November 30, 2008

Drive a green car

In money terms, emitting carbon dioxide gives you a lot of bang for the buck. But why not turn this around, and not emit some large mass of carbon dioxide for only a little bit of buck? This is the idea behind carbon offsets.

Here's a place where you can buy a carbon offset that will turn your car into a carbon neutral vehicle. To quote the late great Chef Tell, Very simple, very easy. These people achieve the carbon offsets through clean energy, landfill gas capture and farm power.

Makes a great Christmas gift!


Biking update

My New Year's Promise for 2008 was to ride my bikes farther than I drive our car.

Mileage totals, 30 November:
Biking, 4608 km, 2864 miles
Driving, 6080 km, 3779 miles

This doesn't look so good. In order to reach my goal I'd need to bike 50 km a day every day up to the end of the year and not use the car at all -- to pick up a Christmas tree or buy food or bring a carload of equipment to the electron storage ring for a study.

Even so, its been an interesting year. I started taking bike maintenance seriously -- it's a lot more fun to ride when your bike's in shape. I discovered that you can do without a car pretty well most of the time. The kids bike to school and we bike to work, and most of the trips to get groceries are by bike.

There are times when it is hard to do without a car though. We visit my wife's Aunt a few times a year, she's in her 80s and lives alone. We drove up to Stockholm to see my wife's parents this summer, and that one trip was 25% of our annual use. And sometimes I can't avoid driving to work -- doing this once is worth two weeks of biking, since most of the distance of the commute is by train.

In fact, most of the time when I drive I am not alone in the car. Like we were four to Stockholm, so I should subtract 1500 km * (1 - 0.25) = 1125 km. Similar trips to see Aunt give credit of 500 km. If I wanted to I could add some bike miles since I've noticed that most of the time I am biking into the wind, not to mention bonus kilometers for heavy driving mist, frozen slush and full body splashes from light duty trucks.

Adjusted mileage totals, 30 November:
Biking, 4608 km, 2864 miles
Driving, 4455 km, 2769 miles

Not half bad?

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November 25, 2008

Fun fact

In Holland we were told that chocolate is more nutritious than cheese. It is an accepted fact among the Dutch.

November 23, 2008


The Complete Bushisms on Slate.

"How can you possibly have an international agreement that's effective unless countries like China and India are not full participants?"—Camp David, April 19, 2008

"A lot of times in politics you have people look you in the eye and tell you what's not on their mind."—Sochi, Russia, April 6, 2008

"And so, General, I want to thank you for your service. And I appreciate the fact that you really snatched defeat out of the jaws of those who are trying to defeat us in Iraq."—meeting with Army Gen. Ray Odierno, Washington, D.C., March 3, 2008

"More than two decades later, it is hard to imagine the Revolutionary War coming out any other way."—Martinsburg, W. Va., July 4, 2007

November 22, 2008

The Election.

Fresca asks, what do folks say about the election?

I am pleased to say that what I am hearing now is a stunned silence, because 53% of the US electorate has just removed the favorite topic of conversation for a certain sort around here. Those who were secretly hoping the Bradley effect would confirm their judgement of Americans. What will they do now?

1. Last week my wife went to a dinner for all the moms at A's pre-school. A girls'/moms' night out. A mom from the Netherlands (she is a sex therapist) explains how she could never live in the U.S. because she has serious concerns about our legal system. Around the table, heads nod in agreement. My wife thinks carefully and explains, Well, we lived in Los Angeles for five years and I never once thought about that.

2. First son comes home from fifth grade with a homework assignment where he should answer questions about a Swedish newspaper article about the new U.S. President. The article says that some of Obama's policies would not be accepted in Sweden, for example that he is in favor of the death penalty. (I didn't know that and a with a little research I learned that he is for the death penalty for heinous crimes but he is also in favor of being able to establish guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt).

So. I explain to Swedes that the Unites States is a Federal system (it's like Germany, I say). States make their own laws and Minnesota for example banned the death penalty in 1906, something that did not occur in Sweden until 1921. (Until then, conviction for crimes such as murder, witchcraft, adultery, incest, fraud, abuse, sodomy and bestiality could and did result in capital punishment.) But these people will not let themselves be sidetracked by detail or fact: As everybody knows, the U.S. represents the worst of human nature: unfettered capitalism, rape of the ecosystem, ignorance and the perversion of all that civilization has to be proud of. (Another example is that the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in the U.S. before Swedish women were granted the same right.) Yet, year after year there is one argument that always wins, We wouldn't want it to be like it is in the U.S.!

Last week at lunch in Copenhagen a group of students told me that they read that Scandinavia is held up as a negative example by the right in the U.S. What do they think about us, they asked? I explained how some in the U.S. think Socialism is the first, second and third step on the road to hell, and how some people believe taxes pervert morals, turn people into liars and legitimize businesses hiding their income. I got a pretty good laugh out of a German guy when I told about Ronald Reagan's Nine Scariest Words in the English Language: I'm from the government and I'm here to help. What the students couldn't accept is that many (most?) Americans seriously believe our country is better than theirs. If you asked the students would earnestly explain about differences in child mortality, life expectancy, access to education, crime, divorce rates, death penalty and so on. And it is well known around here that Danes are the happiest people on the planet.

What makes me proud to be an American. First off, if you want to test your patriotism, try living outside the US. I took a taxi a few years ago and the driver told me he was from Iran. Oh, I knew someone from Iran when I went to college I said, now he is a chiropractor and makes a lot of money. That could only happen in the U.S., he said. I'm a civil engineer, but in Sweden all I'll ever be is a taxi driver. The unemployment rate among Somalian refugees in Minnesota is 15 to 20%; in Sweden it is 80%. Nobody assimilates immigrants like the U.S., and Europe has a much larger problem with homegrown terrorists than the U.S. does, and I think its because immigrants in the U.S. are too busy working to make payments on credit card debt. But don't try telling that to people around here, because they know that the U.S. invented racial discrimination. (It would take too long to explain that the very civil rights movement they support is an American invention, or that we fought a bloody civil war over the issue, and so on.)

Just as Swedes should take the beam out of their own eye, so ought Americans demote. I hate to indulge in schadenfreude but after 8 years of being on the shit list, a new day has dawned my friends when we can turn the page and begin a new chapter of history.

Finally, the short answer to Fresca is that I have been congratulated on the election by many people of good nature: Danes, Swedes, Germans, Dutch, two Norwegians and a Canadian.

November 10, 2008

The kid

Our 5-year-old 'A' told everybody at day care that it was his Mom's birthday. They let him cut out pictures and make a really nice card and we all told him how nice it was even though his mom's birthday is not for another 6 months.

Another time A told everyone at day care that his mom's bike tire blew up in a huge explosion so they had to walk to school. Nothing of the sort had happened.

Wife: Were you talking on your cell phone when you took A to the park yesterday?
Me: No.
Wife: Because A told me that you didn't play with him at all because you were talking on the phone.
Me: No, I didn't take my phone with me anywhere over the weekend. I left it at home on purpose so I could get away.

I am really proud of this little guy for his creativity and self confidence and ability to tell entertaining stories -- but when he tries to get his old man in trouble, then he has crossed the line!

November 02, 2008

Family photos are best shared

Recently I posted a photo of the homesteading Johanson family. Paraphrasing Rigtenzin's comment, This really photos are best shared.

And so here's another family photo:

Standing from left are my brothers Lowell Mark and Daniel Peter, front row from left sisters Beryl Allison and Andrea Susan, and Dad and Mom. The first thing to notice is that everyone looks so happy to be there. The photo was taken during my family's golden days in Crookston. Next, I'm not there; I wouldn't be born for a couple of years yet. Then there are the insider's secrets. Allison liked her stockings and wanted to show them off. That's my all-time favorite lamp on the left side. I grew up with that lamp and those philodendrons, they are my favorite kind of houseplant. Dan and Lowell have cool hairdo's and spectacles. And so forth.

Trip to Holland

Our family took a vacation in Holland last week. Some of us vacationed anyway as the Swedish schools were having fall break. I was officially on duty and gave some lectures at the University of Utrecht, and spent what time I could with my family. We stayed at a youth hostel in the countryside and rented bikes to get around. My camera went on strike so all I have to show you is these fuzzy cell phone photos.

Here's one of the University buildings. Colors are popular in Holland. The plastic trays they used at the airport to X-Ray your pocket change used this same combination.

Holland is a cyclist's paradise. Every road has a bike lane. The Dutch favor an upright cycling posture, as I imagine the handlebar-moustached Sturmey Archer himself rode.

Here is a canal in Utrecht, a beautiful city. Back in the day merchants would load their goods out of barges through these doors, and then sell them through the shop at street level.

Utrecht has one of the best post offices I have seen in a long time. Public buildings like this (train stations also catch my eye) are a high water mark of civilization. We don't seem to be building things like this anymore?

We hung out in the countryside, biked into Utrecht and one day took the train in to Amsterdam. After our walk through central Amsterdam I can only conclude that the favorite native sons are not Rembrandt, Escher or Vermeer but Marley and Guevara. I carried our younger son on my shoulders and we sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star at the tops of our lungs through the streets of the red light district on our way from Rembrandt's house (worth the trip) to the train station. Yes they have women in the windows. You can smell wacky weed and the shops sell hash lollipops. I don't think much of what was going on registered with either of our sons, I imagine their innocence protects them. When we sing Twinkle Twinkle, in the last line, 'How I wonder what you are', you have to say the 'are' like a pirate would, 'Arrrgh'.

These stands selling french fries are popular. They are named after a famous statue of a little boy relieving himself. The fries are really good -- served hot in a paper cone with mayo.

I don't know if you can see this so well but it is a triple-decker bicycle parking ramp, located outside the central station in Amsterdam.

At no time did I see any land that was more than two feet above the waterline. The waterline is easy to find because there are ditches, canals and rivers everywhere. Somebody explained that they have discovered how to make a watertight lining so some new houses are built with basements, but the problem is that these houses can float up out of the ground. The countryside is lousy with mallards.


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