Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Air Sickness

Ready for a vacation? You’re not alone.

According to a recent poll for the U.S. Travel Association, 59
percent of adults are planning a trip this year before July.

That means when you travel, you’ll be rubbing elbows and other body
parts with 138 million people.

While you’re contemplating that, think about this:

If you’re preferred mode of travel this summer is commercial air,
there will be some turbulence ahead.

For one thing, the air traffic controllers in this country seem to be
asleep at the wheel.

First, a controller at Reagan National in Washington, D.C. was
suspended for sleeping on the job, forcing two planes to land without

Then, the pilot of a medical plane was unable to reach the controller
on duty at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Nevada. The pilot
decided to land after 16 minutes, citing concern over the health of a
patient he was transporting.

Other incidents of unresponsive controllers occurred in Miami, in
Lubbock, Tex. and at King County International Airport/Boeing Field
in Seattle, where a controller had fallen asleep once during a shift
on April 11, and twice during a Jan. 6 shift.

All of which should come as no surprise. Witness air traffic
controllers at major airports like LAX and Chicago and it’s like
watching someone juggling a couple dozen chain saws. No slip-ups

Add to the pressure the requirement that controllers are
expected to cover different shifts in a 24-hour operation and you
have a recipe for slumber.

Yet, controllers are not allowed a “cat nap” while on break. Federal
law, however, mandates sleep requirements for truck drivers.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, in a dubious show of leadership,
announced he was making sure controllers would get an extra hour off
between shifts to alleviate the problem. Which is like putting a
Band-Aid on a broken leg.

Then there are the ticket prices.

According to a story in the New York Times, carriers have already
increased their fares four times since the start of the year,
compared with only three increases for all of 2010. The airlines have
also raised some of their fees, imposed summer peak-time surcharges
and added hefty fuel surcharges on international flights.

It would be heartening if income from these increases was to be used
for something like providing cots for air traffic controllers.

But no, they are being driven by spiraling oil prices.
Why oil prices are increasing is subject to debate. But it’s
interesting they usually coincide with vacation season.

Next, there’s the airworthiness factor. Southwest Airlines recently
grounded its fleet of Boeing 737-300s for inspection after one of its
planes was forced to make an emergency landing recently with a
five-foot hole in the roof of the cabin.

Earlier, United Airlines grounded its fleet of 96 Boeing 757s after
discovering it had not completed safety checks on a critical
equipment upgrade required by federal aviation regulators.
Which followed a mandate to U.S. airlines to inspect 683 Boeing Co.
757 planes for cracks after a hole opened on an American Airlines
plane earlier this year.

You might want to bring some duct tape when you fly.

Finally, there’s the Transportation Security Administration, those
good hands people who, despite thousands of complaints, continue with
their body scans and “enhanced” pat-down policy.

Just this past week, the TSA drew fire for patting down a 6-year-old
girl in New Orleans, because something “was amiss” when she passed
through a body scanner.

Maybe Hello Kitty is on the no-fly list.

It’s unclear if the child was traumatized by the incident although
there’s a good chance she’ll feel an irresistible urge to join the
ACLU when she grows up.

Is there any good news out there?

Well, there’s a new set of passenger-rights rules proposed by the
Department of Transportation.

The new regulations, set to take effect later this year, would add
international flights to the current ban on keeping passengers
stranded on a delayed domestic flight for more than three hours.

The rules would also require airlines to reimburse passengers for bag
fees if their bags are lost, increase the compensation for passengers
who are bumped from flights, and require airlines to prominently
disclose extra fees on their websites.

In other words, basic passenger comfort and fairness in business
dealings are now a matter of law, the result of industry abuses.

Don’t lecture me about excess regulation.

Happy landings.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Trump Card

With the announcement that he intends to run for reelection,
President Obama has kicked off what pundits call the race for the
White House but I like to think of as the quadrennial political

Step right up folks and see daring politicians walk the tightrope of
truth. Be amazed by the hundreds of millions of dollars spent. Hear
astounding campaign promises. Witness daring feats of character

Like most circuses, this show features plenty of clowns.
Few Democrats will appear in the center ring, however. The President
will be the nominee of his party and we will be spared the usual
parade of hopefuls and has-beens who engage in buffoonery this time
of year.

Who would challenge him? Hillary Clinton might be interested if it
appeared Sarah Palin might become the first female president.

Jerry Brown has been a perennial candidate. Indeed, if he straightens
out the California fiscal disaster he should be made Emperor for
Life. He won’t, of course, so put away the scepter and crown.

Which brings us to the Republicans who have no shortage of bewigged,
bulbous nosed, floppy footed, seltzer-down-the-pants characters.

It is not our purpose today to list them all because one stands above
all others. He is the clown of clowns, a man whose campaign to become
President of the United States is a pie in the face of voters

Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, I give you Donald Trump.

Cue the calliope music.

OK, I know we’ve heard this one before. He’s been talking about the
presidency for the last decade but always stayed on the sideline.

This time, however, he has caught the eye of the conservatives who
are very big this year in Republican circles. Trump wowed them at the
Conservative Political Action Conference meeting in Washington
recently by saying that “the United States has become a whipping post
for the rest of the world.”

The Fox network has given him his own show. Rush Limbaugh praised
him. And he’s willing to spend hundreds of millions of his own
dollars (he ought to check with Meg Whitman and Ross Perot before
he starts writing checks).

Is this the year the Executive Mansion becomes the House of Trump?

Is the world ready for a President who combs his hair with a
Cuisinart and isn’t acting in his role as a snarling boss/jerk on a
reality show?.

Will the American public embrace a candidate who, in a blatant
attempt to court the Tea Party fringe, has made the centerpiece of
his campaign the Obama birth certificate nonsense which has been
discredited by the likes of former President George Bush, Karl Rove
and John McCain?

The answers, in no particular order, are no, no and no.

Donald Trump, if he were to become a serious candidate, would have
one primary motive and it isn’t service to his country. Donald Trump
is interested in promoting Donald Trump.

His political ambitions have always coincided with hawking of the
Trump brand.

He traveled to New Hampshire to test the waters in 1987 just ahead of
the presidential primaries and just in time for the release of his
book, “The Art of the Deal,” according to the New York Times.

In 1999, he flirted with a presidential campaign just as his book,
“The America We Deserve,” was released.

This time his decision to run or not will coincide with the finale of
his TV show “Celebrity Apprentice.” Just a coincidence, I guess.

And the media buys into it each and every time.

“Trump and the press have a symbiotic relationship, not unlike bees
and flowers,” William Grueskin, dean of academic affairs for the
Columbia Journalism School said in a recently published interview.
“At least in the natural world, you get honey out of it. Out of this
campaign coverage, all you get are a lot of empty media moments about
someone who is unlikely to run, more unlikely to be nominated, and
utterly unlikely to win.”

There are few other problems with the Trumpster as well. He has
donated liberally to the Democratic Party in New York as recently as

He considers China not only a foe but a rude one at that. “These are
not our friends. These are our enemies. These are not people that
understand niceness,” he said on CNN.

He has gone from “pro-choice” to “pro-life.”

In fact, he has quickly transformed himself from what one pundit
several years ago described as a “liberal leaning populist” to a
steely eyed hawk.

Stripped away of the trappings of wealth and fame, Donald Trump is
just a salesman.

And I’m betting the American public ain’t buying.

Monday, April 04, 2011

LOL at the King's English

Think of the Oxford Dictionary and you think of a rock-ribbed,
tradition-hugging defender of the King’s English.

Or so we were led to believe.

The Oxford wordsmiths, however, recently announced that they were
adding LOL and OMG to their dictionary because words "like these are
strongly associated with the language of electronic communications,"
and have entered the mainstream because of how easy they are to use.

Welcome to the post-literate society, the era of the three-second
attention span, the world of techno-babble. All brought to you by the
Oxford English Dictionary.

Or to put it another way, OMG, I’d LOL if it wasn’t so tragic, IMHO.
(For those who need a translation, it reads “Oh My God, I’d Laugh Out
Loud if it wasn’t so tragic In My Humble Opinion..”)

Look, I’m no wizened grammarian whose last whose last slang utterance
was “23 Skidoo.”

I’m not suggesting we draw the line at anything written or spoken
this side of the Elizabethan era. I certainly understand that words
and phrases reflecting popular culture enter into the lexicon by the

But there’s something cold and sterile about using acronyms or geek
speak in place of words. Words, in whatever language, paint pictures,
convey ideas, excite the imagination, conjure up visions both dark
and beautiful.

I am not swept away on the wings of language when I read
thumb-generated gossip in abbreviated form understood primarily by
13-year-old girls who are BFF (best friends forever).

I’d like to think that if the Hemmingways and Fitzgeralds and
Steinbecks were still with us, they’d shun expressing themselves in
140 characters or less on their Twitter account.

The Oxford bunch, after succumbing to what they call “initialism,”
for good measure throw in “wag,” “notable for the extremely fast
journey from its introduction to the language to its use as usual
English vocabulary. In 2002, the Sunday Telegraph reported that the
staff at the England footballers’ pre-World Cup training camp
referred to the players’ partners collectively as ‘Wags’, from the
initial letters of ‘wives and girlfriends’.

“Such was the exposure the term received in this period that it
became a byword for the female partners of male professionals (in
football and in other spheres).”

I’m not sure but I think if I referred to my wife as a “wag” I’d be
SOTC (sleeping on the couch).

And if all the above isn’t distressing enough, the Oxfordians also
added “la-la land which can refer either to Los Angeles(in which case
its etymology is influenced by the common initialism for that city),
or to a state of being out of touch with reality—and sometimes to
both simultaneously.”

La-La-Land is a place where you can eat a “taquito” or a “California
roll,” two other words the Brits have just discovered and added to
their dictionary.

Is that any way to treat a city that just bestowed its highest honor
on a movie called “The King’s Speech”?

To be sure, the Oxford folks have anointed some words and phrases
that are clever such as dot-bomb (a failed internet company) and
couch surfing (the practice of spending the night on other people’s
couches in lieu of permanent housing).

There’s also ego surf (to surf the World Wide Web looking for
references to one's name, via search engines) and godbotherer, in
England a person who insists on promoting his or her religious
beliefs on others, whether they want it or not.

And our Oxford friends, who, by the way, refer to their publication
as the OED, point out that many of these terms aren’t really new.
“As such usage indicates, many people would consider these recent
coinages, from the last 10 or 20 years, and associate them with a
younger generation conversant with all forms of digital
communications. As is often the case, OED’s research has revealed
some unexpected historical perspectives: our first quotation for OMG
is from a personal letter from 1917; the letters LOL had a previous
life, starting in 1960, denoting an elderly woman (or ‘little old

Not that a little history justifies dumbing down the language.

Samuel Johnson must be TOIHG (turning over in his grave) in MNSHO (my
not so humble opinion).