Monday, June 29, 2009
Last night, at 8:39 our time, somewhere about 10 miles in that same direction and down deep, Haleakala burped. There was a jolt and a thud and just outside in the pasture I could hear one of the horses snort and jog around for a few seconds.
The paper this morning reports it was indeed an earthquake, measuring a modest 3.5 on the Richter Scale. Barely worth mentioning ... unless, of course, you were here to feel it.
I've been through several earthquakes, thankfully none severe. Two in Los Angeles while passing through, the other three here in Hawaii. One that occurred a couple of years ago was centered on the Big Island and did something like $100 million in damage there. We were shaken for several seconds, but that was all.
Still, it leaves you with a feeling of unease ... aware that it can happen at any time, aware of the imense power that can be generated, and very much aware that there's really not a damn thing you can do about it.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
That sad tale reminded me of a great story about the guy who runs the company that makes Snapper lawn equipment. Walmart wanted to carry his stuff, which would have meant the sale of hundreds of thousands of units. But, after a lot of soul-searching, he turned them down. Reason: He knew that Walmart would keep demanding lower and lower prices from him and, to keep making a profit, he would be forced to lower his quality standards. So he told Walmart to go fly a kite. And good for him!
And that reminds me of a former client of mine when I ran an advertising agency in Honolulu. They make and market a high-quality line of chocolate covered macadamia nuts. These nice folks approached Walmart about carrying their line of candy and nuts. The Walmart buyers agreed to put the goodies in several hundred of their stores and my client was so delighted, he told the Walmart people he would pop for some modest promotion in several of the larger markets where those stores were located. Instantly, the Walmart guy said, "Never mind the advertising. If you can afford to do that, then you can further reduce your price to us instead." That's hardball, Walmart-style.
At the moment here on Maui, there is a ordinance pending with the County government that would limit the size of any new retail stores wanting to do business here. Good! These guys – the Walmarts and the others of their ilk – squeeze their suppliers without mercy, and drive long-time Mom and Pop stores out of business. They are also notorious for low pay and working people half time so they don’t have to pay benefits.
For what it’s really like to work for Walmart, check out this terrific book. Then go pick up that new power drill you need at your local family-owned hardware store.
Friday, June 26, 2009
On another flight, a huge male passenger literally had to shuffle sideways down the aisle of the plane. Fortunately for the person seated next to him, the airline had put him in an aisle seat with a removable armrest. But that meant he bulged out so far into the aisle that passengers on the way to the lavetory had to do the sideways shuffle to get by him. And watching the crew maneuvering the beverage and food carts past his seat was more entertaining than the movie.
But this is a real problem and it’s getting worse, not better. More Americans are getting fat, the already-fat Americans are getting fatter, and airline seats are sure as hell not getting any wider!
Well, finally it appears that the airlines are going to do something about this. Apparently Southwest has been requiring obese passengers to purchase an additional seat for some time, although they provide a refund for the second seat if the plane is not full. (But why? After all, it take twice as much fuel to get a 300 pounder aloft as it does someone weighing half as much. Isn't that the very same logic they use to charge us for extra baggage?)
And now United Airlines is following suit. A representative for that airline says they received more than 700 complaints about overweight passengers last year. Just imagine how many passengers suffered through a fat-seatmate experience and didn’t go to the trouble of complaining.
Come to think of it – and I'm sure you saw this coming – this is just one more reason to take the train, isn’t it! Big, wide seats, plenty of room for everyone. Oh … with one possible exception. I once had a car attendant describe in hilarious detail the time it took three of them to pull a seriously overweight woman out of one of the Amtrak lavatories. I’d love to believe it was the lady from Seat B!
Thursday, June 25, 2009
After more than 25 years of waiting, there is hope. Or, more precisely, Hope (with a capital H), Arkansas. Amtrak and the Union Pacific Railroad, which owns the tracks, have apparently reached an agreement to include a stop in that town by the daily Texas Eagle. The train already makes five stops in Arkansas, but adding Hope will be more convenient for people wanting to visit President Clinton’s birthplace and a museum that’s there.
Some of the details are missing for what follows, but what the hell? Amtrak’s Southwest Chief was going to be a half hour at the Lawrence, Kansas, train station last Friday, so some of the locals organized a party on the platform with bluegrass music and refreshments. It was all scheduled to start at 11:30 p.m. and end an hour later – well, to be precise, at 12:32 a.m. – when the Chief was scheduled to depart. No reason given for the half 30 minute wait in the Lawrence station. Crew change, perhaps. Anyone know?
As mentioned a few days ago, earning points when you travel on Amtrak is a good way to get free trips. But you must be a member of Amtrak’s Guest Rewards program. And now through the end of August, bonus points are being given. Go here and click the "Earn Rewards" tab to sign up.
Yet another report about communities wanting passenger train service, this time from Iowa City where they’re hoping for a rail link with Chicago. Note, however, the comment that follows this brief article. Some people just don’t get it. This guy is driving on subsidized roads and flying on subsidized airlines, but doesn’t think taxpayers should help pay for rail travel. Maybe if we privatized pedestrian traffic and he had to pay a toll for walking on the sidewalks in his town he’d get the message!
Monday, June 22, 2009
It took a while, but everything was finally sorted out. Continental flew the kid to the right city and, to make amends -- Are you ready? -- offered to refund the extra Unaccompanied Minor Fee.
I wonder how much more that “gesture” is gonna cost the airline when the lawyer for the kid’s parents gets through with them!
Friday, June 19, 2009
I don’t want my computer or cell phone or TV remote to have a lot of “features.” I want simple. I want easy. And I want it in large type. Why can’t Sam Sung and others of his ilk understand that?
Furthermore, a helluva lot of people apparently agree with me. A couple of days ago, CNN began asking on line viewers to respond to the following question:
Does your cell phone have the features you want?
Of the almost 330,000 people who have responded so far, only 21% said NO -- clearly these were the technology addicts -- and 29% said YES. But 49 percent checked the box indicating “I just want it to ring.”
In other words, half the population just wants a phone that (a) makes calls and (b) receives calls. That’s it. Nothing else. What a freakin’ concept!
Thursday, June 18, 2009
The Copper Canyon – actually a series of five connecting canyons – is five times larger and a mile deeper than our Grand Canyon. Clearly, and justifiably, it’s a major visitor attraction, but it does seem very likely that even this service would have disappeared were it not for the tourists who visit Mexico to ride through this spectacular scenery.
Still, there are plenty of people in this country – ideological zealots and others who simply are ignorant of the facts – who still grumble about federal and state government subsidies to Amtrak and who continue to propose privatizing some of the routes.
Why is it we simply refuse to learn from the experiences of others? Oh, wait … now I remember … it's because we’re bigger and better and smarter than everyone else, right?
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
The other proposal is less costly and is being proposed by a private company, an attractive idea in these lean times.
It doesn’t matter which rail alternative is chosen because it will beat the hell out of that miserable drive.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Several years ago – before the Iron Curtain came down – my wife and daughter and I arrived in Nuremberg, Germany as we returned to the West by train after visits to Hungary and Prague. Our daughter was not quite seven at the time and we had promised her a new toy at the end of our trip.
There is a wonderful toy museum in Nuremberg and we paid a visit there as soon as we were settled in a quaint little hotel. It was, as I recall, a five-story building and when we arrived at the top floor I was startled to find a wonderful model train layout laid out on a platform that was probably 30x50 feet in area. And get this: It was a replica of the Omaha, Nebraska rail yard! (This photo is of another display in that city.)
But speaking of model railroad layouts, take a look at this video. Without question, this has got to be the most fabulous, most elaborate, biggest, most unbelievable …
Well, click and see for yourself!
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Amtrak also has an awards program – called Amtrak Guest Rewards – and I’m using some of the points I've earned during a cross country rail trip in July when I go back to Boston to see the Red Sox in a three-game series at Fenway Park.
I’ll use American Airlines mileage to get to the west coast, and am paying for my Amtrak tickets from there to Boston, from Boston down to Baltimore (where I’ll see two Red Sox-Oriole games), and back to Chicago. But my Chicago-to-Seattle ride in a sleeper on the Empire Builder comes at no cost this time, thanks to points I have accumulated in the Guest Rewards program.
Definitely worth the effort.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Remember how the health care industry made a big public show of promising to work with Obama to lower health care costs and reform the system?
Check out the Crooks and Liars web site where there is a video clip of a TV spot put out by the health care industry – the first of many to come -- knocking Obama’s plans for reform. The person looking into the camera is a crud by the name of Rick Scott, a pal and heavy contributor to George W. Bush and the former head of a hospital chain that was nailed for cheating Medicare out of millions of dollars.
Crooks and Liars has also published a list of the top ten highest paid CEOs in the health care field for last year. Number One is Ron Williams of Aetna (photo above) whose total compensation for the year came to more than 24 million bucks. And, in the meantime, my co-pay for a single office visit has gone up from $10 in 2007 to $24 this year.
What a bunch of slimy bastards! And how stupid are we to even consider their “arguments!”
Monday, June 8, 2009
All of these ideas have merit if we are to ever have a truly national rail passenger system. But they all overlook one critical problem: Amtrak doesn’t have the rail cars to add any new service!
What’s more, there are no new rail cars on order and even if an order is placed, there will be at least a three year delay while a manufacturer gears up and work actually starts before any new cars are actually put into service.
So up steps Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm. Hey, she says, we have idle factories and laid-off workers here in Michigan who are ready to build those rail cars.
Yes! Good for you, Governor! Let’s use some of that stimulus money to start adding rolling stock to Amtrak’s fleet. It will create jobs and will be an important – no, essential – first step to expanding and improving our national passenger rail system.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
(Picture for just a brief, horrible moment, what would happen if someone like Rupert Murdoch , the owner of Fox News, outbid eveyone else and took over our PBS!)
Included in their list for possible privatization is VIA Rail, Canada’s equivalent to our Amtrak.
This is a very bad idea.
Privatization does not, will not, cannot support a money-losing enterprise, and nowhere else in the world does a national passenger rail system make money.
Case in point: Ten years ago, the Mexican government privatized all the passenger rail service throughout the country. Today only one passenger train remains, running twice-daily from Chihuahua to Los Mochis through the scenic Copper Canyon. And it would almost certainly shut down without the tourists who pay top dollar to ride it.
Privatize VIA Rail? Stupid … short sighted … and destined to fail.
What the hell are they thinking??
Thursday, June 4, 2009
But look out … here comes Spain! After pretty much starting from scratch in 1992, the Spaniards will have an integrated 6,000-mile high-speed system linking the entire country by 2020 … and they will have done it all in less than 30 years.
The AVE trains run at speeds up to 300 kilometers an hour -- that's 187 mph -- and link many of the major Spanish cities. And the system has already changed the way Spaniards travel, drawing business from the airlines and inducing people with a reputation as home-bodies to get out, move around and see the rest of their country.
Our politicians are constantly bragging about this being “the greatest country in the world.” Well then, surely we ought to be able to build a decent high speed rail system linking our major cities … especially if the Spain and France and Japan and Poland and Russia and Germany and damn near every other industrialized country in the world has already done it!
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
A bit of background: Pre-Katrina, the Sunset Limited ran three times a week between Los Angeles and Orlando, via New Orleans. I rode the train several times and, although it was a magnificent trip, ridership between New Orleans and Florida was never much to crow about. Most people agree there were two main reasons for that.
First, the train only operates three days a week, making connections inconvenient … indeed requiring in some cases a two-night layover.
Second, the Sunset runs on track owned and controlled by Union Pacific and CSX, and while things have improved the two freight railroads often made the Sunset wait while giving priority to their freight trains. So arrival and departure times were unreliable – and often a joke – resulting in inconvenience and often extra expense to passengers and Amtrak alike.
But, as a practical matter, any rail route of 3,000 miles is a difficult proposition. Even if the train runs on time, it will necessarily pass through some cities along the way in the wee hours of the morning.
Having Dallas-Fort Worth as one terminus for both trains makes sense, too. The DFW area is a big market and that means lots of potential riders. The Sunset now goes much farther south, through San Antonio and Houston.
I’d love to link you to the PTJ story, but as far as I can tell the magazine itself isn’t on line.
The positive thing about all this is that, after years of cutbacks, there is finally some serious talk about expanding Amtrak service. That is indeed good news.
And dontcha think Cajun King has a nice ring to it?