Saturday, April 22, 2017

In defense of Flight Attendants

Do any of you remember back when commercial flying was considered glamorous?  For us it meant looking forward to going on vacation and NOT having to drive daaaaays to get there.  Flying was a special event.  Flying was actually fun!  A window seat was prized....there's nothing to compare with looking down on terra firma from 30,000 feet!  And since it was expensive, it was a rare treat for us commoners.

My, how times have changed.  Today air travel is a dreaded chore.  With the introduction of low-cost airlines, everyone can now afford to fly....and they do.  The roads to the airport are congested, the parking lot is overflowing, and the lines inside the terminal are loooooooong everywhere you turn.  And then you come face-to-face with the infamous TSA, where they strip search you and feel you up, just to make sure you don't have more than 3 ounces of toothpaste on you.  Oh, and maybe a bomb.

My point is, your nerves are usually frazzled and your snarl is out before you even board your plane.  And this is what flight attendants have to deal with every day.

And back in the day, in the prospective flight attendant's imagination at least, there could be nothing more glamorous than traveling the world, visiting exotic places, meeting the rich and famous, and actually being paid to do it!  *dream job*  They were just conveniently not told that before you could do all that you first had to spend years flying the quick turnarounds to Lubbock or Tulsa or Des Moines.  Once you acquired some seniority, THEN you might could bid for a glamour destination with an overnight.  In reality it was and still is a hard job.

This brings us to where we are today, namely highly publicized violent maulings on aircraft, and just this weekend, a near fistfight between an offended passenger and an American Airlines flight attendant.  When I first saw the cellphone video of the confrontation my gast was totally flabbered!

I've had the privilege of personally knowing many flight attendants over the years, a few very well, and I can tell you that what was shown on that video is NOT the way 99.999% of flight attendants behave.  In the American Airlines incident, the (male) F/A was very recklessly handling a stroller belonging to a traveling mother with her child, who was almost struck.  Strike 1.  Then another passenger, outraged by what he saw, got up out of his seat and aggressively threatened the F/A Strike 2.  Finally the F/A freaked out and got right back in it with his finger in customer #2's faceStrike 3!

But did you also notice the other flight attendants getting the crazed(?) F/A out of the way, pushing him behind the bulkhead away from the situation, and trying to calm things?  (On a related note, did you notice the pilot come out of his hidyhole with his thumb still firmly inserted up his posterior, NOT [noticeably] taking control of the situation?  He should was HIS aircraft!)   Flight attendants regularly have to deal with upset passengers, and I know for a fact they calmly, tactfully, but quite firmly take control and bring order back to their cabin.  They're well trained and very professional.

If you don't like paying $25 for checking an extra bag, don't blame the F/A.  She isn't getting a dime of it.  If you don't like the crappy food they serve, don't blame the F/A.  She didn't prepare it.  If you don't like being told to turn off your electronic devices, don't blame the F/A.  She didn't make the rule.

Flight attendants can have bad days just like the rest of us.  They go through divorces, family sicknesses, financial problems, etc, just like we do.  Life isn't easy in "the tube".  Yet in virtually every instance they still put on a smile, come to work, and serve us.  And the few who crack under the pressure, well, I guess they're just in the wrong line of work.

IMO American Airlines, no doubt learning from the earlier United Airlines fiasco, responded perfectly to this situation.  They apologized immediately and publicly, and even upgraded their mistreated passenger and her family to First Class for the rest of their international travel.

Wanna have a nice flight?  Try this:  Discretely give your flight attendant a small (still factory wrapped*) box of Andie's Candies (delicious chocolate mints), or something similar, and invite her to share them with the rest of the flight crew.  After all they put up with, it's a gesture they'll appreciate, and I promise they'll respond with the best TLC you could ever imagine. 


so they'll know it hasn't been tampered can't be too careful these days


Friday, April 21, 2017

In this corner...Vladimir Putin, and in this corner...the rest of the world

The first round of the French presidential election is this weekend, and it has the potential to be as much of a world changer as did Donald Trump's election in the US last year.  The big Wild Card will be how well National Front candidate Marine Le Pen does.

The five leading candidates are on this first-round ballot, with the top two going on to the final election ballot next month, assuming no one receives a 50% true majority in this first test.  Ms Le Pen is expected to make it to the final round, and that's why much of the western world, and Europe in particular, is holding their breath.

Their unease is because Ms Le Pen is friendly towards Russia, has received campaign financing from a bank close to Putin, and is likely to follow Britain's lead and will try to take France out of the European Union, and perhaps the Euro Zone (the common European monetary system), as well.  She isn't too keen on France's NATO participation, either.

Ms Le Pen and her party are anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant (read: anti-Muslim), and ultra-right-wing nationalist.  Many say her "France First" theme is a take-off of Donald Trump's "America First".  Both she and Candidate Trump slammed international trade agreements (harmful to their economies), NATO (outdated and too expensive), and have questioned sanctions on Russia.  Le Pen has even said quite clearly that she would end sanction on Russia if she was elected, and offered no objection to their "annexation" of Crimea.

If Le Pen ultimately becomes the French President, Russia will be the big winner.  The thing Russia / Vladimir Putin wants most is to see the West weakened.  A European Union without both Great Britain AND France might completely collapse, as might the Euro monetary scheme without the French.  Weakened trade relations might see barriers arise again between countries now held tight by their economies, and a NATO without one of its most powerful members may not have the same resolve.  

Putin knows he will likely never be able to go toe-to-toe with the power and influence of the United States and a united Europe.  He sees that his best chance to restore Russia to its previous glory is to bring his opponents one-by-one down to his level.  He likes leaders and countries that he sees as friendly or at least malleable.  That's why Putin was so interested in seeing Trump elected President, and why he wants to see Le Pen elected now in France, and a Russia-friendly German candidate win later this year, too.  He's been chip-chip-chipping away at us since the day he assumed power, and frankly, he's winning.  If he wasn't, I wouldn't be writing this.

Once again, it's an interesting world we live in, and we have a ringside seat to some amazing history in the making.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Oh yeah? Well...mine's bigger than yours. Take THAT!

I had to look twice to make sure this story wasn't from the The Onion:

"Russia claims its Electronic Warfare troops can detect and neutralize any target from a ship's system and radar to satellites, rendering ships, planes and missiles useless."  It went on to say, "You don't need expensive weapons to win.  Powerful radio-electronic jamming is enough."

You can read it for yourself here if you like.

While this story dovetails nicely with my previous post, it seems just a little too far fetched to be believable.  First of all, why would the Russians put this story out?  Why would they admit to us how advanced they were?  Unless....they had reason to believe that the US actually did have the technology to, for example, zap a North Korean missile at launch?  

Taking it a step further, do they actually think we really could somehow take down their satellites or aircraft or other systems, too?  Or is this story just their pathetic attempt to play "Anything you can do, we can do better"?

I'm wondering now if the hypothesis of my last post might have just received a (tiny) bit of credence?  Do the world's Superpowers really have some revolutionary new technology that will make our traditional weapons systems obsolete, or are the surviving Twilight Zone writers back at it again pulling our chain?


Sunday, April 16, 2017

What's this button do?

North Korea tried Saturday to launch a ballistic missile, and just like their last test attempt, it also failed.  Crashed and burned big time, it did.  The question now is WHY?  Was it simply a case of inferior engineering, or something else?  Sunday the former British Foreign Secretary suggested it was likely that a US cyber-attack was responsible for the North Korean missile's spectacular failure. 

We've heard for years now about other countries successful hacks / cyber attacks on American commercial and public interests.  Through all this I've been wondering, "What are we capable of doing to them?"  Of course, barring a security leak, we'll never know for sure.  But if science is truly on the cusp of being able to disable enormously expensive weapons systems with cyber commands from a dark, secure room somewhere, this could be a world "balance-of-power" game changer.

This potential new form of dominant warfare has far-ranging implications.  For many decades there have been only two true superpowers, the USSR / Russia and the US, with the US generally believed to have a considerable edge.  "Superpower" being defined as quantities and qualities of missiles, warheads, aircraft, submarines, tanks, etc.  Only a select few advanced countries could get into our very exclusive club.  

Now, with a relatively small financial investment, many smaller countries could soon find themselves in the Cyber Big Leagues.  Surely tiny Israel is there right now, joining the US, Russia, and China in the top tier.  Other potential members might include N Korea, S Korea, Japan, India, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, and a few others you wouldn't think of as likely superstars.  

Can you imagine the challenges to traditional spheres of influence where former minor league players can demand and win concessions from today's superpowers?  Where most of today's massive aircraft carrier battle groups and nuclear-tipped missiles are made redundant?  Where warfare will be (even) more about electronic / digital measures and countermeasures than about the actual hardware?  Will today's heavyweights be able to gracefully and willingly share power?

For those who are today willing to appease the Tea Party's thirst for tax cuts at all costs, please think twice.  Cutting funding in the wrong places, such as in education, especially in the nerdy fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, would likely come back to haunt us in the not-too-distant future.  It's time to double-down on funding our future.  Cyber-nerds sitting at computer keyboards may not be as sexy as a fleet of stealth bombers, but they will likely someday be far more important to our national security.

Chew on that thought for a while.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Back in the early days of the Cold War all us little kids were taught to dive under our school desks to shield ourselves from an incoming Commie nuclear attack.  (I'm still questioning the wisdom of letting little kids crawl all over lead-lined desks all day, but that's a topic for later.)  I'm sure this would have worked great so long as the Rooskies attacked between the hours of 8 am and 3:15 pm, and respected recess, lunch times, and summer vacations.

Things are different today.  First, the Russians are likely not our main existential threat.  Russia's Vladimir Putin no doubt remembers the concept of "Mutually Assured Destruction" or MAD, which meant both sides knew if they launched an attack on the other, they themselves would be vaporized in retaliation about five minutes later.  Putin may be an evil bully, but he isn't stupid.  He knows he can get what he wants via something virtually untraceable back to the Motherland:  cyber warfare. 

Nor is China a likely existential threat to America.  Their version of modern Communism....let's call it Communism Lite....likes making a profit, and we're their biggest customer.  We need to keep each other happy.  Neither of us has much to gain, but a tremendous amount to lose, by nuking the other.

Iran....they could be, likely WILL be an existential threat to us sooner rather than later.   Our nuclear deal with them of a few years ago was, in retrospect, a joke.  They're probably still laughing over how gullible we were.  Their radical Islamic leadership would probably be willing to write off a few million of their own people in exchange for poking an infidel in the eye.  The good news for us here in 'Merica is that Israel is geographically much closer and has vastly more to lose than we do, so before Iran can truly threaten us, Israel will....umm...."handle it".  *wink*

North Korea, however, is another matter.  Their people might be perpetually on the verge of starvation, but Kim Jong Un still lavishes money on his nuclear program.  I doubt he's concerned about a few million of his people being wiped out in a nuclear retaliatory strike....the MAD concept probably means nothing to him.  

Prez Trump thinks China can control them, but I have my doubts.  Even if China cuts N Korea off today, it's too late.   That train has already left the station.  China is probably thinking if they piss him off anger Kim Jong Un, he might someday lob a few nukes their direction, too, so they're tippy-toeing their way around "The Little Fat One" as well.  For the time being I'm not particularly worried about Crazy Kim hitting my zip code with an ICBM....he'd probably have a tough time even hitting Texas!  As a geopolitical junkie, I'll admit this one is going to be "interesting" to watch play out.

Have I missed anybody?   Is there anyone else you can think of that might have a nuke or two set aside with our name on it?  

And most importantly, now that you're an adult, do you have a Big Boy or Big Girl desk you can fit under?  ;)


Monday, April 10, 2017

War criminals can't be trusted to police each other

I've studied this mess in Syria for a long time now and what I've learned is that it is, even though the diplomats won't say it out loud, a giant "cluster fuck".  You really need a program to figure out who are the bad guys and who are the....umm....badder guys.

We seem to think of those involved as the guys in the black hats vs the guys in the white hats, and of course we're for the guys in the white hats.  But there really are no white hats.  The black hat guys are definitely Syrian dictator Turd al Assad and his allies Russia, Iran and the Hezbollah militia Iran sponsors.  Then the....let's call them the very dirty gray hat guys....are the "rebels".  Except there is no one united rebel group, but instead a bunch of other a-holes who sometimes fight against Assad & Friends whenever they aren't fighting each other.

According to this BBC article from several years ago there were no less than 20 different groups fighting in Syria.  Since then Russia and Turkey have gotten involved, too.  And lets not forget, what we today know as ISIS began as one of those rebel groups fighting Assad.  Are one of these other rebel sub-groups likely to be the Son of ISIS next year?  If we side with one or even a few of these groups, we'll just piss off the others.  It's like a giant, never ending game of whack-a-mole.

I personally have no problem with Prez Trump striking the Syrian airfield last week as punishment for them using internationally outlawed chemical weapons.  But for those who want us to get more involved I must ask, what's the desired outcome?  If it's to see Turd al Assad abdicate his dictatorship, who's going to replace him?  Will he be any better than Assad was?  Will he be able to pull his opponents together in a big coalition for the benefit of all the Syrian people?  Haha!  Don't hold your breath.  Look for more of the same, or even worse.  The age-old tribes and sects there are just born to fight....they're hopelessly savage.  And the poor, average Syrian family is just caught in the crossfire.  :(

The one thing I hope we've learned is that RUSSIA CAN NOT BE TRUSTED TO KEEP ITS WORD.  Russia's Putin brokered an agreement 4 (?) years ago whereby they would see to it Assad turned over ALL their chemical weapons.  Russia / Putin lied!  They made a good show of it, but they DIDN'T disarm the Syrians of their chemical weapons.  There is no way Turd al Assad would have disobeyed his Russian benefactors....they're the only reason he's avoided being lynched....and used chem weapons without Putin's knowledge.

Ronald Reagan got it right 30 years ago when, speaking of the Russians, he said, "Trust, but verify."  Today Russia has shown that they can hide from us anything they want, therefore there is no sense even pretending to trust them.

Regarding Russia and Syria today, we simply can't trust these war criminals to police each other.