Happy New Year!
Do you trust Facebook to keep all of your data - all of you photos, chats, posts? What happens if there is a cyber attack on Facebook that wipes it all out. Will you be OK with that? Maybe its time to download a copy of your Facebook data.
Its easy to do. Just click the down arrow on Facebook's tool bar and choose Settings.
That will take you to your Account Settings. At the bottom of the General Account Settings, click the link to "Download a copy of your Facebook data."
It will ask you to confirm your password, and then it will put together a Zip file of your data that you can download. Easy peasy.
We tried secession once before. Ending slavery in the South was a laudable goal. Keeping the union together? Maybe not. So, before things get completely out of hand as they did in the 1860’s, let’s be adult about this and agree to go our separate ways.
The lines of the six new countries are pretty obvious:
- Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland become New America.
- The Confederate States of Dixie comprise Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.
- Then we have Centeram – Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Missouri, and Kansas.
- Heading westward we get to the states of Westeram: New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and the Dakotas.
- Pacifica simply contains California, Oregon, and Washington. Easy.
- Last, but not least, is, of course, Texas.
In the 2016 election season, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s slogan was, “Stronger Together.” With all due respect, I don’t think that’s true. We hate each other. Our language is full of derogatory terms for the "others" that aren't "us" – hicks, city slickers, northern intellectual elites, carpet baggers, hoi polloi, and so on… We are not one great nation standing together – and we never have been. The US constitution reflects the lack of trust between the original 13 colonies. As America has grown, this has become ever worse – distrust has become disgust.
Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign showed quite clearly that racial, religious, ethnic, and regional hatred never went away – it was just considered inappropriate to show it in public. We are, in fact, weaker together; frustrated, angered, and slowed down by fear and resentment of “other” Americans. There are some fights that are worth fighting, and others that just grind the participants down.
Fortunately, we’ve already sorted ourselves into discrete regions. Let’s just go ahead and recognize that on the map. Granted, there will be some cost, inconvenience, and confusion involved. Maps will need to be reprinted, along with signs, documents, and so on. Each new country will need a capital, currency, a postal service, army, police, and a judicial system. Each will also need to write its own constitution, or use the obsolete US constitution. Each will need to decide what political system to adopt – a President and Congress, a parliamentary system, or something else – and what portion of the laws of the old USA they want to retain. Treaties will need to be renegotiated, and the UN will need to add more seats.
There will be some interesting questions to consider, such as, is a person a citizen of the region/country where they were born, or of the region/country where they resided at the time of the division. There will need to be agreements in place to allow people to remain where they are, even if they are no longer citizens of that nation. Finally, the new countries will have to allow free trade and open borders for at least the first decade or so.
But these are all details. The USSR broke up into more than a dozen countries. It was painful, no doubt, but they were weaker together. So too with what was once Yugoslavia. While the death toll doesn’t begin to compare to the civil war there, Americans are killing each other over our differences. Let’s learn from those that came before us and break up into the set of nations that will make us happy.
I look forward to being a proud citizen of the nation of Pacifica.
November 4, 2016 - Washington DC
In a startling development, FBI director James Comey has sent another letter to members of Congress informing them of a further expansion of the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's handling of emails.
The full text of director Comey's letter follows.
Will changes to air traffic control improve US aviation safety?
One of the goals of the FAA’s NextGen “Next Generation” Air Traffic Control System is increased aerospace safety. This is something we should all be able get behind. Isn’t it? The safer they can make flying, the better. Right? Right? Um, maybe. Before jumping to conclusions, let’s take a look at how NextGen addresses enhancing safety.
When most of us think of the dangers of air travel, we are pretty much worrying about not crashing, or being hijacked or abducted by terrorists. Changing air traffic routing has nothing to do with terrorists or other hijackers, but there is no doubt that not crashing is one of my personal priorities when travelling for pleasure or business. What causes airplanes to crash? There are a handful of factors involving equipment failure, human error, and mother nature (e.g. weather, clouds, lighting, birds, pterodactyls).
How can NextGen stop planes from crashing? NextGen only addresses air traffic control, so it has nothing to do with equipment failures, weather, or flying dinosaurs. While the FAA works tirelessly to help protect us from mistakes made by ground crew, as well as pilots that may be poorly trained, overworked, psychologically unstable, or otherwise unqualified, NextGen wont help with any of that either. By changing flight patters, the FAA claims that NextGen will reduce hazards that arise from congested air space, crossing flight paths, and air traffic controller errors. This is important because it will help to stop the scourge of mid-air collisions that are plaguing our skies. Wait. Huh? The scourge of mid-air collisions that are plaguing our skies? What scourge of mid-air collisions that are plaguing our skies?
From the fiery end of the Hindenburg to the attacks of 9/11, there have been disasters throughout the history of aviation. Some will recall Valujet flight 592, which crashed near Miami after a fire erupted in the cargo hold. The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370 may never be solved. Air France flight 447 cost the lives of 228 people; the unexplained explosion of TWA flight 800 will long be remembered. The "Bermuda Triangle" seems to have claimed many an airplane. Celebrities including Amelia Erhard to Buddy Holly, Patsy Cline, Otis Redding, and many others have died in airplanes.
But air traffic controllers (ATC) did not direct the airplanes that struck the World Trade Center towers on 9/11. The one thing we know about MH370 is that it was out of contact with ATC when it disappeared, and it was definitely not in US airspace. Actions by controllers could not have saved any of the airplanes brought down by fire or explosion. The region of the Bermuda Triangle is not controlled by the FAA, and if the planes lost there had been in contact with ATC, their disappearance might not be such a mystery. Celebrities killed in airplane crashes virtually always died in private planes, not commercial flights under ATC guidance.
The history of mid-air collisions in the US
In the middle of the 20th century there were a series of mid-air collisions in the US that prompted the Federal Aviation Act of 1958. This act created the Federal Aviation Agency (later renamed the Federal Aviation Administration) whose primary responsibility was air traffic safety. The FAA has done a great job. According to Wikipedia, since the founding of the FAA in August 1958, there have been just 14 mid-air collisions (exclusive of military aircraft which fall outside the purview of the FAA.) Of course, each of these was a tragedy. But most of them were not commercial flights controlled by ATC.
One incident involved a collision of a commercial flight with a military plane. The two most recent collisions in US airspace involved news helicopters colliding in one case, and a private plane hitting a tour helicopter in the other. None of these would have been avoided if NextGen had been implemented at the time.
Of the remaining 11 mid-air tragedies, 8 involved private planes striking commercial jets. It has been suggested that NextGen actually increases the hazard of collisions between commercial and private flights (aka “general aviation”.) The reason is that on takeoff and landing, commercial flights are now flying at lower altitudes, closer to the airspace where private planes fly. Whether or not this is true, NextGen does not address general aviation, so there is no reason to believe that it would decrease collisions between private planes, private planes and commercial airliners, or helicopter accidents. Even if NextGen did make it safer for commercial and private aircraft to share the same airspace, there have been no such collisions since 1990 – twenty-six years of safe flying in our skies.
The remaining three mid-air collisions happened in the 1960's, killing a total of 220 people. The first, the “Park Slope Plane Crash” of 1960, was the result of a combination of equipment failure, failed communications, and human error. The 1965 “Carmel Collision” could indeed have been avoided by better air traffic control. Thankfully, in that incident, of 112 people onboard there were only 4 fatalities, due to the efforts of the pilots of the two planes. Lastly, a mid-air collision in 1967 could probably have been avoided through better air traffic control. Would improvements by the FAA have saved these lives? Quite possibly. But keep in mind that these incidents occurred almost 50 years ago.
A virtually perfect record
There are over 31 million commercial flights over the USA each year, yet there have only been three incidents involving collisions of two commercial flights since the FAA was established, and none in almost 50 years. Over 600 million people fly in our skies each year. Of the billions of people that have traveled by air since the founding of the FAA 57 years ago, just 220 of them died in accidents that might be attributed to air traffic control. I don’t want to sound crass to people whose lives were touched by these events, but, statistically speaking, commercial air travel has been almost 100% safe from the kind of crashes that NextGen claims to address.
The FAA proposes that NextGen will improve safety. But how can it? How do you improve on an almost perfect record? There is no scourge of mid-air collisions that needs to be addressed. Travelling by plane is incredibly safe. Even if we include private planes, helicopters, military aircraft, and crashes that didn’t involve air traffic control, it is not dangerous to fly. When considering the number of flights, miles flown, billions of passengers carried, and tons of cargo delivered, air travel is astonishingly safe.
Safety is a red herring
NextGen may well have benefits in terms of efficiency, fuel savings, convenience, time saving, and increases in capacity. It is well worth considering how significant these improvements may be, and the trade-offs for people in the air and on the ground. However, the FAA’s claim that NextGen somehow improves on the near-perfect record of American air traffic control is specious. When debating the merits of NextGen, we should be concerned about not harming the extraordinary safety of air travel we all currently enjoy. Claims of increased safety should be left out of the argument.
As always, I look forward to reading your thoughts.
April 20, 2017, 11:35 AM EDT
Washington, DC (AP) -- At a press conference today, newly appointed Surgeon General, Dr. Bob “Biff” Tannen, reported that an additional 216 workers on the Trans-Mexico Peace Wall have come down with the Zika virus, bringing the total to 892. When asked about the Government’s response to this health crisis, Dr. Tannen replied that he and President Trump had come up with a plan to stop the virus, which he described as “tremendous.” Pressed for details, the Surgeon General would only say that the plan would “win against Shitka [sic]” and that it was “the best plan ever.” He also noted that Mexico would be paying for the Zika eradication program.
Dr. Thomas Frieden, respected expert on the Zika virus and former Director of the CDC, was contacted for his thoughts on the outbreak at his new home in Geneva, Switzerland. When asked about the Trump-Tannen plan for fighting Zika, Dr. Frieden responded, “Call me in four years. Until then I recommend holding your breath.” Frieden, and much of the rest of the CDC staff, emigrated after President Trump defunded the CDC, using their budget to purchase gold letters and “dazzle lighting” for the Washington Monument Renovation project.
As readers of this blog may know, I am fond of thought experiments. They help me get my brain around an issue. The other day I got to wondering about what would have happened if the impacts of NextGen were not the discomfort, annoyance, and potential loss of property values that are currently being reported. What if NextGen were fatal?
What if, for every day that NextGen were in place, some number of people living under the new flight paths died. Random people. Not young or old, or with impaired immune systems. Not people of any particular race, ethnicity or socio-economic status. For no apparent reason, every day, when a plane went over, some number of people would die.
Lets think about what would happen if in every region where NextGen was rolled out, one thousand people per day living under the new flight paths died. I would hope that NextGen would be rolled back instantly. They wouldn’t just stop the rollout. They wouldn’t form committees to study the problem. They would immediately roll back the implementation of the plan. There would be mass migrations of people away from the affected areas – even after the rollback. There would be congressional hearings, firings of engineers and scientists, lawsuits, and massive reparations. Right?
OK. That’s an extreme thought experiment. One thousand people per day is a lot of deaths. What if it were one hundred, or ten, or just one? There are millions of people in the bay area. What if NextGen measurably improved airplane safety and efficiency, but, as a direct result of the changed flight plans, one person on the ground died every day that wouldn’t have died under the prior air traffic system? I imagine that the effect would be the same as with one thousand people killed per day.
Let’s continue. What if it were one person per month? Or one person per year? What if the implementation of NextGen would cause the random death of one person per century? What if there were a one in a million chance that in any given year a person would die? It could be this year, or, it could be a million years from now. At what point would we say that was acceptable “collateral damage” for a new level of aerospace safety and efficiency? After all, even if the one death happened this year, it still probably wouldn’t be you. Right? What number would you choose? Or, is there any number of deaths that would be deemed acceptable? If we knew for certain that the chances were one in a million, or one in a billion, or one in a trillion, would people be willing to live under flight paths? I live quite close to the Hayward fault. We are overdue for a major earthquake. When that happens, some number of people are likely to die. But housing prices in my area have never been higher.
What about the other end of the spectrum? What if airplanes were silent and invisible? What if they were undetectable without radar or other special equipment? Now imagine that some people living under NextGen flight paths complained that they were scared by the idea that there were airplanes above them. What if some people said that they were terrified by the possibility of an engine falling off of a plane, or an invisible airplane suddenly crashing into their house? What if they said that they couldn’t sleep, their health was failing, and they could no long work, just from the thought of airplanes above them?
Would we expect the FAA to accommodate one person complaining that their life was being ruined by the fear of airplanes, even though there was no tangible impact on them? What if ten people were so effected? What if 10% of people under the flight paths were having their lives significantly affected by the knowledge that airplanes were flying over their neighborhood, even though there was no evidence of their passage? Would the FAA, Congress, and the nation declare that these people were just nuts? Would they say that progress should not be impeded by delusions? What if it were 20%? Or 50%? What if 100% of people living under NextGen flight paths indicated that they were being negatively impacted simply because there were airplanes up there somewhere? Is there any number of people complaining of "irrational" fears that would cause a change in NextGen?
To me the most important question is, who gets to make these decisions? The benefits are some amount of predicted increase in safety and efficiency*. The impacts lie somewhere on a scale from millions of deaths to the unfounded fears of one person. But who gets to decide the trade-off?
As it currently stands, Congress empowered the FAA to make the rules, and then directed them to develop a Next Generation air traffic control system with little or no further input. It was the FAA that decided how many decibels is “loud”, and how much of a change in decibels is an “impact.” The FAA themselves then concluded that the NextGen changes did not create an impact. There have been lawsuits against the FAA over NextGen, but they are failing, since there aren't grounds to sue. If you sue the FAA claiming that the noise is impacting you, and the FAA says that the numbers show no impact, then your suit is baseless. Is the fox guarding the hen-house, or does the FAA just not appreciate the true impacts of these changes in certain areas? How much do we trust the FAA to make the right choices, and who gets to decide?
I don’t have answers to these questions, but, I find them inherently interesting. They help me to think about the actual impacts of NextGen and the FAA’s lack of response. I would love to hear your thoughts.
* Note: According to the FAA's Environmental Assessment for Northern California Optimization of Airspace and Procedures in the Metroplex, section 5.7.1, "The Proposed Action would result in a relatively small increase in aircraft fuel burned: 0.40 percent in 2014 and 0.36 percent increase in 2019." This implies that NextGen is less efficient. However, it is not clear from the wording of the section if this refers to total energy use, fuel used by airplanes in while flying within the metroplex, or an increase in fuel purchased in the region for refueling of aircraft.
Airplanes crash into my quiet life
My peace and serenity have been taken from me. Nine years ago I bought a home in a quiet neighborhood of Oakland, California. I then spent over two and half years designing and building my “dream house.” I am very proud of what I created, and I love being here. But, recently, the FAA took the quiet life from me and my neighborhood.
For the past couple of years the FAA has been rolling out “NextGen”, the “Next Generation” air traffic control system. I won’t bother going into the details of NextGen – it is a very complicated set of changes, and is well documented elsewhere. Suffice it to say that NextGen has had noise impacts in every city where there is a major air traffic hub. The City of Phoenix, Arizona, was the first to sue the FAA over NextGen noise. Other citizens and cities have sued or threatened lawsuits. Congress-people are introducing bills to stop the changes and require the FAA to respond to complaints. Groups are organizing all over the country. The reason is that NextGen has changed flight patterns around airports, causing new routing of airplanes, and concentrating air traffic in narrow bands of high noise. Two of those bands go over my home.
The relationship between airports and communities
Since the start of commercial aviation, airports and communities have been involved in a conversation. Depending on where and when an airport was built, it may have been sited well away from the city (e.g. the new Denver International Airport), or, it may have been placed close in to facilitate easy access - the airport in Phoenix is downtown.Many airports are built on the edges of metropolitan areas.
But cities grow and change, and airports grow and change as well. Airports that were once on the edges of town may find themselves engulfed by the cities they serve, surrounded by commercial or residential areas that weren’t there when the planners first chose the site.
During the 90 years since its founding, Oakland airport and the community have been having a conversation about noise and air traffic impacts. Sometimes it has been explicit: When neighborhoods were excessively impacted, the airport met with the communities and attempted to accommodate their needs. The airport has worked to be a good citizen, serving the needs of Oakland and the region.
The invisible conversation
At the same time there has been an invisible “conversation” going on. Businesses that serve or rely on aviation, and other forms of transportation, have located near the airport. Real estate prices in these loud areas are generally low, so operations such as warehouses and storage units, that depend on low real estate costs, find the area around the airport to be attractive.
Some people want to live near the airport. They may work for airlines, aviation support companies, or the airport itself. They choose to accept noise in exchange for proximity. Frequent travelers may also make this choice, and there are hotels that cater to travelers by being as close to the airport as possible. Some people might live near the airport because they don’t mind the noise and choose lower real-estate costs over quiet. Finally, of course, there are far too many people who are forced to live in uncomfortable and unpleasant places due to financial hardship.
Others choose to live away from transit, airports, city centers, and other sources of disturbance. Such choices may mean long, difficult commutes; poor access to restaurants, shopping and entertainment.; they may face high real estate costs and property taxes. Some people are willing to go deeply into debt to purchase homes where there is peace and quiet.
This is not limited to the area around the airport. Any place in the metropolitan area that airplane noise can be heard will experience this kind of natural, organic separation. Residents self-sort by the priority they place on silence vs. other needs. Over years, people vote with their dollars and their feet to be closer to, or farther from, noisy locations. They also vote in elections for representatives that support their needs and desires. City planners establish zoning laws that enforce the decades old patterns created by peoples' choices of buying and selling, building and demolishing. These zoning regulations create the framework of stability that give residents and businesses the confidence to invest in the community.
This is not novel to Oakland. It happens everywhere in America. Through generations of explicit and implicit negotiation, a city falls into a certain shape.
The FAA upsets the apple cart
Then, suddenly, without any notice or conversation, the FAA upended the apple cart - showing no consideration for the delicate balance of quiet and noise worked out over the years. Formerly airplanes flight paths were spread out over a broad area. The NextGen system is now concentrating air traffic in narrow bands. Many of these fly above areas that used to be quiet - the very places where the most noise-sensitive individuals have settled.
As for myself, I have sacrificed proximity to transit, recreation, and city services. I have sacrificed time, effort, and energy. And I have sacrificed money. All because I place a high priority on peace and quiet. I would love to live downtown, with all it has to offer. But I can’t stand the noise! So, I live in Montclair where it is quiet – where it was quiet.
The FAA's mistaken mission
How could this possibly happen? Our communities have had an ongoing relationship with our airports. How can the FAA ignore that? I believe the answer is in their mission statement, which reads:
Our continuing mission is to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world.Period. Therein lies the root of the problem. NextGen achieves this mission. NextGen makes the aerospace system safer and more efficient. Mission accomplished. The problem is that while the FAA has succeeded in their mission, it was the wrong mission.
I propose that the first step in stopping the noise problems created by NextGen is to change the mission statement of the FAA. I believe that the FAA’s mission statement should proudly proclaim:
Our continuing mission is to create and maintain an aerospace system that best serves the people of the United States.If this had been the mission of the FAA, NextGen would have been designed very differently. The needs, comfort, and safety of people on the ground would have been every bit as important as the safety and efficiency of the system in the air.
The FAA is no doubt reluctant to meet with us, and take our needs into consideration, because NextGen is fulfilling their mission. Changing their mission to reflect the needs of the people will change the whole conversation.
The mission statement that I propose will not be alien to the FAA. Their “Vision Statement” says,
We strive to reach the next level of safety, efficiency, environmental responsibility and global leadership. We are accountable to the American public and our stakeholders.Somehow that vision of accountability to the American public has been overlooked. The mission overran the vision.
How do we move forward?
We need to remind the FAA that we are their ultimate customers, and we are the arbiters of their success or failure. They should be reminded every day by putting this into their mission statement. The Federal Aviation Administration exists for the benefit of the American people, not for the benefit of abstract notions of safety and efficiency. Change the mission statement and NextGen will naturally change to serve the new mission – one that enhances the lives of all Americans, in the air and on the ground.