Saturday, January 22, 2011


For only the second time in my life I now own my automobile. In 1964 my Father allowed me the privilege to buy outright a 1960 Ford Falcon with MY own hard earned cash money. Dad bought the car in Dallas and then sold it to me so I didn’t know the history of the vehicle. At any rate, that was the last time I owned my car. Ever since then starting with the 1966 Chevrolet Impala SS (Super Sport) I bought upon my graduation from Ole Miss, and then a 1968 Pontiac GTO (sweet!) before I graduated to Volvos, I have always traded up to another vehicle (before payoff) until the all-wheel drive 2004 Mitsubishi Endeavor XLS I now call my rolling home. It’s a good feeling and one that I shall probably ne’r repeat, if, indeed, I ever buy another car.

The Falcon was in need of an exterior redo though the engine and drive train were in good shape. The exterior was by then a dirty deteriorated white and in need of a new paint job. I found a company in Memphis who refurbished the car. Their efforts included a new superb paint job (straw yellow), new black tufted wool carpet throughout and a rolled and pleated black leather seat, rear deck and dash. It didn’t look bad and with bigger black wall tires (before its time) and big chrome moon caps, I was ready for campus.

The purchase of my own automobile meant that I finally was independent and at long last could experience some sense of freedom. Didn’t have to rely on other folks and I would never again have to take the Greyhound to the airport in Memphis and then on to Providence or Dallas or Atlanta. Aside from the requirement to occasionally replace the oil pump, the Falcon ran flawlessly.

That Falcon was a post WWII phenomenon and the epitome of a new automotive concept known as the compact car. The Falcon though fairly simplistic was among the first of that ilk with a lot of features not seen on its contemporaries. The engine was the now famous, Falcon Six, an overhead-valve inline six rated for 90 horsepower at 4,200 rpm, and with a single-barrel Holley carburetor my gas mileage was somewhere around thirty miles per gallon. I now affectionately remember the cost of gas in 1964, averaging around $.27 cents a gallon (though I do remember regularly paying $.25 at the Texaco in Oxford). That’s the equivalent of a tad over $2.00 a gallon now. Nice…

Like my Father the Falcon supremely rational, frugal, and practical. This wasn’t a chickmobile or T-Bird knock off as its developmental code name - XK Thunderbird – implied. Rather, it was boxy and uninspired though it accomplished all that my Father intended.

The Falcon was the brainchild of Robert McNamara, the Ford executive with a great penchant for systems and efficiency who became known as the, “Father of the Falcon”. McNamara was elevated to the presidency of Ford though he left shortly thereafter to become the Secretary of Defense in the new Kennedy administration (part of that Harvard connection). McNamara’s faith in the concept was ultimately vindicated with what were then record sales - over half a million in the first year and hitting over a million sold by the end of the second year – though those results were disappointing to some remaining Ford executives. McNamara’s ultimate successor and one time protégé was none other than Lee Iacocca who would go on to make his own mark in the automotive industry.

Unknown to many now and even to both Ford and Chrysler at that time was their coincidental intent to name their new compact cars Falcon. As it turns out Ford reserved the name with the Automobile Manufacturers Association registry only twenty minutes ahead of Chrysler, winning the right to the name. Chrysler ended up naming their new compact car the Plymouth Valiant. Rounding out the compact triumvirate that year was General Motors' ugly as hell, perceived Unsafe at Any Speed and VW Wannabe - Chevrolet Corvair with its radical air-cooled rear-mounted engine. The rest is history.

Well, my Falcon took me safely all over the country even to New York City for the Sigma Phi Epsilon 1965 National Conclave. That Falcon with its Mississippi license plate and Ole Miss decal on the rear window turned a few heads in the Empire State. We made quite a few Friends and even visited the Peppermint Lounge and did the Twist. That car served me well only to be thrown over and traded in for a newer, sportier model by an inconsiderate, callous jerk. Stupid move.

So, my Falcon was dependable, comfortable, looked OK and got great gas mileage. Harking back to my college days it allows me to think kinder and gentler thoughts. My Mitsubishi Endeavor is, “supremely rational, frugal, and practical” – sound familiar? I sure miss my Falcon. Like Father, like Son


Ned Buxton

Sunday, January 16, 2011


At first glance I’m not so sure that I know what my sign is any more or that I really care all that much. I will admit to once pursuing my daily horoscope over my morning coffee, but that was mostly amusement.

Born on May 24th I have long been identified with the twins Gemini, and all that malarkey (a masculine positive mutable air sign?) that has fed the imagination and coffers of the ancients and provided many an introduction and ice breaker for a seventies bar scene. No, I never did that or at least I don’t remember.

Speaking of that era some are surprised that I did have a John Travolta Disco-era inspired white suit that I thought of wearing to Big Daddy’s in Atlanta. It was right across the mall from the original High Country in Powers Ferry Landing. Saturday Night Fever aside, I never wore it because most of the other guys were wearing the same thing. They thought they were all different, but sadly they were all the same and I just didn’t fit that scene. I was embarrassed and realized I would rather be paddling a river or climbing a mountain.
God, I still love the Bee Gees…

Back to the Zodiac - I still have an antique astrological globe handed down for many generations that dates from the early 1800’s and is more curiosity than prized possession. I am absolutely intrigued with the globe and more so that one of my august ancestors may have paid tribute to astrology?

This week some folks are all abuzz about the revelation that most of us now have new Zodiac signs. Though I was, indeed, born under the twins, its goodbye Gemini, hello Taurus? Frankly, I like the idea of being a Taurus rather than Gemini just by the sound of it - the masculine tone that it denotes. Now in Texas you have that old Longhorn thing – the ultimate Taurus. TAURUS - exclamation point - Aye!

As a Gemini I have always been assured that I was imbued with certain traits and qualities including: the ability to communicate effectively, be an excellent conversationalist (I do love to talk), driven by curiosity and the desire to know and understand all issues and ultimately to think clearly (necessary ingredients for an HR person). I am in a nutshell – a free soul. Never mind that I am also tagged as being inconsistent, restless, easily bored, and unable to concentrate on any one thing for a prolonged period of time.
Some would agree with that…

Now as a Taurus (a feminine negative fixed earth sign?) they tell me I am: realistic, stable, loyal and possess dogged determination. Hmmm, thought I already had those traits though that feminine, negative thing worries me big time. The Taurus sign also represents art, beauty in all its forms and strength (OK), and that I am reliable and practical with a natural ability for business. Things are looking up… My fall to earth as a Taurus, however, also includes not so admirable traits including being possessive, resistant to change, being resentful and inflexible and manifesting a jealous, self-indulgent and greedy persona. Like Icarus, I just landed with a huge thump. This is not good

So why the change? Seems that even the Ancients knew that the Earth's position in relation to the sun was changing and would ultimately affect their zodiac. There are two main Zodiacs and basic approaches to Astrology – one Tropical (based on the seasons) that we mostly embrace in the west and Sidereal or Vedic astrology - with origins in the Hindu culture based on the constellations - that’s mostly followed in India and Asia.

Wikipedia does a better job than most in defining the differences of these two approaches and we encourage a visit to for further details.

“Vedic and Western astrology share a common ancestry as horoscopic systems of astrology, in that both traditions focus on the casting of an astrological chart or horoscope, a representation of celestial entities, for an event based on the position of the Sun, Moon, and planets at the moment of the event. However, Vedic astrology uses the sidereal or fixed or constellational zodiac, linking the signs of the zodiac to their original constellations, while Western astrology uses the tropical or seasonal zodiac.

Because of the precession of the equinoxes whose cycle is approximately 25,686 years long, during which the extensions of the polar axes describe circles, the twelve zodiacal signs in Western astrology no longer correspond to the same part of the sky as their original constellations, due to centuries of change. In effect, in Western astrology the link between sign and constellation was broken in approximately 222 AD, whereas in Vedic astrology the constellations remain of paramount importance.”

While there are other major differences between the two traditions the current controversy as recently reported by the Minnesota Star Tribune validates that over the millennia our moon's gravitational pull has slowly moved the Earth in its axis, creating about a one-month bump in the stars' alignment, hence the current controversy and the proposed changes.

Even though it probably doesn’t matter what space the constellations occupy, I guess I’ll stick with my Gemini legacy only because there appears to be more positives than negatives and Gemini does seem to fit me better. While I may be a self-fulfilling prophecy, I’m probably too old for major modifications in my belief systems noting the Taurus resistance to change. I will admit that I hope to embrace some of the more positive Taurean aspects even those which prompted me to write this post in the first place. Then, I am a little of both or maybe all the signs.

For all you others out there that don’t like your sign, I strongly recommend switching now before they come up with another astral plane or shift in the universe. In retrospect I do wonder if as a fully devout Taurus I would have worn that white disco suit?


Ned Buxton

Monday, January 10, 2011


A post or so ago as a once proud and totally manic supporter of Delta Airlines I pondered their absolute incompetence in properly handling the luggage of two Dallas Friends who dared check their two bags on a Delta (DAL) flight from London, Ontario and ultimately to Dallas (DFW) via Detroit and Atlanta. Actually, they had no choice and because of a “malfunction in the fire alarm system in the baggage hold” of that aircraft(?), no bags were allowed on that flight. It was a recipe for disaster. The saga continues.

When we last pressed the Internet flesh one of the two bags had been recovered and was delivered however early in the morning two days later to an alternate though favored Dallas location. The other bag was nowhere to be seen and not on Delta’s pathetic radar despite the fact that a Delta passenger from Louisville, KY traveling to and from some other venue had telephoned our Friend (and Delta) with the news that he had the bag. That bag was delivered by our Kentucky Angel to Delta at the Louisville International Airport and then just as mysteriously as it reappeared - dropped from sight.

Delta’s incompetence was further highlighted by the airlines attempt to duck further responsibility ostensibly because they had, after all, by their proud chest-thumping admission delivered two bags. It apparently wasn’t a factor that the two bags didn’t belong to them and that there were two other bagless and probably equally upset Delta customers. Efficiency expert and consumer advocate Clark Howard, also of Atlanta, has a name for it – Customer Disservice. By that time the bag had been given up for lost by its owner.

A sane, nameless though highly motivated and conscientious Delta employee, however, saw the madness in this farce and in an absolute angst as if searching for the Holy Grail started turning over the Delta baggage claim system and came up with some answers. The now and once again mistagged bag initially went from London to Detroit and then inexplicably (apparently the norm) delivered to Louisville where our Kentucky Colonel intervened. The bag apparently sat in a less than euphoric state for several days until Delta continued their mishandling by inexplicably sending the bag onto Memphis, Tennessee where it was sent on to (are you ready?) London, Ontario where it again sat and was not recognized until our Delta staffer intervened.

The bag was put on a plane once more for Detroit where it had to yet again pass through US Customs who without any problem identified the owner and in great comedy telephoned him to ask whether he had any tobacco products to declare? Though they knew he didn’t since they had to open the bag to retrieve his name and contact information, at least there was confirmation that the bag was in transit and hopefully on its way back to Dallas.

The bag ultimately arrived and was delivered to its owner. The Delta attendant apologized admitting that their system was terribly broken even pondering if it was retrievable (give her a medal).

Delta’s timing was impeccable making an announcement while our bag was arcing back and forth between Canada and the United States that they were increasing their fares and baggage handling fees. Ah capitalism, ah profitability - at what cost? This all on the backs of customers who in many cases do not have long haul choices.

We know that all the major airlines even including stellar performer Southwest have had problems handling baggage and the statistics point that out – in spades. While Delta improved slightly in 2009 and then again this last year they usually rank midway in the pack though at or near the bottom of the three majors. It would appear that Delta is starting to benefit from their merger with Northwest which was usually ranked among the best airlines for luggage handling. Delta even with that boost, however, hasn’t kept up with their competitors. It would seem that they need to put their new Northwest associates in charge of their baggage program and hopefully that’s the direction that Richard Anderson, current Delta and former Northwest CEO has chartered.
Believe it or not, I have confidence that he will…

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s monthly Air Travel Consumer Reports (which tracks baggage complaints and other pertinent performance metrics for domestic airlines) reflects that the overall number of travelers reporting mishandled luggage dropped this year. Even so, it remains a significant, unacceptable number.

While some folks might tend to congratulate the airlines for stepping up their game many more analysts are cautionary and aren’t giving any kudos to the airlines for the drop in complaints. Rather, they attribute the so called increased efficiencies to the distressed economy and the fact that there are fewer flying travelers and those folks are choosing to carry on their luggage, thus avoiding the continuing, escalating (even as we speak) fees that all but one of the carriers now require for checking bags. Bottom line: most airlines do a poor job and this time it was Delta’s turn at the point.

The mouthpiece for the airlines, the Air Transport Association (ATA), following the old mantra, when attacked – deflect, puts all the blame on the US air traffic control system (ATC) for baggage problems. If we are to believe the ATA the inefficiencies in the ATC spawns the delays causing flights to miss their connections and the resultant lost baggage. While we will concede that this is surely part of the current air transportation environment, other seemingly more responsible and savvy parties say the airlines’ antiquated baggage handling facilities and procedures, overwhelmed and undertrained baggage handlers who misroute luggage coupled with poor morale and lousy work attitudes are at the core of the problem. Would that all the airlines bought into their customer-care responsibilities as espoused by one airline, “We all knew we had to run an extremely efficient airline in order to retain loyal passengers.”

Of course the great irony here is that many airlines given the opportunity to forge positive business relationships are woefully losing the PR and customer service battle and ultimately alienating present and potential customers with their insane policies (some exceptions – Southwest and Alaska Airlines). Since we are now mostly paying for our baggage service (exception–Southwest) you would think that failing to provide that service might prompt a refund? Sorry, that’s not an option. So now you have angry consumers who feel that there is no accountability and are not likely to put themselves in that position again.

For many Delta Airlines has become the current poster boy and symbol of incompetence, ineptitude and seeming indifference to their customers. Truth be said, they are not alone and this does not bode well for the industry that is mostly just going through the motions. The tip of the iceberg is when you have executives earning exorbitant salaries in the multi-millions of dollars even in unprofitable or marginal ventures attempting to manage long term line employees who are faced with minimal salaries without cost of living increases, reductions in wages and dwindling benefits. This is a recipe for disaster and we feel given the adversarial relationships that many airlines have with their employees is a continuing part of the problem though we note that Delta has remained mostly union-free over the years. It would be nice to see fellow Texan Richard Anderson, Delta CEO to be Undercover Boss for a week, say in his baggage handling area.

Not without surprise Delta after a twenty year commitment ceased all service to and from London, Ontario, Canada as of January 4, 2011 no doubt as response to this poor service - OK and perhaps profitability. Ah, light at the end of the tunnel.
Now where did I park that horse and buggy…


Ned Buxton

Thursday, January 6, 2011


When I started to travel regularly to Canada in the 1970’s and 80’s I discovered a great Country and People and all those impressive and unique elements that make Canada, Canada. My then employer Equifax had a partnership with AT&T and Bell Canada and I was charged with the development and administration of a training program called Phone Power (PP). PP was an English/French training curriculum that was loosely based on the old Xerox Learning Systems Professional Selling Skills (PSS) training program. It was designed to allow Equifax employees to maximize their ability to engage and gather pertinent, relevant business information from consumers via telephone (if we only knew then the technology that would be ultimately available). We administered this very successful program throughout the United States and eastern Canada from Ottawa to the Maritimes.

Hockey as well as my activities within the American and Canadian Scottish Communities accounted for much of my other travel mostly including trips to Toronto, Ontario and Halifax, Nova Scotia. I also made a few trips into Quebec mostly Montreal with some detours to the Laurentians and that area around and including Mont Tremblant. I made Friends with the Dubois Family who operated the always superb and hospitable Villa Bellevue for seventy nine years until 1991. Point is I traveled to Canada with some regularity during that period.

There are a lot of great aspects to this country and probably the least of which is Nestle Smarties. That revelation alone might put Canada in the upper echelon of the world community - if not at the top. Last year Might of Right did a couple of posts about Canada with one acidic, foaming-at-the-mouth Canadian respondent who obviously and fervently felt that anything worthwhile in the history of Man was invented by a Canadian - declared in most unflattering terms that I didn’t even know what Smarties were – obviously from his perspective an attempt at what he perceived as the ultimate and most visceral, disgraceful backhanded insult he could offer. Indeed, even in the 1970’s I already had a wonderfully intimate relationship with this confection and hope to do so for the rest of my days, of course, all within the limits of my diet (Nestle also owns Jenny Craig). Canadian Smarties, then, are mostly the focus of this post.

We Americans cannot easily purchase Nestle Smarties (except by a specialist importer like The Sweet Life of New York City or on E-Bay) in any of our 50 states as they are unique to Canada (location of their largest manufacturing facility), the United Kingdom, South Africa, Austria, France, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Germany where another large manufacturing facility is located in Hamburg. Smarties remain popular in other European countries.

Caution: There is another Smarties candy manufactured and marketed since 1949 in the United States by Ce De Candy. They also manufacture this product in Canada where it is marketed as Rockets. US Smarties bear no resemblance to Canadian Smarties. The US version is an artificially fruit flavored tablet (some sour versions exist) that I mostly see around Halloween as it’s cheap, well packaged and easy to distribute. If we are to believe recent stories in the US media it appears that a few always industrious though obsessed American kids have figured out a way to snort or “smoke” the candy though most just simulate smoking a cigarette mimicking a smoker's exhale.

Maybe there isn’t even a risk of a sugar high though some physicians are now concerned that this may be a harbinger to trying tobacco cigarettes or at the very least increased risk for lung infections. In response to this abuse some US middle schools have now banned the candy. You Tube has removed some “how to” videos created by kids for kids but many more remain at that site (I’ve seen them). This all appears to be a really, really stupid fad. Nuff said.

Well, all that falderal can’t happen with our Canadian Smarties. They are thick, crisp, sugar coated flavorful creamy milk chocolate nuggets that really have no equal. Main competitor M&Ms (I like them too!) were developed in the United States in 1941 as a cheap alternative to Smarties. Despite the onslaught Smarties remain a far superior confection. Smarties appear slightly larger and definitely have a much thicker candy shell that gives more texture and “crunch”, a distinctly pleasant flavor and are not prone to melting like M&Ms do in our hot Texas sun. Well, not as badly…

Smarties or a reasonable facsimile of the candy have been manufactured far longer, since 1882, originally by H.I Rowntree & Co in York, England (later Rowntree Mackintosh - Aye!) as “Chocolate Beans” though changed the name to Smarties Chocolate Beans in 1937 and further shortened to Smarties in 1977. In 1988 Nestle acquired Rowntree Mackintosh and five years later changed the name of these candies to Nestle Smarties. Smarties continue to grow in popularity and appear to be headed towards a total global success.

Smarties come in eight colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink and brown. Most popular colors include blue and orange while red is also near the top and featured in the Smarties jingle. Red has proved invaluable over the years especially as a source of lip coloring for young Canadian girls too scared or intimidated to buy lipstick. While many styles and sizes have come and gone over the years the standard Smartie (ordinaire) remains consistent and without peer. I remember to my great surprise my first orange-colored Smartie which was filled with orange-flavored milk chocolate (an apparent runaway from the UK version). By the way, for all you naysayers the purple Smartie is now colored with red cabbage, not a dye derived from a crushed female bug…

The 1970s through the mid-1990s saw a popular and now iconic jingle/rhyme as follows,

"When you eat your Smarties, do you eat the red ones last?
Do you suck them very slowly, or crunch them very fast?
Eat those candy-coated chocolates, but tell me when I ask,
When you eat your Smarties, do you eat the red ones last?"

There are several other similar, popular versions of this jingle with many Canadians knowing the rhymes by heart. Good Canadian Friends celebrating my superb 2010 Christmas gift of a Smarties counter top display that contained 48 boxes of this glorious product prompted them to break out in song singing the jingle to the tune of Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor on The Bedpost Over Night? Most young people remember Everyday People as their song of choice… and that surely seems to be whose consuming these candies - folks like you and I. Thank you – Andy, Andrea and Harper for your very generous and thoughtful Christmas gift.

I found it refreshing and an incredibly intelligent marketing decision when in 1997 London, England publishers Bloomsbury in an attempt to reach as many people as possible slipped scrolls of chapters of a little known Scottish writers first book Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone into tubes of Smarties. Now everybody knows JK Rowling and the Harry Potter novels. It was a good start… Indeed, Philosopher’s Stone won the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize gold medal in the 9 to 11 year-olds category. Most folks in the publishing industry agree that the Smarties award, which is voted for by children, allowed for the novel’s and the movie series meteoric rise.

Irish actor Colin Farrell has fond memories of Smarties, admitting in a recent interview that his first big romantic crush was on the already long departed Marilyn Monroe. To that end a prepubescent Farrell would leave some of his precious Smarties under his pillow along with a note inviting Marilyn to come down from Heaven to share them and, presumably, his bed with him. Better than a carrot on a stick. Wish I‘d thought of that

Smarties remain my candy and indulgence of choice and that of Friend Peter Goodspeed with whom I will surely gift several more boxes. Now for that all important question, “Do I save the red ones for last?” Absolutely not as I generally consume all without prejudice or favoritism though I do often celebrate the May 2010 return of the blue Smarties (though only introduced in 1988 and pulled in 2006) noting that I never suffered from any rashes or untoward symptoms from the supposedly toxic original brilliant blues.

I do reject the premise that the blue Smartie is a, “Canadian National Defense Agency device to prevent the invasion of Americans, monkeys, and pregnant women.” It hasn’t stopped me as Smarties remain another good reason to return to Canada whenever possible and, at least, an excuse to replenish the stash of my favorite candy which I will gladly and willingly accept in box, tube (round or hex, lid or not) or bag.

I have forty-one boxes of Smarties left…


Ned Buxton