Sunday, December 31, 2017

Journalism. A Brave Choice? Increasingly So.

The next time you hear someone complaining about "fake news" consider that for every politically motivated, hatchet-job hack there is probably at least one real, dedicated reporter risking their life for truth and justice in countries all over the world, some in theoretical democracies I've visited such as, Mexico (13), Philippines (4), and Honduras (3).
Countries with highest numbers of media killings in 2017:
  • Mexico: 13
  • Afghanistan: 11
  • Iraq: 11
  • Syria: 10
  • India: 6
  • Philippines: 4
  • Pakistan: 4
  • Nigeria: 3
  • Somalia: 3
  • Honduras: 3
I think it's safe to say none of these courageous, departed folks were wealthy either. Follow this LINK to read the story.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Lead Singer of The Smithereens Dies

Lead singer of The Smithereens died this week at age 62. It ain’t easy being a moderately successful musician I guess but these guys impacted a lot of music in the late 80s and early 90s.

Was driving to Destin Fla. once in the mid-90s from Nashville & saw them by chance perform for a small crowd at a spot called Florbama I think it was. Happened to see them on the marquee and I pulled over. I was alone and mourning some failed relationship or something I thought was the end of the world in my tiny little self-absorbed world. Don’t recall but I remember I was in a morose mood.

Then I saw these guys. It was literally me and 50 folks at an outdoor patio kind of thing and we were ALL front row as if they were playing a fraternity party or something & half the folks didn’t even know who they were it seemed.

Yet these NJ boys rocked it like it was an arena concert and this was the most important show of their lives and we all had a ball...Band, fans, and bystanders. I got back in my car and got on with my journey a bit lighter and a tad more joyful. A long ago but cherished memory.

They got it. Details matter. Passion matters. Respect the fans & the audience. Don’t take them for granted and they will be loyal. Always give your best or don’t bother. RIP Pat DiNizio. You did at least one good thing and I suspect many, many more.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Verizon Fios Removes Univision. Univision Hints it's the "R" word?

To my amigos outside of the TV business, this is a standard bearer dispute between two large multi-billion dollar media companies. It is happening more and more because as viewership and ad revenue plummet, broadcasters depend more and more on the "retransmission" revenue stream from cable & satellite companies like Verizon, Direct TV, Spectrum, etc.

Disputes like these happen so often these days, most consumers don't even pay attention until it actually affects them. This is business and it's ugly yes, but it's not racist, it's just a stupid, shortsighted and probably greedy business move.

Univision's old owners and management team, (which is today shedding viewers to Telemundo, the internet, etc,) did more to hurt the "diversity" of voices in the early to mid-2000s by insisting U.S. Latinos only spoke, understood and watched Spanish Language TV despite a plethora of research to the contrary.

This dishonest stance prevented or I should say delayed, Latino talent and TV shows getting on mainstream, "general market" TV by years and did way more damage to "diverse voices" than this little dispute with Verizon, a blip on the radar, will ever do.

Fast forward to today and there are more minority and diverse voices on TV than ever before (not to mention OTT - Over the Top and the internet). There are so many voices on TV, internet, OTT, etc. period, that you can barely hear what anyone is saying unless your initials happen to be DJT and you have your finger on the button, then people do seem to pay attention to your every word.

Imagine playing tennis on an ever-expanding but still crowded tennis court with 1,000 other tennis players. That's the content universe today and sadly not much play is getting elevated.

Networks are DESPERATE for attention because ATTENTION = REVENUE.

All that said, I understand how easy it is to think people are treating others differently solely because of "who" they are.

In this environment of 24/7 racism, sexism, and any other "ism" that gets people wound up on CNN and other channels, these terms have basically become TV genres in and of themselves.

Again, this is mostly a symptom of large media companies worth billions, freaking out because they are losing viewers (and hence revenue) and will do anything to try to shock people into watching, including screaming racism and further slicing and dicing the viewing public in any way they can to garner their dwindling share of that divided market.  It's a race to the bottom with no winners, least of all viewers.

Doesn't mean racism doesn't exist, of course, it does. Doesn't mean it's not terrible, of course, it is.  it just means this particular instance is about one color and one color only - GREEN baby GREEN. So don't get your colors all mixed up. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

60 Minutes Brave Expose on Big Pharma

QUESTION: Why is TV called a medium?

ANSWER: Because when it's well done, it's rare.

Old joke but very proud of 60 Minutes tonight who went up against a huge ad category (Big Pharma), when they broadcasted an expose on Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn sponsoring and congress passing a bill that helped Pharma Companies avoid DEA enforcement and ensure the flow of opioids continue to feed an increasingly addicted nation (many in her home state of TN) resulting in over 200K deaths.


Money of course. So sad how politicians continue to $ell u$ out at every turn. But very brave of 60 Min. to eschew Pharma ads (I counted $0 this week) in order to expose this travesty. Could not have been an easy choice. We need more journalism like this. Thank goodness (and our founding fathers) for the 1st amendment.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Grey - My Favorite Color

WHY IS GREY MY FAVORITE COLOR? That REALLY strong opinion you espouse... could it be the seeds were planted by a foreign government bent on sowing discord here in the US?

That would mean we're being manipulated to argue and be divided politically, among friends, families, etc. by agents of foreign governments (with sadly, probably some help at home as well). Throw in the small % of people who run corporations that own most of the major national media & technology within the USA and you have a recipe for manipulation not seen since the days that most of the populace was illiterate and uneducated and ruled by Monarchs.

What to do?

Respect others' opinions.

If you consider yourself a "conservative", maybe read a "liberal" newspaper like the NY Times or watch a liberal TV show on MSNBC sometime.

If a "liberal" watch Fox News or read the NY Post and see the other side. If a "moderate" do both WITH AN OPEN MIND.

 STOP being railroaded into thinking a certain way just because you live in a certain geography or were “brought up” a certain way.

There's a reason they say you can't imprison the mind. Borders in the brain are self-imposed.

Think for yourself. Humans are imperfect but from Bangkok to Baghdad to Boston, most are good-hearted folks. Give your fellow human a break. Life is grey, it is not black and white. Which is why, grey is my favorite color.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Humans... We Suck.

Gotta say it... Roger Ailes' Fox News legacy from 1996 lives on in the Summer 2017 DC shooting. 

Dividing people to gain money, power, market share, career advancement, etc. has consequences... and we, the ever pliable and naive public are paying the price. 

Turning against our neighbors, fellow citizens and fellow human beings on demand and on command. 

Cuba has a similar problem in miniature. Only there, neighbors turn against neighbors and spy for the government for an extra bag of rice for the month. At least they have hunger as an excuse. 

Encouraging the dehumanization of others is dangerous. And media is powerful... especially in the early to mid-2000s when Mr. Ailes' grand experiment began to bear fruit and shape public discourse so powerfully. 

This didn't happen suddenly or in a void. Actions, positive, negative and in between... ripple through time... decades and centuries after we leave the earthly realm. 

May your ripples be lovely & kind ... not brutish & selfish. 

No. I have not been drinking. Much. 

Crazy Horse Prophecy Comes True

Mother Nature got you down? Yeah, she seems kind of angry.
Well, here is something uplifting. In 2016 we visited the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation in South Dakota, located in the poorest county in the USA where the avg. male life expectancy is 48. Let that sink in.
The famous Oglala Lakota Sioux Chief Crazy Horse predicted that the 7th generation would lead a resurgent comeback for his people. They are here and It is now happening with Lakota youth at the Red Cloud School (where 95% of graduates are accepted into college) leading the way.
Here is a link to a short, but inspiring photo essay. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Welcome to Florida.. Now Give Me Your Money!!!!

I recently had a 60 cent cashless only toll turn into a $15.60 bill because of Thrifty Car Rental and the State of Florida's super sneaky and shady "Gotcha!" toll system which allows Miami Airport Rental Car Companies like Thrifty to charge $15 a day in "toll admin fees" after the fact. I was there less than 24 hours, hardly went anywhere, used GPS to avoid toll roads, but no matter... If they play you just right, the fees they "earn" from tolls from unsuspecting visitors is actually more than the car rental itself. How much $ does this contribute to the rental car co's bottom lines? How many people go to the energy and trouble to fight a $15 charge, no matter how ridiculous?
New York State was recently outed for charging out of state EZ pass holders the cash fare, punishing them because they were from out of state, even though they had an EZ Pass.
This dishonest behavior and complicity by our government appointed authorities reminds me of another example. This one in Mexico, a third world country with a transparently corrupt government and correspondingly inept tourism authority where they advertise rental cars as low as $6 a day without conveniently mentioning insurance at $100 a day or more is REQUIRED by law. No insurance, no car. You find that out at the rental car counter, usually in the middle of nowhere. GOTCHA!
Travelers should not be treated as cargo or human ATMs. Governments and Companies that treat them as such, risk backlash (i.e. the airline industry's latest PR fiascos since they were allowed to merge) and worse. I think much of the rage we are seeing these days is a result of a series of small but more and more frequent injustices taking it's toll (no pun intended) on a seemingly helpless public.
Since the New York & Florida Dept. Of Transportations, Dept of Tourisms & partner rental car companies don't respect their visitors, maybe there are just too many folks visiting the state of Florida and New York spending too much $ and taxing their overcrowded highway system, thus they treat visitors like an ATM instead of with respect. Perhaps travelers should consider going to other nearby destinations. I hear the beaches in South Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas are kind of cool....and that the Catskills are overrated.
Here is a great article on Florida's "Gotcha" toll System.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Happy Independence Day USA

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY USA: - I'm thankful for the unfettered opportunity to present our truthful travel and world experiences directly to our audience, free of government (or corporate) censorship, interference or fear of reprisal.
This simple but powerful right is still not enjoyed by too many in the world. May we always remember it, and not take it for granted and/or abuse it by presenting exaggerated, inflated, misleading or manipulated information to support a pre-judged position for the sake of money, power or influence.
May we always recognize, that each of us, by our very nature of being human, see things through a prism of beliefs and attitudes already embedded by our unique education, experiences, upbringing and exposure to information.
May we always seek to continue to evolve and grow based on new information and knowledge that travel brings and understand that we are all "works in progress" and deserve each other's honest but respectful dialogue, regardless of whether we agree with someone at any given moment in time.
May I judge less and love more and understand that life is a short but powerful gift that should not be squandered.
Travel safe (but not TOO safe) out there and Happy Independence Day everyone!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

When Travel Goes Wrong. The Trip That Wasn't

We were all fired up about our trip to Portugal's Azores Islands to film over the Memorial Weekend Holiday.

Weeks of planning had taken place and the Visit Azores folks had everything set for us and put together an excellent itinerary. This was going to be a great couple of episodes, but first, we had to get there.

Azores Air flies direct to the Azores once per day out of Boston Logan Airport at 9:05PM. Our flight was scheduled weeks in advance and was to leave on Thursday.

I had lunch with our Providence affiliate, WNAC Fox 64 and MyRI 64.2, so I decided to drive up from NYC via a rental car from Avis/Budget which has an office near where I live in Manhattan.

I booked a flight for the film crew on Delta Airlines leaving from JFK in NYC at 3pm and arriving in Boston Logan a little after 4 PM. Our plan was that I would meet them there around 5 PM after my lunch and a couple of afternoon meetings in Boston.

I was worried that the crew would be exhausted waiting around Boston Logan before catching our fight out hours later as we were to begin filming immediately on arrival to the Azores the following day shortly after  6:30 AM, so we'd all be sleep deprived.

Turns out, my worries were misplaced.

I began getting texts from the crew around 2 PM that Delta Airlines was postponing the flight. I began to get worried because I know things can go south quickly when this begins to happen. It was a rainy, dreary day but a little light rain shouldn't be enough to cancel flights, especially a shuttle flight from NYC to Boston which are pretty much every hour on the hour. I've made that same commute many times myself.

After receiving notification that the flight was going to be really late getting into Boston Logan, I decided to pull over at a rest area about 70 miles and 1.5 hours outside of Boston Logan to make some calls.

I alerted our travel hosts at Visit Azores and called Azores Air to see what our options were.

They indicated the crew should be at the gate no later than 8PM. Delta's new ETA for the crew's flight into Boston Logan was now 7 PM (or at least as best as my crew could decipher from the reportedly un-helpful gate agent at JFK's Delta terminal).

At that point, I could have booked the crew on the following evening's flight on Azores Air out of Boston as the ticket agent told me there were exactly 3 seats available. But those 3 seats would go fast and the Azores ticket office was scheduled to close soon.

I decided against it assuming Delta would make the flight happen. Bad decision.

Budget Rental Car Tire Goes Flat

To complicate matters, after visiting the restroom at the Rest Area, I discovered my rental car had a flat tire and, surprise, surprise...the car did not come with a spare tire.

Roadside Assistance was called but the folks they arranged to tow the car were 1.5-2 hours from being able to assist me, so now I was in danger of missing the flight as well. David, the very nice telephone agent at Roadside Assistance, advised me to abandon the car and get an uber to the airport if I could.
Budget RAC Doesn't Provide a Spare 

I set about arranging for uber pick up and was in luck as one happened to be in my area. Uber driver Keith swung by to pick me up and we were on our way, albeit in heavy traffic.

Minutes later I get a call from the crew informing me that the JFK flight had just been officially cancelled. Delta gate agents then suddenly became helpful and booked the crew on a flight out of LGA to Boston that would get in around 7:30 PM, it would now be really, really tight but we could still make it. The Domestic Terminal was a 15 minute walk / run from the International Terminal I was told.

I instructed the guys to sit up front as much as possible. They already only had carry on luggage/gear.

But flying out of LGA is especially nightmarish these days, with construction going on. I was afraid the crew's taxi wouldn't make it on time with car traffic a mess there.

They actually did, but it didn't matter because as soon as they arrived the LGA Delta Flight to Boston Logan began getting delayed, and eventually cancelled.

Unfortunately for us, all this happened too late, the 3 seats were no longer available and the ticket office for Azores Airlines was closed.

When I arrived to the airport (1.5 hours and $96 poorer from the Uber ride), I promptly checked in and received a call from my Azores Tourism contact, who, was working into the wee hours of the night there to try to accommodate us and save our trip.  I felt so guilty.

She suggest I fly in (it's not like I could just turn around and go home as I'm now in Boston, live in NYC and had abandoned my transportation due to the flat tire/no spare scenario) and then we either try to get the crew on the next flight in the following couple of days, or I could scramble and try hire a local crew there. Either way, hopefully,  I would still be able to shoot something.
Taxi Back to the Gate

Alas, after the Azores Airlines flight at was on the taxi way at around 9:30 or 10PM, we received word from the Captain that the flight had been cancelled due to a technical problem with the plane.

After waiting what seemed like hours for my checked luggage, I did a quick online search only to realize there were no hotels to be had in Boston as this was Harvard Graduation week. I had not graduated from Harvard, but even dumb little old me could figure out this was not my time to visit the Azores.

I could hang out in the Boston Airport for more than 24 hours and hope to catch the next flight to the Azores or take a train home (I was already exhausted having been awake since 6AM and it was now 12:30 AM the next day).

Trying For Shuteye @ Boston Logan Airport

I ended up sleeping (or trying too among the bright lights and constant airport announcements of "if you see something, say something" and "Lexus the official car company of Boston Logan" or some non-sense announcements)  at the Boston Logan Airport before taking the 5:05 AM train to NYC.

The Amtrak train home was by far the most pleasant part of the journey.

A lot of sweat equity and money was wasted on a trip that never materialized thanks to  bumbling, fumbling travel corporations that dropped the ball and just plain old lady luck.

I also share the blame because obviously, in retrospect, I should have never relied on airplane travel or even car travel, I should have just trained it. But with Amtrak's own woes of late, that carries it's own risk.
Train Ride Back Home

Is there a boat service up to Boston that anyone is aware of?

I've included  some photos and a short video of the entire experience. I hope you can enjoy it because I sure didn't.

P.S. Be on the look out for this and more misadventures in Season 5 when we premiere "When Travel Goes Wrong" in February 2018 and here's hoping the Azores trip gets rescheduled. Stay Tuned.

6/10/17 POST SCRIPT: 

Avis/Budget Adding Insult to Injury
Today I received this bill from Avis/Budget Rental Car for $182.04 for the Roadside Assistance and Towing.
Remember they didn't provide a spare tire in my car rental and advised me to call RA and take an Uber to the airport as a result. So let's see
(1) Original 1 Way Car Rental Cost NYC to Boston = $115
(2) Uber to Boston Airport = $75
(3) Roadside Asst. Cost = $182...
So my $115 Car Rental Tab has now more than tripled in cost to $372.04 for a trip I ended up never taking. Ouch. Talk about adding insult to injury.

The Myth of Roger Ailes & Fox News

Roger Ailes recently died, and I couldn't help but think about the comparison to another formerly heralded man, shamed just before dying, Penn State Coach Joe Paterno.

Ailes was  recently forced out at Fox News after accusations of sexual harassment by several female staffers. Paterno was forced out of Penn State after a horrific charge of ignoring child sex abuse for decades by long time assistant Jerry Sandusky.

Whereas Paterno died of a broken heart a few months after his dismissal, Ailes apparently died of a head injury after suffering a fall at his home in Florida.

The obituaries and remembrances of Ailes poured in and to their credit, few tried to sugar coat his recent troubles. But in remembering the man's career as a broadcaster, I felt some made a few misleading statements.

They heralded Roger Ailes as the brains behind building Fox News Channel to the cable news behemoth it is today. The New York Post (sister company to Fox News Channel) said:

"Roger Ailes single-handedly rewrote the rules of TV news, building a media juggernaut to cap a landmark career." 

All true, but then the article goes on to say:
"But it was in partnering with Rupert Murdoch (whose News Corp. also owns The Post) in 1996 that he unveiled the formula for success: Appealing to centrist and right-of-center viewers turned off by the relentless liberal skew of existing media. 
And that's where the NY Post and most media accounts get it wrong. You see in 1996, the cultural, political divide was nothing like it is today. Folks in the southern U.S.  and "rural America"(where I'm originally from), didn't consider themselves "liberal" or "conservative", they were just people with common sense ideals. 
There weren't all these constitutional hobbyist or people "in awe of the founding fathers", as if the founding fathers were sent to earth directly by God to create a constitution that could be memorized, quoted and frankly bastardized to conveniently support positions that defied common sense (I also admire the founding fathers, but they were humans and some supported slavery so it's kind of hard to deify them).  
Back then the media tried to at least put forth an image of objectivity and news was on the whole, center or maybe just a smidgen left of center.  Most people didn't discuss politics, or religion publicly. It just wasn't polite and most folks were just focused on their families and everyday lives. 
But if you believe the media critics and history revisionists, Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch swept down from heaven and FINALLY spoke for the poor, forgotten common man, who'd been dying to have a news channel to FINALLY reflect their views. 
Ailes and Murdoch wedged themselves into the smallest of cracks and exploited and pushed that crack into a huge gulf, I believe for one reason and one reason only - to make money and to gain political power. 
Fast forward to today and Fox News is not only the #1 most watched Cable News channel, the country is bitterly divided, and most of the media now just picks a side where only the most extreme views on either side of the political divide or "culture wars" are represented. 
Yes, Roger Ailes has a legacy beyond sexual harassment and people should also consider his professional legacy, because if you ask me, it's been more far reaching and damaging than any charges of sexual misconduct. 
So last week Roger Ailes died, just as Rupert Murdoch will and as will I. 
The worms will eat all our corpses and only our souls will be left to consider either the good or damage we have done to our fellow human beings and the world at large. 
I'm ok with that.  I wonder if Ailes was?  

Health Insurance For Circus Clowns (or the USA)

A few weeks ago my Health Insurance company cancelled me for lack of payment after I signed up for their recurring auto payment feature on their website which is how I pay 99% of my bills given my travel schedule.
It worked just once then stopped working and I never was made aware. Turns out their website had an option to pay the bill on the actual day it was due which I, like a dummy, checked off because, you know, it was 1 of 2 options (the other was to pick a date out of thin air and plug it in manually).
Turns out that particular "pay on due date" option doesn't actually work (never did get an explanation to the logical question: If it doesn't work then why was it included on the website?). Their website is like a sadistic game of Healthcare Roulette, choose the wrong payment option and you could lose your insurance.
Since they never sent me a bill (neither via USPS or Email or carrier pigeon), I had no idea my healthcare premiums weren't being paid until I was cut off. Ironically, I DID receive the cutoff notice promptly.
After a fumbling, circus like comical adventure that would have made Moe, Larry and Curley very proud, I was finally reinstated after paying back premiums and jumping through hoops like a trained schnauzer. Lucky for me, no buses hit me during my multi-week, no-insurance adventure.
Despite my complaints and half a dozen requests, I still don't receive bills or notices (they claim they are being mailed) and only receive the same "Welcome Aboard" Packages (3 of them so far, 1 every couple of months, which makes me even more concerned) and the big aforementioned "you are hereby cancelled" notification.
However, today, I finally received some actual mail correspondence from my "healthcare provider" (AKA My "If I get hit by a bus" policy). It was a form notice of non-discrimination as required by New York State Law. At least this mass mailer of legal gibberish made it to the mailbox, which maybe means I'm still insured... for the time being.
Why did I waste my time writing this long screed, I have no idea.. but thanks for indulging me.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Saving Rhinos from Extinction

People say I have a great “job”, and I do, but producing Raw Travel is also a ton of work and sacrifice. I’m 99% sure I could make more $ doing something else, but I figured out a while back that old cliche about $ and happiness is actually true.  The impact of the show and feedback from viewers is one big part of the reason we carry on. At times I wonder if the show is having an actual impact other than entertainment, but then I hear stories like this Toronto gentleman who saw Raw Travel last year (we’re not licensed in Canada so I assume he saw the Buffalo or Detroit feed).
After tuning into our story on Care For Wild Africa/ African Conservation Experience this gentleman booked a trip to volunteer for them in South Africa and has returned a changed man. He’s telling others about his transformation and about this critical issue as rhinos near extinction. Here is his story and I thought I’d share it.  P.S. You can see our segment on the CFWA again this summer in “Amazing Animals” July 1st-2nd, 2017.
A link to his story can be found HERE:

Monday, March 27, 2017

Vice Who?

This is an ad in the media trade e-newsletter Cynopsis. Maybe it hits a little close to home but I find it kind of offensive when Vice says "Young People are tired of Old White Guys". Do they mean like Vice founder Shane Smith? (Old, white and now very rich). Or Vice investor Rupert Murdoch? He's really old.. and really white but also really rich. or Tom Freston, who made Vice what it is today.

Vice has had a ton of $ thrown at it in recent months due to it's "pied piper" status for reaching millennials which TV Networks are desperate to do. But Viceland has been an unqualified failure thus far, netting shows with titles like "Balls Deep" and less ratings than H2 or whatever was originally programmed at that channel.

But no surprise, Millennials are hard to reach (as is everyone with a gazillion things vying for their attention) and advertising $s even more scarce, which this ad was designed to address.

It doesn't work. Double digit growth from next to nothing audience is not really anything to crow about and the headline in the ad would be considered racists if it were making fun of any other gender or ethnicity (substitute "fat" or "dumb" for "old" and "Black, Hispanic, Asian, Muslim, etc" for "White" or "woman" for "dude" and see how it sounds), especially coming from a network run by "old white dudes"