Tuesday, 22 November 2011

By on November 22nd, 2011 in biology, science kits

11:38 – I’ve started placing orders for the biology kits. This morning, I placed orders for several thousand bottles and a couple kilograms each of agar and dextrose.

I’m still working heads-down on the biology book. I’m about to start a new group. I’m not sure if I’ll do the group on fungi or plants next.

27 Comments and discussion on "Tuesday, 22 November 2011"

  1. brad says:

    Fungi are plants! I’ve always thought it unfair for the poor, gray things to be relegated to a different kingdom. Discrimination!

    Seriously, it’s kind of an interesting history, but fungi were apparently first definitively separated from plants in 1969.

    Actually, reading farther, I see that some fungi are now classified together with animals as Opisthokonta. That’s a new one on me – from now on I shall expect my mushrooms to march peacefully to the frying pan on their own stems.

  2. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    Well, they were certainly considered plants back when we had only Animalia and Plantae to choose between. As you’re apparently aware, biological taxonomy is by no means settled.

    I just finished doing a lab session on Protista, including Euglena, which was the species that finally did in the old two-kingdom system. With half the biologists arguing that euglena was obviously a plant because it’s an autotroph and the other half arguing that it’s an animal because it’s motile, something had to give. It was because of Euglena that we went to a three-kingdom system, with Euglena in the new kingdom, Protista.

    Heck, there are still a fair number of biologists who think algae should be in Plantae rather than Protista, and I have some sympathy for their arguments. Except of course for blue-green algae, which are now bacteria.

    I hate how things keep changing in biology. To this day, I refer to the plague bacterium as Pasteurella pestis rather than Yersinia pestis. I think they changed the name back in 1967 or something. I hate it when they do that.

    Ultimately, I think we’ll end up getting rid of the Domain-Kingdom system and going with an organization based on monophyletic groupings, but that has the disadvantage of sometimes being non-intuitive. It separates very similar-appearing organisms from each other, and combines dissimilar-appearing organisms into the same groupings. Still, it make sense from a DNA perspective and that’s ultimately what matters.

  3. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    Incidentally, Euglena is not the only “animal” that has chlorophyll and engages in photosynthesis. Even disregarding other protists, there is at least one organism that no one would deny is an animal, and it also engages in photosynthesis. My friend Paul Jones studies it.

  4. brad says:

    ” I think we’ll end up getting rid of the Domain-Kingdom system and going with an organization based on monophyletic groupings, but that has the disadvantage of sometimes being non-intuitive.”

    Indeed, this seems to be the way things are moving. Biology isn’t something I know a lot about, and I find this movement to non-intuitive/non-obvious classifications somehow disturbing. Even though it’s clear why it makes perfect sense.

    On a completely different topic, I somehow happened across this article about a European’s complaints about the States. While he is (deliberately) a bit over the top, some of his points are so very true – particularly the one about marketing. An example that stuck with my from my last visit: I was waiting in line at a bank. The teller was apparently required to rattle off a sales pitch for the banks credit card – to every single customer, before she was allowed to ask them what they wanted. I actually felt really sorry for the teller, but I could have happily strangled the bank’s marketing department, after hearing the same sales pitch half-a-dozen times before it was my turn at the counter.

    Anyway, I figure the article ought to make for a couple of interesting comments here…

  5. Raymond Thompson says:

    The teller was apparently required to rattle off a sales pitch for the banks credit card

    Actually, the teller was probably not obligated. The teller was on commission. Every additional service they sell nets them a bonus in their paycheck. It has worked this way for years, even back in the ’80’s when I was an Information Systems Officer at a large commercial holding company. It used to tick us off because we had no such incentives in our pay structure.

    One teller made more in commissions than she did in regular salary. Her advantage was she was really good looking and wore low cut blouses. Management did not care as she was selling products.

    We took great pains to aggregate all the services that someone was using at a bank as sometime they had different account numbers, including trying to match people within the same household. It was not easy in San Antonio with names like Gonzales being very popular. All the information for a customer, or household, was available on the screen. Typical pitch was to say “I notice you have a home loan but no home equity line of credit. May I interest you in a low rate line of credit loan?” Selling that was good for about 30 bucks in the tellers paycheck.

  6. Chad says:

    I use to work with a girl from Brazil and one thing she noted about the US is that people quickly and easily say they’re sorry for every little thing. According to her, in Brazil, one only says they’re sorry when they are truly deeply apologetic. Our overuse of apologies have diluted their meaning. I told it’s probably because “sorry” doubles for what in other cultures can best be translated as “think nothing of it.”

    I spoke with a British girl working at a bar in Spain had a few of snide remarks about Americans:

    Her first complaint is that we call ourselves Americans. To her thinking, everyone from North and South America is an American so why do we claim it all to ourselves? I informed her that she was partially right, but that the USA is the only country in North or South America whose official country name actually contains the word America (that’s the “A” in USA). So, that’s why we do that. What else are we suppose to be? United Statesmen? That seemed to partially satisfy her.

    Her second complaint was that Americans expect everyone to visit the US. She said every time she talks to an American one of the first things out of our mouths is “Have you ever been to America?” When she replied she had not then their inevitable reply was always, “You should definitely visit!” She found that arrogant. I explained that it was probably just tourist smalltalk and something people said for lack of anything else to say to someone they don’t know in a foreign country. I then explained that I had no ties to the US tourism industry and I was rather antisocial and hated crowds, so I would be quite content if she and everyone else never visited the US.

    Her final complaint was that Americans speak only English. I told her that was for a few reasons: Everywhere I had gone there were English speakers so there was no genuine need to learn a foreign language. Many non-English speaking countries now require English lessons at some point in school so huge portions of the population have at least rudimentary English speaking skills. Also, I had been to about a dozen different countries that month, so just how many languages was I expected to know? It’s easy as a non-English speaker to learn English and then pat themselves on the back for knowing more than one language, especially when that second language is as widely used and as useful as English. What would be the point of me learning Italian, for example? Other than for cultural enrichment, how would that ever really benefit me?

    About that point I decided she was a bitch and I’m sure she decided I was an asshole, so we parted company. I’m sure she’s still there rolling her eyes every time an American sits down at her bar.

    Part of the problem is that for a lot of people around the world they only get exposed to three groups of Americans: Tourists, Soldiers, and whatever Hollywood is churning out. That’s not exactly a scientific sampling of Americans. Imagine if the only three Americans you knew were an 80 year old couple on vacation, a patriotic zealot Marine, and the fictional characters from whatever movie had good international ticket sales.

    As for that Irishman’s article… well, nothing surprising there. All of those articles contain one or more of the following themes:

    Americans are fat.
    Americans are arrogant.
    America needs better consumer protection laws and more regulation.
    America needs socialized healthcare.
    America needs to make guns illegal.
    American media and marketing are steamrolling other cultures.

    Here’s my summary of all such articles: “Oh my God are Americans fat and their portion sizes are huge. They think the world revolves around them. Big business is sticking it to all of them and they don’t notice or care. They all carry guns. I was afraid I was going to get shot by some inner city thug or some redneck from the religious right. Be careful you don’t get sick or hurt because their hospitals will only treat you if you pay, up front, in gold bullion.”

  7. Chad says:

    The teller was apparently required to rattle off a sales pitch for the banks credit card

    I use to work for a large regional bank. Tellers and Personal Bankers were required to get so many points every month. You get points for opening new accounts, getting credit applications, etc. If you didn’t get your points then you got fired.

  8. Miles_Teg says:

    brad wrote:

    “On a completely different topic, I somehow happened across this article about a European’s complaints about the States. While he is (deliberately) a bit over the top, some of his points are so very true…”

    Yeah, I agreed with almost all of this. I detest tipping. I never knew how much to tip so I had to asked my hosts how much to tip in various situations. I’d rather have the tip folded into the cost of a meal/taxi ride/whatever.

    I found portions in real restaurants to be just insanely large. I went to one place near DC, ordered soup and a main (ribs). The soup was delicious but when my ribs arrived I wished I hadn’t. It was a slab of ribs on a very large plate that was literally hanging over the edge of both sides of the plate. It was delicious, but I only barely got through it. I had no interest at all in dessert, even though I have a serious sweet tooth.

    A thing I noticed about the US is that there are a *lot* of fat people there. We have them here too, but there are far more fat people there and the fat people are fatter than here. I blame the crazy portions in restaurants. (But portion sizes in cafeterias like at the Smithsonians and McDonalds were about normal.)

    I bought some wine for my hosts at a Giant supermarket. I was 45 at the time but the assistant wanted to see some ID. Why? And nobody ever checked my signature against that on my credit card.

  9. OFD says:

    Ya know, I will happily sit here all day and rattle off a boatload of the things that piss me off about this country, but I will be goddamned if I will sit still and let some foreign schmuck shit on us. We can do that all by ourselves, thank you. Some of us, anyway. We do a lot of wrong things and there is much that is fucked up but we have also done more good in the world for the last two-hundred years than all the other countries put together, and the most good in all of recorded human history. More freedom, liberty and prosperity for billions because of us and our hallowed Christian and English traditions. To deny this is to deny truth writ large.

  10. eristicist says:

    I’d say that it’s despite Christian traditions, OFD. 😛

  11. Miles_Teg says:

    Don’t shoot the messenger, OFD.

  12. OFD says:

    Like it or not it was Christian moral thought and activism that ended slavery for Great Britain’s commerce to great financial cost; the much earlier encouragement and advancement of science and technology; and the basis of our natural law, freedom and liberty. Not much of which is visible in the world of Islam despite having had our example and 1,300 years to try.

  13. Miles_Teg says:

    Boy, the 800 pound gorilla of this board is going to be frothing at the mouth when he reads the above…

  14. OFD says:

    Is he up to 800 pounds already? Even BEFORE Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners? I know I’ll be pushing toward 300…Mrs. OFD made a bunch of pumpkin pies, pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins, etc. from our most successful veggie crop this past season. So it’s her fault.

    Listen, the Church got a bad rap just for giving Galileo a little talking-to, and Sir Isaac was way more into theology than gravity.

  15. Miles_Teg says:

    He says clothes that fitted him in college (40 years ago) still do. Yeah, right.

    I love roast pumpkin, pumpkin soup, pumpkin scones, so you and Mrs OFD have gone up in my estimation.

    Newton was not orthodox: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Newton#Religious_views

  16. Chuck Waggoner says:

    Christianity is pretty clearly one fiction among many alternatives, that — through organized activity supported by a great many rulers and kings of the day — managed to become a fairly widely-accepted myth. It may contain seeds and ideas useful to humanity’s advancement, but it is only a small part of the lives of people who have shaped the world. And it has a pretty ugly history in just about every age. I seriously doubt it has been the motivation that has put men on the moon and an iPod in my pocket.

    As for the messenger noted above, well, nobody’s perfect, and everybody is entitled to an opinion. Lord knows I have an opinion about almost everything. Of course, my European roots are closer than most Americans, because my grandmother was a European WWI bride, and the families have visited each other extensively all throughout my life.

    Actually, I don’t see that this guy pooped on anybody. In fact, WHAT is over the top? I would add #18: Americans don’t take criticism well at all, as they think they are the best people on Earth and will not be convinced otherwise.

    A lot of nations and peoples have brought good to the world — even before recorded history; — the US does not have exclusive rights to that. In fact, I think a lot of what happened in native America (both North and South) has been lost, primarily because those nasty Europeans (who became Americans) decided nothing was as good as what they represented, so they did all they could to crush those societies and their ways of preserving knowledge.

    I do find some of his comments interesting, but you know, you have to have some recognition of genuine cultural differences. The problem there, is that most Americans I know have no concept whatever that people exist who do not think, act, and like exactly the same things as them. I always found it somewhat entertaining when first-time American visitors to Germany sputtered in disbelief and anger that water is not served free with restaurant meals, nor can you get ice anywhere but in McDonalds.

    The #3 on the list is one I disagree with: “Smiles mean NOTHING”. Actually, one of the first things I was told to be quite careful of, when we first moved to Europe, was smiling. Smiles DO mean something there, and it is not always what you want to convey. There, smiling does not mean ‘I’m such a good guy — SEE my smile?’

    Actually, it can mean you are interested in a sexual advance, and that can get you into trouble. Yes, people there smile with reason — like when someone says something funny. But no, the Aldi or Lidl clerk does NOT smile at you when it is your turn at the checkout. If they did, it would be an invitation to meet them after work.

    But Americans have trouble with this lack of smiley people everywhere, even in their own country. Having grown up in the Midwest, I actually know more than one person who moved to New England for a job, but returned to the Midwest, because “people out there are unfriendly.” Having lived in Boston longer than anywhere else in my life, I can tell you this is wrong. It comes from a lack of perceiving and comprehending the cultural differences between the two places. I tell everybody that you can have the same friendly conversation with the checkout clerk in Boston that you have in Indianoplace. Here, it is the checkout clerk’s job to smile and say, “Hi, how are you? How many kids do you have? Where did you go on your last vacation?” In Boston, it is the CUSTOMER’s job to start that conversation with the appropriate question (while smiling, of course).

    There is another difference. People out East respect privacy more than anybody in the Midwest. I could take my walks around the pond in Melrose with my Walkman and my own thoughts, and nobody passing me would disturb them. Here, when I walk around the park with my iPod and podcasts that I really want to give my undivided attention to, I MUST also say hello to every man, woman, child, and dog, or somebody will call the cops and report me as a ne’er do well, who does not belong in Tiny Town, and would likely rob the next person that comes along. And “hello” always leads to some comment or question that requires me to remove the earbuds and stop walking.

    Tipping. Yeah, it was easy in Germany: €1/person at restaurants, unless is was a really expensive place, when 10% of the total was appropriate — and it was not crucial to the waiter’s survival. But what do we have? A class of business owners who want ME to pay the waiter’s wage. While I was away living in Germany, the suggested tip rose from 15% to 20%. Well, screw that. I cut back to 10%, and never tip more than $1 at lunch. Tipping should be illegal, and there should be no exceptions to minimum wage for the food industry. Fortunately, I cannot be thrown in jail for tipping too little, and I always accompany people who tip well, so I am never punished with poor service.

    Pricing. It was really hard to get used to not having the full price listed for items when I got back. How we ever got into that practice, when practically the whole world outside the US includes tax on the item or the sign, is beyond me. And in Indy, you are additionally surprised, because restaurants there add another percent to the price to pay for the Colts’ stadium, because its poor, rich owner cannot possibly afford to pay for it, himself (no, actually he extorts that money from the city fathers). We will see how that tax goes down after a few miserably losing seasons without Payton Manning. Guess we now know for positive sure who was responsible for the Colts’ success.

    Because my close family includes real French people, I am incensed that Americans take every excuse to damn the French with stereotypes, lies, and jokes. Ever done the research to learn WHY the French did not support the Iraq war? Because they had already been the FIRST to put their money into the Iraq economy on a big scale, before G.W. started his insane war, and they stood to lose EVERYTHING with an invasion — and they did! If France had not supported the American Revolution, the USA would not even exist. But Americans just LOVE to whip the French.

    Why did I grow up with blonde and Polish jokes? Even as a kid, I knew that was wrong, and I hated hearing people telling them. In nearly 10 years of living in Germany, most of it less than 50km from Poland, I NEVER heard a blonde or Polish joke. Wonder why it is okay in the US?

    I’m scanning the list and could go on at length, but I will end by really, REALLY agreeing with his comment about getting around in the US. Impossible without cars. So, you are 80, live in Tiny Town, and the BMV tells you that you are no longer fit to drive. How do you get food? An 80 year-old is not going to walk 2.5 miles to my nearest grocery (Walmart is even further, at over 5 miles away and actually outside the city), then carry food bags back that same distance. If you can walk at 80 in Germany (and 80 year-olds in Germany could usually outpace me), you can easily get to the grocery with a short walk to a bus, and then a few minute ride to a neighborhood grocery. Bring your wheeled grocery carrier in Germany, because there are sidewalks everywhere in even the smallest towns. Just 2 blocks from me, well within the Tiny Town city limits, there is a stretch where there is no sidewalk on either side of the street for almost 2 miles!

    But his most important comment regarding transit in the US is that — even where public transit exists — it is “never first world standard”. AMEN!

    A relative recently said to me that anybody in any country who does not prefer to drive a car to get around, is stupid. A car is a ball and chain. It is not freedom. The last year we were in Boston, we owned 1 car and spent almost $8,000 on all expenses related to it. In Berlin, we each had a yearly transit pass and the cost for the two of us was under $1,300, and the trains and busses run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can get within a few blocks (less than 10 minutes walking) of anywhere in Berlin proper, in far less time than it would take you to drive it. Something Americans somehow do not have the mental ability to believe.

    Just you wait ‘enry ‘iggins. Transportation is crucial to existence in the modern era. Americans pay far, FAR more for transportation than other first-world countries, because they DEMAND personal transportation. Just as we now have to compete with the world on wages, we will find that we also have to compete on the cost of transportation. Boy, are we going to suffer on that one, as it is perfectly clear by the condition of ALL roads around me, from city streets to Interstate highways, that we cannot afford the infrastructure for personal transportation. And individuals are already sacrificing to afford gasoline at its current prices. A country that has boxed itself into ill-affordable personal transportation with no alternative, cannot possibly remain the world economic leader.

    I know I said I would end, but one more. His comment about always being in a hurry. One thing I really enjoyed in Germany was the 20 minutes of conversation following a meal, often with an espresso (Germans consider it unhealthy if the meal is not allowed to ‘settle’). Not here! Everyone I eat with in Tiny Town and Indianoplace, jumps up — literally — after they get the last bite in their mouth and rushes to the cash register to pay. What in the hell is the hurry? My family is going out to a restaurant run by family friends for Thanksgiving dinner. One thing I know — as soon as the last person has the last bite of dessert in their mouth, the group will rise to exit as fast as possible. At restaurant birthday parties in Germany, we would sometimes sit for as much as 2 hours talking and enjoying. Boy, not in America!

    Which leads to his comment that Americans are “the most stressed out and unhappiest people on the planet.” Well, “stress” is a Freudian word, and it sure gets a lot of use in Germany. But the Germans around me were happy with their life and their circumstances. Not so in America. Without fail, everyone around me constantly talks about how they need a new car or a new house; the job they have now is too taxing and not fulfilling and they are looking or training for another one; they need a better vacation than the last one; their kids need to be in a better school system; — the list goes on and on. And you do not have to prod Americans to say this stuff. Maybe that is a positive that has driven America to its world success, but it is truly hard being around people who are just not happy campers.

  17. Miles_Teg says:

    Chuck wrote:

    (lots of stuff)

    Making small talk with people I don’t know drives me nuts. I hate it when supermarket clerks, bank tellers, taxi drivers and so on as “How’s your day been? And other questions. If I don’t know a person and likely won’t be meeting them again I’m just not interested. On the other hand, the lady who has been cutting my hair for 25 or so years is allowed to make small talk! I deliberately go to her place (she resigned from the place she worked at since forever a couple of years ago) to get my hair done. Sometimes she can be slightly irritating, but I’m happy with the job she does.)

    I like the French. Well, most of them. I’m the only person in my family who studied the language in high school – everyone else did German. They respond very well to even a few words in their language when you’re there; I got a big smile from the lady behind the desk in Bayonne for a simple merci beaucoup. -and no, she didn’t ask to visit me in my roon later that evening… 🙁

    When I was a kid I made racist jokes. We *all* did. We called ‘New Australians” dagos, wops, wogs, Balts, and so on. But we were all good friends and weren’t serious about it. Most of my best friends had European parents. Blonde jokes are different. I avoided making them to some of my blonde friends because I wanted to go on living, but others were quite tolerant and even told their own blonde jokes. I did go a bit far one day, asking this particular young woman “How do you know a blonde’s having a bad day?” I’ll post the answer later when I’m not at work…

    British friends who worked in DC from about 1999-2003 said it was very rare to be invited to American’s homes, especially for parties. Kids parties were held at MacDonalds, not the kid’s home.

    I certainly like having a long chat after a restaurant meal, so long as the seats are comfortable and noise and other patrons aren’t intrusive.

  18. Miles_Teg says:


    From the article:
    ‘”Enough is enough. Corruption in Illinois has to stop,” US District Judge Amy St. Eve said in handing down sentence to the now-gaunt 56-year-old.’

    Boy, what a naive judge…

  19. brad says:

    Replies to a couple of points in Chuck’s post…

    – – – – –

    Lingering in restaurants – from a purely practical/economic point of view, this is an interesting difference.

    In Europe, people often go to a restaurant for dinner and spend the entire evening there. This means that the restaurant will only serve one meal per table, which means that restaurant prices are very high, which means that eating out is a rare treat, which means that you will spend the entire evening enjoying the experience.

    In the States, people go to a restaurant, eat and leave. This means that the restaurant will serve three or four meals per table, which means that restaurant prices are low, which means that eating out is nothing special, which means that you go, eat, and leave to get on with the rest of your evening.

    Both approaches are entirely reasonable, and both are very much self-reinforcing.

    – – – – –

    Transportation – this is a genuine problem in the USA, but one that most natives don’t get, because they’ve never seen – and lived – an alternative.

    Chuck’s point about elderly people is well-taken. When my grandmother was getting up in years, she was still perfectly capable of running her own household, but she was a complete menace on the roads. Her license should have been taken away years earlier than it was – but then what could she do? In her neighborhood there were no shops or businesses at all. No bus stops either. How could she shop? Get to the doctor? Do anything?

    I was in Albuquerque last summer, clearing up my mother’s affairs. Albuquerque has generous sidewalks, nice pedestrian crossings – the main problem is that things are too far apart for walking to be practical. However, my mother’s place happened to be near a grocery store, so I could and did walk. I was almost always the *only* pedestrian on the sidewalks.

    At one point, I was meeting some relatives for lunch. We had another errand to run, and had all parked at a parking lot across the street from the restaurant. I didn’t see any reason to walk back to the car, drive across the street, and repark it, so I walked. My relatives came with me, and I thought nothing of it. What a revelation! By the time we had walked the 100 yards or so, they were panting, sweating and out of breath: “I haven’t walked so far in years!”. Wow. Just wow…

    However, like the restaurants, it’s a self-reinforcing problem. American cities are too spread out for public transport to work – European cities are far denser, and this is what makes public transport possible. American cities are build for cars, so everyone drives. Because everyone drives, the cities have to be built for cars. There’s really no way out of the cycle – if people even wanted out, which they don’t.

  20. OFD says:

    Well, I ain’t moving to Europe.

  21. Brad says:

    No reason you should. If there was a point to my ramblings, its only that the differences are self-reinforcing. Local maxima, if you will, which makes moving in either direction difficult. Frankly, I like European public transport, but prwder the American model for eating out.

  22. Brad says:


    Darn, typing on mobile keyboards sucks…

  23. OFD says:

    Oh, I wasn’t directing my comment at you specifically, Brad, just in-general. I am aware that many things are done better in Europe than here, but it’s the devil I know.

    And I have to plead guilty to the annoying American habit of eating and running. I never liked hanging around for another hour or so after a meal, while others drank coffee after coffee and just rambled on and on and on. Eat and get out, after a reasonable interval; jeezum, just waiting for the check, paying it, and getting a receipt back takes forever.

    As for Christianity having “…a pretty ugly history…” I would humbly submit that Islam’s is far, far worse, and that the lovely pagans and animists were hardly paragons of sweetness, virtue and light. Yes, there was the Inquisition, which killed far fewer people than hitherto popularly supposed, and the Reformation, with his burnings, hangings; the witch hunts, etc., etc. And let’s not forget (like we ever will) the depredations of clergy through the ages, not least in our own time. The Church is made up of human beings, sinful, broken and full of error as we are. Nevertheless it has generally been a force for great good in the last 2,000 years and as was promised, will stand against the gates of Hell.

    And it was more than a fantasy to the countless martyrs, from the beginning to the present day, including all twelve Apostles. People don’t generally choose to die in horrible ways for specious fantasies. They’re dying now around the world, often at the hands of rabid muslim mobs, and they died in Europe by the millions in the Good War, including the late Dietrich Bonhoeffer, hanged with piano wire, and well worth reading.

    But hey, YMMV, obviously.

  24. OFD says:

    And that’s “its burnings, hangings…” NOT “his.” Fat fingers typing too fast and no correction/editing possible.

  25. Miles_Teg says:

    brad wrote:

    “Chuck’s point about elderly people is well-taken. When my grandmother was getting up in years, she was still perfectly capable of running her own household, but she was a complete menace on the roads. Her license should have been taken away years earlier than it was – but then what could she do? In her neighbourhood there were no shops or businesses at all. No bus stops either. How could she shop? Get to the doctor? Do anything?”

    Fortunately, everything at the village is laid on for mum, and my sister drives her to her favourite doctor and other appointments when she needs it. She also is eligible for a steeply discounted taxi service.

    My mum will be 88 soon, and she’s in remarkably good condition. She needs a walking frame to get around though. When she was living independently she had a near neighbour who was considerably older who was as fit as someone 60 years younger. She would walk around unassisted, no frame, in her nineties. She kept fit when she was younger, and it paid dividends in old age. My sister and I nagged and nagged and nagged my mum to go for more walks, now she wishes she listened. Now she lives in a retirement village near my sister, who does her washing and takes her places.

    Mum never had a licence to drive, we nagged her a bit in the Sixties and Seventies but she never took the plunge. For the best I think, even when she was very much younger she probably wouldn’t have been a good driver. A female neighbour took me for my driving test when I was 16 in 1974. She’d never driven a car but had gotten her licence in the Forties when you just sent in 10 Shillings (a buck or two back then) and they mailed you a licence, no test. Because I had only a Learners permit I couldn’t drive solo, she she was in the passenger’s seat with me even though she could offer no useful advice. A cop took me for my test, and 15 minutes later I’d earned my licence. Too easy. A few years later I got motorbike, bus and truck licences. Gee, if I lost them it would take ages and a lot of moolah to get them back.

  26. Raymond Thompson says:

    Having been to Germany four times I found the transportation to be excellent and used the system. What I also found is that the density of people in areas where such transportation existed was very high. Yards that could be cut in 38.7 seconds with a manual push mower. Parking for only one vehicle, maybe if you got there early. Local roads that are so poorly designed they have signs to tell you about the signs. The autobahn was constantly crowded with large cities like Frankfurt horribly congested. Parking at shopping centers was almost impossible to find with cars parked in almost any nook and cranny and places that were not even parking spots.

    Large cities in the US are no much different. There are busses and trains. New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco all have transportation systems. Oak Ridge and Oliver Springs have nothing because they are small towns that have no such need. The town of Oliver Springs where I live consist of an area that is about the size of Kronberg Germany. Yet Oliver Springs has only 3,000 people. Kronberg has almost that many in one living complex.

    Americans for the most part like wide open spaces. They do not want to be crammed in like Europeans do. Tiny kitchens, tiny bedrooms, tiny bathrooms are not something that most Americans enjoy. In Europe I always felt cramped, hemmed in by the congestion and closeness of all the buildings.

    Yeh, Germany has a good transportation system. But without it the country would be in complete and total gridlock 22 hours of the day. Mass transportation is not a desire, it is an absolute need in Germany.

  27. Chuck Waggoner says:

    It’s an absolute need in most cities of the US these days. Chicago no longer has a rush hour — roads there are equally as jammed all around the clock as they used to be at rush hour. Even Indianapolis needs to get away from the idea that roads can carry the ever-increasing traffic load. They can’t. My treks into Naptown take FAR too long, and the only way I can get parking is that I am usually in the city by 07:30 before the garages have their “Sorry, Full” signs lit. The planning commissions in Indy admit that by the time they finish constructing and altering various roads and routes, they are already 5 to 10 years behind the needs.

    I agree with Brad: Americans have not even a remote clue what a good public transit system is, and apparently have genes predisposed against finding out. You have spent enough time there to recognize just how efficient and comfortable it can be. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of Germans couldn’t care less what the condition of the roads or parking is. Who cares about that in a place like Berlin, where only 30% own a car, and most of those do not use it to get to work?.

    Plus, nowhere in Germany was the Autobahn not clearly, clearly superior to the puny two-lane US Interstate system, where trucks mandated to 65mph are allowed to pass, thus frequently slowing down cars that can legally travel 70mph. On the Autobahn, trucks cannot pass unless there are at least 4 lanes (which there often are).

    I never felt cramped in Berlin. Actually, I have less space in my current house than we did in our part of the house in Strausberg, although I admit the Strausberg house was big enough that they call it a “villa” there. Nevertheless, my house is typical of the majority of those around me: 2 x bedrooms of 9’ X 12’ and the other rooms of the house only modestly larger than that. I never felt that the places we lived in Berlin were smaller than the houses and apartments we had lived in before. But I owned only one house that could be called whopping huge, with 4,000 ft^2 — 3,000 of it finished. I never want that much space to take care of again, and would not buy that house if I had it to do over again. Several rooms in it were never used at all during the time we lived there.

    Tiny kitchens are a problem only in buildings that have not been renovated. And since renovation is a part of responsible living in Germany — nearly everyone has renewed everything about their house by the end of 15 years, — kitchens are now quite workable. We looked at quite a few apartments in Berlin, anticipating a move back into the city proper, and the kitchen was never the reason we did not take it. Tiny dorm-sized refrigerators were our only complaint, but we actually had that, plus a full-sized American fridge, plus a deep-freeze, plus our son’s family had a huge double-door fridge in their massive kitchen, so it is certainly possible to correct any deficiency there.

    Anyway, apartment blocks in Berlin are not much different than in America — apartments roughly equivalent in size to average American apartment developments, — only without the massive surrounding American blacktop to accommodate a car for every occupant in every apartment. Although 60m^2 was the official maximum size mandated by the East German government, — except for people who lived alone, — most people we knew with families, lived in at least 100m^2. Surely that is enough living space for anybody but a packrat.

    As far as crowds go, never was Alexanderplatz — one of the main Berlin shopping venues — as crowded with people as the Castleton Square shopping mall in Indy ordinarily is. Walk down any residential street in Berlin, and there are no more people out than on a typical neighborhood street (with sidewalks) in the US. Yeah, if you are going to some celebration — like Sylvester (New Year’s Eve), then you are going to be around tens of thousands or more, just exactly like going to the Indianapolis 500.

    Actually, downtown areas of Berlin (Paris, Rome, etc.) have considerably more street and sidewalk space than any typical American city. Walk down Unter den Linden and tell me it feels more dense than walking downtown Meridian Street in Indianapolis. It has to be that just because when you walk down a sidewalk in the US, there is seldom more than one or two others on it, that seeing a dozen other people on a sidewalk at the same time, fools the mind. But those sidewalks in Europe — even the side streets — are at least 3 to 5 times wider than US sidewalks. I am truly baffled at how anybody could get the feeling of increased density in the major European cities, when the near-north- and south-sides of Chicago, most areas of Brooklyn, or Back Bay Boston really ARE cramped and dense feeling with streets hardly wide enough for two cars to pass each other. Much more cramped than anything I ever experienced in Berlin.

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