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. "
"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:

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Remembering 9/11, Living in a Big World

About 3,000 folks died in attacks on New York City's World Trade Center and the Pentagon on this date, 13 years ago.

The death toll would almost certainly have been higher, if passengers and surviving crew of United Airlines Flight 93 had not attacked their hijackers. They died, probably because the Al Qaeda pilot deliberately flew into the ground.

Depending on their views, folks have commemorated the 9/11 attacks in many ways.

Some have declared that the attacks were justified, because America is a big meany. They usually express the idea in more sophisticated terms, of course.

Others say that Muslims are to blame: all Muslims. Still others take the more sweeping view that all religion is to blame.

I think there is a tiny element of truth in 'all of the above.'

Al Qaeda's leader at the time, Osama bin Laden, almost certainly had sincerely-held religious beliefs: and chose American targets in response to this country's profound lack of fidelity to his brand of Islam.

I like being an American, and am still upset that so many folks were killed by religious fanatics. But I am not going to rant about folks who don't follow my faith: or those who do, and behave badly.

Instead, I'm going to take a look at how some — but happily not all — Americans have reacted to Catholics, Jews, blacks, and other 'threats' to my country....

The rest of this post is in another blog:
Related posts:

Friday, July 18, 2014

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17: This Time it's Over Land

(From Reuters, used w/o permission)
("Debris is pictured at the site of Thursday's Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash, near the village of Grabovo in the Donetsk region July 18, 2014."

The good news is that nobody, as far as I have heard, is claiming what happened to Malaysia Airlines MH17 as a glorious victory or heroic act. Remarkably, the outfits most likely to have shot another airliner out of the sky are saying 'it wasn't us.'

They may be right.

Killing nearly three hundred folks whose greatest offense seems to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time isn't good public relations. Not these days.

People, 'Important' and Otherwise

(From Valentyn Ogirenko, via Reuters, used w/o permission.)
"People light candles at the Dutch embassy for victims of Malaysia Airlines MH17, which crashed in eastern Ukraine, in Kiev July 17, 2014"

More than half of the folks killed yesterday lived in the Netherlands. That's no surprise, since they were traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

At least one body went through someone's roof, but happily nobody on the ground was killed: as far as I have heard. Folks working for Malaysia Airlines and the various governments involved are probably still trying to sort out who was actually on the flight. So far, it looks like folks from 11 countries won't be going home. Not alive, anyway:
  • Dutch: 189
  • Malaysian: 44
    • Including 15 crew, 2 infants)
  • Australian: 27
  • Indonesian: 12
    • Including 1 infant
  • United Kingdom: 9
  • Belgium: 4
  • Germany: 4
  • Philippines: 3
  • New Zealand: 1
  • Canadian: 1
  • American: 1
    (Zachary Stieber, Epoch Times (July 17, 2014))
News coverage, understandably, concentrates on what folks with titles are saying: and on the "important" folks who stopped living yesterday. I found one news service that gave a list of the folks who have been tentatively identified as being on MH17. Instead of breaking out the names by country, as they did, I've put the names in alphabetical order, by 'first name.' The article didn't give names for some of the children:
  • Ahmad Hakimi Bin Hanapi
  • Albert Rizk
  • Ali Md Salim
  • Andrei Anghel
  • Angeline Premila Rajandaran
  • Azrina Binti Yakob
  • Ben Pocock
  • Bujanto Gunawan
  • Cameron Dalziel
  • Chong Yee Pheng
  • Darryl Dwight Gunawan
  • Dora Shamila Binti Kassim
  • Elaine Teoh
  • Emiel Mahler
  • Eugene Choo Jin Leong
  • Frankie Davison
  • Glenn Thomas
  • Hamfazlin Sham Binti Mohamed Arifin
  • Irene Gunawan
  • Jill Guard
  • Joep Lange
  • John Alder
  • Jolette Nuesink
  • Karlijn Keijzer
  • Lee Hui Pin
  • Liam Davison
  • Liam Sweeney
  • Liliane Derden
  • Lucie van Mens
  • Maree Rizk
  • Martine de Schutter
  • Mastura Binti Mustafa
  • Mohd Ghafar Bin Abu Bakar
  • Muhamad Firdaus Bin Abdul Rahim
  • Nick Norris
    • Grandchild Evie
    • Grandchild Mo
    • Grandchild Otis
  • Peter Nuesink
    • Nuesink child
    • Nuesink child
  • Pim de Kuijer
  • Puan Sri Siti Amirah
  • Quinn Lucas Schansman
  • Richard Mayne
  • Roger Guard
  • Sanjid Singh Sandhu
  • Shaikh Mohd Noor Bin Mahmood
  • Shazana Salleh
  • Sherryl Shania Gunawa
  • Sister Philomene Tiernan
  • Wan Amran Bin Wan Hussin
  • Willem Witteveen
    (Zachary Stieber, Epoch Times (July 17, 2014))
By any reasonable standard, this is a very sad situation for many families.

Now, some 'big picture' stuff.

World Leaders, Families, and Today's World

"World leaders demand answers after airliner downed over Ukraine with 298 dead"
Anton Zverev, Reuters (July 18, 2014)

"U.S. President Barack Obama demanded Russia stop supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine after the downing of a Malaysian airline by a surface-to-air missile he said was fired from rebel territory raised the prospect of more sanctions on Moscow.

"At least one American was among the almost 300 killed, he said, a revelation that raises the stakes in a pivotal incident in deteriorating relations between Russia and the West....

"...But, noting the global impact of the crash, with victims from 11 countries across four continents, he said the stakes were high for Europe, a clear call for it to follow the more robust sanctions on Russia already imposed by Washington.

"Russia, whom Obama said was letting the rebels bring in weapons, has expressed anger at implications it was to blame, saying people should not prejudge the outcome of the inquiry.

"There were no survivors from the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, a Boeing 777. The United Nations said 80 of the 298 aboard were children. The deadliest attack on a commercial airliner, it scattered bodies over miles of rebel-held territory near the border with Russia...."
As far as I can tell: some folks in Ukraine who were doing well in their 'good old days' want to get back in power; at least some Russian leaders want Ukraine back in Russian hands; and quite a few Ukrainians want to run their own country.

I'm inclined to sympathize with my counterparts in Ukraine: 'unimportant' folks who want to raise their families; vote in elections that aren't rigged; and live without having their 'betters' deciding what they should buy, and who they should deal with.

The situation in Ukraine is not simple. Folks have been living there for nearly three dozen millennia. About a thousand years back, from the time of Володимѣръ Свѧтославичь to Ярослав Мудрий's death, descendants of the Væringjar ruled the most powerful state in Europe. Things went downhill after that, and that's another topic.

The point is that, after tens of thousands of years: Ukraine has a rich cultural, economic, political, and religious heritage: and no shortage of soreheads, in which respect they resemble people everywhere.

There's a lively blame game going on, but all I can be sure of today is that nearly three hundred people are dead.

I think it's possible, perhaps even likely, that this massive tragedy was an accident of sorts. Some trigger-happy fool or paranoid field commander may have mistaken the airliner for something else: a guided missile, flock of birds, whatever.

I don't know what happened. Ukrainians may lose their country — again. And a whole lot of families are mourning.

I do know that this isn't the world I grew up in. In some ways, it's better. We still have petty tyrants, clueless leaders, a scattering of wise people, and the usual assortment of oddballs. But I think many folks have realized that John Donne was right: we're all connected, part of humanity.

The Other Malaysia Airlines Disaster

(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
"Missing Malaysia plane: What we know"
BBC News (June 26, 2014)

"Mystery continues to surround the fate of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on 8 March.
"Investigators have identified a new search area 1,800km (1,100 miles) off the west coast of Australia, covering an area of some 60,000 sq km.

"The latest zone is some 1,000km south west of the area which was extensively searched with underwater surveying equipment in April.

"Work will resume in August and take up to a year to complete.

"Malaysian authorities, assisted by international aviation and satellite experts, are continuing their attempts to piece together the plane's final hours and explain what happened to its 239 passengers and crew. Some preliminary details were released on 1 May in a short report...."
Today's information technology isn't universally loved, putting it mildly. Some folks I know complain about social media: in, ironically, social media. I like living in the Information Age, because today's tech helps me find nuggets of wisdom in the mountains of gibberish.

Folks can still get 'lost without a trace,' but many aircraft now 'talk' to satellites and ground stations: independently of the human pilots: giving technophobes something to fear, and searchers something to work with.

These "handshakes" give searchers more information about Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 than they'd have had in my 'good old days.'

That globe, from BBC News, shows several "handshakes." The last full handshake happened at 08:11. (0:11 GMT) An event recorded a few minutes later, at 8:19, may have been a partial handshake: a request from the aircraft to log on. That request may have happened while the airliner's communications system was rebooting.

Eventually, airlines and global traffic control systems may keep lines of communications open throughout a flight: giving an airliner's avionics a chance to ask for help, if something happens to the humans on board. And that's another topic.

Related posts:
In the news:

Thursday, May 15, 2014

National September 11 Memorial Museum Opens: Some Folks Aren't Happy

(From the National September 11 Memorial Museum website, used w/o permission.)

I doubt that I will ever see the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York City. I live about a thousand miles west of the city, and don't travel much.

At least part of the museum and memorial open today. As usual, some folks think it's a good idea: some don't.
"National September 11 Memorial Museum opens in New York"
Anna Bressanin, BBC News (May 15, 2014)

"The National September 11 Memorial Museum tells the stories of the more than 2,700 people who died in the city when jet aeroplanes hijacked by Islamist terrorist destroyed the World Trade Center.

"It also tells of those who survived, and of how the world has changed since the attack...."
The bulk of that article is a video.

Unidentified Human Remains

(From Reuters, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
"Fire trucks and police cars carried the remains to the repository in downtown Manhattan"
"Unidentified 9/11 remains returned to 'Ground Zero' "
BBC News (May 10, 2014)

"Thousands of unidentified remains from the 9/11 attacks have been returned to 'Ground Zero' in a solemn ceremony.

"Fifteen vehicles took the remains from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to a repository under the World Trade Center site....

"...The 11 September 2001 attacks killed almost 3,000 people in New York, the Washington DC area and Pennsylvania.

"The remains consist of 7,930 fragments of human tissue that could not be identified by forensic teams.

"They were placed in metallic boxes, covered in the American flag and taken in a convoy comprising fire trucks and police vehicles to the site of the attacks in downtown Manhattan...."
Folks whose family members were killed in the 9/11 attack believe, for good reason, that some of the unidentified human remains belong to their loved ones. Some of these folks are upset about what's being done to these unidentifiable pieces of humanity. Apparently they believe that the remains should be buried in a more conventional cemetery.

I can see their point. My faith includes some well-defined principles about what should be done with human remains. Dignity and respect are two key points.

Happily, what happens to the unidentified 9/11 remains is not a personal issue for me. From my point of view, taking them to the 9/11 memorial and museum is somewhat comparable to placing the body of an unidentified soldier in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington.

I could quibble about its propriety: but am convinced that the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, like the 9/11 Memorial, is a well-intentioned tribute to our dead.

In the news:
Somewhat-related posts:

Monday, April 21, 2014

San Jose to Maui in a Wheel Well: Dumb Luck and Airport Security

First, the good news: the teen is alive, and apparently in good health.

Now, the not-so-good news: a 16-year-old walked or ran to an airliner at Mineta San Jose International Airport, climbed into a wheel well, and wasn't spotted until the flight arrived at Kahului Airport in Maui.

Incredible Good Luck

According to the news, at least one expert is skeptical about the account: although it's hard to see how or why someone would concoct the tale: along with the supporting evidence. My guess is that a teen actually got into the wheel well: and had what my culture calls incredible good luck. I put an excerpt from the San Jose Mercury News at the end of this post. 1

I'm inclined to agree with airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes: "No security program is 100 percent." (San Jose Mercury News)

That said, I sincerely hope that folks responsible for airport security will take a long, hard, look at what happened: and what would lower the odds of a repeat performance.

Aside from a desire to keep addled adolescents alive, I'd prefer that nobody be able to reach an airliner and sneak something on board. Distressing as inadvertently killing someone with too little common sense is: allowing someone to plant an explosive device, killing dozens to hundreds of folks, is worse. My opinion.

I'll grant that no system is perfect. Airports have long fence lines, this teen arrived at night: and apparently managed to cross the perimeter without getting spotted on a security camera: "...but that there is surveillance footage of 'an unidentified person walking on the airport ramp and approaching' the plane...." (San Jose Mercury News)

Bottom line? I'm very glad that I don't need to travel by air.

Poikilothermic Protection

A quick science lesson. Most of this will be review, unless you slept through high school biology. Some critters are poikilotherms: their body temperature goes up or down, generally in step with their environment. Humans aren't like that. We usually maintain a fairly steady internal temperature: or our bodies die trying. Once in a while, though, we survive drowning — or sneaking into a wheel well — when our bodies go into a sort of hibernation mode, using a lot less oxygen than usual.

In the news:
Somewhat-related posts:

1 Excerpt from the news:
"Stowaway: San Jose airport security scrutinized after boy's flight to Maui in plane's wheel well"
Mark Gomez and Robert Salonga, San Jose Mercury News (April 21, 2014)

"Authorities say a 16-year-old Santa Clara boy is 'lucky to be alive' after he ran away from home, clandestinely scaled a fence at Mineta San Jose International Airport, and hid inside the wheel well of a plane flying from California to Hawaii in a case that has shone a harsh spotlight on airport security beyond the terminals.

"And according to the FBI, the teen apparently chose his destination at random.

" 'He ran for the nearest plane. This was not a well planned thing,' said Special Agent Tom Simon, spokesman for the FBI's Honolulu office. 'Just a runaway kid with a bad idea.'...

"...That the boy apparently survived -- hours, unpressurized, at altitudes up to 38,000 feet -- literally puts him in rarefied air, as several similar stowaways in the past have died from frigid temperatures, lack of oxygen or being ejected from the plane as the landing gear is lowered.

"The last known person to survive as a stowaway in a flight at least that long was Fidel Maruhi, who in 2000 also hitched a ride in a wheel well from Tahiti to Los Angeles, a seven-plus-hour and 4,000-mile trip where the temperature dropped to nearly minus-50 degrees Fahrenheit. He also reportedly blacked out just after takeoff and survived despite his body temperature dropping to fatal levels....

"...[aviation consultant Jim] Nance went on to say that it would be rare for someone to remain conscious at peak-flight altitudes for more than a few seconds and prolonged exposure would lead to brain death. He also said that without protective gear, the odds of surviving the low temperatures and winds blowing through the wheel well are slim.

"Slim perhaps, but not impossible, according to Federal Aviation Administration study commissioned in 1996 to explore the rare cases when stowaways survived flights in wheel wells. For some of the survivors, the study stated, the cold temperatures caused them to become poikilothermic, akin to a hibernation state where the body's heart and respiratory rates decreased significantly to adjust to the environment...."

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Questions; Speculation; and a Few Facts

(From AP, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
"Messages of support for those aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 lie in the viewing gallery at Kuala Lumpur airport"

Sadly, the facts I posted with a prayer request Monday is still true:
  • Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared on shortly after takeoff.
  • The 239 folks on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 are still missing.
  • The flight left Kuala Lumpur at 16:41 GMT, March 7; and was expected in Beijing at 22:30 GMT.
  • No trace of the airliner, or the people on board, has been confirmed.
  • Folks on MH370 included artists, children, and at least one engineer.
  • Their homes were in China, Malaysia, and other countries.
  • Their family, friends, and associates are understandably concerned.
  • I suggest prayer: for the missing people, searchers, and all connected with this situation.
If you're new to this blog, and still reading, I'd better explain why I mention prayer in this context. I'm a Catholic, living in the United States. I take my faith very seriously, which doesn't mean what you may have read about 'religious people.'

I've been over this before:
Now, about Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.

"Deliberately Diverted"

(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
"Missing Malaysia Airlines plane 'deliberately diverted' "
BBC News, (March 15, 2014)

"The communications systems of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 were deliberately disabled, Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak has said.

"According to satellite and radar evidence, he said, the plane then changed course and could have continued flying for a further seven hours.

"He said the 'movements are consistent with the deliberate action of someone on the plane'....

"Mr Razak told a news conference that new satellite evidence shows 'with a high degree of certainty' that the one of the aircraft's communications systems - the Aircraft and Communications Addressing and Reporting System - was disabled just before it had reached the east coast of Malaysia.

"ACARS is a service that allows computers aboard the plane to 'talk' to computers on the ground, relaying in-flight information about the health of its systems...."
The good news is that investigators seem to have learned from blunders made after the London/Glasgow car bombings, and accusations of Steven Hatfill and Richard Jewell.

No official has said "terrorists did it," as far as I know. Granted, the Malaysian Prime Minister came close.

He may be right. Whatever happened to Flight MH370 is looking more like a deliberate act, and less like an accident.

Lithium Batteries, Signals, and Questions

(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)

Some folks suggested that a shipment of lithium batteries on the airliner might have caught fire. causing a crash. A few cargo aircraft did go down after lithium batteries ignited: but that probably didn't happen to MH370.

Someone turned the aircraft's ACARS off: but either couldn't stop some of the Boeing 777-200ER's automated systems from pinging: or didn't realize that today's aircraft "talk" to the global information network on their own.

Either way, 'I'm alive' signals kept coming from Flight MH370 several hours after it disappeared from radar.

It's remotely possible that Flight MH370's transponder just happened to fail before the airliner just happened to start an unscheduled turn:
"...near the cross-over point between Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic controllers, the plane's transponder - which emits an identifying signal - was switched off, he said.

"According to a military radar, the aircraft then turned and flew back over Malaysia before heading in a north-west direction...."
(BBC News)
But I think it's much less unlikely that someone wanted MH370 to disappear: and has, so far, succeeded.


It's possible that one or both pilots decided to take the airliner off its route. Someone else could have taken over control of the airliner. Or maybe the disappearance of Flight MH370 is the result of an incredible string of coincidences.

My guess is that someone wanted the airliner to disappear.

Maybe Flight MH370's Boeing 777 was supposed to be the weapon in a 9/11-style attack on a target in India, or another country within the airliner's range. If that's the case, we may eventually learn that people on Flight MH370 followed the example of passengers on United Airlines Flight 93.

As attacks in Mumbai and elsewhere show, America isn't the only place hated by some folks.

Or maybe this is a case of Grand Theft Airliner: with kidnapping thrown in for good measure. That might make for a good action movie, along the lines of "Thunderball" and "Airport," but I don't think it's likely.

I would like to hope that the passengers and crew of Flight MH370 are still alive: in life rafts, near a crash-landing in the Himalayas, or even as hostages. But a fear that they are dead.

Maybe someday, years from now, we'll know what happened. Today, we have very little information, a vast array of rumors, and a great many questions.

Profiling and Memory

If investigators find evidence that one or both pilots of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 went rogue, I think profiling of pilots and air crews should be reconsidered.

"Profiling" today is a little like sex was supposed to be in Victorian England. It's something we're not supposed to think about: but do, anyway. I'm not enthusiastic about profiling, racial or otherwise, because it can be an excuse for exercising blind prejudice.

It's not always 'the other guy' who gets hurt. I strongly suspect that Richard Jewell would not have been punished for discovering a bomb, if he hadn't been an overweight white guy. There's the well-publicized sort of profiling that confuses Mexicans, Arabs, and terrorist. That, in my considered opinion, is daft: and wrong.

As a member of a religious minority, I see a very real danger in official sanctions against individuals based on their beliefs. We have enough trouble with individuals who attack Americans who aren't sufficiently "American." (A Catholic Citizen in America (November 25, 2010; April 19, 2011))

That said, it is possible that lives could be saved by not letting pilots with suicidal ambitions fly aircraft.

Finally, although I think it's very unlikely, Flight MH370 may have gotten lost because of some accident.

Remembering Air France 447:
In the news:

Excerpts from the news:
"Search for Malaysia Airline plane widens, becomes more difficult"
Ed Payne, Chelsea J. Carter, Jim Clancy, CNN (March 16, 2014)

"Nine days in, things have gotten a whole lot more difficult in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

" 'This is a significant recalibration of the search,' Malaysia's acting Transportation Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Sunday. 'The number of countries involved in the search and rescue operation has increased from 14 to 25, which brings new challenges of coordination and diplomacy to the search effort.'

"The new developments come as U.S. intelligence officials are leaning toward the theory that 'those in the cockpit' -- the captain and co-pilot of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 -- were responsible for the mysterious disappearance of the commercial jetliner, a U.S. official with direct knowledge of the latest thinking told CNN.

"What we know about the cockpit crew

"The official emphasized no final conclusions have been drawn and all the internal intelligence discussions are based on preliminary assessments of what is known to date.

"Other scenarios could still emerge. The notion of a hijacking has not been ruled out, the official said Saturday.

"The Boeing 777-200 ER disappeared on March 8, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The airline's CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said Sunday the missing passenger jet took off with its normal amount of fuel needed for the route, and did not have extra fuel on board that could have extended its range...."

"Missing Malaysia Airlines plane 'deliberately diverted' "
BBC News, (March 15, 2014)

"The communications systems of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 were deliberately disabled, Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak has said.

"According to satellite and radar evidence, he said, the plane then changed course and could have continued flying for a further seven hours.

"He said the 'movements are consistent with the deliberate action of someone on the plane'....

"...The flight left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing at 00:40 local time (16:40 GMT) on 8 March and disappeared off air traffic controllers' screens at about 01:20.

"Mr Razak told a news conference that new satellite evidence shows 'with a high degree of certainty' that the one of the aircraft's communications systems - the Aircraft and Communications Addressing and Reporting System - was disabled just before it had reached the east coast of Malaysia.

"ACARS is a service that allows computers aboard the plane to 'talk' to computers on the ground, relaying in-flight information about the health of its systems.

"Shortly afterwards, near the cross-over point between Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic controllers, the plane's transponder - which emits an identifying signal - was switched off, he said.

"According to a military radar, the aircraft then turned and flew back over Malaysia before heading in a north-west direction.

"A satellite was able to pick up a signal from the plane until 08:11 local time - more than seven hours after it lost radar contact - although it was unable to give a precise location, Mr Razak said...."

"Satellite Firm Says Its Data Could Offer Location of Missing Flight"
Chris Buckley, Nicola Clark, The New York Times (March 14, 2014)

"As the hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet expanded into the vastness of the Indian Ocean, a satellite communications company confirmed on Friday that it had recorded electronic 'keep alive' ping signals from the plane after it disappeared, and said those signals could be analyzed to help estimate its location.

"The information from the company, Inmarsat, could prove to be a valuable break in the frustrating search for the plane with 239 people aboard that mysteriously disappeared from radar screens a week ago, now hunted by a multinational array of ships and planes that have fanned out for thousands of square miles.

"Until now, that search has turned up false leads: oil slicks, chunks of foam, life vests and other debris unconnected to the vanished plane.

"But a series of electronic pings sent by the aircraft could help the search, which is shifting focus from the confines of the Gulf of Thailand and nearby waters to include the Indian Ocean on the western side of Malaysia.

"Investigators also are looking at the possibility that a shipment of lithium batteries in the cargo hold may have caught fire and felled the aircraft. A senior American official who had been briefed on the contents listed on the plane's cargo manifest said a 'significant load' of lithium batteries had been aboard — raising suspicions because of previous cargo-plane crashes attributed to lithium battery shipments, which can overheat and cause intense fires. But that possibility is inconsistent with information that the plane may have kept flying for hours after it vanished."

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ukraine in a Changing World

In a way, it's business-as-usual.

Protestors waving flags; two groups, two national flags; a major power conducts military exercises nearby, saying that it wants to avert a crisis.

Depending on who's talking: folks in Ukraine decided that they want to joint the European Union; lackeys of capitalist oppressors seek to enslave Ukraine; or [religious group] wants to kill [religious group].

I've got my own opinion, but it's not quite that dramatic.

Nostalgia, Nationalism, and All That

I'm sure that quite a few folks in Ukraine were quite satisfied with the status quo before the Soviet Union fizzled out in 1991: and would dearly like the 'good old days' to return. Others are probably as dubious about dealing with foreigners as national chauvinists anywhere else.

Others, in the Crimea, are Russian: the way I'd be Norwegian if my mother hadn't married an Irishman with Campbell ancestors. Some of them probably want their part of Ukraine to be part of Russia. I sympathize with them, to a limited extent.

The last I checked, about half of the folks living in Ukraine are Ukrainian Orthodox, which is probably the "wrong" term in someone's opinion; with the rest mostly Christians, Jews and the ubiquitous "other." I'm pretty sure that all of the above have a few hotheads in their number, but that's human nature. My opinion.

Ancestors, Treaties, and Learning

I'm an American with ancestors in Norway; Ireland; Scotland, and, possibly, England. The latter is speculation, a possible explanation for why an Irish family would deliberately retain "Richard" as a name for their sons: and that's almost another topic.

I like being an American, but don't think my country can do no wrong: or no right. I'm pretty sure the same can be said for any nation: although some have gone through awkward phases.

My country finally got around to honoring some treaties made with folks living west of the Appalachians. Maybe Russia will eventually learn that some folks on their borders don't want to be part of Russia: and that conquering those folks isn't a sensible option.

On the other hand, although I can understand a "land of my fathers" sort of patriotism: my ancestors are scattered over so much of northwestern Europe that I don't share much of the feeling.

Looking Ahead: Or Not

I don't think the European Union will endure in its present form for more than a few decades. But as the start of a united Europe, it's doing a pretty good job. Just getting Germans, Frenchmen, Belgians, Austrians, and all the rest to stop killing each other for several decades was a major accomplishment.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, I think we're seeing what happens when folks who understand that the world has changed won't cooperate with those who desperately want the "good old days."

In the news:
Somewhat-related posts:
1 Excerpts from the news:
"Ukraine warns Russia after gunmen seize Crimea parliament"
Alessandra Prentice, Alissa de Carbonnel, Reuters (February 27, 2014)

"Armed men seized the parliament in Ukraine's Crimea region on Thursday and raised the Russian flag, alarming Kiev's new rulers, who urged Moscow not move troops out of its navy base on the peninsula.

"Crimea, the only Ukrainian region with an ethnic Russian majority, is the last big bastion of opposition to the new leadership in Kiev since President Viktor Yanukovich was ousted at the weekend and provides a base for Russia's Black Sea fleet...."

"West warns Russia amid rising tensions in Crimea"
BBC News (February 27, 2014)

"Western nations have called on Russia to ease tensions in Ukraine's Crimea region after armed men seized the local parliament and raised the Russian flag.

"Russia also scrambled fighter jets along its borders as part of military exercises it announced a day earlier.

"Moscow said it was willing to work with the West on averting a crisis, but warned foreign powers against taking decisions on behalf of Ukrainians.

"Meanwhile, the ousted Ukrainian president is reported to be in Russia...."

"Russia flexes military muscle as tensions rise in Ukraine's Crimea region"
Laura Smith-Spark, Phil Black, Frederik Pleitgen, CNN (February 26, 2014)

"Russia ordered surprise military exercises on Ukraine's doorstep Wednesday as tensions in that country's southern Crimea region simmered, with pro-Russian demonstrators facing off against rival protesters in the city of Simferopol.

"As the mood soured among the thousands rallying in front of the Crimean parliament building in Simferopol, some scuffles broke out.

"One group waved Ukrainian flags and shouted 'Crimea is not Russia,' while the other held Russian flags aloft and shouted 'Crimea is Russia,' images broadcast by Crimean TV channel ATR showed. As the crowd became more agitated, a line of police moved in to divide the groups.

"Local leaders sought to calm the mood, urging the protesters to go home and resist provocations.

"One man died around the time of the protests in front of Parliament, the Crimean Ministry of Health said on its website. The man had no visible signs of injury, and early indications point to a heart attack, it said. Seven people sought medical help...."

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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.