June 18, 2016 I am in Dongguan, Guangdong Province, China. It is quite warm here, with air that looks unstable. In a Silver World hotel right on a pretty little lake. We came down here on China’s high speed rail. For the first leg, I got to ride in ‘business’ class. This has seat spacing like the finest European trains: two seats on one side of the aisle, one on the other. And in this train the seats fully recline. I actually got a couple of hours of sleep. That was to Wuhan. From Wuhan to here, we were in ‘first class’ Four abreast and adequate leg room. Food for sale but really not very good. Would have done better to buy a sandwich in the station. Ride is good and the trains are fast and run on time. My principal grief with them is that the rest rooms are what one would expect in China: grubby and there is no paper to dry your hands with.
The Silver Lake hotel here in Dongguan is fairly nice, with big, clean rooms and a good restaurant. The variety of food at breakfast is enough to keep me happy. The principal issue with the room I am in is that I can’t find any supplies for making coffee or tea. Most hotel rooms in China (and many in Europe) have a hot water pot and a small supply of tea bags. This room doesn’t even have a coffee cup. It does have a hot water pot.
When I arrived in Shanghai; actually when we were driving away from Pudong airport, I discovered there had been a terrorist bombing in the airport. Not a major one: a beer bottle full of firecrackers that injured three or four people with flying glass. Fortunately there were no fatalities. John Hu, my host here, heard the bang. No big disruptions and I didn’t know about it until after. One suspects that in an American or European airport the whole place would have been in lockdown for several hours. Jan didn’t even know about it until she saw my message and heard my voice mail. That was largely because it happened about the same time a deranged Islamist shot up a gay bar in Orlando, killing 48 and hurting a number of people. It may be extravagant to call the fellow an Islamist terrorist since he appeared to be a loser: one of those folks who might have become a TSA agent. He was born in the United States to immigrants from Afghanistan, and his father, who is still alive, sounds like a piece of work himself. I really don’t know how the fellow managed to kill so many people: he apparently had to reload his weapons multiple times and was not tackled or hit over the head by a chair while doing so. And apparently there was no, in the words of the ARA guys ‘no good guy with a gun’ present.
And Disney world has a problem: they let an alligator kill a 2-year old visitor on one of their inland beaches. Now, after the fact, they are rounding up ‘gators and ‘euthanizing’ them. Fine example of locking the barn door. The plaintiff’s lawyers are rejoicing in this one.
Anyway, while it would be apparent that this incident at the gay bar in Orlando should rebound to the benefit of Mr. Trump (and it probably will), the lefties seem to think it will do the gun control cause some good. So Hillary and Obama are making hostile noises about ‘common sense gun control’, as if they had never read the Constitution. I wonder if, while we are amending the Constitution by law, if perhaps we could think of two things. The first is that most, but not all of the Terrorist incidents in the United States over the past decades have been religiously motivated. And that is not just Islamic motivation, but that of the Roman Catholics and some Evangelicals over Abortion as an issue (remember the guy who shot up Planned Parenthood in two locations in Brookline several years ago, and a couple of incidents in which physicians who do women’s health care have been shot dead?). Maybe rather than violate the second amendment we should think about violating the first amendment and put some pressure on religious organizations to behave and tell their people to lay off folks who are not members of their particular sect. And maybe we should get them to pay taxes on their real estate.
The second thing is citizenship by birth. I know it is enshrined in the US Constitution, but if we are going to start ignoring the Constitution about weapons, we might as well go whole hog and start deporting bad people who just happen to be US citizens by birth if we can find a place to send them to. In the case of the Orlando shooter, that would be Afghanistan. It would be easy to say that an immigrant who acted as he did in the years before this incident would have been deported. But then we might consider that woman who was half of the San Bernadino shooters, who was actually admitted to the United States, despite being known to be an Islamic whacko.
Shortly before I left for China, I got a message from the MIT administration saying that it is concerned about the relatively low graduation rate of students living in Senior House. They won’t let freshmen live there this fall. This brought to mind a little history that I was a minor part of:
In the fall of 1994 (was it that long ago?) a freshman named Scott Kreuger who was a pledge at Phi Gamma Delta drank himself to death in the fraternity house. President of MIT Charles Vest, perhaps under the influence of his Chancellor at the time, Lawrence Bacow, decided on collective punishment against the independent living groups (chiefly fraternities at the time) and ruled that all freshmen should live in MIT on-campus housing. To accommodate the increased number of students living on campus, Simmons Hall was rushed to completion, involving months of ‘round the clock construction and much expense. My part of this was that, several years earlier, I was part of the Committee on Academic Performance and noted that we were kicking out a disproportionate number of PGD members. I should have raised a flag then. The other thing was that, when Chuck made the ruling about freshmen living in dorms, I made enough of a stink that I was called into Larry’s office and told to shut up.
The reason I think that Larry was to blame in Chuck’s decision about freshmen was that, some time before the Kreuger incident, a committee led by Molly Potter (course 21, I think) recommended to the Faculty that freshmen be required to live on campus. Larry was part of that committee and spoke in favor of Potter’s motion. I spoke against it and my side won the resolution. Having failed in the Faculty meeting, they managed to get Chuck to do it by fiat. This was part of the end of the Faculty Meeting as an important element of Institute governance.
Back to the story. Recently, it came to the attention of the MIT administration that students were doing drugs and, consequently, doing badly academically at, first, Bexley Hall and then Senior House. Bexley was closed and torn down, we were told, because of structural defects. The residents were disbursed to other locations on campus. In the fall of 2016, Senior House will have additional staffing but no freshmen. One might notice a bit of an asymmetry here. When a problem arose in the fraternities, (Kreuger was, admittedly, not the only problem noted among the independent living groups, just the most spectacular) all of the independent living groups were punished. When serious problems arose in Institute run housing, focused solutions were found and used.
MIT refuses to release, ostensibly on privacy grounds, grade point averages aggregated on a group-by-group basis. But it is reasonable to expect that many of the independent living groups are at least as good at nurturing good academic habits among their students as the dormitories. (Is that why MIT won’t release the data?)
It is long past time to revisit that hastily arrived at decision with respect to where first year students can live.
June 5, 2016: Had a busy term. The limo company I referred to in December is Commonwealth Coach. Their first driver took a few minutes to find us (early in the morning, before light), but then the rest of our relationship has been fine. I haven’t used Uber very much since I can call these guys ahead of time. They bill my credit card and send timely invoices. And their cars are definitely nicer than any taxi.
I did write to Charlie Baker about the Cambridge end of the Cottage Farm Bridge. Several months ago. No response and they are doing the same damn stupid filling in of the developing cracks with asphalt.
Went to the MIT commencement on June 3. The speaker was an actor named Matt Damon. A fellow fairly famous because he grew up in Central Square, went to but did not graduate from Harvard, and starred in Goodwill Hunting, in which he plays a janitor at MIT who just happens to be a math genius. Local kid who did good, I guess. But he is one of those self-righteous lefties who thinks highly of Elizabeth Warren and accuses bankers of theft. Not sure where that particular problem comes from, but the guy makes me think less of actors.
So a few idly determined numbers. There has been a lot of talk in the press recently about TSA induced airport delays. So think of it this way: if we assume a person lives 90 years, on average, that is 788,940 hours, or about ¾ of a million hours. The average person killed in an accident or tourist incident would therefore lose about 3/8 of a million years of life. According to the Department of Transportation, on a seasonally adjusted basis, there were 67.38 and 66.79 million airline boardings in the United States in the first two months of the year, which would indicate about 800 million boardings per year. Were the TSA to delay each passenger by 1 hour, that would be, in sum, the equivalent of just over 1,000 person-lifetimes. Or it would be the equivalent, in lost life, of over 2,000 people being killed at, on average, mid-life. That is the equivalent of 10 aircraft carrying 200 people each.
One can’t determine how many terrorist airplane destructions the TSA may have deterred, but in view of the fact that they have yet to catch a terrorist actually in the process of trying to take an airplane down, it would seem that they are wasting a lot of people’s time in screening and waiting in line for screening. And this is in addition to an unknown (at least unknown to me) number of people who, faced with the hassles of the TSA, drive in automobiles rather than fly. Some of those people will be killed in auto accidents.
December 26, 2015: We are getting ready to head off for a few weeks in a warm place. I just had a nice conversation with a local limo company, arranging for pickup and delivery. I think I was dealing with a relatively small limo company which I will not name yet – will see how they do. But the telephone conversation was very pleasant, and the fellow there asked about our return, so we have them booked for both directions. The cost will be about what a taxicab would have charged. The car will be a limo: a lot more comfortable than a taxicab, and the contrast between the person I spoke with and the taxicab dispatcher is remarkable. This brings to mind an op-ed piece in the Globe the other day, written by a former mayor of Cambridge, suggesting that Uber is a bad thing because it competes with taxicabs. We now have so many options for getting around that it is hard to see why we still have taxicabs. These poor guys operate under severe government regulation, have to pay the vigorish for a medallion, and really are not checked for background issues. On the other hand, Uber drivers are known (and so are their customers: a real security plus for the drivers. I hope that, with pressure from Uber, Lyft and the limo services, the price of medallions will whither away to nothing. Perhaps the traditional taxi dispatchers will all go out of business and the new app based dispatch systems will cover all taxicabs. This is one government backed monopoly that has a good chance of going away. Former mayors of leftie communities like Cambridge notwithstanding.
Several years ago, I wrote to (then) Governor Michael Dukakis about what I considered to be an unsafe practice by the Public Works people: they had paved over the expansion joints on the Cottage Farm bridge. With a couple of thermal cycles, the paving material cracked and formed a hole. So they put more asphalt into the hole, making the problem worse. The Governor turned over my note to his chief of DPW who sent me a snarky note saying, in essence, that I am an idiot and the stuff they were putting in the joint was ‘elastic material’. Subsequent to that, they have rebuilt the bridge, narrowing the approaches and making Rush Hour even worse, to the point where I use the Massachusetts Avenue bridge when I leave MIT at rush hour. I can usually avoid morning rush hour by coming over either early or late. However, I have noted that in the rebuilt bridge they did the same thing: you can see where the expansion joints are located, because the pavement has a different color. But it is deteriorating in just the same way, leaving large potholes. And the DPW is filling those potholes in with asphalt. I wonder if I would get the same snarky response if I write to Charlie Baker. ?
December 15, 2015: So I am in the Ukraina hotel again. Room 1859: maybe as high as I have been in this hotel: overlooking the Moscow River and the White House. I could see the Kremlin but there are other buildings in the way. Weather is what one would think of Moscow in December: light snow with the temperature just below freezing. Prices here are quite cheap. The Rouble has fallen by a factor of more than two since oil prices started collapsing, and inflation in Roubles has not caught up. We had a long taxi ride back from Skoltech this evening, due to both the taxi driver and me missing a turn. A ride that should have been 600 Roubles turned into 1250. But that was only about $18. This year would be a good time to take that vacation in Russia, if one wanted to vacation in Russia…
Back home (I do get the news here), there is this zany stuff coming out of the government. On learning of the flood of refugees from Syria and the large number of people from other countries seemingly wanting to emulate the Syrians, a large number of governors of US states, including our own Charlie Baker, have expressed an unwillingness to house many middle eastern refugees, citing security for their own citizens. The federal government feigned outrage, calling those governors (or at least their positions) ‘un American’ and insisted that these refugees are very well checked out before they are allowed to come to the US. And given what we did to those Vietnamese and Iraqi translators who we left behind to the tender mercies of our enemies in those countries, this sounds right. But then we have since learned that the female of the couple who shot up the party in San Bernardino was easily spotted on social media as a jihadist, if only the State Department had bothered to look. So people emigrating from the Middle East (the woman was from Pakistan and Saudi) are not as carefully checked as Obama told us. Well this is not the first time, nor likely will it be the last that what Obama has told us is not quite the truth.
All of this is good news for The Donald and his supporters. And that is good news for Hillary and her supporters. And that is bad news for the United States.
December 13, 2015: Heathrow lounge. As usual, I am early for my flight to Moscow. BA really needs to add to the capacity of its lounges here at Heathrow or risk making angry its business class passengers. Breakfast is ok here, but the place is crowded.
The news is awash with tales of a conference going on in Paris about ‘climate change’ (AKA ‘Global Warming’). Delegates from a large number of countries seem to have come to an agreement that would limit global temperature change to 2 C. And it appears that they have everyone on board. This leaves me with a few questions. First, how do they know what needs to be done to establish that 2 C limit? Second, why do they think they can bind the various countries? Mention is made of binding the United States without involving Congress. How, I wonder, can that be done? I know no way of actually binding the US without a Treaty, and to ratify a Treaty, you need a super majority of the Senate. Mr. Obama might agree to something, but his word ain’t worth much; there is only so much he can do by executive order; and he is toast in just about a year. Yet another reason I am concerned about Mr. Trump, who looks to be trying to get Hillary Clinton elected President; that would be a third Obama term.
And the discussion of climate change is referring to ‘since pre-industrial times’. That is problematic too. Literature talks of ice skating on the polders in the Netherlands. (In fact, I think there is mention somewhere of ice skating on the Thames). That would involve temperatures substantially below freezing in those locations, which never freeze any more. Now, maybe, ‘climate change’ involves larger changes in temperature in some places rather than others. And it does seem as if it is getting warmer in the colder parts of the planet: high altitudes and high lattitudes, where glaciers and sea ice seem to be melting. But then Europe already seems to have had substantive warming in the last 200 years. Finally, given the very broad extent of different climates, how does one establish an ‘average’ temperature? I suspect there is ample room to suspect that we don’t know what we are doing, and all of these international actions are being taken without an understanding of what the consequences might be.
December 12, 2015: So now I am at Heathrow, in the Sofitel next to Terminal 5. This is a really good setup: the hotel connects to the terminal with an indoor corridor that is about 100 yards long, so I can make my flight in the morning with some certainty. My flight from Boston was uneventful, and I actually slept almost all the way, so Jet Lag has been quite minor. I made the trip up to Sheffield and back, driving on the wrong side of the road, without incident. But it was a miserable drive: rained most of the way, and on the way back I was stuck for about 40 minutes by an accident. On the drive up, the GPS app I bought for my iPhone was speaking to me in Indonesian. So it was of little use. Fortunately the car had a navigator built in and I used that to get me to Sheffield. After reaching the safety of my hotel room in Sheffield I had to fuss with this app a bit to force it to speak English. This app (called ‘Sygic’ ) cost twenty bucks, and I had no chance to try it out before I got here. There are no gas stations near this end (The Terminal 5 end) of the airport; at least none visible from the obvious route, so I found a couple of gas stations in the area using Google Maps and programmed the zip code for one of them into the iPhone app. It took me right past a Shell Station. And then I programmed the Hertz zip code in and the app took me from the gas station to the Hertz station. So now my remaining issue is that the holder for my ‘phone isn’t very stiff and it vibrates.
When the Hertz driver learned I was going to the hotel rather than departure, he insisted on dropping me at the front of the hotel. Guy gets points.
And I guess the Donald is starting to sound stupid. (Well, ‘starting’ is not the right word, but he is now really taking the cake.) Wants to exclude Moslems from the country. As if he could tell who is a Moslem. I guess some countries include that information on passports. I wonder if Donald has read the Constitution recently. Or paid attention. But the guy is making my point: I think he is a stalking horse for Hillary, and I suspect he knows it. Does Hillary know it? Is this a conspiracy?
December 9, 2015: I am at Logan airport, preparing to fly to England and, eventually, Russia to finish up the term at Skoltech. Going through the TSA screening was the same old, same old; the TSA people being self-important and inefficient. A fellow came by while I was in line, riding in a wheelchair. He got out of the chair and walked through the nude-o-scope. The wheelchair went around the search mechanism. Goodness knows what might have been hidden in the steel tubes that made up the structure of the thing. The guy was re-united with it after the search/non search. I hope the guy wasn’t a plant. And I hope there wasn’t any ammunition in the structure of the wheelchair. The TSA certainly doesn’t know.
And one wonders, if the nude-o-scope is all that good, why can’t it tell the difference between a belt and a bomb? Just asking. This whole thing brings to mind Shakespeare. ‘It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’. Hey, Jeh! Are you listening?
While I was on the line, waiting to go through the nude-o-scope, a Lufthansa crew came by, passing everyone in the line. I moved a bit right, into their way. One of them pointed out that it was important that everyone in the crew should stay together. I failed to point out that this would have been the case if they had taken their proper places in line, but I did make it clear to the fellow that the rest of us in the line were annoyed. I understand it is politically incorrect to make negative comments about people based on their group identities. I know this counts for anyone who might be characterized as a member of an ‘under-represented minority’ (UOM). But does it count for Krauts?
We are going through a couple of cycles of fire alarm testing: ‘may I have your attention please, may I have your attention please’, followed by an explanation that there would be a test of the fire alarm system: please disregard. So then the test consisted of a voice saying we should ‘stand by’. Then an all clear. Then it happened again.
And while on fire alarms, the holiday party for the Skoltech/MIT crowd was interrupted by a fire alarm in the Stata Center. These things happen often enough that it is my inclination to ignore them. But more stable minds in the crowd suggested we should pay attention and leave the building. So we did and went home. I understand I missed the best part of the party, after the alarm. Sorry about that.
December 6, 2015: We have had a couple of terrorist incidents here in the United States, that have been compared to what happened in Paris a couple of weeks ago. One was in Colorado Springs and involved a loser shooting up a Planned Parenthood clinic. Of course we had one of those in Brookline, MA some years ago. (Planned Parenthood has moved, and my dentist is in that office now, so I visit the site of that crime a couple of times a year). In both cases only a few people were killed, with some others injured.The Government of Mr. Obama was unwilling to acknowledge that this incident was terrorism, but of course it was.
The second incident was in San Bernardino, CA. A couple of Moslem extremists, one born in the USA and the other a Pakistani who lived for a while in Saudi, shot up a holiday party at a state office building, killing 16. Interestingly, the Pakistani is a woman who was married to the American. In this one, the Obama regime desperately wants it to be a ‘lone wolf’ incident because nobody saw it coming. They might be right, since it looked like Amateur Hour. The perps tried to get away, but then when the police stopped them they provoked a fire-fight and the police killed both of them. Fortunately, no police were seriously hurt in that gunfight. One might speculate that if NSA had still be connecting telephone metadata (‘dots’), that maybe they would be able to see something, and perhaps could figure out how these folks acquired all of that ammo. This is still on the news, so there may be more to this.
All of this news seems to be good for Mr. Trump’s ambition to be President. Every time there is an incident involving gunfire, Mr. Obama makes more statements about ‘common sense’ gun controls. (He don’t need no stinkin’ Constitution). And a bunch of people go out and buy a gun. Good for the firearms business.
Several days ago, I got a letter that appeared to be from the government’s Office of Personnel Management. It was about a cybersecurity incident last spring in which some perps managed to steal a whole bunch of personnel records, including data such as social security numbers. This letter said my information was among the records stolen. I presume this is related to a security clearance that I have had since I was 19 or 20 (that makes it 50 years old), and that was renewed in 2013. This letter from OPM included a 25 digit PIN and directed me to visit their website so I could sign up with a monitoring company, presumably to watch for fraudulent transactions involving my financial data.
So I went to that web site and started to fill out a form to get this monitoring started. But I stopped when it asked me for my social security information. I won’t fill out that form. First, why should the OPM need to have this information when they had it and acknowledge it had been compromised while in its possession? Second, how do I know this is not an elaborate and well performed phishing expedition?
When I did a google search on OPM, I discovered that I am not the only person concerned about this very issue. Further, apparently some crooks have been designing phishing expeditions based on this information compromise.
November 17, 2015: Shanghai Pudong Airport. I have been in China for several days, principally to attend a robotics conference on behalf of John Hu. I am still suffering from the cold that I must have caught in Russia, that manifest itself on the Saturday after I got home and that has a really good cough as a symptom. I think it is lessening, and I am half convinced the schnufmittel I bought before leaving for China made the symptoms (particularly the cough) worse. I am still snuffling.
Anyway, I let John buy me tickets that went BOS-ORD-PVG-CAN and, going home, in reverse. The conference was in Dongguan, a city between Guangzhou (Canton) and Shenzhen. When there, I learned that the airport in Hong Kong has a ferry terminal and there is ferry service between there and Dogguan. Next time I will insist on doing the nonstop BOS-HKG on Cathay Pacific, or at the outside flying nonstop from Boston to PVG. These days with four airports in them are killers. But China Southern was very good in both directions. I had a bowl of beef noodles coming up and it will do for both lunch and breakfase. Arrived at PVG about 11:30 AM to discover that American will be checking in about 14:35. Yet another reason for flying some other airline. Maybe I should have taken a later flight to Hongqiao and made an adventure of getting across town. Too bad they didn’t run the maglev train between airports.
And, speaking of that, Doug Parker, the Chairman of American Airlines is leading a multi airline charge against the three Gulf airlines: Etihad, Emirates and Qatar. One should note that these outfits are running circles around AA (and UA and Delta). It is unlikely that I would ride AA to Abu Dhabi, even if it did fly there, but it seems a bit unseemly for the guy to complain about being out-competed on a run he doesn’t even fly. Next time I go to the Emirates I am flying British Air. Not to avoid Emirates or Etihad, but because I want to stop in London on the way back. Somehow I don’t think Mr. Parker swings much weight with the US Government. At least not enough to have sanctions taken against his competitors. I note that AA has been making a relatively big deal about new cabins on its aircraft. The 777-200 I rode over had the same old Business Class cabin I have become used to, with seats that recline short of horizontal. At the same time, I can note that British is flying some of its A321’s with excellent, new Club World cabins with seats that do, indeed, recline to horizontal. That, along with BA’s Arrival Lounge makes the 5:35 flight out of Moscow tolerable.
The conference was kind of interesting, although I didn’t understand very much of it. Mingguo Zhao was there and he introduced me to a fellow who makes robotic toys in Dogguan. Yesterday we had an interesting tour of his factory. I collected a few business cards that might turn out to be useful.
Over the time we were here, there was a bad terrorism incident in Paris. The guys who are trying to establish a caliphate in Syria and Iraq have figured out the French security people. Mr. Holland ranted and raved and, as I understand it, dropped a few bombs on Raqqa. Obama is as ineffective as ever. I am beginning to think that the fellow is, through weak and deceptive, ineffectual action, trying to buy time for the bad guys.
October 31, 2015: in Moscow. I am here to do some teaching at the new, emerging Skolkovo Institute of Technology. I am staying in the Radisson Royal Hotel, AKA Ukraina. This is one of seven spectacular buildings built after the second world war: apparently Joe Stalin liked this fabulous architecture: spires and towers and so forth. A few observations.
This hotel has a number of restaurants. The number is hard to discern, however, because at least one listed in the hotel directory of services has no location, and the one on the second floor that does an excellent breakfast doesn’t do dinner. The first floor bar does have good food as well as local beer on tap, but I think most people just go there to drink. I had dinner in the Italian joint on the 30th floor. But the last time, the waiter forgot my dinner and was surprised when, after presenting me with a bill that had the dinner dish on it, I was miffed at him. No tip for him.
Uber works in Moscow, but in many cases you should have a map to tell the driver where you are going, at least if, like me, you don’t speak Russian. Uber X cars are very much like taxis and turn out to be cheaper. Sometimes. My ride from this hotel to the Skoltech campus costs something like300 to 400 Roubles. The ride back in ordinary taxis (for some reason I can’t get Uber out there, but the staff at Skoltech can call taxis that meet me there and take me back to the hotel) cost between 450 and 600 Roubles. That is still cheap, with the Rouble at about 63 to the dollar. The ride is about 19 km.
The Ukraina is, despite its appearance from the outside quite a nice hotel. Rooms are not very large but very well appointed. Complementary internet works well and the staff is quite friendly. As I said, the Veranda restaurant on the second floor does a very good breakfast.
Some other things on my mind from the last couple of years.
The BU bridge has finally been renovated. In line with my rhetorical question about ‘do you want your health care run by the same people as run the BU bridge?’: after about two years in service, the gunk they put into the expansion joints is coming out and there are quite deep potholes over on the Cambridge side. This is the same problem that I referred to during the Dukakis administration. I don’t know if Charlie will cause any reform in this respect, but it does seem to reflect on the public works people in the state.
And this year we had the first real impact of all of the anti-terrorist measures taken since 9-11-01. The very secure cockpit doors we forced the airlines to install resulted in an airplane wreck that killed all aboard. A suicidal copilot on a discount carrier in Germany waited until the captain had to pee, locked him out and crashed the airplane in France. I do admit that the American carriers I have observed don’t leave a pilot alone in the cockpit: they station a flight attendant in there when the pilot needs to use the head, but I am unsure if this is a universal practice. I hope the Germans have started to adopt it.
MIT appears to be up to a bunch of things that may lead to trouble, but I am unsure if the administration actually means it or is just being masterful with PR. On the one hand, it appears that MIT has joined the national hysteria over ‘unwanted sexual contact’ (aka ‘Rape’). The administration is talking about handling accusations of this nature using specially designated members of the Committee on Discipline (COD) (those who presumably will agree to be a hanging jury) and have even more staff within ‘S cubed’ to handle such matters. This all leads to concern for things like due process and basic fairness. But it is quite possible that, when an actual case comes around, the good people who form the COD will use common sense. I hope so.
And there is a new document sent around by Rafael last week that declares MIT to be fully on board with the climate panic. It is interesting that this document also declares that MIT will not divest itself from its investments in energy producing companies. The show of panic may have been meant to fool the students who are demanding such divestment. It also declares a whole bunch of initiatives that would result in lowering carbon dioxide emissions, both from on-campus activities and to develop low(er) carbon technologies. These will all, of course, cost money and this is an excellent fund raising document. I wonder if we can handle this and the nanotechnology building that is abuilding just outside my office.
And speaking of the nano building: I have missed a meeting or two that might have explained something. They have dug a bunch of deep, narrow trenches and filled them with reinforced concrete. That is, they dig these slots with a specialized digger. They hold the slots open with some heavy goo they call ‘slurry’, then they drop a rebar cage and fill the slot with concrete, displacing the slurry. So far, so good. But after the walls were cast, they came along with a tractor mounted jackhammer and knocked that top foot or so off the wall, then came back and formed the top of the wall up again, put in more rebar and poured the top of the wall. Again. I wonder if they made a mistake in dimensioning the walls in the first place…
September 14, 2013: Took a trip to Pittsburgh; out on Thursday afternoon, back on Friday. There were thunderstorms in the area Thursday, and it is pretty clear that the airlines and the FAA have gotten no better at handling these things than they were 20 years ago. But we passengers have much more information, so we can see how badly screwed up things are. The airplane was coming from DCA, and the airline told us it had departed. Well, it had ‘pushed’, meaning it had left the terminal, but it sat on the tarmac for about two hours waiting for a clearance. I could see it hadn’t left the ground by using one of several of those tracking utilities you can get on the web, but Jet Blue insisted it had departed. Finally, the little airplane appeared on the tracking sites. And by comparing that map with a similar view of the weather, we could see what it was doing. It flew way out of the way to get to Boston (it flew north of Rutland, VT). There were many other opportunities to avoid the CB’s and, of course, I couldn’t see all of the other airplanes in the air. But it seems to me that a smarter air control system could have guided that airplane on a straighter, faster track. And of course a smarter system would not have left that airplane on the ground in DCA. As we were going to PIT, the same thing was happening, although I couldn’t see it since I was on the airplane and did not have access to the Web. I wonder if the FAA still uses vacuum tubes…
And Syria is all the talk today. A few days ago, Barak Obama threatened to throw a few Tomahawks at Bashar el Assad to ‘punish’ him for gassing the opposition, which seems to be making some advances that are threatening to take over Syria. Like many people, I have my doubts about this. Assad is a bad guy, but his opposition is rumored to include a number of Al Queda types and other such Islamic extremists. People I would want to have nothing to do with. Of course, if one were to believe John Kerry (the lightweight who just quit being my Senator to be Secretary of State), Mr. Obama was going to throw only a few Tomahawks; Presumably just enough to impress Assad. It is to be observed that there are Christian (and possibly even Jewish) communities in Syria, and the opposition has been burning churches. Anyway, just before he left for a road trip, Mr. Obama said he would ask Congress for permission to use military force, even as he said he didn’t need such permission. Then, after he saw Vlad Putin, he agreed to let Russia take a shot at segregating and controlling Assad’s poison gas. Now Obama looks like an idiot and Putin looks like a smart, nasty, controlling guy. I think both assessments are right, but this has taken some of the heat off of Obama for all of the other scandals that are starting to get old, and therefore beyond the attention span of the news networks. I guess looking like an idiot in foreign policy is better than getting impeached and removed from office. Now there would be another first for the guy…
September 1, 2013: Back from a trip to Spain, by way of the UK. It is very interesting to note how much more professional and courteous the screeners of air travelers are in those countries than are our own TSA folks. Who probably don’t travel much themselves.
Since we returned, I had some correspondence with people in MIT’s Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) regarding a research project I carried out for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL). Seems NREL wants some money back (about $11 k) because I spent more money on parts than were in my proposal. Of course I spent less on labor and my contract monitor was aware of what I was up to. No matter: they reminded me that this was a ‘contract’, not a ‘grant’. And OSP seems to have no interest in arguing the matter once I came up with a discretionary account number so I am paying the refund. Given the revelations we have had about this administration using its power (the IRS) to harass its political enemies, if the cause of this might be someone reading this web page and making assumptions about my politics. Anyway, whomever is responsible for this is also responsible for my future refusal to have anything to do with DOE. And the people I helped with some of the alphabet soup initiatives (REACT, GENIE, Solar ADEPT…) will just have to do without me. OSP has not earned a friend either.
July 26, 2013: Went to the IEEE PES General Meeting in Vancouver. A great venue for a conference. Vancouver has a really nice conference center on the waterfront. Had good weather too. Just a few comments on airline travel. I bought first class tickets for Jan and for me because, at my age, sitting in the back of the airplane in the very restricted seats they offer is uncomfortable and dangerous to my health. (I did that on a leg from DFW to SFO last fall and came down with a spectacular illness that I won’t further describe.) Anyway, at least on Delta the seats in First Class are not that much better. They are wider and thicker, but the seat to seat room is not enough to satisfactorily work on a laptop, if the person in the seat in front reclines. There was a meal on each leg of the BOS/MSP/YVR/SLC/BOS itinerary, but the meals are no better than we used to get in Coach (when they fed the coach class passengers). The first three legs were on time, but when we got to SLC on the way home, we found the flight was going to be late. In fact, it was four hours late, ostensibly because of a maintenance item that was not further explained to us. The flight turned out to be four hours late; it was on an aircraft that arrived in SLC from DFW. One might have thought that Delta might have had a suitable aircraft that could have been ferried in from somewhere less than four hours away from SLC. But that would have cost them extra money, I guess. When I complained they sent me a nice apologetic note and added 5,000 miles to my frequent flier account. That is likely a free gesture, since I am very reluctant to fly with them again. As if I can avoid it.
June 19, 2013: The gravel was still there this morning when I left (this morning on my bicycle). And it was still there when I came home, with the tire marks from when I came in last evening. But then, rather late in the afternoon, someone came over, removed the gravel from the groove and filled it with asphalt. It is still not finished: there is a big pile of dirt on one side of the drive and the asphalt does not come up to the level of either the driveway nor the concrete pad. My guess is that they will put a finish layer of asphalt in that space, probably tomorrow.
June 18, 2013: When I got home from work yesterday, the driveway was blocked again: where the mismatch between the old driveway and the new concrete was, there was a fairly deep trench: deep enough that I was unwilling to try to drive over it. It looks as if they intend to fill that with concrete. I also noticed that they had damaged the brick gutter along one side of the drive. I don’t know if they have any plans to fix this. There was no action evident when I left home about 9:30.
When I got home at about 5:20, that trench was filled with gravel. Since it had been raining quite hard, the gravel was pretty soft and I left grooves in it when I backed my car up the driveway. At least they let me do that.
June 16, 2013: The new concrete does not match with the end of the undamaged part of my driveway. I don’t know how or when the town will fix this. There is a gap of about 18” between the new, concrete pad and where they saw cut my old pavement. My driveway is not as bad off this way as the neighbors’, which has a gap of more than three feet. I also noticed that they have poured only about half the length of sidewalk that has been taken out. Jan theorizes that my complaint may have prompted them into doing our section first. Some of my neighbors won’t be able to use their driveways for some time longer. We can get in now, but I think I won’t move the cars back in quite yet: they may yet do some more mischief tomorrow.
The reason we went out was to visit the Immigration and Border Patrol people at Logan Airport. I have a new passport and Jan needed to go to her interview for GOES. We were 15 minutes early, but the guys inside noticed us and dealt with us right away. They couldn’t have been nicer. One did the interview while the other registered my new passport. We now can both use the entry kiosks.
June 15, 2013: About 3 PM.They have started to pour. A bit later, maybe 4 PM, they put a few boards across the sidewalk so people can cross.
June 15, 2013: Time flies when you don’t have much to complain about. On May 30, we had a notice from the town left between the screen and front doors. Said they were going to be replacing the sidewalks, that parking would be restricted and ‘you may experience some inconvenience’. Ok. They might actually have to replace sidewalks and that is likely to involve narrowed paths for vehicles and so forth. It is a residential neighborhood. But one wonders why they could not have waited for a couple of weeks until school is out. Most of the high school students walk down Greenough Street to get to school.
Then on June 5 (Wednesday) we get a notice saying that they are going to replace a concrete driveway apron and we need to get our cars out onto the street before 7 AM on Monday morning. Just about then the contractor ripped out the bottom of our driveway (with essentially no consultation or even notice to us). Well, I went email unstable, complaining to everyone I could think of in town government. On Thursday I got a note from someone named Peter Ditto, a town employee in Public Works, telling me that the town wanted to work with me. He even came over to look at the situation on Friday. I pointed out that it would be difficult to get out to the street on foot, given the damage that they had done and he promised to, first off, keep me closely informed about what they were doing and, second, make sure that a good, flat access path to the street would be maintained.
We have had a lot of rain and this, I think, screwed them up. On Saturday we got a note saying that the projected day for the project (Monday, June 10) had been cancelled.
On Thursday, June 13, we got another notice, saying the work would be done today (Saturday the 15th) and that we should get our cars out by 7 AM on 6/15. I figured one car would do, since we have to go over to the airport for Jan’s interview with GOES. But one car could stay in. Peter assured me that the pour would be done today, cured through Sunday and that the forms would be removed by noon on Monday.
About 2 PM on Friday, Jan noticed a big stone blocking the driveway. Turns out the town employees don’t work after noon on Fridays, even when they have construction projects, done by contractors, going. I emailed and called Peter, to no avail. I called the Public Works department and got a recording. It stated a number to call in ‘emergencies’. That number was not monitored either, but it said that in case of emergency to push ‘5’. (I think it was 5: a single digit anyway). That elicited ‘you have pushed the wrong button’ or some such error message. Along that way I left angrier and angrier voice mail messages. Jan predicts none will be answered.
At 11 AM on Saturday they are still prepping. Forms have been built and a guy is running a very noisy machine around. I think that is a compactor. But nothing has been poured yet.
Speaking of GOES (Global Entry). Here is a government program that works! I saw a puff piece on the television about what turned out to be a non-existent TSA program to bypass the intrusive security lines. The reporter said he passed a background check and got a card that let him go through a special line: no taking off of shoes, no taking computer out of bag, etc. Well, it turns out that was a myth, probably TSA propaganda. But I did find this program of the Immigration and Border Patrol agency that allows you to, when entering the United States from abroad, put your passport into a machine, put your hand on a window, stare into a camera and bypass the immigration lines. I paid $100, filled out a questionnaire (sort of like security clearance lite), and was scheduled for an interview. When I found the office (it is down an obscure corridor at Terminal E), I found the nicest possible guy asking me a few questions and then demonstrating how the kiosk works. Over this past year I have made quite a few international trips and that hundred bucks was worth it in just one entry at JFK.
And, as I found out from the interviewer, the Global Entry program does lead to those shorter security lines. Once I had my GOES number, I told the airlines about it and found myself going through the TSA-PRE ™ line. So far, I know AA and USAir have such lines in some of their terminals and they both know of my GOES number. And the TSA people running those lines are not the louts who harass other passengers.
October 8, 2011: Returning from a trip to Texas A&M, where I gave a speech on hybrid automobiles. Came down on Continental through Houston. Houston to College Station was on Colgan Airways, dba Continental Connection. Should call themselves Amateur Air. At IAH on the way there, the time for departure came and went with no announcement. The flight also disappeared from the announcement screens. When I asked about where the flight had gone, the person behind the desk said simply that the time for the flight had come and gone. She told me the reason for the delay was that they were waiting for crew. It gets worse, but eventually they combined the flight I was supposed to be on with the next flight and we got there an hour and a half late. No apologies. Coming back was similar. The flight before mine had not left when I got to the airport. They wound up putting everyone: my flight and the one before on that airplane, which they seemed to have gotten fixed in the interim. There were four passengers left and we went (a bit late) on the airplane I should have been on. Colgan flys old turboprop aircraft that look poorly maintained, and that is probably why they have mechanical problems with them. I think it is going to hurt United Continental unless they get rid of Colgan. I will certainly seek alternatives to them. The good news is that the TSA people in College Station are actually nice. And the airport there has free internet.
And then Continental itself got out of IAH for BOS about half an hour late. They blamed late arrival of the aircraft from somewhere south, but then there was a further delay for some maintenance item. I think the real reason is over-scheduling aircraft, leaving themselves not enough margin.
Houston’s George Bush Airport is a pleasant surprise. It has installed a tramway that connects four different terminal buildings, inside the security perimeter. I just missed one, but the headway is only a couple of minutes. Massport should think about doing something like this. And so should the folks who run Laguardia. Having to go outside security and submit to the depredations of the TSA just to change planes is adding insult to injury when you have to fly through one of those airports.
The newspaper today notes that Eric Holder is squirming about his apparently false testimony to Congress. It also notes that the Solyndra scandal was plain and simple political corruption. One would think that both situations should result in special prosecutors being appointed, and were it happening during a Republican administration, the press would be calling for such. Wanna bet that will happen now? Maybe that is why there are so many Democrat politicians.
August 15, 2011: On the way to DC for some business with ARPA-E. Weather here in Boston is slowing everything up. The TSA people are their usual: rude and ineffectual. They ran me through the nude-o-scope, apparently in pique that I didn’t want to take my belt off (it doesn’t set their magnetic detectors off). Then they insisted in running my wallet through the x-ray machine. I made a show of counting the money when it came back. I guess that makes me hostile. I still wonder why, with hardened cockpit doors, they won’t let me carry my Swiss Army Knife.
There is a neat U-tube rant about ‘Smart Meters’ and the Spectrum has a piece on them too. The issue is that the smart meter reports one’s usage of electricity frequently enough that the activities of the customer can be discerned. This raises the accusation of spying on individuals. The good news is that this problem was solved in 1982. Patent number 4,317,175.
July 21, 2011: The news networks are abuzz with a threat to power plants coming from committed terrorists. Apparently some known bad guy has worked in several nuclear plants and has passed security checks. One would think that, were the government to put as much resource into police work as it does into harassing airplane passengers, these guys would be found out.
July 11, 2011: Radio reports that, after a Jet Blue flight from Boston landed at Newark yesterday, a Stun Gun was found in a seat pocket. TSA incompetence is outed once more.
I have been reading books about the relationship between the hoods in Southie and Medfore (Bulger, Flemmi, Salemme, etc.): Howie Carr’s ‘The Brothers Bulger’ and ‘Hit Man’ and ‘Black Mass…’ by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neil. These are not kind to the FBI (sister agency of the TSA), nor to Whitey’s brother Billy, or to Mike Dukakis. I was amused by a judge in Boston dismissing Dukakis during the 1998 election cycle: ‘How is he going to stand up to the Russians if he can’t stand up to a corrupt midget from South Boston?
June 28, 2011: Brookline is at it again. Closed the same section of St. Paul Street for Rush Hour. I went through at 8:30 and they were working on a water pipe that crosses the street. I wonder if they had given any thought to maybe waiting an hour or so to let commuters get through. Ah! but that would presume thought on the part of our public servants…
And while on public servants, the FBI finally caught James ‘Whitey’ Bulger, who had been on the lam since 1995. There is a lot of speculation that people within the FBI actually knew where he had been, and they finally decided to bring him out of the cold, either because he is old enough and notorious enough that they won’t be able to bring him to trial or because there are enough young guys within the Bureau, who were not tainted by the corruption that put him on the lam in the first place, that the jig was about to be up anyway.
The talk show I listen to in the morning is run by a former speaker of the Massachusetts Great and General Court and himself a felon. Recently he has been getting calls suggesting, in intemperate and largely incoherent fashion, that crooks like Whitey Bulger and politicians like his kid brother Billy are all the same. The Felon takes umbrage at that, saying he knows Billy well and that, in his opinion, Billy is not a crook. Well, we can take one felon’s word for it that a fellow politician is not a crook, but it occurs to me that there may be a good basis for equating the two. Mobsters like Whitey and politicians like Finneran (the felon) and Billy do have something in common: they don’t do economic transactions, but resort to coercion to do their transactions. Remember, and economic transaction is one in which both sides come away better than before. I buy a car: I get a car and the car dealer makes some money. We both enter the transaction voluntarily. On the other hand, I pay the government taxes not because I value what the government does (which I do, in some cases) but because if I don’t, I spend time in Club Fed. People paid Whitey protection money, not because he gave them any protection, but because if they didn’t he would break their legs (or worse).
On the flip side of this is that some transactions carried out by criminals actually are economic in nature: cocaine, heroin, marijuana, gambling and some prostitution are all voluntary transactions. But they are illegal for reasons that people try to articulate to me, but they have never quite made the case.
June 23, 2011: Trip to Baltimore. The TSA was running only one lane and that had a nude-o-scope. I asserted to the TSA person that I thought they had given up on running these things, after all of the kerfluffle about them a few months ago. In return she asked ‘Don’t you want to feel safe?’ My retort was not strong enough, but I told her, and she did not respond, that they hadn’t yet caught a terrorist. (Which I believe to be true). I should also have added that the activities of the TSA do not do anything to make me feel safer.
Same day the feds caught some fellow who was preparing to shoot up, in the name of Islam, some military base out west. I don’t know if this was a good catch or a PR stunt on the part of the FBI. But, just think, if the feds put as much effort into police work to detect and track down terrorists as they do in harassing innocent air passengers, they could catch a lot more of them and, possibly, save some lives. I say possibly since there have been no successful terrorist attacks in the US for quite some time now.
June 21, 2011: This morning the town of Brookline chose to block a section of St. Paul street to do some plumbing work. They did this just before the morning rush hour. This is the same road on which they set up a bike lane. The bike lane is regularly blocked by badly parked delivery vehicles and is not cleaned so it has leaves and other crap in the way, so it is useless as a bike lane. But it also means that there is no right turn lane at the intersection with Commonwealth Avenue. Boston owns the traffic light there, and there is a right turn arrow. But cars still idle because some want to go straight.
June 12, 2011: A few weeks ago, one of my graduate students, who is from China, was in the American Consulate in Shanghai to renew his student visa. They at first told him it would take a few days, but then for some reason demanded a whole pile of documents and then told him it would take at least three weeks. This is problematic for me since the fellow was supposed to lead a group building an experiment this summer. When I asked for the reason for this by email, I got this from the consulate:
Sir, the application is required to go through administrative processing. There is no alternative.
So then I asked them to let me speak to a responsible person who could make decisions, and they directed me to the public inquiries division of the State Department. They were even good enough to give me an email address for that division.
I wrote to that email address with what I believed to be a fairly polite inquiry, asking why my graduate student was being held up: was there something I should know? In response I got a note telling me that all inquiries about visas in process should go to the consulate.
So now my government has two offices, both of which are telling me to talk to the other one: neither will speak with me and both say that the issue is out of its hands. Really remarkable circular finger pointing. And neither would even tell me their names. The United States can’t issue a routine student visa renewal in less than a month, and when a US citizen and taxpayer makes a simple inquiry he is treated like a mushroom. This is embarrassing. I have applied for and gotten visas from several countries: Egypt, China (twice), Japan (back when that was necessary) and India. None of them were as bad or bureaucratic as the United States. The Indian folks even called me to discuss what I had done wrong and how to fix the problem.
I also approached my congressman. His local staff called me to ask about the problem, but the fellow there got no further with the consulate in Shanghai than did I. But he was careful to redact the name of the consular employee.
So, between the TSA and the State Department, I am not very happy with the federal government.
November 11, 2010
Yesterday I had my first encounter with one of those new terahertz scanners: the machines that are supposed to give a good view through clothing so that things that won't set off metal detectors can be seen by screeners. There was no problem with the machine, but the demeanor and demands of the staff were unacceptable. Unless the TSA changes its policies and instructions to its staff, the number of travelers going by air will decline, and that will hurt the airlines, who don't need this.
This machine uses a part of the electromagnetic spectrum, between visible light and radio waves, that does not interact strongly with fabric and so can 'see through' clothing. Because it can see a lot more than a metal detector it could be used in a way that is a lot less intrusive: the traveler should be instructed to pause while in the middle of the thing and go on. But the TSA people seem to want to use the existence of this machine to be far more intrusive than they have in the past: everything out of your pockets, including plastic pens and paper that have never before been a problem. Then they pose the traveler carefully and, when out of the machine he or she must wait until the attendants decide to do a 'pat down' (that is frisk the traveler). That didn't happen to me (a 65 year old white guy who was obviously annoyed), but I understand that the TSA 'pat down' is getting to be pretty aggressive -- to the point where it is bothering even pilots. (Why do they bother to search pilots anyway?)
The behavior and treatment of passengers by TSA personnel has been moving only in one direction, and that is to be more intrusive. First it consisted of screening carry-on bags and walking travelers through the metal detector, with a follow on of finding out why the machine beeped, if it did. Then, after some bright terrorist thought to hide a bomb in his shoes, it was shoes off and through the detector. After another bright terrorist threatened to make a bomb that could be hidden in a water bottle, travelers can take only small quantities of toothpaste and such and lay them out on the screening conveyor. Now, after a would be terrorist tried to hide a bomb in his underwear, the TSA is using the terahertz scanner to take naked pictures of the traveler and making the whole process very intrusive and annoying. Follow this trajectory and the behavior of some of the middle east bomb makers and where it lands is a full strip search, including body cavities. The TSA probably is thinking of the frog in a pot paradigm, where if you try to put a frog in a pot of hot water he will jump out, but if you put a frog in a pot of lukewarm water and subsequently heat the water slowly, you will have a cooked frog. I doubt they are right about this: sooner or later the traveling public will stop putting up with them.
If the TSA is not moderated, air travel will suffer. Many people will stop riding in airliners, and that will hurt the airlines.
March 6, 2010: Today the President of the United States spent his whole weekly radio address on his health care proposal. Told us a whole bunch of good things would happen to health insurance. This was the usual stuff about how insurance companies would be required to do a whole lot of expensive things like cover anyone, even people who are already sick, not have annual or lifetime limits to coverage, and so forth. Then he repeated the canard that ‘if you like your current health care plan, you can keep it’. What if you have and like a health care plan that doesn’t have all of these required coverages? Probably part of why you like it is it is not as expensive as plans that DO have those coverages. He didn’t mention that. Makes me wonder which of the things he says I can believe.
Also today (yesterday, actually, but it was in the papers today), Hugo Chavez’ buddy and congressman Bill Delahunt announced he wasn’t going to run for re-election. Said it had nothing to do with politics. Nothing to do with the election of Senator Brown. Nothing to do with the sour mood of the public over Mr. Obama’s attempt to use the Democrats to ram through congress his health care program. Nothing to do with that college professor who blew away three colleagues over a tenure decision in Alabama. Same woman who, several years ago in Quincy, killed a relative with a shotgun, tried to hold up a car dealership and got away with all of this at a time when Delahunt was District Attorney. Yea, Right.
October 29, 2009: So how long has it been since the Boston University Bridge has been partially out of order? Anyway, a couple of days ago they put up Jersey barriers to reduce the width to two lanes. There may be work going on out of sight, but nothing is being done in the newly cleared area. This is causing traffic jams on both sides of the bridge. I wonder if the geniuses in Congress really want the nation’s health care to be put in charge of the same sort of people who are running its infrastructure. The radio this morning reported that that the Speaker of the House will introduce today her health care bill. It will cost a Terabuck and will coerce everyone in the country to buy a health insurance policy. It also has that Trojan Horse provision of a ‘Public Option’: an insurance company supported by taxes. And Mr. Obama says he won’t sign anything that increases the national deficit. Yea, Right…
Last Friday, the President of the United States gave a speech in Kresge. It was a short speech about energy. It was really given here to justify using Air Force One to bring him here for a fund raiser for Deval Patrick, who is likely to be unelected next year. Anyway, MIT disrupted all of its activities: forbidding even pedestrians in the main lot for most of the day. It was a dry day so I came in on my bicycle and found that not all of the main lot was fenced off as the parking people had told me, so I was able to get to a grade level entry at Building 4. And something else good happened: the place was deserted (I guess because most other people here decided they couldn’t get to work, and they didn’t do any work on the Great Dome so the crane that they set up outside my office wasn’t running. I had forgotten what it was like without that big diesel engine running right outside. The President’s speech was AT MIT, but not really TO MIT as only about 200 seats were allocated to MIT people. The rest of the auditorium was devoted to the press and to people invited by the White House (My guess is to contributors to the Patrick campaign, although MIT insists that no tickets were sold). I think it unbecoming of a great institution like MIT to serve as an excuse for this kind of political corruption, but then, I don’t run the place.
December 4, 2008: The folks who are working on the Boston University (Cottage Farm) bridge seem to have gone away again, leaving a mess. There are still jersey barriers that reduce the inbound side to one lane, causing traffic problems in the evening, and the sidewalk on that side is inaccessible (actually, nonexistent). A few weeks ago there were people working there, at least during morning rush hour, and they were causing serious traffic problems then, too. They even half blocked the outbound side of the bridge. But now they are gone again. One wonders when they will finish with whatever they are doing.
All this time we are enjoying the spectacle of the argument about turnpike and bridge and tunnel tolls. The Turnpike Authority wants a big toll increase (seven bucks to get to the airport!) and the people who have to use the harbor crossings and merchants in East Boston are really concerned. (Maybe ‘concerned’ is an inadequate word.)
There have been interesting stories about traffic congestion in the local press recently. I had long said that I thought the ‘big dig’ was the result of a conspiracy between Michael Dukakis, when he was Governor, and Fred Salvucci, who was as I remember, ‘Transportation Secretary’. According to my conspiracy theory, these two guys wanted to, and apparently achieved, taking all of the funds available for road work and spending them in ways that would not improve traffic flow. Thus the deterioration of the bridges across the river and all around the state. If the newspapers are to be believed, Salvucci has admitted this, (that is, that he knew before the project started that the central artery and third harbor tunnel would not improve rush hour commute times for almost all drivers), but puts it in terms of a lack of investment in public transportation.
December 3, 2008: It was very good to see the Moslems of India demonstrating against the terrorist attacks on Mumbai. It is long past time the good people of that religion (and obviously there are many good people of that religion) disavow the bad guys who murder and destroy in the name of that religion. Now, will Pakistan give up the directors of that terrorist organization?
September 27, 2008: The Weekend Journal has a column by Peggy Noonan (my favorite columnist at the present time) that comments on the TSA and its reign of annoyance on air travelers. “Why do we do this when you know I am not a terrorist and you know that I know you know that I am not a terrorist?” What I would like to know is this: why does the TSA continue to exist, given that they have yet to actually catch a terrorist and that they cause so much trouble to the traveling populace? And that they cost us so much money?
This may not be of much interest right now, with the markets melting down as congress fiddles. My representative in congress is Barney Frank, one of the principal actors in the current drama. But he is also one of the principal villains. Barney was a defender of Fannie/Freddie and, if I have it right, one of the folks who facilitated their existence and freedom from any level of regulation. And Barney was clearly one of those folks in Congress who insisted that banks erase their redlines and extend home loans to everyone, including those who could not pay the loans back. Now, when this is coming home to roost, Barney has the balls to blame the lenders for all of the defaults. This is dishonesty to the extreme.
September 20, 2008 So, as I understand it, the federal government is going to bail out all of the banks and other financial institutions that bought bad mortgage backed securities by buying those securities ‘at a discount’ from those institutions. According to Barney Frank, they expect to make money on this exercise by waiting three years and selling those securities at a profit. One wonders, if this were possible (and predictable) why could not those institutions do exactly the same thing? (That is, just wait three years when the securities would be liquid.) I expect that we taxpayers will be paying for this exercise, just like we will be paying for the other half trillion dollars of expenditures the Treasury and Fed have made this week. There have been a couple of good editorial pieces in the Wall Street Journal yesterday and today about the accounting rule that has played a major role in this crisis. The banks are required to ‘mark to market’ the value of these securities, which have become quite illiquid recently, even if most of the loan portfolio reflected in the securities is still performing. The discounted stream of revenue may be substantially greater than the immediate sale value for those securities. After all, most people are paying their mortgages, so these securities can hardly be worthless.
Anyway, I wonder: since as a taxpayer I am going to be paying for this mess, should I stop paying on my mortgage? Maybe the feds will just bail me out…
September 17, 2008 The geniuses who are working on the BU bridge have taken to using orange cones to reduce it to one lane in each direction. When they do this at rush hour it tends to form a Boston Square at the Commonwealth Avenue end of the bridge, because the average driver around here is even dumber than the folks working on the bridge. This morning I even saw a cop car participate in this, by driving part way across the street, blocking the exit from the jug handle. Fortunately I was on my bike this morning.
MIT is painting window frames. This year they are using two of those man-lift things: a working platform on a mobile crane. They have taken to blocking off parts of the sidewalk, bike path and whole areas of the parking lot in unpredictable ways with absolutely no regard for those of us who work there. One wonders if this might be something that could be done during non-working hours, so that it would cause less disruption.
September 11, 2008 One wonders, amongst all of the grief and hand wringing, where is the anger? Seven years ago today, an bunch of Arabs murdered nearly three thousand people in New York and DC. Our reaction has been underwhelming. The bad guys are still at large and we Americans are still wringing our hands in grief and helplessness while Osama Bin Laden is living the high life in rural Pakistan. It is very difficult to sustain good humor under these circumstances. The problem is that GW is doing too little while the Democrats suggest that he is doing too much. By now the World Trade Center should be back to 2X 110 stories and Afghanistan should be facing the bill for the restoration. And about 3,000 wrongful death lawsuits at maybe 2 mil apiece. I understand the problem: Afghanistan would say it doesn’t have that kind of money. Too bad. We should take what they do have and let them worry about their next meal. Maybe Saudi can help them. A decent respect for the opinion of mankind should have sent a bunch of American trial lawyers led by John Edwards to persecute the Taliban leadership of Afghanistan.
The fact of the matter is that the bad guys won. They knocked down the World Trade Center, an object that the resented because it represented the peace and prosperity that comes from a free, liberal society. Rather then rebuilding the WTC immediately, we wrung our hands and started a regime in which we treat everyone as if he or she is a terrorist. Today we can’t carry on an airplane even toothpaste (not to mention duty free wine or perfume) or our swiss army knife (if you are not an engineer, you don’t understand how much of a problem this is). To date, seven years out, the TSA has yet to catch a single terrorist, despite the serious annoyance and real disturbance to most travelers in, to and from the US. So the Moslem terrorists have caused us to treat each other as terrorists, have disrupted our normal civic feelings toward each other, and have survived what should have been our reaction to their assaults. By now, the world trade center should have been rebuilt as two 110 story buildings, the Taliban leadership of Afghanistan should have been presented with a bill for the reconstruction and for compensation for all of the people who were killed and hurt. What sayst thou, you political candidates? (Barney?, John?, John?, Barak?, Joe?, Sarah?)
September 10, 2008 The Boston University Bridge is still not fully open, and there does not seem to be a lot going on. What work there is seems to indicate that they are going to weld together and seal up all of the expansion joints. There is some possibility that they know something I don’t, but it is my guess that they don’t and that there will be serious problems with this bridge in the not too distant future. One only hopes that enough tracks will have been laid down that, when the bridge fails and people are injured or killed, that the at-fault folks can be held accountable. Similar to this is Vassar Street. It will not fall down as may the Bridge, but it has a bicycle path that crosses several parking lot access points, and it is likely that this will cause an accident. Use caution while riding that piece of road, particularly westbound from Massachusetts Avenue.
September 9, 2008 (San Francisco) SFO is not as bad as CDG, but it is still the pits. The terminals are not connected together on the air side of security, so if you arrive at, say, Terminal 1 on Alaska and are connecting to its code share partner American (Terminal 3), you have to go back out to the insecure world and back through the indignities of TSA. This evening the guy who was checking passengers was a Russian. Over to one side was one of those celebrated GE machines that puffs air and reports if there are any explosive particles on you. And that allows you to keep your shoes on. But it, like two of the four X-ray machines was not in service. Seems like they need a line of certain length to justify their existence.
I will vote for the first candidate who first declares that he will fire everyone who works for TSA on his first day in office (even if it is Obama). Fat chance. The thing is that I don’t think these guys (TSA) do a whit for air transport security. And I think they know this too. They are in it for the simple pleasure of invoking discomfort on their fellow citizens.
August 24, 2008 (Paris) All of Aerogare 2 is the pits. It was too small when it was built and now, some years later it is totally overloaded. And badly laid out. You have to already know where baggage claim is, because there is virtually no guidance when you get off the airplane. And when you get there you find the place is mobbed. The taxi stand outside has a small area for loading cabs and an officious woman who insists on loading only one cab at a time. Of course long lines build up, making the crowding worse. And then the airport exit necks down to one lane, so even on a Sunday afternoon there is a traffic jam to get out of the airport.
August 23, 2008 (Burgos) Sociologists are fretting about the low birth rate in western Europe, particularly southern Europe. It is said that women are having fewer than the 2.1 children per required to maintain their numbers. Anecdotal observation in Spain and Portugal does not agree. There seem to be kids, particularly small kids, everywhere and in large numbers. My guess is that we will see a shift in what the sociologists are saying, and now it will be concern about overpopulation in Europe.
August 20, 2008 (Bilbao) The Guggenheim Museum here is a travesty from just about every perspective. The building itself is a Frank Geary creation, and like the Stata Center it exhibits a terrible use of enclosed volume. The place is enormous but has surprisingly little useful floor space. But what was disappointing was the contents of the building. Much of the floor space was devoted to several large steel sheets (typically about 5 cm thick and maybe four meters high) in shapes like spirals. The other works of ‘art’ were even less impressive, ranging from two big black squares painted on the wall to old dresses. I felt ripped off, having spent twenty five euros for two of us to tour the place. But I suppose the contents were roughly what one would expect of that building. Silly and wanting of adult supervision.
August 13, 2008 (Porto, Portugal). Negative restaurant review. It is, of course, tourist season here and the joints along the riverfront are jammed. Went into a place at 40 and 42 Ribeira called, I think, Casa Filhao do Mae Preta. Took two hours after the guy brought the wine before any food came. They were more interested in getting tables set up at the junk shop that had just closed next door then they were in feeding their patrons.
Autust 12, 2008 (Porto, Portugal). Drove here from Lisbon. Interesting that, in the world of $8 per gallon gasoline, they drive at near 100 miles per hour. (The speed limit is 120 km/h (75 MPH) but traffic moves at between 130 and 140, with the occasional Beamer of Mercedes going quite a bit faster.) But they behave well on the road: keeping to the right except for passing, not tailgating and generally being quite predictable.
August 4, 2008 (Madrid). Well, Air France didn’t get our bag on the flight from Paris to here, despite having a couple of hours of connection time. They delivered it this evening, just over a day late. One wonders about people who stay only one night in the hotel their first day in country: their bag might have chased them all over the continent. Anyway, a little forensics on the various tags left on the suitcase have convinced me the problem was with Air France rather than American.
August 3, 2008 (Roissey, France) Terminal 2F is the pits. I haven’t been through CDG in a few years and never really liked this airport. It is poorly organized and chaotic. But the (relatively) new Air France terminal is just awful. Too small for the crowds: not enough seating. Acoustics are really terrible. Our flight from the US (AA 146) was two hours late because of something stuck in the baggage hold, so it turned out to be wise for us to have chosen the longer connection to Madrid. Turned out to have saved us a couple of hours in this lousy terminal too.
July 16, 2008 The State has closed half of the roadway crossing the B.U. (Cottage Farm) bridge from Cambridge to Boston, ostensibly for repairs. It is about time as that bridge is quite decrepit and desperately needs work. But they closed the bridge in mid May. No work has been done on it. Your public servants at work, with your tax money. It is causing really spectacular traffic jams at rush hour. Fortunately, with good weather I can take my bike to work, but I am sorry for the poor folks who are stuck in their cars.
The town of Brookline has made some important roadway changes to Beacon Street. At Coolidge Corner they even replaced the traffic lights. The old ones had an audible signal that informed “Walk light is on across Beacon Street and T tracks” or “Walk light is on across Harvard Street”. The new one says “Walk light is on…Walk light is on…” for both directions. I am amazed we haven’t killed a blind man yet. Maybe the town figured out that blind folks are smart enough to not trust the walk lights.
July 14, 2008 Another annoyance provided with your tax money. We arrived in San Juan on a flight from St. Maarten with a comfortable connection time to clear immigration and customs and go through the TSA charade. But then at Immigration there was some sort of a problem with my passport. So they grabbed the forms and took us to that office at the top of the stairs and said ‘wait over there’. No explanation. When I asked one of the (gun toting) officers ‘What is up?’ he said “Ask that guy”, indicating another person so inconvenienced. That fellow told me that the airline (American) must have spelled my name wrong. Why that should make any difference I don’t know. My flight coupons had my name spelled right (and the same as my passport). I have a valid US passport, issued in 2004, so there were no expiration issues. After about 40 minutes they called my name and said “you are all set” and gave me back my passport and customs form. So we hustled through the TSA thing and would have just made our flight back to Boston, but it turned out to be a bit more than an hour late. You can guess why: American didn’t have a pilot to fly it and had to bring a fellow down from DC.
September 19, 2006 At 7:45, Vassar street was open both ways, but the street closing and detour signs were already up, and the construction guys were getting their stuff out. It looked as if the street would be closed by about 8:00, right in time for morning rush hour. The construction guys are gone by mid afternoon. If they shifted the work schedule back by an hour and a half they would miss both the morning and afternoon commute periods and make life a lot easier for several thousand people who work in the vicinity of MIT.
I am sure that has been thought of, but dismissed. If you are not inconvenienced coming to work, how will you know all of the good these folks are doing for you?
September 18, 2006 Poor Joe Ratzinger. The fellow just doesn’t get it. Quoted some fourteenth century guy who was critical of Mohammed, in the context of a longer speech. The Moslems of the world went nuts, saying he was disrespectful of the prophet, rioting in the streets, torching churches and even shooting a nun. Joe went and apologized, as if he had caused all of the problem himself. This ain’t good. Joe’s behavior, after making the initial insult, is simple appeasement.
The traffic light at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and the BU bridge access is still out. The construction guys and cops who guard them did well this morning. Vassar Street was backed up almost all the way to Westgate. It appears they are changing out the curbstones on Massachusetts Avenue and installing ‘Traffic Calming’ bulges in the sidewalk (taking away a few parking spaces). And for that little job they are doing a wonderful job of jamming up traffic.
Much talk in the news about spinach. Over 100 people have come down with e-coli infections over the past couple of weeks, and the food and drug people think it has to do with fresh (uncooked) spinach. They seem to be catching the same panic syndrome as homeland security, telling everyone to throw out any fresh spinach that might be in their icebox. Don’t wash it, don’t even cook it. Just throw it out. And this is even before they have definitively identified the source of the infection. Apparently they have identified a single company in California, but subsequent investigations have not turned up any of the cooties in their fields or equipment.
I think they know what is causing these infections and they just don’t want to identify it. Of course everyone knows that these particular cooties live in the guts of cattle and, of course, are in manure. Groundwater that is in the vicinity of cow manure will be contaminated with these cooties. Organic farming uses manure as fertilizer and groundwater for irrigation. So the problem is almost certainly ‘Organic’ farming. Just think: people who are paying more for ‘Organic’ produce are putting themselves at risk for a really bad case of food poisoning.
Maybe not that big a risk. How many people were killed in car accidents in the past two weeks?
September 16, 2006 Traffic around MIT is as chaotic now as it was at the end of the Spring term. Despite assurances that the last time Vassar Street was closed would be the last (or was it Massachusetts Avenue?), they have done it again. Vassar Street behind MIT was closed to eastbound traffic yesterday morning. The first warning sign for those of us coming from the west was posted about 100 feet from the intersection. Cops didn’t do any good and traffic was backed up in all directions. Don’t know if the problem was that the guys doing the digging can’t get their act in order (as in fix what needs to be fixed while the street is open) or if they just like stopping traffic. Maybe it makes them feel important.
And speaking of that, I am told that MIT is going to go ahead with the Vest era Vassar Street project, from Massachusetts Avenue westward. This one will feature ‘traffic calming’ measures and the same idiotic bicycle lanes they installed east of Massachusetts Avenue. If a bicyclist is hurt because of the design of that bike lane, MIT is going to have a problem with a senior professor with good bike riding expertise testifying for the cyclist. The folks who designed the system have been yelled at and told what is wrong with their bike lane.
September 7, 2006 The International Herald Tribune reports that British Airways lost about 40 million pounds due to the “Terror Alert” in August. They cancelled 1,280 flights to try to alleviate congestion at Heathrow and other airports in Britain. That congestion was caused, of course, by the panicky British Airport Authority. I have received a document, dated yesterday, describing what can and cannot be brought onto an airplane. It is very similar to what we saw a bit more than two weeks ago and it still reflects what looks like panic, not reasoned precaution. It has been postulated that what we are seeing is not panic or stupidity at all, but a calculated means of injecting fear into the flying public on the part of the government (in this case, Britain’s, but we all know who is calling the aviation shots). The reasoning here is that, first, the public equates inconvenience with safety (or can be made to) and that if the public is fearful enough that it can be controlled.
I disagree. I think the British Airport Authority is as stupid as the American TSA. They are just more civil about it.
August 31, 2006 Upon hearing that his customers were American, the waiter in the beach bar in Matala, Crete, described a firefight in Baghdad that killed 100 people. Probably a bit hyperbolic, but the next thing he said was more interesting: he declared “there are no musselmans here”. It seems to be true: in two weeks of touring in Greece we have not noticed anyone who was obviously moslem. I know that the greeks and the turks have not gotten along very well for some time, but it didn’t sound like this was the guy’s beef: he wasn’t talking about turks, but about iraqis. I think he was reflecting a general distaste for muslims arising from the behavior of the more religious and less responsible amongst them, in particular the terrorist tendencies they are showing.
In the past the “Ugly American’”has been spoken of. But now the arrogance and aggressiveness of religious Islam may be exceeding even the ugly American, and the guy on the street (at least the greek street) is noticing.
August 30, 2006 In east-central Crete there is an agricultural valley known as the “Lassithi Plateau”. This area is about 800 meters above sea level, quite flat and said to be quite fertile. It is approached by a relatively small number of mountain roads and was fairly inaccessible until modern roads were built. Today is is rather bucolic and pleasant looking. It has one rather unusual feature: hundreds of derelict windmills. These things were apparently used for pumping water for irrigation. They are all over, just sitting there rusting.
This should give us some thought. These windmills are already built so the capital expense has been paid for, but they have been replaced by electric motors, presumably because the expense and trouble of maintaining them is too high. And pumping water must be the ideal use for wind energy: you size the wind turbine to the average amount of water you need (considering of course the wind conditions) and provide enough storage to handle the peaks and valleys in wind and usage. This area of Crete is said to be quite windy, by the way. So why have all of these paid for machines with free fuel been replaced?
It has been observed that reliability and maintenance of wind turbines is a major issue with large scale applications of this technology to electricity generation. As has been demonstrated with earlier wind technologies, this is something that will require a lot of our attention as we try to develop wind as a major source of electric power.
August 29, 2006 There was a bombing in Antalya, Turkey, yesterday that killed three people. This on top of four smaller incidents, one in Istanbul and three in Marmaris. The latter four caused injuries but no deaths. Two of the five incidents (one in Marmaris and the one in Istanbul) were claimed by Kurdish extremists. We don’t know anything about the others. The Kurds, who are generally secular moslems, have a bad history in Turkey for terrorism in pursuit of autonomy for their region or a country of their own. My opinion on the matter had been that W should have talked Turkey into giving them a bit of southeastern Turkey and combining that with the oil rich northern third of Iraq to form a Kurdistan that presumably would be friendly.
But not after this.
As to the other incidents – they were probably caused by religious moslems who are trying to damage the tourist industry in Turkey. Antalya (site of next year’s IEMDC) is apparently a popular destination for European tourists. I doubt it will work.
August 28, 2006 Today the Herald Tribune reports that the airplane bomb plot detected by the Brits was not very far along when they interrupted it by putting the bag on almost two dozen people. Apparently they felt their hands were tied by Pakistan’s arrest of some fellow who was tied up in it and they panicked. And then Mike Chertoff panicked too and air traveler’s can’t carry toothpaste in their checked bags. Toothpaste. The bad guys were experimenting with various types of explosives (what is HTMD?) and with some Gatorade like sports drink called Lucozade. Despite the fact that a couple of the gang had made ‘martyrdome’ tapes, no airplane tickets had been purchased and some of them had not even applied for passports. The paper reports that some explosive materials were found hidden in a suitcase but does not report that any actual explosives had been made or tested. It looks like they were a long way from having a real plan of action.
One of the better retrospective statements quoted by the paper was by Michael Sheehan, who is described as a former director of counterterrorism for New York, “there may have been too much hyperventilating going on”.
Sounds like Keystone Cops chasing the Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight.
Also in the paper was a story from Turkey. A young woman wearing a bikini got into an argument with some religious moslems. Seems like they objected to her state of dress and she objected to their discarding dirty diapers and fouling the beach. Actually the paper was not too clear on this. My guess is that they were cleaning baby shit out of the diapers in the sea. The paper said that they were ‘soiling the beach’. Anyway, it came to blows and the religious folks apparently attacked the woman. The paper indicated that she was going to make an issue of this. I read this in the English language paper Kathimerini that comes attached to the Herald Tribune, and it will be interesting to see if the American press reports the aftermath of this. Turkey has a problem with religious moslems who breed like rats and think themselves superior to everyone else, to the point of lecturing folks on their clothing. That is, when they are not throwing bombs.
August 25, 2006 It had to happen. Today the apologists for the airline security mechanisms currently in place struck back, in the form of an op-ed piece by Bernard E. Harcourt, who is described as ‘a law professor at the University of Chicago’. It sounds as if he is one of the people who designed the system that the TSA is using. Of all things, he brings up the case of that woman from Vermont who caused the panic on a United flight from London to Dulles that was diverted to Boston. He botches the argument that this incident illustrates what is wrong with behavioral profiling of passengers. In fact, it should be pretty clear that, while conventional screening in a heightened awareness environment (read ‘all out panic mode’) did not find several items of flight contraband on the woman’s person, even the most cursory look at her behavior would have drawn attention to her. Harcourt then outlines what he describes as a problem with the procedure used by the folks at Ben Gurion airport, which is that they use smart, tough people as screeners. This could be a problem, for if the US were to adopt this, known effective mechanism it would have to fire almost everyone currently working for the TSA. The screeners would also have to have more and better training. This is, according to Harcourt, a problem. Then, he makes the assertion, backed by an ‘according to Rafi Ron, former head of security at Ben Gurion’, that it takes on the average 57 minutes per passenger, to screen passengers there. Harcourt must have misunderstood Ron. Maybe it was 57 minutes total to get through screening or maybe 57 seconds with the profiler. When I went through there, on a flight to Egypt, I spent no more than a fraction of a minute with the guy asking questions. In fact, I was kind of disappointed that he had so little interest in talking to me. The guy seemed to be an interesting fellow. My wife and kids, who were taking a separate flight back to the US, spent a little longer (maybe a couple of minutes) because a woman traveling without a husband is thought to be an interesting case.
Harcourt then described how he thinks the system should work, and that is like the procedure used to admit lawyers to high security prisons, where they take away essentially everything. The analogy is flawed: in the prison the lawyer needs to take only a limited set of things with him and he gets all back when he leaves. When one is traveling one has stuff to take along. Checking that stuff is an inconvenience and takes time, particularly now that the airlines have to carry a lot more checked baggage. This is expense for the airlines and lost time for the traveler.
If the prisons trusted the lawyers there would be no need to have them empty their pockets, but then lawyers probably can’t be trusted, and this Harcourt fellow is making a seriously specious (and transparently so) argument for the flawed policy of the TSA.
August 23, 2006 Today it was reported in the Herald Tribune that some Moslem terrorists in the Gaza Strip have kidnapped a couple of Americans and demanded that the United States release all Moslem Prisoners … or else. I guess they are trying to replicate the roaring success they achieved with the same ploy against the Israelis several weeks ago. Seems like somewhat stronger action is required on our part. Maybe a blockade of Gaza until the two are released unharmed. The human rights crowd would love it.
The same newspaper had two excellent editorial comments. One by Alex Woolfe (“The Comfort of a Panic”), explaining why people support the government when it engages in idiotic and panicky actions in response to terrorists. Meaning there is really no hope here. The other was by Jeff Jacoby about security and how El Al and Ben Gurion airport does it right and the United States does it wrong. [See August 11, below] Having gone through security at Ben Gurion I understand and can support the notion that the way they do things (including talking with each passenger) would make air transport in the US much more secure. The issue I see is that the dunderheads who currently work for TSA are just not, on the average, smart enough to do what the Israeli security people do. They would need a whole new cast of characters. Also the volume of short haul flights in the US drives things toward more mass production of security operations. But then most air travelers should be easily recognized as such and not take much of a screener’s time.
August 23, 2006 On a high point above Mikonos Town on Mikonos island in Greeece there are five derelict windmills that at one time were used for grinding grain. The use of wind energy was then a great advance over hand labor and a good source of energy. At first,in looking at these things, which are now just skeletons of turbines that ahd sails, one wonders why are there not modern wind turbines making electricity on the spot. The wind certainly seems to blow with substantial force and continuity. But then it is pointed out that these things are a tourist attraction and modern wind turbines would be ugly and a detriment to the tourist industry on the island (and tourism seems to be all this island is good for—and it is very good at that). Perhaps the lesson to be learned is that wind energy is highly maintenance intensive and these things are just too expensive to keep running. Possibly tourism has saved the Greeks from making a big mistake.
The Hearald Tribune reports today that one of the two Lebanese fellows arrested in Germany for planting bombs on trains (the bombs didn’t work) was caught after he had made “a panicked phone call … to his family [in Lebanon] after video images of him were broadcast in Germany”. This is a situation in which listening in on a telephone call made to a foreign country produced a good lead to solving an important criminal case. In the same issue was an editorial comment (from Canada) mentioning the ruling by a U.S. District Court judge (a Carter appointee, if I remember correctly) that holds that intercepting such telephone calls is a violation of the US Constitution. One wonders if the resulting criminal case, were it in the United States rather than Britain, would be derailed by this technicality. It is probably unfair to blame President Carter for this, but his inaction with respect to Iran in 1979 was largely responsible for leaving us with a theocracy that has fed radical Islam and terrorism in the world for the past 27 years.
In the same newspaper appears a front-page story headlined “Air travelers adjust to a ‘new normal’: Stricter security brings few gripes”. The story is, of course, carefully constructed to try to make the point, but it fails simply because air travelers are, indeed, griping about the panicky reaction of the national transport security apparatus. If there is not open rebellion of the traveling public it is because the security apparatus has backed down from its most outrageous provisions. Indeed, the inset quote is “I think it is idiotic to surrender our noamalcy of life to Terrorists”, which is exactly what the British and American air transport security people have tried to do. These guys seem to be confusing tolerance with acceptance. The traveling public resents the ineffective and intrusive measures being taken by the TSA. It puts up with it only because it has no choice: the TSA has all of the cards. But wait until a politician offers to fire the rascals. It will not be hard to identify a block of voters who will vote for that person.
In the same newspaper there is a halfway hopeful story headlined “US and EU aim to tap deeper passenger data”. What they are referring to is that they would like to get the data on passengers that travel agents have already developed: credit card numbers, hotel and auto reservations and so forth. Chertoff is quoted as saying that he could use this information to find bad guys: “did Mohamed Atta get his ticket paid on the same credit card?” This is nice, but Atta probably used his own credit card, which died with him, or paid cash. And Chertoff won’t use the fact that he paid cash for his ticket because that is profiling. But put that one in reverse: That I pay for an airplane ticket with a credit card I have held for more than a decade should, it seems to me, indicate I am less likely to be a terrorist. That I have lived in the same place for 33 years, held the same job for 35 years and been married to the same woman for 39 years might also tend to lend a feeling that maybe I am not going to strap on an explosive belt. Do you think maybe Mike could understand that some of us good guys can be easily identified. Maybe he could let me carry a tube of toothpaste?
August 22, 2006 Three different airplane rides in the last three days (now a bit more than a week after the bomb on airplane scare produced by the arrests in Britain). Boston to London Heathrow was the first. A week earlier, after we heard of the unseemly panic in both British and American transport security agencies I tried to re-book our trip (to Athens) but was told that everything was fully booked. On the first leg, to London we had booked mileage based upgrades to business class, and our section of the airplane was less than half full. I don’t know if this was because of fear, the inconvenience promised because of the security panic, or if the airlines are not as busy as reputed. But it was a pretty good trip. Next day, on the London to Athens flight, the British Airways flight WAS full. Security was not as bad as had been reported in the American press, although the Brits had made special provisions. It appears people were going to the airport quite early in the day and causing jam-ups at checkin and security. So, at least at LHR Terminal 1 they didn’t let people even enter the terminal until about 2 1/2 to three hours ahead of their flights. Now I can imaging American security people doing this and letting people stand on the curb in the sun or rain. The Brits set up some very large tents with folding chairs just outside of the terminal and served (free) coffee and water. I was told they even had set up a loo out there, but we didn’t need it. Anyway, when we did get inside, checkin and security were smooth. Turns out The Brits were not as panicked as was reported after all. They did insist that liquids not be in checked baggage, but once through security they allowed passengers to buy stuff in the airport shops, including water and booze, and carry it onto the airplane. I was told this did not work on flights to America, where the TSA rules still held. On the third flight, from Athens to Mykonos, it seemed like normal – the Greeks did not seem affected by all of this and we did checkin and security as normal. Of course in Athens, the security search is done quite close to the gate, and since we were going on an ATR, the likelihood of a terrorist doing much damage was about zero.
A couple of notes on this. On the American Airlines flight from Boston to London we were presented with the normal party favor like thing they usually do. It included a little tube of toothpaste. We couldn’t bring toothpaste but the airline could. Makes me think of the time I went to a reception at the Hotel Tallyrand in Paris (part of the US Embassy compound, where we were warned to leave our Swiss Army knives behind) at which the party favor was a sharp letter knife. The other was that on the British Airways flight from London to Athens, about the same length as the Miami to Boston flight I took a week earlier, we got a real meal at lunchtime, including a glass of wine and/or a beer. No extra charge.
There must be more competition in Europe.
August 16, 2006 I have been hearing stories about stuff being stolen from checked baggage on airplanes. This is more of a risk now that the TSA forbids travelers from locking their checked baggage, ostensibly so they (the TSA) can look into it for bombs.
The issue is that TSA, even though it is supposed to be in charge of the baggage, can’t keep it secure. So thieves can get at it. This brings to mind an interesting question: if the baggage is left where a thief can get at it and swipe things from it (a laptop unwisely packed for example), what is going to prevent a reverse thief from putting a bomb in it? If the TSA can’t secure the airport from thieves, what is to make us think that they can secure it from terrorists? With all of the attention paid to water bottles and toothpaste, one would think that a competent, self-respecting terrorist would look to checked baggage to get a bomb on the airplane. It need not be a time bomb (as we all know, these sometimes go off at inconvenient times if the flight is delayed), but a suicide bomber could set it off by remote control. I wonder if they will ban garage door clickers from carry-on bags – now that might be worthwhile.
And I have also been told, third hand but by usually reliable sources, that the TSA has been known to confiscate Swiss Army Knives from checked bags, leaving behind notes accusing said knives of being dangerous weapons. Now, if you look at their web sites, the TSA specifically says that knives can be in checked bags. So when they take one they are simply stealing it.
Your tax money at work.
August 15, 2006 Airplane ride to Tampa. No great difficulties going through the TSA checkpoint. Seems like very few people are carrying much on so the guys don’t have as much work to do. Still they didn’t catch my toothpaste. This is not an issue since I am not a terrorist, but it does illustrate what the head of the ALPA said a couple of days ago: they should be focusing on bad guys rather than bad stuff.
And reported in the newspaper that Mike Chertoff wants the law changed to give the feds more authority for searches and domestic spying: kind of like MI-5 has. I would not mind doing this were the government run by competent people, but Chertoff is a fool and Gonzales is a knave. I would be very unhappy to give them more authority to chase terrorists and have them use that authority to chase pornographers (which is what, I am convinced, Gonazales wants to do).
Terminal C at Miami International airport is the pits. Looks like a bus terminal and doesn’t have enough seating. American Airlines should be ashamed of itself. On my way back to Boston from Tampa there was good news and bad news. The good news is I managed to catch my illegally short standby connection. The bad news is the reason I did that was that the flight was late. It was late because the airplane was late arriving. The airlines are doing too much ‘Just in Time’ scheduling.
There is a story today in the Wall Street Journal about air freight, which apparently is still not well screened for explosives, even as the passengers are not being allowed to bring their toothpaste with them. I won’t describe to the TSA how a suicide bomber posing as a passenger could hide a bomb in checked baggage and set it off by remote control. The terrorists already know and it would just panic the geniuses at TSA. Actually, that is probably too harsh. The real reason for the disparity is the TSA doesn’t give a fig for aircraft safety. They just think that most passengers equate inconvenience with safety. Or they are control freaks. Take your pick.
As to that first notion: inconvenience = safety, the flying public is starting to be disabused of the notion, at least if the letters in USA Today today are any indication. Several of the letter writers seem to be actively angry at the stupid things TSA is doing to air passengers in the name of safety. There is a little good news, however, the Brits seem to be coming out of their funk. They seem to be allowing some hand luggage and even laptops. Good thing too: they were about to start incurring damage to people’s computers.
August 11, 2006 This morning the President’s radio address was about the terrorist threat uncovered by the Brits and Pakistanis. He mentioned the new ban on carrying water and toothpaste on airplanes. Then I thought of Mitt calling up the national guard, specifically to make sure that nobody buys a bottle of water after clearing security and carries it onto an airplane. Some folks interviewed on the television set question this: why should water purchased, after all, in the secure part of the airport, be considered a hazard?
And apparently one of the people the Brits arrested was an employee at Heathrow, with a security badge that gave him the run of the airport.
So the answer is clear: the government can’t trust its own employees or other people who inhabit the secure areas of the airport. That is why we can’t buy water in the secure area – it ain’t really secure. Until and unless the government can get control of its own precincts there is no way of saying what they are contributing to aircraft security.
Frankly, I think we should farm the whole deal out to El Al.
August 10 Woke up this morning to hear the Brits claim to have caught almost two dozen terrorists who planned to blow themselves up aboard airliners coming, in part, to Boston. They didn’t know yet how far along the plot was, but I suspect it was like many others, just in the initial phases. A bit later we heard a senior British police official explaining why they went to the highest alert level. Seems like they are not sure they got them all. I noted a bit of a Scottish accent in the guy’s voice. I wonder if he was MI-5 or 6, and if his name might have been ‘Bond’.
Anyway, the geniuses in homeland security here in the US are making good on their watchword:
When in Trouble; When in Doubt;
Run in Circles; Scream and Shout.
As usual, from reports I am hearing from the airport, they are treating everyone like a terrorist, rather than just people who might actually BE terrorists. They are taking the quite understandable steps of not allowing anyone to carry water or darn near anything else on aircraft. Apparently all aircraft, but that might be the news networks showing their usual accuracy. Oh. This step is understandable since these people can’t actually find explosives in your (our) bags. And they won’t make special provisions for people who might be terrorists (young Arabs, for example) because Norman Minetta, who is not an Arab, was involuntarily sent to the desert when he was a kid. I had hoped that, once W fired Minetta, that the situation would improve, but the fellow is gone and the situation hasn’t improved. I am told that the flying public equates inconvenience with safety, so maybe there is a method to their idiocy.
More geniuses this morning. The traffic light at Commonwealth Avenue and the BU Bridge access is still out. It has been out for months. Early in the summer I saw a couple of guys working on it. Apparently the City of Boston has no competent electricians. Just in case, I don’t ride underneath the hanging light.
I understand Bechtel is complaining about the methods used by the Turnpike Authority to test the screws used to lag supports for hanging ceilings into the tunnel top layers. Sounds like they are setting up for a really good smokescreen excuse.
As I was riding down Vassar St, before passing the new (remote) MIT off-campus police station and Chuck’s Folly, I was delayed briefly by what I believe to be utility piping work. (They are digging and putting pipe into the ground). Why do these guys always start work early enough to screw up morning rush hour? They are gone by evening rush hour. (Thanks for small favors).
And just after crossing Massachusetts Avenue, I was cut off by a truck entering the campus by the entry between Buildings 35 and 37. The driver probably didn’t see the sign demanding that motorists yield to bikes. This, as you will remember, is just about where the bike path departs from the road way. That hide and seek process will, one day, get a bicyclist seriously injured. I hope that the Institute will be smart enough to avoid doing this when they re-work the western part of Vassar Street.
When I got to MIT, that parking container was still taking up a parking space near the smoking area of Building 4. Seems to me that, since the crane has come and gone, they should move this thing to the private parking area of Eastman Court. I should think, that since I am paying six hundred bucks to be allowed to park here, there would be a space when I get in. That is not always the case.
I didn’t say anything beyond giving them (the smokers) a really hard look. But I certainly thought of some nasty things.
Speaking of nasty thoughts, as I was typing the above a radio commercial came on. If you live in New England you have heard it. Starts with “This is David McCullagh” (well, I may have spelled his name incorrectly). This fellow is obviously wearing a plaid shirt and he is editorializing against the Cape Wind development. Seems inappropriate for him to be speaking on the radio, since this requires him to use electricity.
August 4, 2006 I just applied for parking for next year. Kind of nifty: it is all done on the web now – the system knows my cars, down to the VIN, so all I need to do is to sign in (my web certificates get me to the right page) and push the button authorizing a payroll deduction. This is costing me about $600, to drive to work. And that is redundant since I bike in half the time. Actually it is costing MIT about $200. You see, the $600 includes about that much money that goes directly to federal income and medicare taxes and to Massachusetts income tax. MIT could pay me $400 less and give me free parking and I would be just as happy. Ah well, support the troops.