Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Unprecedented (And How We Got Here)


Just in case you haven't seen this bit of video from President Obama...



To the best of my knowledge (and James Fallows') this is unprecedented. It is certainly not normal. There is nothing like it, that I remember, in my lifetime. I do not celebrate it. I believe President Obama speaks the truth. But it is a terrible truth and a horrible precedent. President Obama is a very intelligent man and an exceedingly careful speaker. That he feels compelled to speak such a terrible truth -- and set such a horrible precedent -- is truly frightening. I hope it goes without saying (or at least elaborating on it) that it is time to pay attention and get involved.

So, how did we get here? There isn't any clear-cut line that we crossed....but humans seem to require them. "On this day, the world changed." History rarely happens like that. Change is much more gradual. It is much more subtle. You do have your December 7th, 1941 or September 11, 2001. But Japan did not wake up one day and decide to go to war with the United States. Al-Qaeda didn't train it's suicide pilots overnight.

Yet, people being humans, need something to hold on to, to mark a transition. A date. An event.

Today is such a day: August 3rd in 1981. This is the day that the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization went on strike. And just a short time later, a new President -- Ronald Reagan -- fired them. 35 years provides a lot of clarity. Hindsight always does.

I was a young man, 22 years old and freshly out of college. It was the worst recession since the Great Depression and I couldn't find a "real job". I was still working at my "school job" -- pumping gas into general aviation airplanes at a small airport in South Carolina.

Let's contrast my circumstances with today's. I was living in a small town, having gone to a small college, working a small job. I lived in a crappy (rented) house, drove a crappy car and made little more than minimum wage with no benefits. Sounds pretty much like today doesn't it?

But it wasn't. I didn't have any student loan debts worth mentioning. My father had managed to put four kids through college and pay for most of it. He'd done that with less than 2 years of college and sticking with a great American corporation for 30+ years. No layoffs. No benefit cuts. Just an occasional (okay, more than occasional) move (all expenses paid). He was NOT in a union.

I didn't earn much over minimum wage but I could work all the hours I wanted. In the summers, when I was off from college, I'd often work 60-80 hours a week. And remember, this was "bad" times. I'd gone away to college one year, come back and gone to a local college for 3, graduated, moved away to the big city looking for a "real job", returned to town defeated and yet, I wasn't in any real debt. Certainly nothing along the lines of what college graduates carry these days. I don't think banks were allowed to lend people without a decent job that kind of money back in those days. People that had lived through the Great Depression knew something that we kids didn't: Debt is a weapon.

And then PATCO went on strike and the FAA started hiring. That illustrates how the world has changed too. The Government (through the FAA) paid me to go to school. With benefits. Think about that. The FAA knew the washout rate for the job of air traffic controller was over 50%. Yet it paid people -- straight off the street -- to go to their school. They paid about $18,000 per year. With benefits. Why? Because that was the price of doing "business".

Sure it was expensive. And yet, the United States of America could afford it. We thrived paying people to train for good jobs. There was only one reason we did that. The only effective difference between then and now: Unions. Businesses didn't pay good wages and benefits out of the goodness of their cold, greedy hearts. They paid them because unions made them pay. Period.

On this day, 35 years ago, a union made a fatal mistake by going on strike. Ronald Reagan fired them. And the People cheered.

Make no mistake about that last part. The People of the United States cheered Ronald Reagan for firing PATCO. Not all of them. But enough of them. Unions went downhill and the jobs that carried Americans into the Middle Class went with them. That's how we got here. That's how we got to Trump.

Your country is in danger. Real danger. It's hard to believe this Presidential campaign is real. It certainly feels unreal. But here we are. It's unprecedented and it's real. Wake the hell up.

Don Brown
August 3, 2016

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How My Internet Works


One of the computer comebacks that has always stuck in my head was, "They call them personal computers for a reason." I suspect younger people can move from machine to machine with ease. Even looking at my wife's computer (supposedly identical to mine) confuses me. (How does she see those little, tiny, program icons in the dock?)

Anyway, I recently had an internet experience that only an older person can have -- the sheer wonder of how far we've come. I was wasting time on Flickr (as usual) and came across this picture.

Old Man of Storr

I had no idea where it was so I typed in into Google Maps.

Google Maps: Old Man of Storr

I love Google Maps. I find all sorts of interesting places just by scouting for photo locations on it. Between it and Flickr, I can waste hours. And in Twitter and Facebook and it's a wonder anybody gets anything done. But I digress. While I was checking out the Old Man of Storr on Google Maps, I decided to search for a hotel nearby. You never know, I might actually get there one day. That's when I found this place.

Glenview Hotel and Skye Pie cafe

I'd go there for the food alone. I think savory (sorry) savoury pies are one of the United Kingdom's best-kept secrets. I have no idea why you can't buy them on every street corner in America. I mean, look at this menu. Beef & Gravy in a pie crust? How can anybody resist that? Crab & Cheese? Yes please.

Best of all, when I showed it to our regular traveling companions, I got back, "I told you I wanted to go to the Isle of Skye." That increases the chances that I might actually get to go by at least 90%. And to think, it all started with a picture from some guy I don't even know, halfway around the world. And now, thanks to the internet, it will probably be booked solid. And some inn keeper in Scotland will be writing a blog saying, "It all started with some guy in a cowboy hat from Georgia. Next thing you know we're overrun with "rednecks" wanting savoury pies".

Don Brown
August 26, 2015

Friday, August 14, 2015

Obama's Iran Deal Will Destroy the World


Catchy headline right? All my normal readers know I'm a big Obama supporter and the rest of you will just have to read along to figure out what I'm talking about. Once again, I've been doing yard work, listening to podcasts and thinking. It seems like it's becoming a habit.

This time, I was listening to Voice of America's "Encounter" -- just because I'm strange like that. You have to listen real close when the program starts, otherwise you don't know which side to root for and it's half the program before you can figure out which guest is the hired gun from the Heritage Foundation (et al.).

Anyway, I don't even remember which episode it was (I'm catching up on six weeks worth) but two guys were going on about when it's best to go to war with Iran (that's really what the argument is about) -- now or later. I choose "never" but what do I know? (One thought too far...it's interesting, listening to a "timely" news program six weeks late. An interesting perspective that you should try sometime.) That's when it hit me. This Iranian "agreement" will destroy the world. But the Right Wing is too ideologically blinded to recognize the argument. Here you go guys (because I know you're reading.)

Oil is currently $42 a barrel. Cheap, cheap, cheap. Saudi Arabia opened the tap and has kept it open. I don't know if it was to frak the US frakers, to cripple Russia or for some other purpose ("market share", yeah right) but whatever the reason, it has driven the price of oil down. And if the Iranians come out from under their sanctions, you know they'll be pumping. Oil will become cheaper. And cheaper. And the world will use more and more of it, warming up the planet and WE WILL ALL DIE! (It's okay, right wingers. You can click on the link. It's a John Bolton-approved ad.)

I wondered why no one on the pro-Israeli-right-wing side had made this argument and (of course) 2 seconds later it hit me -- they can't. I mean, you can't claim that Global Warming is a hoax and then claim it's going to destroy the world (or at least the human-inhabitable climate). Nope, it's far saner to provoke a war that can go nuclear and destroy the world that way.

In other news, Al Gore's guys are thinking (out load) that he should run for President. If I was him, I'd do it just so I could say "I Told You So". But y'all know how I like saying that.

If you've made it this far, go listen to someone that has a clue about foreign affairs: Fareed Zakaria. See what he has to say. (Evidently, embedding videos is no longer an option.)

Don Brown
August 14, 2015

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Thinking in the Yard



I was doing some yard work and -- as is my wont -- listening to podcasts. This one from the RSA inspired some bigger thoughts.

Designing a World Where People Come First

It starts out with your typical civilian-aviation story (it's irrelevant to my thoughts) and quickly heads into an odd blend of liberal/conservative thought on "reimagining" (the whole talk is full of buzz words) schools. It occurred to me (again) that we really do become our professions. Our work defines us in ways I don't think many young people are prepared for. As this guy went joyfully from topic to topic he got virtually everything wrong -- from a controller's view of the world.

(Pardon the lack of quotes. If I don't get this done in a hurry I won't get it done.)

Entrepreneurs -- We don't need any entrepreneurs in Air Traffic Control. Okay, that's not quite right. We do need to have experimentation. We just don't need for it to happen on the floor of the control room. The FAA's use of simulators was abysmal in my day. Has it improved? Is anybody actually using them to experiment? Humans being humans, don't encourage experimenting in the general controller population. But it does need to happen somewhere. As long as it is somewhere safe.

Non-Standardization -- This guy is basically talking mass experimentation (and local control) of schooling. It would be totally and utterly wrong for air traffic control. Does anybody talk about continuity of service anymore? Are you thinking about it? A pilot can talk to a controller in south Georgia for breakfast and be talking to a controller that lives in Brooklyn before lunch. He shouldn't have to adjust to "how New York does it" from the way it's done in Albany, Georgia. ATC should be done the same way in Albany -- whether the one in Georgia or the one in New York. Ideally, a pilot shouldn't have to adjust his "hearing" to follow ATC instructions. That is "ideally" in terms of safety. We might not ever solve that one but it doesn't mean we should give up trying. Anybody can work on speaking carefully and distinctly -- and every controller should.

"Parents understand what makes a good school." That's like saying pilots understand what makes a good air traffic control system. And to all the pilots (and parents) nodding their heads...that sounds like controllers know what makes a good airplane. We don't. Understanding pilot's needs and the demands that their profession imposes on them is important. The ATC system is here to get airplanes (and their passengers) where they need to go. Safely. We might all recognize good outcomes in all these areas but that doesn't mean we can design a system to produce those outcomes.

I encourage you to think some big thoughts about your profession. Listen to something totally out of your sphere and see if the ideas might work in your field. Or not. However you do it, set aside some time to think. Find the others in your profession that are also thinking. There won't be enough of them, but there will be some. Those are the people you want to meet.

Don Brown
August 8, 2015

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Little America



When I first drove into the Great State of Maine, I stopped at a Dunkin' Donuts shop in some town I don't remember. The guy in front of me had a beard about 6 inches long. The next guy to walk in behind me had a beard about 12 inches long. I was sort of taken aback. I come from down South, in a place so rural that we joke that camouflage is a fashion statement. People here actually know the difference between ™Realtree and ™Mossy Oak. Guys with "that look" are a dime a dozen down here and they're usually carrying a gun. I just didn't expect it up North. Walking out the door, I whispered to my wife, "I think we've stumbled on Duck Dynasty North."

I thought about this -- and other things I saw -- throughout my drive to Maine and back. In short, America looks beat up. We look run down. It's not about Civil-War-style whiskers. If that's the look you want, have at it. It's about what is under it. The unkempt clothes. The paunchy bodies. The slovenly habits. It's the beautiful, cute and wonderful houses I saw that needed a coat of paint. The yard needs mowing, the bushes trimmed, the garden tended and the front porch mended.

There were exceptions to this unruly rule. After driving through the bone-rattling despair of Troy, New York, we entered the beautiful town of Bennington, Vermont and went out for dinner. It wasn't a fancy dinner -- pizza and beer -- but it was a memorable one. Nice, friendly people in a very local joint (Ramuntos Pizza). Young people were playing corn hole (tailgate toss) in the side yard and -- I swear -- kids were riding bicycles down the sidewalks of Main Street. It was almost perfect. Close enough that you tried not to notice a couple of empty storefronts smudging the Norman Rockwell painting. And that the magic faded away to modern Americana just a block or two off of Main Street.


©Don Brown 2015

There were the Big Money exceptions of course. Shore Drive in Cape Elizabeth, Maine is doing just fine, thank-you-very-much. No problems with the lawns or painting the houses there. The residents can hire all the help they need. That isn't the problem in America. It's the people that don't have the time and wherewithal to take care of their homes -- should they be lucky enough to even own one. (Or pay the mortgage on one.) It's the people that are piecing together two and three jobs trying to make a full-time living. The families where living on a single income is no longer even a dream. They have no benefits, no retirement and -- seemingly -- no future. Or maybe, it's just that they have no hope.

America can do better. We can still do Big Things. I drove across the Tappan Zee Bridge on the way back home. Thankfully, we are building a new one before (hopefully) the old one falls down. It's a multi-billion dollar project. You can create a lot of jobs for a billion dollars. You can create a lot of full-time, union-wage jobs with good benefits if you put your mind and politics to it.


©Don Brown 2015

But it's not the big things that were bugging me on this trip. It was the little things. The important little things. Maybe it was because I heard the most interesting story on This American Life while I was waiting for the Sun to rise on the Blue Ridge Parkway one morning. It's a story about something that seems so small. It's so small I'm not sure I know how to name it. But I have the feeling that we need more of it. Gumption? Resilience? Standards? Hope? I don't know. Maybe I'm just getting old and sappy. But this story makes our current troubles seem trivial. It shows that if we have even the tiniest of things -- the right things -- to cling to, just what the human spirit is capable of. Have a listen. Stick with it until the end.

This American Life -- Episode 559 -- Act One

Don Brown
August 4, 2015

Monday, June 01, 2015

Can I Join the Rodeo?



I'm thinking of running away and joining the circus...I mean rodeo. Here I am -- almost 9 years into retirement and I still haven't moved to the mountains. It's funny how it all works out. I understand ERAM is up and running at ZTL (I might have to go see that), I've quit smoking, lost 65 lbs. and can do things (like hiking up a mountain) that I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to do again.

It's a good life I lead, even if I'm not living in the mountains. I want this life for you too. Make your union strong. A-number-1 on the list ought to be getting controllers (and all Federal employees) back on a regular pension. It is absolutely vital that government once again becomes the "check" that balances the power of Big Business. Big Business won't create decent jobs so Government should. It is just as vital that a strong electorate keeps both -- Government and Big Business in check. Work on that will you? It's your future. Take charge of it. Unions, Guilds, Associations -- call them what you will -- are a crucial piece of the puzzle.

Me? I'll help. I'll share what I know. But it takes youth to change the world. It takes fire, energy and idealism. Me? I just want to move to the mountains and take pictures. They have rodeo in the mountains. I know they do.



Don Brown
June 1, 2015

Monday, May 04, 2015

Cloudland Canyon -- East Rim

Yes, I'm still working on the Photography Park project.  If you can call going to pretty parks and taking pictures working.





I say again: Retirement is a wonderful thing.  Get ready for it.


Don Brown
May 4, 2015