Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Two for the price of one!

Here it is, folks; the day we've all been waiting for. Northwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines, both going bankrupt the same day!

I bet all those Northwest mechanics, striking from their $37/hour jobs, feel pretty stupid now. Yesterday they lost their jobs (Northwest began hiring permanent replacements) and today they will lose their pensions. Happy retirement job hunting!

Who would have predicted two of America's largest and best-known companies would become penny-stocks?

Plenty of people. At this point it is clear that the US aviation industry is an unmitigated disaster. United Airlines. US Airways. Delta. Northwest. Our biggest air carriers are completely and universally unable to turn a profit. Nor is this a recent phenomenon brought on by rising fuel costs, Hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq, or the September 11 attacks. For decades, the airlines have been playing this game, blaming external events for their failure and getting bailed out by the US government.

There are two solutions for this problem. One is to nationalize US aviation. The other is to let the free market run its course. No more bail-outs. No more emergency federal loans. If an airline can't turn a profit, they go out of business. Anything less will just prolong the problem, and increase the cost taxpayers must eventually bear.

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Friday, September 09, 2005

On the lighter side...

Recent discoveries suggest that pterosaurs, the flying reptiles living at the same time as dinosaurs, grew to sizes that are frankly mind-blowing.

Newly found Romanian and Brazilian fossils indicate a wingspan greater than 40 feet, and possibly as much as 60 feet.

For comparison, today's biggest flying bird, the wandering albatross, has a wingspan of about 11 feet. Looked at another way, this is about the size of a commercial airplane capable of carrying 20 to 30 passengers.

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Jose Padilla follow-up

What's that? You say you've forgotten who that is?

Let me remind you.

A US citizen, Padilla was arrested in Chicago in May 2002, on suspicion of planning to detonate a "dirty bomb." President Bush declared Padilla an "enemy combatant," a designation created by Bush that allows the military to hold someone indefinitely without charges. Since then, for three years, Padilla has been held in the Navy brig in Charleston, SC.

A ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that this was legal. Apparently you can become a federal judge without reading the US Constitution.

"The exceedingly important question before us is whether the president of the United States possesses the authority to detain militarily a citizen of this country who is closely associated with al-Qaeda. We conclude that the president does possess such authority," read the ruling written by Judge Michael Luttig, who is seen as one of Mr Bush's possible nominations for the Supreme Court.

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Sticking our collective nose in other countries' business

In the grand tradition of US intervention in Latin America, Roger Noriega, the Assistant Secretary of State for the Americas, suggested that Nicaragua's congress should think twice before impeaching their President, Enrique Bolanos. "If there were this kind of judicial mugging of President Bolanos I think the [inter-American] community would respond very, very forcibly," Noriega said.

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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Striking mechanics just don't get it

Northwest Airlines' striking mechanics just don't seem to get it. The mechanics average about $70,000 a year in pay. They were willing to take a 20% pay cut, but no the 25% cut the company proposed. This represents a new average pay of $56,000 versus $52,500. Today in negotiations Northwest demanded even steeper cuts.

I know there is some hardball negotiating going on here, but the mechanics need to consider their position. Northwest has done reasonably well with its replacement workers, and has said it will begin hiring permanent replacements on Tuesday if a deal has not been reached. Northwest clearly has a lot of bargaining power here, since it has such an alternative. What alternative do the mechanics have? They will probably be lucky to get jobs that would match even the 25% pay cuts that Northwest was offering.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Insight from abroad

The following is from a comment on this Gadgetopia post:

Hello, I am from Germany and probably get different informations than you get.

It is a terrible thing what happens in New Orleans at the moment. How can the wealthiest country in the world forget their own people?

Why don`t they get enough food and water to the people for five days?

Why can`t they evacuate 100.000 people in five or six days?

In many countries the USA have a problem with their reputation because of the IRAQ WAR. Your President MR BUSH seems to have special interests in OIL. And the people who voted for him were mostly white.

New Orleans doesn`t seem to have OIL nore WHITE People. It did not seem to interest him for the first three to four days. Praying is just not enough at some stage…

I just cannot imagine, that it is not possible to send to drink (coke, beer, water , whatever) and food to those people in 1 day. Why did it had to take 6 days????

You should ask your president these questions and don`t let him get away with his view to a great future.

Let me say one thing: Mr. Bush in one of the craziest COWBOYS you have ever had as a president…

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SBC: A story

Let me tell you a story about the telephone company. I call this little story, "I Want My Two Dollars! Two Dollars!"

Once upon a time, Carter lived in Ann Arbor, and he used either a calling card or a cell phone for long distance calls. So for the land line, he had local service from Ameritech, which changed its name to SBC, and no long-distance service at all. Carter was perfectly happy with this arrangement, and no one else seemed to mind much either.

Then he moved and when Carter called SBC to transfer the phone service he was told that they must select a long-distance provider. If you had tapped the phone line when Carter made that call, you would have broken the law. But you also would have heard a conversation something like this:

SBC Rep: You must have a long-distance provider selected.
Carter: But I don't use this phone for long-distance. In fact, I don't even use it for local calls! All I use it for is dialing up my ISP, which I get free.
SBC Rep: Dialing up to the internet? {Insert DSL sales pitch here}.
Carter: No. I'm not going to pay that much ($25 for the phone line + $25 for DSL = $50 to get online!). And I don't want a long-distance provider either.
SBC Rep: Tell you what. SBC has a long-distance plan with no monthly fee. So you only pay for the calls you make. If you don't make any calls, it won't cost you anything.
Carter: (Still pissed off about the hassle he just got from the gas/electric company, and tired of arguing.) Fine. Give me that.

So Carter moved to Livonia, and never used the phone except to connect to their ISP. In fact, most of the time the phone wasn't even plugged into the jack! Then Carter moved again, to Holland (the small city in western Michigan, not the small nation in western Europe). SBC didn't hassle Carter about transfering his service this time, and Carter didn't even think about the long-distance, which they had never used, and never paid for not using.

Well, the months went by, and then one day Carter noticed something on the back of his phone bill. Amidst all the irrelevant information and advertising was a little notice saying something to the effect of:
Dear customer, unfortunately for you, we have decided that we just aren't making any money off this long-distance plan. For some reason, the people who choose this plan (no monthly/annual fee, high per minute charge) don't really make a lot of long-distance calls. Who could have predicted that? So we're discontinuing this plan. You can stay on it as long as you want, but we're going to start charging you a $2 monthly fee.

As you can well imagine, Carter wasn't too happy about this. So one morning when the phone in question was inexplicably out of service, in addition to calling in the service request, Carter decided to take a minute to talk to someone about this.

Carter: Good morning! I noticed on the back of my recent bill that my long-distance plan is being discontinued and you are going to charge me a $2 monthly fee until I change or cancel the service.
SBC Rep: That's right.
Carter: Do you have any long-distance plans without a monthly fee?
SBC Rep: No, yours was the only one and now it's gone.
Carter: In that case, I'd like to cancel this long distance service. Seeing as how I never use it and didn't really ask for it - I was told that I had to have a plan - I am really not interested in paying for it.
SBC Rep: Sure thing. I do need to let you know there is a $10.44 cancellation fee.
Carter: (Blowing his top.) So let me get this straight. For a plan which I didn't want, have never used, and will never use, you are going to either charge me $2/month or $10 to cancel it!
SBC Rep: Those are the charges, yes.
Carter: I will not pay either of those fees. Those were not disclosed when I signed up for this plan and I have never agreed to them. I want you to cancel it at no charge.
SBC Rep: I am telling you now that if I cancel it you will be charged.
Carter: Fine. Then let me talk to your manager.
SBC Rep: I am an account manager [Note: if you don't know this is fancy language for salesperson].
Carter: If you can't do this at no charge, then I want to talk to your supervisor.
SBC Rep: My supervisor will have to charge you for this also.
Carter: I am sure there is someone in the company who can waive a $10 charge.
SBC Rep: $10.44. And no, there isn't.
Carter: (Having a creative thought.) What if I cancel all my phone service? Would you still charge me?
SBC Rep: No.
Carter: So you're telling me that SBC would rather lose me completely than just lose my long-distance service?
SBC Rep: (Getting frustrated.) Let me transfer you to someone in customer service who may be able to help you.
Carter: (Wondering who I've been talking to all this time - customer disservice?) OK.
SBC Rep: Before I transfer you {Insert DSL sales pitch here}.

That's right, after all that she actually had the nerve to try to sell Carter DSL (and at $15 above SBC's advertised price)! So eventually someone in customer service picked up Carter's call, and told him that despite what he read on his statement, and despite what the first person told him, there would not be a $2 charge. Did Carter believe her? (Give me a break! Would you believe her?) Of course not. So being a sensible person, (and mistaking Rep #2 for a sensible, if uninformed, person) Carter thought it might be a good idea to pin her down.

Carter: If I do get this $2 fee, will you reverse it for me?
Rep #2: You won't get a $2 fee.
Carter: I understand that. But another rep just told me I would.
Rep #2: I'm sorry they must have been wrong.
Carter: Obviously someone is wrong. I'm worried that it's you. If I get this $2 fee, will you reverse it for me?
Rep #2: You won't get a $2 fee. (Can you say 'broken record'?)
Carter: I understand that you are telling me I won't get a $2 fee. So if I do, it's a mistake, right? So if I get this $2 fee you will fix that mistake and reverse the fee for me, right?
Rep #2: (Not sounding entirely sure.) Right.
Carter: Great! Talk to you in a month when I need that two dollars back!
Rep #2: (Stunned.)
Carter: [click.]

Carter has learned his lesson. Next time he moves, he is not going to get a land-line at all. He will just going to get broadband from the cable company. The cost is about the same as a phone line + DSL, and the cable company won't give him shit about my long-distance provider.

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Friday, September 02, 2005

$1,000,000 Boing Boing award

Flying Spaghetti Monster follow-up.

On August 19, Boing Boing offered a $1,000,000 award for anyone who "can produce empirical evidence which proves that Jesus is not the son of the Flying Spaghetti Monster."

Many bloggers offered to add further to the award, which was rejected "...because many of you offered sums payable in "whisky and wenches," or "ho's 'n' blow," neither of which really count."

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"The most powerful kiss in history"

Louise Kelsey, 58, was working at the Park Hyatt in Melbourne, Australia on November 19, 2001 (the day before Uruguay's first World Cup playoff against Australia), when an Uruguayan soccer player kissed her against her will.

She said the player was flirting with her, saying she had beautiful eyes. He then grabbed her as she left and kissed her.

Ms Kelsey told the Victorian County Court her post traumatic stress disorder after the incident exacerbated her nystagmus - a pre-existing condition that causes involuntary eye movement. She was declared legally blind in August 2002.

The Park Hyatt's defence team does not dispute that an incident occurred, but it put forward a doctor, who said the kiss must have been "the most powerful kiss in history" if it caused its recipient to become legally blind.

The hearing is ongoing.

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In the wake of the storm

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Michael Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services, said a public health emergency warning was in place from Louisiana to Florida. He said there were grave concerns about cholera, typhoid and dehydrating diseases.

Mr. Leavitt's warning may have missed the mark, however; outbreaks of diseases such as cholera and typhoid are not probable because the microbes which carry them are virtually non-existent in the US, and so an outbreak like the one in West Africa is very unlikely.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) records from previous US disasters show the majority of medical problems after the events have been associated with diarrhoea and asthma. The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration are advising people to throw away food that may have come into contact with flood water and only to drink bottled water.

Dr Glenn Morris, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Maryland Medical School in Baltimore, said: "The biggest problem is the sewage contamination of the water. Just splashing around in the water, if there is sewage contamination there is a risk you could get it on to your hands and get it into your mouth." He said viruses such as hepatitis A could be a threat as well as dangerous strains of E.coli.

As many wild animals have been pushed from their normal habitats into limited dry areas (and hence into closer contact with people), rabies may become a problem. Another problem may be mosquito-borne diseases, such as West Nile Viral Encephalitis. Stagnant flood waters may result in a booming mosquito population. WNVE killed more than 200 people in the US in 2004.

Fortunately, these diseases are not directly transmitted from person to person, and so as the water recedes and order returns to the area, any disease outbreak should die off quickly.

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Wasn't that a mighty storm?

I've held off posting on Hurricane Katrina for nearly a week, but I can't keep my mouth shut any longer. There is only one reason that nine people died in Florida, hundreds in Mississippi, and probably thousands in Louisiana.

Human stupidity.

Human stupidity, for all the people in Florida who didn't evacuate. ("Oh, it's just a Category 1 storm.") Even a 'weak' hurricane is quite a force to be reckoned with, as nine families now know all too well.

Human stupidity, for the people in the Louisiana and Mississippi gulf coast who chose not to evacuate. They don't even have the excuse of the Floridians; this was a Category 5 hurricane, one of the strongest ever in the Atlantic, bearing down on them. There was plenty of time to evacuate; warnings were going out on Friday and the storm didn't hit until Monday morning.

When New Orleans ordered a 'mandatory evacuation', approximately 20% of the population (including the mayor) didn't leave. They can call it 'mandatory' until they are blue in the face, but this evacuation was clearly voluntary.

Here's the worst part, though. It seems that the evacuation order only applied to people with cars, and with money to pay inflated gas and hotel prices. More than 9,000 people took shelter (I know they don't want to call it a shelter, but please, look the word up; it is what it is) in the Superdome; many were waiting in line all day Sunday to get in. Why didn't 250 busses take these people to the Astrodome, out of harm's way, before the hurricane hit? Wouldn't that have been easier than waiting until 3+ days after the storm to evacuate? Isn't it likely that if evacuation had been free, a lot more people would have left?

I remember one September,
When storm winds swept the town;
The high tide from the ocean, Lord,
Put water all around.

cho: Wasn't that a mighty day,
A mighty day, a mighty day,
Great God, that morning
When the storm winds swept the town!

There was a sea-wall there in Galveston
To keep the waters down,
But the high tide from the ocean, Lord,
Put water in the town.

The trumpets warned the people,
'You'd better leave this place!'
But they never meant to leave their homes
Till death was in their face.

The trains they all were loaded
With people leaving town;
The tracks gave way to the ocean, Lord,
And the trains they went on down.

The seas began to rolling,
The ships they could not land;
I heard a Captain crying,
'God, please save a drowning man!'

The waters, like some river,
Came a-rushing to and fro;
I saw my father drowning, God,
And I watched my mother go!

Now death, your hands are icy;
You've got them on my knee.
You took away my mother,
Now you're coming after me!

Somewhere between 8,000 and 12,000 people died in the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and it remains the deadliest natural disaster ever to strike the US. Katrina may surpass that number; as of last night more than 20,000 people were still missing.

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