Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Debt Deal?

From Yahoo News:
"Obama, Congress reach a debt deal"

Ending a perilous stalemate, President Barack Obama announced agreement Sunday night with Republican congressional leaders on a compromise to avoid the nation's first-ever financial default. The deal would cut more than $2 trillion from federal spending over a decade. Default "would have had a devastating effect on our economy," Obama said at the White House, relaying the news to the American people and financial markets around the world. He thanked the leaders of both parties. House Speaker John Boehner telephoned Obama at mid-evening to say the agreement had been struck, officials said. No votes were expected in either house of Congress until Monday at the earliest, to give rank-and-file lawmakers time to review the package. But leaders in both parties were already beginning the work of rounding up votes. In a conference call with his rank and file, Boehner said the agreement "isn't the greatest deal in the world, but it shows how much we've changed the terms of the debate in this town." Obama underscored that point. He said that, if enacted, the agreement would mean "the lowest level of domestic spending since Dwight Eisenhower was president" more than a half century ago. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid provided the first word of the agreement. "Sometimes it seems our two sides disagree on almost everything," he said. "But in the end, reasonable people were able to agree on this: The United States could not take the chance of defaulting on our debt, risking a United States financial collapse and a world-wide depression."

^ I still won't believe it until it is signed and made official. It is very disgusting that Obama, the Democrats and the Republicans have stalled for so long and caused so much grief for ordinary Americans (not to mention the soldiers and their families that live paycheck-by-paycheck.)Hopefully, it will pass and will be a good compromise. ^

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Trench (1999)

This is a movie about the Battle of the Somme during World War 1. It focuses on the British soldiers waiting in the trenches for the assault to start and all the different things that each soldier went through. It has a star cast: Paul Nicholls, Cillian Murphy and Daniel Craig.
Even though the film does not really show the actual fighting at the Somme, it does portray the thoughts and emotions that soldiers go through during war - especially right before a battle. War movies always show things in a patriotic and often unrealistic way, but this one shows the good and the bad.

Walter Reed Closed

From Yahoo News:
"Walter Reed to close after more than a century"

Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the Army's flagship hospital where privates to presidents have gone for care, is closing its doors after more than a century. Hundreds of thousands of the nation's war wounded from World War I to today have received treatment at Walter Reed, including 18,000 troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Dwight Eisenhower died there. So did Gens. John J. Pershing and Douglas MacArthur. It's where countless celebrities, from Bob Hope to quarterback Tom Brady, have stopped to show their respect to the wounded. Through the use of medical diplomacy, the center also has tended to foreign leaders.

^ With the closing of Walter Reed we need to remember that there are still thousands of soldiers who get wounded in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places around the world that need the best medical care the US can provide. It seems that military and government officials are so eager to send troops away from home to keep us safe and then do very little to support them and their families - especially if they get wounded. From the minute a person joins the military until they die (whether on the battlefield or from old age) the US should give them access to everything that they and their families will need to truly make them the elite military force of the world. The US is the only superpower left and to treat soldiers, vets and their families to second-rate care is disgusting. ^

Royal Mail Delivery

From the BBC:
"Royal Mail wants to be able to leave post next door"

It wishes to trial the idea for mail that is too large to post through a letter-box, and for some post that requires a signature.Special delivery mail will not be included in the planned pilot scheme. Watchdog Consumer Focus said that while some consumers would welcome the idea of being able to have mail left with a neighbour, "worryingly there is no opt-out option"."For many people having their mail left with a neighbour they do not know, or might not trust, could open the door to problems," said its director of post, Robert Hammond. At present, postmen and women have to take items of mail back to their delivery office if the named recipient is not at home and the items cannot fit it through the letter box, or require a signature.

^ If I was British (or the USPS tried this in the US) I would be completely against it. It is one thing to have a customer that doesn't mind if a package is left with their neighbor to go to their Post Office and sign a form allowing the Post Office to do just that and another to force everyone to do it. I live on a small mountain road in the middle of nowhere and don't know my neighbors and wouldn't want anything sent to them. I can't imagine many people in cities would want to do the same. This just seems like a stupid idea that will cause more problems for everyone. ^

A Medical FICO?

From Yahoo Finance:
"New medical FICO score sparks controversy, questions"

Within the next 12 months, whether you like it or not, about 10 million Americans are expected to be scored -- much like a credit score -- on how likely they are to fill a prescription and take all the pills the doctor ordered, on schedule. FICO , creator of the widely used credit score that predicts whether you'll borrow responsibly, is now rolling out its new Medication Adherence Score. FICO based its score on a formula that predicts whether you will take your prescription drugs. FICO says that since correct use of medication is important for patients, medical providers, insurers and pharmaceutical companies, the Medication Adherence Score will help achieve that goal. They predict it will improve therapy effectiveness and reduce health care costs.

^ This seems like a complete waste of time and resources. ^

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

USPS Closings

From USA Today:
"Postal Service lists 3,700 branches for possible closing"

The Postal Service is looking at about 3,700 post offices with low sales and few customers for possible elimination as early as January, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said Tuesday. Most of those under review take in less than $27,500 a year and have only enough customers and mail to keep them busy two hours a day, Donahoe said. Proposals to close any of its estimated 31,000 post offices often meet strong resistance from communities and their representatives in Congress. In January, the Postal Service named 1,400 post offices it wanted to close; 280 are gone. As it closes branches, the Postal Service plans to set up what it calls "village post offices" in supermarkets and gas stations to provide basic services such as stamps and flat-rate package shipping. The Postal Service has cut 110,000 jobs and reduced costs by $11 billion since 2008 to offset a sharp drop in mail as people do more business online. Still, the Postal Service projects a deficit this year of $8.3 billion. First-class mail, one of the largest revenue sources, declined from 103.7 billion pieces in 2001 to 78.2 billion pieces in 2010.

^ I think the USPS should follow Canada Post's example (although without the strikes.) In Canada they use regular businesses for all their services. You can mail anything anywhere you want. The "Village Post Offices" that the USPS wants would only sell stamps and take flat-rate boxes. I don't see why they can't provide all the services that the USPS offers. The USPS still needs to do a lot more than close stores and create VPOs. They need to modernize their staff and equipment and work on Customer Service. No one will continue using the USPS if a letter or box takes a long time to get someplace, costs a lot to send it and then you have to deal with an idiot USPS employee on top of that. I prefer getting and sending regular mail (especially to my dad in Iraq or when my brother was in Iraq and then Afghanistan.) Mail to APO/FPOs should be much cheaper since they are working outside the US to keep us safe - some are even in war zones and risk their lives everyday. Also many people don't know that mail to an APO/FPO address is only handled by the USPS to either New York City or San Francisco and then it is given to the military where it goes to the actual location. Therefore APO/FPO addressed mail should be much cheaper if not free. ^

Kid Free Places

From Shine:
"The no-kids-allowed movement is spreading"

What's the matter with kids today and why doesn't anyone want them around? In June, Malaysia Airlines banned babies from many of their first class cabins, prompting other major airlines to consider similar policies.Lately, complaints about screaming kids are being taken seriously, not only by airlines, but by hotels, movie theaters, restaurants, and even grocery stores. Traveling is one thing, but what about in kids' own hometowns? Should kids been banned from local movie theaters, like they were at a recent adults-only Harry Potter screening? In Texas, one cinema chain has even flipped the model, banning kids under six altogether, except on specified "baby days".Most parents with young children have self-imposed limits on spending and leisure. This new movement imposes limits set by the public. And the public isn't as child-friendly as it used to be. As businesses respond to their new breed of 'first-class' clientele, are parents in danger of becoming second-class citizens?

^ I really like this new trend. I do not see why people who are out in public need to deal with other people's kids - especially when they are acting up. The majority of parents today barely watch or pay attention to their kids. It is one thing to be on an airplane/in a store with a kid that is acting out and the parent is trying hard to get them under control and another for the kid to act out and the parent is too "busy" talking with friends to care. I have seen the latter many times - on planes, in stores, restaurants, etc. There are enough kid-friendly places that cater towards families and if I go to one of those places I would expect to see and hear children - although parents still need to keep some control. I don't think I should have to do the same at movies, in regular restaurants, stores, etc. I am not against children, but parents nowadays are becoming very lazy and let their kids go crazy in public. When I was a kid if we went out public and I started acting up then my mom or dad would immediately take me out of the situation and punish me. Then I would only be allowed back if I behaved. ^

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mrs. Tuesday's Departure

I read this book on my Kindle and have to say that it was pretty bad. Even though it doesn't come out and say it the book is about the German Occupation of Hungary during World War 2. References are used to describe all the different aspects of the war such as calling the Jews the Wanted, etc. It does mention the ghetto, the labor and death camps by name though. I know the book is set in Hungary because of the roundabout way they describe historical references such as Raoul Wallenberg giving Swedish protection passports and how the Allies are winning the war.
The book deals with a set of twins (one who has gone insane and one normal one)who are Catholic and how how they each deal with the war. The insane twin lives in a world of make-believe while the normal one has to struggle with life in wartime while at the same time keeping her niece (who is a Wanted - ie a Jew) away from the Black and Reds - ie the Nazis. I am not sure how the niece and her mother can be Jewish and the twins aren't, but that is a minor detail. The niece and insane twin are captured by the Nazis and sent to the ghetto in order to get information from a man who loves the normal twin. The man and the sane twin make an agreement with the Nazis to provide the information for the niece and insane twin. When they go to the ghetto to get them they are being put on the cattle cars. The sane twin gets the niece released and when she can't find her sister she opts to go on the train to the death camp - where she meets up with her sister and they both die in the gas chambers. The niece survives the war and goes to the US and tells the story of her twin aunts.
The book has historical relevance, but the way it is written makes it very confusing and puts the reader off the main storyline. It was a good concept that just didn't do well in print.

Norway Attacks

From Deutsche Welle:
"Tributes paid at Oslo memorial service for terror victims"

Norway's prime minister and royal family led mourners at Oslo Cathedral on Sunday in a service for the 93 victims of Friday's shooting spree and bomb attack. Leading the tributes, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told the congregation that the country was "struggling to understand the scale" of the disaster. He said the names and photographs of those who died would soon be released and "the scale of the evil will then emerge." Members of the victims' family and several of the young survivors were among those in the Oslo congregation. The memorial service was attended by politicians, survivors and victims' family

^ It seems to me that the Norwegian Police should be found negligent in their response since it took them over an hour (from when they got the first call) to arrive at the island because they had no transportation - boat or helicopter. You would think that in a country like Norway where there are lots of islands and fjords, etc the police would have a means to get to an island without needing to wait for something bad to happen and then try to get the transportation needed. Who knows how many young people could have been saved had the police arrived in a timely fashion. ^,,15262597,00.html

Friday, July 22, 2011

Obama Signs DADT Repeal

From Yahoo News:
"Obama ends gays in military ban"

President Barack Obama on Friday formally signed off on ending the ban on gays serving openly in the military, doing away with a policy that's been controversial from the day it was enacted and making good on his 2008 campaign promise to the gay community. The president joined Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Adm. Mike Mullen, the joint chiefs of staff chairman, in signing a notice and sending it to Congress certifying that military readiness would not be hurt by repealing the 17-year-old "don't ask, don't tell" policy. That means that 60 days from now the ban will be lifted. As of September 20th, service members will no longer be forced to hide who they are in order to serve our country." The Pentagon is expected to spend the next 60 days preparing the troops for the change, and ironing out legal and technical details, including how it will affect housing, military transfers and other health and social benefits. In most cases, the guidelines require that gays and lesbians be treated like any other member of the military.There will be differences, however. Same sex partners will not get the same housing and other benefits as married couples. Instead, they are more likely to be treated like unmarried couples.

^ It seems that every other day you hear that DADT is repealed then put on hold, etc. I guess this means it is official (well as of September 20th.) Hopefully the DOMA will also be repealed and the gay soldiers and their families be treated equally. ^

New TSA Scanners

From USA Today:
"TSA says it's making airport screening more 'private'"

The Transportation Security Administration said Wednesday that it has begun installing software to give passengers more privacy when they're screened by some of the full-body scanning machines at airport checkpoints. The TSA says the software for millimeter-wave body-scanning machines, which use electromagnetic waves to screen passengers, replaces a passenger's image with a generic one that will still expose any dangerous items that could be hidden. It also says that the software's automatic detection capability eliminates the need for a TSA agent to look at a passenger's image in a viewing room. Many fliers have objected to having their "naked" images viewed by TSA personnel. "This software upgrade enables us to continue providing a high level of security through advanced imaging technology screening, while improving the passenger experience at checkpoints," TSA Administrator John Pistole said Wednesday. The TSA says it expects all 241 millimeter-wave machines at 40 U.S. airports to be upgraded by the end of the year.

^ It's about time. This technology has been around and used - in Amsterdam. I guess the TSA really came under fire from passengers and are finally listening to us. ^

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Conlan Press

Since my sister finally got her book yesterday I can now write about all the problems the publisher/seller gave me. In April I looked at my sister's Amazon Wish List (her birthday is in July) and went through all her suggestions and picked the book that I knew she would really like - it is based on a cartoon she loved as a kid. The book could not be bought on Amazon and so I ordered it through Conlan Press' website. I had four choices for the book: (1) to get just the regular book, (2) to have the author sign the book, (3) to get the author to personalize the book or (4) to get the author to both personalize and sign the book. I chose the last choice and wrote the personalized text in the online order form.
In May (several weeks since I ordered the book) I e-mailed Conlan Press and asked them about my order. A few weeks later (in June) I decided to call the company in CA since I had received no reply from them. I spoke to a guy who from the start gave me nothing but excuses. I told him that the book was a birthday present and that I really needed it. He started telling me that his company was small and that a female employee who handled everything had left suddenly and they were trying to pick up the pieces. He said that since it was for a birthday he would make sure the book was signed and sent that Monday (it was a Friday that I called.) I told him that I was not "Oprah" and did not need all his excuses - just the book. He said he didn't need the "abuse" I was giving him and so I told him I expected the book to be signed and mailed on Monday as he said and when he tried to give me more excuses I hung up on him. A few minutes later he called back and asked if I could be "civil" with him so we could resolve the problem. I was biting my tongue so I wouldn't tell this CA laid-back idiot what I really thought of him. The call ended and I was expecting the book in a few days.
The book never arrived. I was waiting another week to call back and see where it was (since it could have been mailed and just in transit.) I then received a generic e-mail from the company explaining that my book was being delayed because they were a small company and a female employee was getting divorced and had left the company to work on her personal issues. It did not mention the call I had made to them about getting the book that Monday and so I called them again.
I explained everything to the guy I spoke to (including about it being a birthday present and I had been told before that it would be delivered by a certain date and that date had come and passed.) He started out with the same excuse as I have received from everyone at this company - about the female employee. I told him that I had heard that excuse for months, but that this time the mistake was due to a male employee (the one I spoke to the first time I called.) He kept repeating that they were a small company and that it was misplaced, etc. I told him that if they were a small company then it should be easy to know who had made the mistake and to correct it. He did a stupid laugh at that and said that perhaps I had made the mistake. After hearing him blame me I went off on him and told him what I thought of him and his company and told him that I had better receive the book within the next few days or I would file official complaints with anyone and everyone in CA (including the Feds) and then I hung up.
A few days later I got the book - which was personalized and signed, but had the corners pushed in. I wrapped it and mailed it to my sister - who lives in another state. As I mentioned above she finally got the book - her birthday present - yesterday (only 2 weeks after her birthday and 3 months after I ordered it.)
I would suggest that no one buy anything from Conlan Press in California. Throughout my experience with them they have been nothing but unprofessional and arrogant. They do not care about Customer Service or about filling their orders promptly - even though they charged my credit card a few days after I placed the order and didn't send the item to me for 3 months (usually a company charges the card right before they ship it.)The employees I personally dealt with at Conlan Press all seem to have the CA laid-back, I don't care about anything, but everyone should care about me attitude. These are people who have a business and should want to please their customers. Instead they act like old, washed-up hippies.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Credit Watchdog

From Yahoo Finance:
"Your New Financial Watchdog: What It Can Do"

Consumers get a major advocate on July 21, 2011, when a new federal agency officially opens for business as a watchdog over the myriad financial products on the market.The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will have broad powers to police how banks, credit unions, debt collectors, payday lenders and other financial services companies conduct business with their customers. If products or services are unfair or deceptive, consumers will have a single place to turn for help -- rather than as many as seven different regulators. But it is very much a work in progress. At its launch Thursday, the bureau will be leaderless, though President Obama is set to nominate its first director, Richard Cordray, the former attorney general of Ohio. Cordray will have to be approved by the Senate to take office.
A long list of issues await him, or whoever eventually heads the agency. Here is an alphabetical list of payment industry services and practices that the new consumer watchdog is scheduled to have jurisdiction over and what it may do about them.

Credit Cards
Issue: The most sweeping credit card reforms in history were included in the Credit CARD Act of 2009. Among other things, the law limits fees and when interest can be hiked and how credit cards are marketed to minors and young adults. It also requires issuers to give cardholders advance warning of significant changes to their account terms. However, consumer groups complain that new credit card services and products not specifically banned by the law are cropping up and raising concerns about fairness and deception. Credit cards issued to businesses do not enjoy the same protections given to consumer credit cards.
What the bureau may do: The CFPB will have the authority to enforce the CARD Act provisions, supervise large bank issuers of credit cards, monitor industry practices and new products, collect and review consumer complaints about credit card practices, and, if necessary, draft additional regulations.
How to complain: First, call the credit card issuer to point out the problem and ask for a resolution. If that fails, contact the regulator that oversees the credit card issuer. Consumers can contact the CFPB's Consumer Response Center once it becomes operational.

Credit Counseling Agencies
Issue: Both nonprofit and for-profit companies offer services to help consumers who are drowning in debt create family budgets, cut spending on non-essential items and negotiate debt management plans with creditors to pay off their bills. Federal bankruptcy laws require credit counseling before and after filing for bankruptcy. The Credit CARD Act of 2009 requires credit card issuers to provide toll-free numbers to credit counseling agencies on monthly billing statements.
What the bureau may do: Credit counseling agencies are nonbank providers of financial services. Once a CFPB director is appointed, the agency will have the authority to regulate all credit counseling services to ensure that they are operating fairly.
How to complain: Contact CFPB's complaint system once it is operational. The Federal Trade Commission takes consumer complaints online and through its toll-free number: (800) FTC-HELP. You can also contact your local or state consumer affairs agency.

Credit Repair Services
Issue: Companies that advertise credit repair services to remove negative information from credit reports are often criticized by consumer groups because no one can legally remove accurate negative information from a credit report. Consumers who sign up for these services may find they've been scammed, although there are legitimate credit repair services.
What the bureau may do: The CFPB can collect and review complaints from consumers who are duped by the largest credit repair companies, and enforce existing federal laws banning unfair and deceptive practices. Once a CFPB director is appointed and rules are established to determine what companies are the "largest participants," the agency can supervise those companies and draft new regulations to prevent fraud.
How to complain: Contact CFPB's complaint system once it is operational. The Federal Trade Commission takes consumer complaints online and through its toll-free number: (800) FTC-HELP. You can also contact your local or state consumer affairs agency.

Debit Cards
Issue: Debit cards are the No. 1 noncash payment method in the United States. These payment cards are linked to checking or savings accounts and allow users to avoid carrying cash and quickly pay for everything from lattes to rental cars. However, there are fewer consumer protections on debit cards than on credit cards, and users have to watch out for fees and potential fraud if they are lost or stolen.
What the bureau may do: The CFPB will have the authority to enforce existing federal rules on debit card regulations (including overdraft fees and opt-in requirements). The agency can also monitor industry practices, investigate and sanction violators, collect and review consumer complaints and draft additional rules to address unfair, abusive or deceptive debit card features.
How to complain: First, call the credit card issuer to point out the problem and ask for a resolution. If that fails, contact the regulator that oversees the credit card issuer. Consumers can contact the CFPB's Consumer Response Center once it becomes operational.

Debt Collection Practices
Issue: Complaints about debt collection practices are among the top problems reported by consumers in the Federal Trade Commission's annual complaint registry. The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act outlines when and how debt collectors can contact debtors, but abuses continue. The FTC has filed civil suits against some debt collectors, and the industry has attempted to police itself. However, consumers continue to report harassment, threats and other abuses.
What the bureau may do: As of July 21, 2011, the CFPB takes over monitoring and enforcement of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Once a CFPB director is appointed and rules are finalized to determine the "largest participants" in the industry, the agency will have the power to draft new regulations aimed at curbing abusive or deceptive practices in the industry and investigate and sanction violators.
How to complain: Contact CFPB's complaint system once it is operational. The Federal Trade Commission takes consumer complaints online and through its toll-free number: (800) FTC-HELP. You can also contact your local or state consumer affairs agency.

Gift Cards
Issue: Gift cards have become a popular mode of giving for many people, but they can include fees that diminish their purchasing power. The Credit CARD Act of 2009 made gift cards friendlier for consumers by banning dormancy fees during the first 12 months after the card is purchased or from the last time it is reloaded. The law also says cards cannot expire within five years of being issued.
What the bureau may do: The CFPB has jurisdiction over enforcing the Credit CARD Act. The agency can collect and review complaints from consumers, monitor industry practices, and, if warranted, draft new regulations to curb any unfair, abusive or deceptive practices.
How to complain: First call the gift card issuer to ask for a resolution. If that fails, contact the regulator that oversees the card issuer. Consumers can contact the CFPB's Consumer Response Center once it becomes operational.

Interest Rate Caps
Issue: Currently, there is no federal limit on how high banks can set credit card interest rates, although some states cap rates. (National credit unions are limited to 18 percent interest rates on credit cards and 28 percent on short-term and small loans. ) One bank that caters to applicants with bad credit set a 79.9 percent rate on its cards in 2010.
What the bureau may do: The CFPB can monitor interest rates charged by lenders and, if warranted, propose legislation to Congress to cap interest rates. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law specifically prohibits the agency from regulating interest rates.
How to complain: Contact the card issuer first and ask for a lower interest rate. Consider shopping around for cards with lower rates. If you feel your interest is excessively high, contact CFPB's Consumer Response Center once it is operational.

Prepaid Cards
Issue: Prepaid cards are payment cards that are loaded with funds either by users or by third-party payers, such as employers or government agencies. Many prepaid card users have bad credit and may not have access to credit cards as payment options. Consumer groups have raised concerns that prepaid cards do not carry the same consumer protections against fraud losses or in billing disputes with merchants.
What the bureau may do: The CFPB can study industry practices and enforce existing federal regulations regarding payment cards. Once a CFPB director is appointed, the agency can also, if warranted, draft new rules to encompass prepaid cards.
How to complain: First call the card issuer to point out the problem and ask for a resolution. If that fails, contact the regulator that oversees the prepaid card issuer. Consumers can contact the CFPB's consumer complaint system once it becomes operational.

^ It is a few days until this new Credit Watchdog Agency will start working. From what I can see (mostly from this article) the directives of the new Agency seem good, but of course it all depends on how well the directives are carried out and what penalties will be given to companies that violate the rules. This new Agency will only carry weight and succeed if it is given the full authority to do so and uses that authority otherwise it is like Communism - good on paper, bad in practice. ^

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Gene Simmons: Family Jewels

I watched several episodes of this show (which I have seen off and on over the past few years.) I have to say I really liked the episodes where they went to Israel and where they went to Fort Hood. In Israel Gene met his half brother and sisters. They also went to all the sites (including Yad Vasham) and were in Jerusalem when there was a bombing. The two episodes showed all aspects of life in Israel.
When they went to Fort Hood Gene and Shannon met with soldiers and their families. Some soldiers were wounded and others were being deployed to Iraq. The episode showed all aspects of military life (the good, the bad and the ugly.) One thing I really liked was how they kept saying that soldiers and their families did not get the recognition or support that they were due (before, during and after their deployments.) Watching this episode made you stop and think about all the men and women who fight and die so that the rest of us do not have to stop our carefree lives. I am a military brat and have always grown up with this kind of life. I have seen first-hand how it feels to have your dad go off to war, worrying about his safety, waiting for his letters as well as how your mom has to become both parents in one. I have experienced this while going to a military-run school in Germany as well as a public school in New York and the completely different attitudes you get from people in both places. Whereas those in the military-run school know exactly what you are going through since they are also going through the same thing those in the public school have no idea what you are going through and most could care less.
These three episodes (Israel and Fort Hood) show the different sides of what everyone in the country should be experiencing nowadays: remembering the past, learning about your family as well as remembering the men and women who sacrifice their lives. Many people do not stop and think about any of these things, but with shows like these it forces many to start.

Friday, July 15, 2011

My Articles

Several people have commented to me about some of the articles I have posted. Since most of the articles I want to post are too long I usually cut them down to basic summaries. If anyone wants to read the whole article I also include the source and url in my post so anyone can find it for themselves.

Debt Ceiling

From Yahoo News:
"Obama vs. Cantor: Tempers flare as debt ceiling negotiations take a dramatic turn"

President Obama and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor engaged in a high stakes test of wills at Wednesday's debt ceiling negotiations in the White House, trading dramatic ultimatums in the most intense round of talks yet. With tempers boiling over, Cantor took his grievances public in an unprecedented press conference after Obama issued a veto threat and told the Republican lawmaker he'd had "enough."

^ I think that both sides (the Democrats and the Republicans) need to stop their back-and-forth propaganda fights and fix this issue. With that said I do think Obama is doing more harm than good in resolving this. All he is doing is making a media show that attacks everyone and is not doing anything of importance. He is acting like a little kid that wants to draw attention away from his ineffectiveness and place blame on others. I think that he needs to put his "big boy pants" on and work with the Democrats and Republicans to find compromises. Two issues I think are important to both sides are taxing the rich (the Republicans should allow this) and not touching Social Security or Medicare (which the Democrats do not want to touch.) Neither side will get everything they want, but the debt ceiling crisis needs to be fixed before August so the US can continue to get out of the recession. If these talks don't fix anything then not only will the US economy suffer worse than it did a few years ago, but the role we earned in 1991 as the world's sole Super Power (economically, politically and socially) will also be lost. ^

US Recognizes Libyan Rebels

From Yahoo News:
"U.S. recognizes rebels as Libya's legitimate government"

The United States Friday recognized Libya's rebel National Transitional Council (TNC) as a legitimate government, a diplomatic boost which could unlock billions of dollars in frozen assets. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington would extend formal recognition to the Benghazi-based TNC until a fully representational interim government can be established. "The TNC has offered important assurances today, including the promise to pursue a process of democratic reform that is inclusive both geographically and politically," Clinton said in prepared remarks. "Until an interim authority is in place, the United States will recognize the TNC as the legitimate governing authority for Libya, and we will deal with it on that basis." Clinton's announcement came as the Libya Contact Group, meeting in Istanbul, formally recognized the opposition as the representative of the Libyan people -- sealing its diplomatic status as the successor government to embattled leader Muammar Gaddafi.

^ I see this as a good way to help the rebels fight Gaddafi without using American troops (ie bombing Libya, etc.) It is a civil war and it is mainly up to the rebels to defeat Gaddafi themselves. I do not think NATO and other countries should be bombing Libya (especially because it is not doing anything important to end the conflict.) I want to see Gaddafi removed to power just like most of the world, but the NATO intervention isn't effective. ^

Russian Post Thefts

From the BBC:
"Russian anger at parcel thefts goes viral"

But when Sergei Lyapko from Akademgorodok saw an iPad going cheap in an online auction, he snapped it up. The Royal Mail duly despatched the item. But Russian Post failed to deliver it. "The package arrived," Sergei told me by phone from Siberia. "But instead of a tablet computer it contained five stones! "The weight of the parcel was almost the same as what it should have been with the computer, there was just 15 grams difference. I made an official complaint and now there are two investigations ongoing: one by Russian Post, the other by the police." Enraged by the rocks he received, Sergei started his own website called Post Office Thieves, a forum for other Russian victims of mail theft. He has been inundated with stories. Among the victims to make contact with him are:

A customer who bought a cell phone on a Russian internet site - but received, instead, a bar of soap
A man who ordered a video camera - but when the parcel came it contained a bag of sugar
A husband and wife who collected a parcel at their local post office - they had been expecting a Mac Book 3 computer but the package was empty.
"I'm going to collect all these complaints," Sergei told me, "and take them to the Russian authorities, so that they see the need to carry out checks on Russian Post."

It's not only Sergei who wants to clean up Russian Post. At a rowdy press conference in Moscow this week, consumer protection official Alexei Samokhvalov clashed with representatives of Russian Post. He described the situation with parcel deliveries as "alarming" and "farcical". He also claimed the postal service had worked better in Soviet times. Russian Post admits that thefts do occur. But the company strongly defends its record. "Each year we receive, process and deliver more than 1.7 billion letters and 54 million parcels," says the service's spokesperson Raniya Yefimova. "Of those parcels, 6.5 million contain goods from abroad, mainly items from internet shopping sites. Normally, no more than 3% of them go missing."
The Russian mail service says it does all it can to prevent such incidents and - when they happen - to investigate them. "Russia has 380,000 postal workers at 42,000 branches," Ms Yefimova points out. "It's a huge organisation and there are all kinds of people working there. But most of our staff are very honest people. "We don't like our staff being called thieves and bad words like that. Naturally we jump to their defence. Because we, more than anyone, work to prevent stealing."

^ I have written about this before, but it seems the problem continues to get worse (regardless of what the Russian Post says.) I now first-hand at how the Russian Post steals. When I was living in Yaroslavl I recieved an Easter package from my parents and when I too it home I found that it had been opened and things were missing. In this case it was only candy (not electronics as in this article) but it still shows the ineffectiveness of the Russian Post. I also have several close friends that live in different parts of Russia that I continue to send things to and either they are delayed by months or in the case of one of them get to them broken and they have to file a report. I should explain something from the article that most non-Russians wouldn't know. When you get a package in Russia and go to the Post Office to pick it up the official takes the package out of a green sack that is tied (and is supposed to only hold one package.) Then they weigh the package in front of you and show you that it matches the amount mentioned on the Customs Form. That is why the guy in the article got stones - since they were the same weight. It didn't help me because the weight of the packages I got were in pounds and the weight they showed me at the Post Office were in kilograms. The Russian Government needs to do more to ensure that international mail enters and leaves Russia in a timely manner (Amazon stopped shipping to/from Russia because of the lengthy Custom delays) and to make the Russian Post more accountable to their employees that steal. ^

LA Over-Reaction

From Yahoo News:
"Los Angeles braces for weekend of "Carmageddon""

A city renowned for its traffic is about to face a jam of biblical proportions. "Carmageddon" is the name Los Angeles residents are giving the inevitable and likely epic traffic tie-up that will result when a 10-mile stretch of the 405 Freeway is closed for construction from Friday night to Monday morning between two of the nation's busiest interchanges. The unprecedented 53-hour shutdown, expected to delay motorists for hours on alternate routes with ripple effects on about a dozen other major highways, will allow crews to demolish a bridge as part of a $1 billion freeway-widening project. In a sign that few motorists in America's second-largest city take a breezy attitude toward the closure, Los Angeles plans to open its emergency operations center over the weekend. And L.A.'s public transit agency will provide free service on 26 bus lines and three of its five light-rail lines. This being Hollywood, officials have recruited several celebrities to warn motorists of the impending gridlock, including pop star Lady Gaga, newly cast "Two and a Half Men" star Ashton Kutcher and "CHiPs" actor Erik Estrada. Their main message: Stay away, or at least stay off the roads. As Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa once predicted, "It will be an absolute nightmare."
In an "Over-the-405" promotion launched on Wednesday by JetBlue Airways, the discount airline offered special nonstop flights between Long Beach and Burbank for Saturday priced at just $4 each way, taxes and fees included. The 600 seats available on the four flights -- two each going in either direction -- sold out within three hours, the airline said.

^ This is just another example of how people in LA over-react to every little thing. I always hear about how the media there go crazy when even a little bit of rain falls and now the insanity over this highway closure. I think the construction is being done in a good way (very quickly and over the weekend.) People have been told and warned about the construction and can simply stay home or not drive for 3 days. I could never live in LA or CA because they are too soft on everything. ^

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

TSA Breaches

From USA Today:
"Airport security breaches since 2001 raise alarms"

More than 25,000 security breaches — an average of about seven per day — have occurred at U.S. airports since November 2001, according to newly released Department of Homeland Security documents. "It's clear the airports are not secure," says Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Security. More than 14,000 were people entering "limited-access" areas by going through airport doors or passageways without permission, or unauthorized people going from airport buildings to planes, according to the documents. The TSA has defended its policies, citing terrorists' persistent interest in attacking commercial aviation.
Documents being introduced at Wednesday's subcommittee hearing also show:

•6,000 security breaches in which Transportation Security Administration screeners failed to screen, or improperly screened, a passenger or a passenger's carry-on items.

•2,616 security breaches involving an individual gaining unauthorized access to the "sterile area" at screening checkpoints or an exit lane without submitting to all screening procedures and inspections.

•1,026 incidents when someone gained unauthorized access to a sterile area but was "contained" or "constantly monitored" by airport or security personnel until apprehended.

•1,318 incidents in which someone gained unauthorized access from airport perimeters to aircraft operations or security identification display areas and was under constant surveillance until apprehended.

^ This comes as no surprise to me. Last week I flew and had to deal with TSA and saw their disorganization first-hand. A complete overhaul of TSA needs to be done. Right now passengers assume that the TSA are doing their job correctly and this article shows the facts - that they aren't. ^


From Yahoo Movies:
"Netflix Raises DVD, Streaming Plan Price by 60 Percent"

Netflix Inc will raise by 60 percent the monthly price of a plan that lets subscribers watch unlimited movies and video online and get DVDs by mail. Customers who want both services will pay $7.99 per month to rent one DVD at a time plus $7.99 for unlimited streaming, or a total of $15.98 per month. The previous cost of this plan was $9.99 a month. "We are separating unlimited DVDs by mail and unlimited streaming into separate plans to better reflect the costs of each and to give our members a choice: a streaming only plan, a DVD only plan or the option to subscribe to both," Netflix Vice President of Marketing Jessie Becker wrote in a company blog post. "Given the long life we think DVDs by mail will have, treating DVDs as a $2 add on to our unlimited streaming plan neither makes great financial sense nor satisfies people who just want DVDs," Becker wrote. Netflix announced the new prices on Tuesday. The company did not respond to a request for comment. Unlimited DVD-only plans will cost $7.99 for one at a time or $9.99 for two at a time. The changes take effect immediately for new subscribers, and in September for current customers. The Los Gatos, California-based company started in the United States as a mail-in DVD service. It now offers streaming video on various devices.

^ I know that many people are complaining about this latest move that Netflix has made, but I like what they have done. I live in the mountains and get my Internet through satellite and it doesn't let you watch streamlined movies or TV shows. I watch all my movies from Netflix from DVDs by mail. With this new set of options I will now continue to get the same number of DVDs at a time as before and pay $3 less a month. I hope they don't buckle to those that complain and switch to something else (unless they lower the price people would pay for getting DVDs by mail and through streamlining.) ^

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

St Basil's: 450th

From Russia Today:
"Red Square's jewel marks 450th anniversary"

One of Moscow’s landmark architectural marvels Saint Basil the Blessed Cathedral, also known as Pokrovsky Cathedral, on Moscow’s Red Square, is celebrating its 450th anniversary on July 12. It was on this day in 1561 that the construction of the church was finally completed. The beautiful building was constructed between 1554 and 1561 by Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible to embody the military victories over the khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan in stone. Historical documents and archives give different accounts of what was there in the southern part of today’s Red Square before St. Basil’s. Some documents say there was a church made of wood while some recall a church of stone. Starting from 1929, during the Soviet period in Russian history, St. Basil’s was no longer operating as a church, but was made a museum as a part of Moscow’s Historical Museum. After the revolution of 1917 the cathedral was among the first architectural monuments to be taken under state security. Divine services were reintroduced within the cathedral’s premises after its complete reconstruction and restoration of its frescos, interior and exterior decoration and ornaments. In 1990, Saint Basil’s Cathedral was included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. To mark the cathedral’s anniversary, GUM shopping mall on Red Square is opening a photo-display.

^ It's pretty cool that St Basil's is 450 years old. I have been to Moscow many times and seen it (only from the outside.) I'm not even sure you are allowed inside or not. Having St Basil's in the background of your picture makes everyone know that you were in Moscow. It is a true landmark of the city that has suffered over the centuries. ^

Saturday, July 9, 2011

South Sudan

From Yahoo News:
"South Sudan becomes world's newest nation"

South Sudanese citizens, international dignitaries and the world's newest president are convening in the new country capital of Juba to celebrate the birth of a nation. South Sudan became the world's newest country Saturday with a raucous street celebration at midnight. Dignitaries including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will watch under a blazing sun as South Sudan President Salva Kiir hosts a noon-hour ceremony. South and north Sudan battled two civil wars over more than five decades, culminating in a 2005 peace deal that led to Saturday's independence declaration. Sudan President Omar al-Bashir, the former leader of the south, is also to attend Saturday's ceremony.

^ I have read that this is now one of the poorest countries in the world. Hopefully now that it is independent it can work towards making itself modern and efficient. ^

DADT Suspended

From Yahoo News:
"Army to suspend DADT discharges, accept gay recruits"

The Pentagon said today that it will cease processing the discharge of soldiers for being openly gay and that the services will begin to accept gay and lesbian recruits, The Army Times reports. Earlier this week, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered an immediate end to the military's "Don't ask, Don't tell" policy. In its decision, the appellate court found that the policy violates the constitutional rights of gay people to be treated equally under the law. Congress had voted to repeal the military ban in December 2010, but the Pentagon said it needed more time to train troops before the new policy could start. The Defense Department and the Obama administration have yet to officially certify the repeal, and once they do, the new policy would take another 60 days to go into effect. It's unclear if the government plans to appeal that court's ruling to the Supreme Court, which could at least provisionally reinstate the original timeline for ending "Don't ask." Only one servicemember has been discharged under the law since last year's successful repeal vote in Congress. Several Air Force members have voluntarily requested they be discharged under the law.

^ I know many people already think that DADT is suspended in the military, but as you can see it is a very slow process. It is like like when the military was integrated. The policy was made official in 1948, but wasn't really done until the mid 1950s. ^

NH Planned Parenthood

From Yahoo News:
"New Hampshire Planned Parenthood stops providing birth control"

Planned Parenthood has stopped providing birth control pills and other contraception in New Hampshire after the state's executive council rejected up to $1.8 million in funding for the group, which also provides privately-funded abortions. The move is expected to affect an average of 120 low-income women each day. Other services provided by Planned Parenthood, including pelvic exams, were also in peril. Under federal law, Planned Parenthood cannot use government funds to provide abortion, and Frizzell said it the group is subject to regular audits to ensure that only private money is used to pay for abortions. State and federal funds from the contract make up about 20 percent of the Planned Parenthood's annual budget in New Hampshire.

^ As long as their are Federal and State agencies that check and double check that their funds aren't being used for abortions then I don't see any problem with continuing funding the other services they offer. ^

9/11 Memorial Visits

From USA Today:
"9/11 Memorial free timed tickets available online Monday morning"

In preparation for its opening on the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, free timed tickets to visit the 9/11 Memorial at the site of the World Trade Center will be available online starting Monday . The Memorial design is defined by two reflecting pools, a grove of trees and the names of the victims inscribed in bronze.
The eight-acre memorial, which includes two deep pools replicating the footprint of the twin towers, will be dedicated on Sept. 11 and open to the public the following day. Names of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the attacks will be inscribed on bronze panels around the pools. Signup for the timed-entry passes will be via the memorial's website,, beginning 9 a.m. Monday. The site will allow times to be reserved up to six months in advance. "The idea is that when people are planning their visits to New York City, we think this is going to be a place everyone is going to want to come down to and pay their respects,'' Joe Daniels, president of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, said Thursday. "It's a place to sit and contemplate a space the public has not set foot on in 10 years.''
As at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., there will be information on locating individual names on the panels surrounding the two pools. Similarly, visitors will be allowed to leave flowers or other remembrances. "This is a ritual of this country and we're going to observe it,'' Daniels said. Access to the memorial will be limited because it is surrounded by construction on the remainder of the 16-acre trade center site: four office towers, including the 1,776-foot-tall building originally called the Freedom Tower, a transit hub and the 9/11 Museum. Visitors will line up at a plaza being constructed at the southeast corner of the site, then walk to an orientation and security screening center and into the memorial at the southwest corner. Access is expected to remain limited for three years, Daniels said. The entry plaza and pathway to the screening center and memorial entrance are currently under construction. "We're racing, in a very safe way, but racing to get this done for 9/12,'' Daniels said. Security screening will be similar to that at other public sites, such as the Statue of Liberty, he said. "During this period when it's a construction site, it is constrained access, it is a place that has been attacked twice, the feeling was we need to do some screening.'' The cost of the entry plaza, sidewalks and screening center is $16 million but the memorial faces a $3 million shortfall in funds to pay for it, memorial officials say. The memorial foundation, the city and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the site, are negotiating how to cover the gap, Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman said. Memorial officials say the site's capacity is about 1,500 people at once and they expect 4 million visitors during the first year. About a quarter of the memorial plaza will remain off-limits to visitors due to continuing construction of the transit hub adjacent to the memorial.Families of those killed in the 9/11 attacks can reserve passes through a dedicated phone line, and 500 families have already done so, said Michael Frazier, memorial spokesman. A private entry and security check in the screening area will be set aside for families. The memorial will also hold special visiting hours for neighborhood residents and for firefighters and police officers who responded to the 9/11 attack. "That's going to be pretty special, to have thousands of men and women paying respects at the memorial that is such a big part of their history,'' Daniels said. Bus tour companies will get allotments of memorial passes at times designed to keep heavy tour bus traffic out of the congested area during peak traffic hours, Frazier said. Although the online signup for passes gives users the ability to make a donation to the memorial and museum, "it is not required and it is not suggested,'' Frazier said; the timed entry passes are free. The September 11 Museum, which is scheduled to open in September 2012, will have an entry fee — either a suggested donation or a set price, which could be as high as $25. The annual cost of operating the memorial and museum is estimated to be $60 million, some of which could be covered by federal funds and private fundraising, Daniels said. "I don't think people will be surprised that to put on these exhibits and teach this history, it requires funding.''

^ It is good that the memorial will be opened and be free, but the museum should have been opened this year as well and should also be free. ^

Homeward Bound

When we got to Anchorage the train crew made us be the last off. I got our bags and looked for the taxi that should have been there. I didn’t see it and so asked a taxi driver (also from the Yellow Cab Capany) to call for it. He was pretty rude. I then called the taxi company and the woman I spoke to was even nastier. She tried to tell me that just because I reserved the taxi for a certain time didn’t mean I was guaranteed it would be there. Then she hung up on me. That really got me mad and I called back, but by then the taxi came. I told the driver to drive fast to the airport as we were 45 minutes late in being picked up. He drove pretty fast.
We got to the airport and went to the First-Class check-in for Alaska Airlines. It moved very slowly because the old guy was too busy flirting with two 16 year old girls. Then when it was our turn I gave him our IDs and instead of looking it up he asked what flight number we were on. When I told him I didn’t know he asked what time we were going to Seattle. I told him 1 am and he said that couldn’t be as there were no flights then. I showed him my paper from Alaska Airlines that said there was and he got our boarding passes (not sure how since the flight didn't exist according to him.) We then went to wait in the TSA line. They had no people telling us that there was a handicapped lane (as the First-Class lane was closed.) The TSA at Anchorage were beyond unprofessional and one of the worst I have ever seen. They had no lanes open and no one working (just standing around.) We had to wait 20 minutes to get screened and when I asked one of the TSA women who was at the metal detector talking to her friend and not doing her job she started talking to me as though I was dumb. A guy came up to me and said he was head of security. I told him about the lack of organization and how unprofessional his people were. As usual with these people he didn’t care. We finally made it through security and went to the Boardroom (which was pretty run-down.) We stayed for a few minutes and then left for the gate.
We pre-boarded the plane (although they let people with children before us even though they are supposed to wait until after those in wheelchairs.) The chair had to go under the plane again. We had the same seats as we always did (aisle 2.) It a 3 hour flight to Seattle. This time we didn’t have to take a train to another terminal, but the same nasty smell was there and we had to go from Terminal D to C. We saw on the news that the judge give his ruling in the Casey Anthony case and some people around us didn’t like it (I didn’t either.) We then boarded the plane bound for Boston. They served us some quiches which all of us who ate them complained about – they were just plain nasty. When we landed in Boston we got off the plane and waited for the chair to be brought up. The guys kept bringing the strollers and big bags even after we asked them for the wheelchair. I had words with the Delta/Alaska Airlines woman meeting the plane about it. We then got our bags and I called the shuttle for the off-airport parking. We kept seeing the busses for the right company go by us, but not the accessible one. We waited outside (luckily it wasn’t raining) for about 40 minutes until it came. We got our car and with my mom’s directions (which were much better than the GPS ones) we go to I-93 without much trouble. We decided to eat at the same Cracker Barrel that we did when starting the trip – since we don’t get down there much. It was weird to go from 10 days of not driving and having 21 hours of sunlight to driving in the dark, but we made it home and everything was in-tack. I couldn’t sleep last night because of the jet lag and so unpacked. Then early this morning I picked up the dogs from the kennel and got all the held mail – which had some birthday cards and presents for me.
I have to say that despite some issues and problems I had a really good time in Alaska. I credit it mostly to my mom. It seems that whenever we go on a trip together lately we have a good time (just like last December when we went to Germany, Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro. I would go back to Alaska, but would tweak things. Since I didn’t care for Anchorage I would try to skip it and spend more time in Fairbanks. I would also not stay at the Denali Princess Lodge or take the Kenai Fjords Tour. I would also reconsider taking Alaska Airlines and going anywhere near the Seattle Airport.


The next day (Monday, July 4th) we ate breakfast and then checked-out. We then took the Park Connection Bus to Seward with a stop in both Anchorage and the Talkeenta Alaskan Lodge (where we had stayed.) The driver was nice (an ex-military guy now a high school band teacher) but he didn’t tell us that it was wheelchair accessible until after we got on. We stopped in Anchorage for 1 ½ hours and were supposed to go to the Anchorage Museum, but instead we got directions to a mall where we ate at Arby’s. When we got back on the bus we had a new driver (a butch-looking woman.) She was not a good driver and kept hitting the strips on the road. Since it was the 4th of July everyone kept saying we would hit lots of crowds, but all the traffic was leaving the peninsula and not going into it like we were.
We arrived at the Seward Windsong Lodge (owned by the same company as the Talkeenta Alaskan Lodge.) I checked(the receptionist was a Polish woman) in and we walked to our building with the hotel guy who had our bags. Our room was on the first floor, but I didn’t see a ramp and when the guy called the front desk they told him where it was. I opened the door to the room and saw right away that there was a problem. The room only had one king-sized bed. I immediately went back to the main Lodge and spoke with the same Polish woman. I told her: “The room only has 1 king-sized bed.” She said “Yes.” I said “ I am with my mother.” She said “Yes.” I then said “I am her son.” She replied “ Yes…….OHHHHHHHHHH!) She finally understood what I was talking about. She got her supervisor who said that I was supposed to have the connecting room with another king-sized bed, but they had messed up and booked it to someone else. In the end they gave us a suite with 2 Queen-sized beds and a ramp. The supervisor had also said that she would have the handicapped accessible shuttle pick us right up at our building the next morning for our tour. We didn’t see or hear fireworks – apparently they have them very late in Alaska because their sun doesn’t set for 21 hours and even then it’s not completely dark. We did hear a large group of Indians (from India) making loud noises directly above us, but that stopped once I called the Polish woman at the Front Desk.
We ate dinner at the Lodge’s restaurant. I had steak which was pretty good. There was a funny incident there. The water woman (who I later learned was from Hungary) was pretty so I kept trying to drink lots of water so she would have to come and refill it. I had 5 glasses of water (on top of everything else) and eventually stopped when another waitress filled my last glass.
The next morning (Tuesday) we had a small breakfast and went back to our building to wait for the shuttle. When it didn’t come we went to the Main Lodge where they told me that they hadn’t received any word about needing the accessible shuttle. Then the supervisor told me it would take 5 minutes and when that passed the manager told me another 5 minutes. I was upset because every time we needed the hotel to do something they messed it up. I let them both know that I wasn’t pleased and couldn’t trust their word since their actions showed otherwise. 15 minutes later the shuttle finally came and took us to the small boat harbor.
We had an 8 ½ hour Kenai Fjords Cruise. The company (Kenai Fjords Cruise Tours) was very bad. They considered their boat to be modern and wheelchair accessible even though there were stairs and you had to leave the chair to get around. The tour was way too long and most of it was boring. I did see seals, porpoises and ice breaking off a glacier. They stopped on an island for a salmon and prime rib dinner, but I was so disgusted with the tour company and their staff that I didn’t have a thing. I made sure we were the first ones off the boat when the tour was over. We got the accessible shuttle back to the Lodge and went to their bar. I had a large pizza (there was only one size) that was alright while my mom had nachos that were well over 2 lbs. and completely burnt. We were getting pretty upset with the Lodge until we got back to the room and saw that the manager had left a letter saying that he was sorry for everything and that we would get a free breakfast the next morning.
On Wednesday (July 6th) we checked our bags at the hotel for the train to Anchorage. We had the whole day to ourselves and so took the shuttle into town with our carry-ons and went to the Sea Life Center (where they take in wounded sea animals.) It was a pretty neat place with lots of seals, birds, puffins, and other animals. We walked down a 30 minute bike path from the Sea Life Center to downtown Seward and had lunch at a local diner and then dessert at an ice cream shop next door. We stayed in a square by the small boat harbor until the winds got so strong and then we walked to the train station and checked-in. We pre-boarded the train and had the worst crew ever. Siting it front of us were some rednecks from Florida who couldn’t get over the fact that each seat had a tray table “Just like them airplanes.” Also in our car not too far from us were 3 very drunk women in their 40s. You could hear them even before they got on the train and when they got to our car they all shouted at the same time “We want beer. Give us beer.” Which the train crew gave them - nothing like cutting them off. Shortly afterwards they went to the outside part of the train where you couldn’t hear them and then came inside and fell asleep. We ate dinner on-board and so the 4 hour trip went by faster.


That Saturday we took the shuttle to the train station and checked our bags to our hotel (the Denali Princess Lodge.) The train was the same as before. When we got to the station the shuttle to the Lodge was nowhere near the train as the other hotels were. Also the bus was wheelchair accessible, but the driver didn’t tell us that (we found out after we got on.) We were the only ones on the shuttle and the whole ride to the Lodge the driver kept talking to us. I found out later he was giving us wrong information. We checked-in and had to walk outside to our building only to find that they had given us a room on the second floor that had no ramp and 50 stairs. Also the trolley shuttle around the Lodge was not accessible. I went back to the main Lodge and had the same woman who checked us in. I asked her how she expected us to go up stairs with the chair. They had us wait while they found us another room. This time the room was on the bottom floor with a ramp.
After checking-in I also went to the hotel Tour Desk and asked them about where to get the bus tour the next day – since the shuttle driver had told us we had to go a distance from the hotel. It turns out that after the hotel woman called around we finally got the right answer, but were told that the bus tour would not take our chair (as we had been told in writing from them that they would.)I called the bus company to find out about the chair since it was going to be a 13 hour tour. The woman at the tour company was pretty stupid and so I called our company (Alaska Tour and Travel) and had them deal with it even though they wanted me to – I just kept telling them that we had paid them to do all this and so they needed to get it done. We were basically told we wouldn’t know for sure if we could go on the tour until the next day if the chair fit. That is not what you want to hear when you are on vacation. Despite all this bad service in the first hour of arriving at the Lodge we bought tickets to a Dinner Musical Show. The show was ok. They served some kind of fish and ribs for dinner and the show was about the history of climbing the mountains around Denali – with people who had been on Broadway - we kept being told.
The Denali Princess Lodge is owned and operated by the Princess Cruise Line and was such a disappointment. Not only were the staff (as I already mentioned)poor, but also the food – we had lunch at the restaurant – and there were bedbugs in our room. I would not stay there ever again. Even people on tours with us that were with Princess/Holland America said they didn’t like the service or food.
On Sunday we ate breakfast and waited for the bus to come. The bus (Kantishna Tours) came and the guide (who like most people we met in Alaska were ex -hippies from outside the state) had me push the chair into a tight spot in the back of the bus – it just barely made it. So we got to go on the tour. The tour itself was pretty interesting. It was 13 hours long and you had to take the buses as no personal cars are allowed and we saw all sorts of animals (a bear, caribou, sheep, moose, etc.) The one annoying thing at the beginning of the tour into Denali State Park were the 3 doctors from California who kept shouting that they saw animals and they turned out to be rocks - they did that for hours. We made a few rest-stops along the way (the bathrooms there were really clean and nice even though they were outhouses.) At one of the stops we were given drinks, cookies and fruit. We stopped for lunch at the Kantisha Roadhouse which was a remote hotel inside the State Park. The 3 doctors sat at our table and kept trying to flirt with one of the waitresses even though they were in their 60s and she was in her 20s. She told them that she was Russian and I asked her something in Russian and she answered me in English – I don’t think she was really Russian (also her name tag said "Mariane" which isn't a Russian name. After lunch (which was a turkey wrap) we watched a dog sled demonstration. Luckily, the 3 doctors and several other people stayed at the hotel or took a plane back rather than the bus tour. On the way back out of the park the annoying doctors were replaced by a drunk Polish woman who was flirting with a French guy she just met (and everything she saw was an animal even if it wasn’t.) The tour was fun, but we were glad when it was over since it was so long and bumpy. When we got back to the Lodge I walked across the street and got some food at Subway – they don’t have $5 foot longs, but $10 ones.)


The next day (Wednesday) we took the shuttle back to the train station and checked our bags. Since we were going to Fairbanks we couldn’t check them right to our hotel, but had to pick them up at the train station. The train was the exact same as the first one and we were in the Gold Star car again. The ride to Fairbanks took 4 hours and we had both lunch and dinner on it (which wasn’t that good.) I wrote all my post cards to people on this train and mailed them at the train station in Fairbanks. When we arrived in Fairbanks I got our bags and found the shuttle to our hotel (the River’s Edge Resort.) The shuttle was not wheelchair accessible. I should pause here and say that not only did I have our tour company (Alaska Tour and Travel) tell all the trains, tours, busses, boats and hotels about the wheelchair, but I also personally e-mailed or called the hotels and trains myself and was told that they would be.
We didn’t have to check-in at the hotel since we were given our keys (which were the oldest looking card keys from the 1980s.) I did set up the shuttles for our tours though. Our room – which was a small cottage – was alright.
The next day (Thursday, June 30th - my birthday.) We ate breakfast at the hotel and then took the shuttle to the Discovery Riverboat Cruise. We had no issue boarding with the chair. On the cruise we saw a pilot take off and land on water and went to an Indian Village (they call themselves Indian and not Native Americans.) In my opinion there is no such thing as a Native American since they all crossed over from the Bering Sea and hence aren’t native – they are just earlier immigrants then the rest of us. The best part of the Indian Village was the dog sled team. There was one dog in particular that kept running up to my mom and jumping up to her. I guess she (the dog) thought the chair was a sled. Even people around us kept commenting on the same dog staying with us. I got a lot of good pictures with them. All-in-all the cruise was pretty good.
When we got back to the hotel we ate at the hotel’s restaurant. Since it was my birthday I had the filet mignon. It was cooked just right and tasted great – I haven’t had steak of any kind in a restaurant in the past 2 ½ years because New Hampshire doesn’t know how to make them well-done. The only down side to the meal was the waiter who smelled - it was a mixture of marijuana and bad body odor. I was also able to get birthday wishes from friends and family via e-mail and Facebook which was pretty neat. I had a good birthday even though we were in Fairbanks.
The next day (Friday, July 1st – Canada Day) we ate breakfast at the hotel again and then around 11 am a shuttle came and took us to a part of the Fairbanks Airport for our tour to the Arctic Circle. The tour company people were very nice and helpful. We bought peanut butter and jelly lunches from them to eat on the tour – my mom ate her sandwich, but I didn’t have mine for some reason. We took a small plane an hour and half to Coldfoot . I took a picture of the GPS when we crossed over the Arctic Circle. From there we met our guide and took a van to the village of Wiseman – with a population of 13 families. There we talked to some local guy and saw his house (he has the same Internet satellite we do.) The one good thing is that the guide drove my mom and me around the village since the chair couldn’t go in all the mud and holes. One thing that put me off about the village was that they didn’t have any Indians, but kept talking as though they did. We took the plane back to Fairbanks where the shuttle brought us back to the hotel. We had dinner at the hotel restaurant where this time we had a good waiter, but the kitchen kept messing up our order (I had filet mignon again since everything else was fish or seafood.) Before going to the Arctic Circle tour I called the Alaskan Yellow Cab Company in Anchorage to reserve a wheelchair accessible car to take us from the Anchorage Train Station to the Airport at the end of our trip. The first woman I spoke to (her name was Easter) was beyond stupid. She kept saying I wanted the car at 22:10 and I kept saying that I wanted it for 10:15 pm or 22:15. Then she kept asking me for the address to the train station in Anchorage – which I didn’t know and told her that there was only one and that her company was only in Anchorage and should know it. The last straw was when I asked her how much it would cost and she first said she didn’t know and then said “Let’s say around $20.” I didn’t trust her with the reservation and so asked for a supervisor and after having to yell and shout at her several times she transferred me to another dispatcher and I had the reservation checked with her. The story with this taxi continues later.
I have to say that after going over most of Alaska I found Fairbanks to be the best place both in terms of the tours and the people. I would definitely like to go back there.


The next day (Tuesday) we had a continental breakfast that was included and then waited for the shuttle to come. It was late and when I asked the receptionist the first time she said he was 5 minutes away. When I went back 10 minutes later she said he was still 5 minutes away. I asked her if we could just walk to the train station and she said we couldn’t (we later found out we could have.) I told her that I did not care for the disorganization of the shuttles to which she tried to act as though I was the one who scheduled and ran them so late. The shuttle did come 15 minutes late and it took 2 to get to the train station. We checked in our bags and they were tagged to our hotel in Talkeenta (the Talkeenta Alaskan Lodge) so we wouldn’t have to get them when we arrived.
There are two classes of travel on the Alaska Railroad: Adventure Class (Economy) and Gold Star (First-Class.) We were in Gold Star. We got our boarding passes and they helped us pre-board. The Gold Star cars have the dining car on the lower level and the passenger seats on the glass-enclosed upper level. There was a small elevator that was very slow so we didn’t have to take the stairs, but we did have to get a crewmember every time we wanted to use it. The Gold Star cars also have their own dinning car separate from the Adventure Class one, but you had to walk down stairs to get to it so we had to sit in the regular dinning car each time. Also the only bathrooms were downstairs. We had to wear little pins saying we were in the Gold Star car and the crew took those very seriously. While we were in the regular dinning car having breakfast (which was really good – we both had stuffed French toast) the conductor came through asking for our tickets – I guess he didn’t see our pins, but once he saw us sitting back in the Gold Star seating area he left us alone. There is one annoying thing that happened to us on every train we took throughout our trip: the crew members would always hang out in the Gold Star car right behind our seat and talk the whole time to each other. I can tell you who is sleeping with whom and who got in trouble for what. I don’t think that was very professional at all, but especially not in the Gold Star cars.
When we got to Talkeenta – after 8 hours - we were met by the hotel (the Talkeenta Alaskan Lodge) shuttle – which was wheelchair accessible - that took us to the Lodge. We got there around noon and couldn’t check-in until after 3 pm so they kept our bags for us and we had lunch and then went on our glacier tour at 3 pm. We were in the lobby of the Lodge and saw a guy walk in look around and leave without saying anything. As he was driving away I saw a sign on his van that said “K 2 Aviation” which is the company we needed. I had the Lodge call the company and they sent someone else for us – you would think that the guy would at least announce why he was there if he was picking people up.
I didn’t care for the people at the K 2 Aviation. They didn’t keep you informed – especially when we were already late leaving. We were scheduled to take a small plane and land on a glacier, but they didn’t let our plane land on the glacier – they said it was because of heavy snow, but the plane that arrived before we left got to do it and I think the one after us did too. I think they didn’t want us personally going on the glacier (they made us prove that we could get in and out of the small plane when they didn’t make anyone else.) It was a big disappointment especially considering that we only went to Talkeenta for one night solely to do the glacier tour. It would have been cool to brag to others that we had walked on a glacier too. We got a slip from the company to get a partial refund from our tour company, but like I said it’s not about the money but the bragging rights.
The Talkeenta Alaskan Lodge was nice. We had a mountain-view room in the main Lodge. The food was good as was our waiter (we had him for both dinner and then breakfast the next day.) The hostess and other restaurant staff were pretty rude several times though. I should mention that throughout our trip I saw many Russians everywhere – it is as though they were leftover from when Russia owned Alaska (which they did up until 1867.)

Alaska Bound

We dropped our two dogs off at the kennel on Sunday (June 26th) and started our trip. We had dinner at Cracker Barrel (in New Hampshire) and then headed to Boston and our hotel. We got stuck in a big traffic jam in Medford, Massachusetts. They are doing construction on I-93 over the summer. Eventually we made it to our off-airport parking center where they were nice enough to drive us to our hotel (the Hilton that is connected to Logan) instead of making us take their shuttle to Terminal A and then a hotel shuttle - the hotel is connected to the airport by two very long covered walkways which we took when we went to Iceland last March and didn’t like. We checked into our room and watched TV.
The next morning (Monday, June 27th) we took the hotel shuttle back to Terminal A and went to check-in with Alaska Airlines. I should mention that I have never flown Alaska Airlines before. I should also mention that I found Alaska Airlines (like other places in Alaska we went to) have their own sense of time. When a flight is supposed to leave at 8 am to a non-Alaskan it means that it will leave sometime between 7 am and 9 am to an Alaskan and you just need to be ready at a moment’s notice. We had First-Class tickets and so stood in the line for First-Class only to find there was no one working there. We had to wait and go into a regular check-in. When it was time to go through security we again looked for either a First-Class or a handicapped lane, but did not find one. I have had issues in the past with the TSA at Logan, but this time they were pretty good. We found our gate and waited for our flight.
They pre-boarded us (which didn’t make much difference since we were in First-Class) and wanted to put the wheelchair under the plane – even though there are closets inside every plane for one chair right in front. We had a few words with the flight attendants and they finally agreed to let the chair on-board. The head flight attendant even had the nerve to say that while we were boarded first we would be taken off last to which both my mother and I replied that that was not going to do especially since we had a connection to make.
The flight itself was pretty bumpy. The food (which was free in First-Class) was not very good or tasty. Their entertainment systems (again free for us) were handheld things that made it hard to watch – they should have been on the back of the seats like most airlines. They had a few current movies, but most were from the 1980s and a few from the 1960s. One good thing is that you could change movies whenever you wanted instead of waiting for all the movies to play before they restarted them. We were able to pay to use Internet on-board though – which was the first time I have ever used the Internet on a plane in the air. The rest of the flight was uneventful.
We landed in Seattle where we made sure to be one of the first off the plane (seating in Aisle 2 helped) with our chair and right away I noticed the disgusting smell, the overcrowding and the filthiness everywhere. We landed in Terminal N (which looks and feels like a shack) and had to take a train that gave the station information in Japanese first and sometimes in English to Terminal C. We had some time to kill before our next flight and we wanted to go to Alaska Airlines’ Boardroom, but found out it was too far away and so then we went to the main food court where there were no tables and lines of 5 people deep. We went to Wendy’s where they messed our order up. We took the food back to the gate to sit and found the food too disgusting to eat. I do not like the Seattle Airport and will not go back there if I can help it. It feels more like being in a Third World Airport than in an American one.
Again we pre-boarded for our flight to Anchorage (with the same random time changes.) The plane was exactly the same as the one we took from Boston with the same movies, bad food, etc. The only difference this time is that we had to put the chair under the plane instead of inside the cabin – I guess someone’s coat was more important because that’s all that was in the closet.
We landed in Anchorage where I first thought the airport was pretty nice (that would change.) Alaska Airlines has a policy that your bags will be delivered to you within 20 minutes – which they kept the whole time – and so I got our bags and went to the hotel phones to call the Comfort Inn only to find it was not listed and so you couldn’t call them since you needed a special hotel number to call them. I went outside to tell my mom right when a Comfort Inn van pulled up. The guy was looking for a group of 3, but took us instead (we never did get that group of 3.) There were 2 other people in the van that were from Connecticut. For the first part of the trip we only met people from New England and then the last part we met only people from the South.
We got to the Comfort Inn (which was close to the train station) only to find it very creepy and smelling of sewage. People were fishing in a very small creek right across the street. We checked-in and made arrangements for our shuttle the next morning to the train station. Since there was no restaurant on-site and we didn’t want to take a taxi to one we called a pizza place and they delivered to us.
That was our trip from New Hampshire to Anchorage. It took us 3 hours to drive to Boston by car, 6 hours to fly to Seattle where we had a 3 hour layover then a 3 ½ hour flight to Anchorage where we were 4 hours behind Eastern Time. It took some getting used to having 21 hours of sunlight too.