Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What The Fascist Government of Donald Trump Means for America

Let's look at the bright side. A year from today there will no longer be protests at abortion clinics because abortion will be illegal.

If you are a college student who relies on Pell grants to fund your education you no longer have to face all that paperwork to qualify for your next loan because there no longer will be any loans.

If you enjoy knowing that health insurance companies could no longer drop your coverage because you became ill or could deny you coverage because of a pre-existing condition know that a year from today you'll be able to once again worry about losing your health insurance because the Affordable Care Act is history.

If you slept easier knowing that your 25 year old child was covered by your health insurance worry no more because with repeal of the Affordable care act your child is on his or own for health insurance.

Remember how the stock market was at 8000 on the day Bush left office and how yesterday it was 18,000? Well kiss that goodbye.

Enjoying Medicare and Social Security benefits you have paid for? Well enjoy no more because they are about to be replaced with privatization that will benefit corporations not you or me.

There will no longer be a need to fret over the $1 billion decline in the Federal budget because that will be wiped out paying for increased militarism

We no longer have to worry about honoring international agreements over climate change because those agreements are now history

Trade agreements we had with countries that favored American exports were just wiped out because no civilized nation is going to negotiate with a bully in the White House

There is no longer a need to worry about a madman having his hands on the codes that could start a nuclear war because by 12:01 pm on January 20 a mad man will

Have you been enjoying the separation of church and state? Well enjoy no more because they just became one entity.

Are you gay, lesbian, or transgender?  Prepare yourself for more harassment and mistreatment because someone who openly is disgusted by you was just made our leader.

Worried that your spouse might cheat on you?  Its ok because we have a new "president" who complained to a reporter about how he wanted to "fuck" a married woman (while he was also married) but was disappointed when he couldn't.  Apparently infidelity is now a new family value just like hate is.

Have you enjoyed the elegance and grace of Michelle Obama as the First Lady? Well enjoy no more because our new first lady is a former stripper who likely entered the country illegally.  Heckuva job.

Remember how we had a relatively free press in America? Well look it up in the history books because the open disdain for the legitimate media and threatening and assaulting members of the media are now acceptable behavior

There is no longer a need to worry about the rich becoming richer and the rest of us taking it in the shorts because the rich are about to enjoy more tax cuts and you and I will pay more to make up for their largess

There is no longer a need to worry about public land like National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges being sold off to promote business growth because they will be

Stop worrying about all those regulations that ensure you have safe food to eat and clean water to drink and clean air to breath because Mein Fuhrer has promised a 70 percent reduction in those types of regulations.

If you're a female Trump supporter don't become upset when men make lewd comments or grab your genitals because your leader has legitimized that sort of behavior.

Remember all that talk about "family values"? Well they have been replaced by a society that condones calling a female a "bitch" or a "cunt" and now it's ok to openly display images of the hangman's noose around certain races of people.

If you are physically or mentally challenged don't worry about pesky laws and regulations that protect you and your dignity because it's now ok to mock you and make fun of you.

If you are an investor make sure you buy stock in companies that produce coat hangers because demand for them will sky rocket when Roe v Wade is overturned.

Out of work and looking for a job? Then move to the Southwest and help build Trump's Wall. Just don't plan on getting paid for your labors because Mexico isn't about to cover the costs.

If you live in coastal areas you don't have to worry about pesky laws and treaties that might protect you from rising sea levels because they are gone.

Enjoying those cheap prices you pay for items made in China that you buy at Wal-Mart? Well enjoy no more because the isolationist trade policies we are about to endure (tariffs on imports) are about to increase the cost of those items.

Remember when we were kids and practiced diving under our school desks to protect ourselves from a Russian nuclear attack? Well worry no more because we will now be best buddies with Russia.

Worried about more attacks by radical Islamists? Well you should be because Mein Fuhrer's anti Muslim rhetoric has increased the likelihood of that occurring.

Hate those Hispanics living down the street? Well quell your hatred because they will be deported but remember you're going to have to pay more taxes to pay for their deportation.

Remember how eight years ago, people cried tears of joy at our first African-American President? Last night half our nation voted for a man endorsed by the KKK.

Worried about increased gun violence in America? Well worry no more because the NRA will have an office in the White House and eventually everyone will be carrying a gun

Prepare yourself also for the United States becoming the laughing stock of the planet because with the coronation of a racist, misogynistic pig as the leader of the formerly free world that's exactly what we have become.

Lastly I hope everyone has stocked up on a 4-year supply of KY Jelly because the American electorate just gave us all a need for it. Use it liberally

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Unnecessary Hassle by the British Virgin Islands Customs Department

The following was sent as an email to the British Virgin Islands Tourism Board and to the British Virgin Islands government after an unfortunate yet classically Caribbean jerk around of our dive operator before we were allowed to leave the dock for our dive on November 2, 2016

Hello British Virgin Islands Tourism

My partner Cathy Hayslett and I landed in Road Town, Tortola, on Wednesday November 2, 2016, as passengers on the Norwegian Escape cruise ship.  Our time in port was limited, with a scheduled arrival at 7:00 a.m. and all aboard time at 2:30 p.m.   We chose to dive with the incomparable dive company Sail Caribbean Divers as an excursion off the cruise ship and as this blog post of mine attests we had a wonderful time with that company.  Diving With Sail Caribbean Divers on Tortola, British Virgin Islands

 What we didn't have a wonderful time with, and what threatened to ruin our trip, was the heavy handed activities of a couple of BVI Customs agents who decided that 8:30 a.m. on November 2 was the perfect time to harass our tour operator claiming that their paperwork was not in order and had not been received by the Customs Department.  Consequently our tour operator (and their clients - us) was forbidden from leaving the dock until this issue was resolved.

"This issue" took more than an hour to resolve. It included paperwork from our dive boat being removed from the boat and taken to the BVI Customs office where it was "inspected."  Several phone calls were made from a snotty BVI Customs agent to her supervisor and then when a light rain began to fall your Customs agents just disappeared.  Meanwhile tourists paying for the privilege of enjoying some of the nature of the British Virgin Islands sat on a dive boat twiddling our thumbs and wondering why we chose to waste our time and money in a country that seems more interested in local jerk-around politics than it does in providing a quality experience for its visitors.

Eventually after several more phone calls and conversations with the dive boat crew (all of whom had long-ago submitted their paperwork to Customs) we were allowed to leave the dock - but not before wasting time that could have been spent in the water.  At conclusion of our dive trip we were returned to the dock where we had just enough time for one cold Carib beer before we had to board the ship for our departure. This afforded us ZERO time to learn about Road Town and from the standpoint of your economy, to spend any hard currency in your country.

I have traveled to 72 islands in the West Indies and lived on two of them and this was my fourth time in the British Virgin Islands.  Therefore I am well aware of how the back scratching political system works in the islands.  The BVI have the potential to become a major player in ecotourism (you're already a major player in sailing tourism).  However that potential will be dashed if you continue to jerk around tourists who are the mainstay of your economy.  Allowing some low-level Customs agent who is likely trying to impress her highers up with her strict adherence to the rules might be good for her career advancement but it does nothing for the image of the BVIs and even less for your economy.

I'm not sure who this message should go to in the BVI government but I wish you would forward it to someone who might be able to rectify the situation.  If you want to jerk around a company over false claims about faulty paperwork do it in the afternoon when the dive boats are back at the dock. Don't do it at 8:30 a.m. when paying customers want to enjoy what little time they have in your lovely country.

Lousy Service from a Lousy Dive Company in Nassau, Bahamas

We participated in a two-tank dive with the Stuart Cove's Dive Center on New Providence Island, (Nassau) Bahamas on November 4, 2016.  This was done as a shore excursion from the Norwegian Escape cruise ship. The lousy service and shoddy professionalism exhibited by this company from the moment we were met at ship side until we were returned to the ship with 10 minutes to spare before departure, prompted me to write the following letter to Guest Relations at Norwegian.

I have arrived in the Bahamas 58 times since my first time there in June 1984.  In all that time the Bahamas Tourist Board has used the slogan "It's Better in the Bahamas" as its marketing slogan.  The tourist board needs to take a look at Stuart Cove's because it sure as hell isn't better than anything.

My advice to you is to find an alternative.  Sit around drinking cold Kalik beers all day long rather than waste your time and your money on these clowns.

Guest Relations
Norwegian Cruise Line
7655 Corporate Center Drive
Miami, Florida 33126

Re:  Two-Tank Dive Provided by Stuart Cove in Nassau, November 4 2016

Dear NCL

My partner Catherine Hayslett and I participated in a two-tank SCUBA dive in Nassau as a shore excursion from the Norwegian Escape.  We are writing to vigorously complain about the lousy experience we had with your vendor Stuart Cove.  This is especially important in comparison to the absolutely wonderful experiences we had earlier in the cruise with Underwater Safaris in St. Thomas and especially with Sail Caribbean Divers in Tortola.

Our experience with Stuart Cove began with the one-hour long drive from the cruise ship to the dive shop way at the western end of New Providence Island.  Curiously as our ship was docking in Nassau we saw a boat for Bahamas Divers sail past us in the harbor.  Why couldn’t you use a company that is right there by the cruise terminal instead of one an hour away?  Right now I think you should rename your excursion “View the Sights of Nassau on the Long Drive to the 2-Tank Dive” – it would be more appropriate.

Once at the dive center we sat on board the dive boat for ONE HOUR waiting for divers from other cruise lines and some private individuals to show up.  Each minute that slipped by put us closer to our ship return time and gave us less time to enjoy the dives we paid for.  As we sat there twiddling our thumbs waiting for people to show up, we received ZERO assistance from any of the staff in assembling our dive gear or in helping with safety checks.  One individual testing the air in his tank found that it was leaking air.  When he pointed this out to the dive boat captain he was told “It’s no problem, mon, they do that occasionally.”  Really?  Not on any other dive boats I’ve been on!

When all 19 divers were onboard (too many for a comfortable dive) we departed for the first dive site about 25 minutes from the dive center.  Once there we were given a cursory briefing and then all 19 of us jumped in the water.  When we did so we went in with ONE dive master.  You probably don’t dive but take it from me one dive master for 19 divers of various skill levels is not only stupid it’s dangerous.  We dove to 80 feet with the dive master seeming to be hell bent on covering as much ground as possible in the least amount of time as possible. In other words, keeping up with him was nearly impossible.  How on earth can anyone expect one dive master to keep track of the location of 19 divers when he was trying to set a land speed record for gliding through the ocean?  Again, this was stupid and dangerous.

For our second dive we were in about 28 feet of water and for this dive all 19 of us dove in but the dive master chose to stay on the dive boat because, in his words, he was “too cold.”  You have to be kidding me!  You can’t make this stuff up.   So with a cold dive master safely on the dive boat, 19 of us, again with various skill levels (two participants were taking part in their first dives after being certified so they were at a real disadvantage), we swam around under the sea surface for about 55 minutes with no direction, no guidance, and nobody who has sufficient survival skills to help anyone who might become entangled, have an air issue, have a gear failure, or any of about 100 other things that can go wrong under water. 

On our late return to the dive shop (the last dive participants boarded the dive boat 1 hour 45 minutes before our cruise ship was scheduled to leave) we were herded onto a bus for the trip back to Nassau.  The bus driver assured us there was “no problem, mon” in returning us on time.  However our bus driver forgot to fill the bus with fuel and had to turn around and waste about 15 minutes when he returned to a gas station where his company had an account so he could fill up with fuel.  “You don’t want to coast back to the ship on no fuel do you mon?” he asked.  We know the bus driver was not a diver (he told us so).  Thus during the time we were on our dive he could have been filling up the bus with fuel.  Instead he chose not to and his incompetence almost resulted in us missing the ship.  What is Norwegian’s responsibility to its passengers if an incompetent vendor returns your passengers after the ship departs?  I would like to know for future reference.

With fuel onboard we departed for the cruise ship dock but before arriving there we diverted to Cable Beach to drop off three passengers who wanted to attend a fish fry.  That was bad enough but making matters worse, rather than simply letting people off the bus, the driver saw fit to escort the three people to one of his favorite restaurants thereby wasting an additional 10 minutes.  From this vantage point we could see the Norwegian Escape; it was now 30 minutes from departure. Unfortunately we were not on the ship.  When we finally returned to the cruise terminal we raced past security and ran to the ship and boarded it TEN MINUTES before scheduled departure.  This of course meant that we were afforded no opportunity whatsoever to see any of Nassau – well other than what we saw during the two hours wasted driving to and from the dive shop.

Our dives on Nassau were the most expensive, least safe, and least enjoyable of the three dives we took part in on this cruise.  Norwegian should be ashamed of itself for foisting a company like Stuart Cove on your passengers!  In addition to this letter I will be writing to PADI, the Professional Association of Dive Instructors, who certify Stuart Cove to take people out diving, and inform them of the shoddy professionalism demonstrated by these clowns.

For future guests of Norwegian who land in Nassau with you and who have an interest in SCUBA diving, Norwegian should do itself a favor and contract with a reputable company concerned about your passengers.  Stuart Cove obviously is not.  If you refuse to change vendors then I recommend that you do not offer SCUBA as an excursion in Nassau.

For the record, the next time we are in Nassau on a Norwegian cruise the LAST thing we are going to do is shell out $179 each for a lousy dive with an incompetent dive company.

Cc:  Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI)

Sailing on the Norwegian Escape - Bigger Isn't Always Better

We sailed aboard the Norwegian Cruise Line ship "Escape" from Miami to St. Thomas, Tortola, and Nassau during October 29 to November 5, 2016.  The Escape is the newest and largest ship in the Norwegian fleet and its heavily marketed because of those traits.  However as our rather disappointing experience aboard the Escape suggests, bigger isn't necessarily always better.

The letter below was sent today to Norwegian Cruise Lines.  I'm certain given the number of other frustrated, annoyed and generally disappointed people we encountered on this cruise, Norwegian will be receiving many other similar responses.  At least I hope so.  What they do with this information is up to them.  However if they had a modicum of sense they would heed the comments and concerns of their otherwise dedicated guests.  Time will tell on that one.

Guest Relations
Norwegian Cruise Line
7655 Corporate Center Drive
Miami, Florida 33126

Re:  Cruise Aboard the Norwegian Escape, October 29 – November 5, 2016

Dear NCL

My partner Catherine Hayslett and I were aboard the Norwegian Escape for a 7-day cruise to St. Thomas, Tortola, and Nassau, during October 29 to November 5, 2016.  The two-fold reason for the cruise was to 1) celebrate my 65th birthday and 2) to become engaged to be married. 

At the conclusion of this cruise I can say with great confidence that there simply are not enough words in the English language to describe how thoroughly disappointed we were with our cruise aboard the Escape.  Norwegian may be able to enjoy greater corporate profits by cramming more people onto bigger ships, but in the end that quest for corporate greed ruins the experience for your guests.

Let us begin with there being only 2 pools on the entire ship for 4,260 passengers.  Let’s add to that 4 hot tubs for 4,260 passengers.  Do you really expect that shoving all those people into such tight quarters will result in a quality experience?  Then next let’s examine the wait times to be served a drink at one of the bars in the pool area.  It’s bad enough that you charge extortionate prices for a bottle of beer or a Bloody Mary but then add an 18 percent gratuity to the cost for simply (and finally) reaching in a cooler, grabbing a beer, opening it, and then handing it to a customer.  It used to be that the best deal on a Norwegian cruise was a 32 ounce “oil can” of Foster’s beer.  Now you have discontinued offering them.  Then to top it off you have jacked up the price of already extortionate prices of your drinks, you refuse to allow people to bring their own water on board (citing “safety” concerns – that’s pure horse hockey and you know it….you want to sell people water… it has nothing to do with safety), and then you charge passengers a $15.00 charge per bottle if we want to bring our own bottles of wine on board.  The ultimate insult is being charged $30 a day to access the Internet.  Seriously?

Next let’s consider the excruciating long wait times to be served meals in the main dining areas and the packed-like-sardines feeling of trying to dine in the Garden Café.  One morning in the Savor we waited 1 hour 30 minutes from the time our breakfast was ordered until it was served.  At least the wait staff remembered to drop off some coffee relatively early on in the experience.  Let’s also consider the hour long wait in the Manhattan Dining Room that resulted in Cathy’s veal being so tough it was like leather when she attempted (and failed) to cut into it!  The Cruise Daily regularly stated that breakfast would begin at a certain time yet when that time arrived the Garden Café (as an example) was not open.  The omelet station server said that his station would open “in 8 minutes” or “sorry we don’t open for another 20 minutes” and then he proceeded to parade back and forth in front of his station for the next 20 minutes while a growing line of annoyed passengers waited and waited for him to step in and begin preparing a meal.

Evening entertainment was practically impossible to enjoy because, again, you have too many people competing for too few seats in the venues.  Invariably our attempts to book entertainment were met with “sorry sir, that show is already booked.”  While we are on the topic of entertainment, I would like to know why you did not provide for any contact with the very historic 2016 World Series.  We could watch the Czech Republic play Russia (a team from Moscow to be exact) in basketball, and there was no end of English Premier League soccer shown endlessly and there was even a tennis match or two but no baseball and especially the World Series?  The bulk of the passengers on this cruise were from the United States not England, the Czech Republic or Russia but you could find no way to show the World Series between one team that had not won the series in 108 years and another that had not won in 68 years?   Can we assume that you did not show the World Series because Norwegian would have had to pay a fee to Direct TV or whomever is your service provider?  Given how much you charge for everything else, was it really too expensive to show America’s past time to a ship full of Americans?

The original route of the cruise and the ports we visited

When we docked in St. Thomas the weather was questionable at best and we wondered if our dive excursion had been cancelled.  We went first to the Shore Excursions desk to inquire but there were 40 people in line (I counted) waiting for ONE employee to answer their questions.  Flummoxed by this situation we went across the room to Guest Services where five people stood doing nothing and we asked if they had any information on the status of the shore excursions.  They pointed at the shore excursions desk and told us to go wait in line to find out.  Really?  Can’t one department work with another to extend information to guests? Or is there a turf battle between competing departments and nobody wants to share information?

On the topic of Guest Services I would like to know why on the four occasions I dialed “00” for Guest Services the phone rang a minimum of 20 times and a maximum of 46 times with nobody answering the phone.  I know the number because I counted the rings.

For whatever reason the bulk of the employees we encountered on this cruise were not happy campers.  There was a noticeable lack of espirit de corps that has epitomized earlier NCL cruises.  Maybe it was a result of the staff being worn out trying to keep up with the demands of 4,260 increasingly frustrated guests?

We are currently booked on the transatlantic crossing of the Epic from Barcelona to Port Canaveral in November 2017.  However out of fear that the service on that crossing will be as lousy as it was on the over-stuffed Escape we are giving considerable consideration to cancelling that trip.  Seven days of lousy service on the Escape was bad enough; I can’t imagine what 13 days of it would be like in the middle of the Atlantic.

I am not sure what has happened to Norwegian in the three years we have cruised on you but the quality of the service and the value for the dollar expended have both declined dramatically.  The quest for greater corporate profits might make your CEO richer and your investors happier, but attaining those profits at the cost of quality service and happy customers who make those profits happen, is a lousy way to run a cruise line.

Diving With Sail Caribbean Divers on Tortola, British Virgin Islands

On November 2, 2016, as a shore excursion from the Norwegian cruise ship "Escape" we dove with Sail Caribbean Divers in Road Town, on the island of Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands.  Diving with this company was, without doubt, one of the finest of my novice-level diving experience.  My partner Cathy Hayslett, who has been on more than 150 dives on three continents, was also massively impressed with the quality of the dive and more importantly the quality of the customer service provided by Sail Caribbean Divers.  

On our return from the cruise I wrote a review of the company and posted it on Trip Advisor.  I'm re-posting that same information here and hope that if you are a diver, and plan to travel to the British Virgin Islands, you look no farther than Sail Caribbean Divers for your trips.  You will not be disappointed.

“If There Is A Grade Higher Than A++ This Company Deserves It!”
My partner Cathy Hayslett and I participated in a two-tank dive with Sail Caribbean Divers on November 2, 2016. This was done as a shore excursion from the Norwegian Escape. From the moment we boarded the dive boat, the six of us on this trip knew we were in the hands of professionals. Our objective for the day was to dive the Wreck of the Royal Mail Steamer Rhone in up to 85 feet of water. Before each dive we were given extensive background information on where we were diving, what to hopefully see, and all of the standard safety precautions. We had four dive masters for the six of us which is totally unheard of with most dive operators. There was simply no way any of us could have encountered any sort of problem without one of their highly professional dive masters being right there to help us. 
Brian and Matt are two of the superb staff who will ensure you have a safe and highly satisfactory experience when you dive with Sail Caribbean Divers

Because I am a relatively novice diver (14 logged dives) I informed Brian, one of the dive masters, and he went out of his way to make sure I was safe and that I experienced the most possible from the dive experience. The other dive masters, Adam, Matt and Marcus were equally as helpful and readily available.

The dives were incredible with visibility of at least 60 feet. Marine life was super abundant which, for a retired wildlife biologist, was an added treat. All in all from the beginning of the trip until our reluctant return to the ship we were well cared for (the pound cake during our surface interval was so tasty I had two pieces).

The only snag in the experience was before departure when the British Virgin Islands Customs Department decided that jerking around the dive operators over some ridiculous paperwork held up our departure for an hour. This was totally NOT the fault of Sail Caribbean Divers - it was Caribbean politics at its finest. Because of our late departure (which, again, was not the fault of Sail Caribbean Divers) each dive participant was given a free t-shirt as a token of the company's concern for the tardiness of the departure. They certainly were under no obligation to do so but felt it was necessary to keep their clients happy. Not many dive operators would have gone that extra mile.

As we departed the dive boat at the conclusion of our trip, I shook Brian's hand and told him "I would come back and dive with you any day." And I meant it.

Its obvious from this review that both Cathy and I absolutely loved our dives and loved this dive company. We cannot recommend them highly enough and are certain that if you choose to dive with Sail Caribbean Divers you will return from the experience with the same effervescence that we possess. I guarantee it.