Saturday, August 6, 2022

The Skies Were Once Friendlier... but Deadlier

There's practically nothing friendly about air travel these days. 

Air travel chaos is commonplace in 2022. Airlines keep canceling flights (more than 1,500 cancellations on Friday) and flight attendants are saying their air travel situation is "unsustainable." 

Airlines desperately need more pilots, air traffic controllers, flight crews, and ground crews.

It wasn't always like this. I remember the Golden Age of Flying - the 50s through the 70s - when air travel was as a special experience. 

It was the dawn of the jet age, issued in by de Havilland Comet, the Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC-8.

Air travel during those years was something special. Airlines were marketing their flights as luxurious because they were in direct competition with cruise liners.

Try to imagine some of the following amenities:

(Photo by Ivan Dmitri/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images) 

There was caviar served from ice sculptures and an endless flow of champagne! All included with the air fare.

People actually dressed up and stewardesses wore haute couture uniforms. And there was a lot more space: seat pitch - that's the distance between seats on the aircraft was 36 to 40 inches. Now it's down to 28 as airlines try to cram more passengers in their jets.

If you flew in one of the jumbo jets, there was a spiral staircase that led up to the top deck which was a cocktail lounge.

The airline most often associated with the golden age of travel is Pan Am, the first operator of the Boeing 707 and 747 and the industry leader on transoceanic routes at the time. 

I went to and came home from Vietnam on a Boeing 707 in 1970. By that time planes had morphed into an economic way to travel without any luxuries. Still, I remember my awe at having air-conditioning on the way back to the states.

The thing about nostalgia is one tends to forget about the bad things and tends to center in on precious memories.

In all fairness the skies were deadlier because of the number of mechanical malfunctions and hijackings. Yes, hijackings! There were 50 in 1969 alone. Fortunately, the industry has advanced in safety measures today and hijackings are a rarity. 

Nevertheless, nostalgia for the period abounds, and Pan Am (which folded in 1991) in particular is still remembered fondly as the pinnacle of the air travel experience.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Dear America: Why I Believe There's Hope for Democracy During These Chaotic Times

If you knew me, you'd know that I'm no "Pollyanna.

As a journalist I've always dealt with reality regardless of how difficult it was. At times I've had readers even accuse me of being a "Negative Nelly" looking for bad news to report.

The good news today is I firmly believe America is going to pull through the polarized politics and waves of hatred from extremists like the former president.

What do I base my positivity on? Let's take a look at what's happened in the last two years.

Our democracy survived the first ever coup attempt and now Congress and the Department of Justice is holding the criminals involved accountable. Yes, the process is agonizingly slow, but it's actually progressing.

Other positive markers are reflected...

In the News

* DOJ talks with Trump Lawyers marks a grave moment for the ex-president

* US defies expectations with blowout July jobs report

* Sinema says she will 'move forward' on economic bill, putting Biden's agenda on the cusp of Senate approval

* Biden and Harris praise Kansas voters for defeating anti-abortion amendment

The above stories are just a random sampling of what I see as good news for the country.

Beyond that I'm seeing a seismic shift moving forward for democrats in the midterms. Mere months ago, it was a given that the Republicans were going to take the House and possibly the Senate in November.

History was on the GOP's side until the party fractured into two camps, real conservatives and extreme Trump supporters running for office on the Big Lie.

The extreme candidates Trump endorsed in the primaries are one reason I'm optimistic that the democrats are gaining the upper hand. Trump's base is not enough to carry a general election when the rest of America goes to the ballot box.

What's really encouraging is seeing bills being passed despite Biden's low popularity ratings. The House and Senate are in the process of approving the biggest climate change funding package in our history.

The recently passed health bill for veterans is going to go a long way towards improving people's opinion of Biden.

Last year Biden got the biggest infrastructure bill ever passed in the nation's history. I could list other legislative victories for the democrats, but I think you can see my point.

The challenges facing our country are not insurmountable although it seems that way on some days.

America will continue to be the world's leading democracy because we love our freedoms and abhor authoritarian rule.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Alcohol No Longer Tasts Good - What's the Matter with Me?

Full disclosure: ever since I snuck my first gulp of booze at eleven years old, I was an enthusiastic imbiber of spirits of all kinds.

One of my earliest experiences with getting drunk and puking like a sick dog came in my sophomore year of high school when I went to a party with my sister's friend Patty (a pretty Latina). 

I had too much sloe gin and found myself hurling my guts out in front of the house. I never had sloe gin again in my life. True story.

My first legal drink of alcohol - I was 18 and at a bar in New York City with a friend - was a beer. It was legal in the state in 1969.

A year later I was in Vietnam souveniring officer's whiskey supplies to share with the guys in my squad.

By the time I was out of the Army and 21 years old I considered myself a connoisseur of alcohol ranging from Scotch to Wine and everything in-between.

My love hate relationship with booze often got me in trouble in my younger days. I was a real idiot who got into too many fights in bars and on the streets when tanked up. 

But as I grew older and married my relationship with alcohol became more benign. There were exceptions in those years when I did get drunk and ugly, but most of the time I drank socially and behaved myself.

When our three sons grew up my drinking experience once again blossomed, and my wife and I enjoyed going to wineries with friends. Right up until recently it's been my golden age of booze intake with an eclectic selection of spirits on any given night.

Then it happened. The first time was about nine months ago when I suddenly couldn't drink any kind of booze and began throwing it up the following morning. I quit drinking for a few months then tried it again. Wine and beer seemed okay until it wasn't okay one day about two weeks ago.

I have mixed feelings about this aversion to alcohol. On one hand, it's not a bad thing for my health. If anything, it's probably beneficial.

On the other hand, I'm feeling like I lost a good friend. I just wish I knew why.  

Refusing the 'Wise Guy' Agenda for America

Today we're going to brush up on wise guys in American history.

The term wise guy to mean a smart aleck came into use in the later 1800s in America. The modern definition - since 1970 - means a person who's in the Mafia.

With that established we know the former president is a wise guy on political steroids who's trying to drag democracy down a back alley for an ambush.

Trump slithered into the social and financial scene with millions from his father. 

He was a natural con man and grifter with no conscience or concern for others. He's known for shedding his support for friends and allies like a snake if it'll personally benefit him.

His wise guy education came from the likes of notorious New York crime bosses, and the likes of Roy Cohn, and Roger Stone. 

As Trump put together his company he was guided by his mentors and emulated their way of doing business like a wise guy. It didn't take long before everyone in his orbit to call him boss. 

His Republican acolytes in Congress refer to him as boss when the press isn't around.

Others like extreme activists openly call him the boss. 

The public has seen testimony and emails from the Jan. 6 Select Committee where GOP lawmakers cravenly call him the boss.

Trump's perfected the art of passing the buck to others and never getting caught outright ordering his minions to commit a crime. Like a classic crime boss/wise guy in the mafia movies, he always has a layer of fools who end up paying for his crimes.  

No surprise then that Trump has a wise guy agenda for America where he controls the masses with government thugs loyal only to him. That way he'll become America's puppet master and first dictator.

This midterm and the next two years has to be a refusal (by voters and Democratic lawmakers) of the orange wise guy's agenda if the republic is to survive.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Disneyland Has Always Been About Family Entertainment... and Still Is, Despite Politics

The year was 1955 and my sisters, brother, cousin, and I went to Disneyland when it first opened the doors to the magic kingdom for all to see and enjoy.

I was five-years old, and the day was magic. I'll never forget the spinning teacups and seeing Disney characters everywhere talking with other children.

I have fond memories of taking our three boys to Disneyland in the late seventies and early eighties. People from around the country and foreigners flocked to experience Disneyland then, and they still do today.

The House that the Mouse built has always been a shining example of American family entertainment and the gold standard for innovative and interactive rides.

Since 1955, Disneyland has been a mecca of merriment that all children (and many adults) want to go to.

When I read about Florida governor Ron DeSantis' war on Disney World that began in February, I was stunned.

What triggered the Trump wannabee to go after an American institution?  

The answer is Florida House Bill 1557, which critics call the "Don't Say Gay" law. Standing up for LGBTQ family community rights the Disney Company issued a decree saying its "goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts."

In retaliation, a vengeful DeSantis forced a Florida House vote that revoked Disney World's designation as a special tax district - a privilege that Disney has held for 55 years.

Florida Disney World will no longer be considered a self-governing Special Zone (called the Reedy Creek Improvement District) with its own fire department.

Instead, the two counties Disney World is in are going to have to pay taxes to make up for the lost revenue to repair roads and all of the other improvements the Disney Company was paying for over a half century.

I applaud the Disney Company's stance in support of the LGBTQ community. It's an example of what Disneyland has always been; a family park for everyone.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

If TV Commercials Were Bad Back in the Day - What Do You Call Them Today?

I'm often amused to see young folks' reactions to TV commercials from the 1940s through the 60s.

They almost faint in horror at the outright misogynism in those early messages to consumers. 

The tobacco misinformation spread in those early ads guaranteed a generation of lung cancers that still plague stubborn users today.

For the record the first official paid television advertisement came out on July 1, 1941, at 2:30 p.m. over New York station WNBT before a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies. The ad was for Bulova watches.

Those early ads used popular jingles or slogans designed to be striking and memorable. 

I still remember that enduring phrase "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should" which ran through 50s to the 70s. 

And Marlboro cigarettes campaign "The Marlboro Man."

Another For the Record Moment; I started smoking cigarettes in 1966. My first full pack (up until then I bummed them off of buddies) was Marlboro.

I didn't kick my nicotine addiction until 2000. Hopefully I added a few years to my life. But I digress.

On Modern TV Commercials

Most insult your intelligence in not-so-subtle ways. 

Many so-called modern TV commercials were attacked by racist viewers who demanded they be taken off the air if African Americans were in them.

I still remember when Sly and the Family Stone's anti-racism song "Everyday People" was used in a car advertisement angering a lot of viewers.

There are certain TV ads running today that drive me crazy with their cute little way of describing male genitals and women's sanitary products.

The "Bent Carrot" ad representing a man's penis with a condition known as "Pyronines Disease," is particularly loathsome. 

They all but call the condition the crooked dick disease with a dancing bent carrot among all of the straight carrots. The narrative with it is just as stupid and easily forgettable... unlike Winston's slick jingle in the days of yore.

Sometimes the commercials can be entertaining like the one with the old lady asking, "Where's the Beef?" in the 1984 Wendy's ad.

In all fairness, I don't like TV ads, nor have I ever liked them. I know they've always been a necessary evil to pay the bills in the industry. But make no mistake, they're there for one purpose, to sell you shit you probably don't need. There's nothing educational about them. 

And that's all I got to say about that.

Monday, August 1, 2022

You Can Move but You Can't Hide from Climate Changes

When I was a teenager back in the 60's I lived in Azusa, California. I doubt you ever heard of it. It was just a small city nestled in the San Gabriel Valley.

In those days the smog was so bad that breathing was difficult on some days as it blanketed the area with a dead gray cloak of carbon emissions. I remember my chest aching and eyes watering while playing sports outside.

In what was the one and only time in my life local lawmakers got together and addressed a current climate problem with action by reducing carbon emissions in the state considerably.

Residents who didn't like paying extra taxes for clean air were able to move to other states where the climate was still predictable and livable.

Our reality today is there are no places we can go to escape the historic heat, storms, hurricanes, tornedos and flooding year around. Right now, the west and east coasts are burning up with record-breaking temperatures. Alaska is burning up for cripes sake!

Two years ago, my wife and I had to grab our pets and evacuate the house because an out-of-control fire (the Alameda fire) tore through cities forcing residents to flee.

We live in the city of Medford, in the southern part of Oregon, not a rural area where out-of-control fires have become a regular thing along the west coast.

After that unnerving experience, huddled all night in a car at an evacuation center where everyone was wearing masks because of COVID-19, we thought about moving after owning a house here for six years (at that time in 2020) ... but decided against it. 

We wondered "Where would we move too? The whole planet is changing and getting more extreme every year. Trillions of metric tons of ice are breaking away from Antarctica daily. A heat wave has killed over 5,000 people in Europe in the last week.

So, where should we go? My wife and I's answer to that is nowhere. There's no safe haven from mankind's stupidity. All we can do is to hunker down and try to make the best of our circumstances.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

The Enemy is Us: Social Media Versus Democracy

Since its birth in ancient Greece Democracy has been a fragile construct of justice for all.

It has to be defended at all times or it'll end up being a wasteland of human rights under a dictatorship.

American democracy has a history of fighting to maintain our freedoms from foreign and domestic enemies. 

Interesting fact. "We have met the enemy and he is us," first appeared on an Earth Day poster in 1970 while I was tramping through the jungle in Vietnam. The quote later appeared in Pogo. But I digress.

Today, once again, the enemy is us... because we're fighting on political social media killing fields where extremists push lies and misinformation without fear of reprisal. 

Social media has cleaved away at any pretense of civility as people attack one another in online forums full of hate and bigotry. 

A prominent NYU professor, Johnathan Haidt who co-authored a book titled, "The Coddling of the American Mind," describes social media as a coliseum where people go to get entertained, or to entertain themselves with conspiracies.

Lies never traveled this fast before. Misinformation flows 24-hours a day on numerous social media platforms. Fact-checkers just can't keep up and by the time they debunk one conspiracy another pops up from the cesspool of the internet depths called the dark web.

Social media is undermining democracy.

It's plain to see. Trump's coup attempt could never have come so close without social media platforms recruiting right-wing militias and extremists of all stripes.

I've heard pundits and scholars argue that there's a lot of good things about social media and how it's brought millions of people together to do good things.

It's the bad things that worry me.

Do the good things balance out the bad things on social media platforms? I don't think so. Our democracy has never been this fragile, even when we had a Civil War and were invaded by the British in 1812.

The only solution to social media pitting us against one another is for all the media platform owners to monitor (and take action) against lies and violence against others.

That'll never happen. The First Amendment will prevent it. America is doomed to wither away on the fields of toxic politics from within.

Alea iacta est... The die has been cast.

Is America Achieving Gun Nirvana?

The typical gun owner in America has long been a white conservative.  But the times, they are changing. In recent years, liberals, females...