23 February 2013


We often complain about companies that perform poorly, but seldom give credit when they consistently perform well. Here are a few that I think are deserving of some plaudits.

The Eastman Kodak corporation has fallen on hard times since the advent of digital photography, but I can’t say enough good things about the products they are producing currently. They are also continues to be one of the most consumer-friendly companies around. I recently bought a printer from the Office Hero series that does just about anything one might want, notably duplex printing, network wireless connection (easily set up unlike some others), and faxing, along with beautiful color prints. When the printer I purchased had a problem with slightly skewed pages they promptly sent me a replacement. The printer also uses the special inks that Kodak developed that are significantly cheaper than other brands. They continue to make the finest grade of photographic paper in the world, as well as film, of course. I also bought an inexpensive Kodak waterproof video camera that takes remarkably good images, above or below the pool surface. I’ve always found everything they produce to be completely reliable and of good quality, and choose their products whenever possible.

Some might be surprised to hear me say good things about an airline, given how miserable air travel can be these days, but personally I have always gotten good service from American Airlines. They make good on frequent flyer miles, and when things go awry they are pretty generous with compensation. They have also put us up a couple of times with a hotel and meals due to Caribbean flights that had to be canceled because the island destination airport was unexpectedly closed. They’ve never turned down a reasonable request, and although they are technically bankrupt you’d never know it from the level of service. They also have a really good worldwide network with other airlines, so if they don’t fly somewhere they’ll put you on an airline that does and still give you mileage credit. They have an excellent website where you can book the cheapest fare directly, as well as rent a car or book a hotel at a good price. Now that they are merging with US Air the network will be even more extensive. I just hope the merger doesn’t change American from the way it operates now. 

When it comes to another form of transportation, the cruise ship, I am very enthusiastic about the Holland America line. The disasters that always seem to happen on cruise lines beginning with a “C” never occur on Holland America. Unlike other lines that keep making bigger and bigger ships that become cattle boats, their ships are mid-sized and optimum for a pleasant voyage. There is a great consistency from one ship to another so you feel right at home in a familiar setting. I know something of ships from when I was in the shipping business many years ago, and find the design of their vessels to be excellent. The dining experience and crew performance are consistently good, and you don’t get charged for a lot of onboard extras. They are generous to repeat customers, which they continue to get because the experience is so positive. Overall they are a step up from the other, larger cruise lines, but still have voyages all over the world, so that you can almost always find a ship going to destinations you want to visit. 

There are some others, but as I prepare for another trip these readily come to mind because I’m using them and think they deserve a shout out. 

09 February 2013


The political class would have us believe that things are getting better, and that they have improved over time. However, increasingly, people intuitively know that this is not the case. Yes, by the measure of things they own, from air conditioners to televisions, people have more because these things are cheap. But are they really better off? Experience tells us otherwise. 
In the 1950s it was possible for a policeman or fireman in New York City to not only own a home, but to have a summer house as well. He could support three children comfortably, and his wife could stay home. (Most women work today not because they necessarily want to, but because they have to, to make ends meet).  Needless to say none of this would be possible today. Never mind optional things, just getting by is much more of  a struggle than it was in the past. Now it could be argued that was an exceptional time, an anomaly in the scope of history, because America did not experience the widespread destruction that much of the developed world did and emerged from WWII in a singularly strong position. The argument goes that this could not last.
The problem is that the expectations of many have been based upon this period- that things would be at least as good, or better in the future. Whether everyone lived as well is not the point; even if they didn’t, they believed wholeheartedly that they could and would.  Some, mostly on the left, would argue that things weren’t all that good, and that somehow it wasn’t “real,” but simply stated it was a time when almost everyone was happy, except for the liberals. The last time there was even an echo of that sentiment was in the 1980s. Today a majority believe that the “American dream” is dead. 
But we don’t have to go back to the 50s to see what has happened. We can look back at a relatively dismal period, the 1970s, and see a significant difference. Since 1970 the earnings of men with a high school diploma have fallen 47% in constant dollars. Even men with college degrees are earning 12% less. We’ve gone from being the greatest creditor country in the world to being the largest debtor. Back then unemployment was 3.9%, or  half of what it is today. The economy is going nowhere fast and this is unlikely to change for millions of quite employable people, for whom things have not only not improved, but have gotten considerably worse. 
Sometimes we hear the argument that America is just going to have to wait until the rest of the world catches up. But the notion that an American worker be considered the same as a Chinese peasant is just unacceptable. The only way the promise of this country is fulfilled is if we continue to lead the way and maintain the best living standard in the world. This has not happened due to objective conditions alone, but mismanagement, by the government for sure, but also by the private sector. Selfish, short-sighted behavior based on quarterly  earnings is the norm these days, rather than the long term good. The focus is on immediate profits rather than quality products or the goods and services that are actually being produced. Across the board in all institutions, not just business, but nonprofits, universities, governments, etc.  top management is more focused on how they can maximize their benefits, rather than the substance of what the institution is about. 
i’m not going to get into all the other indicators of social decline, from morality to statistics like divorce rates to bad behavior and attitude, which are symptoms of more fundamental problems. What can be done to get back on the right track? There are no easy answers, but we can begin with enlightened leadership that has the right priorities. Then we desperately need policies that will spur economic growth and job creation as well as debt reduction. Unfortunately there is currently no inspired leadership from Washington, the administration is economically inept, and current tax and spending policies not only don’t encourage growth, they discourage investment.   In the absence of that there is just no way millions of unemployed people are going to be put back to work, that graduates will find jobs, or that those who are working won’t live in constant fear of losing their jobs. We do not have to be resigned to this. We need to be uplifted and inspired again. I do not want to go to my grave with the sad realization that our best years were during my childhood in the 1950s. From what was given to us we owe it to subsequent generations to provide something better.