Friday, August 31, 2007

The Morning News...Who Knew?

From the morning news...

--Airport men's rooms: who knew about this foot-tapping business? Next time you're in a men's room stall with a bouncy 2/4 tune, maybe a Sousa march, going through your head -- well, just watch that foot-tapping, pal. On the other hand, soon-to-be-ex-Senator (Family Values) Craig did plead guilty almost two weeks after he was arrested, which would seem to be sufficient time for reflection on the ramifications of being busted for engaging in lewd behavior in public, rather than humming "The Stars and Stripes Forever." (Play it!) Senator Craig blamed the nattering nabobs of negativism in his local newspaper, the Idaho Statesman, for giving him so much stress that he was forced to solicit sex in a men's room. Repeatedly, so it seems. By the way, nice going at the Idaho Statesman. It's good to see a local newspaper that still knows how to do serious reporting. It's a newspaper owned by the McClatchy chain, in case you were wondering. [Don't miss Jackie and Dunlap's colloquy on the topic on Red State Update.]

--Mother Teresa and Princess Diana (or "Diana, Princess of Wales" as the preternaturally prissy insist on saying) : So sue me, but in my book the two of them were narcissistic wack-jobs. Please spare me the hand-wringing over Mother Teresa's newly reported crisis of faith. Better she should have had a crisis of conscience for her own behavior, such as hanging out with crooked dictators and wickedly exploiting the poor and sick as a propaganda tool for advancing extreme fundamentalist religion while posing (with great success) as a holy person. As to Princess Diana ("Diana, the Princess of Wales"), she was the only person in the world who ever made me feel sympathy toward Prince Charles. Spare me the supermarket floral bouquets. Sorry she died while carrying on with a slimy playboy in Paris 10 years ago, leaving two children. That was very sad -- but let's put a lid on the endless weeping and gnashing of teeth. Shoot arrows through me.

-- I know It's the Week Before Labor Day and Everybody's Phoning It In: But Sweet Jayzus, what is this guy on about?

--And finally, a note that arrived in the e-mail this morning from a pilot, forced into retirement, per regulation, at the absurdly young age of 60:

"My Funeral Flight (by Capt Keith McCormick)

I recently completed my last flight as pilot-in-command of a United Airlines B-747 from Sydney, Australia to the San Francisco International Airport. I was the senior pilot at United Airlines, with 38 years in the cockpit, and required to retire after this flight because of the FAA Age 60 rule applicable to all United States Air Transport Pilots flying for U.S. carriers. Since November 23, 2006, pilots of foreign carriers, even U.S. pilots working for foreign carriers, are allowed to fly in/out of the U.S. until Age 65. However, U.S. citizens are not allowed to command a U.S. carrier aircraft beyond age 60, period. Age 60 is the "new age 40" we are told, but not the eyes of the FAA or Congress if you are a U.S. citizen.

It's been a long journey, this airline life. At age 10, as I bumped down a grassy farm runway on my first airplane ride, courtesy of Dave Reece in New Providence, Iowa, and I was immediately hooked on flying. I even helped push the big red airplane back into the hangar behind his barn. At 13, I made an application to be a pilot for Braniff Airways. Braniff quietly responded I should get an education, preferably a college degree in Engineering. As I was taking flying lessons all through high school, some of the strongest memories I have are the smells: gasoline, grass, pilots smoking in the small airport shack, walking along the railroad track from town to the small airport, strolling down the grass runway when it was too windy to fly. By the time I was 14, I could identify, by the sound of the engine, the type of airplane flying over my bedroom at night. By soloing on my 16th birthday, teaching college students to fly during college, I graduated with an Aerospace Engineering degree in three years of college with enough flying time to possibly get on hired by an airline.

Hired by United Airlines in 1969 at age 22, it's been an interesting ride. Furloughs, mergers, failures, consolidations, recessions, the 1970s oil crisis, blizzards, war, airline crashes, controller strikes, airline strikes, ESOPs, 9-11, SARS, deregulation, thunderstorms, marriage, three children, international expansion and incessant safety training; the airline scarcely looks like the airline I knew when propeller airplanes were old and I was young. The bankruptcy of United changed the paradigm by enormous proportions. At age 60, even though holding a renewed First Class medical certificate in my hand and the FAA announcement the Age 60 Rule is no longer justified on safety grounds, I can no longer fly for United Airlines under current FAA regulations even though 96% of the foreign airline pilots fly to age 65, including flights into and out of the United States.

Time for my last flight, now. What is this painful feeling I have? I get up, get dressed, head for the airport, and go through the motions of flight preparation. But I am empty inside. I dread this; this part of my life ending that has been so big, so rewarding, so"".. me. My mother and father died in that small Iowa town ten and twenty years ago, respectfully. Now, I find that I have that same feeling on this final day of flying for United. It is like waiting for my parents' funerals to be held. The viewing at the funeral home and meeting friends and family to grieve our loss was bad enough. The dread of the approaching funeral at the church was worse. Daybreak on the funeral day inevitably was to come; the clock just kept ticking and would not stop. You cannot stop it. My mind was numb and I was not feeling anything. I was just going through the motions. Just thinking of the dreaded change in my life about to come because my parent(s) are no longer here to talk with me, always willing to help, and always THERE. My wife sits with me and is silent; what can she say to make them come back, to make this not my last flight? Mercifully, the funerals came and we returned home to contemplate our loss. Mercifully, this last flight, my funeral flight, will end too. The people around us are laughing, talking and carrying on without any recognition of what's happening in our life. Life goes on all around us even though I feel I am dying inside.

The purser flight attendant gives me a black cardboard box containing chocolate and a well wishing card signed by the entire fifteen member cabin crew. How sweet. We agree NOT to tell the 350 passengers this is my last flight on the 7800 mile route back to San Francisco. Such an event would burden me with saying goodbye at the aircraft door three hundred fifty times. I couldn't take that. "You don't look 60, you look like you are 40" is mentioned over and over. Graciously, I nod and thank the speakers.

The Chapter 11 bankruptcy was meant to "save" United Airlines. Labor and management resolved to "share sacrifices" and save the company for future generations. UAL pensions were handed over to the PBGC early in 2005 and United survived. Twenty five months before my retirement, my planned pension was reduced to just 18% of the pre-bankruptcy amount. Now, my pension from the PBGC totals just 12% of my pre-retirement annual pay. Substantial health insurance and income tax are deducted from the PBGC payments, further reducing the amount received, and the PBGC payments have no COLA provisions as health care and taxes go up per schedule and inflation. Fifteen years from now, with modest inflation, my monthly pension will barely pay the electric bill. Although I am required to retire at age 60 by Federal regulations, I am unable to collect Social Security until almost age 67. There is no exception for impact of Federal rules from differing agencies. Can anybody live on that? The United Airlines CEO received over 100 million dollars post bankruptcy and I receive 18% of planned retirement - some shared sacrifice.

After the final landing in SFO, the three First Officers each shake my hand and say "Good Luck". They know. None of them offer congratulations. It would be inappropriate. We haven't talked about it, but they know. They each have a chance to save for their retirement because the law will change for them, but not for me. They each have between 15 and 25 years to plan for retirement, accumulate savings through tax favored policies, and make family decisions. Two and 1/2 years was not enough time for me to make any substantial recovery or effective savings plan to cover the enormous pension loss. Nobody can change it. I will never recover the lost 72% of my pension.

Virtually all pilots I have recently flown with in my cockpit will fly to age 65, except me, under proposed FAA regulation changes. "it's just going to take time to change the rule," the FAA says. The FAA denied my request for an exemption to bridge age 60 termination and the pending rule change to age 65, perhaps by only a month or two in my case. A friend of mine, a UAL pilot having just completed his last flight before his 60th birthday, committed suicide in front of a fire station in Denver on the last day in June, just one day before his forced retirement from United and one day before his company paid life insurance would terminate (another bankruptcy concession). The location was chosen because he didn't want to make a mess at home, we are told. Several other pilots have similarly taken their lives after forced retirement, some from United, but no one wants to talk about them.

I am gone now ... that love of flying is not a part of my life anymore. I wonder how many other people have experienced this feeling. Amputees? Widows and widowers? Divorcees? Bankruptcies? Farmers? I notice how life continues around me, like after those funerals I can never forget. Passengers fly, couples laugh with their families and friends, incessant news programs on the television report on hurricanes, crimes, Middle East fighting, weather, and Congress goes on vacation rather than vote on Age65. Life goes on. There were legislative bills before the Senate and House in July 2007 to change the Age 60 rule to Age 65, but Congress didn't think it important enough to save the few of us caught "in-between". The law will change soon enough to capture most of the pilots still flying and allow them to continue to do so. News reports, put out by press releases from industry and unions, say the laws are going to change; but not in time for us. The 2,000-5,000 pilots turning age 60 between November 23, 2006 and effective date of the new law will be lost. This an acceptable loss and we apparently do not count? The outgoing FAA Administrator thinks so. My once strong and proud union, the Air Line Pilots Association supports the change but is clearly dragging their feet. Further delay of the new law benefits the younger pilots, now a majority of ALPA members, who vocally want us out of their way. PAC money is spent by ALPA to delay the new rule with further "consideration". My airline employer refused to help the older pilots by requesting exemptions from the FAA or offering alternative interim employment awaiting the law change. My funeral flight is at an end. Happy Labor Day 2007. Not all can celebrate.

(Captain McCormick retired from United Airlines, after 38 years in UAL's cockpits on numerous aircraft, because of the Age 60 rule. Captain McCormick resides in Florida with his wife, and is currently looking for employment.)


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Hot Enough For You?

As a hot-weather nut, I'm always sorry to see the end of August, with the sun thinning and those trillion or so green leaves on the trees in front and back just glowering at me with menace, threatening to die and pile up on the ground like organic slag-heaps.

Heck, I start mourning the passing of summer at the end of July. And in the Northeast, summer has been no great shakes anyway. Pity the poor souls who spent large sums of money to get away to the shore, given more than a week of temperatures in August that barely got into the 60s, with a sun that barely peeked out from clouds.

Usually, as hot-weather nuts, my wife and I spend part of the summer (and winter, too) in southern Arizona. For various reasons, we didn't this year. But it's interesting to note that it was hot. Very hot. In Phoenix, the temperature has hit 110 or above on 29 days this summer, a record. (Please excuse the link to the local newspaper that infantalizes and anthropomorphizes even the weather: "We did it!" Gannett, of course).

Anyway, a cooling trend is coming.

Above, for Arizonans and others who like the desert, a reminder of what it looked like in Tucson when I got up one morning just seven months ago, on Jan. 22 -- the first snowfall in a generation. By 1 p.m., however, all traces of the snow were gone and the temperature was in the 70s.

Strange weather we're having.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Brazil Demands Pilots Return

A Brazilian court is demanding that American pilots Joe Lepore (l) and Jan Paladino return to Brazil for criminal proceedings on charges in the Sept. 29 mid-air collision over the Amazon that killed 154. Citing a U.S.-Brazil treaty, the pilots say no, they'll testify in the U.S. instead . See my Brazil blog.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Airports: SNAFU

Snafu, or SNAFU, is one of those terms writers always misuse to describe a situation that is unexpectedly out of control. Actually, the letters stand for "situation normal, all f----- up" (sometimes euphemistically rendered as "all fouled up.") The term comes from the Army, and it was in use before World War II, but the war gave it a boost into everyday language.

Snafu describes the situation once again tonight at the nation's airports. It's got to the point this summer where we barely consider it news that the air-traffic system is in meltdown -- again.

Check out The flight-delay alerts are blinking like the monitor on a hedge-fund manager's desk. Ground delays (here's a link explaining what they are again) are posted over the place. This afternoon and tonight, O'Hare joins the usual suspects among airports on the East Coast in originating long delays, rather than just being affected by them. It's a real Goatf---, as they say in today's Army.

Can this crisis continue much longer before people in large numbers say the hell with it and stay home? Stay tuned. Labor Day weekend is coming up. Then the business-travel season resumes.

And come fall we'll learn whether the situation is (fouled) up beyond all repair. That's Fubar in the old Army.

Or a Clusterf--- in the new.


Reality TV: Honey, I Sold the Kids

Some words you need to keep in reserve for when the occasion calls for their use.

Words like "odious."

I'm referring to a forthcoming reality-television series called "Kid Nation." It will be on a once-respected American television network, CBS.

You really have to read the waivers that were signed by the parents of the children selected for the program. Here, via the Smoking Gun is the remarkable 22-page contract in which parents grant CBS and two production outfits astonishing rights to their children’s lives and well-being, and indemnify them from liability, so that the children could participate in "Kid Nation." The show is to premier on Sept. 19 -- and in my opinion, anyone who watches it after reading that contract should be ashamed of themselves.

For the reality show, 40 children aged 8 to 15 were hauled off to Bonanza City, an abandoned mining town in the New Mexico desert, for 40 days, where they created their own ad hoc society -- out of contact with their parents.

The contract the parents signed to allow their children to participate, among other things, stipulates that the parents acknowledge “certain risks” to their child – referred to as the Minor -- participating in the 13-part series.

It says: “I agree that should the Minor be killed, injured or harmed” to release CBS and the producers “from any claim based on the Producer’s failure to inspect or investigate” the children’s “accommodations.”

For $5,000 (children who are voted best participant in each of the 13 episodes are eligible for another $20,000, at Producer's discretion, the contract says), parents agree to the following, among other things:

“I understand that the Program may take place in inherently dangerous travel areas, that may expose the Minor and other participants to a variety of unmarked and uncontrolled hazards and conditions that may cause the Minor serious bodily injury, illness or death, including, without limitation: general exposure to extremes of heat and cold; crime, water hazards, floods; drowning; treacherous terrain; collision with others, including those submerged below water surfaces; injuries arising from equipment failure or defect; falls from heights, objects and equipment; falling rocks and objects; crevasses, cliffs and rock avalanches; encounters with wild or domesticated animals; acts of God (e.g., earthquakes); food poisoning; encounters with dangerous flora and fauna; collisions with other participants, spectators and others; loss of orientation (getting lost) in primitive areas; exhaustion, dehydration, fatigue, over-exertion and sun or heat-stroke; hypothermia; and risks arising from evacuation and rescue activities in remote or less-developed areas.”

Also: “I acknowledge that the Minor’s participation” in the program “may present certain risks” … “and I hereby assume any and all risks on behalf of the Minor and myself associated with the Minor’s participation in the program, including, without limitation, the risk of death or physical or emotional injury, minor and/or severe bodily harm and/or illness, which arise by any means, including, without limitation, instruction by Producers or other program participants…”

Parents also agree not to hold CBS and the producers responsible if “the Minor chooses to enter into an intimate relationship of any nature with another participant or any other person [italics mine, but think about that], [then] the Minor does so without any influence by the Producers and the Minor and I hereby assume any and all risks that may be associated with any relationship, including, without limitation, emotional distress, illness, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and pregnancy, if applicable.”

Remember, these are kids aged 8 to 15 ("if applicable"). Of the 40 kids, incidentally, a dozen are aged 10 or younger, and only one is 15.

Among other things, the parents also agree to abide by a confidentiality clause that prevents them from talking about the program and their child's participation in it unless the interview is “sanctioned by the press officer of CBS.”

Penalty for breaking the CBS oath of omerta and blabbing: $5 million.

Wondering about child-labor laws? The contract stipulates that any money paid to the children is a "prize or stipend" and "not, in any way, a wage, salary or other indicia of employment."

The story from today's Times is on the Web site, unaccountably buried. But here it is.

A major television network in the United States pulled this stunt, in cahoots with television production companies. A guy named Ghen Maynard is the head of alternative programing (reality shows) for CBS. He should be very proud of himself.

The parents who signed on to this -- what the hell were they thinking?

And by the way: Where were -- and are -- the kids' schools?

Meanwhile, parents interested in peddling their children for the next round of the series are offered an "Eligibility Requirements" form to fill out and send to the show's office at 1823 Colorado Ave. in Santa Monica, along with a video showcasing the kid's personality and a long questionnaire for both parent and child. I can't link to the questionnaire, a protected pdf file, but it's online at:

The application requires the child to answer a long list of questions. Among them:

--"How important is religion to you?" and how often do you go to church?

--"Who did your parents vote for in the last presidential election?"

--"Do you have a girlfriend or boyfriend or do you have a crush on anyone? If so, tell us about him or her."


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Morning News: Bananas

Travelers to Venezuela will need to fiddle more than usual with their watches after New Year's because President Hugo Chavez has decreed that clocks will be moved ahead by a half-hour. A half-hour, not an hour, meaning that of all the major nations on earth, Venezuela will be the only one maintaining a time-zone 30 minutes out of step with the rest. *[See correction below]

In a rambling six-hour discourse Sunday on his TV and radio program, "Alo Presidente," Chavez said changing the clocks would allow citizens to benefit from "the metabolic effect where the human brain is regulated by the sun."

After the change, Venezuela will be 3 1/2 hours behind GMT, rather than 4.

And I can't be the only one who's thinking about the 1971 Woody Allen movie, "Bananas," in which Fielding Mellesh, a hapless product-tester from New York, wanders to the fictitious Central American country of San Marcos and ends up as the revolutionary dictator. Among his decrees: That everyone must change their underwear daily, and wear their underwear outside their regular clothes so it can be monitored.

* [Correction appended August 24--As noted in the readers' comments, it isn't true that Venezuela is the only major nation that will set its clocks off the hour. India is on the half-hour. There are other out-of-steppers here and there, including some places in Australia and in the Canadian maritime provinces. Nepal is even odder, being 45 minutes off the little hand.

There is a handy Web site, for finding out what time it is anywhere in the world. I should have checked it.]


Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Morning News

--I looked up the daily newspaper in Jamaica to see how the approaching hurricane was being covered from the scene. At first I thought I was reading an Onion parody, but no, it was real. Maybe there's some sort of movement for phonetic authenticity going on there that I don't know about. Who knew dialect was still being rendered this way in 2007?

--The only TV news we can stand to watch regularly in our house is the BBC World News, despite that ridiculous shiny red set that looks like a South Jersey diner, that thumping techno music that would be more at home in a Bulgarian nightclub, and those male news-readers who affect weird British speech patterns that make them sound like Elmer Fudds who have passed their A-levels. (I keep hoping there'll be riots in Kuala Lumpur just to listen to these guys try to say the words).

But I digress. This is about the coal-mine disaster in Utah. Why do the American media keep parroting the term used by the coal-mine owners, who insist that disaster is the result of "seismic shifts." The BBC, to its credit, calls it what it is: A cave-in.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Tonight's Air Travel: What a Mess

If you're flying today, you already know that a good part of the nation's air traffic system is in a serious mess. A series of late-afternoon and early-evening thunderstorms on the East Coast has backed up flights all over the country.

The best way to assess current conditions is at Use the "Airports" tab for specific airport delays information. The F.A.A. claims to have a flight-delay feature on its Web site, -- but as usual it's worthless when you need it. As I write this, it's frozen.

If (as I do) you need a reminder of what "ground delay" and "ground stop" programs are, here's a link.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Heathrow Hype and Time Travel (Einstein Was WAY Off)

Matt ("All Links All the Time") Drudge has a characteristically breathless headline over a link to a story from the always-quotable London Evening Standard: "Airport Meltdown As EVERY Flight Leaving Heathrow Is Delayed."

Wot? Granted, Heathrow is a great big mess, easily the most screwed-up major airport in the world.

But was every flight delayed yesterday morning? A simple check of shows that to be an exaggeration, to put it mildly. At Heathrow, 81 percent of flights between 6 and 9 a.m. left on time; 60 percent between 9 a.m. and noon did, and 52 percent between noon and 3 p.m.

That's a lousy record. But air travelers need reliable information, not British press hysteria related as fact.

By the way, speaking of British press baloney, there's another hyperventilating link on the Drudge site today, from the Telegraph newspaper: "German Physicists: We have broken speed of light!" it says -- yes, in red.

Here is the top of the story:

"A pair of German physicists claim to have broken the speed of light-- an achievement that would undermine our entire understanding of space and time."

Holy Cow! (to quote the late Phil Rizzuto).

The learned physicists who came upon this earth-shaking discovery (which is strangely unmentioned in other world publications, undoubtedly because the media is in bed with those jealous bastards in the reality-based scientific establishment!) are identified as the Drs. Gunter Nimtz and Alfons Stahlhofen, of the University of Koblenz.

That's K-O-B-L-E-N-Z.

[The University of Koblenz -- K-O-B-L-E-N-Z -- was most recently in the news when jealous members of the reality-based scientific community worldwide ridiculed a research report from the U-Koblenz physics department claiming that cell-phone signals were decimating the world honeybee population.]

In finally overturning that smart-ass Albert Einstein, U-Koblenz's dynamic Nimtz-Stahlhofen duo found that light travels "instantaneously" rather than at the speed of light, making it possible for you and me to one day get on a spaceship and arrive at our destination at the exact same moment as we actually left, assuming we didn't change our plans or miss the connecting flight. This, of course, holds new promise for addressing the growing problem of airline flight delays and cancellations. Northwest Airlines should hire those two birds.

(Explaining further, the learned Koblenz (K-O-B-L-E-N-Z) scientists also discovered that the speed at which bullshit takes up permanent residence in an otherwise empty skull is infinitely greater than the speed of light.)

The Telegraph article is based on a report in the august New Scientist magazine, a publication that some jealous bastards in the realty-based academic community have ridiculed as being "scientifically illiterate."

Whatever. I get nervous with this talk of time travel because, to paraphrase Woody Allen, it might mean I'd have to sit through Grandma and the other Mime-Clowns at the Big Apple Circus again.


The Space Shuttle: Business Travel Ad Absurdum

Two visions of space exploration. Top: The basic technology driving the Space Shuttle. Bottom: The star Mira, streaking across the galaxy with a tail 3 trillion miles long.

There are two interesting stories about the space program in this morning's news. One is about the Space Shuttle, already damaged, moored at that ludicrous levitating lean-to, the Space Station, which barely clings to orbit a mere 210 miles above the Earth. (That's the distance between New York and Boston).

How many times are we supposed to be awestruck by, "Oh look! My wrench is floating!"

There is a "teacher" on board. Actually, she's an astronaut, propagandizing for NASA's space shuttle program. Her most profound message so far to the kiddies assembled below:

"Never, ever give up."

(Actually, I would resent anyone teaching my child that ridiculously extreme proposition. In fact, as any field general or football coach will attest, there are times, usually in face of a hopeless massacre, to just give up so nobody else gets hurt.)

And then there is this story today about the majesty of real space exploration, via the Galaxy Evolution Explorer Spacecraft.

Guess which program gets all the money and classroom exposure?


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Don't Worry, These Babies Have TWO Wings

A passenger barely makes his connection after another "weather-related event." (right)

I don't know how much weirder air travel can become in this memorable Summer of 2007. Have a look at the following report on a two-foot-long wing section that fell off a Northwest Airlines DC9 into somebody's back yard. The flight was later grounded, but Northwest said the missing wing chunk was "not a safety issue."

"McFARLAND, Wis. (AP) - A southeastern Wisconsin family found what appeared to be a piece of a Northwest Airlines plane in their back yard.

'I was coming out with the laundry basket to hang my laundry, and I noticed ... a large, large piece of metal in my yard,' Judy St. Clair told WISC-TV in Madison. 'I thought, Oh, my goodness. That looks like an airplane wing. But I thought, How can that be?'

The two-foot-long chunk of metal tore through the branches of the ash tree in her back yard.

St. Clair said she turned it over to McFarland authorities, who alerted the Federal Aviation Administration.

WISC-TV confirmed with Northwest Airlines that after Flight 1449 from Detroit landed in Madison at 9:21 a.m. Wednesday, an inspection revealed a missing flap. The DC-9's return flight to Detroit was grounded.

The airline said it was investigating. 'The approximate 2-foot-long piece used to reduce drag was not a flight safety issue,' airline spokesman Dean Breest said.

Northwest said it wanted to make sure the found part was from its plane before commenting further."


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Heathrow Protest Demonstrations This Week

An update on the "Camp for Climate Action" global-warming protests planned for Tuesday through the following Tuesday near Heathrow Airport, already the most screwed-up major airport in the world:

It's hard to say how many people will show up for the week-long "encampment," which has the potential to further disrupt Heathrow (if that's possible).

In a move widely denounced in London as boneheaded, BAA, the Spanish company that runs the airport, provided copious free publicity to the protest earlier this month when it blustered into the High Court, like Manuel from Fawlty Towers rushing out of a smoke-filled kitchen, babbling about seeking an injunction that would allow police to arrest people on public transit who merely appeared to be headed for the protest.

The High Court, demonstrating why Britain should have thought about getting itself a proper Constitution a long time ago, gave BAA a bit of what it wanted, allowing for the prior restraint of several leaders of the protesting groups. But the sweeping injunction sought by BAA was denied.

However, the publicity will probably do wonders for turn-out.

The umbrella organization for the Climate Camp has now announced the site.

And it's interesting to see that the groups, who had previously maintained that there would be no direct action to disrupt Heathrow, seem to have changed their tune. Now they're promising "civil disobedience" and "direct action" that "will cost the aviation industry dearly." I'd say they have been emboldened by BAA's invincibly stupid reaction to what might otherwise have been a minor event consisting of a couple of hundred eco-zealots in a field clanging pot lids and wailing that "aviation is not a necessity." (Which it isn't, if you've got nowhere to go).

No matter how many people show up, it's difficult to predict what opportunities the more "activist" among them might actually have to take "direct action." Certainly, the police will be mobilized in force. It might well be that the "direct action" consists of disrupting access roads and traffic.

But it could be more.

If I had a choice (and lucky for me I do), I'd avoid Heathrow as much as possible. I'd especially be wary starting this Tuesday. Indications are that the "direct action" part of the protest will be on Sunday, Aug. 19 through Monday, Aug. 20.

And campers: Do Not Enter the Kool-Aid Tent Unless Instructed by the Tranquility Team! Among the Camp's announcements is this bizarre one, under the "Practicalities" section:

"General Camp emergency"

"The camp has an emergency bell which we will demonstrate on site. If you here this alarm, stop what you are doing, stand still, and wait until you get further instructions from the tranquillity team." [Spellings sic]


Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Morning News ...

Why you never, ever want to spend even one summer day in the Hamptons.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Baloney on Coney II

(Wildwood, NJ, above)

Here's another example of why you can't trust the advice on online leisure-travel sites, not to mention the advice given by a lot of travel writers.

USA Today has an AP story this morning on the 'Top 10 Amusement Parks Outside Orlando" as determined by On the list: Coney Island.

Coney Island was once a great amusement park center. From the late 188os till about 1964.

Today, besides an ancient roller coaster, the Cyclone, that many aficionados love, the place is basically a beach, a hot dog stand, and a boardwalk with some storefronts. The "amusement park" -- doomed to demolition this fall -- is something on the order of what you'd see at the St. Adalbert's annual carnival.

Trust me, Coney is not worth a side trip if you're visiting New York.

A place that should be on any such list (but knowing about it would require that a writer --egad!--actually travel): the seashore/boardwalk town of Wildwood, N.J.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Risking a Delay of Game Penalty?

Audacity, the old joke goes, is murdering your parents and then throwing yourself on the mercy of the court because you are an orphan.

But Northwest Airlines continues to write new definitions for the word. Today, Northwest Airlines proudly announced that it has again been chosen as the “charter airline” for the Indianapolis Colts, Super Bowl XLI champions, for the coming NFL season.

Northwest said will utilize Boeing 757 and 747 aircraft, as well as anAirbus A330, to support the Colts' 10 road trips during the 2007 season.

"Northwest Airlines is pleased to be an official sponsor of the Indianapolis Colts and transport the team for the seventh consecutive year," said Bill Wernecke, director of charter department for Northwest.

Northwest described its charter operations this way: “One of the preferred charter carriers in the college and professional sports world, Northwest will serve as charter airline for a number of athletic teams in 2007, including 10 NCAA Division I college football teams and eight NFL teams.”

Well. Isn’t that nice. They’re diverting 757s, 747s and an A330 to charter ops.

And what is it those of us without Super Bowl rings most associate these days with Northwest Airlines?

Delays! Cancellations! Unavailability of extra airplanes to handle demand! Service that evokes Albania in 1972!

Here’s some news Northwest wasn’t crowing about yesterday. In July, according to, Northwest cancelled 1,895 flights, the most by far of any airline. In August, with no real relief in sight, Northwest has reduced its schedule by another four percent.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Morning News: Oh NO! Not the Dread Cathy Badge!

If you're traveling in Bangkok this summer and you happen to see a cop wearing an armband with a pink Hello Kitty face on it, do not be unduly alarmed. It just means the officer has committed a minor departmental infraction, like showing up for work late, and is being punished by having to wear a humiliating pink armband depicting a cute kitty cat, as reported today in the Times.

"It will be very embarrassing to walk around with Hello Kitty on your arm," one officer confided to the paper, which added: "Stronger measures could be next for corruption and other more serious infractions."

Like the Garfield Guilt Seal? The Snoopy Sash of Sorrow? Or, horrors: the Cathy Badge!


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Another New Republic Stink Bomb (Cont'd)

Some of the usual suspects in the media were quick to accept the New Republic's strange defense last week that it had checked out its Baghdad Diarist's questionable reports from Iraq about witnessing astonishing atrocities by fellow soldiers in Iraq and found them to be accurate, citing anonymous corroborators.

Nevertheless, the New Republic observed piously, the Army, in launching its own internal investigation, has short-circuited that of the New Republic's intrepid editors.

Wait a minute: Jayzus, their defense is based on anonymous sources!

I think this war is an atrocity that will haunt even my children's generation, but that doesn't mean I'm going to buy into some obviously phony reporting by a clearly questionable character who happens to be married to a New Republic reporter/researcher. (In journalism talk, that title means glorified editorial clerk).

And by the way, I had no similar problems with the veracity of recent, solid reporting on the same subject in the Nation magazine.

But from the get-go, it seemed to me, the florid writing by this chump, whose real name turns out to be Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp, smelled wrong. By the way, that's Pvt. as in private and not even Pfc. as in private first class. For a buck private, as I said in the initial post on this subject on July 26, that Beauchamp boy did seem to have an awful lot of mobility.

The Weekly Standard now is reporting online that Our Hero has confessed to fabricating the allegations. The New Republic -- scene of the infamous Stephen Glass fabrications -- has continued to stand by them. For how long?

[Update, Aug. 8 -- The Army issued this statement yesterday: "An investigation has been completed and the allegations by Pvt. Beauchamp were found to be false. His platoon and his company were interviewed and no one could substantiate the claims." The New Republic, despite admitting that one of the anecdotes it published was false, continues to stand by the other stories.]


Monday, August 06, 2007

Sarkozy: What I Did On My Summer Vacation

France's new right-wing president, Nicolas Sarkozy, ran for office with an image campaign that depicted him as the man on a white horse. But you can trust me on this: That ain't a horse M. Sarkozy is riding (above).

It is a pony.

And if you look at the video from which the above still is taken (sorry, no link available), you will see that the great equestrian is bouncing around on his saddle at a slow canter while trying to balance himself with a tight rein. Meaning the poor horse -- I mean, pony -- is getting thumped on its back and yanked on its mouth. That's the definition of lousy horsemanship.

Dismounted, Mr. Sarkozy recently shocked the French establishment by taking a summer vacation at an expensive lakefront estate in New Hampshire. While on his boat Sunday on Lake Winnipesaukee, N.H., Sarkozy "lost his temper with two American news photographers covering his vacation, jumping onto their boat and scolding them loudly in French," according to WBZ Radio in Boston, which interviewed the photographers.

The photographers had received permission from a security patrol boat to photograph Sarkozy from a distance. The men said they watched through their lenses as Sarkozy gestured toward them and his boat began moving in their direction. Coming alongside the photographers' boat, an infuriated Sarkozy, clad in swim trunks, jumped on board and began shouting at them in French, which neither photographer understood

[My note: To their credit, the photographers whose boat was illegally boarded by the crazed Frenchman did not shout after him: " .... and the horse -- er, pony -- you rode in on!"]


Airline Crisis: You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet

Michael Boyd, of the Boyd Group consulting and forecasting firm, is one of the most incisive analysts of the aviation industry. Even though airline customer service is horrible and getting worse, as delays and cancellations mount, the airline industry is profitable now after many years of loses. But a crunch is coming, Mr. Boyd predicts in his weekly report today (scroll down to "Aviation Industry: Start the Revolution") .

The F.A.A. -- a favorite target of Mr. Boyd -- has failed miserably to keep up with demand while squandering huge sums of money, he says, and a real "fuel hammer" is coming this fall, meaning "the airline industry may have run out of time" to get things fixed.


Thursday, August 02, 2007

Bah on BAA in Britain

You can't fix stupid, as the classic line by the standup comedian Ron White goes.

But you sure can define it. And today it takes only three letters: BAA.

The British Airports Authority (BAA) -- the company that runs Heathrow and other airports in Britain and around the world -- really hit the publicity jackpot when it went to court in London requesting a sweeping injunction against a planned week-long environmental protest near Heathrow starting Aug. 14.

The protest is called the Camp for Climate Action. Its organizers want to block any expansion of Heathrow, but more generally they want to draw attention to aviation as a source of CO2 emissions that contribute to the climate change crisis. They also intend, a statement says, to "raise awareness of the need to fly less."

Organizers of the encampment have said they plan at least one day of active protests to disrupt Heathrow operations. They said will not do anything illegal like attempt to block runways, though they been clear that other unspecified "peaceful" protest tactics are being planned. The encampment is to be held at so-far unspecified sites near the airport.

OK, that could mean problems, and BAA Heathrow of course has every right to make preparations to minimize them. After all, Heathrow already firmly holds the title as the world's most screwed-up major airport. Heathrow is designed to handle 45 million passengers a year, and it now handles more than 67 million. And hair-trigger British security authorities have added to the chaos with arbitrary new hassles.

But what does BAA Heathrow do? It rushes to the High Court in London applying for an injunction that, according to British press reports, would provide for the widespread arrest of protesters bound for the airport.

How, you might ask, could this amazing feat be accomplished in a democratic nation with ancient legal traditions with names like habeas corpus?

Well, BAA -- which is owned by the Spanish company Ferrovial -- asked the British court to give police the authority to pre-emptively arrest identifiable members of 15 separate environmental and preservation groups as they make their way to the airport. BAA included in its request the ability to have Heathrow-bound passengers arrested on the Piccadilly underground line, and even at Paddington Station, where protesters would board the BAA-owned Heathrow Express. The Piccadilly line has since been dropped from the request.

And who are these scary environmental groups? Well, some are well-known activists coalitions, including AirportWatch. PlaneStupid is another. Groups such as the National Trust also are among the suspects. You know the National Trust, the big preservation organization that looks after 612,000 acres of British countryside and coastline, as well as hundreds of historic properties?

The president of the National Trust is Prince Charles. The previous president was his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, who is now presumably off the hook when the coppers come round looking for provocateurs. Up against the wall, Charley boy! Here's a coin to call yer old Mum.

The court is still trying to sort out BAA's application for the injunction.

[Update, Friday, Aug. 3 -- The High Court said it would rule Monday on the injunction request. Meanwhile, a leader of one of the protest groups said BAA's bungling had brought unanticipated widespread attention to the event. "BAA has done all my press work for me," said John Stewart, who heads Hacan Clearskies, a group of Heathrow-area residents who have organized to stop airport expansion and reduce noise. "The injunction is just one long press release for us." Stewart was quoted in the Richmond and Twickenham Times newspapers.]

BAA, digging itself deeper, reacted to the uproar and ridicule by really saying it only wanted to block illegal protesters bound for Heathrow, and maybe just their ringleaders. It was widely pointed out that (outside of Franco's Spain and similar prescient law-enforcement environments) you couldn't really tell who was going to be an illegal protester until they actually got to the airport sites and did something against the law.

As drafted, the injunction would conceivably cover 5 million citizens of Great Britain, the newspapers pointed out.

In a statement, BAA replied: "Contrary to media reports, the injunction will not affect anyone lawfully traveling to and from Heathrow Airport." [My italics] BAA said that the injunction "will only affect those individuals who wish to [my italics] conduct harassment, trespass, obstruction and/or use any unlawful means; to deter obstruct or prevent the lawful operation and/or development of the airport; or to prevent persons from traveling to, from or at the airport." [Uh, BAA's grammar and punctuation].

OK then. Glad you made that clear, BAA.

Meanwhile, if you're going through Heathrow in mid-August, watch what you wish for.

[Update, Aug. 6 -- The High Court granted BAA a narrowed version of its sweeping injunction request today in a ruling that nevertheless would have been described in the U.S. as a form of prior restraint, but which the British media seem to find unobjectionable.]