Thursday, January 31, 2013

Relearning History. Again.

I wandered into my favorite bookstore the other day (I do that whenever I'm in town) and there was a great-big book on a display stand, way in the back. "Franklin D. Roosevelt: His Life and Times. An Encyclopedic View". At 4 bucks, how could I leave that behind? Especially when I opened it up to the "Labor" entry and read this:

"The rise of the powerful trade union movement was the most important social phenomenon of the Roosevelt era."

"When Franklin Roosevelt became president in March 1933, the Great Depression had already reduced American trade unions to their lowest ebb in more than a generation: unemployment stood at one in three for urban wage earners; real wages were 20 percent lower than in 1929; the American Federation of Labor (AFL), which in 1919 had boasted more than 5 million members, now enrolled less than 3 million."

If that doesn't sound familiar to you, you weren't listening to the same NPR show I was listening to the other day.

"The share of the American work force that belongs to a labor union has hit a 97 year low. Today only 11.3 percent of workers hold a union membership."

FDR in 1933

Let me do the math for you; 97 years ago was 1916. And don't get the idea that FDR promoted unions.

The president's personal attitude toward the union movement proved one of merely vague sympathy..."

Sound like anybody you know?

Official portrait of Barack Obama

There is much, much more to this single history lesson. The role of immigrants, John L. Lewis knocking "Big Bill" Hutchinson down with one punch and the formation of the National Labor Relations Board -- "designed to curb unfair labor practices by employers and encourage independent trade unions..."...

You did hear the recent news about the National Labor Relations Board didn't you?

The Judicial Attack on Labor

"It should come as no shock that Republicans in Congress would like to see the power of labor further diminished. The same is true of governors and state legislatures in red and purple states such as Wisconsin and Indiana. But now conservative courts have joined the fray.

Just this past week, the National Labor Relations Board was put in legal limbo -- with the possibility that more than 300 of its decisions over the last year could be nullified -- as a result of a federal appeals court ruling in the nation's capital that President Obama's recess appointments to the Board were invalid."

Try to keep up. I know it's hard to tell whether I'm talking about the past or the present...but that is kind of the point. Let's go back to the FDR book and look at the SEC entry. (Not the Southeastern Conference you knuckleheads.)

Securities and Exchange Commission

"Probably the closest bond between Rooseveltian ideals and a long-lasting reform was the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), set up to exercise control over the stock exchanges for the protection of investors."

"The high-flying decade of the 1920s had revealed the need for control over the frequently unethical or outright fraudulent activities of the New York Stock Exchange...

...Congress and others could glimpse the manipulations by exchange members who rigged secret stock pools, offered bonds that lacked any substantial backing...

Mortgage Backed Securities anyone? Credit Default Swaps? Need I say anything more? (Yes, I'd still put Elliot Spitzer in charge of the SEC.)

Just think, for 4 bucks worth of knowledge we could have avoided the Great Recession.

I know you are really, really busy with your daily life. I know you have a billion different sources of news and/or points of view you could be reading besides mine. I truly appreciate it because I know how precious it is to have your attention.

You must get involved. You must take the time to educate yourself. You must join with others in whom you can trust to give you honest information and act on your behalf for the common good. You cannot do it all. But you must do your part.

While you're waiting on someone else to do something important, they are waiting on you. Go do something good. Our society depends on it.

Don Brown
January 31, 2013

Saturday, January 26, 2013


Reflect by Get The Flick
Reflect, a photo by Get The Flick on Flickr.

I got to spend the morning at St. Philip's again.

Don Brown
January 26, 2013

Friday, January 18, 2013

Fog Drifts by Winter

Fog Drifts by Winter by Get The Flick
Fog Drifts by Winter, a photo by Get The Flick on Flickr.

I mentioned a long time ago that I come back to scenes over and over again. Some might find the repetition boring. I find it full of amazing subtlety. A split second longer on the shutter speed, a strange quality of light, a degree or two of tilt, a few millimeters more of zoom. It all adds up to a different picture. A different vision. There are too many variables to control precisely. And I'm not even sure we should try.

©Don Brown 2013

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Blogger Blahs (+NextGen)

I mentioned a while back that Google had changed their blog interface. It's still making me nuts and I have less time than ever to devote to battling over-ambitious programmers. Something will have to change. Soon.

But speaking of over-ambitious programmers....

FAA’s NextGen Program Reaches Critical Period

"One of the biggest critics of ERAM has been the U.S. Transportation Department’s Office of the Inspector General. The OIG for many years has chronicled the problems with ERAM and faulted the FAA’s management of the program.

Even now, the OIG does not believe ERAM is out of the woods. At a congressional hearing in September, Inspector General Calvin Scovel said hundreds of software issues have been revealed during operational trials that still need to be addressed. Scovel concedes that while the FAA is making progress in deployment, “it has not fully resolved critical software-related issues.”"

That's on page three. The more I write about it, the more links I have to put in and...return to top of this page and start over.

You see, the FAA and Google aren't that much different. It's all "new" and "improved" because it looks cool to the folks at the top and they can bleat about all they have accomplished. And in the end, I'm just typing words on a page and you're just putting airplanes on the runways. We all sift through a mountain of mud and when we're lucky enough to stumble upon a gold nugget we tell ourselves we're geniuses because we learned how to swirl water in a shinier pan.

Don Brown
January 16, 2013

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Fareed's Take -- NextGen

I was listening to Fareed Zakaria's show on CNN -- "Global Public Square" -- and of all things to pop up, the FAA's NextGen reared its ugly head. Oh boy. Now, as all my readers know, I think Fareed's show is great and I love to hear his unique view of America -- even if I don't always agree with it. I think he smart and I think his show demonstrates how great TV can be in the right hands.

So how in the world could he use NextGen as an positive example of what America could be doing with its infrastructure? To put it more plainly, while listening to the show on the beach (yes, via podcast) I blurted out, "Fareed! How could you?!"

This is where controllers come in. Actually, this is where any public servant comes in. America has to be mature enough to handle public dissension. There must be a pubic airing of informed views that are contrary to the status quo. If there is not -- if the public servants with the inside knowledge are silent -- the respected opinion leaders like Fareed Zakaria will be fooled along with everyone else.

I realize that the FAA must move forward. I realize that NATCA can't be just an obstacle to progress -- it has to participate in the progress where possible. That doesn't mean NATCA (or you) can't express reservations. Dissent is important. To use an example from this blog, look at Paul Krugman. His policies have not (for the most part) been adopted. But he has left a years-long record of his dissent. A record that can be studied the next time we have a financial crisis. And there will be a next time. Just as there will be another major program dreamed up by the FAA.

NextGen is not the first. It will not be the last. It won't even be the last disaster and/or partial success of the FAA's. It is easy to learn from your successes. It's harder to learn from your failures. But for those in the future willing to learn, there must be a history from which to learn. Fareed Zakaria cannot learn of NextGen's problems by word of mouth. They have to be written down, made prominent and findable.

Now to the specifics Fareed mentioned. I'll let you listen first.


Just take his use of the two words "Faster" and "Safer". NextGen won't make anybody's travel faster.  "Getting a short cut to a holding pattern doesn’t really help matters does it ?" It doesn't make it "faster".

How can NextGen make the system "safer"? The U.S. hasn't has a fatal airline accident since 2009. We can split hairs and argue about broad statements but when it comes down to brass tacks, the U.S. aviation system is as safe a system as ever devised by man. "The struggle isn’t so much to improve safety as it is to maintain it."

The fact that Fareed fails to grasp this point in the problem. The conversation within the "global public square" is being dominated by interests trying to sell high-tech gizmos to a blissfully-ignorant Public. Letting airplanes fly closer together does not get them on the runways faster. You can't improve on a zero-fatality statistic. It is your job as a public servant to keep these conversations based in reality. At least that is one way I define serving the Public.

There are enough things in air traffic control and the NAS (National Airspace System) that do need investments in infrastructure that we don't need to make things up. We certainly don't need companies seeking corporate profits at taxpayer's expense to make things up. I loved Fareed's "take" on this subject. I agree with his views. However, picking NextGen as an example of what needs to be done was an error. It diminishes his (otherwise sound) argument. And that my friends, it partly our fault. If we can't speak truth to power, then all will be lost.

 “As civil servants, your primary responsibility is to ‘speak truth unto power’”.

 Don Brown
January 12, 2013

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Special Bulletin (ITYS Edition)

We interrupt my vacation to bring you this special bulletin. Seriously, I'm on vacation but I was listening to Fareed Zakaria's show (GPS) as a podcast while I was walking down the beach. I can't get it out of my head so here we go.

Here's the relevant ITYS (I Told You So) posts on Get the Flick.

Abandon Hope

"Please note that I’m quoting from the Wall Street Journal. I’m biased, but I try to be fair. The UK’s economy is just limping along -- just like ours has except they are experiencing a lot more social pain. Does this sound like a road we want to go down? " 

Remember the UK?

"Do you remember that we (Get the Flick readers) are supposed to be watching the economic policy of austerity in the United Kingdom? To see how it’s working out because the Republicans want us to do the same thing?"

And finally, here's what I heard from Fareed Zakaria and his guest, Anatole Kaletsky, economics columnist for Reuters.

Global Public Square -- January 6, 2012 transcript.

"ZAKARIA: What can we learn from what is going on in Britain? Because you have - you are now into a year or so of the real, the austerity program really taking place and, you know, on the one hand there are people who say, look, John - George Osborne and David Cameron say, we had to do this. We had to get serious, we had to get our fiscal house in order and, yes, it is going to be painful. There are other people who say, look, the British economy has contracted more than it did during the Great Depression.

KALETSKY: Well, that's a great question, because I agree with the gist of your question, this been big theme of mine for the last two years. If you look at the amount that Britain has managed to reduce its deficit in the last three years, it's actually less than the reduction in deficit in the United States. The United States purely through economic growth without any tax hikes or significant public spending cuts has actually managed to be more successful in controlling its deficit and debt than Britain has with an austerity program, which is really second only to that in Spain and possibly Italy, among the major economies in the world. So, I think Britain is a very good object lesson for the United States of the danger of doing too much to soon in terms of trying to cut deficits." 

(Emphasis added)

I encourage you to read the entire section of the transcript (so you can read an opposing view).

We now return to our regularly scheduled vacation

Don Brown
January 10, 2013

Monday, January 07, 2013

Stretch It!

Stretch It! by Get The Flick
Stretch It!, a photo by Get The Flick on Flickr.

Swan Pre-Flight. Click through to the next photo on Flickr to see the departure.

Don Brown
January 7, 2013

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Sometimes the Darkness is Your Friend

I'm thrilled with this one. Actually creating a picture (as opposed to just waiting on one) is sort of new to me. It's amazing what you can do when you're retired. Time is a great luxury.

Don Brown
January 5, 2012

Friday, January 04, 2013

Frosty Weed on Black

Frosty Weed on Black by Get The Flick
Frosty Weed on Black, a photo by Get The Flick on Flickr.

Finally, winter has arrived. I might have to move north if this global warming thing keeps going.

Don Brown
January 4, 2013