The Travel Price Game 

On the list of things that have caused me distress this year, deep distress, is travel pricing. Why does it sometimes cost more to fly from Providence, R.I. to Washington, D.C. than to Aberdeen, Scotland? Why can I, on good days — and I’ve just had a good day — get an airline fare with a good hotel in Washington for less than the cheapest Amtrak fare?

Come to that, why do we subsidize Amtrak for more than $1 billion a year when it plays the bait-and-switch fare game? Why is it so expensive to ride the slightly faster Acela trains in the fabled Northeast corridor? These seem to me — by overheard cell phone conversations — just to be geared for lawyers and wheeler-dealers going between Boston and New York and Washington and New York. Isn’t the idea of subsidized rail that it’s there for everyone?

The trains, in my experience (which is limited to Richmond to Boston these days), aren’t bad. Sure they aren’t traveling at the speeds of the crack trains in Europe, China and Japan, but they save one the misery of the airports.


New Publishing Giants

When A.J. Liebling said that freedom of the press meant freedom for those who owned the presses, he spoke in a time when there were nearly 2,000 daily newspapers in the United States. Today there are fewer, and they depend on more than presses to stay in business. They depend on the indulgence of Google, Facebook and Twitter.

Freedom of the press now depends on those few companies that own the algorithms on which all publishers depend to get a wider range of readers, even while making no money off them.

The newsboys and newsgirls of yesterday delivered the papers. That is all. The news deliverers of today control the whole publishing world. They can determine success or failure and, as we are seeing, have the power to censor.

William Horsley, a retired BBC correspondent who is involved with media studies at the University of Sheffield and is vice president of the Association of European Journalists, says the newsboys are now the publishers.

Quite simply, we now live in an era in which an algorithm buried somewhere in the secret depths of Google can do more to change what we know, think and say than any dictator has been able to achieve.

While the creators of Google, Facebook and Twitter probably didn’t dream of such power, such control, such hegemony, it has come to them.

The mind shudders with possibilities, each more disturbing than the previous, of what would happen if any of the internet giants fell into the hands of malicious owners or a dictator. Think of the damage if Steve Bannon, who presides over Breitbart, or some like ideologue, were at the helm of Google, Facebook or Twitter


Failing Upward

A professor at Brown University congratulates me on my life choices. He implies that my peripatetic journey through the world, clutching a press card, has been because of sound choices. To which I have to respond, “My life has been one of dumb luck and failure.”

Luck, I say, because it is what determines your being at the right place at the right time. Failure, I say, because it’s possible to fail upward: I have, often.

Had my career been on an even keel, I would have finished high school, maybe gone to university and then gotten stuck in one of the early jobs, making it my “career.” As it is, I dropped out of high school, went into journalism and failed a lot.

If I had kept any of those jobs I failed at, I might have had a duller life: a jobbing writer in Africa, a news writer at ITN in London, the creator of America’s first women’s liberation magazine (which failed to liberate any women, but liberated all my money) in New York, an assistant editor at The Washington Post, and a trade journal reporter at McGraw-Hill.

So, Mr. Professor, I recommend that you prepare students for the success of failing upward. Sometimes that goes for relationships and marriages. Do not bivouac too early on life’s open road.


The Things They Say

“And remember, where you have a concentration of power in a few hands, all too frequently men with the mentality of gangsters get control. History has proven that.” — Lord Acton (1834-1902)