Two more reasons I’m proud to be an American

Here are two headlines on today’s NPR home page.
Be sure to click on the links and read the complete stories.

Muslims Rescue Bagel Shop, Keep It Kosher
Coney Island Bialys and Bagels claims to be the oldest bialy bakery in New York City. Founded in 1920, it’s faced hard economic times and changing neighborhood demographics.
Now, the shop has been rescued by two Pakistani Muslims — and they’re keeping it kosher.

 Texas Town Embraces New Refugee Residents
Though some states have cracked down hard on illegal immigration, one small Texas town has rolled out the welcome mat for hundreds of foreigners and wouldn’t mind seeing more move in.
It started about a year ago when a chicken processing plant in Nacogdoches, Texas, announced it would hire a couple hundred new workers, all of them refugees from Myanmar, also known as Burma.

Most Stressful Cities

a stressed-out woman with a headache

Stress is all around us these days – flip on the news and sometimes the problems seem nonstop. There’s so much political infighting and inaction, unemployment, etc…

© Royalty-Free/Corbis

But are some cities more afflicted than others?  It sure looks that way.

We just completed an in-depth study on the nation’s Most Stressful Cities, and Tampa Bay, Florida came out at the top of the list.  Las Vegas was number two, then Miami and Jacksonville.

Notice a pattern?  Florida, with all it’s sunshine, occupies half of the top ten spots.  I was pretty taken aback.

Continue reading “Most Stressful Cities”

Iowa Under Attack

Stephen Bloom

A professor of journalism at the University of Iowa, Stephen Bloom, has written an article for The Atlantic about life in Iowa.  In the piece, he argues that the state is ill-suited to help determine the next president of the United States, declaring, “In a perfect world, no way would Iowa ever be considered representative of America, or even a small part of it. Iowa’s not representative of much.”

This may seem harsh, but Mr. Bloom is just getting started.  In his rambling and unfocused 5700-word article, Mr. Bloom has much more to share about Iowa, using descriptors such as “depressed,” “crime-infested,” “slum town,” “polluted,”  ”schizophrenic,” “culturally-challenged,” and “bizarre.”

Mr. Bloom seems to have a particular interest in rural Iowa, declaring that, “Those who stay in rural Iowa are often the elderly waiting to die, those too timid (or lacking in educated) (sic) to peer around the bend for better opportunities, an assortment of waste-toids and meth addicts with pale skin and rotted teeth, or those who quixotically believe, like Little Orphan Annie, that “The sun’ll come out tomorrow.”

Wow, and though I don’t know what a “waste-oid” is, I’m betting that it’s not a good thing.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Bloom’s observations have generated many comments and even some anger, but he accepts this as a price to be paid for “raising uncomfortable truths.”  In response to the aftermath of his article, he released a statement, which began ““For 40 years as a journalist, I’ve tried to shine a light into dark corners.  That’s what good journalists do. They don’t accept what politicians, government bureaucrats, corporate spokespeople say is the truth. Good journalism isn’t just reporting. It’s making observations, trying to make sense out of the world and its shadows — even if readers don’t agree with those observations.”

He throws in a few statistics (usually incorrect and misleading, which I’ll discuss in another post) to show how rural Iowa is a wasteland of broken residents and failed towns, but this is where his argument falls apart.

Iowa should not be condemned for having problems, because every state is facing these same problems in varying degrees.  Given that no one state is a perfect representation of our country (and Mr. Bloom doesn’t identify another as a better choice), he seems to use his notion of Iowa’s unsuitability as a primary state as an excuse to unleash his mean-spirited barrage of criticism.

Here’s my advice to Mr. Bloom…  move. Find a new home. Live somewhere else.  You are very unhappy with your surroundings and neighbors, and you need to find people you like, and who like you. Life is too short.

He may be disappointed, however.  Every place has people who are annoying, mean, intolerant, small-minded, selfish, and rude, just like Iowa.  Every place is also home to people who are kind, loving, generous, caring, outgoing, and open, just like Iowa.  And sometimes all these traits even inhabit the same people.  Sort of like family.

If your final, ultimate indictment against Iowa is that people comment during your dog-walking, asking if your yellow Lab “hunts well”, then there are deeper issues at play, and you need to try a new city, to discover and chronicle all its irritating quirks.
(Readers – I am not making this up about the dog-walking. If you have not read the article, I urge you to do so.)


Realtor group admits flawed numbers

My work is all about data and what it can tell us.  So I know that numbers aren’t always what they seem, and they are often misleading either as an accident or part of a larger agenda.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) announced today that it will be restating home-sales data going back to 2007.  (Hey, isn’t that when the housing market started to tank?  That’s a coincidence.)

“The Chicago-based organization has known for a long time that the existing home sales data it releases to the public each month were significantly inflated. It knew that it was double-counting, miscounting and relying on outdated census results that pumped up its report on housing activity.”
Chicago Tribune, 12/21/11

Continue reading “Realtor group admits flawed numbers”

Most popular cities for the holidays

Just in time for the holidays – which cities have the biggest holiday crush of travelers?

Here are the 100 U.S. cities which show the largest increase in air traveler over the two winter holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year (aka the Winter Holidays).

Now, we didn’t just look at raw numbers.  The obvious list would just be the cities with the largest populations.  Rather, these are the airline destinations ranked by the percent of their air travelers which list the city as their destination which occur during the holidays, as compared to their total annual incoming flights.

Click here for the full list of over 300 cities.

holiday travel  rank
Destination city Thanksgiving rank Christmas / New Year rank
1 Fort Myers, FL 4 1
2 Cincinnati, OH 1 3
3 Miami, FL 2 5
4 Hartford, CT 3 7
5 Fort Lauderdale, FL 7 6
6 West Palm Beach/Palm Beach, FL 10 4
7 Jacksonville, FL 9 8
8 Milwaukee, WI 6 14
9 Greensboro/High Point, NC 5 16
10 Palm Springs, CA 8 22
11 Columbus, OH 12 20
12 Richmond, VA 16 11
13 Charlotte, NC 15 17
14 Tampa, FL 19 12
15 Orlando, FL 17 19
16 New Orleans, LA 11 29
17 Pittsburgh, PA 13 24
18 Kahului, HI 20 15
19 St. Louis, MO 14 31
20 San Juan, PR 94 2

Continue reading “Most popular cities for the holidays”

Laird Hamilton, Actor

Our family went to the movies the other night and saw “The Descendants,” which has been getting a lot of critical acclaim.  It’s been described as “surprising, moving and frequently very funny” (New York Times review).

Laird Hamilton and Bert in the TV studio

But what a surprise it was to see to my buddy, Laird Hamilton, in a small role as the accidental accomplice in the death of one of the main characters.  Laird is a native of Hawaii, and widely recognized as the greatest big-wave surfer in the world.  And we’re talking BIG waves; 70-80 feet tall.

A few years ago, Laird and I worked on a campaign for Zest Bodywash, which celebrated my study of the Best Cities for Adventures.  During our joint television appearances, Laird spoke about how we can all bring adventure to our own lives, every day.  He said you don’t have to risk your life to feel more alive.  His suggestions included doing things that were out of our ordinary routine, such as taking a walk barefoot or playing tennis with your other hand.

But what terrifies a man who has faced death hundreds of times? Continue reading “Laird Hamilton, Actor”

Talking about El Paso

I recently had a great phone conference with members of the Paso del Norte Group, which “promotes the economic, social and cultural vitality of the El Paso region.”

I spoke with Richard Behrenhausen (Gen. US Army, ret.) and David Buchmueller (COO of the PDN Group), who spoke with enthusiasm about the many assets of their city, and even discussed the regions challenges and misconceptions.

For example, most people are aware of El Paso’s large Mexican sister to the south – Cuidad Juarez.  Wracked by drug wars and corruption, Juarez recorded over 3,000 homicides in 2010, which is easily the highest murder rate in the world.

Yet just across the Rio Grande river, El Paso remains a world apart.  El Paso has the lowest violent crime rate in the United States for cities over 500,000 population, with only five homicides in 2010.

Continue reading “Talking about El Paso”

Update – Louisville and sleep

I had the opportunity today to hear directly from Louisville residents about their insomnia.  I was on WGTK NewsTalk 970 AM for a half-hour, talking about our recent study which named Louisville, KY as the metro area with the most sleeplessness.

One caller talked about the stress of holding down several jobs, but most callers spoke about the allergies and respiratory issues which come from the abundant pollens, spores and molds found in the Ohio Valley.  The allergies make breathing difficult, leading to a poor night’s sleep and feeling tired the following day.

This matches nicely with our previous studies focusing on allergies and asthma, which found Louisville as one of the worst places in the country for pollens.  (The other allergy hotspot is the Great Plains region, such as Kansas City.)  (Nerdy fact – there are four main respiratory allergens; tree pollen, grass pollen, ragweed, and molds and spores.  People are often affected by one and not the others.)

It was really valuable to get this feedback, because most research on sleeplessness identifies stress as a one of the key factors.  But most callers I spoke with today mentioned allergies as the main cause of their insomnia.  Perhaps this will lead to new areas of investigation.

Another key factor of insomnia identified by sleep experts is obesity.  And this is a condition which affects Louisville, which has one of the higher rates in the nation, in the 80th percentile according to data from the CDC.  Louisville also has one of the highest incidences of cigarette smoking, and its residents also reports high rates of hypertension, cholesterol, and lack of exercise.  These health issues are also a likely contributor to the city’s sleeplessness.

Thanks to Doug Proffitt and his crew for having me on his show.

Bert on Louisville radio, for an hour

Recently, CBS News Sunday Morning released the results of our Sperling’s study on sleeplessness, naming Louisville, KY as the most sleepless city.  Naturally, this has been the talk of Louisville.

So Bert will be joining host Doug Proffitt this Thursday (Nov 17) from 1-2pm ET on WGTK NewsTalk 970 AM.  We’ll be talking about this and other studies, our Best Places work, and what makes Louisville special.

Click here to listen live.
And here’s the website for WGTK.

I hope you’ll join us!


CBS show scores big featuring Sperling study

The November 6th, 2011 episode of “CBS Sunday Morning” posted its largest audience in five years, drawing nearly 6 million viewers.  The lead story was based on our Sperling’s study of “Most Sleepless Cities”, which featured Louisville, KY as the worst city for getting a good night’s rest.

I’d like to believe that our compelling rankings helped to score this ratings win for CBS.  Here’s a link to the story in the industry publication “Broadcast and Cable”.