Friday, 25 February 2011

And now, Libya

Reasonable and intelligent people in the Islamic world continue to make themselves heard. Alas, too many of them are getting shot in Libya. I don’t think there are many that fail to understand what a dangerous and irrational man Colonel Qadaffi is. It’s important for all the world that he not be allowed to prevail, if he does regain full power over Libya he can be counted on to identify and kill those who have rejected him. There are things that need to be done.

1. The protesters need to write a constitution and elect a parliament, of whatever structure they choose. They need to legitimately declare the existence of a government of Libya apart from Qadaffi’s regime. The first draft doesn’t need to be great literature, nor does it need to cover every possible contingency, it just needs to establish a credible government based on the needs of the populace.

2. As the lawful government, they can establish security over the oil fields and receive the income that is, by rights, due to the people of Libya.

3. The new government should join other voices in demanding that the assets of Qadaffi, his family, his inner circle, and the old regime be frozen by international banks.

4. All nations should refuse additional sales of military materiel to the old regime, although it can be expected that there is no shortage of bullets at Tripoli.

5. Blockade Tripoli harbor and cut off the roads, other than defectors getting out. Tripoli is in the far northwest corner of the country, the rest of the country can carry on without it. In time the barriers between Libya and the dictator’s remaining force will cordon off only a few blocks.

In other words, cut Qadaffi off from the rest of the world. His mercenaries won’t fight if they can’t be paid. His regular forces will defect as food supplies dwindle. Eventually there will be one old crazed man with a small coterie of irredeemable thugs. And the day will come when even they will surrender to face trial.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Huffington Post to sell AOL

Okay, that’s not a headline you’re likely to see anywhere else this year. Be patient. You might recall that AOL bought Time-Warner in 2000, expecting to make staggering amounts of money off the synergies that TW’s broad pool of content and AOL’s huge on-line market would bring. Somewhat more recently (December 2009), and without any media observer I’m aware of noticing the logical problem inherent in the story, Time-Warner spun off AOL. That is to say, the subsidiary gave the parent-company turkey away to the stockholders. (Reminds me of the McDonnell Douglas takeover of Boeing, another disaster but one that may have a happy ending.)

Now, exactly what is AOL? We all know what it was, the mass-market internet-with-training-wheels for the turn of the century. The system so easy to use that if you had fifteen bucks a month and a computer, you could get online. More importantly, you could get your mother online and not have to walk her through such complexities as having a connection, a browser, and an e-mail client, each with its own desktop icon. (Yes, I can sneer, I set my mother up with an actual Windows NT system and taught her to use it.) In 2003, AOL crested at 26.7 million subscribers, now they’re down to 3.85 million. They claim display advertising sales is their real strength, but their ad revenue fell 26% last year, when pretty much any site that actually sold ads held steady or made decent gains. (Overall industry results? Up 17% per eMarketer.)

Even AOL’s peak wasn’t really a peak, it was the slow-growing backwater of new users that wasn’t yet ready for the real internet, so isolated from the primary market that it kept growing three years after the dot.bomb implosion. That year AOL Time Warner recognized a $99 billion loss based on writing off the absurd goodwill acquired in buying AOL. Then AOL’s paid-subscription walled-garden business model cratered. Imagine Ford after the peak years of the Model T, if they hadn’t actually made other cars. (Actually, Ford wasn’t ready for the drop either, but they had Henry Ford while AOL had Steve Case. Enough said.)

Huffington, who had the sense to get almost the entire deal in cash, now has the chance to carry on with building her content-based empire. She’ll be able to pick through the bits and pieces of the current AOL, supporting the strong properties and letting the weak sisters wither away. And when the last pieces of the old AOL have no more value at all, she’ll be the one in charge when the remants are swept out. There may even be one last piece that is still called “AOL”, allowing us to see the headline I proposed.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Can’t get up?

I know nothing about muscular dystrophy, but for Carrie Salberg it means that she breathes only with a ventilator and speaks only with an additional piece of gear. To say this makes travel difficult is to say that the Pacific is damp. The Air Carrier Access Act says, since 1986, that the airlines have to accommodate her and her equipment, assuming that her equipment passes certain standards that make it safe for operation in flight.

According to “Airline bumps disabled traveler” (Minneapolis Star-Trib, yesterday, by Lora Pabst), Compass Airlines refused to allow Ms Salberg to board a flight home to Minneapolis from New Orleans on 13 January. Actually, she boarded but was then ejected from the direct flight she had paid extra for. She made it home on another flight via Atlanta, five hours late. (Compass is a “Delta Connections” partner airline.)

This isn’t the universal experience. When flying to New Orleans she was treated well, in fact she was given an upgrade to First Class. But in 2009, 178 disabled travelers were denied boarding, so it isn’t unique.

The story relates that a new regulation in 2009 calls for the issuance of labels to apply to equipment like this so that airlines don’t have to decide on a case-by-case basis which equipment is safe. I don’t find it surprising that nobody has actually had the labels printed, it’s unclear whether that was the responsibility of DOT, FAA, or FDA, but it hasn’t happened.

Ms Salberg travels with two nurses, it’s obviously not possible for someone in a wheelchair to manage an additional hundredweight of equipment and batteries. Delta’s first response was to give each of them a $50 flight voucher for their “inconvenience”. After the Star-Trib contacted them, they became more reasonable, providing $900 in vouchers and refunding the $340/person cost of the flight.

It turns out that the manuals on the Compass Airlines plane were outdated. Delta’s assertion that this oversight was “isolated” does not strike me as being helpful or responsive. The airlines are responsible for making sure that current documentation is available where needed. I’ve had enough connection with Boeing over the years to know that they take this very seriously. Who dropped the ball here? Did Delta not take this particular airplane seriously? Or do they not take disabled passengers seriously?

If I Were King, those labels would get printed, there certainly was something else done in the responsible department that was less important than this. The maintenance records for the operator would be audited to make sure that updated documentation was, in fact, getting to ground crews and flight crews in a timely manner. And though a pilot should be entitled to refuse to carry breathing gear made of rusty welding tanks, garden hose, and duct tape, questions regarding purpose-built medical equipment traveling with a disabled person should always be resolved in favor of the traveler.