Tuesday, April 28, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: What Now For Cruise Ships?

From the 1980s through the1990s, I was a lecturer on the Cunard
Lines, and before that, I sailed on numerous cruise ships that
made the transatlantic crossing from he U.S to Europe and back
--- as well as in the Caribbean. My Cunard gig added South and
Central America, a Panama Canal transit, and the Pacific Ocean
to my cruising map. My most recent sailings were on the then
new Queen Mary 2 going  to he U.K., and on the maiden voyage
of the mega-ship Norwegian Epic from he U.K. to New York, both
in 2010. Altogether, I sailed on 31 international and 3 domestic
passenger ships in more than four decades. (That doesn’t count
numerous local tour boats and private yachts.)

Obviously, I love sailing on cruise ships and the superlative
travel experiences they provide, I am writing this piece now
because it might become an experience of the past --- made so
by the pandemic that stranded several ships en route, resulting
in exasperating quarantines, interrupted cruises, and finally,
the cancellation of the worldwide cruise season just beginning
its peak period.

How big is this industry?

There are more than 325 cruise ships currently operating
worldwide with 550,000 lower berths capacity. In 2018, there
were 27.2 million ocean cruise passengers with a $126 billion
economic impact. New ships providing 32,000 lower berths at
a cost of $7.4 billion were added in one year. (For the years
2018-2025, 220,000 new berths were projected to be added
with new ships at a cost of $51 billion.) The cruise industry
employs about one million total workers with $41 billion in
annual wages. The recent annual growth rate for the industry
has exceeded 5%. About 1000 ports worldwide welcome
cruise ships and their passengers. The two major cruise
destination markets are the Caribbean and Mediterranean,
but there are significant markets to South America, Hawaii,
Alaska, the south Pacific, United Kingdom/Ireland,
Scandinavia, and the east coast of North America.

Only one cruise line, Cunard, now has frequent and regular
transatlantic sailings between the U.S.and Europe. For almost
200 years this was the primary passenger ship route for
millions of tourists and immigrants.

All this has now suddenly and unexpectedly come to a halt.
All cruise sailings worldwide have been suspended, as has so
much public activity. The uncertainty from economic and
social shutdowns on land is equal or greater for the seagoing
cruise ship industry.

Cruise ship travel has many unique attractions (which is why
I love to travel by ship), but it has a few drawbacks, too,
including the new one presented by the pandemic.

The attractions have included the psychological security of
an alternative to air travel (as trains do), the extraordinary
fine dining on cruise ships (almost always included in the
price of the ticket), the numerous amenities and activities
onboard during a cruise (sports and exercise activity, health
spas, lectures, concerts live theater,, films, card games,
casinos, night clubs and late-night dancing, computer
instruction, cocktail parties, duty-free gift purchases, and
above all, perhaps, meeting and getting to know some very
fascinating fellow passengers), and being able often to
visit glamorous ports using the ship as your hotel. Most
ship cruises have celebrities onboard, either as ship
performers or lecturers, or as fellow passengers. One of    
my trips included a legendary Broadway and film star who
I met in the line of the ship’s sumptuous (lobster and filet
mignon) midnight buffet, and who graciously sat with me;
and on the same voyage, a famed Nobel Prize laureate in
physics who attended my lectures.

Finally, a ship cruise is an incredible bargain when
compared to any other form of travel. For about $100-$150
a day per person, everything (room, five  meals, amenities,
transportation and entertainment) is included. The same
any other way would three times as much or more. There is
rarely a need , incidentally, to pay the brochure rate for a
ticket, since big discounts are available from ship lines
eager to fill unsold berths, especially close to the sailing
date. Of course, ship passengers can spend more than $150
a day for a bigger room and luxury extras, but it really isn’t

On the downside,if you don’t have “sea legs” and the ship
runs into bad weather, it could be rough going --- although
ships usually provide free shots or pills to avoid seasickness.
Just as some are anxious about flying, others are anxious
about travel on water. If you are in a hurry, ship travel is not
for you. A transatlantic voyage takes five or six days. A plane
will do it in a few hours. But then, an air flight is nowhere as
much fun as a cruise.

Ships today vary greatly in size. I’ve sailed on small, mid-size,
large and mega- ships, and each provides a different kind of
cruise experience. For me, the best is a new, mid-size ship
(1500-2000 passengers) that provides significant amenities
and facilities. Smaller ships, carefully chosen, can provide
special charm. I sailed on a megaship on its maiden voyage,
but  it carried 4200 passengers, and that’s too big for me, On
the other hand, if  I were traveling with children, it might be
ideal with its free daycare,  programs for children, and lots of
other children to meet and  play with.

In the past few years, most of the new ships have been
mega-sized. That is to say, 3500 or more passengers, and up
to 2000 crew. They have as many floors as a skyscraper, and
almost too much going  on. They are small cities at sea.

Are these megaships now nautical dinosaurs --- victims of
a social distancing asteroid that crashed into the sea?

Considering current problems, including the cash flow crisis,
the answer might be yes, but advance cruise bookings for
next year are already reportedly strong. With some ingenuity
and adaptability, the megaships  could also provide special
features in a post-pandemic travel world --- and survive.

Cruise lines already are very sensitive to onboard sanitary
conditions. Some ships each year experience nonovirus
(a mild stomach illness that lasts a few days) outbreaks, but
they are very rare. All ships provide onboard medical staff
and facilities. The large Queen Elizabeth II had not only a
hospital, but an operating room for emergency surgery.
Megaships have the space to now provide enhanced medical
facilities, including isolation beds, intensive care --- and
extra doctors and nurses --- as well as well-stocked ship
pharmacies and extra medical equipment. Knowing a ship
is well-prepared for medical services (and emergencies)
could be quite reassuring to cruise passengers.

Larger ships also have bigger indoor spaces for dining,
recreation and programs to reduce crowding and enhance
post-pandemic social distancing.  New health-conscious
dining menus and expanded spa programs might also
attract passengers, as might less crowded shipboard
programs and carefully designed itineraries.

But this large and recently booming industry has been
dealt a serious and unexpected blow. Unlike other some
industries, it has been completely, albeit temporarily, shut

How it will fare when it relaunches its next season, and
global vacation travel resumes, is for now an open question.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 24, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: "Uncertain Sequences" (poem)

by  Barry Casselman

The sudden arrival of solitude was a surprise attack
on our apathies about each other.

We had harbored no doubts about the daily course
of the world we passed through in numb routine
as if we were winter birds flying south
or gestating salmon going upstream.

Now we wonder what course is next
after intrusion is somehow subdued.    

We call the future with  numbers discerned by our own decoders,
but the future only answers by asking us to record a message.            

In almost every score of years, an abrupt flash point occurs,  
reminding us how fragile we are, how little we know
what we think we know about.

Solitude uncloaks a condition we are compelled
then to clothe with other solitaries to warm our passage
through the unheated space of our planet’s wordless orbit.
We invented dress codes we call languages
to connect to the other ones, those we can reach.

Days of unexpected solitude are in andante tempo,
and unless we improvise, they play the same songs,
the same songs from old dreams we did not understand.

We compose new melodies in vivace as a way out of this.

The next season wakes us again.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Whither Print Now?

Like the restaurant industry recently discussed in this space
(see “Revision Of Dining Out”), the vast U.S. print industry
(books, newspapers, magazines, paper documents) was already
undergoing profound changes before the current global medical
emergency suddenly appeared.

In the case of the print industry, the cause was an epic and
sudden innovation of technology --- the internet. Enabled by
the microchip, the nation (and most of the world) has gone
online for much of its reading.

This transformation of reading venues is particularly true for
the younger American generations, many of whose members
were born after the internet age had begun.

Among the first industries to feel its impact was the newspaper.
Virtually all daily and weekly newspapers developed online
proprietary editions to go with print editions, but the latter
have been in steady decline. Some newspapers no longer have
print editions. Newspapers also have faced serious competition
for their principal source of revenue, advertising, from a myriad
of online services. With automation, newspaper employment,
both technical and journalistic, has been in steady decline, and
controversial recent political bias by many major urban daily
newspapers has, according to most polls, has shaken public
confidence in the industry, both print and online.

The magazine industry is more diverse with numerous special
interest publications doing better than some long-time larger
circulation periodicals which, like print newspapers, are seeing
fewer subscribers and less advertising. Most formerly successful
newsmagazines and political journals are being subsidized by
affluent owners. Otherwise, most could not survive. Exclusively
online magazines are reportedly experiencing less advertising, a
critical element in their long-term survival.

The book publishing industry has been struggling to adapt and
revive for years as print publishing costs have risen sharply.
The introduction of online e-books and print copy-on-demand
services has further undercut the ability of many established
book publishers to make a profit. But like the daily newspaper,
the obit for the printed book was premature. Whether the new
technologies, current emergency, and aging of readers who buy
printed books will combine to drastically change the industry is
yet unclear, but time and book reader habits do not appear to be
on the mass market printed book’s side.

Similarly, the use of printed documents of all kinds, from tax
returns, payments by check or cash, paper correspondence of
most types, and other general printing seems on the way  to
obsolescence --- replaced by electronic technology. This
long-term development seems intensified in the current
emergency during which so much is taking place and being
communicated online.

Other industries such as the cruise ship industry were growing
and booming before the emergency shutdown. Several new and
large cruise ships had recently been built. But the international
passenger sailing season has now been suspended, and its effect
is likely to be more severe than the impact of shutdowns in the
printing industry.

Ironically, the emergency shutdowns have given many Americans
of all ages who are “sheltered-in-place” suddenly a lot more time
to occupy themselves by reading. This includes reading not only
the news and sharing correspondence online, but also reading
and re-reading printed books already in existing personal

Like so much about this unprecedented crisis, predictions about
its lasting impact are now only guesswork.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020


The presidential race, every four years, understandably is the
focus of popular and media attention, but as we have been
reminded once more in the past two years, control of the U.S.
house and senate can be critical to the nation’s public business.

Republicans now control the U.S. senate, and have been able,
aided by procedural reforms, to confirm a record number of
young and conservative federal district and appellate judges 
nominated by President Trump. At the same time, the GOP
majority was able to block what it felt was a very partisan
impeachment of the president when it reached a senate trial.

Democrats now control the U.S. house, and have been able to
block Mr. Trump’s legislative agenda, hold up presidential
executive branch nominations, and conduct investigations
into the president’s activities. The latter led to a very rare
presidential impeachment by a partisan vote late last year.

Prior to the current and sudden health emergency, there
were many pundits, pollsters, party activists and consultants
predicting November outcomes. Conventional “wisdom”
among these was that President Trump would be re-elected,
the Democrats easily keep control of the U.S. house, and that
GOP control of the U.S. senate would narrowed close to a tie.

After the emergency, now presumably still in its early days,
any previous conventional wisdom about 2020 election
results would seem to be premature if not invalid.

Depending on the management of the crisis, its duration, its
severity and economic impact, significantly different
outcomes are reasonably possible, including the election of
Joe Biden as president and a Democratic sweep of Congress,
or a landslide win for Donald Trump accompanied by
Republican control of both the U.S. house and senate. A more
mixed result in a close election could also occur.

The original issues will likely remain, including who will get
to nominate and confirm any U.S. supreme court justices in
the next four years, immigration policy, foreign trade policy,
tax policy, domestic infrastructure renewal, and entitlement
reform. But how the current emergency will affect voters,
especially non-base voters, on these issues could be crucial.

It is important always to emphasize the importance of the
quality of the individual candidates in the competitive house
and senate races. Strong and appealing candidates,
incumbents or challengers, can and often do resist national
election trends or waves.

When all the 2020 nominees are chosen, especially challengers
to incumbents, a much better picture of the prospects of the
down ballot contests will come into view. Until then, there is
likely only debatable speculation.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Revision Of Dining Out

I was beginning to prepare an updated article on interesting
new local restaurants and new dining trends for this column
when the world, including the food world, suddenly changed.

Most of the new places on this list, and on my previous lists,
are now completely or partially closed. Alas, some of them
will likely not re-open. Dining out in the U.S. is  going to be

Exactly what this revision will be, of course, is not entirely
clear, and probably won’t be until after the national and global
health emergency is over --- and that is as yet undetermined.

Recent decades, beginning after World War II, had brought
about a food and dining renaissance to the U.S.  Previously,
fine dining was mostly available to the very affluent, and
ethnic dining was limited usually to small neighborhoods in
large urban areas where they had small numbers of
customers. Most Americans ate meals prepared at home.

During World War II, millions of American soldiers were
stationed throughout Europe, North Africa and the Pacific
where they encountered strange and delicious new cuisines.
Kitchen and food storage innovations at the same time
became available to millions of American households in the
post-war boom. A national food culture highlighted by
a few but simple dishes now exploded into a dynamic and
growing food hospitality industry . With more and more
women taking jobs, and growing families, inexpensive fast
food restaurant chains appeared and multiplied rapidly

With the appearance of television, and the boost from the
book and magazine publishing industries, a bounty of
cooking classes and recipes became available to whole
generations of U.S. women (and men) --- much of it
intensified and popularized by celebrity chefs and food

As U.S. middle class and working class families and
individuals became more affluent, American farmers
and other food providers responded with an increasing
quality and supply of meat, dairy, vegetable and fruit
products. Transportation innovation made importing
much more fresh food from abroad possible.

At the same time, labor and food costs were rising, and the
government sector increased restaurant regulations and
taxes, especially in urban areas, narrowing profit margins.
Even before the current emergency, restaurateurs across the
nation were changing their menus, formats and procedures
to meet  he new labor and customer demands. In some
urban locales, higher minimum wage requirements and
sales taxes were causing a number of restaurants to close
their doors

With state lockdown orders, most restaurants are now
closed and their employees laid off. Some restaurants and
coffeehouses (and liquor stores) remain open for delivery
or take-out only. Grocery stores and chains are open,
and also offer prepared, deli and other take-out foods and
meals on a daily basis. But most restaurants particularly
cannot operate like this this indefinitely. They have
employees, food suppliers and mortgage or other debts to

Many restaurateurs, especially those who are determined
to survive the current emergency, are already thinking past
the lockdowns. Some trends, such as reduced table service,
will likely accelerate. Other trends, such as increased space
between tables, heightened sanitary procedures, and reduced
hours and menus are also likely.

The restaurant industry is only one of many U.S. industries
which contribute so much to contemporary life, but it is also
one of the most vulnerable. Its development over the past
75 years has been astonishing, and now it will change again.
This time, I think, it will require a certain spirit of
partnership between management, employees and
customers if it is going to rebound in the post-emergency
food culture.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman.  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Let's Get Back To Work, But Carefully

The dilemma is when to get back to work while the pandemic is
sill spreading.

There are those who say right now to avert an economic collapse,
and those who say not for months even if it wrecks the economy.
However sincerely these positions are held, neither is workable.
The most effective solution would seem to be to wait until new
infections “flatten out” and are actually in decline --- although
exactly when is a risky judgment call. Every human life, young
and old, is priceless.

But whenever the decision is made to go back to work, and to
re-open the stores and restaurants, it will not be the same as
before. Social distancing will remain for a while, perhaps until
a vaccine is available. Sooner than scare headlines have
suggested, there will be a vaccine and effective medications and
treatments, but they will  still take some time. In short, for the
near future, even after self- or imposed quarantines are ended,
we will all still need to be very careful.

The decision of timing the resumption of “normal” work and
commerce is a critical one, and will precede any return to any
widespread social activity. Both will depend on location and
local conditions --- and could vary significantly from place to
place. Large meeting models and sport events attendance likely
will have to be rethought in the short term, as will foreign travel.

Most retail business models will likely undergo change. Among
those would be the restaurant and tourist industries, each of
which directly and indirectly employ significant numbers.
Their prompt recovery is vital, as are all the many other
industries which contribute so much to our way of life.

As Americans and members of the human family, much
challenge, ingenuity and very hard work are ahead of us, in
addition to our enduring the current emergency. We have come
back before --- after a punishing civil war, a Spanish flu pandemic,
two world wars, an economic depression, as well as many other
shared catastrophes.

It might not be what we expected to be doing in the years just
ahead, but it must be done, and we can do it.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 4, 2020


The phrase “voluntary quarantine” is technically a contradiction,
but we are now living through a period when the current health
emergency has already begun to change our language.

The 17th century origin of the word “quarantine” is the Italian
word for “forty days” --- a once traditional period of imposed
medical isolation. (Forty days and nights --- and years --- also
frequently appear as periods of human stress and trial in both
the Old and New Testaments.)

Today we have a modified version named “social distancing”
which isn’t really quarantine --- but is a radical change of
physical manners, that is, consciously expanding the space
between persons in public ,and abolishing all public physical
contact, including handshaking, hugging, embracing and kissing
on cheeks.

We now have a new labyrinth of solitude, to adapt the famous
phrase and book title of  philosopher/poet Octavio Paz. Imposed
solitude and its isolation represents a new and unfamiliar
experience for many young persons who have experienced a
continuum of family members, schoolmates and social friends
in most of their waking hours since they were born. On the other
hand, those same generations grew up and/or became adults in
the internet age and are accustomed to communicating online
and by cell phone. So these younger generations are already expert
in being “social” from a distance. Older generations are
increasingly challenged by imposed isolation because their social
experiences were mostly in-person with physical contact.

All generations face an unexpected dilemma --- what to do with
all the new waking time by themselves.

As I see it, this dilemma is also an opportunity ---an opportunity to
turn one’s attention to any number of matters  procrastinated or
ignored --- and an opportunity to expand personal interests both
physical and intellectual. Each of these opportunities has a payoff
not only in the present isolation, but after it’s over.

Of course, many now at home are sharing the time with others,
including parents, spouses, children, romantic partners, or friends.
This gives them daily social contact, but also risks the tensions of
overexposure. Ironically, those living alone have a potential
advantage --- the new imposed isolation is partly a variant by
degree of their traditional daily lives.

I realize the above is fairly obvious, and the personal need to
adapt and expand daily lives remains an individual’s choice.  The
duration of the imposed isolation defines the challenge. The longer
the duration the greater the challenge for societies and its members.

Like so many aspects of survival and endurance through a major
and shared crisis, attitude and character --- and not abstract
ideology --- are key to getting through it all. Widespread reports of
many helping and supplying the more vulnerable among us are an
early positive sign so far. Not all societies allow or encourage
self-motivated, personal and creative compassion, but where it
flourishes, the odds of getting through any long emergency are at
least improved.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reerved.