Weekly Roundup Friday 7 December 2012

The spectacular fire on the AF4590 Concorde flight was not the reason the plane crashed.

Good morning

December already, with Christmas closing in, and, barely a week later, another new year.

It seems only yesterday that we were all worried about ‘The Y2K Bug’, and now we (or some small part of our number) are instead worrying about the Mayan End of the World Prophecy.  Fortunately, there is apparently a solution for those concerned about what may occur on 12/21/12 – go take refuge in the French village of Bugarach.  Hmmmm……

My thanks to still more readers who are continuing to respond to this year’s reader fundraising appeal.  Another 31 readers generously helped out during the last week, making us now way past last year’s total of 545 supporters, and even past what seemed like an impossible 600 supporters.  Today we most appreciatively have 615 supporters, including one more ‘Super Supporter’ – thank you Hank F.

As things stand, we seem to be looking for this year to be our third best fundraising year.  For some reason, 2009 was the best year ever by a huge margin (910 supporters), and then 2010 crashed down to about half that number.  2008 was our second best year (685 supporters), and here we are in 2012 with 615 supporters.

If there are another 71 people who would like to push 2012 up to the second best position, by all means please do so.  On the other hand, 615 supporters is a great number too – the glass here is definitely half full rather than half empty.  Thank you, everyone.

And thanking you, I have indeed been doing.  This week saw supporters get another supporter-only newsletter (already their third), with details of two special offers.

But with a spirit of positiveness, I’d like to share one of the two offers now with everyone else as well.  Free travel.

Yes, you read right.  Totally free travel.  Okay, so it isn’t on a private jet, but free is free, right?  It is instead for travel by coach.  But don’t immediately dismiss out of hand the concept of traveling by coach (bus, if you prefer).  Not all bus services are like a bad day on Greyhound; furthermore, even if you decide not to travel by coach, maybe you have children or grandchildren or whoever – people who aren’t as fussy, and who are in the category of ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ (hopefully not literally!).

A relatively new entrant in the intercity coaching market is Megabus.  They now provide service to 120 cities in North America (which means they have limited regional service rather than an extensive national network), with coaches typically featuring restrooms, free Wi-Fi, and at seat power too.

Megabus has always had good value fares, and on Wednesday they announced a new promotion, whereby they are giving away 200,000 tickets totally for free.

These free tickets are good for travel between 9 January and 28 February 2013, and of course, are offered on a ‘first in, first served’ basis.  I expect they’ll quickly disappear, especially after our 615 supporters have already scooped up some many of them.

This is their website – www.megabus.com – and you need to use the promotional code TRYMEGABUS to get the free seats.  I hope you, or someone you know, can take advantage of this.

Supporter Lynne has this to add

Poked around the Megabus website and found that the free tickets are not offered every day of the week.  Tuesdays & Wednesdays are free and selected departures in Saturdays both in January and February.  Even if you don’t get a freebie, the tickets cost $29 – $39 right now – that’s extremely cheap (for a 7+ hr. trip from Pittsburgh to NY).  I even found one for $1.  The most expensive I’ve ever seen on Megabus is $59.

Another bus line in the northeast that is very good and cheap….and competes with Megabus is Bolt Bus.  Same restroom, Wi-fi, electrical outlets, etc.- and about the same pricing.  A couple of years ago I went roundtrip NYC to Boston (4 hrs) for $25.50.  Amtrak was charging about $190.  Bolt Bus is a division of Greyhound.

And Supporter Linda points out there are other very discounted bus services operating between Boston, New York, and Washington.  She writes

I just passed this on to some college students I know who take the “Chinese buses” between Boston and NYC.

I don’t know if you have ever heard about them, but entrepreneurs in Chinatown in NYC started really cheap bus service between Boston, Washington, and NYC.  They pick up the pax on the street ( no expensive bus terminals), pay the drivers nothing and have made fortunes.

One of them crashed about a year ago, killing people, and a lot of shortcomings made the news, but they are back as strong as ever.

Meanwhile, a Super Supporter, who is more commonly to be found luxuriating in a private jet writes

 FYI, for most of 2011 we were commuting NYC-BOS for a year-long program at Haaarvard.

Almost always we took the Decela and liked it.  Once, though, we returned on a Megabus.  It was quick, except for when it hit NYC traffic. Our bus was empty, so we took the top front row.

But I think that even full it would be more comfortable than an air coach seat. So cheap I’ve forgotten the price.

And, in case you want to know still more about Megabus, Supporter Marty writes

Re: Megabus for DC-NY, it still rides I95 and therefore is subject to the vagaries of traffic.  Like the girl with the curl: when she’s good, she’s very very good, but when she is bad she is horrid.

Horror tales of 7-10 hour trips. Lovely tale of 4-5 hour trips.

Yes, Travel Insider Supporters are a talkative bunch of wonderful people.  Don’t you wish you were a member of this exclusive group of bus-riding travel sophisticates, too?

What else this week, apart from cold wet and windy weather?  Read on for articles about :

  • The Real Truth of Air France’s Concorde Disaster
  • 787 – Dreamliner or Nightmareliner?
  • OSHA to Take Responsibility for Airplane Cabin Air Quality
  • An Example of the Cost of Reduced Competition
  • Is Delta Chasing Virgin?
  • Heathrow Becoming Unimportant
  • Beijing to Waive Visas for Up to Three Day Visits
  • Happy Birthday to….
  • Congress Committee Talks to Empty Chair Rather than to TSA
  • NM in Mexican Standoff with TSA
  • TSA Security Killing 3000 Americans a Year?
  • And Lastly This Week….

The Real Truth of Air France’s Concorde Disaster

The French have this strange approach whereby, in an accident, they like to find someone to blame and bring a criminal prosecution against them.

Never mind that the key part of an accident is the lack of what the attorneys would term mens rea – the lack of a specific decision on the part of someone to create the accident.  If an accident was intentional, it wouldn’t be an accident, would it.  But the French like to find someone they can blame.

Never mind also that when there is criminal prosecution being threatened, people tend to clam up and stop being fully open and truthful about what happened, which means it becomes harder to learn from the innocent and unfortunate mistakes and chain of events that may have caused any such accident.  This is why, just about everywhere else in the world, air accidents in particular are investigated without the threat of criminal prosecution hanging over the heads of the involved parties.

Oh – the French also being the ardent nationalists that they are, any attempt to shift blame from French companies and individuals, and to pass it over to foreigners instead (ideally Americans, British, or Germans) is eagerly sought.  This can sometimes be difficult to do – for example the AF 447 crash over the Atlantic a couple of years ago, involving Air France (obviously French), its pilots (also French) and an Airbus plane (also, ooops, mainly French).

So with all this as background, do you remember the terrible tragedy of the Air France Concorde that crashed when taking off from Paris back in 2000?  After casting around, the French decided that clearly the fault for the crash of an Air France (French) Concorde (half French) piloted by French pilots and leaving from a French airport should be blamed on Continental Airlines, a nasty American company.

The logic of that is rather breathtaking, and involved a very selective inattention to most of the relevant details of the disaster.  The story went that a Continental DC-10 that took off shortly before the Concorde had a piece of metal fall off and lie on the runway, which became the root cause of the Concorde disaster.  The Concorde apparently rolled over the top of the metal piece, which apparently then punctured a tire, and bits of rubber flew off the tire and into a fuel tank, starting a fire.

At least this was better than their earlier attempt to prosecute, and if successful, imprison an 80 yr old gentleman who was the original designers of the Concorde, who had been in charge of the plane’s initial testing program more than 40 years before the crash.

The successful prosecution of Continental has now been semi-overturned in a French Appeals court, which has at least absolved Continental of criminal liability, while still imposing a very small (€1 million) measure of civil liability.  Indeed, the amount is so ridiculously small, compared to the cost to Air France of losing a Concorde full of passengers, that it begs the question ‘why so little’?  It is almost as though the court is saying ‘Okay, the honor of France is at stake, so we’ll find you guilty, but don’t worry, we’ll just impose the tiniest of fines’.

If Continental truly was guilty, surely its fine, for the loss of a plane and the death of 113 people, should have been more like €250 million.

Details here.

However, none of this relates to the real true full story of how and why the Concorde crashed.  It is a story worth telling, because it reveals sad negligence and incompetence on the part of – gulp – French people in many different parts of the tragedy.

I’d found an article about this, many years ago, and even mentioned it in passing in earlier commentaries on the accident, but lost the link and couldn’t find it again, no matter how hard I searched.  So great thanks to ‘Ask the Pilot’ blogger Patrick Smith, who now shares this excellent must-read article.

Not to steal the story from Patrick and the sources he draws from, but the spectacular fire was not fatal.  It was something the pilots should have been able to recover from.  Now go read his story to find out the multiple problems with the plane to start with, and the ineptness of the pilots’ responses after the fire started and how the combination of these factors, rather than the fire, caused the plane’s destruction.

Excuse me for maybe having a misplaced set of priorities, but to me the biggest tragedy of all about the unnecessary and preventable Air France Concorde crash was not just the death of 113 people and the loss of an irreplaceable Concorde.  It was that this crash ended the aura of the Concorde’s impeccable safety record and claimed highest standards of everything; and – in my opinion – was the underlying root cause of the Concordes being unnecessarily taken out of service only a few years after they were returned to service after the crash.  Indeed, Air France’s embarrassment was so great that it reportedly never wished to operate them again after their accident.

Do read Patrick Smith’s very clear explanation of what went wrong, and how easily preventable the entire tragedy could have and should have been.

787 – Dreamliner or Nightmareliner?

Talking about airplane disasters, longer term readers will know I remain guardedly cautious about the new Boeing 787, and am unwilling to fly it myself any time soon.  In particular, I’ve noted with concern how the plane was immediately granted 180 minute ETOPS certification, allowing it to fly on routes where the nearest airport is as far as 180 minutes (3 hours) away; and it seems the plane may now have an extreme 330 minute (ie 5.5 hour) ETOPS certification.

Imagine being three, four, five or more hours away from anywhere to land, and having something serious go wrong on your plane.  Not a comfortable feeling, and hopefully something that would never happen.

So how to feel then about the emergency landing that a brand new United 787 had to make earlier this week, due to a mysterious problem in one of its many generators?  And how also to feel about the FAA issuing an airworthiness directive advising of the possibility of engine failures or fires due to a manufacturing fault in the 787s, requiring urgent inspections within seven days and (of course) immediate repairs as needed?

I’m not altogether shocked at some ‘teething problems’ for the new jet.  Indeed, I’d expect them.  So what I am shocked about is the 787 being granted immediate long-range ETOPS certification.  Teething troubles are nasty enough when you can divert to a nearby airport that is only 15 minutes away, but when the nearest airport is 3 or more hours away, and you’ve nothing other than water or ice/snow below you, you really don’t want to have anything go wrong with your plane.

OSHA to Take Responsibility for Airplane Cabin Air Quality

One of the big disappointments of the 787 was the contrast between the typical pre-delivery ‘artists impressions’ of these wonderful new airplanes with spacious cabins and all sorts of passenger comfort enhancements, and the reality of another generic airplane with too many seats squashed into too small a space.  Boeing’s initial extravagant claims for higher humidity and greater cabin pressure have all been reduced down to lesser levels of passenger comfort and benefit – still better than most other planes, but not as good as earlier promised.

An interesting feature of airplane environmental and health type issues has been that until now the FAA has steadfastly claimed it has sole and exclusive authority over all elements of an airline and its planes’ operations.  Which is why, as mentioned last week, there are all sorts of Health Department rules for restaurants on the ground, but none for airplanes in the air.

This jurisdictional monopoly was cracked open slightly a few years ago when the EPA managed to sneak in its Aircraft Drinking Water Rule, which took effect in 2009.  As the EPA points out, this was required because, absent its rule making, all airlines were out of compliance with pre-existing water quality requirements as they apply to ground operations prior to its involvement.  This is, among other things, a telling commentary on the FAA’s ability to police every part of airline/airplane operations.

Now we see OSHA getting involved too.  The FAA is agreeing – after being bullied into it by Congress – to allow OSHA to participate in overseeing some working conditions for flight attendants – working conditions such as cabin air quality and noise levels.  Naturally, any such issues affect us as passengers just as much as they do our flight attendants, so this is a good thing.

It will be interesting to see what OSHA thinks about noise levels, which in my testing on planes sometimes exceed 80 dB levels for extended periods of time.  OSHA might also have some thoughts about the desert-dry humidity and high altitude pressure settings for the cabin air, too.

Let’s hope OSHA doesn’t fall for the same lines of defense that were offered up to the EPA by the airlines, which claimed their ‘unique operational requirements’ prevented them from providing safe clean drinking water in their cabins (see halfway down this page for a listing of airline excuses to the EPA).

An Example of the Cost of Reduced Competition

JetBlue has announced it will end its service between JFK and Pittsburgh.  It started the service in 2006 and has been operating four flights a day.

The airline says it is simply an unprofitable route which it is discontinuing for that reason, ending a loss, and freeing the planes to be deployed on more profitable routes.  There will continue to be convenient service offered by DL, US and AA between PIT and JFK, and UA offers service between PIT and EWR.  So, no big deal, right?

Well, on the face of it, no big deal.  But a report by Zacks Equity Research projects that fares on the PIT-NYC route will massively rise.  They say this for two reasons.

First, JetBlue’s introduction of service caused a 20% reduction in fares (so it seems reasonable to now expect a matching 25% increase).  Secondly, roundtrip fares for flights after JetBlue’s exit in February next year have already skyrocketed.  Fares prior to then can be as low as $120, and after March, are now to be found for $600.

This should not be totally surprising.  A similar rise in airfares occurred when Southwest dropped its Pittsburgh-Philadelphia route, leaving US Airways as the sole carrier in the route.  Round trip fares jumped almost 6 times from $118 to $698 at that time.

Are you listening, DoT?  Airline mergers are not a good thing.

Is Delta Chasing Virgin?

Virgin Atlantic has always been ‘the odd one out’ and has chosen not to join the cozy “old boys’ club” of airlines; indeed, the airline’s founder and public figurehead, Sir Richard Branson, has made a career out of being the ‘unfairly treated underdog’.

This made their decision to sell 49% of the airline to Singapore Airlines in 2000 a rather puzzling action, and in truth the two airlines have never done much to work together.

Back in 2010, word leaked out that Sir Richard was interested in having his 51% share bought out in part or in whole, or in some other way joining forces with another carrier.  It also seems that Singapore Airlines has become less keen on keeping their 49%.  Various potential deals have been speculated over the last some months, with this week seeing some fairly authoritative rumors circulating about Delta looking to buy out SQ’s share, and perhaps Air France/KLM (a very close Delta partner) might seek to take some of Sir Richard’s 51% too.

This would mean that AF/KL and Branson between them would have 51%, making the airline still nominally under European control for EU regulatory purposes, but in reality, we would expect that DL (with 49%) and AF/KL (with surely more than 1%) would unite to vote against Sir Richard any time there was a divergence of opinion between him and them.  Hopefully, the airlines and Sir Richard would have some ‘off the record’ agreement ensuring that he would ‘play nice’ in his uncomfortable role as a minority shareholder, otherwise it would be very easy to predict clashes in the future.

Apparently talks are in an early stage, and there’s every possibility they may break down.  Not that we wish ill to any of the parties, but we would be very disappointed to see the loss of the last significant independent carrier on the US-Heathrow routes, a loss which would bode ill for airfares (see the previous article!).

More details here.  Plus an interesting alternative perspective, urging Delta not to invest in Virgin – well worth reading.

Heathrow Becoming Unimportant

The main reason any airline would be interested in Virgin Atlantic is due to its precious Heathrow landing slots.  If it weren’t for those, few airlines would be interested in buying VS and most would prefer instead to simply grow organically.

But Virgin does have a precious but small allocation of Heathrow slots (about 4% of the total slots available, compared to BA’s 51%), and due to Heathrow’s capacity to handle flights having been frozen more or less at the present level for a long time, and with every slot spoken for, any airline with slots becomes more valuable due to its slots rather than due to any other intrinsic value.

Britain remains in an incredible agony of indecision about what to do with its aviation needs.  The government has placed a freeze on all runway expansion in the greater London area, and is avoiding any type of action to resolve its pressing needs to increase its capacity.  The only action it does take is to increase the already unfair air passenger duty tax on people flying in and out of the country, the most recent increase being announced this week.

The government, even though it seems to be possibly having second thoughts on its earlier 2010 cancellation of the previous government’s painfully granted authority for Heathrow to add a third runway, has arranged to defer any future decisions until after the next election (in 2015), perhaps because they recognize that whatever they choose to do will be wildly unpopular with some sectors of the community and country.

So what does this mean – apart from the increasing value of each precious Heathrow slot?

It means that the airlines are simply bypassing Britain entirely, and rather than using Heathrow as their main European hub, they are choosing other airports in other countries.  This also gives the airlines a competitive advantage over airlines that still hub through Heathrow, because the non-UK hubbed airlines don’t need to sting their passengers for the air passenger duty which applies to UK flights.

As a result Heathrow now has flights to/from fewer destinations than it did 20 years ago, while competing hub airports such as FRA, CDG and AMS now offer more connections than Heathrow.

Details here.

Beijing to Waive Visas for Up to Three Day Visits

Britain seems to becoming increasing tone-deaf when it comes to appreciating the value of tourists.  If it really understood the huge and positive impact of tourism, you’d think the nation would scramble to build more airports and runways wherever it can find land to pave over.

Although the US is happily not so severely airport constrained, it has other problems that create the same net effect.  I’ve regularly written about the damage we do to our economy and our unemployment by making it difficult for foreigners to come to the US as tourists.  As I point out in this article, our nation’s churlish approach to allowing foreigners to visit is costing the country $859 billion and 1.3 million new jobs, and read my other article to see an example of the ridiculous visa refusals that bona fide wealthy tourists are suffering.

For a while, there was a lot of talk about liberalizing US visa policies to make it easier for people to come and spend their money with us, but despite plenty of political rhetoric, nothing material has occurred, and the government continues to bypass the real problem, while desperately searching for other ways to grow employment (with the election now complete, unemployment is now back over 8% again).

But while the US government shows its ongoing insensitivity to tourist dollars, and maintains stereotypes that are decades out of date about Chinese people in particular being poor and desperate for green cards, the Chinese government is more sensitive and sensible.

This week China announced that from 1 January 2013, visitors to Beijing from 45 countries (including the US) will be allowed to stay in Beijing for up to three days without needing any visa at all.  This will be very helpful for people on our 2013 tour to North Korea, and a positive move for everyone wishing to spend a few days on a stopover in Beijing as part of their overall travels.

Details of this initiative here.  A number of questions are currently unanswered such as how the ‘three days’ is calculated, and whether hotels will do the police registration on behalf of guests, and if day tours out of Beijing (eg to the Great Wall) will be allowed.  Hopefully this will all be explained by 1 January.

Unfortunately for our economy, the US has not offered anything in response.  Indeed, it is much easier for Americans to travel to North Korea than it is for most foreign nationals to come to the US, and easier for Mexicans to immigrate illegally than for bona fide tourists to visit briefly.  Even North Korea is getting more focused on attracting foreign tourists, with their latest liberalization now being removing the ‘minders’ from coach loads of visiting Chinese tourists.

Happy Birthday to….

It is now twenty years since the first ever text message was sent between two phones, by a couple of people in Britain over their Vodaphone network (in the US, Vodaphone owns 45% of Verizon).

Texting – at least in my opinion – is interesting because it was one of the tipping points that showed the US’s loss of technological leadership in the world.  For most (all?) the 1990s, texting grew more and more popular in the rest of the world, but remained completely non-existent in the US.  Why?

I remember, even in the early 2000s, when I’d travel overseas I’d exchange texts regularly with business and social contacts as a primary and normal means of contact – even in Russia where texting could use both the Cyrillic and English alphabets.  But in the US – nothing.

I also remember the first ever text message I received in the US – from a reader who worked locally for T-Mobile, apologizing for being late for a meeting.  You’re welcome, Lloyd.

It has really only been in the last five or six years that texting has caught on in the US – something all the more surprising because the charges phone companies levy for text messaging are perhaps the most profitable part of their entire wireless operations – you think they’d have been more proactive at encouraging people to start texting.

Text messages squeeze themselves into empty spaces in the voice service, and take up almost no bandwidth in doing so.  The cost of the text message that you might pay anywhere from 5c to 30c to send (and/or possibly to receive, too – often the wireless company makes money from both the sender and the recipient!) is some tiny fraction of a single cent to the wireless companies.

As an aside, did you know that at times when the cell services are overloaded, you can usually still send and receive text messages?  In emergencies, with everyone trying to use their phones, and maybe with cell towers down as well, it can be impossibly difficult to get a dial tone.  But even if you can’t get a dial tone, you can usually send and receive text messages.  They might take a while to be sent and to be received, but they’re probably going to get there eventually.  I also notice this when attending the mega CES show in Las Vegas – the sudden influx of a quarter million people in the Las Vegas Convention Center each year inevitably overloads the cell service, but text messages always work.

Details of this anniversary here.

That’s not to say all is wonderful about texting.  So many people these days have become compulsive slaves to their cell phones, whether it be checking for messages or sending messages or who knows what else.  For example, this article suggests that the average young adult today sends over 100 text messages a day (and probably receives a similar number), plus, in addition, checks their phone another 60 times each day ‘just in case’.

And for people with concentration spans now so extraordinarily short that even the fractured calls on our attention placed by television are too long; there is a growing phenomenon that now has a name – ‘the second screen’ phenomenon.  In theory this relates to using a tablet or smartphone to ‘interact’ with the content on the television, but many times it simply means checking messages while also watching television.

Congress Committee Talks to Empty Chair Rather than to TSA

The House Transportation and Infrastructure aviation subcommittee requested TSA head John Pistole to attend a hearing last week, but he, ummm, refused to attend, and neither did he send anyone else from the TSA to represent the organization at the hearing, which was all about TSA related issues.

That’s a shame because the TSA got to miss out on such bizarre suggestions as one which advocated changing their uniform to pastel polo shirts so as to make them less threatening – an idea which on the face of it is ridiculous, but when you actually think about it for a while, is brilliant in its perceptive understanding of how the TSA bully boys feel empowered and enabled by their new fancy pseudo-police style uniforms and badges.  Let’s put all TSA officers in frilly lace pink shirts.

This was the third time this year the committee asked the TSA to attend a hearing, and the third time the TSA refused.  So the committee placed an empty chair at the witness table with a placard bearing Pistole’s name on it, in a manner reminiscent of the strange Clint Eastwood event prior to the election.

Pistole said in a public statement that the committee has no jurisdiction over the TSA and therefore, no representatives would attend.

He might be legally correct, but it sure sounds politically dicey to play a game of dare/double-dare with a gaggle of Congresscritters and to impugn their legitimacy.

Details here and here.

NM in Mexican Standoff with TSA

The New Mexican government happily issues driving licenses to illegal aliens.  Normally, of course, that would delight the federal government, which seems to seek to overturn any attempt by anyone to police the federal government’s own laws on illegal immigration.  But the TSA is not the federal government – as the previous item revealed, the TSA considers itself above the government.

So the TSA has told NM that effective 15 January, it will refuse to accept NM driver’s licenses as acceptable ID for passengers wishing to pass through TSA checkpoints at airports (and increasingly at all sorts of other places too).  Details here.

This means that NM residents either have to get passports or attempt to fly without ID (which is actually surprisingly easy to do).

It will be interesting to see which side blinks first and backs down.  The TSA has made similar threats before but always backed down, and it is my sense that several other states also issue licenses without checking on the applicant’s immigration status (indeed, looking at the list of documents accepted by my own WA state it seems clear that you can get a WA license simply by showing a foreign driver’s license, an expired foreign passport without any US Immigration stamps in it, and one of various Mexican documents).

This of course begs the question – why is the TSA selectively bullying only NM?  It also begs the question – why is WA selectively lenient on illegal aliens from Mexico, but not on illegal aliens from other countries (such as even perhaps New Zealand)?

TSA Security Killing 3000 Americans a Year?

Is the TSA killing more people, every year, than the total number of casualties on 9/11?  Now while you can prove almost anything with a proper misapplication of statistics, here’s an article that convincingly reasons that this might be the case.

The article points out that security hassles at airports are encouraging more people to switch from flying to driving.  And being as how driving is massively more risky a means of transportation than flying (you have one chance in 98 of dying in a vehicle accident compared to one chance in 25 million of dying as a result of a terrorist attack on an airplane – presumably these are lifetime chances), the article has calculated that 242 extra people are dying on our roads each month as a direct result of driving rather than flying.  It adds that another 100 a year have switched to driving due to the hassle of baggage screening.

Since 9/11 there have been 150,000 murders in the US, but less than three dozen of those have been attributed to Islamic terrorism.  Protecting us against this infinitesimally small risk is the TSA – an organization that has now grown to over 50,000 employees, and expanded out of the airports and to more and more parts of our every day life – to say nothing of massive chunks of countless other federal agencies too.  The TSA has an annual budget of over $8 billion, but can’t show us a single terrorist that they’ve caught at an airport.

To put the size of the TSA into perspective in terms of the overall government fixation on terror, the article says that in total, the US government has spent over $580 billion in the 11 years since 9/11 on ‘homeland security’ – oh yes, and another $2.5 trillion on fighting foreign wars of dubious provenance and bringing about dubious outcomes, too.  The TSA is less than one tenth the government’s total annual spend on so-called anti-terrorist measures.

And Lastly This Week….

Here’s an interesting catalog of ‘unexplainable mysteries’ spotted on Google maps.

As you know, this is a time of year when people are thought to be more likely to be driving home after a party, drunk.  Police patrols will be out in force, and doubtless will catch many such people.

One approach is for a group of people to have a designated driver, but in some countries and cultures, it is very difficult to find anyone willing to forego their own opportunity to get drunk at the office party and make a fool of themselves under a lampshade.  One such country with a population of very enthusiastic drinkers is my own home country of New Zealand.

So, how to get home after drinking (way) too much?  No, the NZ solution doesn’t involve sheep (be quiet, Aussies!), but it might involve sheep dogs.  You have to see this to believe it.  And note that NZ dogs are so macho they confidently handle stick shift vehicles.

Finally, I struggled to find much of interest for tourists in South Korea when planning our Travel Insider side trip there as part of this year’s DPRK Tour (and next year’s, too), and the lack of tourism attractions is perhaps why the country has such a terribly primitive tourism infrastructure.

But, maybe that is changing.  Here’s an interesting attraction for visitors that bills itself as the only one of its kind in the world.  Which is perhaps a good thing.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels






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