Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Book Review On "American Exceptionalism" By Deborah L Madsen


One can easily be attracted to this book by merely taking a look at the cover picture. The picture has been wisely chosen as it suits the topic under discussion very well. The picture shows an angel moving westward, therefore representing the Westward movement and the idea of Manifest Destiny which is inevitably bound to the idea of exceptionalism. She has got a wire in her hand which is attached to the telegraph posts on her right hand side. As she moves westward, she is bringing that wire, let's say modernity, to the left hand side where you can see the Native Americans and the wilderness.

This book is among a published series of books which are designed to help students of American Studies touch the key factor in this field. Madsen, a professor of English at South Bank University in London, provides those students with six chapters on exceptionalism each covering an important factor quickly. Besides, she has provided the reader with a paragraph at the beginning of each chapter in which she explains what the chapter is about and who the key writers of that period are.


The Introduction:

In introduction of the book it is said: "American exceptionalism permeates every period of American history and is the single most powerful agent in a series of arguments that have been fought down the centuries concerning the identity of America and Americans" (p. 1). The author outlines how exceptionalism has helped to the evolution of the US as both an ideological and geographical entity from 1620 to the present day.

Chapter 1:

In the first chapter, Madsen talks about the Puritan era and how they created a notion called exceptionalism. Roger Winthrop's idea of the colony as a "city upon a hill" was one of the early phrases which later helped the coinage of exceptionalism. These sentences in a report from Winthrop to a minister show how unique they thought this colony was: " evident it was, that God had chosen this country to plant his people in, and therefore how displeasing it would be to the Lord, and dangerous to himself, to hinder this work." (p. 19).She goes on talking about other famous people which were prominent at the time. One of those people was Benjamin Franklin who wrote in his `Information to Those Who Would Remove to America` (1784): "Hard work, industry, thrift, common sense, altruism, moral integrity and fair-mindedness - these are the qualities that will guarantee success in America."

Chapter 2:

The second chapter is mainly focusing on Native American's literature but the reader wonders how it can help to the contribution of the idea of exceptionalism. The last sentences of this chapter shows perfectly how the Native Americans felt towards the so-called American exceptionalism: "The apocalyptic culmination of American history envisioned by the Puritan colonists who attempted to create a perfect church-society becomes in the Native American imagination of Silko and Vizenor a punitive apocalypse where the arrogance, self-congratulation and self-interest that were the sins of the Founding Fathers are now visited upon the sons." (p. 68)

Chapter 3:

This chapter named "Exceptionalism in the Nineteenth Century" can be considered as the most important chapter of the book. It talks about important authors of the century such as Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville, Thoreau, Whitman and James Fenimore Cooper, the abolitionist movement and the idea of Manifest Destiny which led to the expansion of the United States.
The authors mentioned above believed in American exceptionalism to a degree. "Where their Puritan (intellectual) ancestors had anticipated an exceptional destiny based upon the perfection of ecclesiastical institutions, nineteenth century intellectuals anticipated the perfection of political, specifically democratic institutions." (p. 71)

It's also been mentioned here that as Americans mission was to move westward and civilize the wilderness, it was quite acceptable to destroy "everything that stood in the way of expanding the institutions and culture of American Democracy." (p.92) No matter that the obstacles are large herds of bison or Native Americans.

Chapter 4:

This chapter is titled "Chicano Responses to the Ideology of American Exceptionalism". It basically is talking about the expansion of the United States in1840s due to the doctrine of Manifest Destiny and how the Chicanos/Mexicans felt about this. Their feeling is represented in their writings and mostly talks about the loss of their homeland.

Chapter 5:

In the fifth chapter named, "Westerns and the Westward Expansion" Madsen firstly focuses on Turner Thesis: "In this statement, Turner defines the West not as a geographical place or region but as a process, a process that arises from and defines a unique American character." (p. 122) Then she continues by describing how the notion of frontier came into existence in western novels and films.

At the end of the chapter a witty comparison has been used between the cowboy hero and the USA which justifies all US military actions: "...this same nation supports one of the largest military establishments in history, its rate of violent crime is enormously high and it possesses the technological capacity to destroy the world. Perhaps one source of the cowboy hero's appeal is the way in which he resolves this ambiguity by giving a sense of moral significance and order to violence." (p. 143)

Chapter 6:

The last chapter of the book is called "Contemporary Interpretations of Exceptionalism". A lot of contemporary novels are introduced in this chapter which portray the idea of exceptionalism. Madsen also traces exceptionalism in dialogues which are uttered in Sylvester Stallone's Rambo movies.

At the end of this chapter, Madsen talks about the effect of exceptionalism on the Vietnam War, saying, "The Vietnamese landscape becomes comprehensible if seen to require a kind of redemption that can only come from God's chosen people, those whose historical mission is to save other nations from their own folly." (p.166)

She concludes this chapter by a daring statement: "Exceptionalism was the legacy of the Old World for the New, but exceptionalism is now the legacy of the United States for us all" (p. 166).

Suggestion for readers:

Although the purpose of this book is to help students touch the key elements in American studies, the author has gone so far through a lot of books that are not known to students. In other words, one may find himself hapless among the names of novels and writers. Well, at least, I do not suggest this book to students of North American Studies who are not living in the United States. To understand this book you need to know about important American writers and films. Furthermore, the fluency of the book is far from good, most probably because of different excerpts from different books.

American Exceptionalism

Format: Paperback

Author: Deborah L. Madsen

Publication: Edinburgh University Press

Date of Publication: 1998

ISBN: 1-57806-108-3

Pages: 186

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Best Vacation In Peru

Peru is a country in South America, situated on the western side of that continent,
facing the South Pacific Ocean and straddling part of the Andes mountain range that runs the length of South America. Peru is bordered by Ecuador and Colombia to the north, Brazil and Bolivia to the east, and Chile to the south. Peru is a country that has a diversity and wealth little common in the world. The main attractions are their archaeological patrimony (pre-Columbian cultures), their gastronomy (the fifth most important one of the world), their colonial architecture (has imposing colonial constructions) and their natural resources (a paradise for the ecological tourism).

Peru had a rich cultural life thousands of years before Pizarro turned up in funny clothing. Wander around colonial cities that echo the legacy of Spanish conquistadors, explore the ancient Inca capital of Cuzco, visit the lost city of Machu Picchu and ponder the enigma of the Nazca Lines.

Peru also boasts some of the most spectacular scenery in South America. The beautiful Peruvian Andes issue a siren's call to top-class trekkers. These mountains are also home to squillions of indigenous highlanders, who still speak the ancient tongue of Quechua and live a traditional way of life.

Peru's climate can be divided into two seasons - wet and dry - though this can vary depending on the region. Temperature is mostly influenced by elevation: the higher you climb, the cooler it becomes.

Peru's peak tourist season is from June to August, which is the dry season in the
Andean highlands. It's also the best time to go if you're interested in hiking or mountain climbing. While travelers visit the highlands year-round, the wettest months, December to March, make trekking a muddy proposition. Many of the major fiestas occur around this time and continue undiminished in spite of heavy rain.

On the coast, Peruvians visit the beach during the sunny, humid months from late December through March. The rest of the year, the coast is clothed in mist. In the eastern rain forests, it naturally rains a lot. The wettest months are December to May, but travelers visit year-round; it rarely rains for more than a few hours at a time and there's plenty of sunshine to enjoy.

All are set in stunning landscapes, whether parched desert costa (coast), soaring sierra (mountains) or remote selva (rainforest) overflowing with wildlife. Such a diverse landscape generates diverse pleasures; the visitor can hike through snowy peaks one day, and relax on the beach the next; paddle a dugout through lowland rainforest or hop on a traditional reed boat on some of the world's highest lakes.

On the way to the low jungle in the Amazon Basin, some tourists will find that the high jungle plateau is a good place for them. Especially since it can tend to have a slightly lower humidity level than the low jungle areas. Tarapoto is the most important city in the area, and it is the trade center for the District of San Martin. Tourists aren't croweded into Tarapoto and surrounding cities as might be found in some other locales in Peru, but they are generally treated very well by the locals who welcome their business.

For meat eaters Peruvian cuisine is among the most varied in the world. Not only does the country grow a variety of fruits and vegetables, but it does so throughout the year. Peruvian geography offers at least 8 different climates (desert along the coast, steep and high mountains, the Amazon basin). In Lima, due to its history as an important Spanish colonial port, the dishes are a mixture of amerindian, spaniard, african, asian and even italian influences that contribute to the ever changing platos creolos (creole dishes). Rice is the staple foodstuff, and expect many dishes to include rice, in the Siera it's corn and potatoes, and in the Jungle yuca. Meat is traditionally included in most Peruvian dishes. Chicken (pollo), pork, sheep and beef are common. Alpacas are actually kept for wool, not for meat. Mostly, you will find that alpaca meat is rather tough. An Andean delicacy is guinea pig (cuy).

Peruvian cuisine includes dishes which use various organs, including anticuchos, a kebab made from a very marinated and spicy cow's heart, and cau-cau (sounds like cow-cow), made from the stomach of the cow served in a yellow sauce with potatoes. Anticuchos are a standard street stall food, be careful with it.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Utopian Vision of the World


"Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it."

Indeed, throughout human history, we've learned about the fall of mighty empires like the Romans, Mongols, Aztecs, etc. We've also learned about the Bubonic Plague and how it wiped out 1/3 of Europe's population. More recently, we've witnessed the Great Depression which plunged America into a world of high unemployment and desperation, Hitler's regime nearly conquering Europe and consequently then the world, and the Vietnam War which put a heavy toll on American lives as well as its economics.

I'm sure these are events that most of us would like to never see again.

But with today's issues like Global Warming and Climate Change, the Credit Bubble Bursting and the Global Financial meltdown, and the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and the oil shock, you get the feeling we haven't learned from our past mistakes and have been condemned to repeat them over and over again.

We can see that Global Warming and Climate Change is a more insidious consequence of human-based activities not unlike how the Bubonic Plague wiped out Europe due to poor disposal of waste or how the deforestation of Italy might have led to the downfall of the Roman Empire. We can see how the combination of greed and the corporate-government collusion resulted in the Global Financial meltdown that is putting America and the world on a path similar to that of the Great Depression (which itself was caused by similar acts of greed and government-big business greed). We can also see how the Iraq War strained America's resources and reputation while its motivation for oil by a few are highly questionable; much the same way the Vietnam War divided America and was based on some dubious anti-communist ideologies perpetuated by a vocal minority.

Indeed, the world would be a much better place if the resources we depended on were better shared and managed. And the only way that's going to happen is if we have a world that's more sustainable from the way we live to the way we procure the planet's resources to the way we support governments that uphold these principles.

But how do we go about doing this?

Clearly, people have different ideas on what their ideal world would be. And not all of these ideas are mutually agreed upon because there's bound to be winners and losers no matter which scheme you pick.

But that's where we have to dig deep and identify what it is that all of us value in life and try to work from there as the foundation that drives our actions and policies.

So what makes us qualified to offer up an opinion of what a utopian world we ought to achieve should look like?

Well we've spent several years getting out in the field for the pleasure of getting back into nature and using waterfalls as the motivation to go to different places. This has allowed us to observe many things firsthand that television, radio, newspapers, books, websites, and world-of-mouth simply can't provide. More importantly, learning about the world firsthand is far more persuasive than getting your information exclusively from the media (in addition to being less prone to propaganda and brainwashing). And with these observations, we wondered how and why things became the way they are and always kept a healthy curiosity (and skepticism) about everything.

So with our years of experiences, our searching for answers whenever we wondered about something, and processing all this information, we're in a position to propose a world that's more sustainable, fair, allows us to pursue the very things we value most, and reasonable to achieve with a modest amount of sacrifice from the unsustainable status quo of today.

While we know such ideas require an open mind and it's easy to lose someone on a nuance or detail, we ask you to try to get the big picture (even if you disagree with some or all of what's contained here). The purpose here is to try to spur more discussion and thought about how we can go from abstract ideologies to real world actions that will make this greater vision of a better world happen. For without that vision, as stated earlier, we can't see the forest for the trees.

So we've stated earlier that we need to identify core values that most of us can agree on before implementing the steps to leverage these values and improve our world. But just what exactly are these core values anyway?


What is it that we want to get out of life? What makes life "fulfilling"?

I'm sure you'll get varying responses to this question depending on who you talk to, and it's easy to get off on a tangent and discuss ethereal and abstract ideologies that are nothing more than pipe dreams.

If you're a biologist (or of a truly scientific mind), you'll probably say we're here to reproduce, period.

But, really. What is it that drives us to want to earn more money, go traveling, collect more possessions (whether it's the latest and greatest cars, TVs, real estate, furnishings, clothing, jewelry, electronics, etc.), learn more about the world, make friends, reproduce, raise a family, grow old, etc.?

I think you can pin that answer down to two basic principles (or values).

  1. A life of variety (i.e. "Variety is the spice of life")
  2. Leaving a legacy that lives on (e.g. passing on our DNA, sharing our experiences with others, teaching others or our young ones, ensuring our children live better lives than we do, etc.)

Why discuss these values?

Because I think at their very heart, these principles are what all of us strive for to some degree or another. And if these are values that the majority of us can agree on, then these principles ought to be the guidelines (or tests) in which our grand vision of the better world ought to fulfill, right?

After all, failure to minimize the amount of losers in any scheme will result in a growing class of disenfranchised and desperate people willing to follow any strong leader promising to pull them out of their rut regardless of whether that leader's means are agreeable or not. In other words, this becomes the fodder for organizations like:

  • Hitler's Third Reich - to pull people out of the post WWI mess that Germany was in
  • Al Qaeda - for those disenfranchised people in the Middle East who won't stand for the Western exploitation of their land and people for the corrupt few
  • The Taliban - who are offering up a militaristic as well as a thriving poppie-growing means of pulling the poor out of their desperate situations
  • The Khmer Rouge - who offered a radical means of eradicating the more influential Chinese who themselves were becoming more influential in government at the expense of the rest of the people
  • ...and the list goes on and on...

Indeed, any successful world order must strive to uphold the values that the majority of the world can agree upon or at least tolerate.

So let's elaborate a little more about these principles.

First, the variety principle.

I've learned that a fulfilling life can be defined as a life where the individual has experienced as many different things as possible over the sum of that finite lifetime. Now what those different things are will differ from one individual to the next. For example, one might acquire a life of variety through travel while another might find the experiences involved in raising a family (and its associated ups and downs) a different yet no-less-fulfilling form of variety. Maybe someone might think having a large collection of possessions or friends can provide the variety in life that is desired.

Regardless of what manifestations a desirable variety of experiences entails, I think we can agree that living a life filled with different experiences from traveling the world is more fulfilling than a life devoted to a monotonous routine of working a dead-end job all day long, watching TV or being on the computer in the evenings, and then sleeping at night only to repeat the cycle the next day. I admit the latter sounds like my rat-race existence, which is why I strive to go traveling to get away from it all whenever I can.

So the big picture vision of the world ought to support these values. It can't have you stuck in a mundane existence unless you choose to do it that way. More importantly, all infrastructure, commerce, and laws need to support this principle of variety since it's something I think most of us can agree on.

Second, the legacy principle.

I think we're pre-programmed (and by "we" I mean every organism on earth) to want to reproduce and pass on our DNA to future generations. If you think about it, this is why we're more energetic in our youth, more attractive, more durable, and more physically capable. This tends to last until we're no longer reproductively capable anymore.

By that time, we can see that we age, become more fragile, become more prone to cancers and diseases, etc. (though we are more experienced and wiser).

Indeed, it seems Mother Nature has started its own rat race by letting the various organisms compete with each other for limited resources to see who can adapt, pass on their genes, survive, and keep the species going.

But if this process is left unchecked, it's conceivable that the majority of species (if not all) experiences boom and bust cycles where the overall population reduces (maybe by overpopulation-related problems like starvation, disease, or some other depletion of resources) or even declines completely (in which case they become extinct). Clearly, the bust cycle is a frightening prospect for the human race, and this is the very reason why it's desirable to find a happy medium between population growth and sustainability. That way, down at the individual level, we can raise a family, teach our kids, and watch them grow up into individuals without worrying as much about competing for scarce resources to survive. Meanwhile on the macro scale, we are less concerned about living beyond our means and worrying about our own future as well as that of our kids.

And even if you're not into raising a family, I think there's a deep desire for us to leave a legacy behind that somehow makes a positive contribution to the world (something to be remembered by rather than be that someone everyone has forgotten about). For example, it could be solving a difficult problem that ends up being a breakthrough in science, or it could be being remembered for actively trying to help people by improving their living conditions, or it could even be setting a good example for others (whether in the family and friends circle or complete strangers) to follow.

Regardless of how we leave our legacy, I'd argue it's desirable to leave a future in which our children can enjoy a similar type of variety of experiences that we ourselves have enjoyed (if not better) while leaving our mark on the world.

But in order to ensure that noble goal is achieved, we have to keep our individualistic desires for variety needs to be checked. For failure to uphold the value of legacy yields the problems you read about in the headlines like Global Warming and Climate Change, Overpopulation, Unsustainable Status Quo, Politics, Wars, etc.

And it's with this in mind that the big picture vision of the world ought to support both of the variety and legacy principles simultaneously.

And it turns out that the vision I'm talking about manifests itself in what I'm calling the sustainable paradigm.


A sustainable paradigm is a world system in which all goods and services, laws, desires, infrastructure, habits, etc. all support the values that most of us can agree on (which I argued were the principles of variety and legacy).

It's basically a system where all energy, transport, reproductive tendencies, and food procurement are done sustainably by minimizing resource depletion, pollution, overdevelopment, etc. while maximizing biodiversity, our own survivability, and the sharing of resources amongst not only different peoples but other organisms as well. Such a system supports the legacy principle as it assures the world is sustainable for the enjoyment of future generations. Moreover, by focusing on the sustainability challenges, we put our energies into working on meaningful problems to drive our economics while learning more about the world.

Meanwhile, we'd still like to experience a variety of things so the sustainable paradigm must also support the consumption of goods and services that allows us to travel, develop hobbies, meet people, raise a family, etc. But we must do so without trashing the planet.

When you add these things together, you can see the principles come full circle in that energy is required to make these desires happen, but that energy generation and consumption must be sustainable in order to fulfill the legacy principle.

That's why I think harnessing the "free" energies available to us while minimizing their detrimental effects is paramount to supporting the sustainable paradigm. Thus, solar energy, wind energy, wave energy, and geothermal (and maybe nuclear fusion if they ever get there) energy needs to be the exclusive means of procurement of energy since they minimize pollution, deterioration of natural resources, and loss of biodiversity while meeting the needs of our energy consumption. These are things that fossil fuels (coal, petroleum, and natural gas), hydroelectricity, nuclear, and the vast majority of biofuels will never be able to fulfill.

Thus, you need homes that can generate their own electricity through solar and wind with an energy storage device (like a battery) to smooth out nature's intermittences. You also need an energy grid whose energy is exclusively procured from the aforementioned clean renewable energies. And leverage that grid to drive electrically powered machines, vehicles, computers, etc.

Now we know nothing's perfect and the manufacture of goods and technologies to allow such a paradigm to occur must also minimize the degradation of our natural resources and not be subject to resource scarcity. This, by the way, is the crux of why such a paradigm is difficult to achieve (but clearly not impossible and certainly far better than anything fossil-fuel-based for even a compromised solution!).

As for the procurement of food and fresh water, they must also be done by sustainable means. Therefore, we need desalinization plants to procure freshwater. Such plants must leverage a combination of solar concentrators and a green grid for places that are currently diverting or blocking a disproportionate amount of water from freshwater river systems. Plus, individual households ought to have rain catchments as well to tend to landscaping, drinking water, and small-scale water usage at the individual level.

Now procuring food might be more difficult since this involves irrigation (thus water diversion) and land clearing. Something has to give here, but there needs to be a cap on the mass production of food that ultimately leads to waste and pollution. That means more organic products, smaller scale production, and the minimization of chemicals and/or preservatives applied to them. Basically, we ought to eat locally and limit the amount of travel the foods must make unless the means of travel of that food is via purely green means.

Speaking of transport, we need to have something to the effect of solar electric vehicles where the car can be charged by being in the sun or being plugged in to a green grid (at home, in an office, in a parking lot, etc.). For more powerful applications, you could leverage biodiesel (generated from photosynthetic sludge cultured from solar energy and not food) or some form of yet-to-be-developed hydrogen fuel cell or carbon sponge technology to power airplanes or even ocean vessels. Meanwhile, every city should rely on public transportation systems powered by a green grid while discouraging urban and suburban sprawl.

As for waste management, there can be some significant improvement here in terms of minimizing the amount of runoff that ends up getting dumped into our oceans. If we keep treating the ocean like our toilet, then the life so vital to all life on land is sure to decline in a type of mass extinction that has been shown to have occurred in the past (and wiped out over 90% of all life). So here, we can minimize the runoff by using our compost as fertilizer, minimizing the amount of bulk waste generated in both industry and our day-to-day lives, and even using some of the methane emissions in landfills to supplement the grid power. Whatever the case, the economic system needs to penalize polluters and use those penalties to subsidize the maintenance and development of the sustainable paradigm.

As for an agreeable means of consumption, there are numerous applications of the sustainable paradigm to a variety of industries. I'll single out sustainable travel since I think it should be one of the most important industries driving economies around the world. OK ok, sure I'm biased about this particular topic, but can you name another industry that helps the locals' economy, harbors a desire to share rather than take away, encourage conservation and preservation, and meets our individual desires to experience variety?

Here, you could stress natural and historical features where investment must be made to conserve and preserve while the features themselves should attract paying customers. Locals ought to be enthusiastic about their culture and heritage and be willing to share their homeland with the world. Meanwhile, transport is (as mentioned previously) by sustainable means by electric vehicles, or sustainable biofuel, or some other yet-to-be-developed hydrogen-fuel-cell or cabon-sponge storage and energy-conversion system. Moreover, locals should be able to benefit from the injection of money into the economy, running tours, etc.

As for population control, you don't have to be as drastic as China's one-child policy, but there ought to be taxes (as opposed to tax breaks) against each dependent (since they're consuming resources) and to utilize that income to offset the inevitable resource consumption and disorder generated by those individuals. And this tariff should persist until the individual is able to give back to the system. This would provide economic incentive to reproduce responsibly and leave the decision up to the couple who must weigh the cost of raising more children at the expense of their own ability to survive and live comfortably.

Indeed, these are merely just a few things that come to mind that a sustainable paradigm would feature. I'm sure there are other topics I haven't even mentioned (like medical practices, working class support and incentives, etc.) that could be discussed in the context of the big picture. But realize that this is merely my opinion and I'm sure there are other differing ideas on what the sustainable paradigm ought to be.

The bottom line is that you can see that if all of our thoughts, actions, means of making money, and laws supported a sustainable paradigm, we should be able to support the principles of variety and legacy for not just the human race but the vast majority of other surviving species on earth itself!

But is the sustainable paradigm unrealistic?

Personally, I don't think so. All it takes is a willingness to take action in manageable steps now. So what are these steps to transition from the status quo to a better world?


So with all the ideas mentioned above to support a sustainable paradigm, it might seem like an unrealistic dream.

But is it really?

Believe it or not, there are actually things that can be done now or technologies that already exist to allow the sustainable paradigm to occur.

And while it might be expensive and relatively painful for the upfront investment necessary to implement these sustainable measures, governments can provide rebates, tax breaks, jobs, and laws to establish such infrastructure that will pay dividends in the long run.

So let's look at the specifics of what these measures are and how they can be implemented given the current status quo while examining their pros and cons.

First, let's start with energy.

We've established earlier that a decentralized energy procurement infrastructure as well as an exclusively green grid is the most desirable way to meet the energy needs of a modern world. And you do this through heavily leveraging solar and wind energy while supplementing them with energy from wave, geothermal, waste, etc. But in order to make it happen, we need to impose taxes and penalties on all polluting, resource-depleting fossil-fuel based forms and industries. Then, use those taxes and penalties to subsidize clean solar cell photovoltaics or other green technologies. That way, some of the record profits from oil companies can be given back to more meaningful developments rather than buying back their own stocks or looking for new places to drill.

Imagine if every home, street light, traffic light, rail station, office building, etc. had solar panels on them. It's not so far fetched and it would certainly get rid of our oil addiction, wouldn't it?

Really, the only thing holding this back are status quo proponents protecting their profits, jobs, and position of power.

Along those lines, governments need to remove coal and oil subsidies as well as subsidies for biofuels that result in land clearing and competition for food resources. That way, the true cost of these dirty energies are reflected and they won't look so cheap compared to renewables. Thus, you have a more level playing field amongst the various options of energy procurement and consumption. Like I said earlier, these dirty forms of energy ought to be taxed and a carbon cap trading scheme is merely one step in this direction. And once again, the proceeds should subsidize cleaner procurement thereby rewarding companies innovative enough to pull it off while discouraging polluters and resource hogs.

Second, let's look at managing waste and recycling.

Governments can easily increase redemption values (or CRVs) for plastics and aluminum cans to 25% or more of the retail price. Currently, we have examples of CRVs of only a few pennies for a can of soda that costs $1.00 USD a can. If that CRV value became 25 cents (something I know bottling and soft drink companies will vehemently protest), then you can bet people will be more willing to recycle to get back some of that money. Meanwhile, the upfront proceeds can maintain and build processing facilities (and hire employees) so the recycling system becomes self sufficient. All this has the effect of reducing landfill waste while reusing materials that can easily become scarce if not recycled.

Moreover, plastic bags (the type you get in retail stores, supermarkets, etc.) should be charged. If each plastic bag cost a dollar, then you can bet consumers will remember to bring in their own re-usable bags to hold their goods. Ultimately, that'll keep us from continuing to fill our landfills with these disposable bags that end up trashing our environment.

Third, let's look at transportation and travel.

This is along the lines of energy consumption argued earlier, but let's look much closer at how to improve transportation and travel since we all have somewhere to go, right? So here's where governments can pour more money into building up public transportation where the trains and trams are powered by an exclusively green grid. This should take care of travel expenses necessary to commute to and from work as well as just getting around town.

As for long distance travel, we know it might be a while before a cleaner fuel enjoys widespread use. However, we can limit the use of gas-electric hybrids or SUVs to rental cars for holidays requiring lots of driving. This can be achieved by making anything gas-powered to be prohibitively expensive leaving on those few able to afford it or business in the travel industry renting out such cars. Moreover, if you absolutely must self-drive to work or around town, then they must be electric vehicles. Recall in the early 1990s, General Motors (GM) came out with the EV before destroying them. So we know the technology's already there. We just have to keep the human greed and corrupt politics out of it (something us voters can sway).

As for air travel, biodiesels developed from photosynthetic sludge should be the norm for commercial airplanes unless there's something more powerful and less resource intensive.

And where compromised measures involving some form of fossil-fuels are involved, they should be phased out in the long run while development continues for truly clean, renewable fuels.

Fourth, let's look at food procurement.

Governments can help here by implementing laws that make meats more expensive via taxes or penalties. Why are we singling out meats? Because they involve plenty of resources from maintaining the farm animals, providing feed, transporting the products, clearing land for grazing, etc. On top of that, the methane emissions are serious contributors to the greenhouse gas concentrations in our atmosphere.

Now I know this is painful because I'm a meat eater myself and I'm sure this applies to most other people as well. Besides, many agro-business proponents probably want to kill me for suggesting this.

Nonetheless, by making a financial deterrent for consuming meat, this should lessen the demand for the very things that destroy our environment. Plus, I'd imagine we'd have a healthier population since it becomes very expensive to overeat.

The same goes for processed foods or manufacture of foods that tend to pollute the environment. These should be more taxed and penalized to try to force companies to be more responsible, find a better way to manufacture their goods, and ultimately make it more expensive to eat in an unhealthy way (thereby taxing our medical system).

Again, foods that require lots of transportation, pesticides, etc. should be made more expensive through taxes and penalties. This should spur more local businesses and only export and expand their product lines when it's sustainably responsible to do so.

Fifth, let's look at freshwater procurement.

Currently, we've got lots of hydroelectric dams and water diversion to supply both energy and nurture agro-business. But we can eliminate hydroelectricity (or drastically reduce their usage while destroying the unnecessary ones) by procuring clear, renewable energy via measures mentioned above. As for water diversion, we can eliminate or drastically reduce this by desalinizing ocean water if the cities happen to be near the ocean. While desalinization takes energy, a mass-rollout of a green grid should be able to help fill this need, while solar concentrators can focus the sun's energy on hastening the evaporation of the water to make freshwater for delivery to the rest of the city or for further inland.

While some water diversion from freshwater streams is inevitable, we can certainly reduce this practice so our forests can better thrive and scrub the air of carbon dioxide while keeping moisture in the local microclimate.

So you see, all of the above measures are very achievable - not in the future, but now! And I'm sure there are plenty of other measures I haven't mentioned that could be implemented (e.g. overhauling the medical and pharmaceutical system, books vs. e-books, reducing urban sprawl and prohibiting overdevelopment, etc.). All it takes is a referee (i.e. a government or regulatory body) that ensures people play within these rules while mediating conflicts while upholding the sustainability principle. And the way this is achieved is by voting in people who are serious about implementing these principles.

Meanwhile, at the individual level, we can change or implement habits that allow us to be less wasteful, teach others about the virtues of protecting our resources and living within our means, and not cave in to special interests (even if these interests are our own) when they go against the sustainability paradigm (thereby violating the values of legacy and variety). Actually, if the above measures about transitioning to sustainability are implemented, then the responsible decisions made at the individual level will be automatic because it would hurt us in the wallet if we were being wasteful.

If enough people and eventually nations cooperate in upholding sustainability principles, then they should be more enforceable, result in fewer resource conflicts, and help poorer countries catch up to a more acceptable standard of living.


Well if you're open-minded and patient enough to read this far, I ask this question once again: Is the sustainable paradigm utopia?

Well it might seem like utopia if you see how far we have to go from the status quo. But after seeing that there are indeed realistic small steps we as a society can take to propel the sustainability paradigm, this better world we're striving for doesn't seem so much like an unrealistic pipe dream, doesn't it?

Besides, to cast off the struggle for a sustainable paradigm as a utopian pipe dream and not take any steps in the direction for improvement is really a cop out. It's not only lazy and defeatist, but it'll violate the legacy principle, which is one of the principles I argued we all can agree on trying to achieve and get out of life. And by violating the legacy principle, we end up passing on a trashed planet as our legacy to our children and their children (assuming the human race can survive that long).

So with that, I think the sustainable paradigm might seem like utopia right now, but it's totally achievable if we want it to happen.

Indeed, our survivability depends on our desire to make a change for the better so that alone should motivate us to take action now - whether it's by improving our lifestyles, voting for proponents of sustainability, shunning unsustainable products, etc. Heck, even encouraging discussion about this topic (the whole purpose of this article in the first place) is a step in the right direction.

Are you up for the challenge?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Forts and Palaces Are Incredible Attractions of a Rajasthan Heritage Tour

Rajasthan is the heritage land where one can witness the legacy of royal saga scattered around in the form of battle scarred forts, royal palaces, exotic wildlife sanctuaries, heritage hotels, adventure sports activities and beauty of desert landscapes. It is the land of Kings and Queens where one can experience the charm and glory of feudal traditions which is still prevalent amidst forts and palaces.

Scores of tourists prefer Rajasthan Heritage Tour Packages so that they can witness the best of royal legacies leftover by royal dynasties. Rajasthan Heritage Tours give tourists an opportunity to witness some of the best of Rajasthan attractions. Some of the world renowned attractions of Rajasthan Tour Packages are:

Rajasthan Forts:

Forts of Rajasthan are one of the best ways to experience the royalty of this place. It is the land of highest numbers of forts in the world which can be seen round the state. These forts are known for their architectural beauty which not only served as royal residence but also a protected many kingdoms from invaders and attackers. The Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur is among the finest forts famous for its imposing structure over 125 meters above rocky cliffs. It is spread over an area of 5 sq. km and can be accessed through seven gates. The Chittaurgarh Fort is among the other well-known forts of Rajasthan which is situated on a 180 meter high hill in the Chittor District. This fort is known for its majestic construction and is an architectural wonder that captivates visitor's attentions. Some of the other well-known Rajasthan Forts are Amber, Jaigarh Fort, Junagadh (Bikaner) and Taragarh.

Rajasthan Palaces:

Rajasthan palaces are renowned worldwide for their magnificent construction, elegant interiors, beautiful sculptures and intricate design. Most of the palaces in Rajasthan were built inside the forts complexes but some are also made out the forts. These palaces are the example of royal comforts and eloquence of luxury of the royal dynasties. The Lake Palace is among the most beautiful and romantic palaces in the world arising out of the azure waters of the Pichola Lake. This palace is famous for its 83 luxury rooms known for its design and decorations. The other renowned palace is Hawa Mahal known for its five storied pyramid-shaped facade. This palace has 953 small windows, popularly known as "Jharokha" which are decorated with tiny lattice work. Some of the other famous palaces in Rajasthan are City Palace (Udaipur), Umaid Bhavan Palace (Jodhpur), City Palace (Jaipur) and City Palace (Jaipur).

Rajasthan Wildlife Sanctuaries:

Rajasthan is known for its vivid and vibrant wildlife sanctuaries which nurture some of the exotic and rarest breed of flora and fauna. Scores of tourists prefers wildlife tour so that they can witness the captivating beauty of wild species. The Ranthambore National Park located in the Sawai Madhopur District is known for the high-density of Royal Bengal Tigers and several species of wild animals. Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary is an avifauna sanctuary which lures scores of nature as well as bird lovers from various parts of the globe. Because of its exotic and vibrant collection of 230 bird species this place is declared as the World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Some of the other famous wildlife sanctuaries and national parks are Sariska National Park, Sajjangarh, Kumbhalgarh and Mount Abu Sanctuary.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Nemours Mansion and Gardens - Wilmington, Delaware

Just outside Wilmington, Delaware, lies the largest mansion every built in the state. Nemours Mansion and Gardens, residence of the DuPont family, contains five floors of living space. At more than 47,000 square feet, the residence is a acre in size just under its roof. Adding to the beauty and size of Nemours are its grounds, extending another 220 acres, which feature a formal French garden modeled after Versailles.

Nemours Mansion

Following a $39 million restoration completed in early 2008, the Nemours Mansion and Gardens has been restored to its original glory, a mansion in the style of a Louis XVI French chateau. Originally the design of Carrere and Hastings (architects famed for the Frick Mansion in New York, as well as the New York Public Library) and built by Smyth and Son of Wilmington, Delaware, in 1909-1910, the Nemours Mansion's 102 rooms are filled with French furnishings from the 18th century, as well as a stunning collection of artwork.

Included among those artists on exhibit at Nemours are British artist J.M.W. Turner and American artist James Peale, as well as American sculptor Frederick Remington. Other art objects at Nemours include work by Tiffany and Limoges. Added to these treasures are many more tapestries, statues, paintings (some dating back as far as the 15th century), and oriental carpets, which are incorporated into the mansion to give it the feel of a home, not a gallery.

Nemours Grounds

With the largest French-styled gardens in the United States, Nemours is a very special place. Following from le Petit Trianon design (the gardens at Versailles beloved by Marie Antoinette), the Nemours Gardens may be even more beloved than the mansion. Dominating the garden is the statue "Achievement," which rises over the gardens' maze. Designed by Henri Crenier and covered in gold leaf, this sparkling statue draws the eye to the gardens' center.

Another dazzling spot in the gardens comes from the reflecting pool, set amidst the gardens' lush landscaping. Beyond the formal French gardens lie the Brandywine Valley woodlands, with indigenous wildlife including red-tailed hawks, white-tailed deer, and fox. The original Nemours Mansion and Gardens was run to be self-sufficient, with its own orchards, kitchen garden, greenhouses, and cattle.

Legacy of Alfred I. DuPont

Nemours Mansion and Gardens was part of the legacy of Alfred I. DuPont (creator of what is today known as the DuPont Company), who named it for the town in France where his great, great grandfather lived. In addition to the Nemours Mansion and Gardens in Delaware, DuPont left a generously endowed Nemours Foundation, which focuses on children's health and includes the nearby Alfred I. DuPont Hospital (a working children's hospital). Upholding his belief that, "it is the duty of everyone in the world to do what is in his power to alleviate human suffering," the charitable Nemours Foundation today works toward the goal of improving the lives of children.

Touring Nemours Mansion and Garden

Today, the only way to visit the mansion and its grounds are via guided tours, which run May through October (as well as some special holiday tours on a very limited basis in November and December). Tours of the mansion last about two hours and are followed by a bus tour of the gardens. Visitors are expected to arrive at the Visitor Center fifteen minutes before the tours begin.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Leave A Legacy - Post-Olympic Thoughts

The Olympics is over but what is the legacy of it that will be left behind? This was the big question in the initial planning and it seemed was the trite justification being trotted out when questions were being raised about vast sums of money going to fund such an event. Now, I'm not knocking the Games at all - I thought it was terrific to see such a variety of sport and for the first time ever became engrossed by the four-yearly spectacle. I do wonder though whether all the money spent will make any difference to the average British person.

Having said all that, what is legacy all about? Is it simply about the infrastructure and opportunities available to us in the future or is it related to how we have changed? One commentator suggested that maybe the legacy of the games would be that people now acknowledge the value of persistent and sustained encouragement and will put that into practice on a more local level, supporting those around them. Having watched the athletes do amazing things, they may also urge one another to be more self-sufficient and call on reserves of inner strength in order to achieve, even at a moderate level. "If Tom Daley or Ben Ainslie can put initial set backs behind them then surely we can too."

As a coach committed to people developing their potential, overcoming obstacles, becoming who they want to be and achieving their goals, I can only agree with these as being worthy outcomes from this major event. If people take up more sport in the next months and years then that would be great. However, if they develop and grow personally, then they will be the ones leaving the legacy for the people that come after them.

There has been, and I'm sure will continue to be, much talk in the media about the legacy of the Olympics; for Boris, for the monarchy, for the east end of London, for the nation. I am primarily interested though in what your legacy will be. It might be related to your sporting achievements or not. What great things will you leave behind you? For me there are three questions to look at:

  • What mark will you leave behind?
  • Who will benefit from it?
  • What are the foundations to lay and how is the building progressing?

What mark will you leave behind?

Often legacy is a word that is synonymous with money and possessions - it is that which is apportioned by the due legal process of will reading. This though is to constrain it as a word and an idea to the merely tangible.

Now, your legacy might well be stored in physical things. Buildings and monuments can well be a legacy left to your family, town or country; much like the Olympic stadium, it may be used for generations to come. This is especially true it seems in a country like Germany where the tradition of building a house and then passing it on to your children is stronger than in the UK.


Maybe you will leave a whole pile of money behind when you are gone which might prove to be a legacy for people known to you or others further afield. Certainly the value of this legacy will not lie in the amount but in what it is spent on. Take for example someone like Bill Gates who has used some of his vast fortune to set up the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which, according to their website, aims to "help all people lead healthy, productive lives". Consequently, money is spent, in the USA and further afield on mainly health-related programmes, such as Rotary International's polio eradication scheme.


Possibly your legacy will be a public building, maybe even named in your honour. I was hearing this week about 'Clare Short schools' in Malawi - the MP and Minister for International Development was responsible for arranging funding for building them and so she is remembered.


You could leave behind an invention or idea that transforms life for people. Another Rotary International example springs to mind of Tom Henderson from Cornwall who created ShelterBox, a project providing crates for families in disaster areas that contains what they need for temporary rehousing when everything else has gone. Read all about it at


Could your legacy be an organisation or association that you have started, like Robert Baden-Powell did? I work with a sailing organisation that works with around 50 young people every year. After running for 65 years, it has impacted a lot of young people even though the original founder is now dead.

At the end of the day, it probably doesn't matter what it is that you leave behind assuming you have done it from a sound value-basis and you, or others after you, finish what you started. What you don't want is to build another McCaig's Folly or similar bricks and mortar carbuncle to adorn our landscape that no longer has much function other than to remind us of the builder and their pride - I certainly don't know much else about the aforementioned Oban resident.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Rich Men's Playgrounds

Marbella and Prince Alfonso zu Hohenlohe

Until the 1940s Marbella was nothing but a village of 900 inhabitants on the Spanish coast. That all changed when, according to legend, a German prince's coal-powered Rolls-Royce broke down there. Prince Alfonso zu Hohenlohe fell in love with the place and decided to stay.

Born into one of the oldest noble families in Europe (he was godson to the king of Spain), Hohenlohe was a successful businessman and notorious playboy, fluent in five languages and skilled at sports such as rally-driving and tennis. After his fateful stop in Marbella he decided in 1947 to build a grand private residence there - the Finca Santa Margarita, with traditional whitewashed walls, red-tiled roofs, charming patios and terraces and wonderful, sprawling gardens with fountains, thousands of old trees and manicured lawns. There he played host to a constant flow of glamorous visitors with names such as Bismarck, Metternich and Thyssen, many of whom eventually bought adjacent plots to build their own homes.

But Hohenlohe had even grander plans. In 1954 he sold his own home (to his friends the Rothschilds) and used other parts of the estate to build the famous Marbella Club, which quickly became synonymous with Europe's mid-century elite "jet set" lifestyle. (Indeed Hohenlohe was often credited with having "invented" the jet set.) Regular guests included the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, the Formula 1 driver James Hunt, photographer Patrick Litchfield, actors Sophia Loren and Sean Connery and many others.

Soon the former village was a fully fledged international resort, with Hohenlohe still a driving force. As head of the Costa del Sol Promoters' Co-operative, he successfully lobbied for improvements to roads, airports and water supplies in the region. He continued to run the Marbella club and eventually set up another estate, not far away in the hills near Ronda, where he planted Bordeaux grapes and produced his own award-winning wine under the "Principe Alfonso" label.

By the late 1970s, however, Hohenlohe had become disenchanted with Marbella's move toward mass tourism and so he sold the club to a consortium of Arab businessmen. Yet he was still proud of his accomplishments and in 2003, only days before his death, he accepted a medal for merit in tourism from the Spanish government.

One of Hohenlohe's famous quips was: "I have lived in castles, in Venetian palaces and the world's finest hotels. I have watched the sun rise over the beaches of five continents and I have looked into the eyes of the most beautiful women of the universe."

The latter group included Princess Ira von Fürstenberg, a Fiat heiress whom he married when she was 15, actresses Ava Gardner and Kim Novak, with whom he had affairs, and actress Jackie Lane, whom he married in 1970. But his greatest love was probably Marbella.

Bel Air and Alphonzo Bell Sr

Los Angelenos describe the three neighbourhoods of Beverly Hills, Holmby Hills and Bel Air as the "golden triangle". Beverly Hills started out as a dry oil well of the Amalgamated Oil Company; Holmby Hills was founded by wealthy retailer Arthur Letts Sr. And Bel Air, on the west side of the city, was the brainchild of Alphonzo E. Bell Sr.

Bell was born in 1875 into a family of entrepreneurs; his father created Bell Station Ranch, now the City of Bell, in Santa Fe Springs, while his uncle was Ed Hollenbeck, founder of the First National Bank and a driving force behind the creation of LA's first public transportation system. Alphonzo first found fame as a champion tennis player, winning bronze and silver medals at the 1904 summer Olympic games, then went on to become a successful gentleman farmer in Santa Fe Springs.

But his life changed dramatically in the early 1920s after oil was discovered on his land. The profits allowed him to buy a 4,500-acre ranch in the LA area, the Danzinger Estate, complete with a Spanish-style mansion. Inspired by the views from this house, he realised he could use the land to create a magnificent, upscale community. And the idea for Bel Air was born.

Engineer Wilkie Woodward planned the houses and roads, while landscape architect Aurele Vermeulen co-ordinated the plantings. Bel Air officially opened on more than 600 acres in October 1922 and was a success right from the start, thanks in part to the growth of Hollywood. Huge iron gates marked the entrance to the new community and uniformed guards checked in visitors, a novelty at the time. Bell built a sales and development centre in Stone Canyon and worked in an office that is today a large suite at the Hotel Bel Air. He also built the elegant Bel Air Beach Club in Santa Monica and the Bel Air Country Club in 1924. Land purchasers in Bel Air were required to spend a minimum of $20,000 on home construction and most early residents built in Spanish-Mediterranean style. Nowadays, the community's architecture ranges from classic Californian to mid-century modern and contemporary. The neighbourhood has become one of the most exclusive in LA, with notable residents including the late US President Ronald Reagan.

Belgravia and Richard Grosvenor

The UK's Grosvenor family, currently headed by the 6th Duke of Westminster, dates back to the Middle Ages. But it owes its first title to Richard Grosvenor - an Oxford graduate and member of Parliament from Cheshire who was knighted in 1617 and made a baronet in 1621 - and its immense fortune to Sir Thomas Grosvenor, 3rd baronet - who in 1677 married Mary Davies, heiress to 300 acres of land on the outskirts of London. As the city grew, the land quickly became prime real estate, laying the foundation for even more wealth and more titles. Today, 500 roads, squares and buildings bear the names of titles, people and places associated with the family and the Grosvenor Group has billions of pounds worth of real estate under management.

The first neighbourhood the Grosvenors developed, in the 17th and 18th centuries, was Mayfair. But by the time Richard Grosvenor, 2nd Marquess of Westminster, became head of the family work there was mostly complete. So he turned to another area he owned: a rural swamp south-west of Buckingham Palace known as the "five fields" and the "lagoon of the Thames."

In 1826 a special act of parliament was passed, empowering Lord Grosvenor to drain the site. He did and then commissioned master builder Thomas Cubitt, who would later be responsible for the east front of Buckingham Palace, to lay out the new neighbourhood, Belgravia. Cubitt was chosen for the quality of his work - unlike other builders at the time, who used sub-contractors, he employed his own large staff - and the classic white stucco houses around Eaton Square and Belgrave Square that he built are still coveted.

Grosvenor himself continued to live in Mayfair, in Old Grosvenor House, on Upper Grosvenor Street, overlooking Hyde Park, which was eventually demolished in 1927. But there's no question that building Belgravia was his legacy.

Monaco and Aristotle Onassis

Monaco has been ruled as a constitutional monarchy by the Grimaldi family - originally from Genoa in Italy - since 1297, when François Grimaldi disguised himself as a monk and seized it. By the middle of the 19th century the 495-acre micro-state had developed into a renowned seaside resort with its own casino but, after the second world war, it was in crisis. The upper classes that had frequented its clubs and beaches before the war emigrated or lost their money. The resort's beautiful belle époque buildings began to crumble. Its swimming pools had no water and it was rumoured that the income from the casino barely covered the electricity bill for its chandeliers. Of course there were still people living there, including old European aristocrats and international businessmen taking advantage of the tax-free regime, but it was a far cry from its heydey. This changed when "Ari" Onassis arrived in the early 1950s.

Born in 1906, a member of the poor Greek minority in Smyrna, Turkey, Onassis and his family had to flee for Greece during the Turkish civil war. He then emigrated at the age of 16 to Argentina, where he laid the foundation for his fortune by selling Turkish tobacco and investing the proceeds in several old tankers, which would soon be carrying Allied war materials across the Atlantic. After the war Onassis began building the first supertankers and was soon dubbed the "tanker king". His fortune grew to a then-almost unimaginable sum of $1bn.

In 1954 he moved to Monaco for the tax advantages and fell in love with it in spite of its postwar malaise. In fact, he saw an investment opportunity and acquired a 52 per cent stake in the Société des Bains de Mer, which owned major parts of Monaco, including the Hotel de Paris, the Hotel Hermitage, the casino, the opera, restaurants, bars and land, for the unbelievably paltry sum of $1.5m. He subsequently put more money into renovation and restoration of the properties and encouraged the construction of the high-rise apartment buildings that now dominate the landscape. Monaco's fortunes began to turn and, in the aftermath of Prince Rainier's fairy-tale wedding to Grace Kelly, it was again a hotspot for the international rich and famous.

Onassis himself usually lived and held court in the Hôtel de Paris and also stayed at the legendary Château de la Croë, now owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, at Cap d'Antibes. But his real home was the Christina, a sleek, 325ft, shimmering-white yacht named after his daughter.
Rainier and Onassis later had a rather dramatic falling out, disagreeing on their visions for Monaco's future and engaging in a fierce legal battle, which Rainier eventually won. As a result, Onassis's legacy in Monaco is now just a faint memory. But his impact was undeniable.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Rural Land and Deed Restrictions What You Need to Know - Before You Buy

So you've found your ideal rural land, one that has everything you've been searching for: beautiful views, a nearby charming small town, and a reasonable drive from your primary home. You're also feeling pretty confident about having resolved your concerns about well water and septic systems. The price is right and the terms are attractive, so you've signed the contract.

Now the sales woman hands you the binder of "community documents" and says you should review and approve them during your seven day free look or rescission period (link to a Wikipedia definition). You've just gone from four color brochures and walks in the country to the "fine print". And you're not favorably inclined towards Property Owners Associations (POAs); after all, aren't you seeking a rural get-away to get away from the hassles of the city? For better or worse, POA's are common in rural areas such as northern Arizona ranch land or horse properties. What follows is a conceptual approach to reviewing POA documents; not a checklist but a big picture introduction to issues you should consider when reviewing deed restrictions (commonly called Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions, or CCRs) and POA documents.

A POA and its CC&Rs are designed to assure a minimum community development standards and to restrict uses. The developer records them to protect the value of his unsold ranch land or remaining horse properties for sale from potential loss in value caused by the substandard development of initial owners. It's also a promise to prospective buyers that once the community association is turned over to the owners by the developer, the community will have the tools to maintain the same community character the owners understood they were acquiring.

To effectively determine if the POA and the CC&Rs are compatible with the rural lifestyle you envision, you must first think through how you plan to develop and enjoy the property. Carefully think about how you plan to use the property and compare your expectations to the restrictions and requirements of the POA. That's the only way to determine if you'll ultimately be happy with the property you're buying, because you must assume the restrictions will be enforced and won't change.

Are you buying into a high concept development with a highly evolved architectural theme? If so, expect to see detailed regulations on architecture, materials, height, square footage, and colors, as well a rigorous design review and construction management protocol. Sustaining the high concept is critical to assuring the property's enduring value. The CCRs are tools to assure the concept will be honored as the community matures and not be degraded by inappropriate development (think Quonset hut in an alpine village). For example, a certain Prescott, AZ horse property may have restrictions on what materials can be used to construct homes, roadways, fences, etc.

If the land you're considering is in a less formal and less defined community, expect to see fewer restrictions. If you are buying into a large acre rural development (where individual parcels are 5 acres or greater) with few if any community amenities, there may be little in the way of design restrictions.

You may fall in love with a community and think you have found the perfect parcel, but if you have young children and outdoor play equipment is prohibited, consider if the place is really right for your family. If your making a major investment in a dream home, see if the deed restrictions require your neighbors to build to a your same high standards, thereby protecting your investment.

Carefully look over the CC&Rs and any design guidelines to determine if the architectural standards add unseen costs you can't afford. If your community has common area amenities ask when and how the developer plans to turn over control of the amenities to the community. If the developer has already turned over control, inquire about any simmering issues between the POA board and residents.

The bottom line is that the POA exists to preserve the character and value of the community, and your investment. You should review the controlling documents carefully, and if you don't understand something consult with your broker, your seller, or your attorney. Its critical to remember that when you buy property that's part of a community association (POA), you are contractually agreeing to comply with its rules and CC&Rs. These rules can range from the simple (only site-built homes) to the comprehensive (colors, height, style, landscaping).

Understand how your family expects to enjoy the property and then determine what effect, if any, the deed restrictions will have on you achieving this dream. Is this the right community for you and your family? Are the rules compatible with how you want to develop your land? If yes then the POA should be a source of satisfaction as your community matures and grows in value.

If the rules don't fit your lifestyle, keep looking. There's plenty of rural land available in many different communities. You'll find the property that's right for you.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Namibia - The Land God Made In Anger

In 1995 I visited Namibia with Zimbabwe's National Freshwater Angling team. My husband had been selected to represent his country in a tournament against Namibia and South Africa. Although the country had been independent for five years, it had only been a complete country for one year, when the southern port region of Walvis Bay had been handed back to the country by South Africa.

We flew in to the capital city Windhoek from Harare, landing after a two hour flight. Our first surprise was the appearance of Windhoek. It's a very well developed, modern city, and driving into town from the airport we felt we were on South Africa's roads. Many capital cities in Africa are dirty and badly maintained, with roads full of potholes, non-functioning traffic lights and a total absence of street signs - not to mention terrible drivers, desperate beggars and street children. Until my visit to Nambia South Africa was the only country with clean, well maintained and orderly towns and cities. This is Namibia's legacy from that country, who first occupied Namibia during World War I. A brief history lesson is relevant at this point.

Towards the end of the 19th century Germany colonized Namibia, giving the country the rather unimaginative name of South West Africa. In the south of the country, close to the South African border, is the strategic port of Walvis Bay, then under British control. At the end of the war South Africa administered the country legally until the end of the Second World War, when it unilaterally annexed the territory - without international recognition. In 1966 a vicious guerrilla war broke out, finally ending in 1988 when South Africa agreed to relinquish control of the country. The war didn't stop the South Africans from installing the excellent infrastructure in Namibia, which has benefited the country considerably and is still very efficient at time of writing.

The Namibian fishing team had offered to accommodate their Zimbabwean counterparts, so after dropping off our luggage at the various houses we climbed into a minibus and went on a tour of Windhoek. The name is an Afrikaans one meaning "windy corner", and it certainly lived up to its name that day. The streets were very well maintained and clean, and the architecture was impressive. There were some very modern buildings, occupied by many South African businesses and banks. A walk around the shops filled the women in our little party with glee - the shelves were stacked with fine South African products. It was encouraging to see that the two countries had obviously maintained their business links, because so often one hears of African countries being deserted by previous colonial or administrative rulers after independence.

The German influence has been maintained, and a number of buildings and churches reflect the perios of German colonization. There are three castles around Windhoek, the most famous of which is called Alte Feste. This translates as "Old Fortress", and this castle housed the German occupying forces when they first started building Windhoek back in 1890.

When I was growing up in Zimbabwe we heard much about the Namibian War of Independence, and the fact that the black Namibians were fighting the white South African army was probably my first real understanding of racial conflict. The country was renowned as a hotbed of racial intolerance, and we believed that white people went there at their peril. Our visit to Namibia proved just how inaccurate that perspective was. All cultures mixed freely and seemed very tolerant of each other - in fact as visitors we wondered what on earth they'd ever had a war about. The white Namibians we met had never considered themselves South African, and none of them had fought in the war. Oh, the misconceptions of youth and the power of the media!

We drove down the central street in Windhoek, ironically named Robert Mugabe Way. The Namibians confirmed this was to thank the Zimbabwean president for his support during the country's war of independence. The first President of Namibia, Sam Nujoma, is also a close personal friend of Mugabe's. We drove past the President's house, a fine colonial-style building completely surrounded with a fence - a total contrast to Mugabe whose fear of his people is so great he lives behind a ten foot high wall, and closes the road outside his house to all traffic at night between the hours of 6 pm and 6 am.

In the evening we had a braaivleis (South African word for a barbecue) at the Namibian team's manager's house. The following morning, after a hearty breakfast we drove to the coastal town of Swakopmund, the second largest city in Namibia. The road we travelled took us through the Namib Desert, and it was a spectacular drive. It's considered to be the oldest desert in the world, with an estimated age of 80 million years. The annual rainfall average is just 10 mm (0,25 inches), and there's virtually no vegetation. The sands are endless; a vast golden expanse stretching in all directions towards the horizon. The contrast between the golden sand and the azure sky was magnificent. Stopping the car on the highway was an incredible experience. We were the only sign of life, and our minibus and the road were the only indications of man's existence. The overwhelming power of nature was incredible, and we felt incredibly small and insignificant in this desert.

The world's largest sand dune is in the Namib Desert. Known as Dune Number Seven (I've never been able to discern the reason for this rather unimaginative name) it is almost 390 metres in height (about 1,256 feet). We got out of the minibus, and some of the more adventurous among us climbed a few dunes, but failed to get to the top. Walking through sand is incredibly tiring! Dune Number Seven is situated in a range of sand dunes located in a clay area called Sossusvlei. Apparently there have been a few occasions when the rainfall in the area has been sufficient to fill the vlei pans with water, and the sight this creates is stunning. The water is a turquoise colour, because the clay soils are so dense there is absolutely no water filtration. The vlei means there is some very hardy vegetation around these dunes, and a couple of local native settlements have sprung up in the area. The most wonderful aspect of these dunes is the almost complete lack of tourist development, which means the area is undefiled by man. Travellers are able to visit the dunes with tour parties, but there are no hotels and no other holiday conveniences.

After a spectacular five hour journey we arrived at Swakopmund. The visual impact of the town is formidable. It seems to appear from the desert like a mirage, and the town is so classically charming that it seems to be a little piece of Europe transferred to Africa. Beyond the town is the Atlantic Ocean, adding to the alien, almost surreal experience of driving into Swakopmund. The German influence is very evident here, and it's not only limited to the architecture. The German language is widely spoken in Swakopmund, and the restaurants are full of delicious Bavarian cuisine and beer. The people who call this town home are a wonderful, eclectic mixture of fishermen, safari operators, miners, African peoples and descendents of those early German settlers.

The town has a lot of bars, restaurants and theatres, and there's even a casino. During the years of South Africa's white minority rule gambling was banned, so South Africans often drove to Swakpomund to indulge in their "habit" - Swakopmund is close to Walvis Bay. In addition to the massive sand dunes Swakopmund also boasts several huge salt dunes. Some of the roads along the seafront are made of salt, something I found very hard to believe because of their dark grey colour - almost like tar. My husband dared me to taste the road, but I was unable to bring myself to try it! I did learn that when wet the roads can be treacherous.

The town at sunrise and sunset is magnificent, because the setting sun turns the sand dunes a deep shade of red. The light in the air seems to glow from the reflection off the sand. Because of the icy cold Atlantic Ocean a mist rolls over the town in the mornings and evenings, giving it a ghostly, ethereal appearance. The first day we spent there we were taken to see a tree called welwitschia mirabilis. Although it never grows higher than two metres it has an underground root system of up to four metres. And they look as though they've been thrown down into the desert to fend for themselves - they lie mournfully on the sand, almost recoiling from the harsh sunlight. These plants only ever bear two leaves, growing in opposite directions. If one of these leaves dies so does the whole plant. We didn't see the oldest specimen, which is more than 2000 years in age. The plants we saw were only 500 years old - mere youngsters in comparison!

The next morning we went shark fishing along one of the beaches. To my surprise the beach was very inhospitable. There were more stones and rocks than sand, and the wind blowing in from the Atlantic was icy cold. I love sea shells, but there was nothing except fragments on the rocky beach. Despite the fact that the sun was shining and we'd been very warm during breakfast in town we found ourselves wrapping up warmly for the day spent on the beach. This part of Namibia is called The Skeleton Coast, and the name has nothing to do with the description of the beaches. It dates back several hundred years ago when Portuguese seafarers and spice traders from the Dutch East India Company sailed around the Cape to India. Many ships came to grief along the treacherous shores of the Skeleton Coast, victims of the harsh Atlantic Ocean, the submerged rocky coastline and the regular fogs and mists. In the days before man-powered boats, it was possible to get ashore through the continuous surf, but impossible to get back out to sea, unless one travelled north for a few hundred miles in the hot, arid desert. Many men died making this trek, and their skeletons have been found scattered along the coastline. Several shipwrecks have been found inland, deposited there by the relentless Atlantic waves and the gale-force winds. The men caught Bronze Sharks, Kob and Rays. All fish were weighed, tagged and released. The bronzies were fairly big, weighing between 80 and 100 kilograms (between 175 and 220 pounds). Their name derives from their colour, and they are an attractive species.

The next morning we piled back into the minibus and drove back inland to the venue for the international fishing competition, Hardap Dam. The dam is the largest in Namibia, with an 865 metre (2,838 foot) dam wall and a surface area of over 25 kilometres (ten square miles) - when it's full. The year we went there was a dreadful drought in Southern Africa, and the Dam was just 25 percent full. The water was also the most ghastly pea green colour. I couldn't believe people were fishing, swimming and waterskiing in and on the water, but Hardap Dam is a popular resort and nobody seemed to mind the colour of the water.

Hardap Dam is located in the semi desert region of Namibia, so there was quite a lot of hardy vegetation in the region, namely succulents and aloes. The bird life around the dam was plentiful and varied. We were accommodated in several chalets, with access to the resort's facilities like the restaurant and swimming pool (full of nice clean water). We were there in November, which is mid summer. The climate is typical of any desert region; day time temperatures reached 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit), and because we were so far inland the wind only came up at night, when the temperature plummeted close to zero.

We spent four days at Hardap Dam. I was the only non-fishing member of the team, so I stayed by the refreshing (and very clean) swimming pool and went on a few game drives. Although the region is semi-desert there's a variety of wild animals, including ostriches, zebras, warthog, kudu, springbok and oryx. There's also a small population of black rhinoceros. The anglers spent the day fishing for carp, and it was tough. Firstly the fishing spots had to be ground baited to attract the carp and keep them there until the fishermen were ready. We would prepare the bait the night before in our chalets.

This was a complex operation - a stiff porridge (pap) would be prepared from maize meal and different flavouring then added. The consistency was very important, because the next morning the bait was placed in a firm, hard ball over a hook, which was then cast from the bank into the water. The angler had to be very careful that the bait didn't fly off during casting or disintegrate when it hit the water. The Zimbabwean team struggled to perfect their technique during the practice day, but they'd improved by the second day of the international. The rod is then horizontally balanced on supports while the fisherman rushes back to his bait bucket to prepare another rod. Once caught the fish were weighed and then released. It was very tiring rushing between the water and the bank all day in the searing heat.

Our evenings after we'd prepared the bait were great fun. The Namibian team taught us a game called Spread the Virus. Zimbabweans had just discovered a rather potent liquor called sambuca, and we were intrigued. It wasn't just the potency of this drink, it was the different colours. I thought (and still do think) it tasted really disgusting. To avoid drinking it one had to succeed at the game. Each player dipped a forefinger in the sambuca, and a flame was passed from one player's finger to the next until someone stopped the flame or it went out. As a forfeit the player was made to drink a tot measure of sambuca, and then the game would start again. There's a strict routine to follow if one wants to avoid drinking the sambuca. Wet the finger in the liquid, take the flame, pass it to the next player and extinguish the flame by closing the finger in the palm or putting it into the mouth. Great mirth was caused by inebriated players trying to light the flame when the finger had been in the mouth, or trying to extinguish the finger in the glass of liquor. Flames frequently covered the table that night, and we actually managed to pass the flame between eight of us for 17 rounds before it was finally extinguished. It took several days to get the dark colour of the sambuca off our stained fingers.

Zimbabwe didn't win the tournament, which was no great surprise considering none of the team had ever fished for carp before. We drove back to Windhoek, tanned, relaxed and elated. The following day we boarded the Air Namibia 'plane and headed back to our lives in Zimbabwe. One of the air hostesses was a very attractive blonde, and she took a shine to our little party. Half way through the flight my husband took over the bar, and was serving her drinks while she sat with us. She was a finalist in the Miss Namibia beauty pageant, which she subsequently won. She went on to represent the country at the Miss Universe beauty contest, which she also won!

There's much more to Namibia than we saw on the trip. The legendary Okavango Swamps in the north on the border with Angola are world famous for their flora and fauna. Close by is the Caprivi Strip, a narrow corridor that was especially demarcated to allow the German colonisers access to the Zambezi River. These areas are renowned for their wonderful variety of African wildlife, and attract visitors from all over the world. There are at least 450 different animal species. The port town of Walvis Bay is full of great historical information and references to do with its rather unorthodox history. I believe the fishing is wonderful there. Elsewhere along the coast a colony of seals resides. With a population of 1,8 million on its 825,000 kilometre (330,000 mile) surface Nambia must surely reflect one of the world's least dense population figures.

Namibia has been called "The Land God Made In Anger", a reference to its unique and often brutal geography. And indeed the climate and the landscape are impressive, stark and intimidating. However the wonderful, friendly attitude of the people is as striking as the landscape. It's refreshing to see how a country once ravaged by a vicious civil war can, fifteen years after the end of conflict, be held up as a shining example of African democracy. Sadly there are very few countries in that incredible continent that can lay claim to this statement. Which is why Namibia is a very special place.