Monthly Archives: January 2015

THE VERY BEST TRAVEL TRIPS WE’VE EVER TAKEN

Here is the first half of the very best trips we’ve ever taken.  They’re in random order but we talk about these trips more than any of the others.

Burma-Myanmar

We did this right as the country was opening up.  The capital, Yangon, was interesting; and Bagan, with over 2,000 pagoda temples, was something to see.  The highlights of the trip was Inle Lake; very large with many different, fascinating areas.  Huge underwater tomato farms and all the peoples’ homes, as well as factories and stores, are built on stilt platforms over the water, even our hotel.

The people were open and friendly, always anxious to help; and the boatmen, who moved the paddle with one foot, were intriguing.  Perhaps best of all was our guide, Wawa, who made the trip a delight.

Crossing from Chile to Argentina

It took all day and involved three different buses and two different boats.  Although we didn’t have a personal guide, somehow we got shepherded from one transportation mode to the other.

We left from Puerto Monat, Chile, on a bus to get to the first lake.  We actually started the trip in Santiago, which was a delightful city with a fabulous ice cream parlor next to our hotel.  It was a great warm, sunny day, which always helps.  After eight hours on five different vehicles, we ended up in Beriloche, Argentina.  A great ski resort—warm on the bottom; snow and cold on top.  We had to be evacuated from our snow-bound lunch stop by a four-wheel jeep to the cable car.

Rafting Down the Grand Canyon

Strap five large Navy pontoons together with wooden platforms to hold about 15 to 18 people along with storage boxes to hold the provisions for three meals a day and a small outbound motor to help the main guide steer and you have the ingredients for an exciting eight days on the Colorado River.

Bouncing  through rapids and dipping in the cool Colorado River was great fun, as well as short hikes to Havasu Falls and the little Colorado River with unexpected, almost spa-like warm waters.

The Cities of Spain and Don Quixote

The highlights of our trip to Spain were the art, culture and history of their great cities.  It was all enhanced by a terrific tour guide from Tauck.

Seville, with their horse-drawn carriages and the architecture, was a romantic interlude on a long bus trip.

Alhambra, at least for me, was perhaps the premier stop.  The exciting intersection of the three religions all converging was an enriching bit of history.  The Christians, Jews and Muslims all contributed to the continuing evolvement of the massive church.  What a wonder!

Then Madrid, with wonderful museums and restaurants; and I don’t want to forget Barcelona, a great modern city on the Mediterranean.

Barging Down the French Canals

It started and ended in Dijon, France, where they grow the seeds for Dijon Mustard.  We bused up northeast about 60 miles to board our 22-passenger barge.  They stored our suitcases in the engine room because the cabins were so small; you had to get dressed one at a time.

Every lunch and dinner featured local, freshly-prepared produce, wine and cheeses.  As you might imagine, the food was wonderful.  You could walk faster than the barge moved through the narrow canals and through 14 locks.

There were tours most days to small towns in the region and bicycles available to strike out on your own.  The highlight was the wonderful four couples from Vancouver who adopted us on the cruise.

Washington, D.C.

Visiting our nation’s capital is an eye-opening, enriching experience.  There are so many hidden gems to explore, it takes more than one trip.

Of course, the Capitol Building, where congress meets, the White House, and all the fantastic monuments are great sights to see and expand your patriotic spirit.  I think the Lincoln Monument is the most impressive, heart-rendering of them all.

But then there is the National Portrait Gallery, the unbelievable Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian, with separate museums and the most outstanding sculpture garden you’ve ever seen.

You can see another side of D.C. if you take a grandchild and witness their enthusiasm at the Spy Museum and the FBI and Treasury buildings.

My first trip to Washington was with a group of Jaycees in 1962.  We visited the White House and spoke with Ted Sorensen (JFK was busy that morning) who was about our age and the smartest contemporary I ever met.  We met with Gerald Ford, then House minority leader, had lunch with John Rhodes, my Arizona congressman, and the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms, and gravely-voiced Bill Lawrence, ABC Chief Washington correspondent.  It was a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at our government operations.

Besides for business, I probably visited three or four more times as a tourist.

It’s hard to capsulate the enjoyment we felt on each of these trips in a paragraph or two.

I’ll tell you about the other six next month.

ArtSchwartzSig

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OUR RELATIONSHIP HAS BEEN AN ADVENTURE

We met in the olden days; in early 1996.  It was at the tail-end of the bar scene and blind dates, but before the internet, which was still about three years from popular and extended use.  The arena for introductions at that time was the widespread use of personal ads in the print media.

In order to get out of the hospital in mid December, I promised the doctor I would stay home with an elevated foot and ice bags.  That’s another story and only minimally related to this one.  As you can imagine, staying home with an elevated foot gets boring pretty quickly and there’s only so much daytime TV you can tolerate.  To pass the time I started reading the Los Angeles Times, cover to cover, and discovered, with great surprise, several pages of personal ads.

The way this worked was each ad had a phone box number.  After calling the main number, you punched in the specific box number.  The ad writer left a message amplifying their ad or just invited you to leave a message.

After a week or so I said, “What have I got to lose”?  I answered a few ads and got some responses.  One response seemed worth following up.  We met for a cup of coffee.  A glass of wine was the only other alternative.  We each drove to our meeting so we had our own escape.  Dinner would take too long if it wasn’t working out.

The first meet-up was okay, so we arranged a date after Christmas for dinner and then followed up with another date to see the “Waiting to Exhale” movie and dinner.

That seemed about as far as it needed to go.

Knowing that answering ads was a numbers game, I kept reading and considering which ads to follow up with.  In mid January, this ad appeared and stood out like a flashing red light at K-Mart.

It was a pretty standard ad in many ways, but what popped out for me was her inclusion of the word “INTELLIGENT.”  That is not a description you see in many personal ads, particularly from the distaff gender.

I had to find out more.  I called her box number and her greeting amplified her ad description to tell me, among other things, she liked ballet and opera.

By the way, my name is Art and I was fast approaching age 65.  The she is Gabriele.

Now it was my turn.  I told her I was a little over her age requirement, did not like ballet or opera and was not sure how financially secure I was; however, I was interested in the rest of her description and left my phone number.

She did call and we ended up exchanging a number of messages and calls.  She worked downtown and I worked in West L.A. so we had some difficulty finding a time we could get together for coffee.

We knew we would be violating one of the basic rules of personal ad introductions, but the calls were interesting enough, so we said, “What the hey, let’s have dinner.”

We met at a local restaurant in the Marina.  It was like no other introductory meeting I ever had.  Usually at these introductions I had to carry and nurture the conversation with questions to draw my “date” out.

Not this time.  Gabriele gave me the third degree for over two hours.  It was hard for me to get a question in.  This was new and different, so I said to myself, “Let see where this goes.”

She asked me about everything in my life.  We talked about my background, my business, my priorities, what I was looking for.  It was an interrogation; almost like a verbal Rorschach Test.

We found a lot similarities and common areas in our resume and business experience.  We were able to click on a number of different levels.

When dinner was over, we both obviously enjoyed the encounter.  We exchanged a hug in the parking lot and agreed we wanted to see each other again.

Gabriele claims she called her daughter that night and said, “I found the guy.   He was very honest in answering my ad, which doesn’t always happen, and he could be the one.”

Going through a nasty divorce, I was a lot more cautious.  I’m not sure I felt as strongly as Gabriele, but I certainly wanted to explore this further…and explore we did.  A year later, we bought a condo, somewhat later got married, and have visited 80 countries and all seven continents.  It has been an adventure; a truly successful adventure.

This wasn’t our first movie.  So based on past experience, we were able to communicate very openly right from the start and although we were both controlling personalities, we ceded authority alternately on major relationship responsibilities.

It’s never too late…but you need to take it one step at a time.

I’m Gabriele and I approve this message.

ArtSchwartzSig

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VOTERS AND TURNOUT

Well, the stats are in—compiled by the University of Florida—November’s election had the lowest turnout in 72 years.

Just over 36% of Americans went to the polls last November, giving the Republican Party a resounding victory, as you know.  In 43 states, less than half of eligible voters showed up.  Maine had the highest voter participation; Indiana the lowest.

According to exit polling, the vote broke down this way:  women cast 51% of the ballots; men, 49%.  Seventy-five percent of the voters were white; 12% black; eight percent Hispanic; and three percent Asian.  Just 13% of voters are ages 18-to-29, a very low turnout.  Forty-three percent of those who voted were ages 45-64.

Let’s be clear, though, non-voters are exercising their right in a democracy and they, too, are making a statement.  They don’t care or they are turned off by the choices or they feel their vote doesn’t matter or will make a difference.

To be a well informed voter, there are three areas of understanding I think ideally they need to bring to the ballot:

I.   A basic knowledge of how our government works;

II.  An ability to see through the fog of claims and counterclaims; and

III.  The ability to make judgments about candidates’ commitment to a majority of their own core values and philosophy.

I believe authentic voter ID is necessary to preserve the integrity of elections, but maybe voters need a certification or degree in the three areas mentioned above.

Let’s explore those three areas a little further.

I.   Civics 101

In “Democracy and Political Ignorance:  Why Smaller Government is Smarter,” Ilya Somin of George Mason University Law School argues that an individual’s ignorance of public affairs is rational because the likelihood of his or her vote being decisive in an election is vanishingly small.

Somin says that in Cold War 1964, two years after the Cuban missile crisis, only 38 percent of Americans knew the Soviet Union was not a member of NATO.  In 2003, about 70 percent were unaware of enactment of the prescription drug entitlement, then the largest welfare state expansion since Medicare (1965).  In a 2006 Zogby poll, only 42 percent could name the three branches of the federal government.

Voters cannot hold officials responsible if they do not know what government is doing, or which parts of government are doing what.  Given that 20 percent think the sun revolves around the earth, it is unsurprising that a majority are unable to locate major states such as New York on a map.  Usually only 30 percent can name their two senators.

The average American expends more time choosing a car than choosing a candidate.  But, then, the consequences of the former choice are immediate and discernible.

Many people, says Somin, acquire political knowledge for the reason people acquire sports knowledge—because it interests them, not because it will alter the outcome of any contest.  And with “confirmation bias,” many people use political information to reinforce their pre-existing views.

Committed partisans are generally the most knowledgeable voters; independents the least.  And the more political knowledge people have, the more apt they are to discuss politics with people who agree with, and reinforce, them.

According to a survey from the Annenberg PublicPolicy Center last fall, only 38 percent of Americans knew the Republican party controlled the U.S. House of Representatives, while 17 percent thought Democrats were still in charge.  Only 17 percent knew it takes two-thirds majority of the House and Senate to override a presidential veto.

Ignorance about party control of Congress is particularly troubling, because voters unaware of these facts do not know which party to reward or blame for the legislature’s performance.

Civics Education

The statistics above certainly show the need for more or better education in schools; what we used to call “civics.”  It is hard to pin down the state of civics education in our schools today.  The term “civics” itself is not commonly used today.  Some schools teach “government”; some meld the subject into a history course; some do nothing.  Suffice it to say, learning “civics,” as we did many moons ago, is neither as universally popular nor as effective.

II.   Seeing Through the Fog is mostly about paying attention and concentrating on what is being said. Are there facts behind the statements and claims?  For instance, sometime back the Democrats kept saying Republicans wanted to cut the budget for school lunches.  The facts were that Republicans wanted to cut the increase in funds.  You need to be able to discern these kind of differences.

III.   Are Candidates Aligned With You?—which starts with you making some decisions on core values, i.e., is government efficient enough to run big programs? Does constantly increasing our national debt have a negative effect on our economy?  Do candidates address our main problems or critical issues—jobs, education and national security—or is their emphasis on less important issues?

IV.   In California, the inclusion of propositions on the ballot with their confusing and deceptive arguments adds to the anti-voting attitude of the electorate. It poisons the whole process and creates apathy.

Without doing extensive, time-consuming research into each proposition, the only way for the average voter to decide what position to take is to determine who has initiated the proposition and who is for it and against it.

V.   The so-called “jungle” or “top two” primary systems here in California are also a deterrent to voter turnout. When you have the top two vote getters from the same party on the general election ballot, there is a decided lack of incentive for people who generally support the other party to want to vote.

In California, where the registration numbers are so heavily Democratic, having two Democrats running in a general election won’t help turnout.

Then there is the often quoted statements of political pundits that “all politics is local.”  That may have been true in yesteryear, but I don’t believe it holds the same water today.

If that were true, why do all midterm elections have lower turnouts?  And why did President Obama proclaim on several occasions, “My policies are on the ballot”?  That old adage certainly didn’t hold true in this last election.

ArtSchwartzSig

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THE BEST MOVIES OF 2014

I thought I was going to start this blog by telling you I didn’t think 2014 was a very good year for adult flicks.  Then I looked back to my nominations for 2013 and found I didn’t think there were that many really good movies that year either.

So what’s going on?  I think I’ve become somewhat jaded and at the same time, the studios seem to concentrate on their big gambles on comic book exploits and super techno action/war stories, none of which I’m very interested in.

Here were my nominees for the outstanding films of 2013:

  • The Sapphires
  • Lee Daniels, The Butler
  • Enough Said
  • Gravity

Probably all are still available as DVD rentals or on Netflix.

Now to 2014.  We have almost twice the nominations this year than we had last, so all in all it was a pretty good year on the silver screen.  By the way, the N.Y. Times reported they reviewed about 950 films in 2014.

Fading Gigolo – With John Turturo and Woody Allen.  It’s funny and entertaining, and like an old Woody Allen flick.  Very enjoyable!  Great jazz music, too!

The Lunchbox – About lunches regularly delivered in Mumbai to office workers.  A relationship begins to develop over one that is wrongly delivered.  Interesting story, well done, with some English and subtitles.

Chef – A delightful, entertaining flick with a lot of Cuban music and salivating food that makes you hungry.  The cast is really good and the kid is terrific.  Fun, entertaining movie.

A Most Wanted Man – An interesting and intriguing anti-terrorism investigation by rival governmental agencies with outstanding performances by Phillip Seymour Hoffman and a stellar cast of spies and spy chasers.

The Skeleton Twins – A well-crafted, very realistic evolvement of a sibling relationship,  starring Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, who play off each other with comedy and pathos.

Gone Girl – An intriguing, evolving story, starring Ben Afleck and Rosamund Pike (beautiful), maybe a better movie than the book of the same name.  A little long.  Lots happening to keep your interest.  Well done.

Selma – A timely reconstruction of the events in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 and the internal quarrel over strategy, tactics and the moral future of America by the close-knit people surrounding Martin Luther King.

Mr. Turner – An earthy, messy, altogether sublime portrait of the great 19th century British painter played by Timothy Spall in a bravura performance.

Then there were some good films not quite outstanding but worth seeing:

Boyhood – All the hoopla about this flick is that it was filmed over 12 years.  That by itself is quite an achievement and it is an interesting story of a boy growing up.

The Theory of Everything – The story of Steven Hawkins with an unbelievable performance by Eddie Redmayne.  I was afraid it would be depressing, but in a sense it was somewhat uplifting.

Wild – The true life  of a young woman played convincingly by Reese Witherspoon who begins a 1,000-mile trek up the Pacific Coast Trail in an effort to find herself.  Well done, except she doesn’t wear a hat.

Foxcatcher – Another true story of the antics of a Dupont heir who tries to fulfill his fantasy of being a wrestling coach.  It features another great performance by Steve Carell, not as a comedian.

Nightcrawler – The story of the TV news paparazzi and the growth of one in particular well played by Jake Gyllenhaal with a miscast Rene Russo.

And the quirkiest film of the year:

The Grand Budapest Hotel – Another Wes Anderson flick that tickles your imagination, as well as your funny bone.

All in all, it was probably a better year for movies than we’ve had in a while.

ArtSchwartzSig

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