Monday, April 30, 2007


Well, it's all the American pilots' fault, as they keep insisting in Brazil. It must be, it just must!

[The photo, by the way, is from the Kansas State Historical Society and, except for its use of the terms "aerial insanity" and "dip of death-spiral dive-steep banking," has nothing to do with the case in Brazil.]

So far, though, evidence that is not in dispute shows that the Sept. 29 accident was caused by a series of misfunctions, malfunctions, screw-ups and maybe outright malfeasances at and by air traffic control, on the ground -- abetted in small part by a transponder that malfunctioned for some reason on the Legacy.

For 55 minutes before the crash, Brazilian air traffic control overlooked the fact that the Legacy transponder wasn't signaling. It is, as I have said here before, part of their job to notice such fairly important things.

Meanwhile, as the Brazilian authorities nervously await the reaction from the 134-page report on the cause of the accident submitted to the Federal Police by ExcelAire, the Long Island charter company that owned and operated the Legacy, Brazil's largest newspaper, Folha de S. Paulo, timidly broaches the subject of whether just maybe the Air Force will have a look at training Brazil's air traffic controllers better -- not that they were in any way at fault, mind you.

Also, you real buffs on this saga will enjoy the section below ("Altitude Error") in which it is again mentioned that "large oscillations in altitude" by the Legacy preceded the collision. In fact, the large oscillations recorded on the busted-valise of air-traffic control technology in Brasilia were figments of the radar system's crazed technological imagination, not actual depictions of altitude changes being made by the Legacy, which flew steadily at 37,000 feet under prior ATC orders.

Remember, the oscillations were seized upon by the Defense Minister Wonderful Waldir Pires and others to charge that the Legacy pilots were doing performing illegal stunt maneuvers over the Amazon at the time of the collision to show off the plane?

Turns out "in reality," as Folha now says and as everyone in world aviation has known practically since day one, and as I have been reporting since October, the oscillations were caused by a technical failure in the radar. Back in early October, I mentioned well-known faults in Brazil's radar system that every international pilot is aware of. Wonderful Waldir practically had a stroke rushing to denounce this calumny.

The tone coming from Brazil now seems so say, well, we'll get around to looking at maybe making some corrections in this broken system .. manana, or should that be amanha in Portuguese?

Meanwhile, I'll be posting the full 22,000-word ExcelAire report, in English, properly translated by our Sao Paulo bureau chief Mr. Pedicini ... manana.

Here's Folha's blurb on Page One to an inside story:

"Seven months after worst airplane disaster, Air Force still has not implemented security measures

The Brazilian government has still not implemented safety measures that should correct flaws in the air traffic control system, seven months after the country's worst airplane accident, in which 154 people died.

One of the principal initiatives waiting for implantation is the change in the software that "translates" the radar data into screen information. According to the FAB, it could have confused the controller.

The controllers should also have been trained in flight clearances (authorizations), hand offs to to other centers and procedures for communications losses. No classes have taken place.

The Air Force says that it is studying alterations in the control software and that the controllers' training should only change after the accident investigation.

Of the announced measures, the only ones that have been taken are the changes in the manual, and English classes. Page C1

And from C1:

Folha de São Paulo

FAB analyzes changes in air traffic control

other side


Questioned by the Folha about the implementation of changes in air traffic control software because of the preliminary results of the investigation into the Flight 1907 accident, the Air Force Command informed that there is a "list of suggestions" under analysis and still not approved. On the training of controllers, it said that suggestions will be adopted only after the conclusion of the Air Force investigation.

Without citing the recommendation to add an audio or visual alert, on the screen, in case of the loss of a plane's transponder signal, the FAB affirmed only that software changes may be contracted in the future, but did not say when.

"These suggestions are in analysis at Decea [Department of Air Space Control] so that, if they are approved and after the necessary details are determined, they can be included in the next version of the software to be contracted to be applied in future modernizations", said the FAB's official note, signed by brigadier Antonio Carlos Bermudez. No forecast was made about possible training for controller, nor the topics to be covered.

"After the conclusion of the accident investigations, if there is any recommendation relative to controller training, Decea will promptly adopt it, always with the greater objective of increased safety in air activities", the text said.

The FAB did not respond to the questions about the updating and application of rules about loss of communication with aircraft on the part of air traffic control. It said that, in this case, it it up to the pilot to activate the emergency code on the onboard equipment and follow the flight plan.

The FAB also said that Cenipa and Decea "are unaware of" the preliminary suggestions of the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board), which officially participated in the aeronautic investigation in conjunction with Brazilian authorities. "It is worth emphasizing that all the suggestions of a preventative nature are opportune and will be evaluated", the note said. (LS)

Radar image showed transponder failure

Brasilia Bureau

On the day of the accident, the Legacy's transponder became inoperative after passing Brasilia and impeded the triggering of the anti-collision system and left air traffic control without an altitude reading.

Instead of warning of this, the data on the controller's screen were automatically exchanged for imprecise altitude information, calculated by the primary radar - which doesn't use data sent by the aircraft.

In the Legacy's case, the controller received information which varied from 33,700 feet to 38,300 feet, without the jet having left 37,000 feet, as shown by radar images obtained by the Folha.

The controller had presumed that the flight plan was being observed because this information was also automatically updated on the screen. According to the NTSB, this should be revised. For them, this cannot happen without the "clearance" (confirmation or authorization) of the controller who is monitoring the flight.

Series of images shows failures in air traffic control system

First picture shows radar shot with "370=370 ", may be Figure 5. Graphic has overlay identifying it as "29 Sep 2006 - 18:51:33" Note that "Sep"is English, not Portuguese. To right, badly done map - Legacy doesn't pass through Brasilia and Legacy's planned flight from accident site is "to USA", not to Manaus.

  • Radar Functioning Without Problems
  • Before arriving in Brasilia, the radar read the Legacy correctly.
  • The cross sign with a circle around it indicates the position and the radar coverage
N600XL Legacy
370=370 Height reading and altitude programmed in flight plan
46 S077W Heading

Loss of coverage
  • Image shows exact moment of loss of Legacy by secondary radar, at 19:02 (16:02).
  • There is no longer a circle around the target
  • Altitude reading is imprecise, modified with a "Z"
  • N600XL Legacy
    46 S077W Speed and Heading
Altitude Error

  • At this point, the large oscillations in altitude begin. In little more than 10 minutes, at least three different altitudes were registered before the moment of the accident.
  • Legacy continues without transponder and primary radar makes incorrect altitude reading of 33,700 feet. In reality, the plane was at 37,000 feet.
N600XL Legacy
46 S077W Speed and Heading "



The dismal, embarrassing annual ass-kissing fest known as the White House Correspondents Dinner has taken a major kick in the kiester. I think the mob might soon be marching on Versailles, and we know how that eventually worked out for the bewigged and perfumed courtiers. (See post, 4/23).


Saturday, April 28, 2007


Brazilian authorities will conclude their so-called "investigations" into the Sept. 29 mid-air disaster much sooner than they'd planned, in a political move to head off what will be a very hard-hitting documentary to be aired next month on the Discovery Channel Brazil, laying out step by step how this disaster occurred.

The documentary will come on the heels of the wide release of a stunning 134-page recent report by ExcelAire's lawyers in Brazil to the Federal Police. That report -- which absolves the two American pilots of blame -- lays out in minute detail what happened each step of the way, and also documents problems such as avionics equipment in the Legacy that had previously been repaired. ExcelAire says it was never informed that this equipment -- including a component where the transponder was installed -- was not new and had been repaired because of earlier problems.

(On the matter of civil litigation, please see this from -- but also note the reader comments, which appear to reflect what Brazilian authorities fear most: a possible political backlash over the blatant seven-month-long attempt to scapegoat the American pilots for what was in fact a series of terrible air-traffic control errors on the ground and likely technical failures of both in-flight and on-ground equipment.)

Our Sao Paulo bureau chief Richard Pedicini has painstakingly translated the full 22,000-word ExcelAire report into English (it was submitted in Portuguese) and I'll be posting key parts in coming days.

This is important to note: None of the facts in this report regarding the minute-by-minute account of what happened on the ground and in the air on Sept. 29, 2006, are in dispute, to my knowledge. When discussing this tragedy, the Brazilian authorities have been adamant in not addressing the known facts. Instead, they repeat over and over that the American pilots were at fault, pointing vaguely to the transponder issue.

I am told that authorities of the Brazilian Air Force -- which runs both civilian and military air traffic control --and the Federal Police are increasingly desperate to find some way to quickly get back on the offensive, as reality rudely barges in on their little tea party.

Stay tuned.


Friday, April 27, 2007


Leave it to Matt ("No Original Reporting") Drudge to go all fluttery linking to this monster scandal , via the deadly combination of the AP and Newsday. It seems participants in the Democratic debate in South Carolina yesterday flew from Washington on chartered private jets!

Now the last time I flew on a private jet I was a hitchhiker, and that trip ended abruptly and tragically with a mid-air collision at 37,000 feet over the Amazon.

But I've written a lot, before that event and after, about the rapidly growing field of business aviation, including charter jets. I myself fly coach unless my steadily declining elite-status scores me an occasional and damned infrequent upgrade to first class. But I have a pretty good understanding of why it on occasion makes perfectly good sense for some people to fly a private jet, including a charter.

For one thing, a growing number of small and even mid-sized cities don't have commercial air service, or if they do, it's very limited. So for most business travelers, even the most simple of trips -- let's say Washington D.C. to Orangeburg, S.C., where the debate was -- require staying overnight. And increasingly, the only way to get from Point A to Point B by commercial airline, especially if Point b is a lower-case destination, is by connecting through Point C and maybe even Point D.

There is a private airport in Orangeburg, S.C. for business aircraft.

But the nearest airport with commercial-airline service is in Columbia, S.C., 40 miles away. And most of the commercial flights from Washington to Columbia require a connection -- Detroit, Chicago, Charlotte, and Atlanta are among them.

Anyone who travels on business a lot knows that a simple little trip, say the 430 miles from Washington to a small town in South Carolina, can eat up most of two days -- coming and going -- on a commercial airline.

On, which gives you most airline fare data, commercial coach fares for that trip range from $772 to $1,549. The first-class fare is roughly $1,750 on the few flights that use planes on that route that aren't cramped regional jets with all-coach seating.

The AP report -- which stumbles all over the field and gets hopelessly lost in the thicket of Part 121 and Part 135 F.A.A. flight certifications, like a British gardening writer trying to explain the Infield Fly Rule -- says a round-trip charter flight for that route on a typical six-seat business jet costs between $7,500 and $9,000.

I don't know where they got those figures, but I do know $7,500 is about what it would cost for a Lear 60 mid-size jet charter, with a quality charter company, on a one-day trip of this sort. The flight would take about an hour each way, Washington D.C. directly to Orangeburg and back, and the plane would be waiting to take you home when you were ready to leave.

Assume six passengers, because a serious presidential candidate would typically need to travel with an entourage of about that. Assume they are not going to travel in coach, and I am perfectly willing to assume that. Do the math: figure in the wasted time at a commercial airport (using a private airport, you can drive practically up to the plane 15 minutes before departure). Add in time spent in connecting airports, plus driving to and from your actual destination and the wasted time in having to spend the night and fly home the next day -- and the economics of that charter flight start to add up.

I know, we're gearing up for political season and various media wannabe hotshots are scrambling to make their bones with gotcha stories, especially if they can thread in some half-assed scolding lesson about "carbon imprints." Jayzus, do a story about turning down the air conditioning in shopping malls, then! Or find out why we need two air forces, the Navy's and the regular U.S.A.F. Or why we need a dozen huge aircraft carriers (current price tag about $5 billion). Or why we still fire up that stupid shuttle and shoot a bunch of astronauts off in a huge explosion to a barely orbiting and utterly useless space station, like some Wile E. Coyote stunt.

By the way, you never see much about the economics of Air Force One, a monster 747, and the dummy Air Force One that sometimes flies along as a decoy. Not to mention Air Force Two, with Deferral Dick hunkered down on his way to shoot some poor little duck. Duck! I mean the imperative, not the critter.

But even there, these guys have big jobs --- there's a war on, dammit! -- and they can't do them wedged in the middle seat between two hulking Secret Service agents. I want them working, not thumbing through the inflight magazine with their elbows pinned to their sides, hoping not to knock their little 3-ounce cup of Diet Coke over.

I say it's time to lose this faux populist nonsense -- unless some presidential candidate actually gets caught with a girlfriend or boyfriend on their lap while flying to the Bahamas for a policy seminar. Oh wait, that was a yacht, come to think of it. Poor boy never did get over that one.


Thursday, April 26, 2007


I dislike it when journalists misuse the term snafu, which comes out of World War II GI jargon --- evidently borrowed from British military jargon -- and means: Situation Normal, All F***** Up."

Not to be a grammar schoolmarm, but snafu is grossly misused in print, like "gold standard" and "beg the question." Typically, you see it used these days to describe what is, in fact, an abnormal situation. But in these cases some terms that came out of the original Iraq war -- "goatf***" and the even more dire "clusterf***"-- would actually be more appropriate. Though the schoolmarms who do oversee usage in print would shriek in horror, and in fact you'll notice I'm using asterisks to mask the obvious words, so who am I to be calling anyone a schoolmarm, especially since this is technically a run-on sentence hanging on a subordinate clause?

Whatever. I now regret to say that "snafu" is rapidly becoming the right word to describe airport and airline overcrowding. This summer may well be the summer in which snafu comes into its own.

It happened again the other day. Weather shut down Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, flights were diverted and planes sat on ramps for unconscionable periods of time. This was a near reply of the Dec. 29 fiasco at DFW, and the Valentine's Day clusterf*** mostly involving JetBlue at Kennedy airport.

[The illustration, above left, is from "Airplane!" (1980), which I regard as the funniest movie ever made about air travel.]

Anyway, get used to the system being tied up in knots. We're always going to have weather; weather is clearly becoming more severe; and our air-traffic system, not just the airlines and airports but the F.A.A. as well, has no slack in it.

Tomorrow, we'll have a look at the FAA's predictions for worsening air-traffic congestion.

Here are two links to the latest mess. This, from KVUE in Austin. And thisone from the folks pushing for the passengers bill of rights.

And I recently read in my favorite newspaper about a new cheap-fare startup airline that's going to ban passengers from carrying on any snacks, so they'll have to buy them on-board. Have a look here.

Who says they can enforce that?


Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Here's a "Kodak Moment" I'll bet that Sen. Obama will ultimately come to regret having shared.



This isn't a political blog, but I'm astonished at watching the slow-motion meltdown of Sen. John McCain, who formally announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for president today.

Last night, Sen. McCain, a frequent guest on Jon Stewart's "Daily Show" program on Comedy Central, got involved in a tendentious interview in which, among other things, he joked that while shopping in that splendid Baghdad market he praised as so safe last month, he purchased for Mr. Stewart "a nice little IED to put under your desk."

Here's a link to the interview (which goes on way too long, by the way). This is just a few days after Sen. McCain was shown in a video singing the start of a "Bomb, bomb, bomb; bomb, bomb Iran" ditty to the tune of the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann." You have to wonder about the guy's judgment when a presidential candidate advocating widening a hugely unpopular war thinks it's funny to joke about aerial bombs as well as IEDs -- improvised explosives devices, including roadside bombs, which are routinely killing and maiming our troops in Iraq.

Incidentally, that "Bomb, bomb Iran" parody is actually contained in a wickedly sharp cartoon, an anti-Bush satire titled "Let's Bomb Iran" by Adam Kontras, that's making the rounds online and has been downloaded at least a half-million times already. Here's a separate link if that one doesn't work. As a satire, it's a riot.

But from a guy who used to drop bombs for a living and who wants this war to continue and even escalate ... not so funny. Joking about bombing in general, for that matter, is something Sen. McCain ought to be a little sensitive toward. Sen. McCain was a Navy bomber pilot in Vietnam who was shot down on a bombing raid and spent 5 years in horrible conditions in a Hanoi prisoner of war camp. In captivity, he behaved with courage and dignity. But he might consider losing the bomb yuks.

ADDED APR. 26: ("Just Getting Started'???!!)

From the AP: "Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said Thursday that conditions in Iraq may get harder before they get easier and will require 'an enormous commitment'' over time by the United States. ...The four-star general, named by President Bush to oversee the recent buildup of American forces, cited some progress in the two months since the troop increase began. Still, he said, 'there is vastly more work to be done across the board. ... We are just getting started with the new effort.'

"...He said that the increasing use of roadside bombs and suicide attacks, plus the greater concentration of U.S. troops among the population, has 'led to greater U.S. losses' as well as increased Iraqi military casualties..."

Meanwhile, Rep. John Murtha assailed McCain on the House floor for his joke about IEDs, ABC News says. "Imagine a presidential candidate making a joke about IEDs when our kids are getting blown up," said Murtha, who as a Marine officer during the Vietnam war received a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.

Ex-Capt. "Bombsaway" McCain defended his wisecracking about IEDs. "I don't know how to react to that kind of hysteria to a comedy show," he told Diane Sawyer [the former Nixon aide] on "GMA." "All I'm going to say to Murtha and others. … Lighten up and get a life." [He should say the same to the troops who lost theirs from IEDs]

And for the record, Capt. Bombsaway, we lost the war in Vietnam after dropping more tons of bombs on it than were dropped by Allied forces in all of World War II.

P.S. -- You think I'm being harsh? Lookit this.


Monday, April 23, 2007


Awaiting a sane response (that's my criterion) from Brazil to the damning 134-page report by the American air charter company ExcelAire about how and why Brazil's worst aviation accident occurred last Sept. 29, I somehow overlooked this response, which doesn't quite meet the criterion. Nevertheless, from O Estado de S. Paulo:

"The 'only cause' for the air collision between the Gol Boeing and the Legacy jet on September 29th, leading to the death of 154 people, was 'the failure of the air traffic control system' to ensure that the airplanes were traveling at different altitude levels. This is the argument defended in a 134-page report prepared by lawyers Carlos Dias and Theo Dias, who represent the Legacy pilots Joe Lepore and Jan Paul Paladino. The document was delivered ... to Federal Police Marshal Renato Sayão, who heads the inquest.

"[The report] offers the information that there were several failures in the Legacy’s equipment in tests performed prior to its first commercial flight. According to the report, a radio management unit of the airplane was returned to Honeywell, the manufacturer, after being installed in another airplane.

"This fact, the text says, had never been revealed by Embraer, the jet’s manufacturer, to ExcelAire, the American company that acquired the Legacy. Dias says that, for this reason, 'it is impossible to blame the pilots for the cause the accident, for wrong management of the equipment.'"

Now here is the money quote:

"... Sayão said that the report '“does not provide sufficient documentation' on the previous failures of some of the jet’s equipment. 'The intention is obviously to fully clear the pilots, but that’s not where the investigations are leading us,' [he said]."

My note: Damn those pesky facts...



Was unable to join the "cream of American journalism" at the White House Correspondents Dinner Saturday night. That's the fun-fest where the White House Press Corps (as they actually refer to themselves) play grab-ass with White House figures and various celebrities who have rolled them for years. The headline entertainment was by the literally inimitable Rich Little, who was hired evidently because Red Skelton was unavailable. (And jeez, do I miss that Klem Kadiddlehopper!)

Anyway, thanks to the anonymous attendee who sent me a snapshot from the festivities (above right).

The following is by Glenn Greenwald in Salon:

"Every time I write about the media here, Paul Rosenberg notes in comments that he refers to the national press and its various hangers-on and appendages as "Versailles". Could he possibly ask for any more vivid evidence than these accounts of the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner last night and the accompanying after-parties? That is the Beltway culture stripped to its decadent, self-loving, vainglorious core.

"The dominant political story today in our press is focused on what Sheryl Crow and Laurie David said at one of the parties. These journalists and political operatives excitedly invite Hollywood celebrities to their parties so they can feel celebrated and glamorous, and then spend the next day condescendingly mocking the celebrities they invited and spent all night eagerly fondling, all in order to feel superior and elevated above the muck ("ha, ha -- as though Sheryl Crow (whom we invited and chased around hoping to speak with) knows anything about global warming or other Important Political Things! Ha ha!"). Whenever you feel bewildered at the state of our political affairs, just keep those pages bookmarked and look at the pictures and all will be clear again."

And here's a link to courtiers at Versailles.


Sunday, April 22, 2007


I don't have the full English text yet of the report on the Sept. 29 mid-air disaster that ExcelAire sent to Brazilian authorities to summarize its case that the 2 American pilots did not cause the accident. (The full PDF text in Portuguese is linked in yesterday's post).

But thanks today to our man in Sao Paulo, Richard Pedicini, who's been assiduously translating it, here are highlights of documentation ExcelAire can cite and charges it will make in its own defense as Brazilian authorities continue their campaign to scapegoat the Americans:

  • As has long been known, air traffic control at departure in San Jose dos Campos authorized the Legacy to fly at 37,000 feet all the way to its destination Manaus (which involved passing through Brasilia ATC space)
  • Air traffic control in Brasilia was negligent in not contacting the Legacy pilots to tell them to descend to 36,000 feet, or to acknowledge that the jet was at 37,000 feet.
  • Air traffic control in Brasilia was negligent in not adopting "standard procedures" to notify the Legacy pilots that their transponder was not signaling, even though they [the controllers] were aware of this fact.
  • Even after the "total loss" of the Legacy signal on both primary and secondary radars, air traffic control in Brasilia negligently failed to secure a 2,000-foot minimum separation between the Legacy and the oncoming Gol Airlines 737.
  • Air traffic control in both the Brasilia and Amazonas centers made errors during the coordination of handover of the Legacy from one region to the other.
The report also addresses "production problems" with the Legacy jet, and "problems" (chiefly with some wiring) "detected on aircraft delivery," on Sept. 29, 2006, the same day it collided with the Gol 737.

"Analysis of the air traffic control transmissions and the Legacy's cockpit recorder confirm that both of the aircraft had been cleared by Air Traffic Control to fly at the same altitude and in the same airway, in opposite directions. As demonstrated, though this collision course had been established more than an hour before the accident, a series of failures in the air traffic control system impeded the controllers responsible for these two aircraft [in] noting the error in time to avoid the tragedy," the ExcelAire report says.

The report also addresses the flight plan that was, as is normal procedure in international aviation, superseded when ATC issued different orders:

"Besides the problems with the Legacy's avionics components, determining failures by Air Traffic Control were pointed out. This accident occurred under instrument flight rules (IFR) in controlled air space. Under those conditions, aircraft movement, both horizontal and vertical, is subject to the authorizations of air traffic controllers. An authorization is an obligatory instruction for an aircraft, which must be followed, except in case of an emergency.

"In this specific case, before takeoff, Embraer transmitted the Legacy's flight plan electronically to air traffic control, supplying, among other data, the proposed flight route and the altitudes for the trip from São José dos Campos (SBSJ) to Manaus. The plan proposed: (a) cruise altitude of 37.000 feet from SBSJ to Brasilia; (b) after Brasilia, descent to 36,000 feet to point Teres, approximately 228 nautical miles northwest of Brasilia; (c) at Teres, ascent to a cruise altitude of 38,000 feet to Manaus. Soon after takeoff, however, air traffic control authorized the Legacy to ascend and maintain 37,000 feet, and, after this, there were no other authorizations for change of altitude.

"The Legacy's position was monitored by means of secondary signals from radar surveillance, which uses information supplied by transponder mode C to identify the aircraft on the air traffic control radar and inform its altitude. That information appears in a data block on the screens of air traffic control ("data block"), where the planned altitudes for the distinct flight segments also appear.

"About two minutes before the Legacy reached Brasilia, although the data block indicated that an altitude change had been planned, the controller did not alter its authorization for the Legacy to maintain a cruising altitude of 37,000 feet.

"Approximately 5 minutes after passing Brasilia, and 55 minutes before the accident, air traffic control stopped receiving the Legacy's mode C transponder signal. The loss of the Legacy's signal appeared on air traffic control's data block, but, in violation of the basic rules of aviation, the controller responsible did not communicate that fact to the pilots, so that they could verify their transponder or switch to the other transponder. The controller also erred in failing to communicate the transponder's inoperative state to another controller, and in failing to coordinate a non-radar separation of the Legacy along its planned flight route."

The report stresses ExcelAire's determination not to assign guilt but to fully document the chain of causes of the accident "in order to prevent similar occurrences in the future."

Among recommendations, some of which that have already been made by international investigators looking into the fiasco, the report suggests:

  • Greater English-language proficiency by Brazilian air traffic controllers
  • Better training in crisis management, including procedures to follow when a transponder of an aircraft being handled stops signaling
  • "Modification of [Brazilian] air traffic control displays to eliminate confusing and unnecessary data" that can cause operators to misread a plane's actual altitude
  • ATC center equipment that more clearly displays the loss of "secondary radar signals" from the screens that determine actual altitude
  • Better training of controllers on taking "decisive action" to locate an aircraft during a loss of radio and/or radar contact

The Legacy pilots, the report says, "did not receive through the flight instruments located on the aircraft any indication of problems related to avionics components." [My note: That's a reference to the malfunctioning transponder unit]

"At no time during the flight did the TCAS collision-avoidance signal appear on the control panel. The safety investigation also confirmed that the Air Traffic Control Center [in Brasilia] received various radio calls made by the Legacy, but did not answer."

The report goes on to address in detail what ExcelAire considers defects in avionics equipment on the Legacy, including faulty connections between the antenna and the transponder. It also asserts that the Radio Management Unit (RMU) and the Communications Unit (RCZ) "were not new components" and that the RMU, which is key to a functioning transponder, "had already presented failures in two other aircraft before being installed in the new aircraft sold to ExcelAire by Embraer."

"The RCZ, which includes the Mode C transponder, had also been rejected in another aircraft before being installed in the Legacy," the report asserts.

Suddenly, it seems, the ball is in another court. When response is available from Embraer and Honeywell -- the transponder manufacturer -- I'll post it.

Meanwhile, I'm still hoping to post an English link soon to the whole 20,000-word text for those of you, including so many pilots who have remained in touch with me over this sad event, who want to know just precisely how one sorry mistake after another on the ground added up to cause the worst aviation disaster in Brazil's history.


Saturday, April 21, 2007



By now, we know how the horrible chain of events happened to cause the mid-air collision at 37,000 feet over the Amazon last Sept. 29. In that crash, 154 people on a Gol Airlines 737 died, while 7 on a Legacy 600 business jet (me among them) inexplicably survived after a harrowing landing at a jungle air strip.

But the plot has thickened, with ExcelAire, the U.S.-based owner of the Legacy, finally taking the offensive by issuing in Brazil a 134-page report that details step-by-step the chain of on-ground mishaps and failures that put the two planes on a collision course, and also charges that important avionics equipment installed in the $24.7 million business jet, including the transponder unit, had a history of defects and were essentially used parts installed on a new jet.

“Embraer never revealed to ExcelAire that these components were not new, and neither did it inform that they had been returned to Honeywell for repair,” the report quotes ExcelAire lawyers José Carlos Dias and Theo Dias as saying.

So after six months of relative silence while Brazilian authorities (and much of the Brazilian media) denounced the company, the pilots and even the passengers on the Legacy as reckless murderers, ExcelAire has come out swinging. The report is causing the usual hysteria in Brazil, and being met with the usual indifference in the American media, which still has a few days left of wringing its collective hands over how the Virginia Tech massacre could possibly have happened, and how society failed the poor, alienated killer before he went on a rampage. (Hey, Scoops: I got it for you in six words, save you lots of paper and ink and electricity: Homicidal Maniac On Loose With Guns)

Anyway, the background on the crash:

As early as last November, the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers Associations -- worried (correctly) that the Brazilian authorities were rushing to criminalize the accident and scapegoat the two American pilots on the business jet -- issued a summary report on what it had found.

That IFATCA report, though sketchy, stands up today: "Facts will show that the Air Traffic Management system in place in the airspace of Brasilia [the air-traffic control center that had responsibility for the Legacy and the 737 at the time of the collision] did not register nor correctly detect the true altitude of the American-registered aircraft," it says in part, adding: "... there is apparently an air traffic control system in operation that is showing false and/or misleading information to the operators."

"We are confident," the global air traffic controllers federation said, "[that] said equipment is responsible for starting the fatal chain of events of Sept. 29, 2006..."

Here also is the National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report on the crash, issued in late November, which discusses the 19 failed attempts by the Legacy crew to make radio contact with ait traffic control in Brasilia before the crash. The NTSB has completed its investigation, but is required under international protocols to withhold its release till the Brazilians complete their several investigations.

From the get-go, Brazilian authorities viciously denounced anyone (especially me) who pointed out well-known and longstanding problems with Brazilian air traffic control, including dead radar and radio zones and old, malfunctioning equipment -- not to mention a work force of demoralized, badly paid and insufficiently trained military controllers (the military runs ATC in Brazil), many of whom don't have adequate English skills to do their jobs properly in an international aviation system. Those assertions are simply not in dispute by anyone not directly involved with the Brazilian military and/or Federal Police, who have sought to pin the blame for the disaster solely on the American pilots.

The one unanswered question in the investigation, however, has been what caused the transponder device on the Legacy to stop signaling some time before the crash. It's not in dispute that the Legacy transponder began transmitting again immediately after the impact of the crash.

The transponder triggers the air-to-air anti-collision alert system that is what the global-controllers federation calls a "last ditch" safeguard in a mid-air collision that has already been set in motion.

In other words, with the two planes, bearing down on each other at a closing speed of over 1,000 miles an hour, already mistakenly assigned by ATC to the same altitude on a collision course, the very last possible chance to have narrowly prevented the crash would have been the anti-collision system -- which works only when the transponder is working.

For more than 45 minutes before the crash, air traffic controllers in Brasilia -- the center handling the plane at the time -- failed to notice that the Legacy's transponder was not signaling. It's part of their job to notice things like that. (Correction added April 22: I was wrong saying that controllers "failed to notice" the non-signaling transponder for 45 minutes. In fact, they did notice it and failed to do anything about it.)

After we landed in the jungle, the pilots, Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, were utterly flummoxed about the transponder (and don't forget, I was with them during two and a half days of custody and questioning after the crash. From my close observations, they had no idea what had malfunctioned or why).

They certainly hadn't turned the transponder off. Why would they do that? (Oh, I forgot: deliberately turning off the transponder would allow them to be undetected while performing illegal "aerial maneuvers and show off the new plane" over the endless skies of the Amazon, as the bumbling Defense Minister, Wonderful Waldir Pires, kept idiotically insisting).

By now, it's basically acknowledged that the transponder was not signaling well before the collision. Honeywell, its manufacturer, and Embraer, the big Brazilian aircraft manufacturer that made the Legacy, have insisted that the transponder was not defective.

But the plot thickens.

Weeks before the Sept. 29, 2006, crash, as I noted many months ago, the FAA had issued an advisory, called an airworthiness directive, that cited various models of Honeywell transponders and said they needed to be fixed, by Oct. 17, 2006, to prevent them from "erroneously going into standby mode."

Among the specific transponders cited (see page 6 of the advisory) were some used on some Embraer commercial regional jets, as well as on the ERJ-135-BJ -- a business jet that is also known as the Legacy 600. When inquiries were made about this back in October, I was informed that the directive did not cover the transponder in the Legacy that crashed.

Honeywell has said in the past that the advisory did not apply to the unit installed in the the Legacy, which had been checked out to comply with the FAA advisory on inadvertent switching to standby before the deadline and before ExcelAire took possession. So the problem with the Legacy transponder seems to have been something other than it switching inadvertently into standby.

But the fact remains that that transponder model had at least one defect that required repair. And that was the model in the Legacy. The F.A.A. Registry for the aircraft N600XL, issued Sept. 29, 2006 to ExcelAire LLC, lists the manufacturer as Embraer and the model as "EMB-135BJ." That's the self-same Legacy 600 plane involved in the crash.

As you can see on Page 3 of the FAA advisory, the airworthiness directive, Embraer requested (and received) extra time to comply -- 14 days beyond the "effective date" of Oct. 17, 2006. "Embraer asserts that the loss of the transponder does not pose so great of a hazard as to justify such an urgent compliance time," the advisory says.

Embraer probably had a valid point there.

In fact, other pilots have told me time and again that transponders of all sorts sometimes flip into standby or go off-line for one reason or another, sometimes evidently on their own. Air traffic control on the ground routinely advises pilots when a transponder is not signaling. But that, as we know, was not done in Brazil.

In recent interviews with Brazilian media, Mauricio Botelho, the soon-to-retire president of Embraer, said flatly that the Legacy transponder was functioning normally on Sept. 29.

I know and respect Mr. Botelho, who had originally importuned me to come to tour Embraer's factories as a freelance writer for Business Jet Magazine, which is why I was in Brazil in the first place. (I basically hitched a ride home on the Legacy, which had 9 empty seats).

When Mr. Botelho phoned me at police headquarters in Cuiaba the night after the crash (my phone wasn't working -- someone at police headquarters handed me a phone when he called), the deep anguish in his voice was for the dead, and the concern he expressed was for the well-being of the 7 of us who had walked away physically unharmed. Though he knew full well that I would be writing a story on the disaster as soon as I was released from custody and could reach a computer, he made no attempt to "spin" me on Embraer.

I do know that the current investigations, once the chain of errors and breakdowns on the ground were established and the planes were placed on a collision course, have focused closely on the transponder, which was pulled from the unsecured Legacy as it sat on the runway in the jungle and shipped to a Honeywell facility in Phoenix for testing.

(And by "unsecured," I mean that during the 24 hours I and the others from the Legacy spent detained on that base, Brazilian military personnel were crawling all over the cockpit, pulling equipment and running tests. And the plane -- by definition a crime scene, since Brazilian investigators were clearly detaining and working to charge the pilots, who were in fact kept in Brazil for 70 days afterward, The Legacy is still sitting on that air base ramp in the jungle 7 months later.

ExcelAire is the Long Island company that bought and operated the Legacy 600, and faces tens of millions of dollars in liability claims in lawsuits filed on behalf of families of the dead. The pilots, who were released from Brazil in December, still face possibly serious criminal charges, and Brazilian authorities have remained adamant in their stance that pilot error caused the accident, even as overwhelming evidence accumulated showing otherwise.

As I said to our small and shaken group not long after the crash, "I think the fix is in."

The long report ExcelAire filed recently with Brazilian authorities giving a precise countdown of the chain of ATC errors and charging that both Embraer and Honeywell were responsible for installing a used transponder unit that had previously been repaired in the plane, without informing ExcelAire.

The report stresses -- and every informed observer outside the Brazilian government agrees with this -- that a dysfunctional air-traffic control system triggered the horrendous accident. Any in-flight equipment failure merely made the unfolding disaster absolutely inevitable, rather than highly probable.

From the Brazilian newspaper Folha today, translation via our heads-up and indefatigable Sao Paulo bureau chief Richard Pedicini:

ExcelAire accuses Embraer for flaw in plane

Company that owns Legacy that collided with Gol Boeing also blames air traffic control and manufacturer of Transponder

In report to Federal Police, ExcelAire alleges that Embraer, manufacturer of the Legacy, did not notify it of previous problems in components

By Eliane Catanhêde
Folha Columnist

Besides directly accusing the failures of Brazilian air traffic control, the North American company ExcelAire, owner of the Legacy jet that collided with the Gol Boeing in 2006, also accused the Brazilian Embraer, manufacturer of the airplane, and the North American Honeywell, manufacturer of the transponder.

It's the first time that the manufacturers are accused in one of the accident's great mysteries: why the transponder, equipment which transmits data from the plane to other aircraft and to the earth radar stations, stopped working before the collision.

In a 134-page report to the Federal Police, ExcelAire's lawyers said that one of the components where the transponder and part of the radio system are installed had previously presented defects, in an aircraft no longer in production. It was sent back to Honeywell by Embraer, returned to Brazil and was installed in the Legacy.

Besides this, one of the Legacy's radio management units was also returned to Honeywell for problems in another plane. Despite the problems and having already been used in other planes, the devices were installed in the Legacy, which was new and making its maiden flight on the day of the accident, September 29, without the knowledge of the purchasers.

"Embraer never revealed to ExcelAire that the cited components were not new, much less informing that they had already been returned to Honeywell for repairs," lawyers José Carlos Dias and Theo Dias said in their text.

According to their report, two days before the accident, Embraer's test pilots noted in an acceptance flight for the Legacy that the images on the flight management system "were flickering and trembling."

In the text, they say that Embraer's own later inspection "revealed that the systems were incorrectly connected, which motivated the suspicion that other systems may present, in the same way, defective connections."

In the first investigations after the accident, the Air Force was already working with the possibility of a "loose contact" between the transponder and the aircraft.

During the course of the investigation, the Folha published [my note: make that 'copied from this blog'] that Honeywell had "recalled" transponders, because they entered into "stand by" incorrectly precisely because of a contact problem with the plane's radio unit. The Legacy [model] was included in the recall, but Honeywell sustained that the unit installed in the plane that suffered the accident was not one of those with problems.

The Air Force Investigative Committee also concluded that the transponder, in itself, was free of defects. However, it advised that other analyses were being done and that neither the hypothesis of flaw in installation nor in operation had been discarded. There is still no official result.

According to the lawyers, in the text to the Federal Police, "additionally, various maintenance problems were registered in the flight logs of the Legacy sold to ExcelAire, providing evidence of defects in the aircraft that may have contributed to or explained the transporter failure."

They cite examples. One of them: inoperative panels were identified by Embraer during a production flight on July 12, 2006, a little more than two months before the collision, which was the worst accident in the history of Brazilian aviation and resulted in the deaths of all 154 people aboard the Boeing.

Another example was the meteorological radar did not pass a flight test, and even after being fixed, failed again. The text was sent on April 10 to chief Renato Sayão, who is investigating the accident.

A third example was a test of the plane on September 11, when the crew was advised by the plane's general alarm system of a possible overheating during the landing procedure. Seven days later, the panel units had to be adjusted.

One of the systems that failed to function due to the disactivation of the transponder was the TCAS, the anticollision device that could have avoided the accident.

ExcelAire affirmed that, in later and still unfinished tests at Honeywell, it was found that the TCAS received a signal indicating that the plane had "weight on the wheels" when it was flying at a stable altitude of 37,000 feet (11,000 meters). That is: it may not have worked because it "understood" that the plane was on the ground. The TCAS does not function on the ground.

The text also indicated problems in the assembly of the equipment, such as "an excessive quantity of non-conducting silicone inside the transponder antenna connectors".

In the report, there are also references to "significant problems" with the Legacy, before the initial flight. The lawyers cite failures in the FMS (flight management system) panels, one having presented navigation problems and the other failing to indicate frequencies during the test flight.

One of the several possible causes of the accident was precisely the failure of communications between Cindacta-1 (the air traffic control center located in Brasilia) and the plane. There were more than 20 attempts, without success, before the collision with the Boeing.

According to the report to the Federal Police by the North American firm ExcelAire, a "series of errors by air traffic control constitute the direct cause of the accident" between the Legacy jet it owns and the Gol Boeing. The word "negligence" is used in at least four subtitles about air traffic control.

"This accident was caused by serious failures in the Brazilian air traffic control system", it says on page 59, enumerating six of these flaws, after the control tower in São José dos Campos (São Paulo) authorized the jet to fly at the altitude of 37,000 feet to Manaus, when it should have descended to 36,000 feet after Brasilia.

The report, signed by lawyers José Carlos Dias and Theo Dias, says that the air traffic control system was "negligent" and erred by not determining an altitude change when the plane approached and passed Brasilia and for not taking the necessary measures after this error.

Citing international aviation rules, the lawyers said that pilots Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino could only have altered the flight level at this point if they had had a determination from Cindacta-1. Without it, the jet stayed on a collision course with the Boeing.

The lawyers also questioned Cindacta-1 for having neither notified the Legacy that the transponder had stopped sending data to the radar, nor increased the vertical and horizontal safety margins, an obligatory procedure in these cases.

They further said that the control wasted the chance to confirm the exact altitude at which the Legacy was flying, during the period in which the transponder was still working, remaining content with imprecise information.

Another accusation is that, in the face of the uncertainties and the lack of communication with the Legacy, the air traffic control system should have done the basic: warn the other planes at similar altitudes and orient them to assume other altitudes. (Eliane Catanhêde)


  • Component where the transponder and part of the Legacy's radio system are installed presented defect in another plane, was sent to Honneywell for repairs and later installed in the Legacy
  • ExelAire was not informed by Embraer that the equipment had already been used and presented defects
  • An inspection by Embraer itself showed that the systems were "connected incorrectly", giving rise to suspicions that other systems might also have defects
  • The meteorological radar failed during the test phase
  • Negligence by Cindacta-1 (Brasilia) in failing to note the incompatibility between the real altitude and that indicated in the system
  • Negligence for not having contacted the jet to determine a change of altitude to 36,000 feet on passing Brasilia
  • Negligence for not warning Cindacta-4 (Manaus) and the aircraft in the same area, such as the Boeing, as soon as the transponder ceased functioning
"Other Side: Embraer and FAB do not comment on report".


Sought by the paper, Embraer informed, through its public relations firm, that it would have nothing to say about the report sent by ExcellAire (sic) to the Federal Police.

As there is an ongoing investigation, coordinated by the FAB (the Brazilian Air Force), Embraer considered that it had no motives to comment on the topic.

The Air Force also did not care to say anything. According to the press secretary, the investigation is still ongoing.

However, in a letter sent to the victims' families in March, the commission which is investigating the causes of the accident concluded that the Legacy's transponder, anti-collision system and radio were operating normally.
--end of Folha report

Meanwhile, the newspaper O Estado has weighed in. According to our man in Sao Paulo Mr. Pedicini, O Estado dismisses the ExcelAire report as "dossier," which Mr. Pedicini explains by e-mail "isn't quite the same in Portuguese" as in English. Though a French word, dossier should be translated in the Portuguese context as "not a defense or a search for truth, [but rather] an underhanded attack," he says.

--My Note: When Embraer, the Brazilian authorities and Honeywell do comment on these allegations, I will post it as soon as I get it. Likewise, I will post the complete copy of the 134-page ExcelAire report when I get the text.

--Later: Here is a link to the ExcelAire report from O Estado, unfortunately in Portuguese. As soon as I get the English text I'll post it.


Friday, April 20, 2007


American Airlines this week reported an $81 million profit for the first quarter of 2007. "While we must continue to improve our financial performance, we believe our results show that we have started 2007 on the right track," said the CEO, Gerard Arpey.

Judging by the numbers, Wall Street and the American Airlines front office clearly have good reason to believe that. Airlines need to make money, so that's good.

But don't try spinning the joy to a lot of American employees, who are disgusted because just as the airline's fortunes began improving, the bosses decided to pay bonuses totaling about $180 million to about 1,000 top executives and managers.

Many of American's 20,000 flight attendants, for one group, are furious, and set up protest lines at 16 airports last Tuesday. So was the Allied Pilots Association, representing American's 12,000 pilots, many of whom declined to wear their hats all week in a silent protest. The reason: While American's brass were high-fiving each other and handing out bonuses, the rank and file work force, which numbers about 80,000, were rather rudely reminded of the $7 billion in total wage and benefits givebacks they submitted to in order to keep the airline going over the last four tough years.

The givebacks "are largely responsible for American's return to profitability," the pilots union president, Capt. Ralph Hunter, said, adding:

"Four years ago, American Airlines stood on the verge of bankruptcy. Four years ago, 80,000 employees stood up and made the right decision to save their airline. And four years ago, AMR management [AMR is the parent company of the airline] nearly threw away all that effort when it was discovered that senior managers had been protected with special compensation packages. The 2003 executive-compensation scandal resulted in a management shakeup and the resignation of then-CEO Don Carty. We thought management had learned a lesson from that near-tragedy. Apparently, they have not."

Gradually, the domestic airline industry is returning to profitability, with a much reduced and greatly demoralized work-force. Pissing them off further would seem to be self-defeating, and a good way to piss off disgruntled workers who have eaten big pay cuts is to start handing out atta-boy and atta-girl bonuses to management.

My guess is we'll be hearing a lot more, and soon, from the pilots, flight attendants, mechanics and others who keep the planes flying at American and all the other airlines. Their views are welcome in this space.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Horrendous as it is, the Virginia Tech massacre isn't
the worst school massacre in American history. That happened in 1927.



Now that Imus is figuratively dead, or "taking that dirt nap," as he himself would say, here are some examples of what bigot right-wing radio gasbags routinely get away with, via and YouTube.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007


And then this, from the Brady Campaign to prevent gun violence


Sunday, April 15, 2007


It's spring! And all hell has broken loose with the weather.

Sunday late afternoon, and a creek two blocks away now resembles a river. It's at the highest point I've ever seen it, and we've been in the same house, on high ground, for 23 years. Our basement is taking on water, and the basement never does that.

The adjacent town appears to be flooded. It's not in a flood zone.

You know all that hot air about instant news? Twenty years ago, local radio and T.V. would have been all over this story. But on a New York all-news radio station just a few minutes ago, some ninny was prattling that "at least it isn't snow!" (Got news for you, radio-person: snow is a lot less worrisome than water in these conditions). As to actual news: Oh, it's raining; the Mets game is canceled; some flights are delayed. Now onto that special report on nutrition for your rose garden.

The CBS online news site at this moment is the perfect lethargic example: The storm is "`unusual for this time of April. Normally, we're finished with this sort of thing by the end of March,' severe storm expert Lonnie Quinn said. "`Not only is this a late-season Nor'easter, it'll be a very significant one at that.' (© MMVII, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)."

Somehow, the Roman numerals in the copyright line seem very appropriate. JAYSVS!

Is anybody working this story? Do the media all take Sundays off these days?

All's I know is what I see from the house. That damn little creek is rising to where I've never seen it before. What's going on in actual flood zones? I mean, I've been in this business long enough not to overreact when it rains or snows. But this sucker? Hellooooo?

6:20 pm update: At least one local TV channel -- WNBC in New York -- is on the ball, with current, heads-up and grown-up reporting from the city and the Long Island and New Jersey coasts. This is one bad storm, and the flooding will be"coast-redefining," as they say. Not to mention snow in upstate New York! On April 15.

Meanwhile, the other New York channels all seem to be running basketball games or such, and the Weather Channel seems to be breathlessly consumed with speculation about Boston and the Boston Marathon.

So it goes, in tribute to Mr. Vonnegut.



A couple of good stories from the weekend papers.

First is this from the Daily Mail in London, reporting that the knucklehead British defense ministry was cooking up a returned-hostages phony publicity campaign even as the Hollywood Hostages were still in the hands of the wily Iranians.

And I recommend Peter Applebome's column in today's Times, which has a lot to say about politically correct hostility toward the innocent Duke University lacrosse players. Especially impressive are the comments near the end by English professor Dr. Houston A . Baker Jr., who continues to refer to the totally exonerated young men as a "scummy bunch of white males" and "farm animals."

Incidentally, I was fascinated by how anyone employed as a professor at an actual college could be ... well, so damned thick. So I looked up the learned Doctor Baker on

He's the author of a book, "Black Studies, Rap and the Academy," and refers to gangsta rap as a means "to provide sometimes stunning territorial confrontations between black urban expressivity and white law-and-order," and describes it as "a profitable, agential resource for an alternative American legality." Yes, you read that right: "... an alternative American legality."

Whoa, the perfect Santa stocking-stuffer for that impressionable English student of yours (ho-ho-ho).

Shortly after the incident early last year, and before any criminal charges were filed against the young men by the now-discredited district attorney, Duke University canceled the lacrosse season. Even then, the alleged rape victim's story was changing with some frequency and beginning to fall apart under examination.

Still, the Professor saw fit back then to denounce the university president, Richard H. Brodhead, for exhibiting "timorous piety" and "sentimental legalism" in failing to impose harsher penalties on the not-yet-accused students.

Professor Baker left Duke and now graces the faculty at Vanderbilt University.

...And finally, you might want to have a look at this story, on deadly mercenary security guards in Iraq, from today's Washington Post.

Later -- As the much-hyped nor'easter hits the Northeast, will the controversial and hugely expensive taxpayer funded beach restoration along New Jersey's (mostly-inaccessible-to-the-general public) seashore survive the weekend? Or will the coastal scientists and geologists who scoffed at the boondoggle be saying "Told you so?"


Saturday, April 14, 2007


As predicted, now that the ludicrous Don Imus has been justifiably canned for making vile and bigoted remarks about a group of young black female basketball players, the witch hunt for cultural insensitivity is under way. That would be the witch-hunt that was called for by the odious Reverend Al "Tawana" Sharpton, back in the public pulpit once more, per usual to the benefit of nobody but himself.

("Thanks to Imus's stupidity, we are forced to pretend once again that Al Sharpton has moral capital," as Stephen Metcalf said in Slate)

Two examples of opening day of the new witch hunt from today's news:

The equally odious Tom DeLay wants Rosie O'Donnell fired because she made some jokes about George Bush and Chinese Americans.

And a terrific story in today's New York Times reports that a panel of lawyers censured Jackie Mason and Raoul Felder for writing a joke book that invokes "religious invective" and is also generally insensitive, as well as less than enthusiastic in portrayals of people such as Reverend Al. ("Praise the lard," they say of the Reverend -- in what I surmise is deemed by the censors to be an example of both "religious invective" and insensitivity toward lard-asses). The authors also are accused by the panel of lawyers of being insensitive toward the Reverend Jesse "Hymietown" Jackson and Senator Edward "Chappaquiddick" Kennedy.

“Who thought it was a good idea to make Jesse Jackson the arbiter of racial healing? That makes as much sense as Ted Kennedy being a lifeguard at a girls’ school,” the two accused insensitates crack in the book, in what strikes me as actually a pretty good joke.

Fetch the torches! Link

Oddly, little mention of gangsta rappers -- who use the word "ho" more often than Santa Claus -- in all of this commotion. (Though Senator Obama has been outspoken about rappers' ugly verbal abuse of women).

Of course, first we have to deal with that menace Jackie Mason. Ya know?

But always look on the bright side of life, as the boys on the crosses sing in "The Life of Brian."

Not to bring up the subject of odious lard-asses again, but Rush Limbaugh (surprise!) is horning in on the publicity and describing himself as a victim. "I know they're coming after me, folks," he confides on his blog, under those high-demographic ads for how to make money buying coins. The horror! The horror!

Meanwhile, the war in Iraq goes on while Reverend Al commands the cameras. At an airport last week I stood by a window and watched another military coffin wheeled by on the apron with a crowd of Marines and family members accompanying it, in the most striking state of human anguish.


Friday, April 13, 2007


Now the media scolds are scurrying around looking for any and all examples of insensitivity amid the furor over Don Imus's completely odious and manifestly bigoted comments, which justifiably got him fired. Al Sharpton wants to begin a witch-hunt for what he deems to be insensitive comments, demanding a "broad discussion of what is permitted and not permitted" to be said in public. The media genuflect while, as always, they graciously overlook the Reverend's prominent role in, among many other disgraces, the hideous Tawana Brawley hoax, which he has always deftly managed to dodge any unaccountability for all these years.

Meanwhile, I am taken today by an item prominently displayed on the Romenesko news-media items site put out by the amusingly pretentious Poynter Institute (the headline on a top Romenesko item currently reads: "'Daniel Schorr Is My Role Model,' Says [David] Broder.")

Here's the top of the item in question:

"Former Chicago Tribune editor Howard Tyner says it never occurred to him that there was any kind of corporate glass ceiling for Jews, although 'I have to say there were times when I thought the Irish Catholic mafia was a little thick in there.'"

Jayzus and begorrah, and bless me twee Lucky Charms, whyzzit ok to deride an "Irish Catholic mafia?" And come to think of it, isn't using the word "mafia" to describe a wee group of people who share an ethnic background, but who belong to no criminal organization, a certifiably bigoted act?

Just asking, is all.

And another thing ...

Now, I'm not running another media blog here (God knows that's the last thing we need), but I am taken again today by an example of the scolding impulse in the news media that seems to have replaced the desire to first present the news.

Jon S. Corzine, the governor of New Jersey, was critically injured last night. The governor was a passenger in a state car that was sideswiped on the Garden State Parkway in an accident triggered by a driver of a pickup truck who abruptly pulled into traffic from the roadside and caused another vehicle to knock the governor's car into a spin. The pickup truck drove off.

Corzine was really severely injured -- fractured leg, 12 broken ribs, broken collar bone and more. He remains on a respirator. It's unknown when or if he will recover, at least fully.

And yet every online story I'm reading today on this event has the fact that Corzine apparently wasn't wearing a seat belt as a central element in the lead and in the headline. In most of the accounts, the seat-belt assertion is the news -- not the fact that this guy got royally clobbered and will be out of commission for months. At best.

Come on, scolds! Let the poor man at least stabilize before lecturing, right off the bat, that it's his own damn fault.

Can we maybe focus on whatever efforts the New Jersey state police are making to find the pickup driver before we speculate on when the governor might be given a ticket for not wearing his seat belt?

[Update April 14: the driver was found Friday night in Atlantic City and not charged in a hit-run after he told police he wasn't aware he'd caused the accident, the AP reports today, in a story that oddly continues to quote police saying the pickup was driving "erratically."]

Can we be decent enough on the first day to put the seat-belt knuckle-rapping in .. maybe the second paragraph? Sure, do a sidebar on how stupid it is not to wear a seat belt ... maybe tomorrow, after the poor guy regains consciousness and can be properly scolded with his eyes wide open.

And finally:

Link of the day: Bill Maher -- Salon


Thursday, April 12, 2007


International competition is more fierce each month, especially in the premium cabins. Here's a pretty impressive business-class fare sale, especially since it includes travel during the summer:

British Airways, whose Club World business class cabin is among the best in the business, has a fare sale for Club World for travel to London during July and August (through Sept. 2). Sample one-way fares are $1,116 from New York; $1,574 from Chicago; $1,417 from San Francisco. (Don't ask me why it costs more to fly from Chicago than San Francisco). That doesn't include the taxes and fees. Must be booked by April 26. That normal fare, unrestricted, is in the $9,000 range round-trip, but business class demand typically declines sharply in summer.

Meanwhile, Silverjet, the newest all-business-class low-fare airline, said it had a 59 percent load factor in March, slightly higher than expectations. Silverjet flies betweeen Newark and Luton Airport in London at a standard round-trip fare of $1,798. Its competitors among new discount all-business class airlines to London are Eos and MaxJet.

And now here is a unique way to score the ultimate upgrade, to British Air's very exclusive first-class cabin, via the Times of London earlier this month:

"A British Airways passenger travelling first class has described how he woke up on a long-haul flight to find that cabin crew had placed a corpse in his row.

"The body of a woman in her seventies, who died after the plane left Delhi for Heathrow, was carried by cabin staff from economy to first class [and] propped up in a seat, using pillows.

"The woman’s daughter accompanied the corpse, and spent the rest of the journey wailing in grief.

"Paul Trinder, who awoke to see the body at the end of his row, last week described the journey as “deeply disturbing”, and complained that the airline dismissed his concerns by telling him to “get over it”."

"The woman died during a nine-hour flight on a Boeing 747. Trinder was catching up on sleep when he was woken by a commotion and opened his eyes to see staff maneuvering the body into a seat. ...

[After the plane landed] " 'The police even started interviewing me as a potential witness, although I had no idea what had happened to the woman. I just kept thinking to myself: ‘I’ve paid more than £3,000 for this’, Trinder said. ..."

Major news coming next week:

In continuing expansion, "Joe Sharkey at Large" announces the opening of a new North Coast bureau.

Also, there will be an announcement of the appointment of an Ombudsman, the Rt. Rev. Parson Moratorious Mudge, in response to readers' concerns about increased frivolity, manifest disrespect to Her Majesty's Navy, and a general perceived lack of objectivity on this site. Parson Mudge's motto is "Mudge will not be muzzled!" He has been promised a free rein to address any and all infractions and/or sins by the Proprietor.

Also, more developing news from our Sao Paulo bureau.


Monday, April 09, 2007


One more go-around on the Hollywood Hostages because this stuff, you just can't make it up.

Pictured above is the Bishop who's the chaplain for Britain's armed forces. Seriously: Let us pray. (See second item)

Meanwhile, meet Arthur Batchelor, 20, one of the hostages who caved in so readily to Iranian terrorists before the Brits were sent home with their goody bags. In an interview in today's Daily Mirror, Seaman Batchelor described the horror he and his merry crew went through even after they compliantly did everything the terrorists told them to:

"Seaman Arthur Batchelor was singled out for torment after his captors learned he was a navigator - and mistakenly thought that meant he was in charge of his boat.

"The guards, who taunted him for his youth and called him Mr Bean after the bungling comic character, put him in plastic handcuffs and blindfolded him - then slapped him around.

"He said: 'It was beyond terrifying. They seemed to take particular pleasure in mocking me for being young. ... A guard kept flicking my neck with his index finger and thumb. I thought the worst. We've all seen the videos.'

"He added: 'I was frozen in terror and just stared into the darkness of my blindfold, I could feel the emotion welling up inside me. But I wasn't going to let them see me cry.' Once back in his cell, the emotion finally came flooding out. Arthur said: 'To be honest I cried and cried like a baby.

"'I ended up falling asleep on my cell floor. I think I blacked out. That night I slept like a log as I was exhausted from the pressure and emotionally drained and sapped of energy.'"

And as if Arthur's hideous ordeal of being taunted for his youth, being called Mr. Bean for his goofiness, and having his neck flicked with a finger weren't enough, get a load of who's being heard from now, in an inadvertent explanation of why only about 3 percent of Britons attend church. From today's Telegraph:

"The Roman Catholic bishop who oversees the armed forces has provoked fury by praising the Iranian leadership for its "forgiveness" and "act of mercy" in freeing the 15 British sailors and marines last week.

Bishop of the Forces, the Rt Rev Tom Burns

Bishop Burns said Iran demonstrated 'faith in a forgiving God'

"The Bishop of the Forces, the Rt Rev Tom Burns, said that the religious beliefs of the Iranians had played a large part in their decision to release the hostages after holding them for more than two weeks.

"His words were echoed by a leading Anglican figure, the Right Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, who said Iran had acted within the "moral and spiritual tradition of their country" and contrasted this with Britain's "`free-floating attitudes''".

--All ashore that's goin' ashore.