Easter Traditions

April 19, 2014

A look at how Easter is celebrated around the world.


Crappy Cars

April 10, 2014

When I read about the Chevy Cobalt as a “death car”, I am reminded of those days in the 1970s when the auto industry here in the United States began to lose out to the Japanese, in large part because we made crappy cars, which either had serious design flaws or were in the repair shop on a regular basis. All that talk about American engineering and innovation was called into question as Japanese cars, particularly the Toyota, became the car of choice for Americans.

Because the corporate types at GM knew about the ignition switch problem on the Cobalt back in 2001 and did nothing when the deaths started to become more than a coincidence, GM is now facing years of litigation, financial payments to those who lost loved ones and new questions about whether our largest auto maker makes crappy cars, and worse yet puts profit over safety. By the way the fix for the ignition problem was a replacement part that cost less the 60 cents.

Now Toyota has had its share of recalls in recent years, but along with the German and South Korean cars, the non-US car makers have established a reputation for building safe, long-lasting and garage repair free automobiles. The Chevy Cobalt fiasco will do nothing to diminish the reputation of the Japanese, German and South Korean car makers.

This crappy car syndrome that rears its ugly head too often in this country is a sad mystery. Why can’t we make a car that goes beyond 100,000 miles with minimal repairs? Why do all the really safe cars come from foreign countries? Why are Americans going to the Toyota, Volkswagen and Kia dealerships first before they head to one of the Big Three car lots? And finally, how did such a simple problem in the Cobalt occur in the first place?

GM will eventually get through this Cobalt crisis and probably start a new round of quality control efforts, but there will always be the lingering question in the minds of many Americans and those abroad about why the country that for years led the world in auto sales continues to make crappy cars.

Picking People Up By Their Bootstraps

April 5, 2014

My recent column on the basic necessities of human development


The Under- Appreciated

April 1, 2014

Today begins the sad journey of Lt. Edward Walsh and Firefighter Michael Kennedy to their final resting place. These two dedicated public servants who lost their lives in that horrific fire on Beacon Street work out of Engine 33, Ladder 15 on Boylston Street, just a few blocks from the Marathon bombing are indeed heroes.

But this is also the beginning of baseball season and the Red Sox and all the other teams in the American and National Leagues will be competing for the World Series ring. Thousands will cheer them on and mothers and fathers will join their sons and daughters in placing these athletes on a pedestal as they seek their autograph and cellphone pictures that they can keep forever.

Amidst all the community grief on the day Lt. Walsh and Firefighter Kennedy perished Bob Kraft, the owner of the Patriots, and John Henry, the owner of the Red Sox, visited the firefighting brothers of Walsh and Kennedy at Engine 33 on Boylston Street. Upon leaving the station, Mr. Kraft, with tears in his eyes, said that ” firemen, policemen and nurses are the most under-appreciated professionals in our society.” Under-appreciated indeed.

We too often look at athletes as having some heroic and extraordinary quality that merits our constant adulation. They have become the role models of our age. It is only when tragedy strikes do we recognize the heroic and extraordinary quality of those who serve the public.

Few of us would have the bravery to enter a burning building to save lives or walk the means streets of Boston looking for bad guys or help a dying patient deal with pain and sorrow. These men and women are the real role models – the firemen, the policemen, the nurses who serve us everyday.

These real role models don’t get paid gobs of money, get huge endorsement contracts, have their faces on chewing gum cards or have their every word analyzed as if it was a presidential address. They just do their job quietly, efficiently and with little interest in the limelight.

We must never mix the skill and talent of athletes like those on our beloved Red Sox with the bravery, the dedication, the compassion of those who fight fires, keep our streets safe or help those who are suffering.

The term role model is used much too broadly in our society and is given to people who play a game and entertain the fans. Sure these athletes are special and deserve our cheers. But they are not role models; that title belongs to those who serve the public and keep them secure.

The Simple Things of Life

March 29, 2014

I think most people would agree that the recipe for success and advancement in the world is a mix of education, determination, hard work and of course a job. A little luck also doesn’t hurt.

But when it comes to the less developed world this recipe is not enough. Two of the major roadblocks to moving forward out of extreme poverty are tied to what we in the advanced world take for granted – electricity and clean water.

In Africa, for example, an estimated 1.2 billion people do not have electricity after dark or suffer from frequent brownouts, which means that the lights go on for perhaps only a few hours a day. What this translates into is that these poor people have no light to study or read a book, no means to preserve food, no power to turn on a radio or no means of cooling themselves with a fan during the mid-day heat. With sufficient and steady electrical power, African countries and the people who are at the bottom of the economic ladder would be able to move themselves up toward a better life.

Then there is sanitation. Toilets are something we take for granted, but again in many parts of the world a toilet that is not a makeshift outdoor shed does not exist. In India nearly half of its billion people do not have access to a modern toilet and if they do have a toilet many cities and towns do not have adequate sewage systems.

Each year over 750,000 children die from dehydration tied to diarrhea that comes from raw human sewage that enters the water supply. The United Nations and other non-governmental organizations are moving as quickly as possible to provide the poor of the world with this simple household device, the toilet. Unfortunately, this is an uphill battle with mixed results.

There are some positive developments in the those countries wracked by lack of electrical power and poor sanitation. The cell phone has literally transformed many part of the Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The cell phone is not just a means of mundane conversation and texting as it is here in the Unites States, but more importantly a business and banking tool allowing people to order supplies for their small business and to perform basic banking activities, both nagging problems because of poor roads and long distances to commercial hubs. Much of the recent economic success of some countries in the less developed world has been linked to the simple cell phone.

Certainly keeping poor people in school, stressing the value of hard work, and training them in new job skills remain the keys to moving out of poverty, but in our highly competitive world, the light bulb, the toilet and the cell phone are absolute necessities.

Conquering the Polar Vortex

March 22, 2014

Some musings about a recent vacation trip to the US Virgin Islands to escape the polar vortex


Russia Takes Control of Crimea

March 19, 2014

My analysis of the current situation in Crimea



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