Category Archives: Travel

Comments and observations on the traveling life.

Rule Five Thousands Standin’ Around Friday

I travel by air, well, a lot, and I haven’t personally had any issues with the Transportation Security Agency (TSA.)  Maybe I’m lucky.  Maybe having a Pre-Check pass spares me some of that.  But plenty of people have had issues with TSA, and they aren’t improving.  Excerpt:

“Food can trigger lots of false alarms because of the density of some items,” the Wall Street Journal recently reported about the Transportation Security Administration’s justifications for imposing yet another round of tighter and more-intrusive airport carry-on baggage restrictions. “Chocolate, for example, can look like some types of explosives to X-ray machines.”

As a result, some airline passengers around the country—soon to be all of us—are being asked to remove such items as books, electronic devices, and food from carry-on luggage for separate screening.

This makes an odd sort of sense (not really). An internal investigation of the TSA, leaked in 2015, found that many types of explosives apparently look to agents quite a bit like chocolate. Guns seem to closely resemble Tom Clancy novels in their eyes. Knives may be easily mistaken by the thin uniformed line against especially dim terrorists for those fuzzy troll dolls, though that part is a bit unclear. Well, maybe that’s not all true. But such confusion would explain why “TSA agents failed 67 out of 70 tests, with Red Team members repeatedly able to get potential weapons through checkpoints.”

“In one test an undercover agent was stopped after setting off an alarm at a magnetometer,” ABC News noted, “but TSA screeners failed to detect a fake explosive device that was taped to his back during a follow-on pat down.”

Well, they should obviously have used chocolate in the test. Maybe a few of those suspicious-looking Toblerone bars kids sell door to door would have set their spidey-senses tingling.

After that embarrassing failure, the TSA’s working theory seems to be, if you make everybody dump their sandwiches, tablets, and paperbacks into separate bins at the security checkpoint, we vastly increase the chance of intercepting backpack nukes and rocket-propelled grenades, which themselves could be mistaken for sandwiches, tablets, and paperbacks. Sure, the guards may still need some guidance as to which confiscated items are safe for noshing, but the security measures will be covering all bases.

Maybe one day someone will have a sudden rush of brains to the head and re-institute the Fourth Amendment at the nation’s airports.

We talked (well, I wrote, you read) about privatizing air traffic control just the other day.  Why not privatize airport security as well?  As recently as 2001, plenty of airports contracted security to private companies.  As part of the post-9/11 pants-shitting over security issues, the Imperial government implemented our current security theater.  New York’s Chuck Schumer, that master purveyor of malapropisms, claimed “to professionalize, you Federalize.”

Schumer’s statement here is the purest form of corral litter, suitable only for enriching lawns.  But then he has a long history of such.

Security theater isn’t just in place at airports, of course.  A couple of years back I was summoned to the Arapahoe County courts for jury duty.  On my way in to do my civic duty, I had to pass through an Arapahoe County Sheriff’s office security point.  In my pocket, I had a tiny Swiss Army knife – one of the little $10 models with a nail file and a <1″ blade.  A Sheriff’s deputy made me take it out to leave in my truck, stating it was classified as a “weapon.”

“Seriously?” I said.  “This?”

“I know,” the deputy replied.  “I don’t make the rules.”  He looked embarrassed.  I know I would have been, in his place.

But back to the TSA.  Why don’t we just chuck the TSA while we’re chucking the Imperial air-traffic control system?  Privatize the whole shebang – I’ll bet next week’s invoice that airport security will be faster, more efficient and more thorough.

If that pisses off Chuck Schumer, well, consider that a bonus.

Better yet – make one more thing a part of the security contract:  Take a few lessons from the Israelis.  While our TSA folks look for weapons, the Isreali security folks look for terrorists.  They profile – oh, hell yeah, they profile – and their agents are trained to spot behavioral cues, to spot when someone is lying to them.

Let’s convert our airport security theater into something that’s actually effective.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Our heartfelt thanks to blogging pal Doug Hagin over at The Daley Gator and to Watcher of Weasels for the pingbacks; thanks also (as always) to The Other McCain and Pirate’s Cove for the rule five links!

This seems to be a rather appropriate story for a Monday morning when, like so many other Monday mornings, I’m bound for the airport:  People Are Happier Than Ever With Airline Service.  Excerpt:

J.D. Power, a top market research company well-known for tracking customer satisfaction, released a survey last week that found “customer satisfaction with airlines has reached its highest level ever, continuing a trend that now stretches five consecutive years.”

How could that possibly be, given the United Airlines (UAL) passenger dragged off a plane, the traveler nearly hit with a stroller on an American Airlines (AAL) plane, a California family thrown off a Delta (DAL) flight, a brawl at a Spirit Airlines (SAVE) counter, and several other recent incidents?

It turns out that those horror stories are more like shark attacks than bee stings — rare events that capture a huge amount of publicity because they are rare.

That hasn’t stopped some from using these anecdotes to depict the entire industry as indifferent, if not openly hostile, to the needs of their passengers.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said that the “degrading treatment” of the United passenger “is the latest example of a major U.S. airline disrespecting passengers and denying them their basic rights.”

USA Today recently asked: “Can air travel get any more miserable than it already is?” to which it answered “yes.”

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank described the industry this way: “packed cabins; tiny seats; proliferating fees for food, bags and flight changes; boarding delays; higher fares; labyrinthine contracts; and routine overbooking.”

There’s a reason for this: Democrats, and most reporters, like government regulation and think the airlines need more of it. So every time something bad happens, they use it as the latest evidence that the government should step in.

 Bear in mind here that the calls for more airline regulation aren’t just coming from Democrats or the political Left in general.  Republicans have been threatening the airlines with the heavy hand of government regulation as well.  And the GOP is (supposedly) the party of smaller government and less intrusive regulation, right?

Right?

I can and will only speak for myself in this matter as in many others, an act of circumspection that I wish many reporters and commentators would try to emulate; however, my experience with air travel has been pretty positive.  There are a few folks that fly more than me, and a hell of a lot of folks that fly less, and I’m overall pretty pleased with air travel and with my airline of choice, the oft-maligned of late United.

 The problem with a lot of the reaction on this is that too many folks are apt to make judgements based on insufficient data.  Just as I have a preferred airline, I also have a preferred brand of automobiles; for forty-some years now I have been buying and driving Fords, and I’m pretty happy with them.  But I would love to have a sawbuck for every time someone has told me how they once had a 1974 Pinto that was a lemon, and so they’ll never own a Ford again.

The same thing applies here.  Stories of horrible customer service by the airlines are big news precisely because they are rare; the airlines service tens of millions of customers a year, and their overall track record is damn good.  Never in the history of aviation has air travel been so cheap, so convenient, so available to the general public.

This is a case where a little perspective is in order.

Animal’s Hump Day News

Happy Hump Day!

Well, sometimes the friendly skies aren’t so friendly.  Excerpt:

The world is rightly abuzz over an awful incident yesterday in which a man was beaten and dragged off a plane by police at Chicago’s O’Hare airport for the crime of wanting to use the seat he’s paid for on a United Airline flight getting ready to leave for Louisville.

The man claimed to be a doctor who had patients to see the next morning, explaining why he neither took an initial offer made to everyone on the plane to accept $400 and a hotel room for the night in exchange for voluntarily giving up his seat nor wanted to obey a straight-up order to leave, in an attempt on United’s part to clear four seats for its own employees on the full flight.

No one considered even the $800 that was offered after everyone had boarded enough for the inconvenience, so United picked four seats and just ordered those in them to vacate. But the one man in question was not interested in obeying. (Buzzfeed reports, based on tweets from other passengers, that the bloodied man did eventually return to the plane.)

Here’s the part I’d like to comment on:

While United’s customer service policies in this case are clearly heinous and absurd, let’s not forget to also cast blame on the police officers who actually committed the brutality on United’s behalf. NPR reports that the cops attacking the man “appear to be wearing the uniforms of Chicago aviation police.”

Full disclosure:  I live in Denver; Denver is a major United hub; I have status and a metric buttload (that’s 1.173 British buttloads) of award miles on United.  So I fly United, and all in all my experiences with them have been pretty good.  With that in mind, it’s the bolded part I’ll comment on.  I agree with the folks at Reason.com more often than not, but in this case they’re just wrong.  Why?

Whenever anyone buys a plane ticket (whether they read it or not) agrees to that airline’s Contract of Carriage.  Part G of United’s contract reads:

All of UA’s flights are subject to overbooking which could result in UA’s inability to provide previously confirmed reserved space for a given flight or for the class of service reserved. In that event, UA’s obligation to the Passenger is governed by Rule 25.

Rule 25 refers to how much the airline has to reimburse you if  you get bumped.

Now, the fact that the passenger in question either didn’t read or didn’t care about the contract of carriage doesn’t excuse what really, really appears to be excessive force by the cops who removed him.  But at the point the plane’s captain – who, like the captain of a ship at sea, has pretty much universal control over what happens on his aircraft – asked him to leave and he refused, he was then committing trespass.

There’s some blame on both sides here, probably.  But you aren’t exempt from the provisions of a contract that you agreed to, just because you didn’t bother to read them.  United was within their rights to ask him to deplane.  He was wrong to refuse.

But, it’s fair to point out that United handled the situation really badly.  The optics will kill them – for a while.  Fortunately the American public, especially the social-media addicted, have the attention span of a blue-bottle fly.  By next week this will be all but forgotten.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Thanks again to Pirate’s Cove and The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

On the Saturday just past I found myself once again with one of my favorite situations; no place to go, and all day to get there.  Now mind you, I can’t abide Bay Area politics, but I am frequently in the position where I’m paid to go where the work is, not where the fun is.  So I make the most of it, and there are always some decent outdoor adventures not too far from anyplace I find myself.  Saturday it was the Almaden Quicksilver County Park, where I spent a nice sunny Saturday hiking in the hills.  Photos follow.

Click for more!

Animal’s Daily Air Traffic News

Who wouldn’t like to make air travel easier, cheaper and more efficient?  If you travel a lot, like yr. obdt., then y ou’d probably like to see that happen.  If you work for the Federal Aviation Administration, apparently the answer is “probably not.”  Excerpt:

In an era of smartwatches and driverless cars, Americans traveling by air sit in planes guided by World War II-era technology, while the Federal Aviation Administration spends billions on its never-ending “NextGen” upgrade.

Started in 2004, NextGen was supposed to replace the outdated radar, radio communications, and strips of paper still used by air traffic controllers. Once in place, this satellite-based system would let planes travel more direct routes, improve safety margins, and save travelers billions of dollars a year.

But NextGen has been fraught with delays and cost overruns and, despite having spent $7.4 billion over the past 12 years, is still 13 years away from being finished.

Up north, meanwhile, the Canadian air traffic control system — which is the second busiest after the U.S. — has already deployed truly state-of-the-art technology throughout its system, letting it handle 50% more traffic while trimming its work force by 30%.

What’s the difference? In 1996 Canada sold its government-run air traffic control to a nonprofit corporation called Nav Canada. User fees finance its operations and pay for upgrades, and Nav Canada is free of the suffocating bureaucracy and endless budget battles that plague the U.S. system. The Canadian government’s role is limited to regulating Nav Canada for safety.

Other industrialized nations have taken similar steps. But in the U.S., any such talk has been blocked by Democrats, for whom privatization is a dirty word.

There’s nothing that motivates people, whether they be individuals or joined together in a corporation, like the profit motive.

It shouldn’t be too hard to come up with a system to privatize the air-traffic control system.  Set up a system of standards – on time departures and arrivals (barring those that are the airline’s fault) certain budget and personnel requirements.  If the first contractor can’t do it, find another that can.  The precedent is just over the border in the Great White North.

What the article here misses is the reason the Democratic party so ardently opposes such a measure; the public-sector unions, who are deep in the Democrats’ pockets – and vice versa.

That shouldn’t be enough reason to put up with a broken system.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!

First up – our thanks once again to Pirate’s Cove and The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

On this weekend past, my first in the Bay Area (this trip) I got up Saturday morning to do some exploring.

Fortunately the lodgings here are on the south end of the metro area, right near the on-ramp to CA Highway 17, which goes south to the oceanside town of Santa Cruz.  I drove down there, then caught Highway 1 north up the coast.

It was a beautiful, bright sunny day, temps in the high 50s, perfect for bumming around outdoors.  My favorite kind of day; I had no place to go and all day to get there.  Photos and a video (unfortunately not hi-def) follow. Click for more!

Animal’s Daily News

This is good news for someone that spends as much time in airliners as yr. obdt. – Air Travel Getting Safer, Cheaper.  Excerpt:

Mercifully, air travel overall is getting safer. Between a high point in 1972 and a low point in 2015, the total number of airline fatalities declined from 2,373 to 186—a reduction of 92 percent. Roughly over the same time period (1970-2014), the number of passengers carried globally increased from 310 million to 3.2 billion. Put differently, the chances of dying in an air crash declined from 1 in 210,000 in 1970 to 1 in 4.63 million in 2014. Today, flying is not only safer, but also cheaper. In the United States for example, average domestic round trip airfare fell from $607 in 1979 (the year of deregulation) to $377 in 2014 (both figures are in 2014 U.S. dollars). Between 1990 and 2013, the average international round-trip airfare fell from $1,248 to $1,175 (2013 U.S. dollars). In both cases, the average number of miles flown per trip has increased.

I’ve never worried too much about air travel, even when crossing oceans, although the new Dreamliner that has carried me back and forth to Japan the last few trips bothers me a bit in only having two engines; when crossing oceans, it seems like four engines would be preferable, but then I’m not an aerospace engineer.  But the numbers for air travel have always been good, and they are getting better; eliminate Russian aircraft from the statistics and the numbers are just damn fabulous.

My airline of choice is United, mostly because Denver is a major United hub and the best rates for flights out of my city are almost always with United, at least of the major airlines; I value my comfort enough to eschew the super-cheapie services.  Their record is pretty good.  As stated in the linked article, According to the Aircraft Crashes Record Office, “8,231 passengers have died in Aeroflot crashes. Air France is next on its list, with 1,783, followed by Pan Am (1,645), American (1,442), United (1,211) and TWA (1,077).”  I’m not sure what the denominator is for any of those, but I’m pretty sure it’s in the hundreds of thousands.

My living depends on cheap, safe air travel.  Fortunately it looks like we have things covered for the foreseeable future.

Rule Five Thoughts on Japan Friday

There’s a lot to be said about Japan.

Just now, about to end my third project in that country – albeit a short one – I’m inclined to share some of my thoughts of a place I’ve grown rather fond of.

I like Japan.  I like the food, the folks, the scenery.  I enjoy the porcelain beauty of so many young Japanese women and I enjoy the strong undercurrent of politeness and consideration that pervades the culture.

I’ve had some memorable adventures in Japan.  It’s a place where you can walk down a dark side street on a Friday night with little or no worries, a few neighborhoods in Tokyo excepted.  Some of my best adventures in Japan have started in just this way; some aimless wanderings in a new town that led to a great little local watering hole or restaurant.  One of these, some years back, was Koharu – “Spring Nights” in English.  Koharu is a little bar in Kusatsu, Shiga Prefecture, that in 2009 was run by three ladies (I’m guessing) in their early to mid 60s.  My friend Paul and I hung out there a lot, and the Mama-sans loved us.

On this trip Paul and I wandered up a little side street in a Tokyo suburb called Fusse and discovered a little local ramen shop, where I enjoyed some of the best ramen I’ve ever laid jaws on.

With all that said, though; I could never live in Japan.  I’m too deeply and irretrievable American, a red-state American at that, to willfully put up with a lot of things Japanese folks take for granted.  Now the Japanese people have the right to choose the government that suits them; they have done so, and I would be the last to say they should change that to suit the whims of Americans, just as I would be the last to say Americans should change our way of life to suit anyone from another country.  But the Japanese culture and still rather unquestioning acceptance of authority has led to some policies that I could not and would not abide.  Among them:

  • No protection against unreasonable search and seizure. I am told the police can legally enter any Japanese home once per year with no cause, no warning, no nothing, just to have a look around; no warrant needed.  In my own Colorado, even were it a police officer trying to force his way into my home, had he no warrant I would have the legal right to part his hair with a shotgun.  Which brings us to:
  • Refusal of the right of armed self-defense. This is not and has not been an issue in Japan, not the least of reasons is their crime rate, which in most places is so low as to be nearly non-existent.  But Japan is a culturally and racially homogenous society, and what’s more a culture that places great value on conformity, on respect for authority, on blending in.  The United States is very different.  America was born in armed rebellion, the exact opposite of respect for authority; Americans today are fractious, rebellious and quarrelsome.  As evidence witness our recently concluded Presidential campaign and its aftermath.  Americans, by and large, favor our right to armed defense, a right defined in the Constitution by men who had just led a citizen’s army to defeat the world’s dominant superpower of the day.

There’s a lot to be said about Japan.  But it’s a very non-libertarian society.  I like the place and would gladly return to visit, or to work, for a while.

But live in Japan?  No.  I’ll take Colorado and, in a few more years, Alaska.

Goodbye, Blue Monday

Goodbye, Blue Monday!
Goodbye, Blue Monday!

Japan remains an interesting place to spend a few days.

This weekend just past, I roamed the outskirts of the Tokyo area, visiting the lovely Mount Takao on Saturday and wandering down to Shinjuku and Koenji.  One of my best friends has a nephew who operates the Fatz burger joint in Koenji; he claims to serve the best American-style burger in Tokyo (albeit in more typically Japanese-sized portions) and after sampling his works, I see no reason to disabuse him of that notion.  Photos follow.

Mount Takao:

Next is Shinjuku and Koenji, including Shinjuku’s wonderful Golden Gai; the tight-packed alleys are full of little bars, clubs and eaterys.  Everything was closed while I was there, but I’d love to visit on a Friday or Saturday night.

Animal’s Daily Japan Arrival News

Office-Bear_MaulThanks once again to Pirates Cove and The Other McCain for the Rule Five links!

Once again I find Japan right where I left it.  This gig will have me working in Tokyo’s Nishiginza district, only a short walk from the famed Ginza shopping area and a few blocks from Tokyo harbor.  Should be an interesting time; I have two and a half (my return flight departs on a Saturday evening) to explore one of the world’s most populous cities and its surrounding areas.  Watch this space for photos and commentary.

Meanwhile, under the “predictable input from the usual idiots” category, we have this (emphasis added by me):  Was it terror? Somali refugee student shot dead after mowing down Ohio State classmates with his car and slashing them with a butcher’s knife – injuring eleven.  Excerpt:

Somali refugee Abdul Razak Ali Artan has been named as the assailant in a rampage at the Ohio State University on Monday, that left eleven people injured.

Artan is reportedly a Somali refugee who fled his home country in 2007, moving first to Pakistan with his family before coming to America in 2014 and gaining legal permanent resident status. His age has not been confirmed, but it has been reported by various outlets as 18 and 20.

While the motive for the attack is still under investigation, there are questions about whether Artan may have carried it out in jihad, since he is Muslim. Somalia has become a haven for terror groups – including ISIS – since civil war broke out in the 1990s. And Columbus has one of the largest contingents of Somali refugees in the U.S.

But here’s the real insight from the would-be killer himself:

In the piece, he said that he struggled to find a private place to pray on campus, after transferring from Columbus State which had such facilities.

‘This place is huge, and I don’t even know where to pray. I wanted to pray in the open, but I was kind of scared with everything going on in the media. 

‘I’m a Muslim, it’s not what the media portrays me to be. If people look at me, a Muslim praying, I don’t know what they’re going to think, what’s going to happen,’ Artan said.

Read that over carefully, then think about it for a few.  Go ahead – I’ll wait right here.

triple-facepalmReady?  Let’s summarize his statement.  This jackass decides that he’s oppressed for being a Muslim because people who see him praying might think he’s a dangerous jihadi – so he reacts by becoming a dangerous jihadi.

Meanwhile, some of the usual useful idiots in the gun-control movement just couldn’t wait to try to weave a narrative about guns into an incident carried out with an automobile and a knife.

You really just can’t make this stuff up.