Why Isn’t The Panamanian Navy Saving The Carnival Splendor?

Obviously we want to make sure the U.S. citizens are safe, but this is not an American ship nor is Carnival an American company. In fact Carnival does pretty much everything in its power not be American… except when convenient.

The Carnival Splendor is dead in the water. A fire below decks has neutered the ship leaving it a 952 foot long raft. No one is happy especially the nearly 3,000 passengers.

Right now the US Navy and Coast Guard are working hard to assure the safety of the Splendor and its passengers. This is not a cheap undertaking which raises the question: Why are we doing this?

Obviously we want to make sure the U.S. citizens are safe, but this is not an American ship nor is Carnival an American company. In fact Carnival does pretty much everything in its power to not be American… except when convenient.

Though Carnival’s operations are headquartered in Miami and London Carnival itself is incorporated in Panama. Its ships are all registered outside the United States in what are referred to as flags of convenience. Carnival Splendor is registered in Panama even though it’s seldom if ever there.

There are many American laws ships which use our ports must follow. Because the Splendor and its sisters are registered in Panama there are many others it’s under no obligation to follow.

I’m sure there are Americans employed on these cruise ships which primarily carry Americans to-and-from American ports, but as a Carnival cruiser I can’t remember any.

I am irked by this. If you depend on the strength and wealth of the United States to run a viable business the least you can do is be an American company.

Is Carnival doing anything that violates the law? Probably not. The law is an ass.

Is Dodd Done?

To me it has always seemed Connecticut is an address of convenience for Senator Dodd. He’s from Connecticut the way ships are registered in Liberia and Panama or businesses are incorporated in Delaware and the Cayman’s.

Christopher_Dodd_official_portrait_2-cropped.jpgJust as I was getting set for bed the Twitterverse started going a little nuts with word Senator Christopher Dodd will announce he’s not running for reelection to his Senate seat. The announcement, if true, is a shocker even though I’ve been telling anyone who’d listen he was unelectable.

Unelectable candidates run all the time. They lose. I assume he figured that out.

He’s run and won six times. Thirty years in the Senate. Quite a record. Alas, here in Connecticut the bloom is off the rose.

Every time a sleazy rock is turned over concerning banking or finances there seems to be signs Chris Dodd has been there. His mortgage deal with Countrywide, sweetheart or not, never seemed like the kind of deal I’d get.

In the NY Times Gail Collins wrote of his opportunism and Connecticut’s skepticism:

The trouble began with Dodd’s presidential campaign when he famously attempted to win over the voters in the Iowa caucus by moving his entire family to the state and enrolling his daughter in an Iowa kindergarten. Iowa, you may remember, responded enthusiastically and awarded him nearly 1 percent of the vote. Connecticut was mortified.

Mortified. Exactly.

I’ve only met Chris Dodd three of four times in my 25 years here. At a UCONN basketball victory parade I jumped on the back of a flatbed truck and interviewed Dodd and Joe Lieberman on live TV.

The truck began to move as I was clumsily climbing on. Senator Dodd leaned over and reached out to help. He has the softest hands I have ever felt on a man!

A few years ago I walked into the conference room as Ann Nyberg was getting set to interview him. I looked at the Senator and said, “I’m just a typical American boy from a typical American town.”

Nyberg was confused. She flashed a quizzical look. Too young to understand.

Dodd smiled and continued, “I believe in God and Senator Dodd and keeping old Castro down.”

We were doing lines from Phil Ochs’ “Draft Dodger Rag.” The Senator Dodd in the song was Chris Dodd’s dad, Tom. Being in the Senate was like being in a family business.

To me it has always seemed Connecticut is an address of convenience for Senator Dodd. He’s from Connecticut the way ships are registered in Liberia and Panama or businesses are incorporated in Delaware and the Cayman’s.

427px-Richard_Blumenthal_at_West_Hartford_library_opening.jpgMore than likely this opens the door for Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to run.

For Republicans this is a worst case scenario. Dodd was weak. Blumenthal is strong and well liked. It will be tough to muddy this consumer oriented former Marine.

Dick Blumenthal is a retail politician appearing and pressing the flesh at more events than any three other pols in Connecticut. I suspect more Connecticut residents have had personal contact with the AG than any other elected official. That kind of stuff pays off.

Now I can go to sleep.

Steaming Northbound Toward Jacksonville

Our ship left Half Moon Cay under cloudy skies. No sunset pictures for me.

It was windy–meaning choppy seas. I estimate 2-4 foot swells with small whitecaps. Yes, you can feel the ship sway through the water. I stopped the Dramamine a few days ago and, knock wood, no queasiness.

If there was a show, we didn’t see it. After dinner Helaine and I walked to the casino where I redistributed most, not all, of my winnings.

There is no shortage of eating opportunities onboard. We had sushi at a small stand between the casino and theater last night. There is also pizza available 24 hours a day at the cafe at the aft end of the ship. There are freshly baked sweets in the same area. Cofffee, iced tea and juices are available and served without charge.

Some ships have ‘extra cost’ restaurants. Not this older ship.

Helaine and I have discussed the cost of this cruise more than once over the last few days. It’s really quite reasonable. Here’s my guess. The cruise itself is a break even situation for the line. The real money is made in ancillary sales. This ship–all cruise ships exist to be stores.

From the time you board until your disembark there are things for sale. Sometimes they are items you can’t get on land–not always. They are always priced high. We have heard, more than once, of 4-figure bar bills! Not being drinkers has its advantage.

The ship has a crew of staff photographers. They are visible any place people aggregate, whether it be the entrance to the dining room or theater or the gangway while in port. They print every photo and cover a large open area with them. They are sold at outrageous prices.

There are also shops selling watches and jewelery and knick-knacks. It’s tough for me to make a judgment call on price, but experience says no bargains. The ship also sells, or actually resells, shore excursions, cellphone service and Internet access.

I don’t hold any of this against the cruise line. This is their business and they are entitled to make money.

On the other hand, I am distressed with the cruise business and its removal of assets from US rules and taxes. This ship is registered in the Bahamas. Others are registered in Panama. The ship’s officers are Italian. The remainder of the crew is a virtual United Nations of the seas reperesenting dozens of countries–not the U.S. Other than a few entertainers I saw no American staff. None.

Make no mistake–this ship and dozens more like it would make nothing without US passengers and ports. Virtually every passenger boarded in the United States and is an American resident. If there was a distress call it wouldn’t be the Bahamian Navy coming to our rescue.

As I remember, even the owner of this cruise line personally left the United States for tax purposes (please correct me if I am wrong).

Back to the trip… after breakfast we headed to the pool deck to watch an ice carving demonstration. With a few hand tools one of the kitchen staff transformed a huge block of ice into a pair of love birds atop a heart. He attracted quite a crowd and plenty of photographers and videographers.


We’ve just gone for the galley tour. Years ago there were galley, bridge and even engine room tours. Now, post 9-11, the other two are out but the galley tour persists. I suppose it’s tougher to poison a ship full of people than steer us into rocks.

It is astounding to see the method to the madness of service a few thousand guests. Even though first seating is only a few hours away there wasn’t that much hustle and bustle going on. As Helaine pointed out, if we’re having guests there’s plenty of action two hours before!

Back in the room Helaine is packing for departure. We’ll be in Jacksonville early tomorrow morning and hopefully through customs and at the airport in time for our 12:55 PM flight to Bradley.

This was a wonderful vacation. It’s not for everyone. We made a list of our friends who are ill suited for cruising. It’s a long list. For us it’s nearly perfect.

My next post from dry land.


Oh–I almost forgot. Carnival has towel animals. Each night when we get in after dinner Andy, our room steward, has fashioned one or more towels into some sort of critter. Last night’s was probably a cat–we’re not 100% sure.

We’ve been on lines that didn’t have towel animals and missed them.

The New Era Of Communications

I got this email today:

We are in panama we just went thru the locks. all is well we are having a great time mom and dad

What do we have here? Well, certainly, for his next birthday I’m buying my dad punctuation marks and capital letters! More than that, a check of the originating IP address shows he sent this from on-board ship.

My mom and dad are cruising, but the Internet is there with them.

I remember when Helaine and I took a cruise many years ago. We stopped in Puerto Rico and rushed to a pay phone to check in with everyone back home. Same thing in St. Thomas (in fact, I can still picture the pay phones to the left of the main door of the St. Thomas Post Office).

It wasn’t that there weren’t phones on the ship, but it was ridiculously expensive.

Yesterday, my friend Peter left for three weeks on Maui. I spoke to him as he went to the airport. I spoke to him in San Francisco, waiting for a delayed flight. I spoke to him once he got to his Maui hotel. Each time I dialed the same South Jersey cellphone number.

Each of my calls were included in my cell plan with no additional charge… in fact, with no meter even clicking off the minutes.

Calling Hawaii, like making a call from a cruise ship, used to be expensive. No more.

I also played around a little, calling my friend Bob in Austin, TX using Skype. The quality was great, using my laptop on the sofa in the family room and a cheap headset. Of course the call was totally free.

This ability to communicate, whether by computer or phone or a combination of the two is amazing – something we in the 21st century share with no other moment in history. It is, unfortunately, limited to the wealthy.

A little clarification. In this case wealthy applies to the vast majority of people in the United States and many more around the world, who are included in a global middle class. They are only wealthy in contrast to those who are dirt poor – and there are many who fit that category.

Now, maybe there is hope for them to benefit from this communications and knowledge explosion, fueled by computing.

I saw Nicholas Negroponte with Charlie Rose on PBS. Negroponte heads MIT’s Media Lab, a communication and information think tank

In its first decade, much of the Laboratory’s activity centered around abstracting electronic content from its traditional physical representations, helping to create now-familiar areas such as digital video and multimedia. The success of this agenda is now leading to a growing focus on how electronic information overlaps with the everyday physical world. The Laboratory pioneered collaboration between academia and industry, and provides a unique environment to explore basic research and applications, without regard to traditional divisions among disciplines.

That’s some of the least explanatory prose ever written by otherwise educated people.

Negroponte was on to talk about a project I’ve been following for a while – a $100 laptop, to be produced in bulk and distributed for free to students around the world.

If this is the first you’re hearing about this project, please go to their site and read more. It’s really an amazing undertaking.

How Tough Will Winter Be?

It’s that time of year. My email box overflows with people wanting to know what kind of winter this will be? Are they planning on leaving if my answer is too severe?

Lots of people make long range predictions – The Weather Service and Farmer’s Almanac to name two. I guess their forecast has value, but not to most ‘regular’ people.

We don’t live by the season. We live moment-to-moment. Trust me on this.

It could be unseasonably wonderful for two weeks, but if an Arctic blast comes, you’ll be feeling it and forgetting about that good weather in the rear view mirror.

So, as a rule I keep away from long term predictions. I’m thinking, maybe I’d be better concentrating on the next week, not the next two months.

Today, I got an email from someone asking about acorns. There doesn’t seem to be too many this year. Is that a sign?

Hey, if squirrels could accurately predict the weather, I’d be on the squirrel plan! I only stick with science because it works the best.

I wrote back saying acorns weren’t a predictor but actually a product of what has already happened. And then I realized, I don’t really know that. It sounds right – logical – but I really don’t know. So I scouted around.

We’re very lucky here in New Haven to have Yale University&#185. I checked their online directory and found the Director of the Forestry School. I was sure he’d know if acorns could predict the weather.

Yes you are completely right. the acorn crop is a reflection of past

weather. For the red oaks they take two years to develop – a poor

pollination period because of rain for a few days can mean acorn crop

failure two years down the road. Large acorn crops are therefore

unusual – once every ten years or so – and we think result when the

weather allows for it – “all the weather gods must be aligned”

Of course, it is part of the power of the Internet to be able to reach someone with so much knowledge, and then be able to pass it along. People might think I’m smart to know about acorns, but I’m just smart enough to ask questions.

Oh… there’s more to the story. I thought I was writing to him at Yale.

I am in Panama at present but if you need any further help give me a an

email buzz

We live in a wondrous time!

&#185 – I often wonder if the feeling is mutual, but that’s another story.