Saturday, June 30, 2012

Savage Sex Assaults on Western Women in Egypt Continue

I never managed to get myself all weepy-eyed with joy over the alleged "Arab Spring," when tinpot despots were challenged and toppled, but what sometimes rose in their place were vile Islamic radical thugs with their barbaric attitudes toward women.

In Egypt, for example, there have been numerous savage sexual attacks on Western women, especially reporters, by Alahu-Akbar-chanting male thugs. The most recent occurred during the celebrations after a winner was chosen in Egypt's first free presidential election, when a British student journalist was brutally assaulted by the mob in (where else?) Tahrir Square.

That mob assault on that young woman, Natasha Smith, was similar to assaults on other female journalists, including a horrifying mob sexual attack on CBS News correspondent Lara Logan and one on Egyptian-U.S. journalist Mona Eltahawy last year. There have been other attacks on other female journalists too.

Ms. Smith, wrote about the attack on her blog and spoke about it in an interview with CNN.

Dozens of Egyptian men stripped her naked, repeatedly sexually assaulted her and dragged her by her hair across Tahrir Square. Her story is horrifying, as were the others.

Incidentally, here's an important take on the issue, and the idea of blaming the victim, on the important Web site devoted to combating street harassment against women, However, I don;t think even IHollaback is doing enough to focus on the harassment and assaults on female visitors in places like Egypt and other Moslem countries that attract foreign tourists, including Morocco. (Re Morocco, see this by a Peace Corps volunteer)

Meanwhile, officials in Egypt are hoping to repair the extreme damage that has occurred since the Arab Spring to tourism, which until recently has accounted for more than 10 percent of the country's GNP.

Not to worry, the boosters say (abetted by credulous media). Tourists can have fun in Egypt!

"There will be no bans on wearing bikinis and drinking alcohol for tourists coming to Egypt after the Islamist Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was elected president on June 24, Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily quoted Egyptian Ambassador to Russia Alaa El Hadidi on Friday as saying. Here's a link via the travel industry trade publication Global Travel Industry News, which adds:

"Hadidi’s statement came after Morsi’s allies said during the presidential campaign that there will be a number of restrictions for tourists if Morsi is elected, including a ban on selling alcohol, wearing bikinis outside hotels and dividing beaches into male and female zones."

The U.S. State Department, which is after all the department of being diplomatic, has issued only a "travel alert" rather than a more pointed travel warning for Egypt, of which this is an excerpt: "The U.S. Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to avoid all demonstrations in Egypt, as even peaceful ones can quickly become violent and a foreigner could become a target of harassment or worse."

Or worse? Hey, not to worry!

Really! They probably will not behead you for wearing that bikini or drinking that beer. After all, this is the 15th, ... uh, 21st Century! Welcome!


Monday, June 18, 2012

TSA OKs Private Screeners at Little Airport in Orlando

From the the credulous media: The TSA has green-lighted a switch from federal to private security at the Orlando airport! Poor sad Drudge even has it highlighted in red on his Web site!

I'm always amazed at how it's routinely not pointed out that the "Orlando airport" in question, Orlando Sanford International Airport (which handles about 380,000 passenger departures a year), is not quite the same as Orlando International Airport (which handles 17 million).

Here's another news report today that fails to point out the significant difference between the two. The Sanford airport is served by Allegiant Airlines, a leisure travel low-cost carrier, and a few charter operations.

There are now 16 airports that have been allowed to return to private screeners under an opt-out program that was forced on the TSA by congressional Republicans.

Also routinely overlooked is the vested interests of the congressional titan behind this move to turn security back over to the rent-a-cops companies, Rep. John L. Mica of Florida, the Republican chairman of the House transportation committee. Mica, who has five close relatives who are lobbyists, has close ties to the private security industry, one of his best campaign contributors.

You know, the industry that was in charge of airport security on September 11, 2001.

Just sayin, is all.


Phoenix Phony 'Tough Guy' Sheriff Joe Arpaio Arrests 6-Year-Old Girl on Immigration Charges

Joe Arpaio, the silliest windbag currently holding any public office, which I know is really saying a lot, has arrested a 6-year-old little girl on immigration charges. Way to go, rootin', tootin' self-proclaimed tough guy Joe!

As if Arizona needs any more ridicule. Remember, outsiders, the insane people who are causing tourists to avoid Arizona are concentrated in Phoenix, which is basically Orange County, Calif., circa 1967, but without the ocean. The sensible people are all in Tucson, the self-proclaimed capital of the imaginary state of Baja Arizona.

Visit Tucson instead, where it's only going to be a mild 107 degrees when it's 110 in Phoenix!

From the Arizona Republic newspaper in Phoenix, which is always amusingly timid about causing any offense to the significant portion of its readership that is clinically delusional:

"Maricopa County Sheriff Office deputies arrested a 6-year-old suspected illegal immigrant Friday, the day President Barack Obama softened the country's deportation policy toward young illegal immigrants. ..."

Here's the link.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Packing for the Airport (Continued)

[Chart shows number of guns found at TSA checkpoints, by airport, June 8-14]

Our fellow travelers who think it's okay to take a gun on an airplane are outdoing themselves lately. Usually, the TSA reports finding 28-32 guns each week in passengers' carry-on bags.

Last week (June 8-14), the total was 40, according to the always informative TSA Blog.

And remember, that's only the ones they're catching.


The 2 Faces of Arizona

Top: What those of us in Tucson see.

Bottom: What the rest of the country sees.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

California, It's Cold and It's Damp

[Chart shows average percent of possible sunshine per month. From Curbed LA]

Here's an interesting piece via the terrific blog Curbed LA -- from The Last Word on Nothing blog, with an explanation of the cultural and scientific importance of June Gloom--the infamous weather phenomenon that casts a gray pall over the Southern California coastal region every spring and summer, prompting shock in newcomers and visitors.

From Curbed LA: "The recipe for June Gloom requires three ingredients: cold Pacific Ocean water, an ocean current known as the California Current, and a high pressure formation known as the Pacific High: "Usually, the atmosphere gets colder as you head up. But the cold water creates a situation where the air near the water's surface is colder than the air above it: an inversion. The Pacific High pushes air downward, compressing it and warming it. Together, this forms a stable inversion air that can hold a layer of cloud near the water's surface like an older brother crouching on an upstart sibling."

Aha! Finally, an explanation for my first mystifying impression of California, as a kid from Philadelphia in the service in 1970, astonished that it was (as the old Rogers and Hart song goes) cold and damp -- in June. Also, the ocean water was impressively cold. Turns out that's a year-round phenomenon, though.

Also, that the Pacific Ocean is nearly always seen from high ground, as opposed to the Atlantic Ocean, which is nearly always encountered from eye-level. That's simple geography and topography.


Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Meh, Brttannia

Far be it from me to rain on some old German lady's parade (wait, the English weather already did that!) but really: Britannia once ruled the waves, but this sorry-looking flotilla on the Thames the other day [photo at right] indicates that Britannia doesn't even rule the rivers anymore.

Really, British friends: This is the best you can do in a celebratory flotilla? Where did they come up with that rust-bucket tub the poor queen is riding on -- a salvage yard near an old Arco refinery in the Philly harbor?

The red uniforms are nice, I suppose. But really, England, you are embarrassing your cousins here on the other side of the ocean with this sad-sack fleet of shrimp boats and glorified iron-ore barges.

The next time you need to come up with an impressive display on the waves, or even the ripples, why not give the old colonies a call and we'll send over some of our truly spiffy tall sailing ships like those in the top photo shown during a spectacular tall-ships flotilla in New York Harbor in 1986. (Though a heart can skip a beat to see any photo of lower Manhattan with the World Trade Center twin towers still gleaming in the sun.)


Sunday, June 03, 2012

More Than 160 Dead As Nigerian Airliner Crashes Into Neighborhood Near Lagos

An MD-83 passenger plane crashed into a building near the airport in Lagos, Nigeria, today, killing all 153 on board, and at least 10 people in the neighborhood where the plane crashed.

The plane crashed and burned in a densely populated residential area near Lagos Murtala Muhammed airport. It wasn't immediately clear how many people on the ground were killed.

[UPDATE: Here's an excellent story by the AP, via the Guardian newspaper.]

The plane was flown by Nigeria's Dana Air (here's their Website) and was bound for Lagos from Abuja.

Here's the preliminary report on the specific details of the accident by the Flight Safety Foundation. The MD83 was initially delivered to Alaska Airlines in 1990, and experienced two electrical/smoke incidents during its service. Alaska stored it at the aircraft storage "boneyard" site in Victorville, Calif., briefly in the summer of 2008 before sending it to Miami for maintenance. The plane was then delivered to Dana in February 2009.

Nigeria has long had one of the worst aviation-safety reputations in the world, though the country has been claiming improvements in that record in recent years.

For eight years until 2000, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration had signs in U.S. international airports warning that security and safety conditions at the Lagos airport did not meet international standards, and even suspended service from the U.S. to Lagos for a short period. The airport was known as a center for criminal activity, where immigration officers routinely demanded bribes, and robberies -- including robberies on parked planes -- were common. The Nigerian government eventually cracked down on the crime problem, and the FAA lifted its flight suspensions to the Lagos airport in 2001.

But today's crash occurred only a day after a Boeing 727-200 freighter operated by Nigerian carrier Allied Air Cargo for DHL Aviation veered off the runway at Accra’s Kotoka airport in Ghana, after a flight from Lagos. The plane plowed through the airport fence and struck several vehicles, killing 10 people on the ground. The four crew members survived.

In Nigeria, the last major airline crash before today's was in October 2006, when an ADC airliner crashed after take-off from Abuja, killing 96 people.

In December 2005, 103 people, most of them schoolchildren, were killed when another Nigerian commercial airliner crashed and burst into flames in oil city, Port Harcourt. Two months before that, 117 were killed in a 737 crash in Lagos.

Here's a timeline of Nigerian air disasters before today's.

One part of the overall problem in Nigeria is operating a complicated, high-cost business like an airline, which requires careful maintenance and upkeep, in a largely corrupt society. See this.

Dana Air, operator of the flight that crashed today, started up in 2008. On its Web site it stresses whjat it calls its commitment to safety, saying: "Dana Air places a high premium on safety. The airline adheres strictly to the maintenance schedule for all aircrafts in its fleet, as prescribed by the manufacturers and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority. More detailed and scheduled checks of the Boeing MD83 aircrafts are, however, carried out at aircrafts maintenance facilities overseas."


Friday, June 01, 2012

Packing for the Airport (Updated)

The guns keep on coming at TSA checkpoints. The chart above is the latest tally (of guns found at airport checkpoints in the week ended yesterday) on the always informative TSA blog.

As I pointed out in my New York Times column this week, the increase in guns being found at checkpoints coincides with ongoing liberalization of "right to carry" laws being pushed by the NRA in many states (and also at the federal level) and the overall increase in gun sales in general.

The TSA claims that most people found trying to take a gun onto a plane in a carry-on bag say they simply forgot they had it in the bag. Nobody really buys that, except as it might apply to a few knuckleheads who would forget their home address if it weren't printed on their drivers license. Fundamental gun-safety education says you should always know where your weapon is. Always.

There are absolutely no indications that people with terrorist intent are taking guns to the airport. Instead, the increase in guns being found is likely to be attributable to a growing belief in the gun world that people who legally own and carry guns have a right to carry anywhere.

You can, of course, travel by air with a firearm if you pack it in a checked bag and declare same to the airline when you check it. Here are the TSA regs on that.

And no one knows, of course, how many guns are actually being sneaked onto planes by passengers who manage to slip them through the checkpoints.

Incidentally, I like the TSA Blog, but I do wish that the agency would man-up more on the subject of people trying to get guns onto planes. The weekly running tally is great, but the blog takes a somewhat breezy attitude about the threats posed by firearms coming through checkpoints. In my opinion, that's because the NRA has such fearsome political clout in Congress, which can yank the TSA's chain at will, and does.

Instead of hammering on guns at checkpoints and the people who bring them, the TSA Blog puts more focus, actually, on something that is none of its business, legally: Drugs discovered by those abominable body-scan machines.

From the current blog (my emphasis):

"Body Scanner Discoveries This Week – There were nine incidents this week where body scanner alarms resulted in drugs being found on passengers using imaging technology. Items were found everywhere from pockets to the breast, to the groin area at EWR, SAT, ORD, TPA, PHX, SFO and GEG. In addition to these discoveries, there was also a passenger at Tampa (TPA) who had a white drawstring pouch concealed in his underwear containing several types of Narcotics. (See Picture) Another passenger at Chicago O’Hare (ORD) had marijuana taped to his ankle. We’re not looking for drugs, but finding these nonmetallic items in areas where explosives could also be hidden is a testament that the technology works. "

Well, not to be tendentious, but 1. Finding a wad of marijuana stuffed into someone's shorts is hardly proof that "the technology works," except to identify a wad of something in someone's shorts. There have been some disquieting studies showing that these scanners actually are pretty easy to beat by someone who knows how to conceal a weapon. And 2. Drugs, as the TSA blogger chattily notes, are really none of the security agency's business.

Somebody with a bag of pot isn't going to be able to take over an airplane. Somebody with a gun who waits for the vaunted fortified cockpit door to open so the pilot can use the bathroom is. Passenger vigilance works only to the extent that somebody does not have a gun at a flight attendant's head. Or worse.