anyway, here’s a tool that might help those fathers unsure of how to grow their family:

Hamburgers!

I love Hamburgers. I do. And I can’t find a good one in Berlin. Europeans (or at least Germans) have some kind of misconception about Hamburgers, whereby they assume them to be junk food – bad for you, tasteless, and low class. But that’s not true. They may be fast food, and God knows there are plenty of junk food chains built around the mighty Hamburger, but they are not bad. In the US, even the fanciest restaurants will have one on the menu, and often use the finest ingredients. In some weird way, the best Hamburgers in the US can be gotten in French bistros. Go figure – probably because they go so well with Pommes Frites.

By the way, Americans reciprocate the food misunderstanding by mistrusting sausages. They assume every sausage is a hot dog – a casing filled with the least usable meat (snout and anus, baby!) as well as chemicals and preservatives. But Europeans (especially Germans) know that a good sausage is delicious and relatively healthy.

Hamburgers come in every variety. From the quotidien and mundane to the extravagant. And because Americans enjoy a restaurant with a gimmick, some of them are extreme.

I cannot believe the post I found on diet-blog yesterday. It just made me laugh in that incredulous way. I don’t want to verbatim plagiarize it, so I will simply excerpt my favorites, and link to the rest.

Big Daddy Barrick’s Burgers in Las Vegas (where else) hosts an eating competition, and Sonya Thomas was this year’s winner by polishing off a giant 19 pound burger in 17 minutes. Sonya Thomas, by the way, is the reigning world champion in the “sport” of competitive eating.

Another winner comes to you from The Heart Attack Grill. It’s known as the Quadruple Bypass, and comes with “…four burger patties with side orders of Jolt Cola, unfiltered Lucky Strike cigarettes and French fries deep-fried in pure lard.”

…and finally, the Luther Burger (named after Luther Vandross). A Bacon-Cheeseburger, served between two glazed doughnuts. Oh yeah baby! Available at Mulligans in Georgia.

EDIT:

Oh my, look at what my friend Rob just sent me…

The Bird!

Little People

Over the last year I occasionally found images online of an artist working with miniatures out on the street. I had been thinking about the project and started Googling it furiously last week, but could not remember what it was called. In some weird serendipitous way, Bobby at +Kitsune Noir posted a story about it, and I was reconnected.

Little People is the work of an artist who goes by the name of Slinkachu. He creates tiny scenes and places them in plain sight – if you notice. Some are mundane while others are highly surrealistic.

A typical project is Dear Son somewhere in London, where a miniature mailbox is placed in front of a regular one, and a tiny man is seen dropping a letter.

Others are far weirder, like the work entitled The Feast, where a fly is seen feeding on a person.

Slinkachu says that typically his work will disappear after a few days, but some of it has apparently survived unnoticed for months.

He has recently expanded his work to a project called Inner City Snail. Note the cool Grand Theft Auto-style logo!

Go check out his websites. The sites are not that good, but you get to see a nice selection of his work, and you can follow the link to Amazon where he will soon be selling his first book about the projects.

Photography = Terrorism?

This is the kind of shit we photographers have to deal with these days.

… and those that aren’t considered terrorists are perceived as paedophiles.

The long wait

What a trip to LA… the kind that gets self-righteous bi-coasters in the mood to litigate. The 4.45 PM flight from JFK to LAX was delayed by two hours, because the airport’s roll field was so crowded the tower was unable to navigate the plane from its post-landing waiting area to its designated gate.

But I didn’t mind. I was traveling alone, because the boys and the List Maker are already in Los Angeles. They were waiting for me, and I found out later had hoped to surprise me by picking me up, but the two hour delay would have pushed it too far beyond their bedtime.

I had to think of C.K. Chesterton. In a recent article in the New Yorker, I read a quote that touches on how I have always felt about airports, tough I must admit it rarely supersedes the impatience that ultimately takes over.

“Most of the inconveniences that make men swear or women cry are really sentimental or imaginative inconveniences—things altogether of the mind. For instance, we often hear grown-up people complaining of having to hang about a railway station and wait for a train. Did you ever hear a small boy complain of having to hang about a railway station and wait for a train? No; for to him to be inside a railway station is to be inside a cavern of wonder and a palace of poetical pleasures. Because to him the red light and the green light on the signal are like a new sun and a new moon. Because to him when the wooden arm of the signal falls down suddenly, it is as if a great king had thrown down his staff as a signal and started a shrieking tournament of trains. I myself am of little boys’ habit in this matter.'”

I love looking out at airports. I’m less fascinated by the insides, having studied them at length in the past. But the rollfields with their purpose-built machines and trucks are fascinating, especially at night when bright sodium light layers itself across shiny metal surfaces.

Too bad C.K. Chesterton was a raging anti-semite. I didn’t realize it when I was younger ( “The Man who was Thursday” was required reading in high school) but the New Yorker article went into great detail about it. Unfortunately I can’t provide you with a link, it’s not archived on their site yet.

He might have taken delight in my punishing trip. After two hours we were finally allowed to board. The plane pushed away from the gate… and then did nothing. We rolled out to a holding area, and then sat there for almost four hours. Thuderstorms were scattered around the New York area, an entourage of Hurricane Dolly making landfall in Texas, and the entire eastern seaboard was limited to three out of a possible twelve flight corridors. And those were closing, too. Most planes went back to a gate, unloaded the passengers who then presumably had to go find their luggage, and then a cab back to wherever. It had begun raining out, and I’m not sure whether the airlines are expected to provide rooms for passengers of weather-cancelled flights.

After two hours of delays at boarding, and another four hours of standing on the tarmac, we finally got clearance to take off. The passengers gave a collective joyfull Rebel Yell, and the flight itself was uneventful.

2.18 AM arrival, originally scheduled for 8.07 PM.

Seeing the boys this morning definitely made up for it.

Off to LA for two months….

Well, it won’t be “Letters from Berlin” for the next seven weeks, but I’ll be keeping this blog alive from Los Angeles.

Here’s a pictures of LAX, I took it with an old Diana camera just before I left there and moved back to Berlin.

Electric Kool-Aid?

I am an absolute hobbyist when it comes to energy policy. I know even less about energy generation and distribution. But being in the US during this election year is interesting, because energy is one of the big topics. Germany has the same problem of course, but it seems more acute here in the US.

One of the biggest problems (beside how to power all the air conditioners) is the vast distances, and the fact that 70% of all Americans now live in a suburban environment. That means that every American family member over the age of 16 expects to have access to a car. It’s all about private transportation, and putting a couple of buses out on the street is not going to fix the problem.

T. Boone Pickens, former oil man, take-over investor, and current hedge fund manager is aggressively pitching The Pickens Plan. He proposes building wind farms to create energy that would be used to generate power for homes and businesses. This would free up the natural gas that is currently being used at powerplants, and use it for consumption in cars. All this would give the United States a period in which to develop alternative energy sources. Of course, natural gas is not a renewable resource, but Pickens argues that it is cheaper and local, and subsequently a viable alternative to oil for the US. His website site does a pretty voter-friendly job of describing it. It’s a little unclear at times whether he’s identifying a solution to a national problem, or a business opportuntity, but I imagine to a man like T. Boone Pickens the perfect solution is both.

Andy Grove, the man who built Intel, has also put his hat in the ring. In a conversation with Bloomberg yesterday, he summarized his commitment toward electric cars. Note the rather urgent tone he’s adopting – he believes that the battle for resources might drive us to war or cause us to starve, and that we need to act now. I’m surprised he failed to mention Shai Agassi’s Project Better Place, but it seems Grove is supporting teams from Silicon Valley.

Interestingly, both Pickens and Grove consider the reduction of green house gases and the inherent climate change a secondary mission. Their primary concern is keeping the economy from collapsing.

I think the electric car has a big chance in the US. Americans like cars, and they like technology. It just needs to be reliable. More importantly, they need to agree quickly on standards. If every car/company/distributor is going to have a different kind of battery/charger/voltage then electric transportation will wither on the vine.

But when I think about Germany, one thing is obvious when comparing it to the United States: Only in America could private men like T. Boone Pickens or Andy Grove pick up the slack and drive the national agenda. In Germany everyone expects everything to come down from the government, and people fundamentally mistrust anything else. It is clear that Amercan dependancy on foreign oil, and the lack of an alternative strategy for power and transportation, is due to weak leadership. Well, if the government won’t do it, people will. I don’t believe Pickens and Grove came up with these ideas out of the blue. I’m sure scientists and activists laid a lot of the groundwork for them, but they have the civic pride and courage to stand up and do something about the problem they see. I wish we had these kinds of people in Germany.

Meatpaper!

I am so happy to be in New York City. I am no tourist here – we’ve had an apartment for almost 25 years, I went to college here, had my first job over on 3rd Avenue, and feel quite comfortable around town. The Upper West Side has grown with me, and around me.

About 10 years ago a large Barnes & Noble bookstore opened up at Lincoln Center. I know there is much to lament regarding the rise of the large bookchains, but this is their flagship store, and it is wonder to behold. I could spend a weekend in there – thanks in part to the Starbucks on the 4th floor. The store is like a giant public library, but finely tuned to the consumer’s attention span. That’s not meant as a snide derogation. The audience is highly literate in this particular branch. The Upper West Side buys more books than the rest of the country combined. (That’s not a real statistic, I made that up – but it’s a large component for 90% of published books nowadays.)

The store also has a giant magazine section, upstairs next to the Barristas working the expresso machines. They carry pretty much every magazine still in print, probably in excess of 10,000 titles.

And – lo and behold – in a lower rack, somewhere in the back where the light forces you to squint – I found the perfect magazine for me. In the Arts section I found Meatpaper: Your Journal of Meat Culture. It’s a magazine of art that features meat. Not only that, they have a website. And no, it’s not some kind of weird one-of-a-kind meditation on modern culture in a sarcastic wrapper. They’re serious about this. Note their mission statement:

Meatpaper is a print magazine of art and ideas about meat. We like metaphors more than marinating tips. We are your journal of meat culture.

It’s a great magazine. They cover art, the politics of farming and immigration, and even the Slow Food movement. And as if that isn’t enough, there’s a poem to blood sausage – “Ode to Boudin”, by Kevin Young. I will tease you with this opening line:

“You are the chewing gum of God.”

Life is fabulous here in the City! As soon as we’ve packed the last kid off to college, The List Maker and I are moving to New York.

The Hum on the Street

I walked along my street here in Manhattan after a quick bite and a long browse at Barnes & Noble, but more about that in my next post.

It’s hot – very hot. It’s 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or 30 Celsius, whatever sounds hotter, although admittedly it is cooling off a little now that it’s nighttime. That also means there’s less cars, and occasionally there are no cars. But it’s not silent, not in the way it is on a spring night.

Because at that carless moment I realize I’m surrounded by hundreds of window-unit air conditioners roaring away at full speed. They are blasting their owners’ apartments with full gusto and rage, and the street becomes a canyon filled with angry little machines churning away in the crevices above me.

It boggles my mind just how much power is being consumed at that moment. I have to wonder how many people these days are foregoing air conditioning in the face of rising energy costs.  It also makes me wonder how we’re seriously going to address the power crisis. I don’t think all the windfarms and solar collection sites can feed the need of a large city like New York, and the prognosis is continued growth in power demand by larger populations, living in mega-cities. And if Africa and other developing areas finally get it together, there will be a lot of power that’s needed.

To me, the obvious answer is nuclear power. If the airline industry can figure out how transport millions of people safely each year, certainly the smartest minds in the world can figure out how to safely generate energy by splitting atoms. The one stand-out argument against nuclear power has always been the risk to human lives. Something could go horribly wrong. But so what? How is that still a viable argument? If you look at the millions of lives lost due to carbon polution, the economies and environments affected climate change, and the lives lost or altered in wars to protect resources and “our way of life”, I can’t help but think we need to begin building reactors.

I guess we can just wait for the Chinese to do it – they have a somewhat more casual relationship to the health and physical welfare of their citizens – there’s a LOT of them, and none of them vote. They’ll probably steal the French technology, perfect it themselves, and then license it to the rest of us.

It’s still better than more oil money going to the Arabs (*ahem*, I meant “Oil Producing Nations”). Come to think of it, they should be funding the research – and no, that doesn’t give Iran a pass to continue with their program.

Oh, and should anyone think I’m flippant about the nuclear mishap thing, please believe me – I’m not. If you’re strong – really strong – then click on this link and watch Paul Fusco’s report about the Children of Chernobyl.

Dan Gillerman interview

I’m in New York, and the first thing I did was grab a Sunday New York Times, and some carry-out Sushi. Life is good.

The NYT Magazine had a short interview with Dan Gillerman, who is obviously quite funny as well as smart. Gillerman is Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, and the interview simply summerizes what many of us already know. But as is often the case, sometimes you hear something said in a sentence that takes others whole paragraphs to explain.

The Bush administration, it seems, has not done much to advance the Mideast peace process. Would you agree? I think the key is in the Arab world. The Palestinians’ real tragedy is that they have not been able to produce a Nelson Mandela. Every single day, Muslims are killed by Muslims. You do not see a single Muslim leader get up and say, “Enough is enough.” It’s nearly as if we live in a world where if Christians kill Muslims, it’s a crusade. If Jews kill Muslims, it’s a massacre. And when Muslims kill Muslims, it’s the Weather Channel. Nobody cares.

Here’s the link to the the interview, though you might have to be a Subsriber to read it if it is more than a few days since publication.