Thursday, April 23, 2015

Faux News

Not too many years ago, I watched a lot of Fox News. Now, living in Europe, I cannot get the channel. After having it on in the hotel room in Florida for a few minutes, I can state unequivocally that I'm glad it's not available in Europe.

The image that Europeans and others around the world have of Americans as arrogant bullies is bad enough without exposing them to the likes of Bill O'Reilly (pictured above), whose ratings are perenially the highest among cable newswatchers.

O'Reilly pretends that he's a journalist, but I've met a lot of legitimate journalists and Bill ain't no journo. He's no more than a pompous ass who panders to what he thinks his conservative-right audience wants to hear and will drive ratings. I'm surprised he hasn't had Marine Le Pen on his show as the potential savior of France; he'd position her as a modern Jean D'Arc.

If O'Reilly or Sean Hannity or any of the dozen bleached blondes who read the teleprompter on Fox has a guest with whom they disagree, they talk over them, denigrate their opinions, scream as if being louder makes them right, and then cut off the guest's microphone. I would suggest the Fox theme should be "Scare and Unbalance" because they demonize everyone who might have a different world view. The truly scary thing is that many of their viewers, who tend to be older, elderly, have no other source of information; it's a form of self-brainwashing. Fox are like televangelists in preying on the weak-minded, though the payoff is not in donations but in votes.

CNN is hardly better. Somewhat more liberal, maybe, but hard to tell with their wall-to-wall coverage of airline tragedies and immediately posting every new inane speculation about what might have happened ... only changing their coverage when the next air incident stirs Wolf Blitzer's juices.

Having been exposed to channels from all over the world, I now like to check multiple sources (thank you, D-L) before deciding for myself on a story's perspective: BBC, France24, RT, Al Jazeera. All so-called news sources have some built-in bias, even the grandfatherly Walter Cronkite, so watching only one will give you a skewed view. By sampling several sources, I can get more of a complete picture. It's the way I operate in my own journalistic writing research; why would I not follow the same principle in the news I receive?

Observing Fox from a different mindset now, it's easy for me to spot the underlying biases, the racism, and even the hidden political agendas (as compared with their more blatant political agendas). One of their agendas is clearly pushing the American war machine so the US budget will funnel more money to corporations which make drones and bombs.

There are a few things I miss about living in America. Fox News is not one of them.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Taxes: Uphill Battle

Today was TAX DAY in the US. I knew weeks ago I wouldn't be able to complete my return on time, so planned to file an extension.

Try doing that from overseas sometime!

To file an extension, you must also estimate how much, if any, tax you owe. So you basically have to do your entire taxes to figure out a reasonably accurate estimate. If you estimate too low, you could end up owing interest and penalties when you do get around to filing them.

Since the extension (and the check for estimated taxes) must be postmarked by April 15th, that meant trudging up a very steep, mile-long hill to the little convenience store / cafe / post office in Corsier Village, Switzerland. I'm not in the best of shape, and I wasn't sure how long la poste was open, so I was pushing it up the hill to arrive by 4:30 and hoping they weren't already closed.

Wheeze-wheeze-wheeze ... they were still open. And the proprietor was extremely helpful, even adding a tracking number so I could trace the mailed form as it floats across the ocean into the bosom of the friendly and lovable IRS.

I rewarded myself with some ice cream, and stopped along the route home to photograph a few flowers and other interesting sights along the way.

You can see them on my FB page:

Gotta admit, the walk down the hill was waaaaaaaaay easier than the walk up.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Reward for Getting Up Early

I am not a morning person, but I do appreciate a great sunrise. The two are generally mutually incompatible.

In the past week, Donna-Lane and I have witnessed two spectacular sunrises in the south of France. The first was on the way back from driving friends to the Girona, Spain aeropuerto for an early morning flight, Back in France, as we exited the autoroute and with the snow-capped Canigou in our rearview mirror, we were treated to a blend of blue, yellow, pink, and white fluff over the plane trees guarding the road which parallels the Massif des Alberes range. It was the type of setting where we looked for a safe place to pull over so we could snap some photos, and of course by the time we stopped the scene had changed some more .. for the better.

Friday morning, as we were awaiting a 6:58 train to Nice, D-L noticed a sliver of pink peeking through the trees at the gare. As we waited for the TER, the sliver widened. Then, once aboard the train, the streaky clouds over the Med had evolved into a palette of orange and red. I filmed the skies over the coast as we entered and exited Elne, and then I turned off the camera and just enjoyed the view with Donna-Lane wrapped in my arms.

D-L has also blogged about the morning:

One other memorable sunrise, which we may try to duplicate when we return to Argeles-sur-mer, was the morning a couple years ago when we awoke about 3:30 am and decided on an impromptu trip to the beach. We were the only ones there for about an hour, and the light sequenced from purples, blues, and dark grays to pink, orange, and yellow as gentle waves lapped the sand.

Here are links to the blogs D-L and I posted at the time, as well as some photos on Facebook:




I still cannot get over the beauty of the place where we live. Sea, mountains, rivers, centuries-old churches and castles, quaint villages, down-to-earth people. It's a bit surprising that the area is not built up with expensive resorts and high-rise beach hotels. But that would kind of spoil our view of the sunrises, wouldn't it?

Here is some of the video we filmed through the train windows:

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Bonnet Rouge

The cap worn by the Catalan gentleman in the photo is technically known as a Phrygian cap, its origins dating to Phrygia, a kingdom from about 1200-700 BC in an area which is now part of Turkey. Phrygia is best known for King Midas – the guy whose touch turned everything to gold. 

In the days of the French and American revolutions, though, le bonnet rouge came to be known as the Liberty Cap, a symbol of the spirit which dared to challenge the oppressive ruling elite. The national emblem of France, Marianne (there’s a statue of her on Rue de la Republique in Argeles-sur-mer) is often shown wearing a Phrygian cap. 

American colonists embraced the symbol of the cap, often hoisting it on a long “Liberty Pole” to represent opposition to the British king and Parliament – protesting the Stamp Act of 1765, for example, and again to celebrate its repeal a year later. (Protest movements can be successful!) British troops cut down the Liberty Pole in Concord, Massachusetts before the battle there began in April 1775 – but apparently it was not enough to quell the spirit of freedom. 

Still today, the Liberty Cap appears in the state flags of New York, New Jersey, West Virginia, the official seals of Iowa, North Carolina, and Virginia, and even the US Senate (an oxymoron, to be sure, as most of the Senate represents the worst of the American elite).
A little over a year ago, a French tax-protest movement again used bonnets rouge as a protest symbol.  The movement successfully forced the French government to rescind the tax. 

Earlier this week, nationalist parties in Spanish Catalonia (just a few miles to our south over the border) announced a plan to secede from Spain in 2017 if independence movements win a regional vote this September. Last year, nearly 2 million people in Catalonia voted for independence, despite a failed similar vote in Scotland. Aside from Catalan pride, the region in eastern Spain feels its prosperity is being dragged down by mismanagement and corruption in Madrid (sound familiar – wherever you live?). 

Will it amount to more than a massive protest movement? Will Madrid respond with physical force? Will there be another civil war in Spain? Will southern France experience another influx of rebels fleeing across the frontier, as it did in the 1930s and 40s? 

One would think that our “modern, enlightened” society would have learned from the lessons of the past and could settle differences peacefully. But then again: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Niger, Ukraine ...

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


Sunset-lit cloud over the Corbières
Riding a train, not so long ago, was a novel experience for me. Until a couple years ago, I had ridden only one train in my life. When I was eight years old, the IBM baseball league took a bunch of us kids to New York City from Binghamton, NY, to watch a New York Yankees game. We rode on the Phoebe Snow, which was a legendary train in its day -

Two things I recall about that initial train trip. One was the guy they introduced as a nurse – I had never heard of a male nurse before and it seemed a bit weird (gender stereotypes start young). And two was the toilets, which flushed right onto the tracks. Not kidding. You could see the rails and ties when the bowl opened, and there was a sign, ‘Do not flush while train is in the station.'

I told that story to someone years later, and at first they didn’t believe me. But I insisted it was true, and finally they accepted it. (Until I added a punch line that the toilets flush the same way on airplanes!) 

I’m riding the rails as I write this – on the final leg of my journey home. And the train feels like the most natural thing in the world to me. Donna-Lane and I have ridden trains all over France, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, and Ireland. For the most part they run on time (especially in Switzerland, but France is pretty good too – when there’s not a greve). The takeoffs and landings are smooth, and the gentle rocking around the curves may put you to sleep.

Soon we’ll pass the historic walled city of Carcassone, which is about as knights of olde and faire damsels as you can get. After an hour or so I’ll change trains in Narbonne, and head down toward Argeles-sur-mer.

I can already see the peaks of the Pyrenees Mountains, and below Narbonne I’ll get my first glimpse of the sea. It’s always a thrill to realize that we really live on the Med. Sounds exotic, but the village is mostly regular folks who work hard and enjoy life. We’re not the Riviera where you bump into movie stars and sheiks. But we do have an incredible sand beach.

It’s a bit overcast. A bit cool. Quite windy (I complimented the pilot on his landing in Toulouse). Not a perfect weather day for some. But it is a perfect day to be on a train, almost home.

The Joys of Jetsetting?

Spotted a golf course on the approach to Heathrow

As an aviation journalist who has flown all around the world the past 30 years, I am often asked two things: do you like traveling? And, as much an assumption as a question, you must have seen some great places?

My response to the first is that I like being at the different business events, interacting with some really interesting, intelligent, and personable people. I don’t even mind the time in the tube because it gives me uninterrupted time to get some writing done, or ideally some reading. What I deplore is the hassle of getting to and through the airports. Between the traffic and the security lines, it’s like a gauntlet, especially stressful if you’re tight on time. (I’ve written about projects and technology which, in time, will streamline the security process.)

More and more often, I’ve been adopting my wife’s philosophy of getting to the airport early. I once teased her (actually I teased her more than once about the same incident) because we arrived at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam a full 3 ½ hours before our flight. Then Monday, to avoid rush traffic in Dallas (which materialized only briefly), I ended up at DFW a good 3 hours before my flight to London. Mmmmmm. Rather pleasant not to have to fret about slow TSA screening, rushing to the gate, etc. I had plenty of time to get my ropers shined, sit a spell at Cool River for a beer while doing emails. Even thought about a massage for my back but decided to wait until I got home to the best pair of hands in the world.

As to the question of seeing the sights, my advice is take the train or drive. For years I saw only the airport, hotel, and conference centre. Paris? My first time there a couple of us snuck away from the airshow the final afternoon for a three-hour whirlwind – run to Montmarte, run through the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa (surprisingly small), catch a bateau to see the Eiffel Tower. Time to reflect and enjoy? Forget it.

The past couple years, though, with Donna-Lane as my guide and intrepid fellow explorer, I’ve had opportunity to see not only well-known tourist sights (I proposed to her … again … at Tour Eiffel - but hundreds of out of the way places – museums, historic sights, centuries-old churches, hole-in-the-wall bistros, seaside promenades – the kind you never see in guidebooks. We’ve been to Russia, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, Ireland, Canada, the US, and of course France and Switzerland.

The true joy is seeing things together, whatever we’re exploring. Each finding and pointing out things the other did not necessarily notice, seeing our world through two different  perspectives even though we’re next to each other. (Usually followed by a search for our respective cameras to archive the memory.)

I’ve been away nearly two weeks now, and I’m writing this on the red-eye, so my body clock is totally turvy. I’m trying to focus on getting some work done in the time left til we land (and start the shuffle-shuffle, undress-dress security routine again at Heathrow) … but mostly I’m missing my lover and looking forward to arriving home. Only one more bus, one more plane, one more taxi, and one more train to go.