Monday, September 29, 2014

Chicago Traffic Control Center Fire: Australia Has a Good Idea

First, the good news. Nobody died. The suicidal employee who destroyed a key air traffic control center near Chicago, Illinois, has charged with one count of "destruction of aircraft or aircraft facilities."

Now, the not-so-good news. Almost 2,000 flights were cancelled. Chicago's O'Hare and Midway International Airports are among the busiest in the world. I've read that flight schedules are still getting unsnarled.

Brian Howard probably had a reason for destroying part of Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center (ZAU)'s data transmission system, and then trying to kill himself. My guess is that at this point, he's the only person who knows why he acted as he did.

Maybe he was despondent over his coming transfer to Hawaii. From Chicago. With winter coming on. Or maybe not.

Air Traffic Control in the 21st Century



(Air traffic control: 1962 and 2006.)

More good news: the FAA's control center used fiber optics and data cable to carry radar signals, digitized radio transmissions, and other critical information. While figuring out how to rebuild the Chicago center, the FAA won't have to learn how to use Information Age tech.

I'm also relieved to learn that the FAA was able to switch control of ZAU's territory to another control center in the area. It would have been nice if it had taken less time: but 'next day' transfer is better than 'next week.'

Predictably, politicos have started declaring that they'll 'investigate' what happened. My hope is that folks with a clue can keep them from doing too much damage.

I also hope that the FAA decides to take a long, hard, look at setting up functional redundancies. This wouldn't have to be a complete duplicate of ZAU, sitting idle unless there was an emergency. I understand that Australia has 'duplicate' air traffic control centers: at opposite ends of the country.

The United States should be able to follow that example: maybe five 'big' centers: in Alaska, Hawaii, Los Angeles, Chicago, and the Washington DC-New York City megalopolis.

I'm pretty sure that setting up cross-training, so that controllers in one center would have some familiarity with the other four; and protocols for transferring data; would take time and effort to set up. But I think the results would be worthwhile.

Related posts:

1 Excerpt from the news:
" Air-Traffic Vulnerabily Examined in Fire Halting Flights"
Alan Levin, Bloomberg (September 28, 2014)

"The havoc created by a suicidal technician at a Chicago-area flight-control center has some lawmakers asking how a single person armed with gasoline and knives could bring down part of the U.S. air-traffic system.

"Damage caused last week by a man police said was trying to disable the facility and kill himself was so severe that the Federal Aviation Administration has decided to rebuild the center’s central nerve system from scratch, the agency said in an e-mail.

" 'The fact that one person can do this indicates there is a problem in our system and we need to take a careful look at this,' Representative Dan Lipinski, a Democrat from Chicago who sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in an interview with a Chicago TV station....

"...Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said 'This is one of the most challenging situations that air traffic controllers and other FAA employees have faced since 9/11.'

" 'The damage to this critical facility is unlike anything we have seen before,' Rinaldi said in an e-mail.

"The arsonist targeted an area containing the data transmission system that drives modern air traffic, according to an affidavit filed in court by a FBI agent.

"Fiber optics and data cable carry everything from radar signals showing aircraft locations to the digitized radio transmissions that allow controllers to talk to pilots. Without it, FAA centers can't function.

"While that data system in some ways makes air-traffic centers more vulnerable to an attack, it also lets the FAA more easily transfer responsibility for controlling flights to other facilities, said Hansman, who has studied the FAA's system....

"...A day after the fire, controllers at a similar center controlling high-altitude traffic near Indianapolis began handling flights in some Chicago Center’s airways, Doug Church, a spokesman for the air-traffic controllers union, said in an e-mail. Controllers at centers near Cleveland, Minneapolis and Kansas City were doing the same thing, Church said.

"The FAA was sending Chicago center controllers to other area facilities to work traffic because of their knowledge of local flight routes, the FAA said in a Sept. 27 e-mail.

" 'The FAA is using all the tools at its disposal to safely restore as much service as quickly as possible,' the agency said.

"Newer telecommunication technology means that controllers no longer have to be located next to the radio antenna and radar to handle traffic, Hansman said.

"In Australia, the government has built two air-traffic centers on opposite ends of the country that can each handle the other's traffic in an emergency, he said. While the U.S. facilities can't switch as seamlessly, they are more flexible than just a few years ago, he said...."

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Islamic State: Air Strikes, Diplomacy, and Remembering Sargon of Akkad

I've said it before: war is not nice. Things get broken. People die.

But sometimes it's better than the alternative.


(From U.S. Central Command / Reuters, used w/o permission.)
("A still image taken from video provided by the U.S. Central Command shows a damaged building at an Islamic State compound near the northern Syrian town of Ar Raqqah, following an air strike. "
(Reuters))
"French, U.S. planes strike Islamic State, Britain to join coalition"
Arshad Mohammed, Tom Perry; Reuters (September 25, 2014)

"French fighter jets struck Islamic State targets in Iraq on Thursday, and the United States hit them in Syria, as a U.S.-led coalition to fight the militants gained momentum with an announcement that Britain would join.

"The French strikes were a prompt answer to the beheading of a French tourist in Algeria by militants, who said the killing was punishment for Paris' decision last week to become the first European country to join the U.S.-led bombing campaign.

"In the United States, FBI Director James Comey said Washington had identified the masked Islamic State militant in videos with a knife at the beheading of two American hostages in recent weeks. Those acts helped galvanize Washington's bombing campaign.

" 'I'm not going to tell you who I believe it is,' Comey told reporters. He said he knew the person's nationality, but declined to give further details...."
The Reuters article goes on to say that "a European government source familiar with the investigation said the accent indicated the man was from London and likely from a community of immigrants."

There's more, about "credible intelligence that Islamic State networks in Iraq were plotting to attack U.S. and French subway trains" and a growing coalition of nations. Apparently quite a number of Arab nations have already joined, with European leaders a bit slow to get with the program.

I don't know whether the Europeans are following the 'my end of the boat isn't sinking' philosophy, aren't sure how their constituency will react, or haven't sobered up yet.

Either way, my guess is that quite a few European governments will decide that, on the whole, getting their butts saved by a U.S.-led coalition is better than losing their heads under an Islamic State in their home territory.

I'd like to believe that there's a chance for a peaceful resolution to the current mess. The folks running The "Islamic State" are human, and in principle could decide that their best course of action is negotiating: followed by pursuing their goals in a less violent way.

Given humanity's record, that outcome does not seem likely.

Making Mistakes, Making Sense


I run into folks who feel that the world's problems are cause by Islam; others who feel the same way about Christianity, and some who say that all religion causes trouble.

Considering how the first two lots act, I have some sympathy for the latter. But I think 'all of the above' make the mistake of overgeneralization.

Some Christians behave badly. So do some Muslims. But some of us have our heads screwed on straight, and understand our faith. A case in point, from the Reuters article:
"...More than 120 Islamic scholars from around the world, including many of the most senior figures in Sunni Islam, issued an open letter denouncing Islamic State. Challenging the group with theological arguments, they described its interpretation of the faith as 'a great wrong and an offense to Islam, to Muslims and to the entire world.'

"'You have misinterpreted Islam into a religion of harshness, brutality, torture and murder,' said the letter, signed by figures from across the Muslim world from Indonesia to Morocco. "
(Arshad Mohammed, Tom Perry; Reuters)
I'm not a Muslim, by the way. I'm a Catholic: which in some American circles is just as bad.

I'm assuming that the "Islamic State" mentioned in the Reuters article is another name for ISIS, (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). I've discussed that lot in another blog:

Unhappy About Change


Apparently ISIS, the folks who killed James Foley, aren't happy with today's world. They seem to yearn for the 'good old days,' when they believe Islam measured up to their standards and preferences. They're probably quite sincere: and certainly willing to kill anyone who doesn't agree with them.

Victims of their zeal include  Shia Muslims, Druze, Mandeans, Shabaks, Yazidis, and Christians. You'll find more about ISIS at "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant." (Wikipedia)

Folks being unhappy about change isn't a uniquely Muslim experience.

I run into Catholics who seem convinced that we should return to the 'good old days' — as they remember them. Catholics who yearn for yesteryear occasionally get together and form their own little micro-church, but don't seem inclined to kill outsiders.

I'd say 'Christians are better than that:' but realize that now and then some of us go rogue.

The nearest thing America has had to ISIS are groups like the Ku Klux Klan: folks who seem convinced that they're 'protecting' America from 'foreigners' and our 'evil' ways.
(A Catholic Citizen in America (August 24, 2014))

Taking the Long View: and Hope


I think today's conflict between the Islamic State/ISIS and everyone who like living in the 21st century will most likely end violently. I am also quite certain that it will end.

Even if the Islamic State endures the end of this conflict, and stays in control of Subartu, they won't stay in control. Sargon of Akkad conquered Subartu about 43 centuries back. Then he died, his empire fell, and the territory has changed hands quite a few times since.

Change happens. How change happens depends on what we do.

I hope that humanity will eventually cobble together an international authority "with the necessary competence and power" to end war and settle disputes with justice and mercy.1
"...Till the war-drum throbbed no longer, and the battle-flags were furl'd
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.


"There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law....
"
("Locksley Hall," Alfred, Lord Tennyson)
Those were among my favorite lines of poetry in my youth. A half-century later, they still are; although I've learned to temper my hope with patience.

Cobbling together a globe-spanning 'Council of Humanity' will, I think, take generations. Centuries. But I think it will be worth the effort. And that's another topic.

Related posts:

1 ("Gaudium et Spes," 79; Pope Paul VI (December 7, 1965)

I remember the trailing edge of McCarthyism, and the 'good old days' when America's establishment was run by WASPs: so I understand why some folks fear a "world government" almost as much as they fear commies, Republicans, foreigners, or right-wing extremists.

But I also think that government of some sort is necessary, and that humanity may eventually find a way to settle disputes without mass homicide. As for fears that 'the government' will take away freedom: that is a reasonable concern. How some folks react to that concern is — another matter.

I am a Catholic, so my faith requires that I respect and defend the freedom of everyone.

More of my take on government and freedom:

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Blogroll

Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.