Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Everyday Heroes

Once a year, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association takes the time to honor some of its own. These controllers don’t ask for fame. It is thrust upon them. They just answer the call --just like they always do -- everyday.

These people may not be your kind of heroes. But they’re mine. Been there, done that and I know what it takes. You never know how an emergency will work out. If it’s good, you’re a hero. If it’s bad, you’re a goat. These folks (and many more like them) step up to the plate anyway, every single day.

So here’s to Jonathan, Chris, Bernie, David, Yasemin, Stephen, Ivy, J.D., Borden and Michael. Take a bow folks. You deserve it.

Third Annual Archie League Medal of Safety Award Winners 

Don Brown
January 31, 2007

P.S. They have audio too.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Havoc !

I get upset about the Bush administration trying to privatize the air traffic control system. I think it is wrong on so many different levels. But everything is relative. It doesn’t reach the level of wrong that this does.

Los Angeles Times Op-Ed Page
Our mercenaries in Iraq

“Already, private contractors constitute the second-largest "force" in Iraq. At last count, there were about 100,000 contractors in Iraq, of which 48,000 work as private soldiers, according to a Government Accountability Office report.”

This Administration doesn't believe in government -- just business. Even if that business is war.

Don Brown
January 25, 2007

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Dam !

I’ll read anything. I’ll read the back of a cereal box. What can I say ?

I was reading this guest opinion in The New York Times on dams and this jumped out at me.

Thousands of dams have been abandoned by their owners, and over time, title to them has become obscure — 12 percent of the dams in the Army Corps of Engineers’ inventory have no known owner. As these dams become dilapidated, the states are left with the expensive task of repairing or dismantling them. Privatization advocates, take heed: this is a cautionary tale.

Interesting thought. I have no idea why it made me think of Three Mile Island. TMI has nothing to do with privatization. Uh...well...not really...

”Three Mile Island Unit 1 was sold to AmerGen Energy Corporation, a joint venture between Philadelphia Electric Company (PECO), and British Energy, in 1998. In 2000, PECO merged with Unicom Corporation to form Exelon Corporation, which acquired British Energy's share of AmerGen in 2003, dissolving the company in the process. TMI Unit 1 is now owned and operated by Exelon Nuclear Inc., an Exelon Corp. subsidiary.”

Unit 1 is the one that still works. Unit 2 was the one damaged in the accident. I wonder who will own that in 100 years.

Don Brown
January 23, 2007

Sunday, January 21, 2007

You’re Not Gonna Believe This...

Whenever I tell people stuff like this about my former employer, they just look at me with that “Now, what is he really up to ?” look. I guess that is a healthy attitude. As a matter of fact, it’s hard not to be cynical in today’s world. My previous post is a glaring example.

But I’m not up to anything sneaky. You can’t get any more straight forward than this. You’re just not going to believe it. You’ve heard of “too good to be true” ? Well, this is too stupid to be true. But it is. Check out this story from the Orlando Sentinel.

FAA: No weather radios in tower

On Christmas Day, a tornado almost took out the Daytona Beach Air Traffic Control Tower. It did take out the flight school across the runway. The controllers, blinded by the blowing rain against the Tower windows, never knew the tornado was out there.

The public relations department at the National Air Traffic Controllers Association made minced meat out of the FAA on the issue. Removing the radios (just a regular radio like you listen to where you work) from the Towers was part of the stupid and vindictive “Imposed Work Rules” the FAA came up with when the Bush administration decided it didn’t have to negotiate, follow any moral standard, obey any law or abide by the Constitution.

The FAA, realizing how stupid they looked, tried to blame their subordinates and claimed they never banned weather radios -- they just banned radios playing music. (Side note: In 25 years I’ve never visited a Tower that didn’t have a radio playing in the background.) NATCA knew this was a lie and had the documentation to back it up. But what’s a lie between you and your government ? Especially on an issue that is this stupid ?

Anyway, the local Daytona manager goes out and buys two weather radios -- the kind that broadcast nothing but severe weather alerts. And in what can only be termed stupidity squared, the FAA national office stood up, said they were right the first time and banned even the weather radios.


I wish I could tell you exactly how many times I wound up in this situation with the FAA during my career. How do you argue with stupidity ? We’re arguing about whether or not it’s a good idea for air traffic controllers to know there is a tornado headed towards them. WHY ?

Please don’t think that everybody -- or even every manager -- in the FAA is stupid. They aren’t. It’s just that the stupid ones are currently in charge.

Don Brown
January 21, 2007

Friday, January 19, 2007

Facts Don’t Matter

It’s Spring in Georgia. And it’s January. Regardless of what the calendar says, the daffodils are blooming. No, that isn’t normal. But nothing is these days.

Could this be Global Warming ? Who knows ? That is the goal after all. Right ? To make sure that no one really knows ? To create doubt ? Apparently that was Exxon’s goal. "Victory will be achieved when uncertainties in climate science become part of the conventional wisdom". I don’t want to pick on Exxon. They just happen to be in the news. I could just as easily pick on the FAA. Or the entire Federal government. Who knows, maybe the Iraq War really will only cost “under $50 billion” or maybe it’ll even pay for itself. Maybe the WMD will show up after all.

I wonder what kind of confusion I could cause with $16 million dollars. Or $400 billion.

If you had a million dollars to spend on “public relations” what cause would you choose to champion ? Better schools ? The Humane Society ? Your religion ? Perhaps yourself ?

But you’re not a business and you don’t have a million dollars to spend trying to influence (or confuse) anyone, do you ? Much less $16 million.

Without facts, the truth is hard to discern. Or is it ?

The daffodils are blooming in January. Most of the world’s oil is still in the Middle East. There is less oil today than there was yesterday. As long as we keep using it, we’ll have to go over there to get it. And it will cost us. Dearly.

Don Brown
January 19, 2007

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Judgment Pay

Agreeing with a Bush Administration appointee isn’t something I get to do everyday. As I mentioned in my post , In Public Service the discrepancy in pay between the private and public sectors is a difficult subject that needs to be addressed. U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts talked of nothing else in his annual report, according to the Raleigh News & Observer.

Not only is this subject a difficult one to address, it must be addressed constantly. Associate judges top out at just over $200,000 per year. Again, all things being relative, it just doesn’t stack up against what a good lawyer can earn in the private sector.

Judgeships at this level are lifetime appointments. But few qualified individuals are willing to condemn themselves to a lifetime of inferior pay. Lifetime appointments are a cornerstone in building an independent judiciary. We can ill afford another government job turning into a “revolving door” to private industry.

You cannot serve two masters. It’s bad enough that much of civil service keeps an eye on potential future employers when making decisions that should be made solely in the Public’s interest. We don’t need this distraction creeping into the judiciary.

Don Brown
January 7, 2007

Thursday, January 04, 2007

I've Still Got It

Now, if only I can figure out what to do with it.

Guess what I got for Christmas ?

Mr. Hawk decided to pose for me today. It's amazing how much photography has changed in the last 15 (?) years. It's even more amazing how the raptors have recovered. When I was young, it was rare to see a hawk. Now, they'll pose for you in the back yard.

Don Brown
January 4, 2006

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Truth Hurts

I wish I’d written this:

Tragedy in Black and White

I don’t know if I should be inspired to write better or if I should just give up now, knowing I’ll never reach this level. Paul Krugman managed to say more in one article than I’ve said in a dozen. And he said it better -- clearly and logically -- too.

I could babble on but I’d rather you go read the article.

Don Brown
January 3, 2007

Monday, January 01, 2007

Writing More

When I retired, I promised myself I’d do more writing. This blog is one effort to keep that promise to myself. Another was to write a letter to the editor when the occasion arose.

Opportunity knocks in the strangest places -- and at the strangest times. This time it knocked in Asheville, NC. The air traffic control tower at Asheville (AVL) ran out of controllers.

This news story coincided with the release of the in-depth article about controller staffing that I mentioned before .

When Asheville (AVL) ran out of controllers, the Atlanta Air Route Traffic Control Center (Atlanta ARTCC or as controllers refer to it -- ZTL) took over the airspace. ZTL just happens to be where I worked. As a matter of fact, I worked in the specific area that works the airspace around AVL. This led to the opportunity to write one of those letters to the editor I was talking about. As the old saying goes, chance favors the prepared mind. Or the guy that writes often. Or the guy that just shows up.

In a previous life (BC -- Before Children), I was a pretty serious photographer. My favorite photographer is the late Galen Rowell. Galen wrote several books and in one he mentions his take on being “lucky.” Like most, he knew that being “lucky” was a matter of being prepared -- and showing up. If you want to catch a spectacular sunrise on film, your odds of being lucky improve in a direct relation to the number of times you show up for the sunrise. They aren’t all spectacular but if you show up for all of them, you’ll catch the ones that are.

Galen’s most famous photograph is “Rainbow Over the Potala Palace, Lhasa, Tibet.”

It is simply breathtaking. Literally. In Galen’s book, he explains how to chase rainbows. Again, literally. He knew the conditions needed for a rainbow and knew where to look. Rainbows form in a 40 degree arc around the antisolar point. He also knew that a rainbow’s apparent position is dependent upon the observer’s location. In other words, if you move to a new position, so does the rainbow. Galen -- knowing where to look --saw the rainbow and ran (I believe it was about a mile) to the position which placed the rainbow on the palace. It all sounds so simple until you realize that the Potala Palace sits at an altitude of 12,000 feet. I won’t be running anywhere at 12,000 feet. I’d be fortunate to breathe at that altitude much less move.

About now, you’re probably wondering why I have you chasing rainbows in Tibet when I started out talking about air traffic control and letters to the editor. In truth, I don’t really know. I only know that we’re all connected in the crazy trip called life and it doesn’t always make sense. Why does a brilliant photographer become an activist for Tibet ? Why does a respected economist become a political columnist for The New York Times ? I don’t pretend to know.

As I told you when I started this blog “ my only goal is to provide thoughts, ideas and information.” What you do with them is up to you. If you use the thoughts to write your Congressman about the air traffic system...if you use the ideas to make better political choices...if you use the information to find a rainbow for a child...

Well, that makes the day for me .

Don Brown
January 1, 2007