Sometimes life gets in the way of blogging, and so this is the only blogging I manage to do. Feel free to skip it, but if you do you just might miss something.

  • 10:26 Waiting for hard drives to defrag.
  • 11:56 Oh isn’t that just magical. Click a link, IE7 dies. Thx lots!
  • 12:21 Vmail, it steals bits of your soul, and saps your will to live drop by drop.

Until next time.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

Sometimes life gets in the way of blogging, and so this is the only blogging I manage to do. Feel free to skip it, but if you do you just might miss something.

  • 10:39 Attempting to try out Twittd, but I think it’s broken.
  • 12:02 The brain. It hurts.
  • 12:17 why can’t it be 7 already?
  • 18:23 @graywolf: cool! A presidential debate drinking game!

Until next time.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

Sometimes life gets in the way of blogging, and so this is the only blogging I manage to do. Feel free to skip it, but if you do you just might miss something.

  • 10:32 Why does Thursday feel like Monday?
  • 10:40 Deleting contacts from the messenger lists.
  • 12:09 New blog post: Flying the Unfriendly Skies

Until next time.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

IT is a typical day for the flight attendants aboard American Airlines Flight 710, a 737-800 headed from Dallas to New York with a scheduled departure time of 9:05 a.m.

As Debbie Nicks, 56, works in the first-class galley, brewing coffee and hanging up passengers’ jackets, she glances down the jetway and notices a crush of people at the gate. An earlier flight to New York has been canceled, and people from that flight are desperate to get on this one. It is a familiar scene these days, what with many planes flying at near capacity, and so Debbie just continues her regular routine, making the announcement to passengers onboard that they should make sure all carry-on luggage is stored either in the overhead bin or below the seat in front of them.

Back in coach, Anna Wallace McCrummen, 45, organizes the cart of drinks and food for sale that would later be pushed down the narrow aisle, then takes a blue rubber mallet to whack a bag of ice cubes that had frozen into a solid block. She hits it over and over again, perhaps a little too keenly, as the sound — thwop, thwop, thwop — echoes off the walls of the small galley.

Meanwhile, in the main cabin, Jane Marshall, 50, walks down the aisle, checking to make sure people are finding their correct seats, keeping an eye out for passengers who have sneaked on luggage that she knows won’t fit in the overhead space and trying to defuse any tense situations before they escalate into crises. But perhaps it is already too late. Two women who have been double-booked stand sulking in the aisle, wheelie bags firmly planted by their sides, signaling that they are not about to budge.

“What a mess,” mutters Jane once the double-booked women have been found seats and the line of stand-by passengers is turned away from the gate. Only then, after every seat is taken, overhead bins shut, electronic devices stored and seatbelt sign on, do the three women finally settle in to their jump seats for one of the few moments of respite during their workday.

Over the next 11 hours, they will fly from Dallas to New York and back again, a routine that is clearly second nature to them. In all, the three represent nearly 70 years of flight attendant experience.

And today I am one of them.

In a behind-the-scenes look at the other side of air travel, I donned a navy suit and starched white shirt earlier this summer and became a flight attendant for two days. With the cooperation of American Airlines, I first went to flight attendant training school at the company’s Flagship University in Fort Worth, Tex., where I learned what to do in an onboard emergency, from how to open an emergency exit window on a 777 aircraft (it’s heavier than you may think) to operating a defibrillator (there are pictures to help you get the pads in the right place). I then flew three legs in two days: a round-trip journey between Dallas and New York, and then back to New York the next day.

And though the other flight attendants knew I was a ringer, the passengers did not. Thus I got a crash course in what airline personnel have to put up with these days — and, after just one day on the job, began to wonder why the phrase “air rage” is only applied to passengers. Believe me, there were a few people along the way, like the demanding guy in first class who kept barking out drink orders as the flight progressed (until he finally passed out), whom I would have been more than happy to show to the exit, particularly when we were 35,000 feet in the air.

WHAT’S it like to be a flight attendant these days? That’s what I’ve often found myself wondering as I sit in my seat, waiting impatiently as yet another flight is delayed and my connection threatened, while around me are passengers fighting with each other over the lack of space in the shared bin, or complaining about having been bumped from an earlier flight, or swearing “never again” to fly this specific airline because they have been stuck in a middle seat even though they booked their ticket six months ago.

Is there a less-enviable, more-stressful occupation these days than that of a flight attendant? Just the look on their faces as they walk down the aisle — telling passengers that no matter how many times they try to squeeze them in, their suitcases are not going to fit into the overhead bin, or explaining yet again that they will not get a single morsel of decent food on this three-hour flight — tells you all you need to know of their misery.

It was a feeling that was reinforced when I glanced at an Internet chat board for flight attendants,, and came across postings like this: “I’ve been a flight attendant for 6yrs now, and I can tell you this much – if I’m still a flight attendant in 20yrs, I’ll be a raging b*tch!”

It wasn’t always this way, of course. Back in 1967, the best-selling book “Coffee, Tea or Me?” (subtitled “The Uninhibited Memoirs of Two Airline Stewardesses”) portrayed life in the air as a nonstop party, one to which the authors felt privileged to be invited. Another 60s artifact, the play “Boeing, Boeing,” recently revived on Broadway in a Tony Award-winning production, also pictured the life of stewardesses (as they were called then) as a glamorous romp, with suitors in every port. Most recently, the fictional ad executives on “Mad Men” were thrilled when they were asked to compete for an airline account, not only because of the business it would bring in but also because they would be in on the casting sessions for the stewardesses and would get to fly free. Oh, such fun!

It’s a fair bet that nothing about air travel today would inspire such rapture.

In fact, the flight attendants I spent time with on my three flights took a grimly realistic view of their jobs, aware that temper flare-ups — “People just get nasty,” said Jane Marshall — are in some ways an understandable reaction to the process that passengers themselves have to endure in trying to get from one place to another. “After they’ve been harassed by security, we’re the ones they see,” said Debbie Nicks, explaining why a minor inconvenience, like being told that there are no more headsets, might send someone into a fit. “Your shining personality only goes so far,” added Jane.

Certainly the one lesson I learned quickly — along with how to cross-check the doors and that Dansko clogs are the footwear of choice among experienced flight attendants — was how to say “no” politely. No to the young Indian man who asked for a blanket for his mother who was shivering in her sari next to him. (There were none left.) No to the hungry passenger who wanted to purchase a cookie. (We had already sold the only two stocked for the flight.) No to the guy who, like many of his fellow passengers, was concerned he wouldn’t make his connecting flight because of our late departure and pleaded, “Can you call and find out?” (Sorry, but here’s the customer service number you can try when we land.)

I also got a crash course in stress management.

My return flight out of La Guardia was as packed as the morning one out of Dallas, and the passengers were even crankier. The plane was supposed to take off at 4:25 p.m., but at 5, passengers were still boarding, with many already anxious about whether they would make their connecting flights.

Meanwhile, two commuting flight attendants came aboard to ride in the jump seats. Jennifer Villavicencio, 35, a mother of two from Maryland, had been up since 5 a.m. working a four-leg trip — New York to Chicago, Chicago to St. Louis, St. Louis to Chicago, Chicago to New York. As a newer flight attendant on “reserve,” she largely works on call. She spends days at a time away from her children, sometimes leaving them with her mother in Dallas, while she works out of New York. In between shifts, Jennifer shares a four-bedroom crash pad in Queens with other flight attendants. She sleeps in a so-called hot bed, bringing her own sheets and grabbing whichever of the 26 bunks is available when she arrives.

“I like the top bunk,” she said, “because you can sit up all the way.”

Our chat was interrupted by some news from the gate agent: The plane might be shifted to another runway. “Oh, good, more drama,” said Anna, explaining to me what was about to happen. “When it’s midsummer and it’s hot, and the runways are short, you can’t have a certain heaviness or you can’t take off. Because we’re switching runways they’re going to put a weight restriction on and they’re going to pull people off because of the weight.”

Jennifer sprang to attention. As a commuter, she knew her seat would be among the first to go if the flight was deemed too heavy for the new runway. She began counting the number of children onboard, a factor that could immediately minimize the weight issue, if there were enough of them. Thankfully, there were 11 — enough to save other passengers from being taken off.

At 5:49 p.m., the plane finally took off, more than an hour late.

I had been told that working first class was harder than coach, and so I joined Debbie at the front of the plane. When I arrived, Debbie had already taken down the passengers’ drink orders, her neat handwriting listing 3A – BMary, B – RW, E -Vodka tonic, etc., on a pink cheat sheet posted on a cabinet. She warned me that Passenger 4B, a heavy-set young man with an iPod, was already proving to be a handful. He had taken some sort of painkiller for a bandaged wrist when he boarded, immediately followed by a Jack and Coke, followed by a Heineken, and now wanted a glass of wine, not in one of those standard-issue wine glasses, but in a fat cocktail glass instead.

I recalled what one flight attendant had told me when I asked about what they do when it looks like a passenger is having too much to drink: Water it down. In coach, where travelers mix the drinks themselves, some attendants invent their own rules — “I can only sell you one drink an hour.”

First class was intimidating. And I, frankly, wasn’t much help, finding all I was really qualified to do was hand out and collect the hot towels. Debbie, however, performed a series of in-flight culinary maneuvers so demanding it inspired a challenge on the Bravo television series “Top Chef”: Prepare an edible, multicourse meal, mid-air, in a narrow hallway, between two ovens at 275 degrees and a hot coffee maker.

As the flight wore on, Passenger 4B finally dozed off; dessert was served and the flight attendants became weary. Jennifer, who wasn’t even on duty, had taken pity on a mother with a screaming child and was walking him up and down the aisle on her hip. Later, she would occupy a toddler by letting him hold the other end of the trash bag as she collected garbage from passengers.

The flight arrived in Dallas at 8:02 p.m., 52 minutes late. Debbie, Jane and Anna would be paid for the actual flight time of roughly eight hours for the two legs of the round-trip journey. They would also receive a per diem of $1.50 for every hour they were away on the trip. (For certain delays, American said its flight attendants receive an extra $15 per hour, pro-rated to the actual time, minus a 30-minute grace period.)

Flight attendants’ schedules are often wrecked by delays and as the airline industry went into its steep downturn after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, many airline workers took significant pay cuts and reduced benefits in order to help the carriers stay in business.

There are roughly 100,000 flight attendants in the United States, according to the Association of Flight Attendants, down from about 125,000 in 2000. Depending on the airline, attendants earn between 7 and 20 percent less today than before 9/11, according to the association. The average flight attendant salary today is around $33,500 a year.

There are already fewer attendants working each flight. Most carriers now go by the minimum number required by the Federal Aviation Administration — one flight attendant per every 50 passengers. And though the benefits, like free flights for your entire family, still exist on paper, they are hard to claim as airlines continue to pack planes full of paying passengers. In other words, it’s not much fun anymore.

Certainly, it’s a far cry from the “Coffee, Tea or Me” years.

“Who would have thought, after 30 years, that we’d be a flying 7-Eleven,” Becky Gilbert, a three-decade veteran of the industry told me during a break in our training session in Fort Worth. “You know, I mean we used to serve omelets and crepes for breakfast, and now it’s ‘Would you like to buy stackable chips or a big chocolate chip cookie for $3?’ ”

When Anna, Jane and Debbie became flight attendants more than 20 years ago, tedious chores, like collecting passenger trash, were offset by the perks and quasi-celebrity status that came with the job. “When you walked down the terminal, all the people would look at you,” said Jane, between bites of pizza on a lunch break at La Guardia, her back turned to a group of travelers paying no mind to her navy blue suit, her gold wings or the black roller bag by her side.

“People used to,” continued Debbie, a well-groomed flight attendant with cropped gray hair and gold accessories who can finish Jane’s sentences after 23 years of flying together. “What girl didn’t want to be a stewardess?”

“It was the layover in the old days that made it glamorous,” Anna explained. “You worked one leg to San Diego and you were sitting on a beach, margarita in your hand, and you were going, ‘I’m getting paid to sit here.’ That was the old days. Now, we’re like crawling into bed thinking, ‘I hope my alarm goes off.’ ”

Luckily, the next morning at 4, mine did. Running on no more than five hours of sleep and no coffee, as the hotel takeout stand had yet to open, I caught the five o’clock hotel shuttle to the airport. After stumbling through security I arrived at the gate, an hour before departure, as required — bleary-eyed and beat. When I met the crew I would be working with, a jovial bunch who often fly together, I warned them that I might be useless.

They could empathize. David Macdonald, 51, an American flight attendant for 28 years, was on his fourth straight day of flying. Elaine Sweeney, 55, who has worked for American for 30 years, was on her third day. And Tim Rankin, 56, a 32-year veteran, was on his third flight in 24 hours.

Standing in the aisle of the cramped MD-80, Elaine assured me that the passengers, mostly business travelers, would be relatively well-behaved. “It’s so early on this one,” she said, “that usually half of them go to sleep.”

As with the flight attendants I worked with earlier, my new companions described their job as being one where they constantly had to calibrate the mood of the passengers. “Over a typical month,” said Tim, “I will be a teacher, I will be a pastor, I will be a counselor, I will be a mediator.” As he slid his 5-foot-11-inch frame into the sliver of space between the cockpit and the first-class bathroom, he slumped into the jump seat and let out a barely audible sigh. “I’ll have to tell people that a two-and-a-half-foot-deep bag will not fit in a one-and-a-half-foot hole,” he said.

“People need to understand that the rules of social order do not go away when you get on an airplane,” Tim added, his Texan twang kicking up a notch as he laid down his commandments. “You cannot have sex on an airplane. When you purchase a ticket, that does not give you the privilege of yelling at me. It does not give you the privilege of sitting anywhere you want to sit. They assign you a seat. I do not have an extra airplane in my pocket if my flight’s delayed.”

Elaine chimed in, “We joke that people check their brain when they board.”

When we landed in New York at 11:04 a.m., I was wiped. Standing for the majority of the flight, which included a brief bout of turbulence, had unsettled my stomach and caused me to lose my appetite. My feet hurt. I had lost all feeling in my pinkie toes.

Before we disembarked, Tim, in a touching gesture, ceremoniously gave me his gold wings. I then dragged myself through the terminal, past a throng of restless passengers gathered around the gate, anxiously waiting to board the plane.

I was glad I was heading home.

MICHELLE HIGGINS writes the Practical Traveler column for the Travel section.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

Sometimes life gets in the way of blogging, and so this is the only blogging I manage to do. Feel free to skip it, but if you do you just might miss something.

  • 00:10 New blog post: Happenings
  • 07:45 Awake, sort of.
  • 07:52 Need to get something to drink.
  • 09:06 @WilJames Weird.
  • 09:08 @nightdrake So you got the txt thing working. Great.
  • 11:53 Reading and thinking about lunch.

Until next time.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

Sometimes life gets in the way of blogging, and so this is the only blogging I manage to do. Feel free to skip it, but if you do you just might miss something.

  • 00:09 New blog post: Happenings
  • 11:36 New blog post: Barack’s PIRG Past
  • 19:37 @boink I’m sorry her email account got hacked, but what about the little guys who det their accounts hacked every day?
  • 20:11 Sitting down to watch some TV after some exercize.

Until next time.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

Obama learned the community organizing trade from Ralph Nader?s shady outfit.

By Mark Hemingway

There?s been a lot of talk about Barack Obama?s time as a community organizer and whether it?s a relevant qualification for someone who wants to be leader of the free world. Everyone has heard how Obama turned down a cushy Wall Street job to work as a community organizer in Chicago housing projects. After three years, Obama?s major accomplishments were removing some asbestos from the projects and opening a job office.

That experience has been held up either as an example of Obama?s altruism or as evidence of an inexperienced candidate?s résumé padding. So the jury?s still out on what Barack Obama?s community organizing experience means.

But few if any people have considered that Barack?s time in Chicago?s housing projects is not his only experience as a community organizer. A year after graduating from Columbia University, an idealistic Obama spent a year as an organizer for the New York Public Interest Group (NYPIRG) at the City College of New York in Harlem. According to the New York Times, ?The job required winning over students on the political left, who would normally disdain a group inspired by Ralph Nader as insufficiently radical, as well as students on the right and those who were not active at all.? [That is a laughably generous description ? Ralph Nader is ?insufficiently radical? for The New York Times?]

As it happens, I am intimately familiar with PIRG organizing, and I know from firsthand experience that ? aside from their radical politics ? PIRGs are often corrupt, morally bankrupt, lacking in transparency, and frequently decried as such even by their fellow travelers on the Left. That a young Obama would be involved in it suggests that the young Obama was either very naïve or had very radical politics, or both.

First some background: Originally envisioned and founded by Ralph Nader, PIRGs are grassroots lobbying groups for progressive legislation. Originally started in Washington D.C., the groups spread to college campuses and started numerous state chapters around the country in the 1970s.

As it happens, the oldest college PIRG chapter in the country belongs to my alma mater, the University of Oregon. As undergrad involved in campus journalism who served in student government, most of my time outside of class was spent railing against the openly corrupt Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG). PIRGs claimed to be fighting for legislation to benefit students in their campus community. The reality was a total scam.

Since the early 1970s, OSPIRG would receive funding ? hundreds of thousand of dollars? worth, which made it the best-funded student group on campus ? through a student-body vote every two years. That vote would take place during student-government elections, in which only 5 to 10 percent of U of O?s 17,000 students typically vote. So OSPIRG needed only about 800 votes to get a big fat check.

What do they do with the money? Your guess is as good as mine. Unlike every other student group on campus ? which have line-item budgets and have to use a purchase order for expenditures in order to account for every dime of funding ? OSPIRG gets a straight cash disbursement. That?s it as far as accountability goes. The mandatory student-activity fee at U of O was so bloated that paying for extracurricular student groups amounted to about one-seventh the cost of my in-state tuition at the time. To have so much of that student-fee money being allocated by so few votes and being spent with so little reckoning is a first-rate scandal.

Once they have the U of O students? money, the public-university PIRG funnels (or launders) it to PIRG?s state lobbying organization in the form of ridiculous consulting fees, rent on offices they don?t use, etc. Because there is no fiscal accountability, it is impossible to demonstrate that even a single dime is spent on campus. The flow of funds between Oregon Student PIRG and Oregon State PIRG ? both called OSPIRG, which often share personnel ? is deliberately confusing. This is crucial because the two organizations have different tax statuses. The student PIRG is a 501(c)3 that can accept public funds but can?t lobby, but the state PIRG is 501(c)4 meaning it can?t accept public funds but can lobby.

No one ever knew what OSPIRG was doing with all that student-fee money. Students involved in the organization were usually deluded hippies (and anyone who?s ever visited Eugene knows that that phrase is more descriptive than derogatory). For traveling around the state canvassing door-to-door, these patchouli packers were paid near-starvation wages. PIRGs use byzantine incentive structures that mean that canvassers are often paid far below minimum wage ? pretty shocking for a ?progressive? organization. In any case, it?s safe to say OSPIRG wasn?t spending the money on salaries.

What they were doing was lobbying for Naderite, far-left legislation with which the students whose money they were using might not have agreed ? but who had no choice in the matter. And what really made me indignant was how the scam continued year after year. The state PIRG was active and effective in getting the students who worked for PIRG elected into student government, thus ensuring that the scam continued in perpetuity. That?s right ? PIRGs flood student-government elections with thousands of dollars of special-interest money to ensure they get the bigger pot of money.

In 1998, the student body for the first time voted down OSPIRGs subsidy after 20-something years of constant funding. What happened? Unfortunately, students voted the campus OSPIRG president as the new student-body president in the same election. A dutiful Naderite, the new president immediately held an illegal special election to get OSPIRG?s money back. (Who calls a special election in student politics?!). With even fewer people voting than normal in their typically abysmal election turnout, OSPIRG?s funding was restored.

When corporations fund politicians in order to have friends in public office, an outraged Ralph Nader howls. But when his lobbying organizations do it ? the self-designated guardians of the ?public interest? ? to keep the publicly funded gravy-train rolling, it?s a perfectly acceptable practice.

Now PIRG tactics may vary across the country, so I?m not suggesting that Obama was caught up in any corrupt activity. (Then again, NYPIRG runs a similarly questionable funding scheme at CUNY schools like CCNY.) But it is fair to say that PIRG organizing everywhere has a shady reputation, even among those who would otherwise be the ideological compatriots of PIRGs. Left wing blogs run lengthy, detailed exposes of PIRG scams. And over the years, I?ve found the most rabid PIRG haters are former employees who are dedicated to exposing PIRG lies. (See this account of one former PIRG employee.) And more to the point, grassroots PIRG organizing is regarded as being of dubious value ? even the lefty magazine The American Prospect endorses the view that PIRG is ?strangling progressive politics in America.?

Moreover, according to the New York Times, when USPIRG head Gene Karpinski met Obama in 2004 at the Democratic convention, Obama reportedly confessed to Karpinski, ?I used to be a PIRG guy. You guys trained me well.? The fact that Obama still felt that way 25 years after he was a young and impressionable PIRG organizer is a terrifying statement that speaks directly to Obama?s competency and character.

? Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.

? Mark Hemingway is a writer in Washington, D.C.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

Sometimes life gets in the way of blogging, and so this is the only blogging I manage to do. Feel free to skip it, but if you do you just might miss something.

Until next time.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.

I fail to see what purpose apologies like this serve.  I can understand things like the apology from the state of virginia to the African-American community for slavery, because that was in effect something that was sponsored by the state, and it stands a chance of maybe fostering some understanding between the African-American and Caucasian communities.  But an apology from the Church of england to Charles Darwin? Is there any evidence that he was put out by the church not accepting evolution? If someone could leave something in the comments about this I’ll be happy to update the post. 

Charles Darwin to receive apology from the Church of England for rejecting evolution

Sections of Church likely to be dismayed by Darwin move

The Church of England will concede in a statement that it was over-defensive and over-emotional in dismissing Darwin’s ideas. It will call “anti-evolutionary fervour” an “indictment” on the Church”.

The bold move is certain to dismay sections of the Church that believe in creationism and regard Darwin’s views as directly opposed to traditional Christian teaching.

The apology, which has been written by the Rev Dr Malcolm Brown, the Church’s director of mission and public affairs, says that Christians, in their response to Darwin’s theory of natural selection, repeated the mistakes they made in doubting Galileo’s astronomy in the 17th century.

“The statement will read: Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still. We try to practise the old virtues of ‘faith seeking understanding’ and hope that makes some amends.”

Opposition to evolutionary theories is still “a litmus test of faithfulness” for some Christian movements, the Church will admit. It will say that such attitudes owe much to a fear of perceived threats to Christianity.

The comments are included on a Church of England website promoting the views of Charles Darwin to be launched on Monday.



Originally published at You can comment here or there.

By Bayla Sheva Brenner

Children born in the post-Holocaust era of the 1940s, 50s and 60s grew up knowing their parents had gone through hell on earth. The ghosts of murdered grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings loomed large in their homes by their very absence. Sounds like an atmosphere ripe for major crises in faith. Yet, from many of the survivors who either lacked the strength to believe in a benevolent God or to observe His Torah came offspring who have picked up the discarded baton and enthusiastically embraced observant Judaism.

Originally published at You can comment here or there.