Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year 2012 Predictions

My friends Jazz Shaw and Doug Mataconis have posted their bullshit predictions for 2012, so I feel compelled to do the same.

First lets look on the world stage.  Arab Spring has turned out to be Springtime for Radical Islamists and not at all for liberty and democracy.

1.  Egypt will have a one man (and maybe woman), one vote, one time election and elect the Muslim Brotherhood, with the blessing of the Egyptian military.  The new regime will terminate the peace treaty with Israel, escalating tensions.  Israel threatens to retake Sinai as retaliation.

2.  Islamists solidify power in Libya and Tunisia.  Sharia law becomes the order of the day, and European tourists stay away from popular resorts in Tunisia in droves, as alcohol is banned and women are forced to wear a burqini to the beach.

3.  Obama abandons Afghanistan and negotiates the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan.  Al-Qaeda declares victory over the the decadent Americans, and moves back in.

4.  Iran has another series of explosions at nuclear sites of unknown origin, and it's bomb building program is set back.  Of course it will be the JOOOOOS  in "occupied Palestine" who are blamed, probably correctly.

5.  North Korea will continue to be a basket case under the latest Super-Dooper Leader.  People will still starve, the military will get fed thanks to the kindness of South Korea and the west.  China continues to prop up the DPRK just enough to allow them to make trouble for its neighbors.

6.  China, recognizing the weakness of the Obama administration, will ratchet up pressure on Taiwan.  There will be several naval exercises in the South China Sea, just to let the Philippines, Vietnam, and Taiwan, just whose property this is.  Obama does nothing.

7.  Islamists in west Africa countries like Nigeria and Cote d'Ivoire continue their jihad on Christians.  The world yawns.

If you haven't slit your wrists yet, here are my predictions for things going on closer to home:

1.  America will be attacked by Islamist terrorists just before the November 2012 election in another spectacular 9/11 style attack.  Obama tells that Americans that Islam is a religion of peace, apologizes for Americas perceived transgressions against Islam and asks for restraint.

2.  Mitt Romney will be the Republican candidate for President, selecting Tim Pawlenty as his VP running mate.  The Dull and Duller campaign will lead to a GOP loss after the successful Al-Qaeda October Surprise attack and a weak Republican response.  The Republicans retain the House, and retake the Senate however.

3.  Obama Care's individual mandate is upheld in the Supreme Court.  Justice Kagan does not recuse, and Justice Kennedy votes with the majority.

4.  The economy remains anemic with only a 2% GDP growth for 2012.  President Obama demands another $500B stimulus package aimed at union and government payouts.  Gridlock in Congress prevents any action on the proposal.

5.  There will be no budget passed in 2012.  Continuing resolutions with threats of imminent government shutdowns start getting old.  Congressional approval drops to a new low.

So there you have it.  I'll leave you with the Happy Happy Joy Joy Song to ring in what will be an eventful 2012.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Is Sharia Law Creeping Into Airline Rules?

I had an unusual experience today.  I was flying on a Delta Connection flight (operated by Pinnacle Airlines) and the flight attendant not only didn't offer alcoholic beverages to passengers, but refused to serve them, due to "religious grounds".  I certainly do respect people's right not to consume certain foods and beverages because of religious principles, but when it creeps its way into mainstream business, it stinks of pandering to one particular religion.  I can easily guess what religion that "Omar Ali" professes to, and I do not doubt his devotion to it, but it has no place business in a secular society and business.

If Muslims do not have to serve alcohol on flights, does this mean that Jews don't have to serve the ham and cheese sandwich served to me on a rare upgrade to first class today?

I've emailed Delta Airlines and Pinnacle Airlines with my concerns, and will post the responses here if they are forthcoming.

UPDATE 2/14/12: I Never received more than a standard boilerplate email acknowledgement, just as I expected.  Still, If the flight attendant was a Mormon who does not partake of either alcohol or caffeine and refused to serve coffee on a 6:00AM plane flight there would be hell to pay, and that employee would most likely be fired. But then again Mormons don't suicide bomb your company when there is a disagreement.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas 2011

I just want to wish everyone a Merry, Happy and Blessed Christmas.  Despite all the problems we Americans have at home and abroad, we are a blessed people, with a lot to be grateful for.  Many people around the world live in poverty, destitution, and under totalitarian regimes who hold them as virtual slaves, and are not free to worship our savior, Jesus Christ, on Christmas or any other day of the year and it seems to be getting worse every year.  We are a fortunate and blessed people.

I leave you with this:

Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Remember the old childrens' Christmas specials?

For those of us who grew up in the 1960's, we can all remember such classics as A Charlie Brown Christmas and How The Grinch Stole Christmas; but there was a very good one that is seldom seen these days that predates both of those.  Don't laugh just yet, but Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol is a faithful telling of the Dickens classic, along with some good tunes added.  This is a fine cartoon that is appropriate even for the youngest of your family.

This sure beats some of the tasteless garbage we see on TV these days that pass as "holiday specials".

For those readers who aren't quite as old as me, Mr. Magoo was a beloved cartoon character from the early 60's on TV.  He's a very myopic guy who gets lost quickly and always ends up surviving his misdirections.  This particular production is one of my favorites, and belongs on the must see list for Christmas specials.


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Through other countries' eyes

Most of us get our news on either the major networks, PBS, and/or cable networks like FoxNews, CNN or MSNBC.  They all have their particular political slant, and they really don't cover much about much about what is going on around the world that doesn't current directly affect our daily lives.  Since I was a kid, I've been listening to shortwave radio, and these days listening more and more to the far more reliable audio streams on the internet.  One place to get a sampling of what is out there without buying a world band radio, a World Radio TV Handbook, and other DX publications is the World Radio Network. They run live streams, as well as on demand audio programs from such diverse countries as Algeria, Australia, and even the official mouthpiece of the Syrian regime, Radio Damascus, all in English.  There are a few great search engines for foreign radio stations out there, and one of my favorite is vTuner

Although most international broadcasting services are either government controlled (China Radio International, Voice of Russia and VOA as examples), or public corporations (BBC, ABC Radio Australia, NHK World), that almost always have a left leaning point of view, it is still interesting to hear what is going on abroad, and to know that the world doesn't always revolve around the USA.  Domestic radio stations are much more revealing, and if you speak a bit of Spanish, or French, you can learn a lot about things happening in Africa and Latin America. 

Shortwave radio used to be the medium for this, but the internet has quickly surpassed it.  I could go on, but It's time to listen to Radio Polynesie.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Travels to Key West: The good, the bad and the ugly

I had a lovely 5 day vacation over the Thanksgiving weekend in Key West, Florida.  For those unfamiliar, it is a relatively small coral island that is closer to Havana than Miami, at the end of the Florida Keys, and at the end of highway US1.  It's a lovely place that suffers from nice weather 10 months out of the year (the other 2 can be very hot and humid), has a great reef for snorkeling and diving, a lot of history, fantastic restaurants, and many museums and art galleries.  The local population is very diverse culturally and politically, and most seem to get along.  Their survival depends largely on the tourist industry.  There are cruise ships most days of the week, filling up the area of lower Duval Street and  tourist haunts such as Sloppy Joe's Bar, Ernest Hemingway's House, and the Southernmost Point in the continental US.  There are trolley tours, the famous Conch Train and any kind of tour you can imagine.

I tend to go there for the more quiet side of the island, as well as visiting the many friends I have made there over the years.  Deep sea fishing is awesome off the lower and middle Keys, with many boat captains offering competitive half and full day excursions.  There's a seaplane as well as a ferry that goes to the Dry Tortugas National Park, 70 miles west of Key West, with it's amazing 19th century era Fort Jefferson.

The bar scene us unsurpassed, with everything from the falling down wreck of my favorite Schooner Warf Bar at the Key West bight harbor to dive clip joints on lower Duval St. to more classy wine bars further from the

Well you get my drift, Key West is a tourist town, and with that you get to meet a lot of different types of travelers.  I've never cared much for the cruise ship passengers.  They are usually in town for 4~6 hours, and tend to push their way to the usual tourist traps, and end up having a crappy burger at Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville restaurant and gift shop.  I avoid that part of town when the cruisies are in town, especially if a Disney boat and its stroller brigades take siege on the town.

This past weekend I noticed a lot of European travelers in town, mostly from Germany and France.  The lovely guesthouse where I was fortunate enough to be staying seemed to be largely occupied by folks from abroad.  The good here is that these tourists spend a lot of money.  They eat out, buy lots of stuff, like to party, and explore the place.  The bad is that Europeans are notoriously horrible tippers, when they bother to tip at all; this in an economy where waiters, bartenders, trolley drivers, and tour guides live largely off of tips.

Needless to say, workers in the tourist and food/drink business cringe when a group of Germans, British or French show up.  They know that on a $200 bill, they may get a $5 tip, if they get anything at all.

Occasionally I get the chance to play tourist guide and good Samaritan. While having breakfast on the front porch of the guesthouse where I was staying, I met a very nice young couple traveling from Japan.  They had a million questions, and I'm always happy to help as much as I can.  Unfortunately, the young lady spoke no English, and her husband spoke only a bit, so it took a lot of patience to answer questions, and get them where they wanted to go.  I ended up showing them around for about a half day, introducing them to Cuban coffee, a number of landmarks that are off the beaten tourist track, and finally put them on a Trolley Tour, while gently reminding them to tip generously.  I came back to my room later that day with a nice bottle of wine waiting me and a nice note thanking me for the nice day out.  This is the good part about going on vacation. 

I've seen a bit of the ugly over the years, with one incident that could only be classified as grand larceny.  A number of years ago, I was having a drink and some appetizers at a very nice restaurant near the cruise ship docks, and in came a very large group of foreign tourists, obviously from a boat.  They ran up a bill of over $500, and essentially skipped out on the bill.  They all started leaving a couple at a time, and finally the table emptied, and all that was on the table besides food scraps was a $100 bill.  The server was on the hook for the other $400 because she is responsible for the check.  Not only did she get stiffed on a tip, she had her wages docked.  Of course the boat people were long gone and scattered, so no chance of finding them

That incident may be an extreme one, but it is part of the ugly that goes on in a tourist town.  It's a tough place to live and work, and folks like me who go there a couple times a year for a vacation don't often get to see just how hard folks there work, often for not much money, in a very expensive town.  I've developed a great deal of admiration for those who stick it out, live and work there and operate business there, against very hard conditions at times.

Key West and the Florida Keys remain one of my favorite places in the world, and perhaps one day I'll retire there. There seem to be a lot of older folks who work part time, manage to enjoy the place and make ends meet.  Still living in a tourist town sure does have it's good, bad and ugly sides.  I'm only scratching the surface here, without even getting into the local politics, the bubba system, and ruthless backstabbing that goes on amongst certain tour companies.

I can recommend to anyone who likes the water, history, good food, relaxation, and truly friendly people in a tropical environment, while staying within the safety of the US.  Come on down, bring a smile, a good attitude, and you will have a ball.  I guarantee it!

UPDATE:  I leave you with local musician Michael McCloud performing Schooner Warf Bar Dog, taped by my friend Joe, a retired cameraman and videographer of "Parrots Eye Video":

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why the USPS is a modern dinosaur

How many of you have had the pleasure of going to a post office lately?  Actually, that is providing you can find one that is ever open when you might need to use it. 

I had a notice on my door today the post office attempted a delivery on a package I was expecting from, that they shipped with "free shipping".  A signature was required.  The options were show up at my local post office, who's hours are 9am to 4pm Monday through Friday, or request redelivery when someone was at home between the hours of 9am until 6pm on the day of my choosing, Monday through Friday.  Well, for most of us 99% are working during those hours and it is neither practical for me to take off work for a day in hopes that the post office actually delivers the parcel or either be late or leave early so we can accommodate the bankers hours that the USPS employees enjoy.

I'm probably going to go to work late tomorrow just because I want this package before Thanksgiving, but I'll stipulate on any further orders that the USPS is not to be involved.

The post office is losing BILLIONS of dollars a year, while providing crappy service, complete with high government union salaries and pensions that have nothing to do with productivity.  This is a perfect example of how the government "businesses" fail us time and time again while private companies like FedEx and UPS provide great customer service, on time deliveries, even on cheaper ground service, and make it easy for pick-up and redelivery.  They both operate well into the black, while the USPS hellorages billions every year, with their diminishing first class mail business, bulk rate mail, and parcel post.  Bad customer service and limited office hours just sours the mix.  Postal employees are all high paid civil servants and under union contracts, we taxpayers still have to pay them even if they get laid off.

Other government services are just as bad.  Think how wonderful it is to deal with the Social Security Administration, or Medicare.  Think how wonderful all of our health care will be once ObamaCare kicks in with all it's sundry agencies, bureaucrats, and bean counters making decisions on what kind of medical care we will receive.  Will I, a MS sufferer be denied expensive drugs that my private insurer grudgingly allowed after a long protracted fight?  Or will it be, like President Obama said, "can't he just take a pill?"

The less the government is in my life the better off I am.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Third world diseases come back to America

Tuberculosis has been pretty much a thing of the past for most of us lucky to have been born in a modern first world country, in the later half of the 20th century, and I can not remember knowing a single person in the US of ever contracting the disease, however my 81 year old mother has tested positive on the skin test since she was a child.  In the third world countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America diseases such as TB, Chorea, and Typhoid are common place and bring about a high mortality rate in those countries.  The slums and squatters villages that often are in the most squalled conditions, and lack of modern medicine are a great contributor to the propagation of these horrible illnesses.

Well apparently, Occupy Atlanta, wants America to experience how bad that the 99% of the rest of the world have it.  Tuberculosis has broken out at the Atlanta Obamaville as this group of anarchists, communists, Marxists, hipsters, neo-Nazis, and other ragtag misfits continue to build their own squatters villages throughout the major American cities.  Is this the America that these people want us to become?  Or is this the one of the unintended consequences that result from dropping out of civil society and living like an animal within one of the richest countries ever to exist?

I've got to wonder how many of these stinky hippies have ever witnessed up close and personal real poverty and suffering?  How many have ever wondered where their next meal was coming from, or wondered where they could find a corner to sleep safely at night?  I'm willing to guess, apart from a few Marxist and apologist college professors, and hypocritical 1%ers like Michael Moore, have ever left the safety of their home country, where it is safe to protest against whatever they please. 

I personally have seen some of the worst living conditions in the world while traveling in third world countries, in many cases where their countries leaders live in luxury and talk in platitudes about how they love their people.  It is not a pretty picture.  We don't live in a "democracy" that the Occupiers demand, we live in a democratic republic where we elect our representatives in local, state, and national politics.  A true democracy means anarchy, and it has been a failure everywhere it has been tried.  The last place that gave lip service to this was Democratic Kampuchea, better known as the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia in the late1970's and 80's.

Might I suggest to the hippies who are occupying pieces of cities, going on criminal rampages, and spreading diseases long dormant in our civil society, to go join the Peace Corps, spend time in the Central African Republic, Bangladesh, and Honduras actually helping alleviate horrible diseases like TB, rather than spreading them back to the first world. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The 99% verses the 1%

Class warfare is an ugly thing, especially when it is used in a country that is as bless as the USA.  Yes we have the very rich, and most have done something or created something to get there.  They didn't steal it from the rest if us.  Take Fred Smith as an example.  He certainly didn't come from poverty, but took an idea that his Yale professor said was not practical and gave him a C, and turned into one of the most successful American companies ever, FedEx.  Yes, these class warriors at the occupy (name your city here) want to take all his money because he is a greedy capitalist who steals money from the workers.  This meme goes right back to the Communist Manifesto of the mid 1800's.  Communism, Socialism, Fascism, Nazism, all leftist ideologies have failed everywhere they have been tried.  Fred Smith made nobody poor, but has made many people besides himself very wealthy.  I'm one who gets a nice salary, and though the benefits have shrunk over the years, I'm better off than many.

So here we are again with this ragtag of misfits, anarchists, communists, socialists, Nazis, fascists and just stinky slackers who don't know how a shower works, occupying parks and squares around the country to pass on the message, that America Sucks.  It's the 60's all over again.  President Obama is with them.  Apparently he thinks we all suck too, in his attempts to take away wealth from job creators, redistribute to unions and cronies has made the economy weaker, hindered growth in private business growth and driven more job off shore.

One thing I appreciate about living in the USA, is that we can let these Occupy idiots have there say, and though the mainstream media tries to contrast them favorably to the Tea Party, anyone with a brain can see who these people are, if they just don't take Diane Sawyer's take on it.

So let's talk about a few countries that the lefties really love.

Cuba - When was there last free election?  How good is their health care for average Cubans. Can we bring in anyone other than Ray Suarez from PBS to fawn all over CastroCare?

China - Communist?  Please, that is so Mao era.  They are fascist where they use private industry to bring money to the state.  You have the right to make money as long as you don't tread on a PLA company that is your competition.  There are no civil liberties, and no other party permitted than the CPPRC

Vietnam - Ditto

Laos - 4th world is being  kind

North Korea - The DPRK has a GDP that is smaller than Scranton, and that says a lot.  It is hell on earth, when the people just across the border in the ROK have one of the highest living standards in Asia.

So slackers, misfits, anarchists and communists at the Occupy demonstrations, have fun.  The rest of us have jobs, and are at least looking for them.

I've personally been around some real poverty, particularly in the Philippines.  There is a huge difference between the rich and the poor, and most of the rich have had this money passed down for generations.  They own land and businesses, and just throw scraps to the poor.  However, they build shopping malls, sports centers, and movie theaters that employ a lot of people.  I'm not a fan of the Ayala clan or even worse Imelda Marcos and her awful children (all who have government positions!) or a leach like Lucio Tan.  They all have a  lot of sins to atone for but, who am I to judge?  Still even these people produce jobs.

So, how many jobs has Obama produced in the private sector?  I'll wait with baited breath for your response,

America will survive Obama, at least if we can convince enough Americans that he needs to have a nice retirement to a 19th hole somewhere else in 2012.

Update:  Every legal US citizen is in the 1% compared to the rest of the world.  Where else can you be below the poverty line, own a car, have cable TV, and maybe even own a decent home?   Hey Occupy Wall Street crowd, try selling your message to people in Zimbabwe, Sudan, or Chad and see some real poverty.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Was Delta Airlines just playing with us?

I posted back in July that the Essential Air Service program was out of date, needed to be repealed, and cost the tax payers millions of dollars.  Delta Airlines announced that they would end service to many small cities and towns previously served. (mostly run by Northwest Airlines before the acquisition). Just out of curiosity I checked Delta's website recently and noticed that only a few of these towns have been dropped and several have picked up regional jet service who only had turboprop service previously. 

So the question is, was Delta just playing the people in these small towns to lobby their congress-critters to pass the EAS bill to keep the pork rolling in to places that can't afford commercial air service, and want the rest of us to pay for it?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Remembering September 11th, 2001 While Abroad

I happened to be a long way from my home in Memphis on 9/11/2001.  I was currently on assignment in Lisbon, Portugal.  It was mid afternoon there when the attack happened, and was really only covered at the time on TV by CNN International.There was no G4 network to send me live video, but I had dozens of text messages telling me to turn on the TV.  I saw the attack on the second tower, and the subsequent collapse of the towers,  My first feeling was shock.  Once I got a little more news, I got angry, and once I found out who was responsible I wanted to go get the bastards (We Scots like to do that), although I was too old and had a disability that would prevent me from that. 

Once over the initial shock, I started reading the local press that happened to have an English edition, and RDP English broadcast for foreigners. It was pretty much stock NBC footage.  A lot of the comments in the local press disturbed me greatly.  I don't speak Portuguese well, but I could understand that "America deserves it", and "Those arrogant bastards have it coming".  Remember these are our "friends".  I didn't see the solidarity that the MSM portrayed here in the US about the attack on our territory.  Most was "what you got what you deserved".

A few days later I was in Spain, and had pretty much the same reaction.  Platitudes from the government abounded , but the average person just shrugged his shoulder and said we had it coming.  Spain learned the hard way, about jihadist Islam a few years later when Al-Qaeda attacked a railway station in Madrid.

I haven't been back to western Europe since 2002, and plan no trips there in the near future.  They are no longer our friends and allies, with the exception of the United Kingdom, but with another 4 years of Barack Obama that may also change.

I have been to Eastern Europe, and specifically Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.  Folks there have just the opposite view from our traditional allies.  The fear not only a revived Russia and seek out our protection, and fear Islamist's in nearby countries, and the havoc they will bring once civil unrest breaks out there.  In the Asian countries I've visited, I've had mixed opinions on the 9-11 attacks that range from almost universal horror and shock in the Philippines to celebrations in Indonesia and Malaysia.  Our "friends" the South Koreans, who we protect from the tender mercies of Dear Leader, are pretty blase, and consider it an American problem that doesn't affect them. 

This gets me back to the original topic.  We all will mourn the loss of over 3000 Americans just doing their job when attacked by Muslim jihadis 10 years ago, but to think that the world stood with us is a myth, especially our so called NATO allies.

World opinion should never matter when it comes to American national security,  We need to do whatever it takes to keep out country secure, within the laws and constitutional authority, and the UN and "world community" be damned.

As we remember the attacks on 9-11, please keep in mind that this was an unprovoked attack on American territory by zealots who care nothing about human life, and want to impose a global Islamist caliphate, putting the world under the totalitarian 7th century legal and religious code of Sharia law..  A tragedy is when a parent loses a young child, or a young person contracts a fatal disease in their prime of life.  These events were not a "tragedy", they were brutal acts of war.

We need to get back to America First.  Our national survival depends upon containing Islamist imperialism, Chinese expansionism,  Iranian quest to control the middle east.

Update: I should mention that our only real friend in the middle east is Israel, and "our friends the Egyptians" are busy burning down their embassy during this Arab Spring. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Glen Campbell diagnosed with Alzheimer's

I was saddened to find out that one of the musicians I grew up with has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.  Glen Campbell was a well on our TV weekly in the late 60's and early 70's in my parents home, and had a string of hit songs and albums.  And he proved himself a horribly awful actor in the otherwise great movie, True Grit.  But his beginnings were more as a session guitarist in the Los Angeles area, recording with such luminaries as Elvis Presley, The Beach Boys, Johnny Cash and Leon Russell.  He had a bit of a brush with the law a few years ago, but many suspect if was related to early onset Alzheimer's. 

Well, Glen has recorded his final album and it is a gem, and is going on a farewell tour, that includes his adult children.  His short term memory isn't good but he is still a great singer and guitar player, as these videos from his new album demonstrate.

Glen and is wife recently talked about his ordeal, and it is obvious to this casual observer that he has all the classic symptoms of the disease.  He remembers everything that happened 40 years ago, but can't remember where he is going on his upcoming farewell tour.

So here is to you Mr. Campbell.  Godspeed on your final journey, and make your last tour your best!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Who was your worst teacher?

I had a phone call last night from a guy I've known since kindergarten.  He's on a reunion committee and wanted some updates from me.  We went through elementary and high school together, and got to talking about students we both knew and more so about our teachers, many who have now been dead for 30 years.  The topic came up on who was the worst one we ever had.  No it wasn't a biology teacher in 10th grade that was a total incompetent, or the gay pedophile gym coach who came on to the boys in high school.  We knew how to deal with them.  It was Miss X. (I'm not saying the real name because I know her relatives quite well. Miss X was an older middle age spinster when I had her in my first year in public school, kindergarten.

This is a woman who never had children of her own, and had a deep disdain, and no tolerance for little children who did not fall in immediately upon order behave on command.  Not a particularly good fit for a woman who was, year after year, put in charge of 35 five year old kids for an entire school year.  Her classes were often right out of a Dickens novel.  Children were routinely spanked, slapped and locked in the cloak roam for minor offenses, such as spilling milk, not finishing a puzzle on time, giggling, and chatting with classmates at inappropriate times.  If you came to school without boots or rubbers over your shoes on rainy or snowy days, Miss X locked us in the closet and made us stand in ice water as punishment.   Parents complained about her constantly to the principle, and school board, but it was to no avail.  She had tenure, and the stock answer was, "That's the way it has always been done."

Today this woman would be locked up for child abuse, but 1961 was a different era.  By contrast, Mrs. M., my 1st grade teacher, was a lovely woman who truly loved children and made learning a fun experience.  All the kids who suffered the tortures of Miss X's house of horrors, began to breath a sigh of relief.  Unfortunately I had to meet and greet Miss X. every Sunday morning until I moved away from home for college, as she was a local fixture and deacon in our church.  (What were they thinking?)

If Young Frankenstein had been made back when I was a kid, I'm sure the would be compared to Frau Blucher.  Instead she got off easy and only got equated to the Wicked Witch of the West, a title much deserved.

So who was your worst teacher?  Lets fill up the comments area with your stories.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Funny weekend story

Ok, maybe this is a little drunk blogging, but here's a funny, if not revealing story about travel in the third world.  As anyone who reads my blog knows, I've got a lot of connections to the Philippines, and visit it frequently.  Although when in a large city or resort area, I choose to stay in nice place with most of the amenities I'd expect from a decent place in the US.  I'm no elitist, a nice place to me is a Comfort Inn.

But I have to tell this story about when a friend and I stopped at a small town in central Luzon for the night a while back.  We had a great meal at a local restaurant, for almost nothing, and service better than at the Ritz (as if I've ever been to one). It was getting late and either we were going to move on or find a room.

Well, we did find an Inn that looked nice and clean, and the owner was a very nice elderly lady who told us we had a room with private bath and hot water was normally available.  Well it turns out that the "private bath" really meant that we had a private entrance to the communal bathroom for the entire guest house.All the other guests had to enter from the hallway. 

Ok, we had a laugh about that and hit the sack in a decent, clean room with lumpy beds, but, for $7 a night how could I complain.  Motel 6 wasn't that cheap at this time.  The next morning I wanted a hot shower, and turned on the faucet, and what came out was cold spring water from the mountains of Sagod in Northern Luzon.  And though this is tropical, the mountain province it not so much, and the water comes out at 50 degrees.  I asked the owner of the Inn if she could turn on the water heater, but was informed that it was currently was "under repair".  Since we were going to be there for a few days, I asked if it would be fixed later that day.  She very sheepishly apologized for lack of hot water and offered buckets of warm water she could heat on the stove, telling us that the water heater has been "under repair" for 3 years.  I had a good laugh back in the room, but the nice lady was just trying to save face, and I embarrassed her by asking that question.  This is a poor country and a water heater might cost here several weeks income from the inn and restaurant.  I gratefully accepted a couple buckets of heated water, stayed 2 more days, and left a tip that would pay a weeks stay at the place.

Yes this was not 5 star accommodations, but we met a lady who ran a decent, clean (I mean really clean) inn, helped us with sightseeing and gave me a big hug upon departures.

Travel in the third world may not always be easy, but it can be very rewarding in its own way.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Just how badly do we treat alien workers here?

About a month ago I posted about a young friend of mine who recently moved to Singapore from the Philippines,  with the hopes of getting a better job and being able to send some money home to his family there.  He is not an "undocumented worker" or illegal alien.  Ron jumped through all the hoops to get legal status, and was enthusiastic about seems like a good opportunity.  In the USA, any legal worker either a Green Card holder or just someone on a H1-B visa has pretty much similar protection under the law that we American citizens have.  Sadly, Ron is finding out first hand, that in the Republic of Singapore, guest workers have very little or no rights what so ever. 

His employer, though very please with his work, has at times withheld pay, due to "payroll irregularities", demands many hours of unpaid overtime, and even going to the home of the owner to mow the grass.  In a country that fines you heavily for importing chewing gum amongst other things, they offer little to no protection for guest workers.  The contract with the employer is only enforced when it is in the favor of the Singapore citizen.  Withholding of pay is not a crime against guest workers, and the guest worker can not leave the country until the contract is fulfilled on his/her part.

If any undocumented laborer illegal alien, let alone a legal migrant in the US were treated like this, the employer would be hauled off to jail and fined heavily.

I'm posting this as a caution to anyone who wants to work abroad.  Understand the law where you are going before entering into a contract.  In many places, rule of law does not apply to anyone who is not a citizen and in some countries not the right religion.

Remember Normandy Liberation? ....

I hope so, but how many know about the defense of Corregidor, the subsequent Bataan Death March, that resulted in thousands of deaths on the way to march to a horrible concentration camp in Tarlac?  I'm not sure how many of my readers even know what country I'm referring to.  Well, it is the Philippines.  We have a long history there dating from the Spanish American War, but that is for another blog.

We have a lot of ceremonies honoring our Normandy invasion dead and survivors.  How many do we have for those who fought in the Pacific?  We had the last hold outs at Corregidor.  How many school kids know about it?  It's indeed a moving sight.  It's not even taught in schools anymore.  How about the battle of the Philippines in 1944 where tens of thousands died liberating that island nation from Japanese imperialism?  Nope, it is not taught.  I had relatives who fought there and died in Leyte. One is buried in the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial.  It's is awesome sight to see, the memorial is breathtaking, and I have always left with tears in my eye.  Sadly this is neglected by Americans.  Our forefathers fought to liberate Asia to keep us free, and they deserve the same honor.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Unions and Politics: A Personal Introspective

I'm originally from the coal mining region of northeast Pennsylvania, and this was one place that needed a good union around the turn of the 20th century as much as Poland needed Solidarity in the 1980s.  The UMW was very successful in initiating safety rules in the mines, workers rights, and the right to strike after a long struggle and a lot of violence.  These were all things desperately needed at the time.  Working conditions in the mines were deplorable, the mining companies owned the company stores that the workers shopped at, and owned the row houses they live in.  It was a form of serfdom.  Immigrants flocked to the area to work the mines from very diverse places like Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Russia, Italy and the many ethnic regions of the Hapsburg Empire.  The numerous churches in the Scranton/Wilkes Barre/Hazleton Pennsylvania region, some more like grand cathedrals all built by immigrants who worked in menial low paying jobs, in their copious free time demonstrated their faith in God.  Although these immigrants worked together in the mines, steel mills, and dress factories during the day, they usually stuck with their own outside that environment.  They spoke their own language and worshiped in their own churches. They voted for politicians who supported their very narrow viewpoint, and ethnicity.  Neither political party did a whole lot to help alleviate the awful work conditions, and depended on their particular ethnic minorities to get elected.  Someone from Italy would never vote for one of those filthy Scots, and the Scots wouldn't vote for someone Welsh, let alone a Jew, and....well you get the picture.  Politics was ethnic, not so much party oriented.  Catholics, were almost exclusively Democrats, as were their politicians, and Protestants were Republicans and their clergy regularly preached politics from the pulpit.  The average miner or steel worker knew nothing of politics other than their local council member, mayor, or police chief.  They voted along ethnic lines.  The union was the uniting force, and was necessary at the time to liberate the people working the mines and mills from serfdom.  Neither the politicians of either party or the churches did much to stand up for the little guy.

That was then, this is now.  Unions were and are still a part of American life, industry, and especially government.  While once unions were organizations who fought against, sometimes literally, against thugs to stand up for decent living and working conditions for their members; now they stand up for very little more than bigger government and endless entitlements.  Most unions are just fundraising organizations for the Democratic Party, lining their union leadership pockets with money, and grabbing political power nationally.  Most private industry is now nonunion, due to competitive markets for skilled employees, and except in some large legacy companies in states that allow closed shops, union workers are few....Except in government.  The biggest segment of union employees are now working for the taxpayer.

Oddly, people who I once grew up with who were so pro-union and and still vote along ethnic lines, have gotten very little for their political investment.  Ok, Joe Mcdade (The John Murtha of the Republican party) brought a brand new Taj Mahal terminal to the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Airport with government pork, and it employed a few hundred people working union jobs over a few years, but these guys are now swilling beer at at 2 pm in the local saloon.  And McDade though a nominal Republican, voted like a Democrat, And Gringrich stripped him of his position on the appropriations committee in 1995.  But the big government guys have been screwing the people from my hometown for 60 years.

There have been revolts against government employee unions, most notably in Wisconsin, and the recent recall votes are heartening, but nothing like this is likely to happen in northeastern Pennsylvania, where all you is to have the last name Casey (Democrat) or Scranton (Republican) and you will get elected.  Sad but true from an area that my 82 year old dad was just saying that this area was in a depression in 1938 is in one in 2011, and will be in 2111.

When I visited my hometown earlier this month, I talked to a lot of old friends, and most are yellow dog Democrats, and I asked them why they support the people who they do, and the answer was astounding.  Educated people told me, because we have always been Democrats (or in a few cases Republicans) since their great grandfather immigrated to the USA.  I inquired as to why they never looked at what the candidates actually stood for with a critical eye, and was greeted with blank looks and answers like, "Why are you asking, Keith?  This is how we vote".  There was no serious discussion of policy or issues amongst any of them. 

Much like I can no longer go back to the church of my youth, I can't go back to a place that is rust belt poor area where I grew up.  People there just keep voting what their unions, local politicians, and in many cases churches tell them.

Sometimes things evolve with time, sometime they stay stuck in an earlier era. In the area I grew up in, it is the later, They pine for the glories of the mines, railroads, and steel mills.  Sometimes you can't go home again.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

When government owns the means of production's Ed Morrissey posts a daily "Obamateurism of the Day" that picks up on the daily gaffes, misstatements, and maddening things that President Obama says and does on a daily basis.  Today Ed hit upon Obama's latest attempt to influence the free market.  You see, Pres. Obama thinks that General Motors makes too many SUVs and trucks and not enough compact cars.  Of course the government always knows how to run a business far better than the free market concept of meeting demand with supply.  Government just demands more crappy cars like the Chevy Volt, and people will swarm to buy one, right?  Well no, the Volt is a dismal failure.

After reading Ed's blog today, I got to thinking about just how good the auto industry was in a truly dynamic socialist economy, that being the former German Democratic Republic (aka East Germany) and it's leading edge technology triumph the Trabant 601.  I found this fascinating 2 part promotional video (part 1, part 2) on YouTube produced by the GDR government in 1965 showing the production of the "Car of the Century".  While capitalists in West Germany were wasting their time building Volkswagon, BMW, Audi and Mercedes Benz automobiles, the high minded socialist economists were busy producing a vehicle with a 2 stroke engine, plastic body, ran on 83 octane gasoline and had a maximum speed of 100 km/hour (62 miles/hour) that was so popular there was a 15-20 year wait just to be the proud owner of  one of these triumphs of a socialist planned economy.  The imperialists in the west could only dream of owning one of these truly magnificent vehicles.

For a little compare and contrast, lets have a look at a similar era Mercedes Benz.  The superiority of the socialist car is glaringly obvious.

Ok, that's enough snark for now.  The Trabant was a truly awful car, broke down frequently, and was very good at turning low octane gasoline into noise and smoke.  I had the opportunity to take a test drive in one about 10 years ago at an antique car show.  The one I drove was impeccably maintained, and the steering wheel still pulled to the left, the top speed was 40 miles per hour, and struggled to get up a small hill. When you open the hood to work on the engine (something required at least weekly), it took a rubber mallet and crow bar to get it closed again, because the body parts were just so poorly fit.

For anyone going to Berlin, there is a Trabant museum there that is very interesting, and has a lot of good demonstrations on just what went in to making this hand manufactured car.  This was no assembly line vehicle, which may explain the long wait list just to buy one.

So there you have it folks,  this little exercise is a perfect demonstration what you get when the government .controls the means of production, as well as what is available on the market.

Update: Here's a look at the Trabant factory as filmed by a West German film crew.  This film really shows just how ugly the factory was, and what an awful car it produced.  And this demonstrates their quality control.

Monday, August 8, 2011

What have they done with my church?

This past week I visited my elderly parents in their small town, in northeastern Pennsylvania.  This is the town where my older brother and I grew up.  It's a tough old coal mining area where God fearing people worked hard, had sincere beliefs and were not only ethnically diverse, but were ethnically segregated in many cases on Sunday.  Around the turn of the 20th century, there was a huge immigration to the USA from diverse places as Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Italy and Eastern Europe from what was then Austria-Hungary.  They all built their own churches in their own traditions.  They may have worked together, mostly in the anthracite mines of the area, but on Sunday, they worshiped at their own churches.  The few ethnic groups that even remotely mixed on Sunday tended to be of the Protestant denominations, one of them being the affiliation of my youth, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A (PCUSA). 

The church I grew up in tended to be WASP-ish, but my mother and her family are German Presbyterians.  My paternal grandmother was a Scot and was more Presbyterian than John Knox (she was also about as tolerant with those who weren't).  The Irish Catholics were her sworn enemy, and barely tolerated my German mother.  My paternal grandfather was what we could call a Heinz 57, but for the most part was Scots-Irish, and not particularly religious.  He was a general building contractor in the early-mid part of the 20th century and much to my grandmother's chagrin often associated, hired, and was friends with the dreaded Methodists, Baptists, and dare I say, CATHOLICS!. (The horrors!). 

By the time I was a young child, the church I grew up in became far more inclusive of "foreigners", and those who were not traditionally Presbyterians.  We had a number of Slovak families, a pastor who came from Italy and converted from Roman Catholicism as a young seminarian, and served at our church until he retired 50 years later.  One thing remained constant however.  Presbyterian doctrine went all the way back to the founders such as John Calvin and John Knox.  The General Assembly, the governing board of the church, was steadfast in reiterating this for hundreds of years.  Although there were many modernizations, the beliefs and doctrine were steadfast.  There was a distinct difference with other Protestant sects such as Methodists and Baptists, although at least in my town, the Protestant churches got along very amicably, and in the summer, even had union services, allowing the ministers of these churches to have a few weeks vacation.  This also exposed young people to the noticeable differences between the faiths.  They had far more in common than the elders would admit, I can remember. 

The Catholics and Orthodox churches didn't have much to do with the Protestants or each other, and we all accepted that.  By the time I was born in the late 1950's, the majority of citizens in my area were Catholic.  Prior to Vatican II, the local churches regularly vilified "heretics and Jews".  The Protestant churches did not.  This made a big impact on my young mind, and I decided by the time I was 10 years ago that I was good with my faith, and as soon as I was eligible, eagerly went to communicants class at the same church I went to Sunday School since the time I was a toddler.  I was comfortable in my church, enjoyed the service and the sermons by our highly intellectual pastor (he actually spoke way over the head of many of his congregation at times, me included).  Some things did not chance.  The Presbyterian Church was faithful to its base beliefs and its doctrine. 

Things started to change in the 1980's.  The church became political, in ways that had nothing to do with scripture.  The General Assembly embraced Liberalism, albeit initially in very small ways.  The pastor who I grew up with retired, and was replaced with a brash young idealistic woman the same age as me.  She had big designs on "Hope and Change" within the church.  My small town church, that had very strong traditional conservative values, suddenly had this young "progressive", speaking of "social justice", "liberation", and expressing, loudly, solidarity with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.  She was quickly put in her place by the elders of the church, my father being one of them, and she began keeping her political views to herself.

However, sadly her views were shared with the ruling body, the General Assembly of the PCUSA, and it started to show in the church services.  Still, in my sleepy town, not a whole lot changed.....initially.   Some things began to show up in the General Assembly's annual report that I found very disturbing.  They were making a very pro-Palestinian policy, and selectively divesting from Israel, which has only accelerated in recent years.  They actively support far leftist ideology, while shunning traditional conservative ideals.  I really didn't pay too much attention until I moved to the Memphis, Tennessee area over 15 years ago.  The church I attended seemed very odd to me, and the sermons were very similar to those I heard 10 years prior in my hometown church, before the smackdown.  I became very disgruntled, and started to look for a church that was more to my liking; something that maintained traditional Presbyterian beliefs. 

It didn't take long.  Apparently, at least in the South, there were a number of other Presbyterian congregations that became fed up with the liberal ruling body, and decided to form the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)
The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is an evangelical Protestant Christian denomination, the second largest Presbyterian church body in the United States after the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The PCA professes a strong commitment to evangelism, missionary work, and Christian education. The church declares its goal to be "faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission."
I'm quite comfortable being part of this organization, and find comfort in belonging to a congregation that still follows traditionalist beliefs rather than liberal revisionism. 

That brings me to the question I asked in the title of this piece. 

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, I visited my childhood home this past week, and accompanied my parents to the church I grew up in.  I hardly knew it.  They have replaced the King James Bible with some politically correct, non-gender, asexual, and revisionist religious text that is an insult to God's holy word.  Gone from the service is the Apostles Creed, replaced with a very touchy-feely "affirmation of faith" that affirms nothing, and acknowledges neither Hell nor the resurrection of Christ.  Gone is the singing of the Gloria Patri.  Scripture readings sound more like childhood Sunday School stories rather than the word of God.  I walked away from the service bewildered, and depressed.  I asked my 82 year old father, how he felt about the changes in his church.  Needless to say, he is not at all happy, but at his age, feels there is little he can do to change anything anymore. 

I don't think I can return to the church of my childhood.  The building might still be there, but the soul is gone.

Friday, July 29, 2011

How a place goes from riches to ruin

Back in the 1980s and early 90s I lived and worked off and on in Binghamton in the southern tier of New York State.  This was historically a very prosperous area dating back to before the revolutionary war days, being an an important port at the confluence of the Chenango and Susquehanna Rivers.  It continued to be prosperous during the 19th century and the city and adjoining towns grew quickly.  In the early 20th century the Endicott-Johnson Shoe Company employed thousands of people, amongst them many new immigrants.  One of the things heard by people from immigrants leaving Ellis Island were people who spoke little English asking, "which way EJ?"  IBM had its founding as a modern company in the Binghamton suburb of Endicott. It remained a busy manufacturing facility as well as having their Glendale Labs there until the mid-1990's.  Edwin Link founded Link Aviation in Binghamton and invented the flight simulator.  The Link Trainers also known as Blue Boxes were used in World War II to give basic flight training to young pilots with no aviation experience.  It grew into a company that at its height employed almost 5000 employees and was the leader in flight simulation.  General Electric had a large high tech facility.  Other companies popped up and added high tech, high paying jobs, like Universal Instruments, photography company GAF, and many smaller companies that did contracting work for the larger industries. Binghamton had a VHF TV station, WBNG channel 12) years before many much larger cities had any TV. 

In the 1980's this area peaked and quickly declined.  Early on, you could see how busy the area was by just showing up at Binghamton Regional Airport at 7am any weekday morning.  There were at least 2 or 3 large jets going to USAir hubs, along with dozens of turboprops going to all the New York City area airports, Boston, Washington, and around the state.  These were planes filled with business travelers from Singer-Link, IBM, GE and numerous other local companies.

There were numerous factors that caused the decline of the area, not the least being an over regulated and over taxed business community.  Endicott-Johnson moved it shoe manufacturing to countries with cheaper labor.  There is no more EJ in the USA.  IBM decided that rather than caving to the high tax schemes of New York State politicians in Albany, closed most of it's factories in the state and moved a large portion of its business to places like North Carolina.  Singer-Link had a lot of issues, with arrogance and mismanagement not being at the bottom the reasons for their demise.  The Link Division of the Singer Company began losing contracts and new business to the competition from abroad, especially in the commercial business.  They introduced technology didn't work well and attempted to shove it down the throats of customers, and lost them in droves.  The entire Singer Company was bought out by Paul Bilzerian and he promptly sold off the divisions he could at a huge profit.  The military systems division of Singer-Link was sold to a Canadian simulator  manufacturer CAE Electronics.  The commercial business was not so easy to sell, as its was not an entirely independent entity.  All of it's manufacturing was done in the plant that made the military based equipment.  That piece of Link was only sold after Bilzerian sold off all the divisions, declared bankruptcy and was in the process of shutting down what whatever was left.  Bilzerian later went to Club Fed for a year for SEC violations.  A Maryland Company, AAI Corporation, bought the commercial assets and tried to make a go of it, but due to law suites by CAE over technology rights and the fact that the company had lost credibility, it t lasted only about a year.  The current owners, L3 Communications, of the company that Ed Link built now employs fewer than 100 people on top secret projects that can not be moved to other contractors.

Other companies either failed or moved.  GAF is long gone, Universal Instruments moved most of its business abroad, GE sold the division to British Aerospace, and they have significantly downsized their operation and may leave shortly.  The area that was once a mini Silicon Valley, is now a mini Death Valley.  Downtown Binghamton is a dismal place full of closed and boarded up buildings.  It's amazing that Boscov's Department Store can remain in business there.  There is little else left besides government buildings and a few banks. The airport is almost vacant and the remaining airlines board fewer than 300 passengers a day to just one or two airports.

So what caused the decline and abandonment?  First, high corporate taxes, over regulation and union problems drove many companies south.  Second, bad and corrupt management of certain companies sped up their doom.  And finally, the high cost of labor forced the rest to choose more fertile grounds to expand their business.  This is an area that I love, but it is a shell of what it used to be, and is a perfect example of government trying to tax companies and people to prosperity.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Essential Air Service

When I was reading my news feed this morning, I read that Delta Airlines plans to end service to 24 small towns that it serves through one of their Delta Connection carriers using turboprop aircraft.  Some of the towns have less than 9,000 residents, and their planes are departing less than half full.  All the subject airports that Delta currently serves are taxpayer subsidized through the Essential Air Service Program enacted by congress at the time of airline deregulation in 1978.  Delta released a press release explaining that these communities are losing money, even under subsidy, and furthermore Delta is retiring their aging fleet of turboprops and 50 seat regional jets. 

So what is this program and why is it necessary, or as I'm about to argue, an unnecessary burden on taxpayers?

In a nutshell the EAS program heavily subsidizes the airline(s) selected by the program administrators based on competitive bidding by carriers wishing to operate under subsidy.  The EAS program office has published a history of the program.  In Delta's press release, they gave a brief explanation of the purpose of the program.
The EAS program was created to ensure small communities continue to have access to passenger air service. In some cases, airline service in EAS markets is subsidized by the government. The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 provides that if a carrier is held in beyond the 90-day notice period, it is entitled to receive compensation "to pay for the fully allocated actual cost to the carrier of performing the ...service ... plus a reasonable return on investment that is at least 5 percent of operating costs; and to provide the carrier an additional return that recognizes the demonstrated additional lost profits from opportunities foregone [by continuing to be held in and providing service].
So essentially the US taxpayer is paying  airlines a rather substantial subsidy, including a profit margin to entice them to operate to communities that could not support air travel otherwise.  Basically any airport that had service prior to deregulation is eligible for EAS provided they are more than 70 miles from the nearest commercial airport.  The entire list of cities served by this program as of May 2010 can be read here.  Some cities are extremely close to major airports that in many cases are airline hubs.  Two that stuck out to me immediately were Jackson, TN, and Jonesboro, AR.  Both of these cities are 60 to 90 minutes from Memphis International Airport.  Is there any reason why we the taxpayers should be paying airlines to fly to cities like these that enplane less than 50 passengers a day and are an easy drive to a major airport?  Some states with powerful Senators and Congressmen have added pork to keep air service to towns that are in close proximity to one another, and not all that far from a commercial airport.  If you look at the spreadsheet to which I linked, the kings of subsidized airline pork include West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, including the late John Murtha's pork laden Johnstown Airport.  That particular airport is currently getting a second parallel runway built long enough to support large jets, but that is a different subject for a different blog post.

Other communities, mostly in the lightly populated western states, the argument can be made that subsidized air service is still necessary.  In a few cases, these towns are hundreds of miles from the nearest large or even medium sized city.  Still this list can be trimmed town to a small fraction of towns where government subsidized air service can be deemed necessary in the 21st century.  I went through the list with my atlas and the list can be reduced by 90% saving the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars annually.

This program is just one example of waste, and you may say, it is small potatoes when we are talking about current level of government spending.  However, if the president went through his budget with a fine toothed comb and line by line, as he promised during the campaign, and removed waste and overspending, and we had responsible people in Congress, we could get our debt under control, and actually have balanced budgets.  Unfortunately I don't see this anytime in the foreseeable future, or dare say in my lifetime.

Correction and update:  I've cleaned up my typos and need to hat tip the New York Times (via Yahoo Business).  I apologize for the omission.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

FAA Reauthorization Bill and what it means to aviation

Jazz Shaw over at the excellent blog HotAir posts an excellent and somewhat worrisome piece regarding the FAA Reauthorization Bill, which must be passed very quickly if the entire civil air traffic is to remain operational. Please read the whole article.  Of course Congress is working diligently porking up the bill in order to bring money to their own districts without consideration to what is actually necessary and what can be cut out with what President Obama called "his scalpel", which is pretty much standard operating procedure for Congress, even in these tough times.

I can only scratch the surface as to what the FAA does here and could easily write volumes on the subject, but here goes.  First a little background on what the FAA is and why it is an essential agency.  Some of the comments I read at HotAir were very naive to assume that the airlines could just continue with out the FAA support mechanisms in place.  That's plane fantasy (pun intended).  The air traffic control system in the USA for all its faults is still the best, most comprehensive and efficient in the world.  The amounts of flights they handle per day is far larger than the rest of the world combined.  So lets put this myth aside, the FAA shuts down, the friendly skies will suddenly be empty, with the exception of military operations.  Even they rely on the civilian air traffic control system over most airspace, as they share the same airways as your flight to visit mom and dad in Springfield (you pick the state).  We can all remember the 9/11/2001 attacks, and the shutdown of the entire airspace over the US, and that will happen if the FAA is defunded.  The economy took a huge hit and was one of the factors that drove a few airlines out of business, and several others eventually into Chapter 11.  Our Congress-critters will be forced to revert to ground transportation to return to their districts is probably a bigger motivator for some of out less scrupulous representatives and Senators to get it done. (Yes I can be a cynic).

Ok, we've covered why having a functional air traffic control system is essential just to keep planes in the air.  Now, lets talk about what else they do that affects me and my job.

Like many, if not most government agencies, they are bloated at the top and at some middle and lower levels of management, but having to deal with the nice folks in our local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) and the National Simulator Evaluation Team (NSET), the people I personally deal with most, I'm here to tell you that these people are understaffed, work a lot of hours, and are always begging for more personnel as airlines expand, flight training facilities grow more numerous and demand increases.  Are these people necessary?  Well if we were the wild west, with no regulations and and everyone was free to operate as they want, the regulators would be unnecessary, but in a modern world we need these folks as the regulators and rule enforcers,  Without them, there are no checks and balances on how airlines, air taxi services, and general aviation maintain their equipment, train their pilots and mechanics and the quality of airplane maintenance, pilot training and operation of the airlines.  Can some of the rules and regulations be overkill, needless and overly intrusive; you bet.  But in a world that is increasingly complex, we need to have our Federal Air Regulations (FAR).

The bureaucracy in DC is indeed bloated, politically motivated and makes decisions without considering real life decisions on the ground, but name one federal agency that isn't?  That's where a lot of waste gets doled out, often to political cronies *gasp*. The people on the ground, or in the air, however the case may be that I work and interface with are very hard workers, fairly paid compared to their private sector counterparts, although there is bloated management at many levels, and in many cases even middle level managers are political hacks who have no idea what their people do for a living and what they need to do their jobs.

So finally in answer to Jazz's question and concern, forget about it buddy, there will be last minute funding.  It might be ugly, but a shutdown is not an option.

Perhaps some of my tens of readers who work in aviation can contribute more to this piece, so comments are welcome, and I'll gladly elevate relevant ones as updates.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Success from a country of failure

I've been hesitant to write this piece, because is very personal to me and my friend Ron.

I first met Ron when he was a young teenager, a poor kid living in Iligan in the jihadist ridden territory of Lanao del Norte in western Mindanao in the Philippines when he was 16.  His father was a local politician and was murdered by the "religion of peace" and he and his family didn't have a support mechanism like a fundraiser to help them out.  Needless to say he and his family had hard times.  Ron, not being one to just roll over finished high school, went on to the Iligan Institute of Technology, part of Mindanao State University, and graduated with high honors in computer engineering.  He initially had a hard time finding a job.  It's even harder to get a job there than in our "Summer of Recovery".  Well that didn't work out so well.

Ron worked midnight shift call centers, took crappy jobs, and finally found a teaching  job.  It paid the bills, almost, but he wasn't going anywhere with that job. We chatted about a strategy a lot and his best bet was to find work overseas.  Ron was thinking Qatar or UAE, and I was thinking FUCK NO.  Filipinos in Arab countries are slaves.  Well Ron finally has found a decent paying job in Singapore, living in ok conditions, and being respected by his students.  I'm not sure he is getting the pay he deserves for what his employer gives him, but he is doing much better than a year ago, and can go home and face his family with honor.

I'm wishing my friend Ron all the success in the world.  I love this guy like he is one of my own, and am proud of all his achievements against a lot of odds.

We Americans don't know just how good we have it.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Modern Air Travel: A Historical Perspective

I'm a pretty experienced traveler, and over the years I've learned a few things.  Travel was far more simple back before 9/11/2001, and even more simple back in the 1970's before deregulation.  Anyone who was born before 1970 and did any air travel at all remembers the days of regulated airlines.  I'm tempted to call them the good old days, but they certainly had their ups and downs.  Making a reservation meant going to a travel agent in most cases, because travel could often entail flying on 2 or more airlines in order to get you to your destination and the reservation systems were not computerized or even interlined between carriers.  The travel agents had to work for their money, and booking even a simple trip could take hours or days to have them confirmed.  A lot of phone calls needed to be made.  The routes were regulated, so most of us had a choice of one airline, especially if you were from a smaller city, and the flights were subsidized, so there was little incentive for the airlines to fill the planes.  Flights also were prohibitively expensive, especially out of captive markets, which were most of them.  A flight from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to Columbus, when I was a college student was $350 round trip, and that is in 1976 dollars.  On the upside, flights rarely got canceled and when one was unless it was truly a weather related problem or a mechanical breakdown.  The airlines operated on schedule and pretty much on-time, meals were served, even on a short flight, and drinks were free.

Deregulation totally revamped the industry, along with the internet and the computer revolution.  Airlines were free to fly where they wanted, expand their system, and compete on routes that were once monopolies.  The airfares plummeted, and the $99 coast-to-coast fare became common.  Airlines that used to be regional carriers like Allegheny (soon to be USAir), Piedmont, North Central, and Southern, expanded their route systems by leaps and bounds.  They lost money on every flight, but it didn't seem to matter at the time.  Upstart airlines like People Express with a non-unionized workforce, low paid workers, and super cheap airfares forced the big guys to cut their fares.  These were the salad days of deregulation, and the consumer was king.  The flight I used to pay $350 for was now $120 round trip.  Airlines were desperate to build up customer loyalty and American Airlines had a very novel concept that changed everything, the frequent flier program.  Enroll in this program, and you would receive a coupon book.  Just have the gate agent pull one of those coupons every time you fly, and you gain points that would be good for certificates after a number of miles flown, and fly for free.  It was clumsy by today's standards, but it changes everything.  Within a year, all the major airlines adopted a frequent flier program.  It was often hard to use the points though because seats were capacity controlled, and often there was only one or two seats available for this kind of travel. That soon changed as competition forced the airlines to ease up restrictions. 

Small regional carriers soon became national, thanks to both growth and acquisition.  Delta bought Northeastern Airlines, Allegheny bought Mohawk, Southern and North-Central merged to create Republic Airlines.  Braniff International, who had very lucrative South American routes, decided to go big time and fly to Asia and Europe, and even lease a Concorde on routes from London.  Long time behemoths like Pan Am and Eastern couldn't compete with younger carriers, had restrictive labor contracts and were strike prone just couldn't adapt.  Both airlines went belly up in the late 80's.  Deregulation was also not kind to airlines who decided to expand too quickly.  Braniff over expanded and took on routes that just were not their.  They were the first major airline to go under.  American Airlines helped them along by matching their airfares and temporarily flying to traditional Braniff cities.  Southwest Airlines which was just a regional airline, known for hourly service for hourly flights between Dallas Love Field and Houston Hobby Airport went national, and their business model has been studied and used by airlines worldwide on how to run a low cost airline.

With deregulation we also had winners and losers that was either market driven, and/or management driven.  Corporate raiders like Frank Lorenzo and Carl Icahn bought out Continental Airlines and TWA respectively.  Lorenzo then raided Eastern Airlines, and stripped it of all marketable assets and routes to feed Continental.  Between incompetent management under Lorenzo along with long standing serious union problems, forced a strike that Eastern never recovered from and soon went out of business.  Non-union Continental overextended itself by buying People Express and Frontier Airlines (not the Frontier that is flying today), and soon found itself in bankruptcy court.  Lorenzo was forced to give up control under the reorganization agreement, and what emerged was a smaller and healthier Continental.  In the case of TWA, Icahn bled it dry and put no money into modernizing it's fleet.  They slowly faded away, went through 2 bankruptcies and  was finally bought by American Airlines in 2001.  Many other airlines popped up and just as quickly went out of business during the 80's and 90's, with very few start-ups being successful.  ValuJet (now AirTran Airways) and Jet Blue have been exceptions, having good business models and modern jet fleets.

With the late 80's and 90's came a big round of consolidation, and the public was poorer for it with reduced service and higher prices.  Airlines continues mergers and buy-outs at a fast pace.  Many familiar formerly regional airlines began being bought by the larger carriers.  As an example, USAir bought Piedmont and PSA and soon became a major national powerhouse, at the loss to many smaller cities once served by the three carriers.  In many cases cities that once had DC-9 or 737 service now had 19 seat turboprops and the airfares skyrocketed to these airports.  For many travelers the benefits of deregulation seemed to come full circle, with high prices and bad service and there was a movement to re-regulate at least to a point.

In the 90's, as reservation systems became more automated and computerized, the major airlines forged alliances with smaller commuter carriers, and their flights operated under the major carriers' airline code.  By looking at a ticket, it was hard to know if you were flying on the major or a commuter outfit.  Companies such as Comair and Skywest were soon operating as Delta Connection with much smaller equipment, and at a much lower cost than the major carrier, but it provided what was marketed as a seamless connection to the major carrier at one of the hubs.  This provided convenience to passengers, but did little to relieve the high cost of flying into small and mid-size cities.

In the early 1990's Bombardier Aerospace in Montreal, Canada introduced the 50 seat Canadair Regional Jet.  This revolutionized service, albeit temporarily, to small and mid-size cities across the country.  The major carriers bought these airplanes by the hundreds, dry leased them to their regional partners, and cities that had been deprived of jet service soon had it restored.  The planes, though crowded, were a vast improvement over the much slower turboprops.  Soon afterwards, Brazil's Embraer introduced their own 50 seat regional jet and the airlines now had a cheaper and more efficient means to service their markets.

It didn't take long for the airlines to realize that they had stumbled on to a cash cow.  The regional jets broke even at half capacity, had flight crews that made a fraction of the trunk carrier's pilots, and only needed one flight attendant.  Airlines started move service to larger cities from larger trunk carrier planes, to regional jets, often with more frequent service, and used them on longer flights on the thinner routes.  It became common to book a flight from Memphis to Phoenix only to find yourself shoehorned into a RJ for over 3 hours.  In the meantime, many of the cities that had reaped the benefit of jet service, suddenly found themselves with less service, and in many cases reverted back to smaller turboprops.   Embraer and Bombardier soon introduced 70 and 90 seat planes, and routes that used to be served by DC-9, 737, or MD-80 were now operated by the larger RJ's.  This remains part of the business model by the legacy carriers to this day.

The first decade of the 21st century was a tumultuous one for the airline industry.  About the time the airlines were at least breaking even, the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon almost destroyed it.  The whole aviation system was shut down for days, air travel plummeted, a recession raged, and the federal government hoisted the Transportation Administration Administration (TSA) upon us.  Air travel became more inconvenient, less comfortable, and more intrusive as poorly trained TSA agents began random body searches, and restricting what can be carried on an airplane.  Instead of profiling potential terrorists, everyone was subjected to often ridiculous scrutiny.  Nail clippers were banned, liquids had to be under 3 ounces, and must fit in a one quart ziplock bag.  Later on came subjecting passengers to x-ray machines, and full body searches.  Many travelers who used to fly are now driving to their destination.

This was not a happy time for the major airlines either.  Legacy carriers, Delta, Northwest, USAirways, America West, and United all filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  Airfares went up, and the airlines were looking at ways to raise even more revenue.  Meal service soon ended in coach, and on soon on some carriers, snacks were no longer available.  Checked baggage, which used to be included in the cost of the ticket, now became an extra, as much as $25 each way for the first checked bag and more for the second or third.

While the behemoths lingered in bankruptcy, a few low cost airlines turned a profit.  Southwest continues to this day to not charge for checked baggage and is profitable enough to being able to purchase an equally profitable AirTran.  The result of this merger still remains to be seen.  JetBlue has been very successful as has Virgin America.  The lean and mean airlines are going to be the survivors. 

The 21st century has also brought about the merger of major airlines, to the detriment of their customers.  Delta and Northwest both emerged from bankruptcy only to merge in to the "New Delta".  The merger meant, that the Delta hub in Cincinnati shut down, the Northwest business unit in Minneapolis is closing, hubs in Memphis, Detroit and Minneapolis are being scaled back, and some cities that used to be served by both airlines are now served by neither.  United and Continental are also in the process of merging, and it remains to be seen how the now largest airline in the world will do.  Now in 2011, airlines are faced with $6.50 a gallon prices for Jet-A fuel, there are fewer choices, higher prices, poorer service.  TSA has become an inefficient, authoritarian, and arbitrary security force.  95 year old great grandmothers in wheel chairs and 5 year old girls are being subjected to what in any other time would be felony sexual battery. 

So the question remains, are the American people better served by airline deregulation, or would we be better off with a Civil Aeronautic Board assigning routes, assessing rates, and subsidizing poor performers? 

I'm still in the camp of deregulation.  In the past routes were subject to political pressure (even more than now), airlines were kept in business through tax payer subsidizes, and competition was nonexistent.  Let the chips fall as they may, when one airline fails, someone comes along to fill the void, and cities who can not support profitable air service, probably don't need service.

Feel free to discuss here.  Or send me hate messages on twitter @simkeith

Monday, July 4, 2011

July 4th 2011 in San Francisco

Belated happy Independence Day to all.  I'm currently on assignment in the San Francisco bay area and got to enjoy festivities here today, including a good baseball game at one of the best baseball stadiums in the major leagues I've watched a game, AT&T Park.  Sadly for my local friends the Giants lost to the Padres 5-3. 

I was invited and went to an Independence Day celebration that included mostly veterans, active duty military and tea party type people.  A few local Democrat city council-critters showed up, and of course Code Pink had to be there to heckle the group.  This was pretty small, maybe 200 people, and it was mostly a remeberance of those who sacrificed for our country and those who built it to be the shining star on the hill that Ronald Reagan once proclaimed us to be. 

Like I said, this was a quiet crowd, and not very political, until the lefties showed up screaming slogans, calling us Nazis and wanting sent to death camps.  The irony in this is that they got their loudist during the reading of the Delecration of Independence by a 91 year old World War II veteran who survived 2 years in one of Hitler's POW camps.  This nice old gentleman finished reading the document, left the small stage, and walked over to the young girl, to ask what her problem was.  Her answer was that he was the problem, and anyone who who has gone to war for any reason was as bad as Hitler.  Yes, You get the drift, she is a moron.  However this nice old man just gave her a kiss on the cheek and told her, that many of his friends died over 60 years ago so that she could show up there today to make a complete ass out of herself, and then he walked away.  The Code Pink people continued to scream slogans, while the rest of us waved to them and offered coffee and pastries to them.  There were no takers and that was there loss.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Adventures in Air Travel. Failure and Success

Anyone who travels by air these days, knows the frustrations that go with it.  Between the airlines nickeling and diming us to death with hidden fees, charges for everything but breathign air, tactical cancellations of flights (they can almost always get away with blaming weather), and the horrors that are inflicted on us by the incompetent,  totalitarian, and soon to be unionized TSA, meaning even the most incompetent and corrupt of them won't be able to be fired. 

However I've got a bad news-good news story to relay to my tens of readers.  This past week, I was flying from Memphis to San Francisco, with a plane change in Salt Lake City, and everything was going swimmingly right up until the airplane's door was about to close.  Then 2 mechanics came on board, and there was a long conversation between the crew chief and the captain, and shortly after, we heard the bad news.  A careless dunderhead of a baggage handler struck the airplane with a belt loader and broke an antenna.  Under Delta's Minimum Equipment List (MEL), that the FAA approves and enforces, that is a no fly restriction.  I figured immediately, that I'm not going anywhere that night, as there was no other possible connection after this.  However, the captain told us that it was just the antenna for the inflight internet service and they should quickly get this resolved.  Well one hour goes by, with frequent updated by the outstanding captain, who was great through all this, and then 1.5 hours, and finally, the Delta maintenance management gave the go ahead to depart.  All the passengers knew that we had missed our connections, and many of us asked to get off the plane and rebook for the next day, but the ground service agents in Memphis wouldn't allow it.  I asked why, and the agent with an obvious "Memphis Attitude" (who was mostl likely was a former Northwest employee and treated us with the former Northwest Airlines customer service approach) told me, that that would cause her to file a lot of paperwork and it was far easier for her to make all of us SLC's problem.  Really nice, eh?

Ok, we arrive in SLC 2 hours late, and I experienced the exact opposite attitude from the folks there.  They had portable kiosks opened up with a dozen CSR's passing out vouchers for lodging and meals as well as boarding passes for the earliest flight the next day.  What a difference 2 cities made.  I ended up at a rather upscale airport hotel (yes they do exist once again), vouchers for 2 meals...well, $6 vouchers, but nont the less, it is better than anyone offered us in MEM.

To top it all off, I got bumped to first class on the flight to SFO, meaning that I could take the snacks from the basket myself and get a shot of Bailey's in my coffee in the morning.  So kudos to the Delta CSR's at SLC for really providing customer service to people who really needed it.  I got to my destination a bit late but not worse for wear.

TSA in SLC was as incomepent as any other airport I've been through.  I got directed to one of those "low level" x-ray machines, along with a half dozen from my line.  Well all of us ended up getting the pat down because one of those soon to be unionized government employees, didn't know how to operate the equipment and all the images were unreadable.  The guy who patted me down went a bit further, sticking his hand down the front and back of my pants, and seemed to really be enjoying it.  I finally told him, in my usual tactful way, "Hey why don't you just give me a blowjob and be done with it."  He smiled, winked, and I went on my way extremely creeped out.  Remember folks they are from the government and here to protect us.

So there you have it, the good, the bad and the ugly all within about 15 hours.

As I posted earlier, ain't air travel grand?