That's OK, I'll Just Bring A Zip-Loc — Enough With The Baggage Fees!

Buying a suitcase
Image by yanec via Flickr

Them’s fighting words! From today’s New York Times’ business story on airlines and baggage fees:

Ryanair, the low-cost carrier based in Ireland that is known for its rock-bottom tickets, is now considering another big step toward keeping passengers traveling light. This fall, the airline plans to eliminate checked baggage altogether at certain times of the day on selected routes.

“Bringing a big bag and expecting it to travel for free, it’s too much to ask,” said Stephen McNamara, director of communications for Ryanair. “It’s expensive to ship something heavy in an airplane when fuel prices are very high.” Mr. McNamara said the airline had as a goal nothing less than changing passenger behavior. “People are packing way too much; women bringing four pairs of shoes, hair dryers, that sort of thing.”

Right. Let’s review. You are going on vacation, maybe even your honeymoon. Or, if you’re really lucky, being flown out for a major job interview, the kind where eight people are going to decide if you make the cut over a few days or multiple interviews. Are you really going to wear the same outfit every time?

Here’s how you pack four pairs of shoes without a minute’s hesitation: sneakers/gym shoes. Evening shoes. Walking shoes. Dressy day shoes. Not everyone wants to schlump around the 16th. or Chelsea looking like a rube in white workout shoes when everyone else is shod in something slim and elegant. Nor are you going to ruin good shoes by pounding them to shreds on your run or sweating in them at the gym.

I’ve traveled the world as a courier and that means one carry-on, period. I did 3 weeks in Thailand from a carry-on, so I know how to pack lightly. But this is getting ridiculous. Depending on your needs (small kids, medical issues, sports gear), not everyone can pack their entire belongings into one tiny, light suitcase.

The whole point of a long-awaited vacation is to relax. Have fun! Two people away for three weeks, certainly in different climates (like the desert, where temperatures can vary 20 degrees every day), adds up, no matter how much laundry you are prepared to do or how many times you wear the same items. We got whacked $90 for a 2-pound excess when we returned from our Southwest holiday in January. (Thanks, Delta.)

Airline execs, figure it out. This is a stupid and short-sighted way to save money.

I’m giving my business to every single other carrier that’s not imposing these restrictions.

While they still exist.

Yes, Expel Bullies! School Shouldn't Be Open Season For Their Victims

In the wake of the suicide of Massachusetts high school student Phoebe Prince, school administrators whine they didn’t see much damage, that Prince was too private (likely her pride, shame, humiliation — and perhaps the naive expectation adults are observant and will act accordingly) to complain and that — gasp — actually expelling the little brutes who drove her to despair with three non-stop months of verbal abuse might suffer if told to leave the school and find somewhere else to take their toxicity.


“To our knowledge the action taken was effective in ending their involvement in any bullying of Phoebe,” he said.

Prince, who had recently moved with her family from Ireland to South Hadley, hanged herself on January 14 after enduring what Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth B. Scheibel described to reporters Monday as “a nearly three-month campaign of verbally assaultive behavior and threats of physical harm toward Phoebe, on school grounds, by several South Hadley High School students.”

Six students were named in an indictment returned by a grand jury Friday and made public Monday. In addition, Scheibel said three female students received juvenile charges, but she would not clarify if they were among the six named in the indictment.

That left even Sayer confused. “There could be as many as nine, but I believe that six” is the correct number, he said.

Though authorities did not consider that the actions or failures to act by the faculty, staff and administrators of the school amounted to criminal behavior, prosecutor Scheibel called for them to undergo training to learn to intervene more effectively in such cases.

But administrators in the school district, who oversee the education of 2,100 students in four schools, are being unfairly blamed for the death, Sayer said…

None of the six students identified in the indictment remains in school, he added.

Sayer said he supported the punishments meted out to the students.

“If they, as they have been charged, committed crimes, they should face the consequences for those crimes,” he said.

But, he added, expulsion is something educators are reluctant to countenance.

“It’s a terrible punishment because that changes their whole lives and what they are capable of doing, and they have to figure out a way to renew and complete their education.”

Expel them!

I was bullied for three years in high school. Bullying is toxic, damaging, sick behavior and those who who deny its power are lying to themselves and their consciences.

What greater “terrible punishment” could Prince’s parents face than the loss of their daughter?

What the bullies were “capable of”, quite clearly and effectively, was destroying the confidence — and the life — of a young girl in their midst. Renewing and completing their education might include learning the most basic of lessons — deliberately, publicly and consistently selecting a victim, and mentally torturing them, is unacceptable behavior.

Bullying Pushes Two More Girls To Suicide; Nine Massachusetts Students Indicted. It Must Stop!

From the Daily News:

Cops are investigating whether cyberbullies contributed to the suicide of a Long Island teen with nasty messages posted online after her death.

Alexis Pilkington, 17, a West Islip soccer star, took her own life Sunday following vicious taunts on social networking sites – which persisted postmortem on Internet tribute pages, worsening the grief of her family and friends.

“Investigators are monitoring the postings and will take action if any communication is determined to be of a criminal nature,” Suffolk County Deputy Chief of Detectives Frank Stallone said yesterday.

Reports The New York Times:

It is not clear what some students at South Hadley High School expected to achieve by subjecting a freshman to the relentless taunting described by a prosecutor and classmates.

Phoebe Prince, 15, a freshman at South Hadley High School in western Massachusetts, hanged herself in January. Her family had recently moved from Ireland.

Certainly not her suicide. And certainly not the multiple felony indictments announced on Monday against several students at the Massachusetts school.

The prosecutor brought charges Monday against nine teenagers, saying their taunting and physical threats were beyond the pale and led the freshman, Phoebe Prince, to hang herself from a stairwell in January.

The charges were an unusually sharp legal response to the problem of adolescent bullying, which is increasingly conducted in cyberspace as well as in the schoolyard and has drawn growing concern from parents, educators and lawmakers.

In the uproar around the suicides of Ms. Prince, 15, and an 11-year-old boy subjected to harassment in nearby Springfield last year, the Massachusetts legislature stepped up work on an anti-bullying law that is now near passage. The law would require school staff members to report suspected incidents and principals to investigate them. It would also demand that schools teach about the dangers of bullying. Forty-one other states have anti-bullying laws of varying strength.

Maureen Downey, writing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, asks the only important question:

For those of you who work in schools, why would administrators and teachers let this persecution go unchecked?

Research shows that bullying occurs in all schools, private and public, and that it is often unseen by adults. In an earlier blog on bullying, I cited a 2005 U.S. Department of Education report that found 14 percent of students ages 12 through 18 said they had been bullied in the past six months.

In the early grades, bullies direct their attacks at almost anyone. As they get older, they target certain kids. Bullies go after younger and smaller kids, but victims also are chosen because they are more anxious, sensitive, cautious and quiet.

Bullying is often a spectator sport, with 85 percent of  incidents involving other kids who watch the torment without stopping it. On the day of her suicide, Phoebe was abused her in the school library, the lunchroom and the hallways, according to the charges. Classmates threw a canned drink at her as she walked home, where her sister found her hanging from a stairwell at 4:30 p.m.

While Phoebe’s bullies used texting and social networking sites to harass her, the prosecutor said most of the bullying occurred on school grounds during school hours.

Like Phoebe, I arrived at my school into a group of 15-year-olds; I was 14, a year ahead. Like her, I came into a tightly-knit crowd of kids who had known one another for decades and from a foreign country. I’d been living in Mexico, (she in her native Ireland).

I was awkward, had acne, had just suffered a serious crisis within my family so wasn’t bouncy and cute and outgoing and conventional.

Perfect target.

I was mercilessly, relentlessly, daily and publicly bullied in Grades 10, 11 and 12 at my middle-class Toronto high school. I was nicknamed Doglin, had a gang of three or four boys barking at me down the hallways, had a dog biscuit laid on my desk in class, had my “nickname” shouted whenever it suited them. Teachers saw and heard. And did nothing.

I finally lost it in Grade 12 math class, as one of them, a stream of insults babbling out of his mouth sotto voce like some toxic soundtrack it was impossible to escape or shut off, hit my last frayed nerve. I’d already been going to see a therapist for years, who wanted to medicate me to relieve my (very real) anxiety. I had friends. I had a few teachers who treated me with great kindness and affection. But, short of changing schools (I’d already attended five by Grade 10), there was no relief to be had.

Our textbook that year was thick, weighing maybe two or three pounds, and I used it to whack the back of his head as hard as I could. God, that felt good!

The teacher, fully aware of the drama, quietly suggested I move to another seat.

Being bullied is one of the worst forms of torture. Unless you (as my partner also knows from his own childhood) or your kids have been through it, it looks harmless. The victim is always blown off, mildly advised to just ignore it, suck it up, walk away.

And if it were physical assault? Rape?

My parents were helpless and frustrated. This waking nightmare left me with a deep and abiding mistrust of “authority”  — since no one who had any did a thing to help or protect me. To this day, to my embarrassment, I can be extremely thin-skinned even in the face of the most loving teasing.

It must stop. School authorities, whether teachers or administrators, should be criminally liable.

Happy St. Patrick's Day! A taste of Ireland from an Irish great grand-daughter

Topography of Ireland
Image via Wikipedia


That’s “cheers” in Irish — pronounced slawn-tche. Hoping your day is full of craic — fun.

I’ve visited Ireland four times, and loved it, even once driving the entire circumference of the island with my Dad, chasing up and down its green hills and visiting Rathmullan, Co. Donegal — a seaside town on Lough Swilly where my great grandfather was the schoolteacher. Family lore had it that, after big storms, there’d be jellyfish on his front lawn. Yeah, right, I’d say — but there was only a narrow road between the seawall and his lawn. True.

We even visited his one-room schoolhouse and I saw his handwriting in the old ledgerbooks. The building was for sale and we fantasized, briefly, about buying it.

Landing in Shannon, Ireland’s western airport, means staring down at a patchwork quilt of every shade of green, tiny plots of land, each marked off with a stone wall. It’s magic. You drive on the left and the narrow, twisting roads, with high hedges and limited sightlines, is a real challenge, especially with jet lag. I went, alone, to follow two American women, one from San Antonio and one from D.C., at the annual September singles’ festival in Lisdoonvarna —  where men outnumber women about four to one — for The Washington Post, Ottawa Citizen and Dallas Morning News. It’s a hoot. I’ve never felt so alluring!

Dublin is terrific, but Galway City is fantastic — a college town with lots of great pubs, friendly and manageable. My Dad and I once spent an afternoon collecting mussels from Galway Bay, went home and made soup; for a while, he owned a house, built in 1789, just outside the town of Athenry — then, it cost barely more than my suburban New York apartment. I loved looking across the countryside through its wavy, 200-year-old windows.

Here are some of my Irish favorites:

Guinness. Yes! Dark, cool, creamy, distinctive, it’s probably Ireland’s best-known beer.

James Joyce. I am a faithless wretch, never having read his work, so he’s not technically one of my personal favorites — but you can’t leave him out! I have visited his home.

Luka Bloom, a singer-songwriter, I love his album The Acoustic Motorbike.

The Chieftains, founded in 1962, probably Ireland’s best-known band for traditional music.

The Aran Islands. The shaggy cows there are the exact shade of Guinness. There are three islands, reached by ferry from Galway, and filled with 15th. century churches and pre-historic ruins.

Colm Toibin. His latest, recent book, “Brooklyn: A Novel”, has received rave reviews. I’ve read his earlier work and loved it.

William Butler Yeats. You may already know some of his poetry’s lines off by heart — “Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams”.

Glen Hansard, winner of the 2008 Academy Award for “Falling Softly” his gorgeous song from the lovely 2007 film, shot in Dublin, “Once.” He also starred in one of my favorite films, The Commitments, from 1991, whose soundtrack is a must-own.

Films The Field, Waking Ned Devine, Ryan’s Daughter, which united the formidable talents of Robert Bolt and David Lean (who did Dr. Zhivago) and The Dead, set in Dublin in 1904, starring Angelica Huston and directed — his final film — by her father, from his wheelchair on oxygen, John Huston.

Grainne, (pronounced Grahn-ya), the lady pirate:

Grace O’Malley (also called Granuaile) was a famous pirate, seafarer, trader and chieftain in Ireland in the 1500’s. She was born in 1530 in County Mayo, Ireland and was the daughter of sea captain Owen O’Malley. As a young child, Grace always knew she wanted to be a sailor but as a female, she was discouraged repeatedly. Extremely upset when her father refused to take her on a sailing trip, legend has it Grace cut off all her hair and dressed in boy’s clothes to prove to her parents that she could handle the trip and live a seafarer’s life. Seeing this, her father and brother laughed aloud and nicknamed her “Grainne Mhaol” meaning “Bald Grace” (which is believed to have led to her nickname “Granuaile.”) Eventually, through her persistence, she was allowed to go to sea with her father and his fleet of ships.

As a child, Grace often sailed with her father on trading missions overseas. Once, upon returning from a trip to Spain, their ship was attacked by an English vessel. Grace she climbed up onto the sail rigging. Watching the battle from above, she noticed an English pirate sneaking up on her father, raising a dagger behind his back! The brave Granuaile leapt off of the rigging, through the air and onto the pirate’s back…. screaming all the while! The distraction this caused was enough for the O’Malleys to regain control of the ship and defeat the English pirates.

She spent her young life learning the ways of the sea and grew to be quite the sailor — eventually having her own fleet of ships. Her family had become wealthy mainly through fishing and trade, but in her later life, Grace took up piracy by taking on Turkish and Spanish pirate ships and even the English fleets. She grew her estate to include a fleet of ships as well as several islands and castles on the west coast of Ireland.

In her later years, Grace developed her reputation as a fearless leader through her efforts in battle along side her followers. Legend has it that Grace gave birth to one of her sons while out to sea. The very next day following the birth of the baby, the ship was attacked by Turkish pirates. Though exhausted from giving birth Grace grabbed a gun, went on deck and proceeded to rally her men against the Turks, forcing their retreat.

I’d love to hear some of yours…

The World's Largest Singles Festival — Three Weekends Left!

Blarney Castle, County Cork, Republic of Ireland.
Image via Wikipedia

This photo is of Blarney castle, but no joke — if you head to Lisdoonvarna, a tiny town in the west of Ireland, until October 4, you’ll meet more available men, (you will be way outnumbered if you’re female), than you think might even exist. Many come from Europe, some from the U.S., as do women, flying into the west of Ireland, to Limerick airport; the town is 38 miles north.

More than 5,000 people annually attend the world’s oldest and largest singles festival, from August 28 to October 4, cramming the two streets of a town so small the bank arrives every week on wheels.

They line the sidewalks, throng the pubs, dance with abandon, many determined to leave with a girlfriend, maybe even a wife. The 150-year-old festival — which I attended and wrote about for the Washington Post — is truly a little nuts in the level and ferocity of male attention it offers. If you’re arriving from a place like New York City, where even if you’re Cindy Crawford-esque, speak fluent Urdu and have a Phd in nuclear physics, someone is bound to deem your ankles too fat, Lisdoonvarna’s brand of open-armed acceptance is sort of refreshing. For a few lovely Irish days, at least, what New York Times writer John Tierney famously dubbed the Flaw-o-Meter — the internal critic that deems all potential mates never quite good enough — is dialed way, way down.

I managed to knock the mirror of my rental car  — (if you think driving on the left is tough, try parallel parking) — into the street there and, as though I were a Jane Austen heroine dropping a glove or hankie, half a dozen men gallantly and eagerly rushed to help me. Pregnant women in NYC can’t even get a subway seat! Walk down the stairs of your hotel in the morning and a sea of guys stares up at you with undisguised appreciation. It’s sort of fun, sort of exhausting.

While the city slickers drive in from Dublin, Cork or Belfast, the festival, and town matchmaker Willie Daly (who I interviewed), really offer a time-honored method to meet women, lots of women, for busy, hardworking bachelor farmers who — as one told the BBC this week — never meet any women month to month, let alone year to year. When I was there, some stood miserably in the corner of each room, shy and tongue-tied, their rough hands and choppy haircuts and thick tweed jackets signaling their rural and resolutely unpolished status.

It’s not your smooth-talking eHarmony crowd, that’s for sure. But there’s a joyful quality (amid the scary drunks) to happily admitting you’re single-and-looking, as are a few thousand others there for the same reason. No one pretends to be perfect nor rushes though six-minute speed dates like some nasty job interview.  The age range is also refreshingly human, from locals in their 20s to still-hopeful men and women in their 70s or beyond. With dances on all day, lots of pubs, beautiful countryside views and comfy hotel sofas you can settle into for a cosy chat with a likely prospect, you can stay the weekend and enjoy a beautiful place that just happens to be, for a brief few weeks, a target-rich environment.

If for nothing else, go for the craic!