Category Archives: Travel

Comments and observations on the traveling life.

Animal’s Daily Air Traffic News

Who wouldn’t like to make air travel easier, cheaper and more efficient?  If you travel a lot, like yr. obdt., then y ou’d probably like to see that happen.  If you work for the Federal Aviation Administration, apparently the answer is “probably not.”  Excerpt:

In an era of smartwatches and driverless cars, Americans traveling by air sit in planes guided by World War II-era technology, while the Federal Aviation Administration spends billions on its never-ending “NextGen” upgrade.

Started in 2004, NextGen was supposed to replace the outdated radar, radio communications, and strips of paper still used by air traffic controllers. Once in place, this satellite-based system would let planes travel more direct routes, improve safety margins, and save travelers billions of dollars a year.

But NextGen has been fraught with delays and cost overruns and, despite having spent $7.4 billion over the past 12 years, is still 13 years away from being finished.

Up north, meanwhile, the Canadian air traffic control system — which is the second busiest after the U.S. — has already deployed truly state-of-the-art technology throughout its system, letting it handle 50% more traffic while trimming its work force by 30%.

What’s the difference? In 1996 Canada sold its government-run air traffic control to a nonprofit corporation called Nav Canada. User fees finance its operations and pay for upgrades, and Nav Canada is free of the suffocating bureaucracy and endless budget battles that plague the U.S. system. The Canadian government’s role is limited to regulating Nav Canada for safety.

Other industrialized nations have taken similar steps. But in the U.S., any such talk has been blocked by Democrats, for whom privatization is a dirty word.

There’s nothing that motivates people, whether they be individuals or joined together in a corporation, like the profit motive.

It shouldn’t be too hard to come up with a system to privatize the air-traffic control system.  Set up a system of standards – on time departures and arrivals (barring those that are the airline’s fault) certain budget and personnel requirements.  If the first contractor can’t do it, find another that can.  The precedent is just over the border in the Great White North.

What the article here misses is the reason the Democratic party so ardently opposes such a measure; the public-sector unions, who are deep in the Democrats’ pockets – and vice versa.

That shouldn’t be enough reason to put up with a broken system.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

First up – our thanks once again to Pirate’s Cove and The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

On this weekend past, my first in the Bay Area (this trip) I got up Saturday morning to do some exploring.

Fortunately the lodgings here are on the south end of the metro area, right near the on-ramp to CA Highway 17, which goes south to the oceanside town of Santa Cruz.  I drove down there, then caught Highway 1 north up the coast.

It was a beautiful, bright sunny day, temps in the high 50s, perfect for bumming around outdoors.  My favorite kind of day; I had no place to go and all day to get there.  Photos and a video (unfortunately not hi-def) follow. Click for more!

Animal’s Daily News

This is good news for someone that spends as much time in airliners as yr. obdt. – Air Travel Getting Safer, Cheaper.  Excerpt:

Mercifully, air travel overall is getting safer. Between a high point in 1972 and a low point in 2015, the total number of airline fatalities declined from 2,373 to 186—a reduction of 92 percent. Roughly over the same time period (1970-2014), the number of passengers carried globally increased from 310 million to 3.2 billion. Put differently, the chances of dying in an air crash declined from 1 in 210,000 in 1970 to 1 in 4.63 million in 2014. Today, flying is not only safer, but also cheaper. In the United States for example, average domestic round trip airfare fell from $607 in 1979 (the year of deregulation) to $377 in 2014 (both figures are in 2014 U.S. dollars). Between 1990 and 2013, the average international round-trip airfare fell from $1,248 to $1,175 (2013 U.S. dollars). In both cases, the average number of miles flown per trip has increased.

I’ve never worried too much about air travel, even when crossing oceans, although the new Dreamliner that has carried me back and forth to Japan the last few trips bothers me a bit in only having two engines; when crossing oceans, it seems like four engines would be preferable, but then I’m not an aerospace engineer.  But the numbers for air travel have always been good, and they are getting better; eliminate Russian aircraft from the statistics and the numbers are just damn fabulous.

My airline of choice is United, mostly because Denver is a major United hub and the best rates for flights out of my city are almost always with United, at least of the major airlines; I value my comfort enough to eschew the super-cheapie services.  Their record is pretty good.  As stated in the linked article, According to the Aircraft Crashes Record Office, “8,231 passengers have died in Aeroflot crashes. Air France is next on its list, with 1,783, followed by Pan Am (1,645), American (1,442), United (1,211) and TWA (1,077).”  I’m not sure what the denominator is for any of those, but I’m pretty sure it’s in the hundreds of thousands.

My living depends on cheap, safe air travel.  Fortunately it looks like we have things covered for the foreseeable future.

Rule Five Thoughts on Japan Friday

There’s a lot to be said about Japan.

Just now, about to end my third project in that country – albeit a short one – I’m inclined to share some of my thoughts of a place I’ve grown rather fond of.

I like Japan.  I like the food, the folks, the scenery.  I enjoy the porcelain beauty of so many young Japanese women and I enjoy the strong undercurrent of politeness and consideration that pervades the culture.

I’ve had some memorable adventures in Japan.  It’s a place where you can walk down a dark side street on a Friday night with little or no worries, a few neighborhoods in Tokyo excepted.  Some of my best adventures in Japan have started in just this way; some aimless wanderings in a new town that led to a great little local watering hole or restaurant.  One of these, some years back, was Koharu – “Spring Nights” in English.  Koharu is a little bar in Kusatsu, Shiga Prefecture, that in 2009 was run by three ladies (I’m guessing) in their early to mid 60s.  My friend Paul and I hung out there a lot, and the Mama-sans loved us.

On this trip Paul and I wandered up a little side street in a Tokyo suburb called Fusse and discovered a little local ramen shop, where I enjoyed some of the best ramen I’ve ever laid jaws on.

With all that said, though; I could never live in Japan.  I’m too deeply and irretrievable American, a red-state American at that, to willfully put up with a lot of things Japanese folks take for granted.  Now the Japanese people have the right to choose the government that suits them; they have done so, and I would be the last to say they should change that to suit the whims of Americans, just as I would be the last to say Americans should change our way of life to suit anyone from another country.  But the Japanese culture and still rather unquestioning acceptance of authority has led to some policies that I could not and would not abide.  Among them:

  • No protection against unreasonable search and seizure. I am told the police can legally enter any Japanese home once per year with no cause, no warning, no nothing, just to have a look around; no warrant needed.  In my own Colorado, even were it a police officer trying to force his way into my home, had he no warrant I would have the legal right to part his hair with a shotgun.  Which brings us to:
  • Refusal of the right of armed self-defense. This is not and has not been an issue in Japan, not the least of reasons is their crime rate, which in most places is so low as to be nearly non-existent.  But Japan is a culturally and racially homogenous society, and what’s more a culture that places great value on conformity, on respect for authority, on blending in.  The United States is very different.  America was born in armed rebellion, the exact opposite of respect for authority; Americans today are fractious, rebellious and quarrelsome.  As evidence witness our recently concluded Presidential campaign and its aftermath.  Americans, by and large, favor our right to armed defense, a right defined in the Constitution by men who had just led a citizen’s army to defeat the world’s dominant superpower of the day.

There’s a lot to be said about Japan.  But it’s a very non-libertarian society.  I like the place and would gladly return to visit, or to work, for a while.

But live in Japan?  No.  I’ll take Colorado and, in a few more years, Alaska.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!
Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Japan remains an interesting place to spend a few days.

This weekend just past, I roamed the outskirts of the Tokyo area, visiting the lovely Mount Takao on Saturday and wandering down to Shinjuku and Koenji.  One of my best friends has a nephew who operates the Fatz burger joint in Koenji; he claims to serve the best American-style burger in Tokyo (albeit in more typically Japanese-sized portions) and after sampling his works, I see no reason to disabuse him of that notion.  Photos follow.

Mount Takao:

Next is Shinjuku and Koenji, including Shinjuku’s wonderful Golden Gai; the tight-packed alleys are full of little bars, clubs and eaterys.  Everything was closed while I was there, but I’d love to visit on a Friday or Saturday night.

Animal’s Daily Japan Arrival News

Office-Bear_MaulThanks once again to Pirates Cove and The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

Once again I find Japan right where I left it.  This gig will have me working in Tokyo’s Nishiginza district, only a short walk from the famed Ginza shopping area and a few blocks from Tokyo harbor.  Should be an interesting time; I have two and a half (my return flight departs on a Saturday evening) to explore one of the world’s most populous cities and its surrounding areas.  Watch this space for photos and commentary.

Meanwhile, under the “predictable input from the usual idiots” category, we have this (emphasis added by me):  Was it terror? Somali refugee student shot dead after mowing down Ohio State classmates with his car and slashing them with a butcher’s knife – injuring eleven.  Excerpt:

Somali refugee Abdul Razak Ali Artan has been named as the assailant in a rampage at the Ohio State University on Monday, that left eleven people injured.

Artan is reportedly a Somali refugee who fled his home country in 2007, moving first to Pakistan with his family before coming to America in 2014 and gaining legal permanent resident status. His age has not been confirmed, but it has been reported by various outlets as 18 and 20.

While the motive for the attack is still under investigation, there are questions about whether Artan may have carried it out in jihad, since he is Muslim. Somalia has become a haven for terror groups – including ISIS – since civil war broke out in the 1990s. And Columbus has one of the largest contingents of Somali refugees in the U.S.

But here’s the real insight from the would-be killer himself:

In the piece, he said that he struggled to find a private place to pray on campus, after transferring from Columbus State which had such facilities.

‘This place is huge, and I don’t even know where to pray. I wanted to pray in the open, but I was kind of scared with everything going on in the media. 

‘I’m a Muslim, it’s not what the media portrays me to be. If people look at me, a Muslim praying, I don’t know what they’re going to think, what’s going to happen,’ Artan said.

Read that over carefully, then think about it for a few.  Go ahead – I’ll wait right here.

triple-facepalmReady?  Let’s summarize his statement.  This jackass decides that he’s oppressed for being a Muslim because people who see him praying might think he’s a dangerous jihadi – so he reacts by becoming a dangerous jihadi.

Meanwhile, some of the usual useful idiots in the gun-control movement just couldn’t wait to try to weave a narrative about guns into an incident carried out with an automobile and a knife.

You really just can’t make this stuff up.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!
Happy Hump Day!

Once again I find Zanesville, Ohio, right where I left it.

Zanesville is a great place.  Nestled in the edge of the Appalachian foothills, it’s a small town of big trees, plenty of deer and turkeys on the hillsides, the nation’s only remaining Y bridge and a whole lot of salt of the earth, solid flyover country folks.  This is a flying trip, in Tuesday, out Friday, to be followed by…  Well, I don’t know yet.  Possibilities include North Carolina, Indiana and Japan.  You never know what’s next in this business.

Moving right along:  The always-worth-reading Dr. Victor Davis Hanson urges The Donald to move quickly once installed in the Imperial Mansion.  Excerpt:

If in the first 100 days Trump can push through tax reform, deregulation, Keystone, clean coal, new leases for fracking and horizontal drilling on federal lands, an end to the crony-capitalist Solyndra-like subsidies, a cut-off of federal aid to sanctuary cities, support for school vouchers, the wall, deportations of those illegal aliens who committed crimes or have no work history, plans to rebuild the military, a freeze on federal hiring, trade renegotiations — then surprising things will follow.

Success in getting these initiatives passed will be proof of strong-horse leadership. And even Trump’s critics will for a while defer to his power, both in private admiration that he did what they could not, and in public out of fear that he might do even more — and, again oddly enough, also in mordant curiosity about whether the Trump agenda might in fact jump-start America. After all, many leftists believe in the acquisition of power alone, not necessarily in the practical utility and effectiveness of their own agendas.

Trump should study failures of what eroded the reelected Bush administration in early 2005. He should for now just leave alone Social Security. If 2004 is any reminder, assume that most intellectuals calling for preemptive military action will bail the first moment things get rough, blaming poor “execution” by others for not fulfilling their own brilliant strategic agendas. What undermined Bush in Iraq was not just a failure to deal promptly with the revolt in Anbar Province that was eventually crushed in 2007, but the sudden flip-flop flight of many of his original architects of intervention (“my wonderfully successful war, his terribly failed occupation”).

Excellent BearIn other words; ignore your critics and move smartly.  That’s probably good advice for any new President, especially one with a friendly Congress.  Not every President has followed that advice; President Obama did, and it cost Democrats the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014.  If Trump’s actions are seen as helpful and positive by  the public, then he’ll still have a friendly Congress in 2018 and 2020; if not, then he’ll get “shellacked” as did his predecessor’s party.

That’s how the game is played.

It remains to be seen if The Donald will indeed march down this path, but it’s important to note that his background is business, not politics, and (at least in my experience)  the key to success in a new venture is to hit the ground running.  Get moving, stay moving, bring things in under budget and ahead of schedule; that’s been part of my reputation and is supposed to be The Donald’s hallmark as well.  If he keeps a number of campaign promises in his first 100 days – or at least makes strong moves in that direction – he’ll be off to a good start.

Still, it’s up to the voters to affirm that success.  Or not.

Rule Five Traveling Life Friday

2016_10_28_rule-five-friday-1My New England adventure ends just a few short hours from now, when I will board a United 737-900 at Logan International Airport to fly the Friendly Skies to Denver.  Now, in my line of work, it’s very likely I’ll be back.  There are (somewhat amazingly) still a lot of medical device and pharmaceutical companies headquartered here in Taxachusetts, and quite a bit of manufacturing still takes place here.  My business takes me both into corporate HQs and into manufacturing sites, although I admit I prefer the latter; I like being in places where people are making things.

But that’s neither here nor there at the moment.  Here are some of the highlights (non-work) of this venture.

Cape Cod.  This is a fascinating little corner of New England.  It’s a long, skinny and wealthy peninsula, a former stronghold of the Kennedys (Massachusetts’ royal family) but now, in the autumn of 2016, this state’s main displayer of Trump yard signs.  I found that rather surprising but a couple of Cape Cod locals assured me that 2016_10_28_rule-five-friday-2they weren’t surprised.  But that wasn’t what impressed me about the Cape; what did was the great beaches, the fascinating coastal woodlands, and the fascinating old New England architecture in some of the older towns.  If you’re in the area it’s worth a visit.

New Bedford.  A historic old whaling town on the southern coast, New Bedford is home to the New Bedford Whaling Museum, with exhibits not only on the whaling trade and the ships and men that worked that trade, but also on the town and its people during the heyday of the New England whaling industry.  Unless you have something against clean-burning lamp oil, it’s an interesting stop.  And the town itself is charming.  I ate lunch in a local watering hole with a great view of the harbor, chatted with some of the local folks, and enjoyed a great plate of haddock and chips.

The Springfield Armory National Historic Site and Museum.  If you are, like yr. obdt., a gun aficionado, this is a must-see.  Just prior to the United States’ entry into WWII, Franklin Roosevelt stated that America would be the “arsenal of democracy,” and this site is the primary producer of that arsenal.  Form 1794 to 1968 the Armory produced everything from flintlock muskets to M-60 machine guns.  The museum is full of interesting old guns, not just those produced there but also service weapons of our enemies and allies.  There are 2016_10_28_rule-five-friday-3also many one-offs; prototypes, experimental weapons and much more.  Fascinating.

The Boston Common.  This is a great place to visit on a sunny Saturday afternoon, especially if you (like me) like mingling with the local folks.  It’s a happy place, grassy and beautiful, usually full of families and young folks enjoying the day.  Add to that the thought I had there that I may have been standing on a spot where Sam Adams once stood, and that makes it even neater.  Speaking of…

The Granary Burying Ground.  Sam Adams, John Hancock and Robert Paine are buried here.  I’m not normally big on grave markers, but these are heroes of our Revolution, and it’s interesting to wander around a bit and look at some of the dates on the markers; everyone there were more or less contemporaries of the Founding Fathers.  It’s interesting to contemplate what these folks saw during their lives.

The North End, including Boston’s own Little Italy.  Wandering this area one afternoon I encountered three good fellas (get it?  Heh) who could have walked right out of The Sopranos.  I suppose I stood out a bit even in this tourist-heavy area of Boston, as I was in jeans jacket and my usual big white gus-crown cowboy hat.  I stopped and chatted with them a while.  One of them said, “Yo,” (he really said that) “you look just like…”  He snapped his fingers.  “I can’t think of the name.”

2016_10_28_rule-five-friday-4“John Wayne,” I suggested.

“Nah,” he replied.  “You ain’t dat good lookin’.  Dat guy who plays da fiddle!”

“Charlie Daniels?”

“Yeah!  Dat’s it!”

I chose to take that as a compliment.

The North End is loaded not only with great Italian restaurants but also with some wonderful dive bars; Durty Nelly’s is my personal favorite, but there are some lovely Irish pubs around the Boston Common Market.

Kittery, Maine.  Only a short drive north of the Boston metro area lies this small town immortalized as the hometown of the fictional Admiral Rockwell Torrey in James E. Basset’s WWII novel Harm’s 2016_10_28_rule-five-friday-5Way.  Torrey was, incidentally, played by the aforementioned John Wayne in Otto Preminger’s movie based on the book.  Kittery is a lovely little town with a lovely little public beach framed by overhanging granite cliffs; a tad touristy but not obnoxiously so.

I can’t abide New England politics; Massachusetts is a deep-blue state where I could never live permanently, even though I’ve had a couple of very lucrative job offers in the area.  I’m a red-state American who is finding even our own beloved Colorado a tad uncomfortable (and look for some posts from Anchorage in a couple of weeks).  But in the course of my gypsy-like wanderings I try to eschew local politics and see everything I can see.  Boston is fascinating in a lot of ways, not only the wealth of American history but also the folks, the food, the sights, and not least of all the great fall colors that are just now ending.

I’m glad to have had the chance to explore the area.

2016_10_28_rule-five-friday-6

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!
Goodbye, Blue Monday!

This weekend just past was my last in New England for this gig.  Saturday I was the proverbial barracks rat, as the weather was awful; cold, windy, rainy.  I ventured out to eat and otherwise hung around the hotel.

Sunday was a different story.  The day dawned bright and clear, still windy but sunny and pleasant.  So, with nowhere to go and all day to get there, I piloted my rental car down into Connecticut.  I went far a long tramp in that state’s Bigelow Hollow State Park, then wandered back roads back up to Massachusetts and (eventually) my temporary digs in Braintree.  Nice day.  Photos follow.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!
Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Our thanks as always to The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

And now:  Another early Monday trip to our own Denver International Airport beckons; I go thence to Boston’s Logan International Airport and back to work.  That’s the Traveling Life for you; it’s busy enough at DIA on Monday mornings that the United ticketing and gate staff refer to it as “Premiere Monday,” in honor (?) of all us wild geese who travel for a living.

There are benefits to this lifestyle, of course; it’s not uncommon to accumulate airline and hotel chain award credits faster than one can use them, especially if, like yr. obdt., you keep up a steady pace of taking all the work that will physically fit in the calendar.  But occasionally there’s a break; a few years back on one such I took Mrs. Animal to Hawaii for five days, paid for with United award miles and Marriott points.

Of course, TANSTAAFL applies; you pay for everything you get one way or another, and I paid for that “free” trip with many hours sitting in narrow, cramped airline seats and many, many nights away from home, bunked down in hotel rooms.

Nights away from home are part of the deal, as is too much fast food, too many early mornings, too much time spent on airplanes, especially when working overseas.  Some time back I spent a few weeks in Johannesburg, South Africa, doing an audit in a pharmaceutical plant; that involved thirty hours in airplanes just getting from hither to yon before the gig could even start.

Excellent BearBut, as said, there are perks.  I’ve seen places that I never would have seen if not for this line of work.  Japan, China, Africa, I’ve been to all those places.  I’ve seen Montreal (I don’t recommend going there in the winter) and Guadalajara (I do recommend going there in the winter), Boston and Los Angeles, and about everywhere in between.

It’s a demanding life, but not without its rewards – self employment ain’t for everyone but it is for me.

And now, off to the airport.  Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more!