Saturday, July 31, 2010

How far we come

In yet another cost saving measure, the airlines continue to fall from the elegant means of travel to flying cattle cars.

"Just in time for the summer airport onslaught, Continental Airlines has decided to test what they call self-boarding, and what we call DIY air travel. Once travelers at Houston Intercontinental Airport swipe their ticket, a turnstile door will open to allow the passenger entry into the airplane. While automated boarding does not require the human touch, an attendant will be on hand to deal with the usual customer service problems.

And we can imagine plenty of problems. Does anarchy rule in this experiment? No longer will passengers be called by row or color-coded boarding pass. Instead, they'll be expected to make a dash through a turnstile. Amazingly, the TSA is onboard, as it were, with self-boarding. The practice is already in place at many international airlines, like Air France and Air New Zealand. You'll be glad to know that human pilots are still required to fly the plane. For now."

Airlines were once glamorous and air travel was elegant and sophisticated. Deregulation in the 1980s was supposed to bring competition to the airline industry and savings to the passenger. Instead as each company tried to undercut its competitor, fewer and fewer perks could be offered to the passengers. Rising fuel costs and increased ramp fees further reduced passengers incentives as the price of the ticket could not be raised without risk of losing the passenger to a competitor.

In my opinion, another important factor was the transition from stewardesses to flight attendants. The intent was to take the stewardess from an idealized position available only to attractive, slim women and open it up to everyone. In the name of equality, this was a necessary step but it carried an unintended consequence. Stewardesses were selected on looks and charm. Stewardesses conducted themselves as ambassadors for the airlines. The switch from stewardess to flight attendant eliminated discrimination based on looks and gender but it also eliminated some of the mystique which added to the travel experience.

Before I get hate mail, think about it this way. Anyone who meets the basic physical and aptitude requirements can join the military but only a select few can become a Navy SEAL. Both the engine mechanic and SEAL are proud to serve but which position holds mystique?

Stewardesses were glamorous and insured the passenger was comfortable as well as safe. Flight attendants became employees and while they are just as professional, there was something lost. There is a certain indifference now with most of the flight attendants. Many seem grim or tired which is another unintended consequence of modern air travel. Gone is the glamour and now flight attendants are just employees like the rest of us.

Of course the biggest change to airlines has been 9/11 and our friends at TSA. If air travel had become less glamourous over the last 20 years, the TSA has made it down right grueling. Long security lines with surly TSA personnel sets the tone for the rest of the experience. No one seems to think anything now of having to arrive two hours early for a flight that may not even last one. Flight attendants, already salty because of long hours and poor working conditions, now have to play cop and determine if the passenger is a security risk or just rude. Either way, the rest of us lose.

Air travel will not become the glamorous experience it once was. We are one more terrorist attack away from the few remaining airlines to go under. Hopefully other means of public transit, such as rail, will be revitalized as a result.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Kalamazoo River oil spill

Apparently, we haven't learned anything from the Gulf oil spill. We now have something on the same scale the can effect the Great Lakes. Over 800,000 gallons of oil has spilled into a waterway that flows into Lake Michigan on Monday. Enbridge Energy partners, which owns the oil rig, is investigating (in other words, they have come up with plausible deniability or can't figure out who is going pay for this). In keeping with Louisiana during Katrina, the governor of Michigan has not yet asked for help. Keep in mind this spill is on the same scale with the one in the Gulf! The Obama administration is in keeping with its inactivity in protecting the country. It files lawsuits against Arizona but doesn't address the real problem of immigration. We now have another environmental and economic disaster in less than 120 days and the President is busy playing his lyre.

Crews Step Up Work to Contain Michigan Oil Spill -

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Those who can lead, those who can't....

The story below brings home the point made yesterday by frustrated Dutch petroleum engineers on NPR. The Dutch pointed out several major failings in the way the United States responded to the oil spill. The federal government should have immediately taken charge, according to the Dutch, as the government has resources and expertise to respond. Furthermore, by having the government respond immediately (as they do in Europe) eliminates any squabbling from the oil company as to how they are going to get paid for the cleanup.

The Dutch also pointed out the Obama Adminstration's refusal to allow any foreign companies from making a profit has put the Gulf at further risk. A US engineering firm is preparing to build a 30 feet birm to prevent more oil from reaching the shore. As the Dutch point out, it doesn't take much of a storm surge to wipeout a 30 foot birm. The Dutch would have built a 300 foot birm. When it comes to controlling storm surges and floods, you would be hard pressed to find better experts than the Dutch. In fact, the Dutch have for centuries made their home on a very similiar geography to New Orleans. However the myopic Obama Adminstration is more concerned about minimizing political attacks from the right than about getting the best experts to solved the Guld oil spill.

It now appears even the US Coast Guard may have blundered in the initial response. Fine, let's just get the right people involved now!

Coast Guard's failure to follow its firefighting policy may have contributed to sinking of oil rig

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The healing effects of forests

Forests - and other natural, green settings - can reduce stress, improve moods, reduce anger and aggressiveness and increase overall happiness. Forest visits may also strengthen our immune system by increasing the activity and number of natural killer cells that destroy .

The healing effects of forests

Friday, July 16, 2010


The above photo is of the Cold Steel bolo machete. Being of Filipino descent, I also know this style of machete as "itak". The bolo, in various styles, is found throughout the Philippines and Indonesia. It is primarily a farm implement but its availability lead it to being adopted as a military weapon as well.

The Filipino versions I'm familiar with are longer and thinner than the one from Cold Steel. Machetes fill the void between knife and axe when you need the chopping power of an axe but also the speed and nimbleness of a knife. Of the various machete styles, I like the bolo because of the center of balance being towards the front of the blade. The forward balance adds power to the blow with minimal effort of the user. It is another reason why the bolo makes an effective weapon.

The Cold Steel version is inexpensive (I'd say cheap but that may give the wrong connotation) and very durable. I use it to keep the weeds at bay in our back yard. Chopping tall weeds should be direguer for any machete and the bolo dispatches them with wanton abandon. The bolo's weight distribution also makes it a formidable dispatcher of thick bushes and saplings as well. I was quite surprised how easily it chopped through thick limbs of trees and bushes.

The secret of using a bolo is to let the blade do most of the work. Instead of swinging with your arm, swing using your wrist and let the blade's momentum finish the work. You won't tire as quickly and with the proper wrist flexibility, you will be able to dispatch large thickets of weeds (or invaders to your homestead) with terrific efficiency.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Full body scanners

Criticisms of full body scanners are coming in from both the US and international agencies.

"The U.S. Government Accountability Office said in October that the TSA was deploying the machines without fully testing them and assessing whether they could detect "threat items" concealed on various parts of the body. And in March, the office said it "remains unclear" whether they would have detected the explosives that police allege Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to detonate on a jet bound for Detroit on Christmas."

Read more here

Monday, July 12, 2010


Al-Qaeda linked group claims responsibility for twin bombings that left dozens dead in Uganda. The attack the first time that this group has launched an attack outside its home country of Somalia. South Africa takes security seriously and al-Shabab was likely unable to penetrate their security measures. Brazil will host the next World Cup in 2014. Brazil will have to step-up its security in order to prevent another group like al-Shabab from launching a successful attack. - Uganda Attack May Have Been 'Plan B' for Terror Strike on World Cup, Expert Says

2012 may not just be a movie

I must admit to initially dismissing end-of-the-world theories associated with the year 2012. People are convinced there is a significance to the Mayan calendar ending in that year. I've always wondered, what makes the Mayan calendar any more or less relevant than other calendar? Another doomsday group theorizes that in the year 2012 there will be a rare alignment of the universe that will allow untold shifts in our world as we know it. All sorts of celestial alignments occur all of that time so why does this one bode more impact than others? I'm still uncertain as to the impact of either of the previous events but what does seem to be a potential for the end of the world may have already been set in motion by the Deep Water Horizon catastrophe.

Benzene levels in the Gulf are already rising at alarming rates. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the major effect of benzene from long-term exposure is on the blood. (Long-term exposure means exposure of a year or more.) Benzene causes harmful effects on the bone marrow and can cause a decrease in red blood cells, leading to anemia. It can also cause excessive bleeding and can affect the immune system, increasing the chance for infection. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that benzene causes cancer in humans. Long-term exposure to high levels of benzene in the air can cause leukemia, cancer of the blood-forming organs.

Now there is the potential for large amounts of methane to be vented into the water and atmosphere. Exposure to high levels of methane gas depletes the oxygen level in the body, causing difficulty in breathing and suffocation. If the oxygen level in the body depletes to anything less than 12%, it can cause unconsciousness and also prove to be lethal in some cases. Since the levels of oxygen in the body depletes, the body tries to make it up by using the oxygen contained in the bodily fluids. This basically leads to dehydration.

Another symptom of methane gas exposure is heart palpitations. It causes an uncomfortable sensation of the heart beating rapidly, abnormally and out of sequence. Due to the depletion of oxygen in the body, methane gas exposure gives rise to cognitive problems. The person is inattentive, has memory loss and also poor judgment. These symptoms aggravate, when the exposure to this gas is more.

2012 may not just be a movie anymore.

Doomsday: How BP Gulf disaster may have triggered a world-killing event - by Terrence Aym - Helium

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dirty bomb

To my knowledge, this is first documented case of terrorists actually possessing the materials for a dirty bomb.

An international police sting at a Pretoria petrol station has netted four men involved in the sale of a highly radioactive metal suspected to be destined for use in a dirty bomb.

The high-risk operation by the Hawks' specialised tactical unit was carried out yesterday.

Police recovered some Caesium-137 contained in a protective cover, but admitted they had yet to find a larger device, which was set to be sold on the black market for R45 million.

News - Crime & Courts: Four bust in 'dirty bomb' sale sting

Friday, July 9, 2010

Costa Rica?

Interesting, when did Costa Rica experience a humanitarian crisis?

On the 2nd July 2010 the Costa Rica Congress authorized the entry of 46 U.S. warships capable of carrying 200 helicopters and warplanes, plus 7,000 U.S. Marines "who may circulate the country in uniform without any restrictions" , plus submarine killer ships to the Costa Rican coast for "anti-narcotics operations and humanitarian missions' between 1st July 2010 until 31st December 2010.

46 US Warships Plus 7,000 US Marines On Route To Costa Rica?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Urban Circulator

Looks like Cincinnati is one of six cities as part of the Urban Circulator Program. Part of the Obama Administration's Livability Program, the Urban Circulator will provides grants and should allow the streetcar initiative in Cincinnati to finally get going. Now to actually have some destinations for these streetcars. I don't understand the obsession Cincinnati city councils have historically had with north/south access routes to the exclusion of all else. For those who don't live in the Queen City, you can travel in a north/south direction fairly easily (minus congestion) but just try to go from Delhi to Madeira (west to east). You could drive from downtown Cincinnati to Middletown or even Dayton in less time. Hopefully the streetcars will address some of the gaps of east/west travel in Cincinnati. After all, we decided to have the "flying pig" as our mascot so I guess anything can happen here.

Federal Transit Administration - U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Announces $293 Million for New Transit Solutions, Economic Development Nationwide

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Turkey update

The Turks are still steamed over the attack on the flotilla. At the same time, Secretary Clinton tried to take a hard line with Russia over break away republics and pretty much lost. The Middle East is perhaps less stable then it has been in the last 20 years. The Obama Administration has lost any credibility, despite reports to the contrary by his ever faithful media, to mitigate the situation between Israel and Turkey. It should be a very interesting summer.

Turkey threatens to cut ties with Israel over Gaza flotilla | World news | The Guardian

Monday, July 5, 2010

George Orwell only scratched the surface

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is blocking certain websites from the federal agency's computers, including halting access by staffers to any Internet pages that contain a "controversial opinion," according to an internal email obtained by CBS News.

TSA to Block "Controversial Opinion" on the Web - CBS News Investigates - CBS News

Sunday, July 4, 2010


The Cincinnati Enquirer ran a story about Volunteers of America (VOA) wanting to start a homeless shelter for veterans in the Camp Washington area. Camp Washington is located west of Clifton and north of Queensgate. Most notable for the Camp Washington Chili Parlor, it takes its name from the military installation located there during the U.S. Mexican war. A statue of a "Dooughboy" soldier is in the park.

What makes this disgusting is the arguments against locating the homeless shelter. Some argue that it is too close to the River City Correctional Center, a treatment center for convicts. The inmates are locked down but Camp Washington officials fear this would create jealousy amongst the inmates since the veterans would be free to roam. I guess the other Camp Washington residents don't create the same issues.

The other criticisms came from local residents who view homeless veterans as something akin to vermin. The perception is all homeless vets are alcoholics or junkies. Certainly there are veterans that suffer from alcoholism and drug dependency but so many others that are not veterans. Given the lack of economic recovery under the current administration, it wouldn't take much for many of these critics to find themselves homeless as well.

The lack of compassion for veterans is particularly offensive to me. Every single veteran once stood proudly at the end of boot camp basic as a newly minted member of the United States military. How dare society take that once proud American and turn their backs on them!

The critics fall into two categories. The first are those that never served. Their ignorance of military service, while understandable, is no excuse for wholesale condemnation of those that did serve. The other group is reprehensible, so called "veterans" that raise an indifferent nose to those less fortunate than they. Both are equally culpable of failing to look out for their fellow man (or now woman).

The United States military does an excellent job of taking the sons (and now daughters) of American hometowns and turning them into warriors. After basic training, it is off to advanced training or technical training to refine either a combat skill or develop a combat support skill. The next 4-20 years is spent sending these young men and women to the great far flung, away from family and friends. Along the way they see things other people can't imagine. They get battered, bruised, maimed physically. Their psyches are torn asunder with images and actions they never thought possible.

Then one day it is time for the person to get out. It could be for a variety of reasons ranging from medical to disciplinary to simply retirement. With the possible exception of a medical discharge, the amount of time spent in leaving the military is a mere fraction of what it took for their initial training.

I once read it takes over a $1 million dollars to train a fighter pilot, something around $500,000 to train a special forces troop. The time spent in this specialized training ranges anywhere from 18-36 months. I doubt if even one percent of that amount is spent discharging someone from the military.

Now the once proud warrior is a little scraggly, perhaps a little demented. They don't talk with those who weren't "there" because they wouldn't get it. Non-veterans look at the disheveled man with a beat up field jacket and ball cap with various military insignia and think, "Nut. Psycho. Junkie. Alcoholic". What isn't understood is that veteran was sent out the front gate without so much as a handshake (in the case of the Vietnam veterans). Even the more recent veterans are sent out the front gate without any transition assistance. I'm not talking about help looking for jobs, I'm talking about real transition training to help the warrior return to being a civilian.

Ask any veteran who just returned from Iraq or Afghanistan what's the hardest part of returning to the civilian world? It moves too slow or people are worried about insignificant crap. The veteran finds himself (or herself) out of sync with the rest of the world. Priorities are different. Snap decisions that saved their lives in theater are now seen as unacceptable. Their wartime skills have little place in the office cubicle. The US government broke them but nobody is stepping up to buy them.

The bickering in the article shows a decided lack of concern for veterans. More disconcerting though is even the so called experts in veterans affairs still view matters in strictly male terms. We are seeing for the first time a whole generation of women COMBAT veterans. Young women are returning from the battle field missing limbs. Their fine features permanently scarred by roadside bombs, how will they be viewed by a society overly obsessed by physical appearance? How long term exposure to combat will effect women is little understood. What is known is when we speak of veterans affairs, we need to include but males and females.

Dangerous Crossroads in World History: Obama’s New Iran Sanctions: An Act of War

Like Bush before him, Obama is too ready to say "Mission accomplished" in Iraq. The internal affairs of Iraq have always been unstable since the beginning of the war. The hand over of internal affairs to the Iraqi government may bring the fragile sovereignty to its knees. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has shifted military and political focus to Afghanistan. Anyone who studies military history will tell you, no foreign power has ever been successful in Afghanistan. Consider the brutally efficient Soviets who could not win in Afghanistan, what chance does the US military, governed by Washington bureaucrats, have?

Now we see that under the radar the Obama administration continues to pick a fight with Iran. Make no mistake, the might Persians are alive and well in Iran and do not like being antagonized by the West. Unlike Iraq, Iran has not been engaged in a war for the last 20 years. They have been able to focus their wealth on developing new weapons, including nuclear weapons, and will challenge either the US or Israel. As the article points out, the Obama administration seems to be hellbent on inciting a shooting war with Iran. The big question is with American forces now being focused on Afghanistan, and with a new commander taking over, what will be the response of the US military? Potentially any military response could incite North Korea to attack South Korea or China to finally attack Taiwan.

Dangerous Crossroads in World History: Obama’s New Iran Sanctions: An Act of War

Drug-smuggling submarine

As early as the mid 1990s, there was talk of South American drug cartels interested in purchasing Soviet era submarines for smuggling purposes. The US Navy should be cleared to sink any of these subs upon being found.

DEA officials said that the diesel electric-powered submarine was constructed in a remote jungle and captured near a tributary close to the Ecuador-Colombia border. Ecuadorean authorities seized the sub before it could make its maiden voyage.

Cincinnati - Ecuadoreans, DEA seize drug-smuggling submarine

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Screening Passengers by Observation Technique (SPOT)

Cal Lightman is a fictional character but TSA is using techniques with even less scientific scrutiny.

"No scientific evidence exists to support the detection or inference of future behaviour, including intent," declares a 2008 report prepared by the JASON defence advisory group. And the TSA had no business deploying SPOT across the nation's airports "without first validating the scientific basis for identifying suspicious passengers in an airport environment", stated a two-year review of the programme released on 20 May by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of the US Congress.

Airport security: Intent to deceive? : Nature News

Thursday, July 1, 2010

World affairs

In no particular order, Gen McChrystal (who has hand-picked by President Obama) gets canned for saying stupid crap to Rolling Stone magazine.

Elena Kagen seems to be guaranteed confirmation despite an complete lack of judicial experience. No surprise as the United States no longer tolerates anyone who has a record of ever expressing any kind of opinion.

The Supreme Court gave a typical schizophrenic read on the Second Amendment, on one abolishing Chicago's handgun ban but with its 5-4 ruling leaving the door open to other restrictions on gun ownership.

The BP oil spill continues to flow more or less unabated and with no end in sight.

Dmitry Medvedev has proposed that the world needs a new reserve currency, namely the Russian ruble. At the same time, Vladmir Putin announces that the Russians have built a comparable fighter aircraft to the F-35 only cheaper.

China continues to buy up American debt while billions of dollars go missing in Iraq (and now reappearing, minus a few billion, in Kabul).

The Greek economy has imploded and now Spain, the odds on favorite for the next failure of the European Union, is experiencing a massive labor strike.

There are probably another dozen or so world events that I'm forgetting. We seem to be in the bow wave of major change with the final destination being even more obscure than ever. Any of the events I've listed above, or ones yet to be revealed, are going to significantly change the world. The intolerance of dissenting views is preventing any discussion from these issues occurring.

Three years of teaching at the community college level has alarmed at the lack of inquisitiveness of new students entering school. Students appear to be lacking in the basics of history and logical thinking. These gaps could be overcome except it has been beat into them since childhood to seek consensus. No one ever really loses, therefore there is no interest in who wins. Overly simplistic perhaps but it seems to fit the lack of interest in affairs beyond their hand-held devices.