Saturday, March 24, 2012

Your Fellow Fliers (Packing)

There, via the TSA's blog, is the latest tally of guns that were discovered in just a week in the carry-on bags of our fellow passengers at the nation's airports.

Just another typical week, incidentally.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

United Airlines: Don't Call Us! (And We Won't Call You, Either)

["One ringy-dingy...two ringy-dingies ... six thousand ringy-dingies ..."]

From the hilariously unuseful United Airlines Web site today on one aspect of the continuing disruptions caused by the merging of computer systems early this month with the former Continental Airlines (emphasis mine):

"Our Contact Centers are currently experiencing extraordinarily high call volumes. In some cases hold times exceed an hour, and you may be prompted to try your call at another time. We are working to improve this service level and apologize for any inconvenience this may cause."

United knew there would be problems with the computer switchover because every other merged airline has had them when it merged computer systems. United's problems started on March 3, when it flipped the switch, and continue today and will continue tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow ....

Still, United sent its crack PR guy out during the first day of disruptions to assure the gullible in the media that all was going quite well -- when all was manifestly not going well at all.

More than two weeks later, I'm hearing almost hourly from people who have missed connections and gotten stranded, who are unable to get mileage and other status systems to work for them, and who are unable to get through to United on customer service lines. In some cases, I am being told, hold times exceed three hours.

Here's a case study (attention Harvard Business School) in how not to handle PR during a period of problems.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

17 Oil Executives Detained in Brazil

This time it's 17 foreign executives (including Americans) from Chevron and the oil driller Transocean, whose passports the Brazilians have confiscated because of a relatively small offshore oil spill (2,400 barrels) in an area known for natural seepages of oil from natural cracks on the ocean floor. Here's a link.

The Brazilian authorities say they are planning to indict the 17 because of the leak, most of which has been mopped up already by the companies. The spill occurred in November. Meanwhile, Brazilian oil officials say that a small new leak that has been discovered was caused by natural seepages from underwater rock.

It's still another example of Brazil unilaterally and rashly detaining foreigners, in actions that seem to be partly motivated by perceived impressions that foreigners were "dishonoring" Brazil, the most thin-skinned country in the Americas. Brazil authorities are extremely quick to decide that "insolence" is a reason to do pretty much whatever impulse tells them to do.

Case in point in the oil-spill incident: The top executive of Chevron's Latin American businesses, Ali Moshiri, was quoted after the spill by the Wall Street Journal as saying: "I’ve never seen a spill this small with this size of reaction."

Oops, "honor" evidently was once again offended in Brazil.

"The companies acted in a frivolous, irresponsible manner in the incident," a federal police investigator, Fábio Scliar, told the Brazilian TV news outlet Globo.

Ah, brings back memories for me. I recall the Brazilian defense minister, Wonderful Waldir Pires, telling Brazilian media that I was irresponsible and "frivolous," back when I was disputing, in the U.S., crazy Brazilian allegations against the seven of us Americans who survived the horrific mid-air collision over the Amazon that killed 154 in 2006.

Among the bizarre and totally false allegations, widely reported in Brazil, was that I had confirmed the insane charge that we in the American plane were flying loop d loops over the Amazon when the collision occurred. When I ridiculed that idea, Wonderful Waldir -- who had been the first to suggest it -- took grave offense.

Back then, Brazil confiscated the passports of and detailed me and the other badly shaken surviving American passengers, without charges, for three days. The two American pilots were detailed for two months, till the authorities could cobble together charges of "failing to ensure the safety of Brazil's skies." The American pilots were subsequently convicted, in absentia, of criminal charges in the collision -- even though the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board investigation into the crash laid the blame (as I had) on systemic and operational errors by Brazil's military-run air traffic control system.

As I have noted here, I was subsequently convicted of causing dishonor to Brazil in a Brazilian court -- for reporting and commentary made by me in the U.S. that was fully protected by free speech guarantees of the U.S. First Amendment.

Oh, and among other cases, look at at this one, involving a Dutch-born scientist convicted of insulting Brazil's honor by holding a worldwide Internet auction among fellow scientists to name two new species of monkeys he'd discovered in the Amazon. The proceeds were to go toward helping to preserve monkey habitat in the Amazon. The scientist, who had earlier been named as one of the "Heroes for the Planet" by Time Magazine, got 17 years in prison. He accused the Brazilian courts of "criminalizing science." The scientist, Marc van Roosmalen, fled. [The UK Guardian newspaper reported in 2007 charges that Brazilian politicians in the Amazon region has jumped on a "bio-piracy" bandwagon, "stirring xenophobic fears" -- never a difficult thing to do in Brazil.]

This, too, involving three American college students on a scientific field trip, arrested on a bogus technicality and held indefinitely without charges. The students "must remain in Brazil awaiting the outcome of the legal process. In Brazil this happens very slowly, and could take months or even years. In the meantime these student's lives and academic work are on hold," according to a protest statement signed by the academic geological community around the world. Those students were released about a month later, though with charges pending, in a case that still has academic researchers shaking their heads.

Or how about this, involving two American federal air marshals arrested and with their passports confiscated in Brazil after they arrested the wife of a Brazilian judge aboard a Continental flight for being violently drunk and disruptive on the flight. The marshals subsequently managed to flee the country using alternate travel documents rather than, they said, face "trumped-up charges." CNN says of that case: "The incident has impacted air marshal operations on flights to Brazil, officials said, and air marshals contacted by CNN said the case raises questions about Brazil's willingness to support future law enforcement actions by U.S. officials on international flights."

Back now to the oil-spill case. Brazilian authorities accused Chevron of lying when they said the spill was relatively small. The always excitable, always xenophobic Brazil media also became enraged when one of the executives chose not to reply in Portuguese to questions.

From the Wall Street Journal in December: "And the news media lambasted George Buck, the head of Chevron’s Brazil operations, after he and Mr. Moshiri were summoned to Brazil’s Congress to discuss the spill, questioning why Mr. Buck relied on a translator instead of speaking Portuguese."

Dishonor to the nation! Funny, as I have said, how a country and news media that bent its knees to a brutal military dictatorship for nearly a quarter century is so quick to take insult from outsiders these days.

Of course, the media are in their usual mode of disdain toward foreigners. From the always-dependable Globo today, a sneer that the American oil company, of course, is seeking to defend itself and claim that the seepage was natural, and self-defense seems to be regarded as indication of guilt down that rabbit hole: "Chevron has been using a strategy to defend itself, blaming the faults of the region," Globo notes (italics mine).

Meanwhile in Brazil there are ongoing nasty disputes with foreigners over the World Cup tournament scheduled there for 2014, as well as internal scandals. There are also growing concerns about the 2016 Summer Olympics scheduled for Brazil.

Any American planning to travel to Brazil and saying anything about it needs to hold tight onto their passports.

And not just because of rampant street crime.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Radio's "This American Life" Has a Big Problem ...

...and it's one of the the most popular programs that the public radio program "This American Life" has ever aired. The program, broadcast Jan. 6, was a long "essay" by Mike Daisey, allegedly reporting first-hand on abusive working conditions at Apple factories in China.

The problem is that much of the report evidently was cooked, as we say in the trade. Piped, as we say. Made up, as you might say.

Here's the report on the scandal and the official retraction of the program today by "This American Life."

Here's the response by the "essayist" Mike Daisey (who also does a brisk business performing this monologue live in his popular one-man show "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" at theaters all over the country) when the radio producers confronted him with the disturbing information that he seems to have made shit up, as we also say in the trade when we are not being polite:

"I'm not going to say that I didn't take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard," Daisey tells [Marketplace China correspondent Rob] Schmitz and ["This American Life" executive producer and host Ira] Glass. "My mistake, the mistake I truly regret, is that I had it on your show as journalism, and it's not journalism. It's theater."

Oh sweet and merciful Jesus, serious editors all over the country are saying. It's the old "it ain't journalism, it's art" ploy. It's the "my passion made me do it" ploy!

On his blog, Mike Daisey now says the following: "My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story

Call the lawyers, quick!

This is a major journalistic scandal, and "This American Life" is spending the entire program tonight correcting it. (And, per tradition, it should be groveling in shame and remorse to its audience.)

"This American Life" has been hyping this turkey for months. The program and its home station WBEZ in Chicago had scheduled a live presentation of Daisey's monologue at the Chicago Theatre on April 7, with Ira Glass leading a Q&A afterwards. But Ira won't be answering any questions about this steaming pile now, because, of course, the WBEZ theater show has been canceled.

On its program site tonight, "This American Life" has the following note (italics mine):

"Regrettably, we have discovered that one of our most popular episodes was partially fabricated. This week, we devote the entire hour to detailing the errors in "Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory," Mike Daisey’s story about visiting Foxconn, an Apple supplier factory in China. Rob Schmitz, a reporter for Marketplace, raises doubts on much of Daisey's story.

You know what, "This American life"? When you have bought a story that is cooked, you should not cheese-out (as we say in the trade) and explain that now, oops, to your horror, you realize that the report "was partially fabricated" and that "doubts" had been raised about its veracity.

Partially fabricated is like being partially pregnant. And those doubts, I would guess, perhaps should have been raised a while back. Cooked is cooked, even if some of the ingredients were legit.

You don't weasel out. You don't winge that some of it was probably accurate. No. You take that report out in the back yard and you shoot it in its freaking head, and then you tell your listeners that you are mortified that you violated your basic journalistic principles and foisted off a stage show by some fabulist as actual journalism, and that are so damn sorry you want to die. Then you take your lumps. And then you go back and you re-report that story without fabrications, using journalists, not performers.

National Public Radio, in its story on the scandal, reports that several theaters are sticking by the fabulist Mike Daisey, and not cancelling his one-man show.

Stay tuned on this story, is my advice, because I think it has legs, as we also say in the trade.

Meanwhile, I can only hope that the media in general might one day start giving so much time and space to all of these proliferating, precious memoirists, including the ones who always seem to be whining about a lost love or a one-legged dog that helped them find tranquility through meditation.


Hotel Handicap Pool-Lift Deadline Extended

The Justice Department yesterday allowed a 60-day extension for the requirement that hotels install permanent handicap-access pool lifts on all swimming pools. [See my post here last Tuesday for the full story].

Now the requirement is that the installations be done by May 15, with a possibility for further extensions. According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association, there are more than 51,000 hotels, motels and other commercial lodging places in the U.S. Most of them have pools.

The Justice Department will publish another official notice on the extension, with a comment period that could lead to a further six month grace period. The rule about pools is based on requirements for full handicap access under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The hotel trade association has been lobbying Congress and the cable news media for the extension. (The group is very weak on print media, which makes no sense, PR-wise)


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Direct Air Is Grounded, Many Passengers Stranded

Direct Air, a charter airline known for cheap fares and spotty service, has suspended operations till mid-May (it says). Financial problems. Can't pay for gas, among other things.

Direct Air, based in Myrtle Beach, S.C., is not actually direct. In fact, on its Web site it calls itself "an indirect air carrier providing public charter air flights, and offering all- inclusive vacation, golf, and entertainment packages."

The carrier offered 17 destinations -- mostly from cold places to warm places(for example, Niagara Falls, NY, Pittsburgh, Springfield, Ill., Columbus, Ohio -- Sanford, Lakeland and West Palm beach in Florida).

Notice I did not say the carrier "flew" to 17 destinations. That's because Direct Air used contractors to fly the three Boeing 737s and two MD-80s in its leased fleet.

Meanwhile, stranded passengers are scrambling to find alternate transportation home. Also see this, which has some good background, from the Myrtle Beach paper.

The Direct Air statement, in full, as it appears on its Web site:

Direct Air finds it necessary to suspend flight operation from Tuesday, March 13, 2012 until May 15, 2012. This decision was made to address operational matters. We are currently evaluating strategic alternatives for Direct Air.

Direct Air is committed to our passengers, employees, and the communities we serve.

Please check back here for more details."


TSA To Let Some Over 75 Keep Their Shoes On

The TSA says it will test modified screening procedures for passengers 75 and older starting March 19. They will be able to keep their shoes on, at the four airports chosen for the test program.

These procedures are similar to those last year for kids age 12 and under. They include no longer removing shoes and light outerwear.

Here are the airports where the test program will start March 19 at the following "select security lanes," says the TSA:

Chicago O’Hare: Security Checkpoint 3
Denver International: South Checkpoint/USA Flag Checkpoint
Orlando International: West Checkpoint
Portland International: ABC Checkpoint

The TSA says:

"These changes in protocol for passengers 75 and older could ultimately reduce – though not eliminate – pat-downs that would have otherwise been conducted to resolve anomalies. If anomalies are detected during security screening that cannot be resolved through other procedures, passengers may be required to remove their shoes to complete the screening process.

The procedures allow officers to better focus their efforts on passengers who may be more likely to pose a risk to transportation while expediting the screening process.

If proven successful, TSA will consider broader implementation."


Smaller Orlando Airport Pushing to Evict TSA

The Orlando Sanford International Airport is renewing a push to replace the TSA with private security screeners, citing a new law championed by by House Republicans that would force the TSA to accede to such requests.

The law, signed by the president in February, was sponsored by Rep. John L. Mica, a friend of the private security industry and a Florida Republican who heads the House transportation committee.

Last year, the TSA denied applications by six small airports, including orlando Sanford, to opt out.

In a press conference yesterday, the airport president, Larry Dale, said that using private employers as screeners (under law, they would be supervised by the TSA) would provide a better "customer experience."

Only a handful of the 450 commercial airports have been allowed to replace TSA screeners with screeners working for private companies. San Francisco International is the most prominent among the airprots that received TSA approval to opt out.

Media reports on the move by the Orlando Sanford airport usually gloss over how small it is by comparison with Orlando International Airport. Some even seem not to understand the difference between the two.

Orlando Sanford had 1.3 million passengers in 2011, most of them flown by Allegiant Airlines, a low-cost airline that specializes in serving select leisure-travel markets with pricing that is often packaged along with hotels and other services. One of its other airlines, the charter company Direct Air, suspended service on Monday, stranding many passengers in Florida.

Orlando International Airport, which has not indicated a desire to evict the TSA, had 31.9 million passengers last year.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

At Some Hotels, It's 'Everybody Out of the Pool!' On Thursday

[Photo: An ADA-compliant handicap pool-lift]

The word "disabled" is a hot-wire one (just try writing anything that the extremely powerful handicap lobby disagrees with and see what kind of a reaction you get, buster) -- so we'll approach this with some discretion.

Did you know that the federal government is requiring every hotel in the United States to have "handicapped accessible" lifts for every swimming pool, effective Thursday?

Not doing so means a fine of $55,000.

The lifts that are approved under the Americans With Disabilities Act cost around $6,000 but can cost a whole lot more, depending. Here's one link to a pool-lift supplier catalog for a general overview.

Hotels that don't, won't or can't put this equipment in expect that they will have to shut down their pools Thursday. The hotel trade association, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, says there are 51,000 hotels, motels and other commercial lodging establishments in the U.S.

Most of the hotels and motels, of course, have pools. Somebody's making a lot of dough selling pool lifts! (Some of the online pool-lift suppliers even have live countdown clocks ticking off how many hours and minutes are left before the federal deadline to comply.)

Here is the applicable ruling from the Justice Department under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) appealed the Justice Department ruling, asking for an extension of the deadline. It lost.

Here is the letter from the Justice Department literally laying down the law for the hotel industry.

Here's the AH&LA statement about having its request for more time rejected:

"On March 9, 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) informed AH&LA that it would not revisit the positions it took in a January 31, 2012, technical assistance document entitled 'ADA 2010 Revised Requirements: Accessible Pools-- Means of Entry and Exit' (the 'Guidance'), nor would it extend the March 15, 2012, deadline for lodging facilities and other public accommodations to comply with the new requirements first articulated in this Guidance.

Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Tom Perez delivered this message in [a] letter which largely ignored the reasons provided by the AH&LA (Attachment 1) for why the arbitrary and unlawful new requirements should be stayed (the “DOJ Letter”) (Attachment 2).

The DOJ’s position as stated in the Guidance, subsequent communications with AH&LA on February 8 and 21, 2012, and now in the DOJ letter is that:

--Every single pool and spa (or spa “cluster”) in the United States located at a public accommodation must be retrofitted with an accessible means of entry by March 15, 2012 unless it is not “readily achievable” to do so. The discussion has focused on pool lifts because they are the only feasible accessible entry options for most existing pools and spas.
--Pool lifts must be “fixed” and cannot be “portable.” At existing swimming pools, portable lifts can only be used if the installation of a fixed lift is not readily achievable. DOJ informed AH&LA that a “fixed” lift is one that is attached to the pool deck so that if the deck were turned upside down, it would not fall off the deck.
--Pool lifts must be at poolside and ready for use at all times when the pool is open to guests.
--A pool lift may not be shared between two pools or a pool and a spa in the same location."


Monday, March 12, 2012

Rounding Up the Bloggers? (Approved Committee-Edited Draft Version)

There's a move afoot [please avoid cliches] to get [make that "require"] bloggers to join a professional association and start acting more like the corporate media. [This sounds tendentious, reword term "corporate media"]

Well, heck, [slang: avoid} the next thing you know they'll be requiring us to attend the annual White House Correspondents Dinner and chuckle at the speeches [unnecessarily tendentious. Also, some of the speeches are quite serious; hence, chuckling, as you put it, would be very inappropriate] -- and at that point I swear to you [bearing false witness here?], hang it all up [cliche, again] and find respectable employment such as passing out towels at a brothel in Tijuana. [We do not make sexist reference to brothels, or insensitive references to Mexican border towns. Also, passing out linens at such an establishment would not be "respectable" employment]

Here comes [clumsy] the news [source??] that the credentialed corporate media want us bloggers to somehow get [make that "become"] certified. Or credentialed. Or vetted. [better to use in one sentence, separated by commas] Or whatever the hell [no profanity] they do to corral [inelegant use of noun as verb] each other into those merry little groups of mutual high-fivers [slang, we don't use it] that increasingly is the over-professionalized mainstream journalistic establishment in this country. [Whew. We can't say that!]

As someone who has a foot firmly in each camp [unclear], as well as someone who has actually been to boot camp, [unclear reference: pls supply dates and discharge papers] I hereby invoke General Anthony C. McAuliffe, who sent this famous one-word reply to a German ultimatum that he surrender his troops during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II: "Nuts!" [Offensive term. Also, need comment from Gen. McAuliffe]

David Carr in the [New York] Times today summarizes a movement to form "a kind of trade association approach" that would ensure better professionalism among bloggers, especially with regard to attribution. But hell, [profanity again, we do not use it] it seems to me, once they get you into a corral it won't be long before they'll be working you to jump over those all those respectable hoops and cavaletti poles they set up. [Obscure equestrian references, please reword for the general public]

See this link on Romenesko, which also quotes a reaction by blogger Chris O’Shea at FishbowlNY: "While it’s a great idea, it’ll be preaching to the choir. Those that will listen to its ideas about ethical crediting already conduct themselves in the right way. Blogs that seedily go about linking won’t change, no matter what the CEBA comes up with." [Need comment on comment]

CEBA stands for the splendidly [that word seems out of place and tendentious] named Council on Ethical Blogging and Aggregation.

Responsible bloggers can give lessons on ethics and journalism itself to some of the more self-satisfied of the mainstream media, and require no lessons from them. [Need comment from irresponsible bloggers and Poynter Institute]

We know who we are. [unclear]

And no, Council on Ethical Blogging and Aggregation, we don't need no stinkin' badges. [Slang is never acceptable in proper writing. Also, why would "badges" be required, as press credentials are usually issued as cards?]

[Need to cut 37 lines]


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Afghanistan Massacre and Reuters

As unspeakably horrific as it was, the murder rampage by a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan today seems to have been grossly misreported for much of Sunday by the British news agency Reuters, exacerbated by hysterical links via Matt Drudge, who often trips off into base anti-Americanism when it doesn't interfere with various political agendas of his masters.

As everyone knows by now, an American staff sergeant went on a terrifying pre-dawn rampage and murdered at least 16 innocent Afghan civilians, including nine children. Responsible news organizations were on top of this horrible story from early Sunday morning, reporting what they knew, but avoiding wild speculation. That's how the pros cover breaking news, when rumors are always flying in the chaos.

But not the British news organization Reuters, prominently linked to all morning by Drudge, which got itself invested in an evidently incorrect narrative, screaming that a group of U.S. soldiers, rather than one depraved lunatic, had committed these unspeakable crimes.

Reuters has by now significantly modified the story it was pumping out well into the afternoon. That earlier version is below. By 3 p.m. EDT, Reuters had backpedaled on its claims, though it still indicated that some of its sources -- who appear to be stunned villagers or elders in an area that's under strong Taliban influence -- maintained that the atrocities were committed by a group of Americans acting together.

The New York Times, emptying the dugout on the foreign desk, had done a terrific job all day on this. So has the Wall Street Journal. So did Aljazeera, which makes no mention of multiple shooters.

The Times report as of early Sunday night says, "The officials gave no details about the suspected killer other than to describe him as an Army staff sergeant who was acting alone and who had surrendered himself for arrest. 'The initial reporting that we have at this time indicates there was one shooter, and we have one man in custody,' said Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a NATO spokesman."

Here is the story as it was put out all day by Reuters (liked to excitedly by Drudge) -- until the backpedaling began at 3 p.m., when the report was toned down significantly, though it still insists that "one or more" shooters may have been involved.

The earlier story, pivoting so obviously on the narrative pitch that a group of Americans had been responsible, flips from the singular to the plural with no evidence that either reporter or editor knew what the words were saying.

I've put some of the anomalies in boldface:


Headline: Western forces kill 16 civilians in Afghanistan: Kabul government

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan | Sun Mar 11, 2012 1:42pm EDT

(Reuters) - Western forces shot dead 16 civilians including nine children in southern Kandahar province on Sunday, Afghan officials said, in a rampage that witnesses said was carried out by American soldiers who were laughing and appeared drunk.

One Afghan father who said his children were killed in the shooting spree accused soldiers of later burning the bodies.

Witnesses told Reuters they saw a group of U.S. soldiers arrive at their village in Kandahar's Panjwayi district at around 2 am, enter homes and open fire.

The incident, one of the worst of its kind since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, is likely to deepen the divide between Washington and Kabul.

The U.S. embassy in Kabul said an American soldier had been detained over the shooting. It added that anti-U.S. reprisals were possible following the killings, which come just weeks after U.S. soldiers burned copies of the Koran at a NATO base, triggering widespread anti-Western protests.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the rampage as "intentional murders" and demanded an explanation from the United States. His office said the dead included nine children and three women.

An Afghan minister earlier told Reuters that a lone U.S. soldier had killed up to 16 people when he burst into homes in villages near his base in the middle of the night.

Panjwayi district is about 35 km (22 miles) west of the provincial capital Kandahar city. The district is considered the spiritual home of the Taliban and is believed to be a hive of insurgent activity.

Haji Samad said 11 of his relatives were killed in one house, including his children. Pictures showed blood-splattered walls where the children were killed.

"They (Americans) poured chemicals over their dead bodies and burned them," a weeping Samad told Reuters at the scene.

"I saw that all 11 of my relatives were killed, including my children and grandchildren," said Samad, who had left the home a day earlier.

Neighbors said they awoke to crackling gunfire from American soldiers, whom they described as laughing and drunk.

"They were all drunk and shooting all over the place," said neighbor Agha Lala, who visited one of the homes where the incident took place. "Their bodies were riddled with bullets."

A senior U.S. defense official said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta "was deeply saddened to hear last night of this incident and is closely monitoring reports out of Afghanistan." The White House also expressed concern.

The Afghan Taliban would take revenge for the deaths, the group said in an e-mailed statement to media.

The U.S. embassy in Kabul said an investigation was under way into Sunday's shooting and that "the individual or individuals responsible for this act will be identified and brought to justice".

The commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) General John Allen said he was "shocked and saddened" by the shooting, and promised a rapid investigation.

The Minister of Border and Tribal Affairs Asadullah Khalid, who is investigating the incident, said the soldier entered three homes, killing 11 people in the first one.

"The defense minister ... is deeply shocked and saddened by the killings of 15 innocent civilians and the wounding of nine more at the hands of the coalition forces," the Defense Ministry in Kabul said in a statement.

Civilian casualties have been a major source of friction between Karzai's Western-backed government and U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan.

The shootings could intensify friction between Washington and Kabul as NATO prepares to hand over all security responsibilities to Afghans by the end of 2014, a process which has already started.

The Koran burning and the violence that followed, including a spate of deadly attacks against U.S. soldiers, tested brittle ties between the governments of Karzai and President Barack Obama and underscored the challenges that the West faces even as it moves to withdraw.

All foreign combat troops will withdraw by end-2014 from a costly war that has become increasingly unpopular.

(Reporting by Ahmad Nadem in Kandahar and Hamid Shalizi in Kabul; Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman, Editing by Dean Yates)"


American Airlines Offers a Few New Status Perks for 2013

American Airlines, struggling to bolster revenue while it finds a way out of bankruptcy court, has added a few perks for frequent-flier members with
executive platinum, platinum and gold elite status.

Those who have the status by the end of this year will be able to choose perks from the following lists (assuming, that is, American itself has a status that allows it to be delivering on promises by Dec. 31, 2012):

--Executive platinum members who earn 125,000 or more elite-qualifying points will be eligible to select two of the following rewards:
35,000 AAdvantage bonus miles
Two one-way systemwide electronic upgrades
One one-year Admirals Club membership
Gift of AAdvantage Gold status for a friend
One 20 percent discount promotion code for future systemwide travel on American Airlines

--Platinum members who earn 75,000 – 99,999 elite-qualifying points will be eligible to select one of the following rewards:
25,000 bonus miles
Eight 500-mile electronic upgrades
Four Admirals Club one-day passes
Gift of AAdvantage Gold status for a friend
One 15 percent discount promotion code for future systemwide travel on American Airlines

--Gold members who earn 40,000 – 49,999 elite-qualifying points will be eligible to select one of the following rewards:
15,000 bonus miles
Four 500-mile electronic upgrades
Two Admirals Club one-day passes
One 10 percent discount code for future systemwide travel on American Airlines


Friday, March 09, 2012

Well Done, TSA. No, Seriously, I Mean It

[Update March 12 -- Oops, not so fast with the kudos, Sharkey. See Mike Boyd's column today (third item down, headlined "TSA Management Steps In It Again") at his Boyd International group Web site, zeroing in on the TSA blog and "Baghdad Bob."]


One of the complaints I've had with the TSA for all these years is that, while headquarters often projects a sense of reason in the face of absurdity, a small minority of the screeners who actually staff the checkpoints at airports don't have a clue.

The Army has an old saying that, with any given order, 10 percent always don't seem to get the word.

That's applicable, obviously, to another TSA embarrassment last week, when a screener at Kauai's Lihue airport in Hawaii arbitrarily blocked a nursing mother from taking her electric breast pump through security because, um, the milk bottles were empty.

The woman, Amy Strand, traveling with her 9-month old daughter, was told that the empty bottles proved that the breast pump was not "medically necessary." How to prove that medical necessity existed? Well, said the agent with the degree of impudence that only a badge issued to a nitwit can confer, Ms. Strand would have to actually use the pump and fill up the bottles. Then she would be good to go.

When Ms. Strand asked if there was a private place in which she might comply, she was told she had to use the ladies room. Where, because the pump needs to be plugged into an outlet next to the sink, she had to use it in full view.

When the incident became public, a media fury ensued among the media that pay attention to TSA follies.

And did the TSA, per usual, get into a defensive crouch, harrumph and snort and basically blow off the complaint, saying that it would look into matters, but that people have to understand that screeners' every action is always justified by a concern for public safety?.

No it did not!

Instead, the TSA stood up and said, whoa, we blew this one, and that screener avoided the application of common sense and instead acted like a hump. (Or in words to that effect).

In the TSA's excellent blog, the following post appears today (the italics are mine):

"[Ms. Strand] should have been permitted to bring the ice pack and bottles whether the bottles were empty or not since they were for her breast milk.

It was a result of a miscommunication on our end and those involved are going to undergo retraining and corrective actions.

Leadership at that airport has since spoken to the passenger and apologized, but we wanted to take it a few steps further and try to help our advisements at make a little more sense. So we have updated the website to help clarify the procedures for traveling with ice packs, breast milk, juice, and water. ...

If you find yourself in a situation such as this where you're being advised to do something that you feel is incorrect, please ask for a supervisor or manager.

You can also contact TSA through the following channels:

TSA Contact Center: 1-866-289-9673

Talk to TSA
TSA Cares: 1-855-787-2227

Mistakes such as this happen from time to time and for that we are truly sorry. However, we can and have learned from mistakes in the past, so please be sure to let us know when you think or know something could have been handled differently. When it all comes down to it, we're just trying to keep passengers safe."

That, I would submit to you, is the way to handle this kind of a situation. You say you're sorry without equivocation, and you say that remedial action will be taken.

Well done, TSA.


Stop Presses: USA Today Says USA Wants Cheap Gas

USA Today, the newspaper given away mostly free that claims a paid circulation of, -- what? 3 billion daily? -- has really outdone itself in the self-parody department today.

Spring-summer travel season is not far away (and, of course, a big election looms -- and USAers, or whatever they call us in the frantic USA Today marketing/newsroom department, demand cheap gas, it seems. Or at least according to a survey of people so dumb or lonely that they'll answer the phone and respond to questions from an pollster. See this USA Today story headlined "Gas Prices Must Come Down, Consumers Say"

Yup, a Gallup Poll "finds" that "an overwhelming number of consumers — 85% — say Obama and Congress should take "immediate" action to keep a lid on prices."

Well, freaking duh.

Gallup, which produces some of the more risible polls for consumption by the more credulous media, also might ask if people favor "immediate action" to ensure world peace, end random puppy-killing, secure the borders from violent attack, save the planet without any unnecessary inconveniences, thank our troops and prohibit high cable TV bills.


Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Amid Industry Cutbacks in Domestic Capacity, United Announces New Nonstop Between Dulles and SFO

Underscoring the accelerating trend by airlines that are reducing service to small and mid-sized airports to concentrate more on toward beefing-up high-revenue business-travel routes that also feed into global routes, United Airlines said today it will start daily nonstop service between San Francisco and Reagan Washington National Airport, effective May 14. Westbound service from Reagan to San Francisco will begin May 15.

This will give United 13 flights a day from the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, including at Dulles. It will be United’s first flight from Reagan to San Francisco.

Industrywide, the focuses is more on high-yield routes with good international-feed potential, and on international routes in general. Three weeks ago, for example, United said it would start new daily nonstops flying between the hilariously named Newark International Airport on July 1.

Meanwhile, domestic capacity continues to shrink as airlines weed out routes deemed not sufficiently productive for the type of planes that must fly them. In January, United's domestic available seats miles dropped 6.4 percent compared with January 2011.


World Aviation Accident Rate Lowest in History for 2011, With Some Exceptions in Latin America and Africa, IATA Reports

With some exceptions, the skies are safer than ever for flying.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that the 2011 accident rate for Western-built jets was the lowest in aviation history, surpassing the previous mark set in 2010.

Among the notable exceptions were countries in Latin America, where Brazil is by far the largest and with the most flights. Latin America performed almost 3.5 times worse than the global average for accidents, IATA said.

As reported here the other day, the number of aviation accidents in Brazil jumped more than 40 percent in 2011, according to the Brazilian air force, which said that 90 people died in last year’s accidents.

Africa was the worst-performing region in the world, however, the IATA said.

Here is the IATA statement today in full:

"The 2011 global accident rate (measured in hull losses per million flights of Western-built jets) was 0.37, the equivalent of one accident every 2.7 million flights. This represented a 39 percent improvement compared to 2010, when the accident rate was 0.61, or one accident for every 1.6 million flights. A hull loss is an accident in which the aircraft is destroyed or substantially damaged and not subsequently repaired for whatever reason including a financial decision by the owner.

"'Safety is the air transport industry’s number one priority. It is also a team effort. The entire stakeholder community—airlines, airports, air navigation service providers and safety regulators--works together every day to make the skies safer based on global standards. As a result, flying is one of the safest things that a person could do. But, every accident is one too many, and each fatality is a human tragedy. The ultimate goal of zero accidents keeps everyone involved in aviation focused on building an ever safer industry,'" said Tony Tyler, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

The IATA said:

--2.8 billion people flew safely on 38 million flights (30 million by jet, 8 million by turboprop)
--11 hull loss accidents involving Western-built jets compared to 17 in 2010
--92 total accidents (all aircraft types, Eastern and Western built) down from 94 in 2010
---5 fatal hull loss accidents involving Western-built jets down from 8 in 2010
--22 fatal accidents (all aircraft types) versus 23 in 2010
--486 fatalities compared to 786 in 2010
--Fatality rate dropped to 0.07 per million passengers from 0.21 in 2010 based on Western-built jet operations

Regional Review:

--Asia-Pacific (0.25), Europe (0.0), North America (0.10) and North Asia (0.0) performed better than the global average of 0.37.
--Asia-Pacific, Europe and North Asia recorded improvements compared to their performance in 2010, while North America stayed the same.
--The Commonwealth of Independent States (1.06) was higher than the global average and also higher than last year (0.0).
--Latin America and the Caribbean performed better than 2010 (1.28 in 2011 vs.1.87 in 2010), but was still almost 3.5 times worse than the global average.
--The rate for the Middle East and North Africa region worsened to 2.02 from 0.72 in 2010.
--The rate for Africa improved by 56% to 3.27 from 7.41 in 2010 but still was the worst performing region in the industry. IOSA carriers in Africa had a zero hull loss rate in 2011.

Safety in Africa and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)

The total number of accidents for African airlines dropped from 18 in 2010 to 8 in 2011. The total accident rate for African airlines that are on the IOSA registry was almost equivalent to the world average, while the accident rate for airlines that are not on the IOSA registry was more than five times as high. The same trend occurred in the CIS, where the accident rate for IOSA-registered airlines was more than five times better than the rate for non-IOSA registered airlines.

“The problems of Africa are complex and include both insufficient government oversight and a lack of infrastructure investment. It is quite clear from the industry’s performance that global standards like IOSA are an effective means to improve safety. We are eager to work with governments to make IOSA a part of their safety oversight programs,” said Tyler.

Accident Analysis

Runway excursions, in which an aircraft departs a runway during a landing or takeoff, were the most common type of accident in 2011 (18% of total accidents). This is slightly reduced from 2010 when runway excursions accounted for 21% of total accidents reflecting industry efforts to reduce their frequency. Despite industry growth, the absolute number of runway excursions decreased from 23 in 2009 to 20 in 2010 and 17 in 2011. Eighty eight percent of runway excursions occurred during landing. Unstable approaches--situations where the aircraft is too fast, above the glide slope, or touches down beyond the desired touchdown point--and contaminated runways are among the most common contributing factors to runway excursions on landing.

IATA’s Global Safety Information Center (GSIC) provides trend analysis that is helping the industry improve performance. For example, a new Flight Data eXchange (FDX) system within the GSIC tracks unstable approach performance for the more than 700 airports in the database. Sharing such safety data complements the work of the Runway Excursion Risk Reduction (RERR) Toolkit, the second edition of which was launched in May 2011, and fuels global efforts to find solutions.

Ground damage was another concern, accounting for 16% of accidents in 2011. This was up from 11% in 2010. These accidents include events such as damage resulting from ground handling operations and collisions during taxi. IATA has launched a number of initiatives to address ground accidents. In 2008, IATA launched the IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operations (ISAGO). This is the first global standard for the oversight and auditing of ground handling companies. Subsequently, IATA has launched the IATA Ground Operations Manual (IGOM) and the Aircraft Ground Damage Database (GDDB) to collect and analyze reports of ground damage from participating operators and ground service providers.

Sharing Information

Data sharing is helping to identify and reduce risks. In 2010 the International Civil Aviation Organization, the US Department of Transportation and the European Commission agreed with IATA to create the Global Safety Information Exchange (GSIE). This was enriched in 2011 with the addition of databases covering ground damage and flight data.

"The wider that we cast our net to collect safety information, the more effective we can be in allocating resources to mitigate identified risks. Further developing GSIE is a model for international cooperation that continues aviation’s great tradition in this area," said Tyler.


Brazil, Its 'Honor' Offended Once Again, Escalates Fight With World Cup Officials

Oh man, here we go again with Brazil getting all offended because some foreigner has said something it doesn't like.

Now, please excuse me for saying so, but personal experience tells me that Brazil has a mighty exalted opinion of its "national honor" -- for a country that was a nasty military dictatorship till as recently as 1985, and which can't to this day keep its skies sufficiently safe for aviation.

Now Brazilian officials are escalating an ongoing fight with officials of international World Cup federation (FIFA), which has scheduled the annual World Cup tournament for Brazil in 2014.

The issue is over booze (this time). For arguably legitimate reasons, Brazil doesn't allow booze to be served at soccer games, because of drunken fans. The World Cup insists that booze is a part of the festivities. Interestingly, the World Cup does not much address the fact that money from the big booze contracts is involved.

Last Friday, the World Cup federation's top official, Jerome Valcke, got the Brazilian authorities and amen-chorus media all in another dither when he suggested that Brazil isn't fully with the program yet, World Cup-wise.

"You have to push yourself, get a kick up the backside and just deliver this World Cup," Valcke said, with some exasperation.

Valcke's remarks, feverishly denounced by the usual suspects in Brazil, followed a furor last month over the booze sales at the World Cup, when he said of Brazil's refusal to allow alcohol: "Alcoholic drinks are part of the FIFA World Cup, so we're going to have them. Excuse me if I sound a bit arrogant but that's something we won't negotiate."

Did reason and moderation prevail in a dispute with foreigners? Uh ...

Down the rabbit hole again we merrily went! Suddenly, it seems to have got all personal.

Sounding to me quite a lot, in my opinion, like the famous fulminating former defense minister "Wonderful Waldir" Pires, Brazilian Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo harrumphed on Saturday that Valcke is now persona non grata. "The Brazilian government ... no longer accepts Secretary-General Valcke as an interlocutor."

Then "Brazilian presidential adviser Marco Aurelio Garcia added fuel to the fire Sunday, calling Valcke a loudmouth and a bum ('boquirroto' and 'vagabundo')," according to this report in eTN

A "loudmouth" and a "bum"?

Happily, to my knowledge, no one has yet used the terms "banana" or "most idiot of all idiots," which is what the Brazilians falsely accused me of saying in my reporting and commentary their malfeasance in covering up grave lapses in air safety, following the horrific 2006 mid-air collision that killed 154 over the Amazon. I also was falsely accused (and convicted) of calling Brazil the following: "country of carnival, football, bananas, thieves and prostitutes" and "land of tupiniquins." (Whatever the hell that means.)

I was, as you know, actually convicted of those risible charges (with the conviction recently upheld by an appeals court) in a Brazilian court, which agreed that I had insulted the entire nation in my reporting about the Brazilian coverup of the real causes of the Amazon disaster. (I was one of seven survivors in the crash).

From day one, my concern had been a lack of adequate attention to serious air--safety issues in Brazil and, of course, the squalid cover-up and hysterical anti-Americanism in the aftermath of the Amazon crash.

And as I reported here the other day, the number of aviation accidents in Brazil jumped more than 40 percent in 2011, according to the Brazilian air force. There were 156 accidents, compared to 110 in 2010. The air force said that 90 people died in last year’s accidents.

I'll continue to keep you posted on Brazil's battles with the outside world. It's going to become interesting when hordes of foreign reporters, some of whom may discover some criticisms to express, descend on Brazil for the World Cup and, in 2016, the Summer Olympics.


Monday, March 05, 2012

Update on United: System Running Smoothly Today

After major delays on Saturday as it merged its computer systems with those of the now-nonexistent Continental Airlines, United Airlines is running smoothly today.

Data on show that United (and old Continental) flights are departing on time at most airports, with departure delays only at two airports where Monday-morning departures are often sluggish: Las Vegas (67 percent on time) and Orlando (75 percent).

For the rest of the system, it looks like clear sailing.


Sunday, March 04, 2012

Brazilian Skies Still Have Safety Problems, With Accidents Up 40 Percent in 2011

While the Brazilian authorities angrily feud with World Cup executives who are expressing concern that Brazil might not be up to hosting the 2014 tournament as scheduled, while Brazilian courts affirm a ridiculous libel judgment against an American journalist who is falsely accused of calling the country a "banana" and "most idiot of all idiots" (uh, that would be me), Brazil continues to have serious troubles keeping its skies safe for aviation.

According to this AP article in the Washington Post, the number of aviation accidents in Brazil jumped more than 40 percent in 2011, the Brazilian air force said. There were 156 accidents with planes and helicopters last year, compared to 110 in 2010. The air force said that 90 people died in last year’s accidents.

I know a little about Brazil's unsafe skies. Back in 2006, I was one of seven people who survived a horrific mid-air collision over the Amazon that killed 154 others.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board subsequently determined that operational and systemic errors by the military-run Brazilian air traffic control system were the probable causes of the collision, at 37,000 feet between a 737 commercial airliner that crashed in the jungle, and a Legacy 600 business jet that managed an emergency landing.

About seven months after that crash, which was then the worst aviation disaster in Brazilian history, another airliner crashed at the Sao Paulo airport, killing 199.

The Amazon crash had been followed by months of air-travel chaos in Brazil, caused by air traffic controllers engaging in work stoppages to protest any investigation that might lay blame on them for the mid-air collision.

After 2006, Brazilian authorities, in my opinion, did little to address systemic problems in that country's troubled air-travel system, and instead concentrated on covering up their own obvious malfeasance while vilifying me for reporting and commenting about those problems.

I was later convicted -- in a Brazilian court case that still has legal experts shaking their heads in wonder -- of causing dishonor to Brazil because I criticized that country's authorities while writing in the U.S. A Brazilian court affirmed that conviction -- which has been criticized by free-speech organizations around the world -- last month.

So call me a "banana" and the "most idiot of all idiots" for remarking on it, but obviously air safety in Brazil is still a major issue. You'd think a country so obsessed with its "honor" would place that problem high on its list of things to get agitated about.

There remains serious concern that Brazil, which is scheduled to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, has not adequately addressed its air-safety problems, along with other concerns for the Olympics such as rampant crime in the cities and protests, already underway, from urban dwellers who are disinclined to be literally bulldozed out of the way for Olympic construction projects.

This will be interesting to watch and observe on.


Saturday, March 03, 2012

Heads Up United Fliers: Delays Mounting at Some Hubs

United threw the switch to merge its computer system with Continental's early this morning and, as feared, there are big problems and disruptions.

As of 1:40 p.m. Central time, only 16 percent of United flights at O'Hare and 33 percent at Newark were departing on time, according to the real-time data on At Dulles, it was 26 percent; at Orlando 33 percent; at Boston, 30 percent and at Los Angeles, 50 percent.

This delay mess remained as the day progressed, and the guessing here is that tomorrow won't be a lot better. At noon Central time, United was reporting only a 53 percent overall on-time departure rate for all of its flights at all domestic airports -- compared with 88 percent for Southwest, 89 percent for Delta, 91 percent for American and 87 percent for US Airways.

By the way, as an indication of how basically useless the mainstream media have become on travel news, the Chicago Tribune has been taking United's word for it all day long that everything is running just swell -- even though 80 percent of the United departures at Chicago O'Hare have been late all day.

On its home page all day long, the newspaper has been making this absurd assertion: "United Airlines' conversion to a new computer reservation system went off without a major hitch Saturday morning, ..." It then credulously quotes a United flack, one Rahsaan Johnson, as saying: "The conversion is proceeding according to plan."

Hmmm, what kind of "plan" might that be?

Used to be, a reporter would check this stuff out.

[At 4:30 p.m. Central time: O'Hare was still at a mere 20 percent on-time departures, and of the 80 percent late ones, more than half were over 30 minutes delayed. In all, United was running at a 47 percent on-time departure rate nationally, with 61 percent on-time arrivals -- and lots of those late-departing planes were not yet at their destinations. Looks like a pretty bad situation for United].


Friday, March 02, 2012

United, Continental Computer Systems Merge This Weekend: Tech 'Issues' Lay Ahead?

["Not to worry, all systems are under control, so far"]

On, Joe Brancatelli -- who has seen it all in the post-deregulation era of air travel -- poses the following question today: "What happens when the world's largest airline shifts a gigantic hunk of its worldwide operations onto a new computer system?"

The answer he gives is somewhat disconcerting: "I don't know. You don't know."


Here's Joe's column with background and tips on what might occur.

Maybe this occurs without major hitches, but who knows? Best tip from all sources: Print out all of your ticket and boarding information and carry with you.

Meanwhile, here is the travel notice that United has posted on its Web site:

Please note that the reservations systems for United and Continental are being integrated as of March 3, 2012. Below are some tips to help ensure a smooth experience if you are traveling this weekend:

Online check-in will be available until 1 a.m. U.S. Central time on March 3. At that point, there will be a scheduled system outage lasting approximately 3-4 hours, and we will be unable to serve you online or over the phone during that time.

If you are unable to print your boarding pass in advance, or if you have bags to check, please allow extra time at the airport. Additional staff will be available at the airport to assist you.

Effective March 3, all flights that were scheduled to operate as Continental Airlines (CO) will be operating as United Airlines (UA). Be sure to check or monitors at the airport for correct terminal and gate information.


Sheriff Joe's Crack Investigative Posse

[Left: Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his crack investigative team evaluate another hot tip on the alien Democratic President]

As noted here yesterday, there is still another embarrassment foisted upon Arizona by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the bug-eyed buffoon who is in a drag-out contest with Gov. Jan Brewer to see who wins as the state's biggest laughing-stock.

Arpaio, under intense investigation by the feds for corruption, really outdid himself yesterday in an asinine press conference in which he announced "preliminary results" of an investigation by a crack team of retirees. Something about the president of the United States being an illegal alien or something.

As I said, the Arizona media did its usual job of "objectively" reporting this idiocy -- that is, they produced stories that made it sound like well, maybe Sheriff Joe was acting in good faith here, and here is what he said.

This is a textbook case to show that "objective" journalism has outlived its use in the public good, in this time of raging, epidemic crazy. So this is what "balanced" journalism looks like here: Afraid of what's coming in a federal indictment, Crazy Joe makes wild charges that everybody knows he and his "posse" of investigators pulled out of their double-wide asses. Media dutifully report said charges, and toss in some comments from people saying the charges are spurious. Balance. One nut says the world is flat; media print that, but find a professor to opine that au contraire, it's round.

Only the Phoenix New Times weekly has done a credible job on Joe Arpaio, his posse, and his endless pursuit of publicity -- yesterday's stunt being perhaps the most risible yet.

From today's Phoenix New Times story:

"It's the latest entry in a long line of publicity stunts for Arpaio, and this one just so happened to take place while the sheriff's taking heat for the several hundred sex crimes his office bungled, and the Justice Department's claim that he's running a shop with the worst-racial profiling practices in U.S. history."


Thursday, March 01, 2012

Raising Arizona

[Photo: Sheriff Joe ... tough guy?]

Arizona, one of our most beautiful states, has been suffering mightily from as drop in tourism in recent years because of national ridicule over its contingent of the most ridiculous politicians since the heyday of Mississippi in the 1950s.

I thought that Gov. Jan Brewer, she of the startling Gidget haircut spilling over that Screaming Skull, took first-prize in asininity (so far) this year when she stuck her boney finger in the face of President Obama during what was supposed to be a casual meeting, after pressing on him a weirdly worded handwritten letter. There was something kind of strangely sweet, however, to see that concepts of drunk-dialing and drunk-tweeting are being applied to the venerable practice of handwritten notes.

Now comes ol' Sheriff Joe Arpaio, circus clown sans troupe, a-fixing to hold another press conference today in which he will release the results of his crack investigative team's look into President Obama's right to be president as a native-born citizen.

Stop that laughing right now, the rest of you! Sheriff Joe is struggling to maintain his dignity, especially with that federal indictment looming.

Really, do me a favor. Overlook Phoenix and its suburbs full of a very strange element of miserable white people who moved there to get away from any exposure to reality somewhere else, and who have tried to make a desert look like suburban Indianapolis.

Yet even Phoenix has its charms, assuming you avoid looking at the crazy politicians wandering around talking out loud, like you used to see the deinstitutionalized wander in cities back in the 1970s, refusing to take their meds.

By the way, I often see critics denigrate Arpaio as a "cowboy," which makes me cringe on behalf of honorable cowboys, a group much maligned by those who know nothing of the culture of the cowboy West.

There ain't nothing remotely cowboy about that wild-eyed fat-ass Arpaio, who was born in Massachusetts and whose only exposure to an open range has been in the kitchen. "America's Toughest Sheriff," they keep calling him. Arpaio is about as tough as my grandmother. In fact, my gran could have probably taken him.

The crazies in Phoenix and its suburbs aside, much of Arizona is wonderful, and I'm going to start on a visit-Arizona kick here soon.

Meanwhile, don't miss Sheriff Joe's latest stunt today. The betting here is how many days this stunt will precede the federal indictment of Arpaio that's said to be looming. Or it may be that the feds are planning to finally take action against Arpaio's hideously mis-managed sheriff's office, maybe by placing it in receivership. Oh, the stories that will come out about county law enforcement in Arizona, once somebody started looking hard!

Naturally, the weak and timid Arizona media will avoid any context surrounding Arpaio's latest bizarre stunt (though I do credit the excellent and hard-nosed Phoenix alt-weekly, Phoenix New Times, for staying on Arpaio's case.)

I'm sure Jan Brewer, after she gets a couple into her at lunchtime, will be working on a way to upstage him.

[UPDATE: True to form, the dainty Arizona media, quivering in its frilly petticoats of objectivity, has covered this idiot's press conference (faithfully printing the AP's credulous account) and presented without ridicule his asinine assertion, which was obviously just pulled out of his ass, that the president's birth certificate is a forgery.]

[That credulous AP story is a prime example of a kind of "objective" or "balanced" journalism that has outlived any usefulness to the public good. This Phoenix New Times piece, on the other hand, rightly declines to treat Arpaio, his goofball "posse," and their risible assertions, seriously.]