Sunday, December 30, 2012

Best Year-End Retrospective...

... is by the invincible Dave Barry, of course, and good for the Washington Post for giving him enough space in the Sunday magazine to write this one right. (And for recognizing actual funny when they see it, something newspapers routinely fail to do).

My own favorite is July. Link.

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Wing and a Prayer in Iran

Here's one of the things you get when you mix civil society with obsessive and fanatical religiosity:

From today's Times: "Under a directive announced Wednesday by Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization, all aircraft will be prohibited from flying across the country during the Adhan, or call to prayer, when many devout Muslims pause to face toward Mecca and pray."

That's a five-times-a-day ritual. Link.
"Buh-bye!"

Also, "serious attention" will be given by the religious police in enforcing more strict Islamic dress codes for women at airports.
"Allahu akbar!"


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Travel Mess. Hey, It's Late December!

Map, via Flightview.com (as of 6.26 p.m. EST), shows lots of yellow lights at major airports. That's not good! Red dots are worse. Look for more red dots as this winter storm spreads northeast.

The TV weatherpeople all have their hair on fire, but hey, it's late December! It's winter and it snows. News reports breathlessly talk about the "killer storm," and keep track of the "death toll" (12) -- but you know what? People die during bad weather all the time. (They even die during good weather). Ask any hospital emergency room doctor or EMS technician. So the "death toll" in any routine storm is usually meaningless, except as a way to dramatize bad weather and give it some kind of a narrative.

It's just crappy weather. 

But one factor that's actually new: Airlines have shrunk domestic capacity to the point where there is absolutely no slack in the system. A cancelled flight often means a day's delay for a connection, in that case.

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Shame in Westchester County

In my 40-plus years in the media business, as I suppose it's now and forever to be called, I have come to certain empirical conclusions, among them that there is nowhere to be found any personage quite as sanctimonious in general as the publisher or editor of newspapers owned by the rapacious Gannett organization.

Strong words, but I can back them up through hard-nosed and long observation, though my own experience at a once-good-quality Gannett paper in South Jersey was actually salubrious over 30 years ago. However, it lasted for only exactly one year, as the investigations editor, before the worthies at far-off corporate headquarters realized with an aghast start that we were spending entirely too much money on actual journalism. With stunning speed, they lowered the boom one afternoon in a truly remarkable bloodbath that had the intrepid publisher and editor gone by nightfall, and the new publisher installed, with his name already painted over to replace the old one in the publisher's parking spot, by the start of business the next morning. (They'd grabbed the executive for the job from another Gannett paper and abruptly shipped him out, overnight bag in hand, by company jet, to make their statement. I was mightily impressed by the ruthless efficiency, and began sending out my own resume forthwith.)

Anyway, we have the case now of a publisher and an editor of a Gannett paper in Westchester County, N.Y., the Journal News, who somehow thought it would be a grand idea (inexpensive, too) to ask the authorities for the names and home addresses of every single holder of legally registered handgun-permits in Westchester and two adjacent counties, and to publish that exhaustive database, accompanied by an online interactive map to pinpoint the dangerous gun-owners' homes.

A public service! cried the publisher, one Janet Hasson. The editor, one CynDee Royle (yes, she spells her name that way) defended the move as important journalism, given the current raw emotions over the latest mass shooting massacre in Connecticut. [No explanation was offered, then, of why no attention was been paid to rifles, including the semi-automatic assault weapons that figured in the recent massacres.]

Anyway, lots of handwringing in the industry has ensued over the Journal News initiative, providing those pious journalism ethicists who have infiltrated the profession like Saudi morality police with another brief raison d'etre.

So far, the debate seems to be focused almost entirely on whether the public was served by this, with copious attention paid to those who said it was, given the critical issues involving guns. Equal attention (balance must be served, you know) was given to those who said the publication of the database created public safety concerns for legal gun-permit owners, among them police officers and judges, not to mention battered wives, who might, shall we say, have some cause to ensure defense from enemies lurking within the shadows. True enough, that.

(You might also note that the publication merely posted a database of public records obtained through a Freedom of Information request to public authorities. Beyond that, there was no actual journalism involved; no attempt to report on the wide world of differences between legal handgun permits and assault-weapons permits, not to mention illegal guns and the whole sordid world of assault-weapon gun marketing. That, of course, would require spending money on reporting, and I have already provided personal anecdote on the consequences of that, in a different context.)

Nor was any indication given that causing a great public and media commotion by disseminating the names and home addresses of legal handgun permit-holders, in this context, at this time, might have the very real effect of muddying waters that had recently begun to clear on the debate over gun control in this country. Suddenly, the NRA and its stooges, who had been in deep defensive crouches, have wide-open access to the bully-pulpits again, thanks to the "public service" journalism of the Journal News of Westchester County, N.Y. Suddenly, gun control common sense might have lost the initiative.

Just because you can legally do something, like obtain and publish that database, doesn't mean you should do it.

Editor CynDee Royle (that's really how she spells her name), said the following to her own paper,  safe in the knowledge that her statement would not be uncharitably questioned: "We felt sharing as much information as we could about gun ownership in our area was important in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings.”

It went unremarked-upon in that paper, naturally, that this statement seemed to draw direct a connection between the thousands of legal hand-gun-permit holders (and Journal News readers) in the Lower Hudson Valley and the homicidal maniac who used his gun-nut mother's assault rifle to murder those little children and teachers in Connecticut two weeks ago

Local reaction was sharply negative to the Journal News stunt. "They've put me on the same level as a sex offender," one local woman told the Washington Post. (Link)

Incidentally, no attention that I have seen has been focused on what I regard as probably the real motives of the sanctimonious publisher and editor (and of course the reporters and various sub-editors and graphics specialists) who pulled this stunt, which I regard as execrable, utterly irresponsible journalism.

Given my own position that this is not a public service but rather a base journalistic disgrace, I'm looking for a motive, and the one I see is: Shaming. This, in my opinion, was an outrageous attempt by self-righteous journalists to publicly shame those who have handgun permits. Evidently, someone at the Journal News thought that guns in general were simply bad, with the clear implication that anyone who has a legal handgun permit needs to be carefully watched by neighbors.

There is precedent for this kind of civic thinking, as Mr. Hawthorne noted some time ago.

Internet reaction to this Journal News stunt has been vociferous. One blogger has gotten a lot of mileage by posting the names and addresses of the publisher and editors, as well as the CEO of the Gannett company. Name of blog: For What It's Worth.

Meanwhile, Editor CynDee Royle, startled by the personal attention online, has evidently gone to the mattresses, as they used to say in the mob. Or at least the virtual mattresses.

Here's a link to the original self-righteous News Journal story. It's a reminder, if those of us who toil in the responsible warrens of this beleaguered profession need another one, of why so many people hate the media.

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Department of Worthless Surveys, Air Travel Division

Whenever I see that the source of a particular piece of news is the U.K., I slip on my skeptical specs.

And here today we see, getting some mileage in slooow-day news reports where editors know nothing about travel (which is nearly all of them), a survey on flight attendants' pet peeves about passengers that seems to reflect realities that haven't been real in several decades.

It's via Skyscanner, a British (uh-oh) site that purports to have its finger on the pulse of air travel, and purports to have surveyed 700 "cabin crew members" (translation: flight attendants) on their complaints about passengers. (I'm waiting for a survey of passengers on their complaints about flight attendants, but oh well).

Annotated in my italics:

Top complaint (26 percent); "Clicking fingers to get your attention." Now really, when is the last time you saw that on a flight, or even had the presumption that a flight attendant had the time, or inclination, to respond? 

No. 5: "Talking through the safety demo." Yes, let us not deny the flight attendant the opportunity to explain how to buckle that seat belt without distractions from a passenger in the middle seat of row 28, arms pinned to his side as the five-hour flight begins, gasping for air.

No. 6: "Asking for more blankets/pillows." More?!!

No. 8: "Asking for a different meal." Different meal?!! They don't even pass out peanuts these days.

No. 10: "Asking for a specific brand of drink." Coffee, tea, or you're under arrest for disrupting a flight.

Here's the link to this giddy survey.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Crazy in America

[UPDATED] 
Christmas Day brings more detailed news of still another horrific shooting massacre, this one caused by a lunatic in upstate New York who set a house fire on Monday in order to ambush responding firefighters. The gun he used for the killings was the same model of semi-automatic-like assault rifle, a Bushmaster .223 (a civilian version of the military M16), as the weapon  used by another lunatic to kill those little children and those teachers in Connecticut less than two weeks ago.

The New York Times story on the latest shooting (link) is far better than the Rochester paper's (and the Buffalo News only runs wire, sadly, and, pathetically, so on Wednesday does the hometown Rochester Deomocrat & Chronicle, a Gannett paper, natch).  The killer shot and murdered two firefighters, and injured two others as they responded to the fire. Today, authorities found the body of another victim, believed to be the killer's 67-year-old sister, in the rubble of the burned house in Webster, N.Y. 

The killer, this Spengler, had a long rap sheet. In 1981, the Times story says, "he pleaded guilty to manslaughter for bludgeoning his 92-year-old grandmother to death with a hammer. He was imprisoned until 1998."

(Wait a minute, you and I are asking: He hammered his granny to death and got off with manslaughter and a sentence of less than 20 years? Explanation, please!)

But I was taken with a statement from the understandably deeply grieving fire chief, Gerald L. Pickering (emphasis mine): “We know that people are slipping through the cracks, not getting the help they need. And I suspect that this gentleman slipped through the cracks. Maybe he should have been under more intense supervision, maybe he should not have been in the public, maybe he should have been institutionalized, having his problems dealt with.”

I take no issue with a deeply distraught fire chief, but I do with the tenor of the times and with journalism, this reflexive assumption that somebody like this murdering psychotic needs "help." Let's examine that for a minute. A fellow who bludgeoned his grandmother to death, who is known locally as a dangerous lunatic, who proclaims that he wants to kill as many people as he can, who sets a fire in order to ambush firefighters, four of whom he shoots and two of whom he killed (plus the victinm found today in the rubble, so far publicly unidentified) -- this man does not need our "help." Rather, it's we who need help. Society needs help in the form of protection from a murdering maniac like this.

Chief Pickering is exactly correct when he says that "maybe he should have been institutionalized." That is, locked up -- not for his own good, to hell with him, but for the good of society.

To the extent that the mental health industry actually cares about treating the severely mentally ill (and the evidence is, the industry cares not very much at all for that mostly futile, largely unrewarding chore), the touchiest clinical subject at hand is the idea of institutionalizing the severely mentally ill who pose real and present danger to society. There is, for one thing, no money to be made in that. And, of course, there is the horrific history of the grim state-run mental hospitals (most of which were basically patronage mills for the benefit of state politicians).

On the other hand, until the insane asylums were emptied out in the 1960s and 1970s, there was, in fact, a place for society to keep people like Spengler (and the maniac who shot those children, and the other maniac who shot my congresswoman Gabby Giffords and all those others in Tucson, ad infinitum) away from the rest of us.

The subject of some form of reinstitutionalization is enormously complex and fraught with social danger, especially in a health-care system in which mental health services are a profit center, as they have been since the 1980s. Who decides? But I would submit that in a case like Spengler, institutionalizing him was not even a close call. And  Lanza in Connecticut, or Loughner in Tucson, among others in our pantheon of mass murderers probably would have had no problem making the cut, either, in an intelligently and honestly run mental health system.

In a note left at the crime scene before he shot himself, this Spengler clearly self-diagnoses: homicidal maniac. "I still have to see how much of the neighborhood I can burn down and so what I like doing best: Killing people," the note reads in part.

Incidentally, the promise inherent in deinstitutionalization was that after we closed the horrible industrialized public insane asylums, we would establish in their place effective, adequately funded community mental health centers, emphasis on "community," where a range of critical-care services would be available, and where clinical psychiatrists and other trained professionals would be able to closely monitor cases from a local perspective. In other words, a Spengler or a Lanza or a Loughner would be on the radar, at least.

[UPDATE: Wednesday's Times has an op-ed piece by a psychiatrist named Paul Steinberg who assumes the sanctioned industry position on whatever the hell schizophrenia actually is -- which officially sanctioned position is, that it is a diagnosable physical disease (hence treatable with reimbursement under insurance policies, at least for those who have enough insurance).  Steinberg mentions another homicidal mass murderer, the one who massacred 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007 (emphasis mine): "At Virginia Tech, where Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people in a rampage shooting in 2007, professors knew something was terribly wrong, but he was not hospitalized for long enough to get well." The assumption being that this particular homicidal maniac might have gotten  well through intervention and therapy, rather than that society could have been protected through custody.]
 

After deinstutionalization and the concept of genuine community mental health clinical care went terribly wrong, nearly all mental health money flowed toward luring the worried well into treatment. As the psychiatry establishment, long a kind of orphan child in medicine, sold its soul to profiteers, it gained unaccustomed hospital-industry respect as financial rainmakers, if not as physicians. The promise of deinstitutionalization and community mental health. focused on the truly mentally ill, was cynically dashed. The desperate homeless roaming city streets were only the most visible, and in many ways benign, consequence. The Spenglers and Lanzas and Loughners and were the real payoff. (Abetted, of course, by the gun lobby that ensured that homicidal maniacs could be armed to the teeth with the latest in murderous assault weaponry).


The subject of critical mental-health care is on the table again, and I'm currently working on a revision and update of my 1994 book "Bedlam: Greed, Profiteering and Fraud in a Mental Health System Gone Crazy" (St. Martin's Press), under a new title, "Crazy in America," and a new publisher.

The book is focused on the greatest health-care financial fraud of them all, the pillaging of the mental-health-care system by rapacious for-profit psychiatric hospitals and affiliated therapists, including alcohol and addiction charlatans, in the 1990s. But the book also provided a primer on the sordid history of mental-health care in this country, where the money all started flowing toward the "worried well" who had insurance to bilk, and away from the truly crazy, who tend not to have much insurance coverage to bilk, tend to resist treatment, and in many cases are impossible to cure anyway.

"Bedlam" will be reissued, in a revised edition, as "Crazy in America," in the spring.

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Monday, December 24, 2012

New York At Christmastime

Carnegie Hall, where people know how to dress for the theater

Some people say that New York City is rude, and in fact it's a standing joke in some parts of the country and world:  "So I'm in New York and I ask a local, 'Excuse me, what time is it -- or should I just go f--- myself?'"

I  never understood that, not at all. It's not at all the New York I've ever known, and I've known New York since I was a child.

I worked in New York for a long time, lived in the city, lived in the immediate area for over a quarter century, and as far as I am concerned, New York stands out among the world's great cities for courtesy and good civic will. London? Now, you want a rude city, just consider London. Los Angeles: Rude! Chicago? Rude, and with lousy pizza to boot!

You want a friendly American city, you get that in New York. Only San Francisco, in my estimation, comes even close.

Anyway, my wife and I are fortunate enough to be able to live in the Sonoran desert and still manage to visit New York for a week or so, a couple of times a year, to get what we refer to as our New York fix. This past week was one of those occasions.

Manhattan at Christmastime is an especially congenial place. We met our daughter and young granddaughter, who live in Albany, at the tree outside Rockefeller Center last Friday, a scene thronged with tourists and even locals, any one of whom is delighted to accept your camera and snap a family photo for you. And no, having your camera stolen is not an issue as it would be in, say, one of the world's truly awful cities, like Sao Paulo or Rio or Kiev.

Our daughter and granddaughter went to the Radio City Christmas show, the child's first. Yes, the tickets are expensive, but at least a mother and her daughter get a grand show, high holiday splendor, production values at a level not seen on a stage literally anywhere else, except at grand opera uptown at the Met. On the subject of taking a kid to a holiday show, I sometimes think of Woody Allen's line in "Hannah and Her Sisters," in which he was asked to contemplate reincarnation and Nietzche's theory of eternal recurrence: "Great, that means I'll have to sit through the Ice Capades again."

Nobody would say that about the Radio City and the Rockettes.

My wife and also went twice to the theater during six days here. Once was to Broadway, to see "Cat On a Hot Tin Roof," starring Scarlett Johansson in a revival to which I won't hesitate to attach the word "unfortunate," even though we saw it on the second night of previews. (It opens in January, if it makes it that long).

I was thinking of the Broadway experience yesterday at Carnegie Hall, where we went for a splendid performance of "Messiah." Let me digress and say that several factors keep me from enthusiastically attending a Broadway show these days, among them a concern that any show, especially a straight play, that has a famous star in it, tends to attract an element in the audience that is, let us say, unfamiliar with the protocols of live theater. That is, when Al Pacino makes his entry in the (also unfortunate) revival of David Mamet's tiresome and overrated play "Glengarry Glen Ross," a disconcerting number of theatergoers behave in the way that tourists would behave if a movie star wandered into the little star-print plaza outside Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood. They act like idiots! More generally, audiences these also tend to approach any straight theatrical drama as if it were a television situation comedy. That is, there are all of these automatic titters and chortles at lines and situations that a playwright never imagined would be considered amusing. (That was true at "Cat," incidentally. Not sure that Tennessee Williams thought he was writing a comedy. 

And so many people attending Broadway performances these days dress like they were going to the ballpark, and a ballpark for a losing team at that.  I swear, a big fat guy in row near us, in the expensive seats at the too-big-for-a-drama Richard Rogers Theater during "Cat,"  looked like he was dressed for an off day at the mall, complete with sweatshirt and that tall cup of soda that big fat people always seem to keep jammed in their mitts, as if hydration were a matter of life and death on a December evening in New York.

Anyway, it was with unmitigated delight that I saw how the big crowd was dressed at Carnegie Hall for the "Messiah" we saw on Sunday afternoon. They were dressed nicely, like it was Christmastime and they were in a nice place, with quality entertainment performed at an extremely high level of skill.

Call me a fussy old fart, but frankly, I ain't that old and I ain't that fussy, not really. But I do like to see minimal standards maintained, as they evidently are at Carnegie Hall. People dress like they're going somewhere nice!

Last year, to digress again, I remember reading one of those long-paid obits that  often are the only thing actually worth reading  in our local newspaper in Arizona, which I refer to only as "The Daily Stupid." It was written by a family member about a career Army colonel, a World War II veteran, who had just died. It went on and on, at wonderful detail, about this man's interesting life, but it was the final line of the obituary that delighted me. It said: "He was always on time, and he knew how to dress for dinner."

Anyway, Carnegie Hall, with the Masterwork Chorus and Orchestra "Messiah" performance, was the perfect cap on our latest New York visit.

And yes, the audience knew that it is traditional to stand for the rousing Hallelujah Chorus -- and then sit down quietly again, because, of course, it ain't over yet.

A perfect way, I thought, to say Merry Christmas, from New York.

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Vile Tells the Despicable: You're Crazy


The merely vile Rupert Murdoch, who seems to have actually come down on the right side of the out-of-control-guns issue, appears to have given marching orders to the New York Post newspaper whose extreme right-wing views he shapes: The despicable NRA boss Wayne LaPierre is a "gun nut" whose so-called "press conference" the other day was nothing more than a "bizarre rant."

This follows a Twitter note from Murdoch in which he asked, "Will politicians find the courage to ban automatic weapons?" Fox News, it does not need to be said, has also been put on notice, though Murdoch writing about "courage" is to me akin to Hitler writing about courtesy.

Anyway, LaPierre, the Vietnam draft dodger who has unaccountably been permitted to shape himself as a kind of warrior in the 40-plus yeas he has been with the NRA, has gotten a sucker punch from his presumable pals on the ideological fringe where the heavily subsidized New York Post and its in-house co-conspirators Fox News and the (also subsidized these days) Wall Street Journal editorial page usually set a media agenda for right-wing reactionary ranks.

That can't be good for Wayne. Meanwhile, the tabloid New York Daily News, still techically a newspaper, calls LaPierre the "craziest man on earth."

Now I want to see some reflection, in the general round-heeled media, on why 150 reporters showed up, dutifully as summoned, to LaPuerre's "press conference" the other day, an event marked by the rule that reporters couldn't ask questions of the NRA boss.

That's not a press conference, folks, that's a speech.

Here's a link to a story about the New York Post.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

A New 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof' Revival on Broadway, But the Question Is 'Why?'

Scarlett Johansson

In New York for a holiday visit, my wife and I saw the new "Cat On a Hot Tin Roof" last night on Broadway with Scarlett Johansson as Maggie. It was the second night of previews (opening is early January).

The 1955 play, said to have been Tennessee Williams' personal favorite, has always been a problem, in that it really has never been clear -- not to audiences, not to a succession of directors starting with Elia Kazan, not even to  to Mr. Williams himself -- exactly what it's about. Repressed homosexuality? Mendacity? A spurned wife? Familial greed? The last gasp of Mississippi Delta Planter Culture? All of the above, take your pick?

The latest revival, alas, has no new answers, though I do like that it uses the full play as written by Williams.  It's long (about three hours) in three acts. But as usual, Act One doesn't speak coherently to Act Two, and Act Three thunders out in a King Lear tempest.

I know previews are supposed to be a time when kinks in a production are worked out, but hey, the tickets for the good seats run into the $200 range (plus fees when you book online). That's a lot for a preview! We'll see what the play looks like when it opens in a month (though I don't have much faith in today's Broadway critics), but my hunch is that this production is pretty well set in its current form right now.

Here's a preview review, in triplets:

Scarlett Johansson good. Big Daddy too. Brick's a cipher. Gooper simply baffling. Direction is chaotic. No-neck monsters: Way too cute. Skipper's ghost creepy. Actors seem lost. Play needs work. Probably not fixable.

Sad to say!

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Rush to Judgment in Connecticut

[UPDATED]

A few thoughts on this catastrophe in Connecticut, as the story and its ramifications are being sorted out.

1. As an old street reporter and city editor who's been around the track a few times, it seems to me that the police on the scene, from the earliest moments onward, behaved with brilliant professionalism in unspeakably difficult circumstances. This includes the first responders. If there is any flicker of human hope in this story of unmitigated horror, they (and those heroic teachers, below) give it to us, and attention must be paid.

2. What's to be said about those teachers at that school, the ones who died trying to protect little children, the others who handled a horrific situation with clear-eyed aplomb? They showed true and literal courage under fire, and we must honor them always.

3. Please, media, let's not rush to canonize the killer's slain mother. (Link). That's because, from the initial outlines at least as seen in this Washington Post story today, the mother, perhaps paranoid, was a gun nut with a clearly troubled son, whom she yanked out of school to home-school (uh-oh). At the same time, the mother nevertheless evidently raised that clearly troubled son, known to have difficulties getting along with others, as a budding gun-nut, and provided that clearly troubled son with ready access to powerful assault weapons. [UPDATE: The knee-jerk media so far have not advanced this story factually with a cogent profile of the evidently paranoid, gun-nut mother. The right-wing-loon blogosphere, hair on fire as usual, are starting to pick up on some speculation that the mother was a "prepper," that is, a survivalist laying in guns and ammo and supplies for an apocalypse that this crowd is always expecting. But from all I can see, the sources for this speculation are a few vague comments in two chronically half-assed British newspapers (yeah, uh-oh there), the Daily Mail (double uh-oh) and the Independent. We need serious reporting on the mother's demeanor and behavior before this horror was unleashed.]

4. Let's look more closely at the media hand-wringing, water-carrying on "mental health intervention," which usually consists of  encouraging the manifestly rapacious therapy industry to have more money to intervene even more in the worried-well general population. Meanwhile, as always, the mental health industry will continue to shrug off, if not totally ignore, the seriously mentally ill population. The seriously mentally ill, you see, tend to be resistant to treatment, difficult to handle and, alas, short on insurance reimbursement money. Big question to pursue: Given his evidently manifest emotional troubles, was this young mass murderer already receiving mental-health treatment -- and, if so, what kind, and by whom, and to what effect? This would not be the first time that a mass murderer turns out to have been already under psychiatric care. Link.http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/aurora-shooting-suspect-was-under-psychiatrists-care-7984483.html

Just asking. I wish the media would do the same.

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Pray For What, Exactly?

Let us pray?

I have never understood why people flock to church in times like this to pray to a deity who by their own estimation and understanding exercised some sentient control over the occurrence of a horrific human tragedy, and is in a position to mitigate further such occurrences.

And I will never understand the media genuflection toward religious figures who callously insert themselves into the tragedy, with empty words that only make things worse.

Take the letter from Pope Benedict XVI, which was read at Catholic prayer vigils in Connecticut.
“I ask God our father to console all those who mourn and to sustain the entire community with the spiritual strength which triumphs over violence by the power of forgiveness, hope and reconciling love,” said the Pope (emphasis is mine), a hard-nosed old Vatican bureaucrat whose historical record on ensuring the protection of children is as murky as his inclination to "forgive" the guilty is clear.

What really  is to "forgive" here? Where is "hope?" Where was this God when the murderer shot those children down one by one?

Brooding and seething, evidently -- according to reactions of some of our insufferable home-grown piety practitioners. Let's have a look at some of the atrocious (rather than merely sadly ironic as in the case of the Pope's), comments by the domestic deacons of the right-wing lunacy contingent, the holy gun lovers and the invincibly pathetic.

Take Bible-thumping former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who said the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School came about because this peculiarly vindictive God he claims to know was not welcome in public school classrooms.

"We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools," Huckabee said on Fox News (and where else?). "Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?"

Or how about the always quotable mental case and tea party darling Victoria Jackson, she late of the world's most overrated television show "Saturday Night Live?" Jackson told her legions of followers on Facebook that they should heed her friend, the tea party rabble-rouser Jim Riley:

"My friend Jim Riley posted: "Wasn't the Connecticut killer just doing what abortionists do every day? It's a wonder we don't have more 20 year old "dads" doing what women and doctors have been an accomplice to for years in America. When you forget the TEN COMMANDMENTS, people, THIS is what you get."

And then there came despicable right-wing Christian preacher Bryan Fischer, head of a group of hateful Bible-thumpers that calls itself the American Family Association. On his radio show today, Preacher Fischer allowed as how the God he claims to know allowed the massacre of the little children of Newtown because this God was peeved about the decline of school prayer.

Said Preacher Fischer (emphasis mine): "The question is going to come up, where was God? I though God cared about the little children. God protects the little children. Where was God when all this went down? Here's the bottom line, God is not going to go where he is not wanted. Now, we have spent since 1962 -- we're 50 years into this now-- we have spent 50 years telling God to get lost, telling God we do not want you in our schools, we don't want to pray to you in our schools, we do not want to pray to your before football games, we don't want to pray to you at graduations, we don't want anybody talking about you in a graduation speech...

"In 1962 we kicked prayer out of the schools. In 1963 we kicked God's word out of our schools. In 1980 we kicked the Ten Commandments out of our schools. We've kicked God out of our public school system. And I think God would say to us, 'Hey, I'll be glad to protect your children, but you've got to invite me back into your world first. I'm not going to go where I'm not wanted. ..."


***
And now, the pious having had their say about some strange and terrible deity they claim to know,  here come the photos of these murdered little children, that will break your heart.

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Meet Wayne LaPierre ...


...Meet Wayne LaPierre, the loud-mouth fanatic who is executive director of the fanatic National Rifle Association (base pay $1 million a year) and who usually can be depended on to shoot off his mouth  about the insatiable need for more guns of all kinds.

LaPierre, 64, has been oddly silent in the last two days.

Incidentally, though he is a podium-warrior who supports all wars without reservation, LaPierre is among the so-called chicken hawks (like Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, Rudy Giuliani and so many other right-wingers) who declined to actually bear arms in the U.S. military when the chance arrived. LaPierre managed to avoid military service, and Vietnam, by snaring medical deferrments.



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Friday, December 14, 2012

Another TSA Fiasco

Child in wheelchair hauled off because some dumb TSA hump decided 1. There was "explosives residue" on the girl's hands and 2. Girl's mother -- protesting this idiocy -- had become "hostile."

Link, with video taken by the mother, a clearly sensible woman who was appalled at the treatment her daughter received, and the immediate reaction by the screener to accuse a parent of being disrespectful -- as if that screener were some kind of Third World cop.

The TSA will never reduce the public contempt it faces until it cracks down on the (small minority) of screeners who think they can behave like members of Central American goon-squads. Rather than just disciplining individual miscreants, the TSA needs to start disciplining the supervisor on site for misbehavior and stupidity of screeners at any given airport.

I'm talking to you, DFW. And hey, LAX, where do you think you're going?

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Jersey Shore

Just try to get on this beach, buster
Seaside Heights: Everybody's welcome


Back in the 1990s, I wrote a weekly column called "Jersey" for the New York Times. In it, I roamed the state for material, and regularly settled on the vexing subject of the New Jersey seashore -- known to all as the Jersey Shore.

Unlike most reporters, from New York or elsewhere, I actually realized that the Jersey Shore started at Cape May to the south and ended 127 miles north at Sandy Hook --  and that the absolutely worst places to get a feel for it, whether in good times or stormy times -- were at those two easy-to-find, easy-to-reach-from-Manhattan towns on the northern stretches of the shore, Asbury Park and Long Branch.

[Obligatory mention of Bruce Springsteen whenever there's a mention of Asbury Park].

A couple of things about those two towns. One, until they became nicely gentrified by young professionals, especially affluent gays, in recent years, those towns were decrepit and largely overlooked by outsiders.

Two, most of the other Jersey Shore towns -- Cape May, Wildwood, Avalon, Stone Harbor, Ocean City, Atlantic City, Long Beach Island's communities, Seaside Heights, etc -- are on barrier islands. Asbury Park and Long branch are on the mainland. The issues most pressing shore issues -- erosion, reckless development, restricted public access to beaches that are expensively, constantly, painstakingly restored with federal and state tax money -- are centered on the barrier islands, and not on the mainland.

And vis a vis public use of the beaches, the actual issue is access. The issue is not the $3 or $5 a beach town might charge per day for using the beach. Some of the towns that charge fees enthusiastically welcome the public to come in and pay them. Others, the exclusive towns that keep the public out by prohibiting parking anywhere in town, officially have "beach fees" -- but they are basically a fiction because no one can actually get to the beach who doesn't live there at least seasonally.

Despite my efforts, the media never got this right, and they still don't, as seen in this well-meaning but basically pointless report on NPR about beach fees and public access.

On the Jersey Shore in summertime, wide-open towns like Cape May, Ocean City, Seaside Heights, Point Pleasant Beach and the like, all impose nominal beach fees to offset local expenses of hiring lifeguards and maintenance. In these funloving towns, which welcome the public, it's easy to find the place to actually pay the daily fee (usually at numerous booths at the boardwalks), and public accommodations, including parking, are readily available. No problemo, as they might say in Seaside Heights.

[Only a few major beach towns, namely Wildwood and Atlantic City, do not impose fees of any kind, incidentally. Access is totally open.]

But most of the rest of the Shore is exclusive, with beach access actually available only to well-heeled residents, who go to great efforts, abetted by their local police departments, to keep out the riff-raff, which is defined as the rest of us who might be looking for a day at the shore and not planning to spend it at the big boardwalk towns.

Just try to find public parking, let alone a place to actually pay a beach fee or buy a beach tag, in Avalon or Harvey Cedars or Deal or a dozen other Jersey Shore towns that make it clear that "Day Tripper" is a dirty word. Just try to walk on their damn beach! You will see what the word exclusive really means. And it just so happens that these towns -- which comprise the bulk of the Jersey Shore oceanfront real estate -- tend to be the ones with the greatest demands for taxpayer-funded beach replenishment and anti-erosion projects because, you see, these are the most ecologically vulnerable areas, where the most inadvisable beachfront development -- read, multi-million-dollar homes built on beaches that are extremely susceptible to erosion -- has occurred in the last four decades.

New Jersey Gov. Chris ("Thar She Blows") Christie now lobbies for many billions in federal aid to restore the Jersey Shore after Hurricane Sandy, the devastation of which he called "unthinkable." Yet it wasn't "unthinkable," it was absolutely predictable and inevitable -- but no one is really pressing Christie and his likes on just exactly what kind of restoration they have in mind.

Lemme guess. Does the term "status quo ante" sound about right? Is it your guess, as it is mine, that Christie's plan is to back the rebuilding of the Jersey Shore just as it was, with all of those splendid mansions on the seaside, revived and protected by taxpayers?

The NPR report correctly seeks out comment from people like Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society, a coastal conservation group. It says:

"Before the storm, he says, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent years building up the beaches by pumping sand onto them. But that shouldn't be a solution to restoring the shore, he says.
'We need to design the beaches to be sustainable, to be open to the public, in a way that everybody can get to them, everywhere, and we need to design them so they're ecologically sensitive and they provide for habitat,' Dillingham says."

Seventy-five percent of the restoration costs for the Jersey shore, the report says, accurately, "is likely to come from federal taxpayers, with the state picking up a significant chunk too." And it adds, again accurately: "Yet much of the beach-restoration work will end up protecting private property. The relatively few beach areas now accessible to the public on the Jersey shore often charge fees of $8, $10 and even $12 a day for access. And some towns are considering hiking those fees to help pay for the renovations."

But that's where we slip off the rails. The issue, as presented by the NPR report, is that politicians in the New Jersey state legislature are hoping to pass a law saying that beach towns that have access fees in place can't accept taxpayer restoration money.

Who would be hurt by that? Why, the big boardwalk towns like Seaside Heights and Ocean City that charge beach fees and at the same time welcome the public, providing parking and rest rooms and other services, including lifeguards.

Who would not care in the least? Why, the "stay-the-hell-away" towns that have fees in place mainly  to maintain the fiction that beach access is available -- when, in fact, there is no practical way for outsiders to access or use  the beach, given parking restrictions and a total lack of public services. So why would they care if they can't charge beach fees to the public at large? In these towns, the beach is for the locals, there is no public parking anywhere in town -- but the bill for restoring that beach and fixing expensive homes that are recklessly built in vulnerable oceanfront locations, well, that bill is presented to taxpayers at large.

(Yes, the virtual gated communities do charge residents for beach passes to residents, but on a seasonal, not daily, basis. That is, residents pay for the whole summer. Officially banned from charging public "beach fees," these towns could just as easily designate these seasonal passes as  membership assessments, and hence make it official that what they're actually running is a kind of beachfront country club reserved for the swells.)  

So "access" is available in the big boardwalk towns, at a nominal fee (except for Wildwood and Atlantic City, where it's free) -- but virtually denied in most of these other towns, even though they maintain the fiction of access. Realistically there is no way for the public to use those beaches in the most exclusive shore towns with the most expensive real estate. On a summer day, you can't park there, and just try to even find a place to pay that beach fee.

So the NPR piece is well-intentioned, and so perhaps (just perhaps) is the move in the Jersey legislature to ban beach fees in towns that accept restoration money. But it misses the real point. A $5 daily beach fee in raucous, wonderful Seaside Heights, teeming with the general public during the summer, that isn't the issue. The smug archipelago of virtual gated communities, hogging taxpayer-maintained beaches that are effectively closed to the general public under all circumstances -- that's the issue on the Jersey Shore.


And you're not going to learn about the real issue, standing on a beach in Long Branch, where they actually let you stand on the beach. Try doing that in, say, the town of Deal.


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Friday, December 07, 2012

Packing for the Airport (Continued)


Headline on today's weekly report from the Transportation Security Administration on  weapons found in the last week in passengers' carry-on bags at U.S. airports:

"TSA Week in Review: 41 Firearms, 40 Stun Guns, 4 Grenades, 1 Rocket Launcher. No Partridge in a Pear Tree…"

 

I don't know why the media (myself aside) keep ignoring this remarkable onslaught of weaponry discovered at the airports (and the question of how many other firearms are getting through security), but here's this week's grim report on guns: 41 guns found in passenger carry-ons, 36 of them loaded. Here's the breakdown just of the firearms found in the last week, via the TSA:


 Here's a link to the full report on the TSA blog.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

General Jan, Reporting From the Front

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer goes to war

Jon Stewart had a segment last night called "Please Tell Me This Is Rock Bottom," based on the bizarre vote by Senate Republicans to block ratification of a United Nations treaty that would basically bring U.N. members up to the long-established standards of the United States on protecting people with disabilities. The Republicans said that the U.N. treaty was an example of socialism, and ratifying it would be a direct threat to Americans who home-school their children.

Well, we have gotta hit rock bottom eventually in bat-shit-crazy Republican politics, but that day has not yet arrived.

Witness the apparition yesterday of Arizona  Governor Jan Brewer, reported AWOL from the state all this week after last week 1. hitting a reporter whose question she did not like; 2. hearing that she was not legally clear to run for another term in 2014 and 3. Being dissed when only two governors turned up to hear her speak at the Western Governors Association conference on the weekend.

To the mattresses she went.


Where's Jan? That was the question when she disappeared without explanation other than a vague comment from an aide that she was on "official state business." Jokes, of course, ensued. Was she  hiking the proverbial Appalachian Trail? Holed up with Sheriff Joe Arpaio checking IDs at the border crossing at Nogales? Naturally, someone noted the fact that although the governor was missing, no one had offered a reward for her safe return.

Well, not to worry! She was in Afghanistan! Reporting from the front! On state business! You know, a person with absolutely no foreign affairs knowledge or previous apparent interest had gone to Afghanistan, on state business, to report back to us bumpkins on the progress of the war and, well, also to get her picture taken with tanks and soldiers, and to wear that swell combat uniform with her name on the pocket, like a soldier.

So there was General Jan on a camouflaged helicopter in Kabul, wearing a helmet (which is so much safer than that tin-foil hat she usually wears). She had gone to Afghanistan secretly, very hush-hush. You know, because the Taliban and al Queda, not to mention the Russians, are constantly monitoring the movements of somebody like Jan Brewer.
 
General Jan had lots to say in a press conference heralding her now-no-longer secret visit to the Front. Here is one gem: “You know, I was so happy and so honored to be able to come, I don’t think the reality really set in with me until I got there. Then, I realized that it was the real deal, you know. We’re flying in helicopters, we have guns, guns hanging out the windows.”

Speaking by telephone to the Tucson paper, she confided the remarkable observation that war is "unimaginable," and added: "As we sit over there on the mainland and see and hear everything going on, it's really different over here."

Hark! Do I hear echoes of Henvy V's St. Chrispen's Day speech in the words thus spake by Gen. Brewer: "It's really different over here?"

Back here on the "mainland," the media, all sense of journalistic hilarity left hanging out the window,  are reporting this stuff with absolutely straight faces.  You know, Politico had a piece last week speculating that Jan Brewer could be among the group of Republicans considering a run for the presidential nomination in 2016. I sincerely hope that some serious journalists start having some fun with this nutty story. Because hope springs eternal! I mean, Jan Brewer actually thinks she might be running for president and has even met recently with that red-haired old multi-billionaire who blew $150 million on losing GOP races, the beautiful Sheldon Edelson. Imagine Jan Brewer at the debates. Hell, that alone would be worth another $150 million of the gambling magnate's dough.

There is no more to say about this. Except to assure Jon Stewart that rock bottom might still be a long way down.

Here's a link to the Stewart segment on the vote on the U.N. treaty, incidentally.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2012

What the Hell Is Going On in Phoenix?

"And another thing--" Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has a word with the president

 [UPDATED]

Yeah, I  know, you could ask that question ("What the hell is going on in Phoenix?") fairly regularly, but the fact is, strange things are happening (again) in Phoenix.

You haven't heard much about this because the news media in Phoenix and Tucson so far aren't on the story, but here's the latest:

Gov. Jan Brewer -- she of that bony finger stuck in President Obama's face -- seems to have gone missing. Brewer hasn't been in the state all week, though she didn't do what governors are supposed to do, which is announce that they're going away and let people know where they went. The only word about Brewer is a report that she was seen at Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland visiting a wounded soldier.

An AWOL governor playing candystriper in Maryland? A news media that isn't motivated, as the media would be in any place I ever worked, to, you know, go find her?

Wait, it gets weirder (it always does, doesn't it). 

Last week, before she went missing, there was a strange contretemps in Phoenix between Brewer and a television reporter who asked her about global warming during a press conference. The question was based on the fact that Brewer was due to speak this week at a meeting on energy policy (which she was a no-show at, subsequently).

After mumbling a reply to the effect that global warming was not caused by humans, Brewer went blank for one of those long vacant stares of hers, you know, the ones that make you wonder if she is seeing visions in her head of demons or prehistoric birds of prey.

That's when it got weird. In a report on the media insider site Romenesko.com, a local news photographer who was there, Michael Clawson, said this:

"After her answer, a handler swooped in and whisked her away, but about three paces out she turned back around to face the reporter who asked the last question. He had turned to a camera operator and seemed to be putting his microphone away. Brewer took her left hand, balled it into a fist and with the back of her hand she slugged the reporter on the back of his right arm. Not hard, but with enough force that he spun around to see what was going on. She leaned in real close and looked up (she’s a shorter lady) and said in a whisper loud enough for most of us to hear, “Where the hell’d that come from?”

A video snippet of Brewer storming away went viral days ago, but the fact that she also actually slugged the reporter had not previously been reported. Not that the reporter was harmed. Despite that Gidget doo from 1963 and the chronic belligerence, Brewer is a tiny old lady, and getting slugged by her would be like being hit by a jelly doughnut.

And after that, Brewer went AWOL. And her fate is still unknown, as they used to say about Charlie and the M.T.A. Pressed by the A.P. this week, a Brewer spokesman would say only that the governor is out of state on undisclosed "official business."

Online, Brewer's AWOL is getting some national attention. Wags online are joking that, oddly, no reward has yet been offered for Brewer's safe return. Others  suggest she's "hiking the Appalachian trail." Or that she went to find John McAfee to have him fix a virus on her computer.

My suggestions are that she's actually out getting her hair done at Maaco. Or that she and fellow loon Sheriff Joe Arpaio are holed up in Laredo, checking Mexicans' IDs. Or that she has been gone all Aimee Semple McPherson and been kidnapped and spirited to Agua Pieta by desperadoes named Steve and Mexicali Rose.

UPDATE: Okay, I said it probably gets weirder and it does. It seems that Brewer's "official state business" is to go to Afghanistan and get her picture taken with soldiers. And here's weird on a stick: Some people think she's positioning herself for a run for the Republican nomination for president in 2016. I mean, people who actually seem to have mailing addresses on this planet.


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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

United 787 in Emergency Landing, 'Dreamliner' Hype Aside

Media swells being taken for a ride

I'm glad to know that United Airlines got its money's worth flying all of those media and travel-world swells around on a multi-city junket that yielded such effusive publicity for the inaugural flight of its new 787 Dreamliner aircraft last month.  From the media accounts, you'd have thought this was the reincarnation of the supersonic Concorde:

"Even the lavatories are pretty darn cool," the CNBC man gushed. "...The Dreamliner is a fantastic airplane and I'm looking forward to my next ride."  Link.
 
Well, the media slobbering on the junket tour aside, United has already had a problem on a flight with actual fare-paying passengers, on one of the two 787s it has on hand (United has another 48 on order from Boeing).

A United 787 bound to Newark from Houston had to make an emergency landing in New Orleans today because of a mechanical problem. Nobody got hurt. United said it will work with Boeing on finding a solution to whatever the problem is. Link.

[According to Reuters, meanwhile, Boeing says that the F.A.A. has ordered the entire fleet of 787 jets to be inspected for a possible fuel line problem.]

Some media accounts, by the way, left the impression that the 787 Dreamliner is the kind of plane most of us might one day be flying on, rather than, say, one of those crappy 50-seat or 70-seat regional jets that handle most domestic flights.

Forget about it! While United is trying to show off the 787 domestically now, the plane in fact is a premium aircraft designed for long-haul international flights.


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These People Are For Real




...and at least for the ones in the U.S., their vote counts the same as yours.

An amusing collection of photos here from Buzzfeed.

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The Intractable Triviality of the Media

A minor pier-like extension north of the Boardwalk.
Having spent 40-plus years in the major media, I think I can with some authority state that I am frequently astonished by the regular stupidity of some elements of that media, not to mention the occasional stupidity of other elements.
 
That's a theme I think I'll stay with in this column for a while.

Today's example:

The media proclivity to constantly cite and amplify false reporting ("Al Gore claims he invented the Internet!") in subsequent stories, long after the initial story has been debunked. Even if the subsequent reports do acknowledge somewhere along the line that the initial reports have been called into question, the initial reports still form the basis of the new reporting.

Case in point: Section of Atlantic City Boardwalk swept out to sea by hurricane.

Facts: During the hurricane, breathless television reporters on CNN and elsewhere, desperate for visuals and drama, got their hair on fire over a snippet of video taken by emergency helicopter, showing some storm damage to a small, wayward extension of the Atlantic City Boardwalk in the northern Inlet section of town where bay and sea meet (that's far from the familiar, wide, five-mile stretch of famous Boardwalk along the oceanfront). Anyone who knows anything about Atlantic City realized, seeing that video, that this was an inconsequential bit of damage (during an extremely consequential and devastating storm) to an inconsequential section of the boardwalk, and easily repaired with some wood and nails. Bang bang bang, all fixed.


Intractable stupidity: The official hurricane Sandy narrative now always includes an assertion that the Atlantic City Boardwalk sustained major damage. Ergo, no damage to Boardwalk now being evident, a great catastrophe has been overcome.

Evidence: From the increasingly inexplicable USA Today, today: "TV viewers during Superstorm Sandy saw portions of the Atlantic City Boardwalk engulfed by waves and swept out to sea. That's an image that the gambling-driven resort hopes to erase during the crucial holiday season. ..."

Reality: Viewers saw no such thing. They did not see waves sweeping an engulfed portion of the Boardwalk out to sea. They saw a snippet of video, and a still photo or two, showing damage to that small and forlorn section of the boardwalk, basically a long pier, where the waves had indeed intruded on their way to doing serious damage to nearby homes, destroying about a 50-foot section. Period. The actual Atlantic City Boardwalk sustained no significant damage.

The actual Atlantic City Boardwalk, undamaged.
And oh, by the way. The USA Today story is also an example of a journalistic practice I call "recipe writing."

That is, a reporter (or worse, editor) from Publiciation B sees a story in Publication A, and proceeds to "re-report" it, using Publication A as a recipe for the ingredients.

Like this column three weeks ago by Monica Yant Kinney in the Philadelphia Inquirer that appears to have been the recipe for the one in USA Today.

It's a cheesy practice, but not strictly unethical. Just cheesy.


A piece of information in the earlier Inky story (which seems to have been prompted by PR promotion from Atlantic City) that should have been kept in the recipe: "Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Sandy struck, 41 percent of Americans polled erroneously believed the Atlantic City Boardwalk had washed away; 21 percent had heard the Jersey Shore was still closed to travelers. ..."

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Monday, December 03, 2012

Delta Making a Move on Virgin Atlantic?

Delta Air Lines seems to be making preliminary moves to buy a big chunk of Virgin Atlantic. The most recent indication of that is that Singapore Airlines, which owns 49 percent of Virgin Atlantic, confirms that it wants to sell that stake.

Here's Reuters on it.

Delta won't comment. Delta, which has expressed interest in Virgin in the past, is the most obvious buyer of the Singapore stake, possibly in a combination bid with Air France-KLM. The controlling share of Virgin -- 51 percent -- is owned by its founder, Richard Branson. Delta acquiring the other 49 percent would give it access to Virgin's slots at all-important Heathrow Airport in London, as a deal in combination with its SkyTeam Alliance partner Air France/KLM would circumvent European laws about foreign control of an EU carrier.

Speculation then says that Delta-AirFrance/KLM could even acquire full control of Virgin, with Delta maintaining that minority 49 percent stake to avoid regulatory hurdles.

Virgin is now the second-largest carrier at Heathrow, an airport that is operating at full capacity with no immediate room for adding new slots. So the only way you get slots there these days is to buy them from someone else, and add them to your alliance bundle, in this case SkyTeam.  As Mike Boyd points out today, "Add all the SkyTeam slots, including the Virgin Atlantic access, and SkyTeam will have 650 slots. A pittance to the BA 4,900, but still enough to be in a strong second place."

In his weekly essay at his usual post at the Boyd Group International site, Mike also suggests that maybe the alliance world isn't as monolithic as has been assumed, and may be starting to flounder as members fight over turf. That's very interesting reading.

Meanwhile, to the extent that anybody in the mainstream media actually covers airlines (other than as a weird stock-play, a fare-oriented consumer-interest story, or a lame rehash about international markets like this one in USA Today), this will be reported with bafflement.

But here's the way I see it if Delta in fact does move on Virgin Atlantic:

The biggest story in airlines today, which goes almost unreported, is the move toward consolidation, not just with mergers and acquisitions, but with rapidly growing deals in which airlines basically get around antitrust regulations and act in deep concert, through alliances, code-shares and those strange little special antitrust-exempt deals that let them flat-out collude on prices and supply on specified international routes. The name for this is "cartel."

A combination would accelerate continue that trend, if regulators let it happen.

 Airlines are interested these days not in market share on domestic routes, but in feeding high-revenue passengers into long-haul hub-to-hub routes with lucrative connections, including in cooperation with code-share and alliance partners, to international routes. That's the game being played by the major domestic airlines (Southwest excepted), to the detriment of comprehensive air-service between U.S. markets that are don't produce high-yield business traffic and international feeds.

Oh, by the way: Is anybody looking at Virgin America (which Branson's company has a minority stake in), the feisty and highly regarded American carrier (only five years old and unable to expand much) -- whose main assets are juicy transcontinental routes with high-yield potential international feed?

You bet they are.

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Friday, November 30, 2012

Common Sense and Aviation Disasters, Via France

A French appeals court threw out a criminal conviction for involuntary manslaughter of Continental Airlines for its part in the crash of an Air France Concorde plane in Paris that killed 113 in 2000. Here's the Times report today.

This sensible move -- in effect, "de-criminalizing" an accident that occurred partly as a result of human error -- comes as authorities in Brazil continue the clear folly of criminalizing another accident that was the result of human error, the horrific mid-air collision between a business jet and a 737 over the Amazon in 2006 that killed 154.

In Brazil, in the latest manifestation of stubborn foolishness, prosecutors are now making charges of perjury against a pilot who served as a major defense witness in the criminal trial of the two American pilots of the business jet that collided with the 737.  The rationale? Well, since the American pilots were earlier convicted (in what I have described as a sham trial that was part of the Brazilian authorities' ongoing attempts to cover up the major role that Brazilian air traffic control played in the mid-air crash), why, then, the expert witness for the defense must have lied. Otherwise, you see, the defendants would have been acquitted. This is reasoning out of Alice in Wonderland, of course.


More on that nonsense later today, but now back to the Air France Concorde disaster and the very good ruling by the French appeals court.

Long story short, the Concorde disaster in Paris came about through a series of errors and occurrences, which is almost always the case in major aviation accidents. Continental and one of its mechanics had been faulted for an apparent mechanical error that led to the loss of a metal strip off a Continental plane, which took off on the runway minutes before the Concorde took off and crashed on that runway, after that metal strip punctured a Concorde tire.

There were, of course, other factors in the crash, all of which played a part in the investigation. But the issue, in Paris as it was in Brazil, is the question of criminalizing  an accident, of rushing to assign criminal culpability. In Brazil, one of the most notable consequences of this rush to criminal judgment (the emotional, xenophobic rush to blame the Americans and exonerate Brazilian air traffic control) was that important witnesses, including air traffic controllers, simply clammed up. The result was a wretchedly botched investigation -- and yet another major embarrassment for Brazil in the international aviation community.


[I was one of seven survivors on the American jet, and I was subsequently convicted in Brazil of causing "dishonor" to Brazil by my reporting on the coverup. My case then became a small part of the momentum that led to a new federal law in the U.S. called the SPEECH Act, which forbids a U.S. court from enforcing spurious libel and slander judgments against Americans for speech, made in the U.S., that is entirely protected by the First Amendment.

[And one of the more amusing aspects of that ridiculousness seeking unsuccessfully to silence me came when a group representing Brazilian "journalists," the National Federation of Journalists, belched forth a statement in 2011 supporting the civil and criminal actions against me because I "published posts offensive to Brazil" and showed a "disrespectful manner" when I argued against the Brazilian coverup. This august association of Brazilian journalists then proceeded to repeat obvious lies and asinine whoppers about what I had in fact written. But I digress ...]

Meanwhile, here's a smart statement on the French case by the Flight Safety Foundation. [Italic emphasis mine]:

Foundation Applauds Decision of French Court

Alexandria, VA, November 29, 2012 –The Flight Safety Foundation applauded the decision today by the French appeals court to throw out the convictions against Continental Airlines and one of their mechanics in relation to the tragic crash of the Concorde in 2000.

“We’re very pleased that courts are recognizing that professional human error does not amount to criminal conduct, even where it can lead to catastrophic consequences,” stated Kenneth Quinn, FSF General Counsel. “The tragedy of this accident and others is only compounded by decades-long efforts to find someone to ‘blame,’ rather than focus on human factors, training, and technology to make sure that the tragedy does not reoccur.”

“Undue prosecutorial and judicial interference can not only create further victims of accidents, but more importantly harm the integrity and timeliness of the accident investigation process, with an adverse effect on aviation safety” Quinn continued.

Mr. Quinn is currently also serving as Vice Chair of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Task Force on Safety Information Protection, which will be hosting a listening session on December 5, 2012 in Washington, DC, with many interested stakeholders and family representatives scheduled to attend.


###

 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Flight Chaos Arrives

No need to go on and on about this. You're watching and reading the news:


Number of flight cancellations today, via Flightstats.com -- 7,328

Tomorrow (so far) -- 2,791 (that will at least double by tomorrow

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Flight Cancellations Mounting

Flight cancellations for tomorrow (so far): 5,848, according to FlightAware.com

That's roughly a quarter of the total number of flights.

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Stormfront: Here We Go Again

[UPDATED]

The New York City transit system, with subway stations vulnerable to flooding, is being shut down tonight. Oh, what an adventure Monday morning is going to be in the world's greatest city.

Evacuations are spreading in coastal areas, including the New Jersey barrier islands, which have not experienced a really major coastal storm -- of the sort that can significantly alter geography -- since the 1960s, before those shore towns were so massively developed on fragile barrier islands.

Atlantic City (yes, it's on a barrier island) is emptying out. Atlantic City has been significantly developed since the last two decades of the 19th Century. Check out the amount of development that has occurred since the 1960s on the other barrier islands that form the Jersey Shore from Cape May northward.

So here we go again. A crisis, and a long time coping with and reacting to a crisis. And then we'll resume life just as before.

Why can't we respond to this one, after we've responded on the most basic levels of safety, by asking some questions?

--Isn't it time to cut the nonsense and insist that everybody admit that climate change is for real and we need to accept the reality while trying to undo some of the damage -- or at least not continue letting it get worse?  Why aren't we looking those congressional climate-change deniers right in the eye and saying, "You know what? You're an idiot."

--Why can't we develop emergency plans that go beyond dispatching motorboats with first-responders to rescue those foolish or unfortunate enough to be stranded by a storm everybody sees coming?

--Why don't we move immediately to define and address discrepancies and deficiencies in the satellite networks we depend on for weather forecasting? Why haven't we demanded to know, for example, why there was so little warning to the public when the threat from Hurricane Irene in August 2011 abruptly changed from wind in Atlantic City to flooding in, say, Binghamton?

--There's probably nothing we can do to undo the insanity of having allowed massive development in flood zones, especially on the New Jersey barrier islands. But why do we think that flood insurance should protect this folly? (And on the Jersey shore, we're talking mainly about expensive beachfront homes in literally exclusive shore towns that do everything they can to keep out the public, and are the first to wail for help when their beaches wash away and their homes get damaged.) And why do politicians in New Jersey, in particular, resist any and all discussions about seashore development, the environment and the subsidizing of exclusice communities built for the one-percent on the fundamental assurance that they'll be looked after?

--What about all of those power lines that come down every time it rains and the wind blows, or when it snows and ice forms? In much of the country, in suburbs that have been developed since the 60s, the electricity grid is safely tucked underground. (It's complicated, with ramifications and staggering expenses. Then again, so was the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River.)

But New Jersey and the near New York State suburbs were substantially developed over a century ago, and are saddled with aging infrastructure. Power lines exposed to the weather, creaky phone lines that require constant patching even in normal times, emergency plans that are based on air raid response protocols from World War Two. I used to live in Glen Ridge, a pleasant New Jersey town with gas street-lamps that dated to the 1920s. But the phone lines also come from that era, literally a time when Thomas Edison was still running his company 15 miles away. Every time it rained hard, the phones went out. (At least the gas lamps stayed on.)

After Hurricane Irene in August 2011, while the hurricand dramatists were still lovingly rerunning videos of themselves on the strand with wind-touseled hair, the actual issue -- the one we hadn't fully seen coming -- was heavy rains and flooding.

In Atlantic City, which is situated on a barrier island a lot more substantial that, say, Long Beach Island a bit farther north, bays and ocean met each other during the last huge coastal story in 1962. That was a storm surge of 8 1/2 feet. The current predicted surge level is 10 feet.


Rather than these repetitive scenes of hurricane-wind drama queens like New Jersey governor Chris "Thar She Blows" Christie slipping on his official windbreaker and bellowing that citizens need to run away from the threat (which they do need to do, obviously) -- wouldn't it be nice if, after this one blows over, we had a cogent, grown-up civic conversation about perhaps launching a major infrastructure initiative, throughout Old America, to protect our electricity supply against wind and rain and ice, elements that have been with us for a very long time?

Wouldn't it be nice if politicians like Christie started addressing issues like unwise seashore development on vulnerable barrier islands, and how we need to rethink coastal ecology?

Wouldn't it be nice if electricity companies, which are enormously profitable corporations, were required -- by government -- to start accounting for their inability to better ensure the delivery of the power supply? 

These are questions just for starters. Because in weather events of a profound nature, it appears that this is the new normal.

[UPDATE: By mid-afternoon today, long before the storm was due to arrive, some New Jersey seashore towns were flooding, even though it wasn't raining. The reason, obviously, is that a massive storm approaching from the south is pushing around vast volumes of sea water, a storm surge that raises levels in the back bays. This is the classic example of the vulnerability of a barrier island.]

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