Sunday, 31 January 2010
Saturday, 30 January 2010
Dr. Ron Paul: The Government Wants Inflation, calls proposed spending freeze “just talk” that won’t happen -
Fox News (or Faux News?) - Breaking News: The Entire Earth is going to be burnt to a Crisp in 2012 -
Friday, 29 January 2010
Dirtiest Hotels - United States
- 1.Heritage Marina Hotel, San Francisco, California
- 2.Days Inn Eureka/Six Flags, Eureka, Missouri
- 3.Tropicana Resort Hotel, Virginia Beach, Virginia
- 4.Super 8 Virginia Beach/At the Ocean, Virginia Beach, Virginia
- 5.Quality Inn, Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania
- 6.New York Inn, New York City, New York
- 7.Parisian Hotel & Suites, Miami Beach, Florida
- 8.Capistrano Seaside Inn, Capistrano Beach, California
- 9.Desert Lodge, Palm Springs, California
- 10.Continental Oceanfront Hotel South Beach, Miami Beach, Florida
By the time Debbiie White spotted some uninvited guests of the insect kind in her hotel room, she had already had enough.
Earlier, the Sunnyvale, California, resident had found a dirty wash rag in the bathroom and a takeout container with old food in the microwave.
The room was filthy and the sheets creeped her out, White said, so she, her husband and their 10-year old niece slept on their own blankets.
But it was the bugs that pushed her over the edge.
"When we saw the cockroaches and I killed two of them, that was it. We were gone," White, 51, said of her stay at the Heritage Marina Hotel in San Francisco, California, over the New Year's holiday.
The travel review Web site TripAdvisor.com last week released its fifth annual list of what it calls the country's top 10 dirtiest hotels, with the Heritage Marina grabbing the unenviable top spot.
The hotel -- whose Web site bills it as "one of San Francisco's best values" -- has 320 reviews on TripAdvisor.com, with half rating it as "terrible." Eighty percent of TripAdvisor travelers who reviewed it did not recommend it.
The hotel's general manager said the rankings were based on "subjective, irate, anonymous postings" that did not reflect the true condition of the hotel nor the opinions of the thousands of guests who have stayed there. Any maintenance issues for the hotel from 2009 have been addressed, said Dan Brannan in a written statement, and a detailed renovation will continue through 2010.
TripAdvisor's list is based on reviews posted on the Web site by travelers, who are asked to rate a hotel's cleanliness on a scale of one to five whenever they evaluate a property. TripAdvisor then takes data submitted from January to December and sorts it using the cleanliness category to come up with the rankings for the year.
The Web site makes sure the list is based on a wide array of reviews, said Amelie Hurst, a TripAdvisor spokeswoman, but she declined to specify the minimum amount required for a hotel to be considered in the rankings, calling it internal company information.
"Regardless of a hotel's room rate or location, all guests have the right to expect good levels of cleanliness," Hurst said.
"It continues to amaze me that some properties in the USA fall short, given that as a country, we're world-renowned for offering great customer service."
Why they stay afloat
It is indeed hard to believe that in the age of extensive online ratings and reviews, dirty hotels still exist and manage to stay in business.
Sometimes they're in a convenient location, like an interstate exit, which brings in lots of customers and allows the hotel to thrive without repeat business.
Still others offer what some travelers care about the most: Rock bottom prices.
"People are looking for the cheapest room rate, so if a hotel offers an inexpensive rate then customers are willing to overlook almost anything," said Chris Elliott, a travel columnist and National Geographic Traveler magazine's reader advocate.
"I don't think anyone gets into the hotel business and says, 'I'm going to run a fleabag motel.' They do it because there's money to be made."
Max Hartshorne said his girlfriend will never let him forget the time he booked a hotel room in Los Angeles, California, based on the low price.
The couple, from South Deerfield, Massachusetts, were on their way to New Zealand and just needed a room for the night. Hartshorne, the editor of the travel Web site GoNomad.com, said he had a bad feeling when the hotel shuttle that was to pick them up from the airport turned out to be a dented, decrepit van. The hotel itself was a dump in a seedy neighborhood, Hartshorne said.
"It was dirty, it was a bummer and it was the classic thing where the woman is telling the man not to do something and the man thinks it's the cheapest," he added. The couple ended up scrambling to find another place to stay.
Few firm rules for hotels
Travelers may be surprised that it's up to each hotel to decide how it handles many cleanliness matters.
Hotels are subject to certain sanitation regulations, but there are no laws governing issues such as how often bed sheets have to be changed, the toilet scrubbed or the rug vacuumed in a hotel room, said Joe McInerney, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association. Big brand hotels, however, do set some rules for their franchisees.
"All the major chains have standards and specifications for their properties," McInerney said. "As an industry, we don't set standards ... but we provide a lot of educational materials."
There are 44,000 hotels with 50 rooms or more in the United States and some will not be clean, he said. The TripAdvisor list makes him cringe because it reflects badly on the industry, but his organization has no "hammer" to punish the offenders, McInerney said.
The state of hotel cleanliness has gotten a lot of attention in recent years, especially after high-profile media investigations that used black lights in various hotel rooms to reveal traces of urine and semen on items like bedspreads.
Many hotels have responded to those concerns by moving away from bedspreads to duvets, which they can better launder, said Daniel Mount, associate professor of hospitality management at Pennsylvania State University. Some hotels have even tried to reassure guests by declaring themselves "black-light clean."
"It's creepy if you imagine the possibilities, but if you experience the realities, the reality is that the large majority of hotels do a good job," Mount said.
Still, he recently had his own bad experience at a hotel. While pulling back the duvet on his bed, he found a 2-inch stain on the sheet. There may not be standards covering such issues, but a properly trained staff should have pulled the sheet from service, Mount said.
Check it out before you check in
Spotting and avoiding dirty hotels takes a little research and action. Don't be blinded by a hotel's low room rate, experts said, and be sure to read the property's reviews on several Web sites, like TripAdvisor, Travelocity and Yelp, to get an idea of what you can expect.
"It is a much more sophisticated marketplace out there for consumers," Mount said. "You've got to read the reviews. It's a great tool now, where 10 years ago you had nothing. You'd show up and it's like, 'Oh my God, the place is a dump.' "
Organizations like the AAA have their own hotel rating systems, which can be helpful. Elliott also advised checking the word of mouth on a hotel, asking friends who have stayed there about their opinion, for example.
If you can't research ahead of time and stop to stay at an unknown hotel, be sure to check out your room first before committing to stay for the night, McInerney said.
Wednesday, 27 January 2010
Pope John Paul II used to beat himself with a belt and sleep naked on the floor to bring himself closer to Christ -
Faulty gas pedal, at the centre of Toyota’s massive recall of 2.3M vehicles - manufactured at a plant in Ontario -
A faulty gas pedal, manufactured at a plant in Ontario, is at the centre of Toyota’s massive recall of eight models and some 2.3 million vehicles.
Toyota's suspension of U.S. sales on an unprecedented scale to fix faulty gas pedals deals a blow to the automaker's reputation for quality and endangers its fledgling earnings recovery.
The suspect parts are made by a Canadian subsidiary of U.S. supplier, but they are also found in its European-made vehicles, an official with the automaker said Wednesday. Toyota said it hasn't decided what to do there.
The problem part is manufactured at a plant in Ontario by supplier CTS Corp., based in Elkhart, Ind., according to a report Toyota handed to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last week.
CTS has not replied to a request for comment sent earlier this week.
Japan's Toyota Motor Corp. announced late Tuesday it would halt sales of some of its top-selling models to fix gas pedals that could stick and cause unintended acceleration. Last week, Toyota issued a recall for the same eight models affecting 2.3 million vehicles.
Toyota is also suspending production at six North American car-assembly plants, including two in Canada, beginning the week of Feb. 1. It gave no date on when production could restart. The Japanese automaker produces the Corolla and Matrix at its plant in Cambridge, Ont., and the RAV4 at its plant in Woodstock, Ont. The company employs about 5,900 people at the two Canadian plants.
The timing could not be worse for Toyota. Two years ago, the company beat out General Motors Co. to become the world's largest automaker. Now just weeks into 2010, it is stopping some sales in its biggest market, the U.S., at a time when it desperately needs to sell cars here after reporting its first-ever annual loss last year.
The sales and production halt involves several best-selling U.S. models, including the Camry and Corolla sedans and the RAV 4 crossover, a blend of an SUV and a car. RAV 4's sales surged last month.
In addition, the problem could spread to Europe, where a similar accelerator part is being used, said Toyota spokeswoman Ririko Takeuchi. She declined to give the number of vehicles affected. The company was studying possible responses there, including a recall, she said.
"For Europe, the number and models potentially concerned are under evaluation," said Philippe Boursereau, spokesman for Toyota France.
Toyota's report says it first received reports in March 2007, of gas pedals being slow to come back in the Tundra pickup, and fixed the problem in February 2008.
Starting in December 2008, similar problems were reported in Europe with the Aygo and Yaris models. Toyota said it lengthened a part and changed the material to fix the problem, starting in August 2009.
The latest problem emerged in North America, culminating in the decision for the recall earlier this month, Toyota said in the report.
John Wolkonowicz , a longtime auto analyst with IHS-Global Insight, said Toyota is fortunate in that it has a loyal customer base — primarily baby boomers who have been buying Toyotas for decades. That, he said, will help minimize the sales impact in the short term.
"But it will further impede their ability to get the younger buyers that they so dearly want to get into the Toyota fold," Wolconowicz said.
Toyota has said it was unaware of any accidents or injuries due to the pedal problems associated with the recall, but could not rule them out for sure.
The sales halt calls into question the aggressive growth strategy pursued under former President Katsuaki Watanabe, a cost-cutting expert, who led the Japanese automaker to the No. 1 spot in global vehicle sales in 2008, analysts say.
Hitting that milestone coincided with a 437 billion yen ($4.86 billion) loss during its last fiscal year, marking the worst performance in the company's 72-year history.
The automaker said the U.S. sales suspension includes the following models: the 2009-2010 RAV4, the 2009-2010 Corolla, the 2007-2010 Camry, the 2009-2010 Matrix hatchback, the 2005-2010 Avalon large sedan, the 2010 Highlander crossover, the 2007-2010 Tundra pickup and the 2008-2010 Sequoia large SUV.
"This action is necessary until a remedy is finalized," said Bob Carter, Toyota's group vice-president and general manager.
Toyota spokesman Mike Goss said most workers were expected to be at their jobs during the assembly line shutdown. Workers will receive additional training or work on improvements to their assembly processes. They can also take vacation or unpaid leave, he said.
About 300 workers who build V8 engines at a Toyota plant in Huntsville, Ala., will be affected, said Stephanie Deemer, a spokeswoman for the plant. Goss said the shutdowns will also affect engine plants in Georgetown, Ky., and Buffalo, W.Va.
Toyota dealers said they were concerned the move would hamper sales. They hoped parts to fix the problem could be distributed quickly.
John McEleney, who owns a Clinton, Iowa, Toyota dealership, said the sales stoppage affects about 60 per cent of the inventory on his lot. He said he was hopeful Toyota would come up with a fix soon — especially because the longer a vehicle stays on a dealer lot, the more money a dealer pays in interest fees.
"Short term, it's going to be difficult," he said. "It will certainly set us back, but I think the impact will be very short lived."
Mamoru Katou, analyst at Tokai Tokyo Research, said Toyota was likely reorganizing production plans, such as switching suppliers, and shipping in parts from Japan.
"The problem is extremely serious," said Katou. "The models are precisely those Toyota had been preparing to sell in big numbers."
Toyota expects to sell 2.19 million vehicles in North America in 2010, up 11 per cent from 2009, according to sales targets released Tuesday. Globally, Toyota said it was planning sales of 8.27 million vehicles this year, up 6 per cent from 2009.
But those numbers have not figured in the U.S. sales stoppage, Takeuchi said.
The automaker's problems in the U.S. may be an extension of the spate of quality problems that plagued Toyota several years ago in Japan, its home market, during the aggressive growth strategy pursued under Watanabe.
In 2006, the Japanese government launched a criminal investigation into accidents suspected of being linked to vehicle problems, though nobody was charged. Watanabe later acknowledged overzealous growth was behind the quality problems.
Watanabe was replaced last year by Akio Toyoda, the grandson of Toyota's founder.
Tuesday's announcement follows a larger U.S. recall months earlier of 4.2 million vehicles because of problems with gas pedals becoming trapped under floor mats, causing sudden acceleration. That problem was the cause of several crashes, including some fatalities.
About 1.7 million vehicles fall under both recalls.
The auto company said the sales suspension wouldn't affect Lexus or Scion vehicles. Toyota said the Prius, Tacoma, Sienna, Venza, Solara, Yaris, 4Runner, FJ Cruiser, Land Cruiser and select Camry models, including all Camry hybrids, would remain for sale. Those vehicles contain gas pedals produced by a different North American supplier from the one whose parts are involved in the current sales halt, Toyota has said.
Toyota sold more than 34,000 Camrys in December, making the midsize sedan America's best-selling car. It commands 3.4 per cent of the U.S. market and sales rose 38 per cent from a year earlier. Sales of the Corolla and Matrix, a small sedan and a hatchback, totalled 34,220 last month, with 3.3 per cent of the market and sales up nearly 55 per cent from December of 2008.