Friday, October 26, 2007

The Morning's Airline News: Fresh Hell Ahead

In a year in which record delays, cancellations and passenger-strandings have been accompanied by robust profits, airlines are busily planning to pack more people in. Doug Parker, the CEO of US Airways, which reported a $117 million profit for the third-quarter, crows here that airlines need to exercise more "capacity restraint" and get rid of "excess capacity."

Excess capacity?
Domestic airlines are already flying with all seats full on most routes. US Airwars, for example, filled a record 81.6 percent of its seats in the first nine months of this year. US Air, alone among the major carriers, doesn't break out its seats-filled figures domestic vs. international, but domestic load-factors (the percentage of seats filled) typically exceed international ones.

At over 80 percent systemwide, it's considered that nearly every flight is full.
The airline industry wants us all to get used to it. The planes -- where coach cabins are torture chambers after a few hours -- are going to be full, all the time. You don't like it? Tough, say the airlines. Whaddya gonna do, drive 1,500 miles each way?

Here is what the airlines have learned in this worst year ever for customer service: We're treating them like cattle and we're making more money at it! [Of course, cattle get fed and there are laws governing humane transport of cattle]
We're in a seasonal lull right now, and the system is working fairly smoothly. But wait till the holiday season starts next month. You know, when all the cheap-ticket leisure travelers and kiddies return, now laden with packages for Christmas at grandma's?

You ain't seen nothin' yet.

By the way, Kate Hanni's Coalition for Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights now has 21,000 active members. And they all take notes.


The Morning News: Heckuva Job, FEMA

Is there no idiocy to which this government will not descend? From today's Washington Post, on the F.E.M.A. press conference on the California wildfires.

Naturally, it took Fox News no time at all to make a very fine ass of itself speculating about the cause(s) of the wildfires.

Jayzus, when you can't even cover a fire ...

[Update: Oct. 28 -- Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, unlike his lamebrain predecessor and lamebrain boss, at least recognizes a disaster when he sees one. "I think it was one of the dumbest and most inappropriate things I've seen since I've been in government," said Chertoff, who evidently does not watch the news very much. Meanwhile, let's just note that Vice Admiral Harvey E. Johnson, the F.E.M.A. deputy director, probably shouldn't be looking for that fourth star.]

[Update: Oct. 30 -- Vice Admiral Johnson, it is reported, is retired, which means he failed to get that fourth star previously. And he's a retired Coast Guard admiral, which is to an actual admiral roughly what a Salvation Army colonel is to an actual colonel.]


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

L.A. Observed

I'm not going to post one of those dramatic fire photos from the raging wildfires in Southern California because we all know what fires look like.

While trying to follow the wildfire story yesterday and today -- a story about an area I have some knowledge of and affinity for -- something occurred to me.

You know what's really, really dead? No, not newspapers. The Los Angeles Times Web site is right up to date, though very slow -- an indication that the publishers are unprepared for the sudden surge in demand. And that front-page map of the fires today on the front page of the New York Times was the first I have seen that seems to recognize that this story has a ferociously strong element of geography to it.

You know what's dead? Television news is what. You can readily link to any of the Southern California television stations. All of the major ones, like this and this, are covering the fires full-time, and I simply cannot figure out what is going on from them (though this one in San Diego, at least has a Web site with useful text information if you don't have the six hours needed to sort out the story on the live TV feed).

Click on most of these TV newscasts and try to figure the story out in a reasonable time, while sitting through tediously repetitive commentary on the already well-known, accompanied by dramatic video of ... smoke and fire. Smoke and fire without context and, for the most part, without intelligible geography. The same clips over and over, without context.

I could take Los Angeles local television for about 15 minutes before going back online to text, thank you very much. Sorry, up-to-the-minute TV. You're over. You're a cheap visual tumble in the news hay.

I just don't have the time to sit here waiting for you to get around to telling me the story.

Business travelers looking at a trip to Los Angeles or San Diego this week already know where to go for the usual information on flights and the like.

But this is an intensely local story, and the most basically local sources are excellent. Try some like the "Here in Malibu" blog, which is posting reporting at its most local -- and useful. It's linked to at LA Observed, which has other useful local links and, as its motto partly states, "a sense of place." Today it's carrying one of the few great photographs from this story, via the Los Angeles Times, showing eight firefighters zipped in body-bag-like protective fire "huts" as flames race over them on an Orange County ridge. That photo commands attention.

But please, let's have fewer photos in general where text and graphics are needed: We know what fire looks like. We know what grieving homeowners look like. We know what a burned-down mansion looks like.

How about running something more useful and fascinating, given the raw geography of Southern California. How about more good locator, regional and topographical maps instead?

Yeah, I know, the newspaper design people don't like maps much, and love photos of flames and crying victims instead. The design people also don't particularly like words.

But the design people should be asked to wait whence they came, in the Lifestyles on Parade section, till the fire burns out and those of us who care manage to figure out, in context, what the hell happened, where, and why, in Southern California.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

This Being Sunday, Phoenix Paper Genuflects

The Gannettoids in Phoenix, vigilantly policing the First Amendment with the tenacious competence of Barney Fife, make sure that the Special Prosecutor who created the national embarrassment over the weekly New Times (see posts below), gets respectful treatment today in the "Arizona Republic." He "will not stand to see his reputation tarnished," the Gannettoids assure Phoenix. (Can an entire metropolis be said to giggle?)

After all, the Gannettoids might get in trouble some day (though why is anyone's guess, since the authorities always give extra points for chronic genuflecting) -- and they sure do not want any authority mad at them.

Oh, and speaking of risible piety, check out this from the same paper's editorial today:

"We are gratified that the outlandish attempt to punish an alternative weekly newspaper for the crime of offending the sensibilities of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has ended. The Republic often is leery of New Times' style of free-for-all journalism. But, in this appalling overreach of government intrusion, both the New Times and the public were grievously wronged."

Egad: The 'Republic' often is leery of ...!


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Phoenix Loon Platoon: 'Never Mind'

Why you! ... Evidently the derision got too heavy for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe (Pinky) Arpaio and the stooges in the prosecutors office. The desert loons have now dropped charges against the weekly Phoenix New Times, including a subpoena that demanded the names, browser I.D.s and browsing histories of every single person who visited the New Times Web site since 2004.

Here's some more derisive reaction.

Next year, sensible Phoenix-area voters will toss this asinine Arpaio character out of office, and Phoenix will take its place without restriction as one of the coolest cities in the U.S., even at 115 degrees in July.


Friday, October 19, 2007

By the Time You Get to Phoenix...

...You could be under subpoena, if you click this news link from the weekly Phoenix New Times. For those of you who don't want to end up in pink uniforms in the Desert Loon's jail, here's a link from the Gannettoids at the timid Arizona Republic, Phoenix's daily paper, which blandly reports that New Times is "at odds" with the sheriff and various worthies in the county prosecutor's office.

At freakin' odds! Jayzus! Do sentient creatures edit these newspaper stories?

Last night, the sheriff's boys arrested two editors from New Times, which (unlike the local Gannett paper) has a long tradition of aggressively investigating the astonishingly weird (and worse) activities of the Desert Loon.

As noted here yesterday, Sheriff Joe (Pinky) Arpaio and the Keystone Kops in the Maricopa County prosecutor's office issued a subpoena to New Times seeking the names and Web browsing histories of every single person who visited the online edition of New Times since 2004.

How, oh how, does a really nice place like Phoenix -- home of great weather, superb restaurants, magnificent scenery, a public radio station way better than that preternaturally prissy station in New York City -- manage to elect these invincible goofballs?

Meanwhile, the great battleships of the Mainstream Media are slowly responding with their 5-inch guns, instead of their 16-inchers, popping out little 800-word summaries about this truly astonishing sequence of events -- a free press under brazen assault; editors hauled off to jail in the night.

Every one of these great bastions of the First Amendment ought to prominently post live links to Phoenix New Times on their own Web sites (here's another one, reporting that the editors were released from jail today) -- so that 10 or 20 million people could stand up against this stunningly anti-American assault on the First Amendment. There can't be that many pink jail suits in all of Arizona.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sheriff Joe Wants to Know Where You Go (Online)

I love Arizona enormously, but I find the Phoenix area a little spooky, and it has nothing to do with the heat, or at least the heat as defined by temperature. Here's one big reason.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

World Pilots Group to Brazil: Suspend Prosecution, Wait for Evidence

My Brazil blog is down (Blogspot informs me it will "review" whether it's a spam blog or not and get back to me in 4 days, as if 4 days means squat, which is one major reason this blog will soon appear in a new, reliable and professional format). Here's a new statement on the scapegoating of the U.S. pilots. The statement is from the International Federation of Air Line Pilots Associations.

That group, by the way, has consistently been inexcusably far behind on developments. In referring to "possible criminal prosecutions" for example, it is evidently unware that the criminal trial of the American pilots and four Brazilian controllers has in fact been under way for a month in Sinop, the regional city nearest the crash site in the Amazon.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

T.S.A.: Shoes News

The long-awaited GE shoe-scanner got the boot yesterday from the Transportation Security Administration.

The machine was designed to allow members of the Clear version of the Registered Traveler program to pass through security without having to remove their shoes and put them on the belt.

Clear, which has opened lanes at 10 airports and is expanding, has about 68,000 members. They pay $99.95 a year for a biometric I.D. card and a special lane to expedite the checkpoint process. The shoe-scanner, developed by GE in a partnership with Clear, was the first in what Registered Traveler program operators envisioned as an assortment of new technology, including a machine that would allow laptops to remain in their cases.

Here's the text of the T.S.A. announcement on nixing the GE shoe-scanner:
"TSA and GE agreed in July on a series of specifications that needed to be met before a GE shoe scanner would be authorized for widespread use in U. S. airports. The specifications covered minimum requirements for explosives and weapons detection. The Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate, Transportation Security Laboratory, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have concluded the tests.

The results were as follows:

The shoe-scanning feature on the machine presented for testing on August 20 does not meet minimum detection standards. While significant improvements were made, (in fact a new machine was submitted) the shoe scanner still does not meet standards to ensure detection of explosives.

GE’s been apprised of these results and TSA and GE have agreed to continue working together. TSA and its partners at the laboratory stand ready to further test the GE shoe scanner feature upon completion of additional detection capability enhancements to meet the agreed upon security requirements.

The machine currently in use in Orlando does not meet minimum detection standards and several additional security measures are required by TSA to mitigate the shortfalls of the shoe scanner feature. Accordingly, the prototype shoe scanner used in Orlando will be discontinued, effective October 10. It had been hoped that an acceptable scanner would be available, but given that the lab prototype does not meet all standards, TSA will not authorize the shoe scanner feature for security purposes in any of the airports where it is currently deployed and awaiting use. The GE Kiosks may be used to read biometric cards associated with the Registered Traveler program but will not provide a security benefit."

For more information on Registered Traveler click here.


Sunday, October 07, 2007

Brazil: Unsafe Skies? Why, I Oughta...

More coverup, blame shifting and scapegoating in the land that logic emigrated from. See my Brazil blog.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Brazil: The Keystone Cops Weigh in Again

I am now in India, a lovely, well-mannered country where nobody has tried to kill me, by crashing an airplane into me and blaming the innocent pilots, and so for a time at least Brazil seems, well a half world away.

But the vigilant and honorable Richard Pedicini, our Sao Paulo bureau chief, has remained on the job, 24 - 7 it seems to me.

Evidently, the congressional invetogators, known as the CPI, have now signed off on their "report," which evidently exonerates the air traffic controllers and blames only the American pilots. This remarkable feat or investigative work has been accomplished by the tried and true method of ignoring the undisputed evidence and deliberately mistranslating sections of the cockpit voice recorder. Oh, and why have we not heard Word One from the Gol recorder?

Now, I have been remiss in not saying that I hear regularly from sensible, fair minded Brazilians who tell me their country can be crazy. And I have been hearing from a lot of the recently warning me that the CPI has about as much credibility as the Myanmar parliament..

Anyway, here's an update, translation courtesy as usual of Mr. Pedicini.

Sinop court asks for interference of STJ in trial over Boeing crash
October 5, 2007 - 16:28

The continuation of the trial on the accident involving the Gol plane - the second worst in Brazilian aviation - in the North of Mato Gosso, will depend on a decision of the Supremo [should be "Superior"] Tribunal de Justiça (STJ). The federal judge of Sinop, Murilo Mendes, 'raised as an impediment a positive conflict of jurisdiction' and asked for the intervention of the court. Só Notícias obtained, first hand, the gist of the decision, published today, after the magistrate became aware that a criminal action is underway in the Military Courts, in Brasilia, which investigates the same facts as the trial underway in the Federal Court of Sinop.

"It is not convenient for anyone that a situation of uncertainty continues in relation to thsich court has jurisdiction for the trial and judgment of the air traffic controllers. Everything recommends that the Superior Tribunal of Justice pronounce on this material. This avoids, among other things, the performance of unnecessary investigations by the judge who at the end comes to be judged incompetent by the STJ. But it isn't just this. It should be taken into account the circumstance that it constitutes flagrant illegal constraint to oblige the defendants to answer for the same facts before two bodies with distinct jurisdiction", he justified in his decision.

In the indictment offered by the Federal Prosecutors' Office, the accused were air traffic controllers Jomarcelo Fernandes dos Santos, Lucivando Tibúrcio de Alencar, Leandro José Santos de Barros and Felipe dos Santos Reis, and the pilots of the Legacy jet Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladino. In August, the four controllers were interrogated in Sinop, and related that they were not aware that they were responding to a military inquiry.

Mendes also remembered that, after the accident, the STJ determined that the trial was in the jurisdiction of the Federal Court of Sinop, under the argument that "in dealing with crime practiced on board an aircraft or in detriment to goods, services or the interest of the Union, jurisdiction is with the Federal Courts, by force of constitutional command".

This week, judge Zilah Maria Callado Fadul Petersen, of the 11th Military, in Brasilia, rejected the indictment by the Military Prosecutors' Office (MPM) against five air traffic controllers, among them the four indicted in Sinop, for involvement in the accident.

Another point questioned by Murilo Mendes is in relation to the crime of which they are accused. In the MPF's indictment, they were charged under article 261 of the Criminal Code, exposing to danger an embarkation or aircraft, one's own or another's, or practicing any act that tend to impede or hinder maritime, fluvial, or air navigation.

Now, article 283 of the Military Penal Code provides - expose to danger an aircraft or ship, one's own or another's, under military guard, protection or requisition emanating from a legal order, or in a place subject to military administration, as well as practicing any act that tend to impede or hinder air, sea, river or lake navigation under military administration, guard or protection.

"The facts described in the accusatory piece, taken together, are not subsumed in that type of crime. There it speaks of "exposing to danger an aircraft under military guard, protection or requisition, or in a place subject to military administration". The airplanes weren't under guard. Guard is the 'act or effect of guarding, surveillance, care, guarding'. The only plausible possibility in favor of the classifying the acts as a military crime would be the allegation that the aircraft were "in a place subject to military administration" he justified.

In the Military Court's decision, not accepting the indictment by the MPM, the judge argued that the indictment did not conform to article 77 of the Military Criminal Code, [should be "Codigo de processo penal militar" Code of military criminal procedure, see], which determines "the exposition of the criminal fact, with all its circumstances".

Source: Só Notícias/Tania Rauber