Destroying Winter Carnival evidence, love stories, trying kids as adults, a memo from the overhead bin, and photo contest winners.
If ever there was a lesson in the utter uselessness of government data, it's the story circulating today that air traffic control system errors are way up.
It's based on a late-to-the-party story from the Associated Press:
In the 12 months ending on Sept. 30, 2010, there were 1,889 operation errors -- which usually means aircraft coming too close together, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. That was up from 947 such errors the year before and 1,008 the year before that. Before 2008 the FAA used a different counting method.
The FAA administrator says the higher number of known errors is due to better reporting and technology that can determine more precisely how close planes are in the air.
The bottom line: Maybe it's a safe system. Maybe it's not.
In either case, it's not a new story. The Washington Post reported in December that errors were up in 2010 by more than 50 percent, using more data than the AP story did. But Tim Noah of Slate looked into the numbers and found there was some dispute whether the increase was due to a change in reporting within the FAA that removed discipline penalties if air traffic controllers self-reported, as the FAA administrator insisted during testimony at the Capitol this week.
Eventually, Noah ran into the buzzsaw of the "government spokesman," whose missions seem to be to convince you that you didn't care enough about the numbers to go through the process of getting a straight answer anyway.
Brown also gave me the missing numbers for category A and B (i.e., the more-scary) air-controller errors for fiscal year 2009. They added up to 329. That means (I later calculated) that A and B errors dropped by about 26 percent between 2009 and 2010. But that good news is tempered by an increase of errors in the absolute scariest category, A. These rose from 37 to 44, i.e., by 19 percent.
I asked Brown why the FAA didn't answer the Post story by removing the duplicates from the regular database so we wouldn't have to guess what the apples-to-apples trend was for all categories of air-traffic-control errors from year to year. "I understand what you're saying," she replied, "but that's not how we keep the data." But, I protested, you have both databases. You surely have the means to identify every error that gets reported to the FAA--where it happened, what it was. They number fewer than 2,000 per year!
The FAA spokeswoman also said an indication of the safety of the skies is the fact there hasn't been a major air disaster in the country since a regional carrier crashed near Buffalo two years ago tomorrow.
We do know that there were more serious air traffic controller errors at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport than the year before. One more.
Chandra Levy's killer was given a 60-year prison term today.
She was a Capitol Hill intern and her killing was a media sensation until it wasn't anymore.
Who killed her?
a) Rep. Gary Condit
b) Ingmar Guandique
If you guessed "b," you probably didn't pay much attention to the news coverage, which determined that Condit -- no saint, here -- probably did it. Except he didn't.
It took the Washington Post to do the job should've done, and reported the story the way the media should've reported it. As it turned out, the cops were being pushed by the media; the tail was wagging the dog.
Posted at 12:55 PM on February 11, 2011
by Bob Collins
Now that Hosni Mubarak has stepped down as president of Egypt, we turn to what happens now?
"Ask Facebook," a protest leader told CNN this morning, firmly indicating the role that social networking has had in organizing the protests.
And that's where it gets dicey -- who on Facebook or Twitter organized the protests?
That's led to more focus on the Muslim Brotherhood. City Pages has transcribed an exchange with Minneapolis congressman Keith Ellison, who was asked on MSNBC about the role of Muslim Brotherhood now?
ELLISON: What is so exciting about this [Egyptian] movement is that it is a stunning rebuke to al-Qaedaism, a stunning rebuke to anyone who would impose their will on the people through the use of bombs, or force, or anything like that. Not only that, but the people who are in Tahrir Square, some of them are religious, some of them are not, but this is a demand for dignity, for democracy and jobs, and it's exciting. It's both sexes. It's different kinds of people, Christian, Muslim, people of all different kinds of backgrounds. This is about the people. It has nothing to do with what some sectarian group's agenda is. This is a scarecrow, this talk about the Muslim Brotherhood. But the most important thing is this a group of people who are rejecting al-Qaedaism, rejecting religious extremism and saying they want what we already have, which is democracy, and we have to stand on the side of that, Lawrence. I urge the leaders in the United States, with every fiber in my being, to stand unequivocally with the people of Egypt.
Interesting, indeed. And also somewhat opposite what other experts are saying. New media "expert" Walter Armbrust told the BBC today that social media has been at work in organizing Mubarak's downfall since 2002.
"It was connected to a new generation in the Muslim Brotherhood that was technologically savvy and also at different ideological commitments to the older generation." (Listen)
It wasn't just Twitter and Facebook who created the revolution, Armbrust says. But he clearly makes the point that you cannot credit them for being a catalyst for Mubarak's eventual ouster, and discredit the role of the Muslim Brotherhood at the same time.
I have not written about the effort to strip the Corporation for Public Broadcasting of its funding for a couple of reasons. First, I have an obvious interest in the outcome and I try not to write about the obvious. Two, I don't want to be appearing to shill for the home team, although my banishment from the airwaves during pledge drives should give me more street cred on the subject than I have (I swear I was only joking when I said I'd shoot a puppy if you didn't call now). And three, the danger is the discussion surrounding it will lead to the typical -- and frankly, tiring -- debate between the right and left -- another political battle to be won by one side or the other. A lot of truths and facts get lost in those sorts of discussions.
But NPR and PBS picked up an ally today that may not help their cause that much.
US News' Washington Whispers reports today that MoveOn has mobilized its considerable -- and liberal -- members against the zeroing out of the CPB's funding.
It may well have become an ideological battle anyway, but the opportunity to go head-to-head with MoveOn is the stuff some politicians use to fill the campaign war chests.
Somewhat lost in that usual skirmish is a national dialogue about why the United States created public broadcasting in the first place, whether the U.S. still has an interest in how its people are informed, and whether it makes budgetary sense in 2011. Maybe the answer is yes, maybe the answer is no but it's only going to be answered with calmer and quieter voices that usually get shouted down when the far left and far right do their thing.
Fred Rogers' testimony before Congress decades ago about the need for two men to work out their differences could've been an apt metaphor in the debate.
I'll leave the comments area open. Prove me wrong.(50 Comments)