Info ~ travel musings for the masses

Posts from the Popular Culture Category

The NY Times piece on what is happening to the Nazi sites in the historic city of Nuremberg is a look into the conundrum of up-keeping history while not honoring it.

In this city, the rallying point for Hitler, is the largest piece of real estate bequeathed by the Nazis, and a burden only increasing with time.

First comes the sheer physical size: a parade ground bigger than 12 football fields. A semicircular Congress Hall that dwarfs any structure at Lincoln Center. Great Street, more than one-and-a-half miles long, with no structures on either side — a modern Appian Way where the storm troopers strutted between the old Nuremberg of Albrecht Dürer and the rallies idolizing the Führer.

Then there are its troubled history and the far stickier question of what to do with it. “These are not simple memorials,” said Mathias Pfeil, chief curator of historic sites in Bavaria, “because they symbolize a time we can only wish had never happened.”

I have visited Nuremberg quite a few times and the Nazi sites always strike me as a strange intersection of history, hatred, and remembrance. Last time I visited I was with my dad and grandfather and there happened to be a heavy metal festival taking place on the site, with Metallica being the headliner. It was strange to hear metal being played as you read about the horrors of the Holocaust. During my second visit to the city, I even wrote in the caption for this photo about the strange dichotomy at the Nazi rally grounds.

Hitler stood here multiple times to give speeches during Nazi rallies. On this particular day it’s being used for a children’s marathon. The German people are torn on how to use these landmarks, they cannot be forgotten, yet they should not be glorified.

Zeppelinfeld Stadium
So where is the line between teaching younger generations about the atrocities committed in the name of the Third Reich and glorifying it? The story touches on the fact that most Nurembergers under the age of 25 have no historical context with which to view the rally grounds. They have always been there during their lifetime and associated with nothing that resembled war or struggle.

If you do visit Nuremberg, the Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände (Documentation Center at the Nazi Rally Grounds) is a fascinating and sobering look at how the Nazi party took hold in Nuremberg, Munich, and finally Berlin. The center also tells the story of the Holocaust, the eventual loss by Germany, and the Nuremberg trials. It is on the site of the rally grounds and you can walk around them after visiting the exhibit.

A couple of stories popped up in my Twitter and Facebook feeds recently and I think they deserve a little attention. Not because they are amazing stories, but because they are titled as “travel hacking” and I think that term deserves a discussion.

The first article is on Business Insider and is about a blogger named Sam Huang and his “round the world trip in first class for $300”. To be clear, Sam is selling something. I don’t know exactly what it is but I would guess it’s a guide to earning miles with a credit card. He clearly sent out some feelers to see if anyone would be interested in carrying his story to hopefully generate some traffic.

Travel blogger Sam Huang recently cashed in his Alaska Airlines frequent-flyer miles for a $60,000 trip around the world, and luckily he took plenty of pictures documenting what it was like.

Right off the bat I see some interesting claims being made. One, this isn’t really a round-the-world itinerary, it’s a one-way purchased with miles and then a return at a later date, also purchased with miles. A true round-the-world goes in one direction around the globe and ends in the same city (or close to it) that the journey began. Secondly, the price seems quite steep. I cannot find anything on the Emirates website that hints at the price for a trip around the world in first costing $60,000. My guess is that Huang priced out each separate segment in first and is quoting the sum as the price of the trip which may or may not be close to reality.

The second story is this one, on Collectively Conscious, about blogger Scott Keyes. I have to give Mr. Keyes some credit as he looks for cheap fares and seems to be focused on travel rather selling a service or a guide to earn free miles.

This is nothing new for Keyes, who told us that he uses his massive collection of credit cards to gain points, frequent flyer miles, and plenty of other member perks all the time. He then turns around and uses those perks on vacations like his upcoming trip that will take him 20,000 miles on 21 flights — all for free.

The strand that ties these two stories together is the heavy mention and use of credit card miles. Both gentlemen use a frequent flyer credit card and use those earned miles for travel, but what neither article seems to touch on is how exactly they are doing it. More than likely they are signing up for cards and then spending enough on the card to earn the bonus miles probably offered for initial sign-up and then eventually cancelling the card. It is a stretch to call this “travel hacking”. The practice is definitely neat and draws in some pageviews, but relying on a credit card to fuel travel is not an easy undertaking but is being sold to readers as a cheap way to get from point A to point B in style (or on the cheap). For some people, cash back cards may actually be a better proposition, for others, a card that gives them points that they can use for purchases might work better. Just jumping into the airline/travel credit card game without a goal or an understanding of the risks, which range from devaluation to closing of accounts, is dangerous and something I discourage.

A telling paragraph in the Keyes story:

Keyes has a few methods to procure his frequent flyer miles, including opening new credit cards that award miles or points, letting airlines know when there’s a problem with his flight, and not being afraid to get bumped if a flight is full.

Opening new credit cards is at the forefront. Complaining about something broken or a problem on a flight I don’t have a qualm with, but it seems to be a tactic that gets abused. The last point about being bumped if a flight is full is a great way to earn airline vouchers if you have flexible plans. Just know that some of the vouchers come with restrictions and make sure you understand those restrictions.

It is sad to see “travel hacking” basically turned into a credit card ad and having people eating it up as a quick route to travel when it could backfire badly. Using multiple cards to earn the miles that are talked about in these articles takes organization and a firm understanding of the terms and how your personal credit rating works. It would be nice if such details were included in these articles and people were made aware of what was really going on.

The Man Who Flies Around the World for Free

Rolling Stone did a feature on Ben Schlappig, creator of One Mile At a Time, and it’s definitely interesting. In typical Rolling Stone fashion, I am sure it was edited and in some cases sugarcoated to make the story more intriguing (I for one have never heard of “the Hobby”), but it’s a good read. There is tons of insight into the frequent flier community, including this:

Early editions of Petersen’s magazine featured stories on deals from obscure carriers; instructed fliers on how to duck airline countermeasures; and showed readers how they could win a thousand free miles by subscribing to magazines like Esquire. By 1993, Inside Flyer had 90,000 readers. Two years later, Petersen took the community online as FlyerTalk.

And this:

For some, the game has evolved from a wonkish pastime into an ends-justified obsession with beating the airlines — less Rain Man, more Ocean’s Eleven. While the game’s traditional methods remain technically legal, these Hobbyists — imagine them as the Deep Web of the Hobby — use tactics that routinely violate airline terms and conditions, techniques that can span a gradient from clever and harmless to borderline theft. (Schlappig concedes that he pushes the rules but insists he is careful not to break any laws.) Take the practice of “hidden-city ticketing” — booking your layover as your final destination, like buying a ticket from Point A to Point C, then sneaking away at B — or “fuel dumping,” a booking technique that confuses the price algorithm to deduct the cost of fuel from a ticket, often at an enormous discount.

I decided to read the Flyertalk thread that talks about the article and it was painful. A lot of personal attacks aimed at Ben and his story made it hard to read. I’ve only met Ben a few times and he’s a nice guy, I don’t agree with everything he writes or the idea of pushing credit cards on readers to receive the sign-up bonus, but I am a little jealous that he gets to fly around to really cool places and do it in premium cabins and makes a living from it. I think anyone who is a frequent flier and says they aren’t jealous of some of Ben’s travels is lying to themselves.

For me, doing a full time schedule of around the world travel, even in premium cabins, sounds good on the surface but is something I would probably really struggle with. I like having somewhere to come back to, a base of operations. But I would definitely love to fly premium cabins to exoctic locales more than I do currently.

ESPN’s Kate Fagan with “Split Image”, a look at depression and suicide in the age of social media.

On Instagram, Madison Holleran’s life looked ideal: Star athlete, bright student, beloved friend. But the photos hid the reality of someone struggling to go on.

It’s a startling reminder that the “reality” presented on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter is not always what it seems and that the so called perfection is often marred by pain or struggles.

Yesterday I noticed a lot of tweets and blogs sending their traffic to an article on Slate titled The Recline and Fall of Western Civilization. The article asserts that we as a society are broken because we recline our seats causing those behind us to suffer. It then takes the utilitarian view that reclining seats should be completely done away with. The first thing that came to my mind was, “are we really that bothered by seats reclining that Slate needs an article about it?”. Then I started thinking about the subtle “me, me, me” that was going on here cleverly disguised as “it’s for the greater good”.

Obviously, everyone on the plane would be better off if no one reclined; the minor gain in comfort when you tilt your seat back 5 degrees is certainly offset by the discomfort when the person in front of you does the same.

This quote in particular stood out. Unless you are a very tall person the amount of discomfort one receives from that same 5 degree seat recline is minimal as well. Sure, you may not be able to use your laptop on the tray table anymore, but the idea that you will be “uncomfortable” is a stretch. I am on an airplane a good chunk of every week and there are a lot of other things that are much more annoying and inconvenient than the guy in front of me reclining his seat.

Sure, I think it is annoying when a person reclines their seat right after take-off, or even better, the guy who does it on the ground after the flight attendants walk away, but I see some value in seat recline. I have had a few instances of back pain where I needed some recline to help relieve that pain and that 5 degrees made a difference. If we’re going to ban reclining seats then should ban all items that make trash (people litter), people who sit with their legs open on the subway (takes up my space), and so on.

Maybe what the author really wants to see is a seat like what ANA has installed on their Dreamliners, essentially a seat where the seat back is a shell, the bottom cushion slides forward, and the back cushion slides down. Such a seat gives a recline, but does not infringe on the space of the person behind.

I will say this. No matter how tall you are, products that keep the person in front of you from reclining, such as the Knee Defender, are not the answer. In the end air transportation is similar to a bus. If people want the experience of how nice commercial travel was in the 1960s then we’ll need to bring back regulation, make air travel unaffordable for a section of the population, and close a few airports… No? But it means a “better” travel experience for those traveling.

Malcolm Gladwell’s piece in the New Yorker on a favorite sport, it’s intersection with dogfighting, and the sport’s effects

The whole article is gut wrenching but I think this quote sums up the reason football, in its current form, may be ended.

McKee got up and walked across the corridor, back to her office. “There’s one last thing,” she said. She pulled out a large photographic blowup of a brain-tissue sample. “This is a kid. I’m not allowed to talk about how he died. He was a good student. This is his brain. He’s eighteen years old. He played football. He’d been playing football for a couple of years.” She pointed to a series of dark spots on the image, where the stain had marked the presence of something abnormal. “He’s got all this tau. This is frontal and this is insular. Very close to insular. Those same vulnerable regions.” This was a teen-ager, and already his brain showed the kind of decay that is usually associated with old age. “This is completely inappropriate,” she said. “You don’t see tau like this in an eighteen-year-old. You don’t see tau like this in a fifty-year-old.”

With technology now able to see the effects of concussions and other brain related injuries football, and the wear and tear it causes on the body, are being examined even more closely. Will the sport go away entirely? No, there is too much money being made from it. Instead we will see more and more regulation put on the sport, especially at the high school and college levels, until eventually, it becomes unplayable.