Friday, February 29, 2008

Lawmaking in Washington DC

After a full day visiting my congressional delegation offices in Washington DC, which I do once each year, I marveled at how simple it is to schedule 10-minute appointments with either the representative or senator. During this day, I met with 4 congressmen and with 4 aides to my congressmen.

Access to the buildings, Cannon, Longworth and Rayburn for the representatives and Russell for the senators, is very easy, requiring only going through a metal detector and passing cell phones and cameras through the imaging machine, much easier than the experience of going through a TSA checkpoint at an airport. With a pass, I took the train underneath the Capitol to get from the House office buildings to the Russell office building.

I attended a House Armed Services Committee hearing and thanks to Representive Joe Wilson shook hands with the Chief of Staff of the US Army, General George W. Casey, and the Secretary of the Army, Pete Geren.

This is much more effective communication of your views than sending an email or letter and you get contacts who can help get the kind of legislation you want.

Furthermore, once these visits are made, you can go home and get in touch with the local office of the representative or senator for follow-up.

Combine this with visits with the representatives and senators in your statehouse and you can be a part of the lawmaking process there.

This is what American democracy is, easy access to the lawmakers on a local and national level.

A very small fraction of our people in the US vote and an extremely small percentage ever meet face to face with their representatives and senators.

This is the exercise of power.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Lunch with Rod Stewart

I had lunch with Rod Stewart, his wife Penny and their son Alastair at the Gardens Restaurant at Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia last Sunday. Well, we weren't at the same table. He was at the next table.

He had finished a concert the night before and was taking advantage of the clear skies, comfortable weather, and beautiful gardens for a stroll and a meal in this pleasant open-air restaurant.

The Cunard ships Queen Elizabeth 2 as well as the Queen Victoria berthed nearby, adding about 6000 people to the parks and quays near the bridge and the opera house.
This evening they will meet in the harbor, QE2’s final visit to the harbor and Queen Victoria’s first. QE2 turned 40 in 2008. Queen Victoria was launched in December 2007, only a few months old.

Legendary rocker Stewart just turned 63 in January. Alastair just turned 2 years in December. Penny will be 37 in mid-March.

No one rushed up to Stewart asking for an autograph, although some discretely took photos. Other than wearing sunglasses when outside the restaurant, Stewart was doing nothing to conceal his classic hairdo and familiar profile from his fans.

Even though Stewart has one of the highest status and recognition levels of any of the rock and roll stars, here he had a leisurely and pleasant meal with his family in public. He signed for the credit card bill after reviewing it carefully, picked up the food containers he and his wife had brought for his son’s lunch, and followed Penny, who carried Alastair in arms, from the restaurant. It was a nice way for an obviously happy family to spend Sunday afternoon.

While Stewart was not asking for the public’s attention at all, Cunard was literally tooting the deep-throated whistles of the two Queens, saying “Look at us. Book a cruise with us.” Local papers carried articles on the amenities aboard the Queen Victoria and the history of the QE2, including service as a troop transport during Britain’s personal war in the Falklands. I suppose Stewart would have appreciated someone acknowledging his presence and asking for an autograph. Perhaps some did as the family walked the paths in this garden with trees curiously full of flying foxes. But the Queens had the spotlight and got their attention all day and into the evening from many thousands making digital images.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Cruising in the South Pacific on Cunard Queen Victoria

What’s the difference between a “cruise” and a “crossing” on a ship?
When is a ship a “liner” and when is it a “cruiser”? The two questions are related.

Right now our ship, the Queen Victoria, is cruising on her maiden voyage around the world, going west, the long way around, from New York to Southampton, which will take about 90 days. This is a one-time trip. It’s a cruise, stopping at many ports along the way. In this instance, the ship is not a liner. It’s a cruse ship.

Let’s say a ship makes regularly scheduled trips between New York and Southampton. This is a “crossing” and the ship is then called a “liner”. Draw a line between point A and point B. A line goes between two points. The true liners, such as the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth were expressly designed and built to go between England and America.

The Queen Elizabeth 2 was a hybrid, designed after jet travel became the most popular way to go from America to Europe. The QE2 was designed with the knowledge at Cunard that the ship could not be profitable simply doing transatlantic crossings. It had to make its money as a cruise ship in places like the Caribbean or the Mediterranean.

This was the last major ship built that looked like a transatlantic liner. The later ships, the Queen Mary 2 and the Queen Victoria, joined the look-alike ships built to be cruise ships on tranquil seas, not transatlantic ships on the high seas of the North Atlantic. They, like the other ships being built lost their long bows and began to look more like what they are, floating hotels, with balconies for nearly everyone.

Whereas the Queen Elisabeth 2, as its predecessors, was traveling under the slogan “Getting there is half the fun.”, the later ships were in themselves destinations that just happened to make short stops at cities.

On the world cruises, people can embark in Southampton and disembark in Southampton.
They don’t ever have to leave the ship. Some don’t. The ship is the adventure in itself. Being on board became all the fun. We are told that one woman still lives on the QE2 after 14 years.

This change, from transatlantic liners to cruisers, changed the mix of passengers, from business people and professionals going between New York and Southampton as a means of opulent transportation to something to do for the well-heeled elderly and an escape from the workplace for younger people who could spend a week or two drinking Margaritas and watching beautiful sunsets and sunrises, going to shore if they pleased.

Thanks to John G. Langley, Q.C., the chairman of the Cunard Steamship Society, for giving freely of his knowledge to those of us who are just learning about the evolution of ships from sail to coal-burning steamers to diesel electric generators. Had it not been for the successful transition from transatlantic ships for the very rich to cruise ships for the common man, there would be no passenger ships on the seas today.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Aboard the Cunard Queen Victoria at Pago Pago

American Samoa historically has been significant as a place for refueling ships.

Today the Queen Victoria, the newest ship in the Cunard fleet, docked for the first time in American Samoa’s capital, Pago Pago (pronounced “pango pango”) for 9 hours to allow 1,900 passengers and some crew off the ship after 5 days at sea.

Margaret Meade, Robert Lewis Stevenson and Somerset Maugham found this island, Tutuila, and its people inspirational for their writings.

We went ashore to see what these people may have seen in the city of Pago Pago, with its 4,000 inhabitants. We found a friendly people, ready to say hello and welcome us. A tuna cannery is the major industry. We got a beer at Sadie Thompson’s and a chocolate shake at a cafĂ©, Island Java, near the docks. It was easy to pick out the passengers from the locals.

The opulence of the ship contrasts with the simple shops and houses in this city. One street runs the length of the town with shops obviously catering to the townspeople rather than to the rare ship’s passengers that visit this port. We are told that only one or two ships such as ours dock here each month.

This island still looks like paradise, with its coconut heavy palms and bright flowers growing in the bushes. But the people and the plastic bottles that litter the streets and beaches do not fit our image of an idyllic people, picking bananas, mangoes, and coconuts off the trees. Obviously, there are improvements to be made here as in any of the world’s cities.

Crossing the Equator on the Cunard Queen Victoria

Those who cross the equator at the 180 degree longitude are called, we are told, golden shell backs. At 180 degrees longitude, the distance east or west is equal, on a great circle route of navigation, to Greenwich, England, the point of the 0 degree longitude.

We were pollywogs who practiced for our initiation, which included “kissing the fish”, the day prior to our crossing the zero degree latitude at about 170 degrees longitude.

Unlike the sailors of the 18th and 19th centuries who knew when the reached the equator but were unsure as to the longitude, our ship’s global positioning system, let the captain sound the ship’s whistle, knowing both longitude and latitude, as we crossed the line.

After passing the zero degree latitude and passing from winter in the northern hemisphere to summer in the southern hemisphere, we became “shell backs”, those duly initiated as having crossed the equator by sea.

Prior to our crossing the equator, we wasted a great deal of the ship’s supply of water watching the direction of the water draining in our sink. It drained clockwise. After crossing the equator, we noted that the water continued to drain clockwise, thereby debunking the myth that water drains clockwise or counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere and the other direction in the southern hemisphere.

The Coriolis effect that helps explain the direction of rotation of winds such as cyclones in each hemisphere does not apply to the direction of water emptying our bathtubs and sinks.

We have confirmed that it is true that after passing the equator on a southerly heading, the temperature does increase and it is summertime in the South Pacific. We wore coats on deck in the northern hemisphere and we wore shorts and t-shirts on deck in the southern hemisphere.

Mr. Wizard, the American TV teacher in the 1950s, would be proud of us in conducting our experiments relative to the equator. What, we wonder, are the other facts and myths involving crossing the equator?