Sunday, October 30, 2011

Qantas Ordered to Resume Flights

Qantas Airways was scheduled to resume flying Monday. The Australian government ordered the airline to end its locking out of employees and grounding of its worldwide fleet in a labor dispute. Labor and management now have 21 days to come to an agreement or face compulsory arbitration.

Here's the official Qantas bulletin on the matter.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Qantas Grounds All Flights in Labor Dispute

Flying Qantas anywhere today? Oh no you're not.

The major Australian airline grounded its entire domestic and international fleets "indefinitely" last night. Tens of thousands of Qantas passengers are stranded worldwide as Qantas management said it would lock out employees in a labor dispute.

The pilots union said that Qantas has "gone mad."

Here's a link to the story from the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Yo Media: Occupy This

Above are some pictures I took at the Occupy Wall Street protest in Zuccotti Park, as well as a couple showing the mounted cops (very nice folks, I might add) in front of the Stock Exchange on Wall Street. In the bottom photo, anyone know why those chunks are missing out of the granite on the wall that woman is passing by? It's the old J.P. Morgan Building (the "House of Morgan") at 23 Wall St., right across from the Stock Exchange, and the pitted stone is bomb damage from a 1920 bombing in Wall Street that killed 38 and injured many more -- evidently the deed of an Italian anarchist group reflecting social and political unrest after World War I.

Anyway, Zuccotti Park was where I often ate a brown-bag lunch during the years I worked for the Wall Street Journal in the 1980s. The Journal's headquarters were on Cortlandt St. (above the Woolworth's that later became a Century 21, and there wasn't even a sign out front telling you that the Wall Street Journal lived upstairs) and then Dow Jones moved two blocks away from that rat-mazed hovel to a grand tower in the World Financial Center complex across from the World Trade Center. So I know the territory, though I will never, ever get used to that breathtaking expanse of empty air where the World Trade Center towers once stood.

When I visited recently, I was stunned at the disconnect between what I'd seen described by those braying pantloads on TV (the Fox News mob braying the loudest, per usual, but fatuous CNN dopes like this one also doing their part), and what I actually encountered at the site. For one thing, it wasn't filthy; it was cluttered. It wasn't tense. It was nothing at all like the late 1960s and first half of the 70s.

I was going to write about this striking disconnect, but there is no need now. Dahlia Lithwick has done it masterfully in this piece by her in Slate yesterday. Two quotes:

--"What the movement clearly doesn’t want is to have to explain itself through corporate television. To which I answer, Hallelujah. You can’t talk down to a movement that won’t talk back to you."

--"One of the most fatuous themes of mainstream OWS coverage is the endless loop of media bafflement at this movement that doesn’t have a message. Here’s CNN’s Erin Burnett in a classic put-down of the OWS’ refusal to tailor its message to her. It takes a walloping amount of willful cluelessness to look at a mass of people holding up signs and claim that they have no message..."


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

TSA: Agent Who Left Pervy Note After Pawing Through Woman's Stuff and Spotting Sex-Toy Was Out of Line

[The note and Jill Filipovic, the lucky recipient]

Last week they let a loaded gun* through in a checked bag, but when an agent scrawled a note about a woman's vibrator and left it for her after pawing through her checked bag, that was too much.

The TSA blog makes note of the incident this way:

"Inappropriate Note Author Identified and Removed From Screening

Earlier this week, a passenger found a highly inappropriate note scrawled on a "Notice of Inspection" that TSA places in checked bags if they are required to be searched. She tweeted a photo of what she found and we soon learned of the incident.

TSA quickly launched an investigation and identified the employee responsible. That individual was immediately removed from screening operations and appropriate disciplinary action has been initiated.

The handwritten note was highly inappropriate and unprofessional, and TSA has zero tolerance for this type of behavior.

Agency officials have also reached out to the passenger to personally apologize for this unfortunate incident.

Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team"

The amusingly named Blogger Bob doesn't say what prompted the agent to so crudely make his presence known while lurking in this woman's private affairs, nor does the TSA say whether the agent is still employed. The incident occurred last Saturday at the hilariously named Newark Liberty International Airport, scene of so many TSA escapades.

The vibrator belonged to Jill Filipovic, a lawyer who blogs on Feministe. "Just unpacked my container and found this note from TSA. Guess they detected a ‘personal item' in my bag. Wow," she tweeted.

The "personal item," Filipovic said later, was a "$15 'Silver Bullet' vibrator from Babeland." Here's an account in New York Magazine.

Given the groping it's probably been through at the hand of the creepy agent, she said, the Silver Bullet is "being retired." And good for Jill Filipovic for having the guts to stand up and make an issue of this.

* By the way, some of the media made way too much of the loaded gun slip-through. Unloaded guns of various kinds are permitted in checked bags, and a loaded one poses no direct security threat. You check a bag before entering the secure area of an airport and retrieve it after leaving the secure area. On the other hand, you probably don't want some TSA agent inspecting checked bags, deep within the secure zone, to have access to a loaded gun. Better he should stick with a vibrator.


On another TSA story, the TSA blog makes note of a goofball account that was being flogged by the pathetic and reckless Matt Drudge earlier this week. Drudge hasn't done any actual "reporting" since Republican operatives used to piss gossip in his ear at opportune times in the Clinton take-down so long ago. what he does is link to "select" stories generated by news organizations and various right-wing propaganda outlets. Quite often the sources are as half-assed as the site proprietor is.

This week Drudge breathlessly headlined a report that the TSA was now planning to insert itself on the nation's highways and set up roadblocks to randomly check motorists.

Now anyone with the sense of proportion of a turnip would have suspected that story was wrong somewhere along the line. Some nitwit of a reporter obviously got a whole bunch of facts wrong and made unwarranted assertions, and some nitwit(s) published the account with it without checking it out.

Here's the TSA's response saying it was basically nonsense.

On the other hand, doesn't the TSA have enough to do, furtively pawing through womens' personal things in airports, without handing out leaflets at Interstate truck weighing stations? I mean, can;t the Hare Krishnas or the Scientologists be enlisted to do that?


Monday, October 10, 2011

That Was Qwikster, Netfllix

Netflix has seen the dumbness of its ways. Netflix sent its customers this e-mail this morning:

"Dear xxx,

It is clear that for many of our members two websites would make things more difficult, so we are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs.

This means no change: one website, one account, one password…in other words, no Qwikster.

While the July price change was necessary, we are now done with price changes.

We're constantly improving our streaming selection. We've recently added hundreds of movies from Paramount, Sony, Universal, Fox, Warner Bros., Lionsgate, MGM and Miramax. Plus, in the last couple of weeks alone, we've added over 3,500 TV episodes from ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, USA, E!, Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, ABC Family, Discovery Channel, TLC, SyFy, A&E, History, and PBS.

We value you as a member, and we are committed to making Netflix the best place to get your movies & TV shows."


Saturday, October 08, 2011

Cruise News Disturbs Some in Charleston, S.C.

Cruise ships the size of Cincinnati may bring in tourism spending, but they don't do much for the charm of any city -- and Charleston, S.C. is a big case in point, says the World Monuments Fund.

The organization puts Charleston, founded in the 17th Century and long a model for the urban preservation movement, on top of its 2012 watch-list sites where historic preservation is endangered by "poorly managed tourism." Here's the link to the organization's report.

The 2012 watch list comprises 67 sites in 41 countries. Of Charleston, the report says: "In the last decade, like many other port towns, Charleston has experienced an increase in the number of cruise ships that arrive in its harbor ... The ships themselves, which have grown in size over the last several years, obstruct views of both the harbor and the town, while the potential for hundreds of thousands of passengers to disembark in the town every year is upsetting the balance between commercial development and the residential areas that make the city livable."

This isn't the first time Charleston has been singled out by preservation interests concerned about the impact of cruise ships. In June, another historic organization, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, put Charleston on "watch status" because of what it called the "threat to the historic city's character by cruise ship tourism."

Sentiment is divided in Charleston, of course, between certain business and political interests and the historic-preservation interests. The local Press and Courier newspaper earlier encouraged city officials to accept an offer from the National Trust to sponsor a tourism-impact study, though the mayor, Joe Riley, has rejected the offer.

After the latest report, Riley told the local paper that Charleston maintains a "balance" between its traditional tourism and the cruise-ship crowds. "This group doesn't know what they're talking about," Riley said of the World Monuments Fund.


Friday, October 07, 2011

Listen to the Expert

Just the other day, I replied to a reader wanting to know why I had "recommended" using for hotel booking, in a column in which I compared rates for various levels of hotels in New York.

Actually, I pointed out, I quoted the Expedia data only for easy-to-compute rate comparisons among the different New York City hotels, because at least it meant comparing apples to apples.

Myself, I always book specific hotels directly on the hotel's own Web site, or directly with the hotel by phone. Years ago, I learned that third-party booking sometimes means the hotel treats you like a second-class citizen -- and besides, the hotel industry wised up a long time ago and its rates on its own booking system are usually the best available. Sometimes better by phone.

Some expert I am. Today I needed to book a flight from Las Vegas to Kennedy next week. As I sometimes do, I went to Orbitz to easily compare fares, times and connections. Voila! There was JetBlue, higher than some of the others, but with a very convenient non-stop. And JetBlue is known for comfort.

The phone rang and distracted me. Then I went back to my screen and booked through ... forgetting that I was not booking directly with JetBlue, but with Orbitz. That explains why I was so annoyed by the long scrolls of up-sells for hotels, rental cars, theater tickets, etc.

And why I was so annoyed to be told, after I had paid, that I couldn't have my choice of seat.

And also told, erroneously, that I would be charged to check a bag. Sorry, Orbitz, but you're giving out bad information. The first bag is free on JetBlue.

Anyway, live and learn. That's the last time even accidentally that I book on a third-party site. I'll stick with the airlines, thank you.


Wednesday, October 05, 2011

A Few Small Numbers Show the Future of Air Travel

Just a few numbers from Delta's operations report for September show how domestic air travel is evolving. Basically, the evolution continues to means fewer markets, fewer choices, more crowded planes, a system with almost no slack built in.

By the numbers, in September, for domestic operations, Delta:

--Flew 3.3 percent fewer seats than September 2010

--Had load factors (percentage of seats full) of 83 percent -- up 3.2 points.

Simple arithmetic tells the tale. Assuming demand does not fall sharply -- and there is no sign that demand is doing anything more than slowing a bit -- this also will translate into higher fares.


Delta Ups Its Game on Inflight WiFi Entertainment

Delta Air Lines launched a new multimedia in-flight entertainment system today, as it becomes absolutely obvious that the future of in-flight WiFi is built around mobile devices.

The services include Delta Connect, a branded in-flight portal that includes restaurant-booking and other shopping and concierge-type services; movies and television on demand on Boeing 757-300 aircraft; and an improved design for Airbus A330 in-flight entertainment systems that includes more content choices.

Bob Kupbens, Delta's vice president for e-commerce, said the system is designed "whether through our mobile apps, Wi-Fi on soon-to-be more than 800 aircraft, or a more comprehensive and customer-friendly experience."

Delta Connect is a new WiFi portal developed jointly by Delta and its inflight provider Gogo, the system currently used by most domestic airlines with WiFi service. It will offer an expanded range of free content for Delta customers such as more choices for entertainment and shopping as well as flight and destination information. Obviously, for Delta, it will also provide marketing and revenue opportunities.

Delta Connect partners include and Customers will also have access to partners that provide information on destination-oriented concerts, festivals and events as well as news and entertainment.

At the same time Delta is launching a eature through on-board Wi-Fi: entertainment on demand. Beginning today, entertainment on demand will be available on all 16 of Delta's Boeing 757-300 aircraft. Choices will include an introductory price for television programming starting at 99 cents and movies available for $3.99 from major studios. Customers can sort titles by genre, length of feature, movie or show and other categories. Trailers are available for complimentary viewing prior to rental.

Rentals will remain accessible on the customer's personal device for viewing after landing for at least 24 hours after their flight. Unexpired content will be available for playback on the ground by using the same device and browser used onboard.

A Gogo Wi-Fi purchase is not required to access Delta Connect content or the video service. Entertainment on demand will be available for laptops and expanded to tablet and mobile devices by early 2012 on 757-300s.

Delta said its fleet of 32 Airbus A330 aircraft will have redesigned in-flight entertainment with more entertainment choices by the end of 2011. The system will expand to the rest of Delta's fleet of nearly 300 aircraft equipped with personal in-flight entertainment by mid-2012.

The new system includes offers easier navigation, more movies and more television, music and games.

Delta began installing WiFi on domestic mainline aircraft in 2008. With its mainline aircraft and the recent addition of regional jets to the WiFi program, more than 80 percent of Delta's domestic fleet will feature Gogo in-flight Internet by early 2012.


Monday, October 03, 2011

Must be Witchcraft: Innocent of Murder in Italy, Young American Woman Is Guilty of 'Defamation' Because She Said She Didn't Do It

The media are overlooking one important aspect of the Amanda Knox story this afternoon out of the medieval environs (in every sense) of Perugia, Italy.

She's the young American who was convicted by hysterical Italian prosecutors of murdering her British roommate, Meredith Kercher, in Perugia in 2007, and sentenced to 26 years after a media-sensationalized trial marked by accusations of lurid sex and even witchcraft. An Italian court overturned the conviction today and said that Knox could go free.

I hope she gets on a plane and gets the hell out of Italy as fast as humanly possible.

She was released from custody but hasn't yet left the country, with Italian media hysteria raging, which is always a dangerous circumstance. Some of the more odious British newspapers, also heavily invested in the presumption that of course the American woman murdered her British roommate, also are at full howl over the exoneration of Knox, who they long derided as "Foxy Knoxy." [You think I'm kidding? Look at the snide lead on the story online right now in the UK Daily Mail, which initially embarrassed itself (again) by flashing out a false news report that Knox's conviction had been upheld. Finally they got it right, but still delivered the newsd with obvious disdain for the American(italics are mine): "Amanda Knox was freed to make millions from her life story last night after a court cleared her of murdering Meredith Kercher."]

Good old British prejudice being somewhat more focused these days on Americans, the case marks the first time to my knowledge that the Brits have ever given the Italians the benefit of the doubt.

[Not that we don't have our own media ignoramuses like this character, obviously looking for a contrarian theme to milk in her television shows.)

(For the best and most comprehensive account of the prosecutorial, police and media misconduct that turned Amanda Knox's young life into a nightmare, read this long account in Rolling Stone magazine from last June.)

According to this report by MSNBC, it wasn't clear when Knox would actually get out of Italy: "Knox had an outdated passport that had to be renewed, but it's not clear how quickly that could be done or if the paperwork was already completed." Could the poor girl now be at the mercy of an Italian passport office?

It's of course good news to know that this young woman has finally been found not guilty. Anyone who looked at the travesty of her trial could see that police and prosecutors had rushed to accuse the wrong people in the crime, and had then gone to shocking lengths to justify their gross mistakes and cover up their malfeasance.

Steve Moore, a retired FBI agent who closely investigated this case, told CBS News that he initially assumed that Knox and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, were guilty because he trusted the good faith of the Italian prosecutors. But Moore quickly decided, looking closely at the evidence, that "they should have been eliminated on day one, but on day five, before the physical evidence came back, the prosecutor had already decided, 'These must be the people, because I know these things intuitively.'" (And let's hope the Italians don't charge Moore with defamation for doubting their "intuition.")

Timothy Egan, the Times columnist, blogs today about the outrageous behavior of the prosecution: "Motive? This is where any defender of women’s rights, or modernity, should howl. Standing in front of the crucifix that adorns Italian courtrooms, prosecutors and lawyers for their side called Knox a 'she-devil,' a seducer, a 'witch,' someone who manipulated Sollecito into an orgy with Kercher and Guede. [The reference is to Rudy Guede, a drug dealer from the Ivory Coast who evidently actually committed the crime.]

"Their evidence? Well, she was sexually active, they said. She had a sex toy. I half-expected prosecutors to throw Knox in a tank of water to see if she sank or floated, a la the Salem witch trials.

"Then who did it? Guede, a drifter with a drug history, pled guilty to complicity in the killing. He fled Perugia shortly after the murder. He changed his story, dramatically, to fit the prosecution, which prompted his judge to call him 'an absolute liar.' He only named Knox and Sollecito months after he was in jail and looking to cut a deal."

Led by a bizarre Italian called Giuliano Mignini, the prosecution first insisted that the murder had been committed in a Satanic ritual orgy. Mignini had previously had some success in that part of Italy charging people in what he regarded as Satanic-themed crimes. When the devil wasn't getting enough traction, the prosecution decided that the murder happened during a "sex game" that got out of control. Probably, it was charged, Knox and her alleged accomplice were in a "marijuana rage."

As to the charge of witchcraft, it isn't clear how that was disposed of by these judicial geniuses. But one thing we ought to be paying attention to is that she was also convicted of "defamation" because she so vehemently insisted that she had been a victim of injustice, and gave police testimony as to who she thought might be involved.

Basically, she insisted she had been wrongly convicted of murder, and so was also convicted of defamation -- even though, as we now see, the court agrees that she had been wrongly convicted of murder. Her protests that somebody else had committed the crime were, then, accurate.

The defamation conviction stands on shaky legal ground, although the judge magnanimously ruled today that she had already served the sentence for that, on that, three years. She had been in an Italian prison since early November 2007.

Her parents also were charged with defamation. Here's a link.

The point here, of course, is that there is a growing trend in some countries, especially those with famously thin-skinned notions of national "honor" (and almost always, as in both Brazil and Italy, with political backgrounds in fascist regimes) to wildly charge foreigners with defamation for speech that would be entirely protected in the United States.

The media free-speech organizations, still rightfully congratulating themselves on backing England down over the disgraceful "libel tourism" issue last year, need to pay more attention to this trend.