The World is Not Flat

iPhone 5

iPhone 5

Thomas Friedman, author of the best seller The World Is Flat, argues that information technology has leveled the world’s competitive markets and made access to finance and products more dependent on understanding that technology and its opportunities. Technology had made the world “flat.” However, anyone who has traveled twelve time zones away from home elsewhere in the world knows that the world is not flat, not even in the sense that Friedman suggests. Among other things infrastructure, policies (public and private) and cultural differences ensure that while we may indeed be globally connected, the world is definitely not flat. Though my experience in traveling over the past six months may only provide anecdotal evidence, I think I can illustrate that using information technology—your smart phone, your iPad and/or your laptop—while abroad may not be as simple or as inexpensive as one would hope. That is staying “connected,” essential in the type of travel I was doing, was challenging to say the least. Continue reading

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The Exceptional World of U.S. Prisons

Guest Contributor, Dr. Marshall Carter-Tripp provides some interesting perspective and important information considering our current prison system as it compares to such countries as Russia and Iran.  You may be surprised.

 America4796934n “Exceptionalism” is being celebrated by American politicians, who express amazement that the rest of the world doesn’t understand how exceptional we are.  Sadly, the rest of the world may well understand this, but from a different perspective than the one adopted by our politicians, and most of the news media. Continue reading

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The Secrets of Florence—Or Following in the Steps of Dan Brown’s “Inferno”

I apologize in advance to my good friends and scholars of Florence for any mistakes I have inadvertently made in describing their wonderful city and history—PM

 

9780385537858_p0_v11_s260x420I am just wrapping up nine weeks in Florence, Italy where I tried to see if my grey cells could accept the idea of learning a new language (Italian) and maybe unleash some long dormant art skills.  In the process of wandering the streets and checking out the sights of the city while not otherwise occupied conjugating verbs like “essere” (to be) or splashing paint on canvas (and my clothes—I finally got smart and bought one of those tourist aprons) I learned a bit about Florence and it’s “secrets.”  For those of you who are aficionados of Dan Brown you know his latest book “Inferno” mostly takes place in Florence where his main character, Dr. Robert Langdon, races through various secret passages among some of the more famous landmarks of the city.  The Italian tourist industry being very astute has developed an entire new series of tours which retrace Langdon’s fictional steps through the city.  I managed to get on some of those tours as well as a few private ones that I describe here and where I also try to add a little “fact” to the “fiction” of “Inferno.” Continue reading

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By the Numbers–Off the Beaten Track in Europe

Since arriving in Europe in mid-May, I have traveled just over 16,000 kms, visited ten countries and stayed in some thirty-odd cities, some more than once.  The following gives not only some of the costs broken out in terms of travel, lodging, food and “other” (the odd piece of clothing or added unexpected expense) but some of the other “issues” to be considered by anyone who might consider a similar journey. The overall goal was to keep the costs at roughly 150 Euros or $200 per day to try to maintain a reasonable budget for such a trip. In the end it is more than just costs that determine what is or is not a successful venture in traveling to Europe or elsewhere for that matter. Continue reading

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Life in the Not So Fast Lane—The French Have a Different Approach

The French have a different take on road travel from the Germans and most of the rest of Europe for that matter.  For one they have speed limits no matter where you are the max being 130 kph (or 78 mph)—not intolerable even if you are in a hurry but not the daredevil approach of the Germans either.  The dominance of Mercedes and BMW is replaced by Peugeot and Renault so my little red Peugeot 208 stood a good chance in the “speed” lanes with the rest of France.  Road etiquette remains somewhat the same when it comes to passing—in general no one passes in the right lane and the slower cars and trucks always occupy the right.  So far so good.  There are, however two very big differences in traveling the roads of France versus Germany.  One, is the “invisible lane” and, two, is the “tolls-from-hell” that exist in much of France—make sure you bring a lot of cash and don’t assume that American Express (or Visa or Mastercard) will suffice. Continue reading

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Gone With The Wind–The Asarco Stacks Are No More

A belching giant among pigmy water cannons

A belching giant among pigmy water cannons

On April 13th, early in the morning, a major portion of El Paso’s skyline for almost fifty years, the Asarco stacks,  disappeared and,  literally, were “gone with the wind.”  First the 620 ft. smaller stack and then the larger 828 ft. iconic stack were felled within seconds of the detonation of hundreds of pounds of dynamite placed in both of them.  Hundreds (if not thousands) of witnesses got up early for the pre-dawn event, occupying key points around the Asarco plant to watch the historic demolition of these majestic stacks.  For some it was a moment of joy, a closing of an era with bad memories of pollution, bad smells and an old, dirty industry.  For many of us though it was a sad occasion, signaling an end to an era rich in history, good and bad, but also removing from our landscape a major symbol of that history and the cultural heritage it represented.   For those of us who wished to preserve the stacks it took away an opportunity to not only celebrate our past but to use the stacks as a lodestone to point our way forward into a new, vibrant future.  Unfortunately, it also continued a legacy by many associated with Asarco, including some of our local officials, as well as state and federal agencies to misrepresent, to obfuscate and to outright withhold facts and information from the public critical to their well-being, health and long-term safety. 

Despite pronouncements to the contrary, the felling of the stacks did not go well.  It was not a “clean drop” as predicted.  Continue reading

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Save the Stacks–Last Chance!

Asarco-Concept

Conceptual vision of mixed use of ASARCO property

We wrote in an earlier article (“Save the ASARCO Stacks–Create a Sustainable Future“) of the historical and economic importance of preserving the smoke stacks associated with the now closed industrial complex just off Interstate-10 near downtown El Paso, TX.  We discussed possible mixed uses of the property, including academic research,  a “Green Technology” research park, an international cultural heritage museum,  and outdoor recreational uses of the property all centered around the cultural and historical heritage represented by the stacks.  A small, non-profit organization—Save the Stacks –has led the fight to keep these iconic structures as part of our border skyline.  Made up of concerned El Pasoans  with no political or commercial interests in the stacks or the approximate 400 acres on which they stand, Save the Stacks has advocated using the stacks as part of a monument dedicated to all the individuals impacted by the regional industries and activities represented by them.  However their backs are against the proverbial “wall” as they must convince authorities to stop current plans for the stacks imminent demolition in early April.  This is the last chance to save the stacks or they will be destroyed and a bit of our border’s history lost forever! Continue reading

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The War on Drugs–Going Forward

This is the last of a multi-part series on illegal drugs and their impact on our society with a special emphasis on the US-Mexico border region, exploring how we got here, what are the economic and social impacts of our policies, and exploring alternatives to our current policies going forward.

Illustration by Victor Juhasz, Rolling Stones Magazine, Dec 2012

Illustration by Victor Juhasz, Rolling Stones Magazine, Dec 2012

This past November much of our attention was riveted on the election of a new President along with the other political contests up for grabs for our national, state, and local representatives.  Almost as a side event was the decision by the electorates of the states of Washington and Colorado to legalize and regulate the use of small amounts of marijuana for personal recreation.  For the first time since the early part of the last century state law made it legal for individuals to use marijuana subject only to the same kind of restrictions and regulations that have been applied to alcohol or tobacco, including taxation, abuse (DUI) and age restrictions for use.  The US Department of Justice officials were quick to point out that federal law still classified marijuana as an illicit narcotic, use or possession of which was subject to federal criminal prosecution.  Is this the tipping point, allowing the personal use/possession of marijuana, or simply an aberration in the decades-long war on drugs where the feds will simply step in and squash any attempts to legalize these drugs?  So far the feds have not really taken any action one way or another but there has been no visible change in the enforcement program, including the prosecution of medical marijuana patients. Continue reading

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