The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Fresh air at the Justice Department

Two (probably related) items via Talking Points Memo: a reversal in a San Francisco death-penalty case, and a release of nine Bush Administration memoranda.

In the first case, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey had overruled the U.S. Attorney in San Francisco and pressed for the death penalty in a murder case. New AG Eric Holder has reversed the DOJ's position:

The Down Below prosecution has been a searing episode for the local U.S. attorney's office. The original prosecutor on the case, Richard Cutler, opposed seeking the death penalty against [defendant Emile] Fort and co-defendant Edgar Diaz. After the Justice Department took the opposite stance, the administration sent an investigator to San Francisco to question Cutler about the case. Cutler left the office soon thereafter.

... Fort's new deal will be much the same as the one Mukasey rejected....

The DOJ's document release sheds some light on the last eight years. Not much light, but it's an improvement over total darkness. Titles include:

  • Memorandum Regarding Constitutionality of Amending Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to Change the "Purpose" Standard for Searches (09-25-2001)
  • Memorandum Regarding Determination of Enemy Belligerency and Military Detention (06-08-2002)
  • Memorandum Regarding Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities within the United States (10-23-2001)

That last one, by John Yoo, should scare anyone who's ever read Orwell or Huxley.

Who else is glad we have a new President?

Please, I beg you, not here

British airline Ryanair has a pilot program allowing cell phones in flight. One hopes, if this comes to the U.S., for special "quiet" areas:

Within six months 50 planes will be kitted out. If it proves popular, the service will be rolled out across the whole 170-strong fleet.

Passengers will be able to make and receive calls for €2-3 ($2.50-3.80) per minute, send and receive text messages (50c plus) and use e-mail (€1-2).

... To be fair to Ryanair, it does not claim to be anything other than a noisy shop in the sky. So a new noisy service that earns money is in keeping with its ethos. As Mr O'Leary said: “You don't take a flight to contemplate your life in silence. Our services are not cathedral-like sanctuaries. Anyone who looks like sleeping, we wake them up to sell them things."

You may not like Mr O'Leary's approach, or his plane's interiors, but it's hard not to admire his honesty.

Combine cell phones with the unexpected silence inside the new Airbus A380, and it's only a matter of time before someone gets his cell phone stuffed in an awkward place by his fellow passengers.

You think Illinois has problems?

No matter how bad it seems in Illinois right now, at least we have a functioning state government. California, on the other hand...

A state budget deal to close a $41 billion shortfall has been put further into question early this morning after Senate Republicans ousted their leader who had helped negotiate the long-awaited plan with other top lawmakers in California.

...[T]he ousted Minority Leader Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, ...was one of the four legislative leaders who negotiated the emergency budget deal with the governor. Their compromise budget package, reached after three months of negotiations, contained nearly $16 billion in program cuts, $11 billion in borrowing and $14.4 billion in tax increases. The most contentious debate has been over the proposed tax hikes.

Republicans selected Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murrieta (Riverside County) as their new Minority leader. Hollingsworth is part of the conservative wing of the Senate Republican caucus and he has been adamantly against raising any taxes.

The New York Times has more:

The state, nearly out of cash, has laid off scores of workers and put hundreds more on unpaid furloughs. It has stopped paying counties and issuing income tax refunds and halted thousands of infrastructure projects.

Twenty-thousand layoff notices [went] out on Tuesday morning, Matt David, the communications director for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said Monday night. "In the absence of a budget we need to realize this savings and the process takes six months," Mr. David said.

When you're talking about the 7th largest economy in the world, this is somewhat disturbing.

How I spent my Presidents Day weekend

Very little of it involved watching planes land, but this was damn cool to see:

That's what a 757 looks like when it lands on your head. In this case I was standing about 30 m from the edge of runway 10 at Princess Juliana Airport (SXM), Sint Maarten. I'll have more from the trip later this week.

Update: I forgot to mention, Sint Maarten was almost, but not quite, as fun as the Presidents Day Bash used to be. Hard to believe it's been five years...

Out of the office

I was traveling yesterday, which prevented me from commenting on Lincoln's 200th Birthday, Darwin's 200th birthday, and the NAACP centennial. All three events deserved recognition, but fortunately, the other seven million bloggers in the U.S. covered them just fine.

As for the travel, I have only once in my life gone someplace just because it was warmer than Chicago; today, briefly, I'm back in the same place. Tonight I press on to the Mecca (or Bethlehem, or Jerusalem, depending on which monotheistic faith you follow) of aviation; photos and description to follow, I hope next week. Also, I'll be accepting donations of spare livers on Tuesday as I expect mine will need replacing by then. That is, if I ever drink again, which this afternoon seems unlikely.

Right now, though, it's 1°C in Chicago and 27°C here, so I'm going back outside now.

WSJ on why you can't donate airline tickets to charity

Quick note, via the Chicago Tribune Daywatch, the Wall Street Journal today has a mildly-interesting article on why you can usually donate frequent-flier miles but not actual tickets. Hint: the miles don't have your name on them:

As much as $2 billion worth of nonrefundable airline tickets expire every year without being used, but those who want to give them to charities rather than throw them away are grounded with only good intentions.

Most airlines make their tickets "nontransferable" to protect their fare structures and maintain control of their inventory. Otherwise, entrepreneurs might hoard cheap tickets and then resell them at higher prices closer to departure. Or big companies might buy up a batch of cheap tickets for frequently traveled routes and then assign them to business travelers when trips are planned.

Travelers can fly later on their unused tickets by applying the value of the ticket to another trip to any destination after deducting change fees. But most airlines require the new ticket to be in the original passenger's name. Alaska Airlines is one notable exception that does allow customers to transfer the dollar value of a ticket to anyone after paying a $100 change fee.

... A spokesman for AMR Corp.'s American Airlines said the carrier thinks [donating tickets to charity is] a great idea, but too complex. "The problem with ticket transfers of any type is the potential for resale of tickets, other types of fraud, and other complex security issues," he said.

Given that many carriers still use the Saabre system, developed by AMR in the 1970s and 1980s, I don't doubt the complexity.

President's first homecoming: flight restrictions

The President will visit Chicago Friday for the first time since taking office. As I've speculated before, he brings with him a temporary flight restriction (TFR) affecting the second-busiest airspace in the world:

ALL AIRCRAFT OPERATIONS WITHIN THE 10 NMR AREA LISTED ABOVE, KNOWN AS THE INNER CORE, ARE PROHIBITED EXCEPT FOR: APPROVED LAW ENFORCEMENT, MILITARY AIRCRAFT DIRECTLY SUPPORTING THE UNITED STATES SECRET SERVICE (USSS) AND THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, APPROVED AIR AMBULANCE FLIGHTS, AND REGULARLY SCHEDULED COMMERCIAL PASSENGER...FLIGHTS....

(The shouting capitals come free from the FAA.)

Notice, on the map below, that Midway Airport is within the 10-mile circle, and my home airport, Chicago Executive (and O'Hare) is within the 30-mile ring:

The TFR prohibits flight training within the 30-mile ring, too, but planes can depart on a discrete transponder code and fly to another airport to practice landings.

Welcome home, Mr. President. I'm glad I'm not flying this weekend.

Obama visiting Chicago; aviation plans undecided

The Chicago Tribune this morning reported that the President plans a visit home early next month. But as I mentioned earlier, it's not clear what effects this will have on area aviation:

Aides declined to comment on Obama's February schedule, but a source close to him said he could make his first presidential visit to Chicago as early as Presidents' Day weekend, when his daughters have a three-day break from school.

... In Chicago, the best bet for an Air Force One landing is O'Hare International Airport. Midway Airport and Gary/Chicago International Airport could also be options, especially if a smaller-than-normal plane is used to transport the president.

During the campaign, Obama almost exclusively used Midway, a location that offered a 20-minute commute to his home in the Hyde Park/Kenwood neighborhood.

But Midway's longest runway is just 6,522 feet, barely long enough for the Boeing 757 that served as his general election campaign plane. The two 747s typically deployed as Air Force One are considerably larger and heavier.

Actually, a 747 can land just fine at Midway or Gary—or Chicago Executive, for that matter. When a 747 lands, it weighs considerably less than when it takes off, and it's moving considerably slower. That's the problem: once a 747 lands at an airport without a runway longer than about 7,000 feet, that airplane isn't leaving.

Under perfect circumstances, a 747-8 needs only 5,500 feet of runway to take off or land. But "perfect" means an empty airplane on a cold day with a good headwind. Landing and takeoff performance degrade quickly under other circumstances. On a mild Chicago spring day with a modestly-loaded airplane, the distances jump to 7,000 or 8,000 feet quickly.

The Air Force, however, has a solution, which no one else seems to have considered:

When Obama was last in Chicago on Jan. 4, he departed from Midway on a military plane equivalent to a 757. That plane has been used as Air Force One and has also transported vice presidents, first ladies and members of Congress.

Duh. The 757 was designed for short runways.

So now we only have to worry about the traffic jams his motorcade will cause...

Quick sightseeing flight

When the temperature falls below -5°C, practicing landings increases the risk of frosted spark plugs and other cold-weather engine failures. So why not go sightseeing instead? Especially late afternoon in the dense, calm winter air? I mean, it's not like there's a baseball game:

Having the President out of town does make it easier to fly in the area, however. With him in town we have to stay about 3 km off the lake shore near Hyde Park, making it very tricky to thread the airspace restrictions to get up the west side of the Loop:

Good flight. Can't wait to fly again—when it's warmer.

Also: here's the KML.