Monthly Archives: September 2013

HOW WE MAKE TRAVEL PLANS

Since we have traveled quite a bit in the last 17 years (80 countries and all seven continents), people often ask us how we plan and book our trips.  Here’s how it works:

  1. I keep a file on destinations and trips I think we might like to consider.  In the file there are brochures and catalogue pages I get in the mail, as well as stuff I’ve picked up at travel shows or find on the internet.
  2. When I decide on what destinations to explore for next year, for example, I check out the internet, and I talk to with our travel agent and update dates and availability from my file sources.
  3. I usually then make up a simple spreadsheet to compare the two, four or six tours or sources I’m considering.  This includes the dates, the stops, the hotels, the number of meals, extensions, total cost, and average daily cost.
  4. I try to work as far in advance as possible, because if you want to use award miles for air, you need to try making arrangements 331 days ahead of your trip.  This is especially true if you’re trying to upgrade to business class.
  5. We generally try to arrive a day earlier than our tour starts to get over jetlag; or if the tour is short, we stop somewhere for two to three days first.

We have traveled in various ways.

Package tours where you get the best array of services.  Yes, you can do it cheaper on your own, but not as good and you’ll waste a lot of time making decisions and trying to figure out how to get somewhere.  They may move at a slower pace than you might like, but the overall package is usually worth it.

Here’s a sampling of package tours we’ve taken:

Good Value:            OdysseysUnlimited.com
& Economical:        VantageTravel.com

Outstanding:          Tauck.com
A little more:           NationalGeographicExpeditions.com

Deluxe:                     Travcoa.com
(High priced):         A&KAbercrombiekent.com

Bike Tours:             Backroads
Vermont Bike Tours
Butterfield & Robinson

On our own if we’ve been there before – i.e., London, we just book a hotel and go from there.  We use the hotel concierge to find on/off busses (we really enjoy) or other tours and sites.

Pre-arranged private tours working through our travel agent and a boutique tour operator.  We’ve gone this route to Southern Africa, South America and Southeast Asia.  It does cost a little more, but it makes for a great trip with lots of flexibility and seeing more of what you want on your schedule.

I use a travel agent to book all our trips; because (a) it costs us nothing; (b) she’s an excellent resource; (c) there are extra benefits at some hotels (free upgrades and breakfasts); (d) she’s bailed us out of a number of problems.  Her name is Marlene Leitner.  She can be reached at (800) 347-4447 if you’d like to call her about any of your travel plans.

Traveling has been a great joy in our retiring years.  I hope you’ll enjoy it as well.  Let me know if you want some advice or input.

ArtSchwartzSig

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RACIAL PERCEPTIONS: THEN AND NOW

A blog or two back we wrote about the increasing problems in the minority communities.  As a follow up, here is an excerpted column from Ross Douthat of the N.Y. Times that really puts racial problems in perspective and shows how far we’ve come, as well as what else needs to be done.

“Three months before the 1964 March on Washington, officials in Birmingham, Ala., opened fire hoses and loosed dogs on civil rights protestors.  Two months before the march, civil rights organizer Medgar Evers was murdered outside his home in Jackson, Miss.  And a few weeks after the Rev. Martin Luther  King Jr.’s “I Have Dream Speech” (sic) echoed down the Washington Mall, a bomb ripped open Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four little girls.

“Fifty years later, race is still in the headlines; indeed, the “postracial” presidency of Barack Obama has (predictably) given us more race-related controversy than the last two administrations combined.  Some of these debates are essentially trivial, churned up by a “no, you’re the racist) grievance factory.  But others – on voting rights, affirmative action, stop-and-frisk, etc. – are serious and weighty whatever side you take.

“America was divided by race in 1963 and it is divided by race today.  But it is not divided in anything like the same way.  The case for optimism about racial polarization starts with the fire hoses and bombs of ’63.

“Then, the major issue facing black Americans was entirely zero sum:  for Dr. King to win, Bull Connor had to lose.  There was no potential common ground so long as segregation lasted.  Jim Crow had to perish outright for African-Americans to move forward as Americans.  And their white supremacist oppressors knew it, which is why they turned to state-sponsored violence and state-sanctioned terrorism to defend their system and way of life.

“Today our polarized politics may encourage a zero-sum attitude, but the underlying realities do not.  George Zimmerman is not a Bryon De La Beckwith.  Voter ID laws are not Jim Crow come again.  And the thread of white identity politics running through Obama-era conservatism is just that – a sense of resentment and grievance, not a supremacist ideology reborn.

“The interests of white and black Americans do not always align, any more than the interests of Ohioans and Californians, or senior citizens and younger Americans, or the college educated and the working class.  But there is vastly more room to work through major problems today than there was in the Alabama and Mississippi of 1963.

“How so?  Well, start with that most reliably controversial of race-related issues:  criminal justice, where America’s drug laws and incarceration rates are often cited by civil rights activists as an example of how structural racism threatens to create a “new Jim Crow.”

“Except that while the actual Jim Crow invariably pitted white, Southern, conservative politicians against civil rights activists, today criminal justice is a place where many conservative politicians have embraced activists’ priorities instead.  Eric Holder’s recent proposals for sentencing reform, for instance, followed a path blazed by Republican Rick Perry in Texas a decade ago.  In the Senate, the conservative Republican with the closest ties to the states-rights ideology that once justified segregation, Rand Paul, is also the loudest voice in support of reconsidering the War on Drugs.

“Likewise, education policy is another longstanding racial flash point.  There the older battles over integration and busing have mostly given way to a debate about competition and teacher standards in which conservative states are often laboratories for reform.

“Meanwhile, in the broader socioeconomic landscape, the big story of the last generation in American life is that problems that were seen as specifically “black problems” in the 1970s and 1980s – persistent unemployment, especially for men, family breakdown and social disarray – are now problems affecting the pan-ethnic working class.

“Neither party currently has an agenda that’s well tailored to this challenge.  But because the problems themselves increasingly cut across racial lines, a successful political response from either party would probably tend to reduce racial polarization – winning more minority votes for the Republicans or more working-class whites for the Democrats – and encourage socioeconomic solidarity instead.

“But unlike the racial conflict of 50 years ago, there is nothing necessary about this kind of division.  And in this time, it’s fitting to have a different dream.”

ArtSchwartzSig

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A DECADE PLUS TWO

I don’t believe we have ever seen a time of turmoil and change as we have been witness to since 2001.

Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve been witness to:

  1. The coordinated destruction of buildings and the lives of almost 3,000 people on 9/11, just to prove they could do it.  It marked the major opening to the accelerated round of terrorism that has reshaped out lives.
  2. President Bush’s misguided effort to fight terrorism by democratizing the Middle East with force at enormous cost of money and lives.
  3. The 2008 financial crisis stemming from an overheated housing bubble which collapsed as a result of noncompliance with historical standards of financial conduct.  It happened with the explicit compliance of predatory lenders; lack of congressional and Federal Reserve oversight; as well as the failure of a number of agencies in the Bush Administration to react to the balloon about to burst.
  4. The Arab Spring which began in 2011 as a grassroots citizen uprising against the totalitarian governments in North Africa and the Middle East.  So far they all appear to have dug a hole which the Muslim Brotherhood, the only organized faction, eagerly stepped in to fill with a similar brand of non-democratic intolerance.  It goes on today in Syria with the most destructive horror of life and limb of all these movements.
  5. In different ways, the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections were historic.  In 2008 we were a part to the most positive, effective campaign which mesmerized the electorate about a somewhat unknown and almost totally inexperienced candidate.  The 2012 election was easily the most raw political brawl of our time from a president who had a minimal record of achievement at best who won re-election by demonizing his opponent.
  6. In between we had the surprising emergence of the Tea Party who espoused strict fiscal conservatism and smaller government.  They were effective in electing sizeable numbers of representatives to congress in both 2008 and 2010.  On the whole, they conducted themselves responsibly at their rallies and meetings as clean, undisruptive citizens.  On another side was the so-called “Occupy Movement.”  I’m still not sure what they wanted to accomplish, nor am I sure they did either.  As a group, they were rude, dirty, law-breakers, who created traffic jams, defaced property and created massive cleanup costs.  As most anarchists, they self destructed.
  7. A substantial 20% or more of the economy is still struggling to overcome what they inherited from the debacle of 2008 while the top 25% are reaching and enjoying unparalleled largess.  The efforts of the Obama Keynesian economic stimulus programs pretty much missed the mark and we’re still saddled with 7+% unemployment and under 2% economic growth.
  8. On the verge of hitting 17 trillion dollars in our national debt, we are approaching a loss of credit standing in the world, as well as having the cumulative interest on our debt sucking up more and more of our revenues.  This also encourages even more government spending while the bureaucracy fattens up on millions and millions of duplicative efforts, waste and inefficiency.
  9. The saber rattling rogue nations of Iran and North Korea have tried to use their increasing nuclear capabilities as bargaining chips to keep them on the world stage.  NK is literally starving its people to death in order to support a million man army and its nuclear ambitions.  All done to be prepared to defend their ghost imagined enemies.  Iran is in a somewhat similar position.  They have thwarted and abdicated all rules or international law they agreed to.

Is there anybody out there who hasn’t felt some angst and anxiety in this decade plus two about the turmoil and uncertainty about what has been happening and what the future now holds?

We will survive.  We are resilient, tough when it matters, and I hope smarter about where we’re going.

ArtSchwartzSig

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SPECIAL POST FOR LOS ANGELES COUNTY RESIDENTS

This is an unlisted delight—a symphony orchestra of 80 or more professional musicians who play what I call the popular classics.  We’ve been attending for several years and it’s a refreshing experience.  I encourage you to subscribe.

2013/2014 Masterpiece Series

SEASON OPENER with SARAH CHANG
Friday, October 4, 2013, 8pm / Oxnard Performing Arts Center
Saturday, October 5, 2013, 8pm / Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza
Sunday, October 6, 2013, 4pm / Barnum Hall, Santa Monica High School

Marcelo Lehninger, conductor; Sarah Chang, violin

Beethoven – Overture to Egmont
Bruch – Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Opus 26
Gershwin – Cuban Overture
Piazzolla/Mechitti – Two Tangos
Ginastera – Four Dances from Estancia

CLASSICAL SYMPHONY
Friday, November 1, 2013, 8pm / Oxnard Performing Arts Center
Saturday, November 2, 2013, 8pm / Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza
Sunday, November 3, 2013, 4pm / Barnum Hall, Santa Monica High School

Marcelo Lehninger, conductor; Andrew von Oeyen, piano

Prokofiev – Classical Symphony, Opus 25
Haydn – Concerto in D Major for Piano & Orchestra, Hob. XVIII:11
Prokofiev – Concerto No.4 in B-flat Major for Piano (left hand) & Orchestra, Opus 53
Mozart – Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K.335, “Haffner”

BOLERO
Friday, January 24, 2014, 8pm / Oxnard Performing Arts Center
Saturday, January 25, 2014, 8pm / Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza
Sunday, January 26, 2014, 4pm / Barnum Hall, Santa Monica High School

Boris Brott, conductor; Danielle Belen, violin

Dekas – L’apparenti Sorcier (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice)
Lolo – Symphonie espagnol, Opus 21
Saint-Saens – Symphony No. 2 in A Minor, Opus 55
Ravel – Bolero

PICTURES AT AN EXHIBITION
Friday, February 21, 2014, 8pm / Oxnard Performing Arts Center
Saturday, February 22, 2014, 8pm / Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza
Sunday, February 23, 2014, 4pm / Barnum Hall, Santa Monica High School

Marcelo Lehninger, conductor; Cristina Ortiz, piano

Ravel – Ma Mere l’Oye (Mother Goose Suite)
Villa-Lobos – Mamaprecoce
Mussorgsky/Ravel – Pictures of an Exhibition

VERDI REQUIEM
Friday, March 21, 2014, 8pm / Oxnard Performing Arts Center
Saturday, March 22, 2014, 8pm / Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza
Sunday, March 23, 2014, 4pm / Barnum Hall, Santa Monica High School

Marcelo Lehninger, conductor; New West Symphony Chorus & Los Robles Master Chorale, Lesley Leighton, director

Verdi – Messa da Requiem

BEETHOVEN FIFTH
Friday, April 25, 2014, 8pm / Oxnard Performing Arts Center
Saturday, April 26, 2014, 8pm / Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza
Sunday, April 27, 2014, 4pm / Barnum Hall, Santa Monica High School

Marcelo Lehninger, conductor; Sonia Goulart, piano

Chopin – Concerto No. 2 in F Minor for Piano & Orchestra, Opus 21
Beethoven – Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Opus 67

For tickets and/or questions, check out the website at newwestsymphony.org or call (866) 776-8400.

ArtSchwartzSig

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