Tuesday, 15 April 2014

"I use a Yahoo.com address, and I have a problem with your mailing list. What's up?"

Over the weekend, Yahoo made some technical changes, the result of which is that it will be very difficult to participate in most mailing lists, including those I administer, with Yahoo e-mail addresses. You will need to use a different non-Yahoo address if you want to continue to receive or participate on this list. I'm sorry.

You might, or might not, receive messages from these lists. Other people almost certainly
will not receive any messages you send to these lists. You probably won't be able to subscribe to these lists -- subscription confirmation messages will bounce.

This affects my "Practical Nomad" e-mail newsletter as well as several much smaller community and special-interest mailing lists I administer.

You will probably be removed automatically from mist or all of these lists. You might, or might not, get notice that you have been automatically removed or that your subscription has been disabled.

If you use a Yahoo.com e-mail address and received a message from the list-robot at Hasbrouck.org yesterday or today, or receive a message in the future, about "too many bounces", or about your subscription being "suspended", that's probably what it's about.

I have nothing against people who use Yahoo mail (or AOL, which also blocks some e-mail in even less predictable ways).

This is not a result of anything I did, and there is nothing I can do about it. This is a result of a change Yahoo has made. In effect, Yahoo has given automated instructions to all other mail systems to reject mail from Yahoo addresses send to mailing lists.

Here's an analysis from my friend John R. Levine, a technical expert on spam, consumer advocate, and author of "The Internet For Dummies":

"Yahoo addresses a security problem by breaking every mailing list in the world"

If you don't like this, you as a Yahoo user can complain to Yahoo.

Here's what Yahoo says about its new "system", DMARC. Yahoo admits that no existing list management software works the way Yahoo expects every system that sends, receives, or forwards mail to or from Yahoo to act.

I use the "mailman" software. If mailman is eventually modified to easily support DMARC, I will try to find a way to get mail to and from Yahoo.

For the more geeky among you, here's a thread about this from the mailman developers' discussion list (which is itself affected by this problem).

You can subscribe yourself to my newsletter with a new address using the form in the sidebar or here.

If you are on one of the other e-mail discussion lists I administer at Hasbrouck.org, send me your new or alternate (non-Yahoo) address, and I'll add that address manually.

I'm sorry, but this isn't my fault or within my control.

Link | Posted by Edward, 15 April 2014, 10:04 (10:04 AM) | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Public questioning of US government on human rights



US government delegation listens to questions from the UN Human Rights Committee. (Click image for larger version.) At the head table, left to right: Scott Shuchart (Senior Adviser, Office of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties, DHS), Megan Mack (Officer for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties, DHS), Bruce Swartz (Deputy Assistant Attorney General, DOJ), Roy Austin, Jr. (Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, DOJ), Mary McLeod (head of the US delegation and Principal Deputy Legal Adviser, Department of State). US Army Brigadier General Richard Gross (Legal Counsel to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Department of Defense) in profile at left in front of Ms. Mack.

Today and tomorrow in Geneva (early Thursday and Friday morning in the USA), a delegation from the US government will be questioned publicly by members of the UN Human Rights Committee about US implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

I'm attending the proceedings on behalf of the Identity Project.

Here's the schedule of the webcast public questioning:
  • Thursday, March 13, 15:00-18:30 Geneva time (7 am-10:30 am PDT, 10 am-1:30 pm EDT)
  • Friday, March 14, 10:00-13:00 Geneva time (2 am-5 am PDT, 5 am-8 am EDT)
  • tentative additional session Friday, March 14, 14:00-17:00 Geneva time (6 am-9 am PDT, 9 am-noon EDT)
This is neither the first nor the last step, but a critical step, in the review conducted by the Human Rights Committee every five years (as with each other country that is a party to the treaty) of US implementation of this international human rights treaty. I'll have more details after the sessions, but here are some quick links for those tuning in to the webcast:

Updates and my reports from Geneva:

Link | Posted by Edward, 12 March 2014, 22:24 (10:24 PM) | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The Amazing Race 24, Episode 2

Guangzhou (China)

This season of The Amazing Race has an All-Star cast of racers on their second or third reality-TV trip around the world. So we expected to see the lessons of travel experience on display.

At the starting line, however, one member of the cast failed the final medical check by the physician who (along with a psychiatrist) accompanies the production team. Rather than replace both members of the two-person team, the TV producers allowed the other member of the team to race -- with an unexpected substitute partner from another team from a different previous season of the race who had apparently been waiting "on standby" in case of such a possibility.

Not surprisingly, this "shotgun marriage" pair was eliminated this week, after only two legs of the race, providing an object lesson in the importance of knowing your travel companion(s).

Because Mallory and Mark had never met before the starting gun of the race, they lacked an intuitive or habit-formed understanding of how they would divide the tasks or double-check each other's work. After struggling to load a motorized kiddie-car along with their own luggage onto their taxi, as part of one of the race challenges, they drove away leaving one of their backpacks behind on the sidewalk. Each of them thought the other knew where the backpack was and had put it in the cab.

Then they wasted time arguing about what to do. They hadn't discussed or agreed in advance on what they would do in such a contingency, and each had a different instinct: Mark wanted to go back to look for his pack, while Mallory wanted him to go on without it.

Guangzhou and the other cities of the Pearl River Delta have reputations as the highest-crime regions of China. But Mark's backpack was still sitting in the street, untouched, when they got back perhaps an hour later, for whatever that says (not much -- the presence of TV cameras may have had a deterrent effect) about the risk of property crime against tourists.

Another data point on safety: All the taxis in which we saw the racers riding had heavy, closely-spaced steel bars separating the passengers from the driver. I found it disconcerting the first time I got into such a taxi in nearby Shenzhen. It felt like getting into the back of a police prisoner transport vehicle, or a dog-catcher's van. And what were the drivers so afraid of? Robbers or carjackers with clubs or knives, presumably. By comparison, many taxis in U.S. cities have bullet-resistant plexiglass partitions to protect the drivers against pistol-wielding robbers or carjackers. The metal-cage barriers reflect the fact that street thieves in even high-crime Chinese cities are unlikely to be armed with firearms. Defenses are clues to threat models, which in turn are clues to the patterns (or perceived patterns) of likely attacks.

The choice Mallory and Mark faced isn't as obvious as it might seem. To her credit, Mallory had made sure that both partners' passports and medications were with them, not in their luggage. In some previous seasons of The Amazing Race, teams have been penalized by having to hand over their packs and money and continue the race with only their passports and the clothes on their backs. All of the teams have accommodations and food provided by the TV producers at each 12-hour "pit stop", airline tickets paid for by the camera and sound crew accompanying each pair of racers, and a cash allowance handed out at the start of each leg to use for taxis, bus and train tickets, or whatever. There's often enough excess in the allowance to buy a few clothes. There are often shops (albeit overpriced ones) within the premises of the pit-stop hotel or resort, or opportunities to buy things while waiting for trains, planes, or buses or for opening hours of challenge sites.

Every real-world traveller will eventually face a choice like this. You are on the way to the airport, train station, bus depot, or ferry terminal when you realize that you have left something behind. How important is it? ("How much money is it worth?" and "How hard will it be to replace?" are separate questions.) How certain are you of where you left it, and how likely is it still to be there? How much time and money is it likely to cost if you miss your intended plane, train, bus, or boat and have to change your tickets and wait for the next available departure?

Or your luggage (or some of its contents) gets lost, stolen, falls in the road and gets run over by a truck, or simply goes missing. It might turn up tomorrow, next week, or never. I once had a bag of my clothes come loose and fall out of the back of a pickup truck at night on a steep, unlit jeep track during a camping trip in Texas. A National Park ranger found my bag, perhaps soon afterward, but then it was misaddressed, cast aside, and forgotten. Several years later, another park ranger found my bag again in an "unused" storage building that was being demolished, and mailed it to me in California!

What are the most essential items you would need, but couldn't count on being able to replace locally? Do you have them on your person or in your handbag, rather than in any luggage from which you might conceivably be separated? If you arrive at your destination, but some of your luggage doesn't, would you go on without it or cut your trip short and go home? How long would you wait around to see if it turns up?

Do you know if your travelling companion(s) would make the same choices?

Most "lost" airline luggage is only temporarily misplaced or misrouted, and turns up a day or two later, but it can take up to a week. You can travel without most of your luggage, but would you want to do so? And are you prepared to do so? Tracy Johnston's Shooting the Boh is a hair-raising account of a wilderness whitewater rafting trip in Borneo on which the author had to make do with borrowed clothing and equipment because her delayed airline luggage didn't arrive in time. If it doesn't convince you to plan flights arriving at the staging point of a tour or cruise at least a full day in advance, I don't know what will. My partner once made do for four days, while a mis-routed bag made a grand tour of Southeast Asia before it caught up with us, with only what she had in in her purse -- but that included toiletries, medications, and a spare pair of underpants.

Some teams took less time to make decisions, such as which partner would do each challenge, because they knew each other's strengths and weaknesses and/or had discussed and agreed, before the race started, on what they would do in likely contingencies.

Real-world travellers can plan and prepare for joint decision-making. Here's what I recommend in The Practical Nomad: How To Travel Around The World:

My impression is that too few people think carefully enough about their choice of traveling companions. Whatever the reason, it's certainly the case that more people are dissatisfied, after the fact, with their choices of companions (including, for some, the choice of whether to travel alone) than are dissatisfied with their choices of destinations.

Before you commit yourself to a long or complicated trip together, try to take a short "shakedown" trip, at least a weekend getaway, to get a feel for each other and how you will travel together. It'll be well worth the expense if it spares you a disastrous long trip with someone incompatible -- or a lost friendship.

Make sure you agree not just on where you want to go but on what you want to do there, and why. One of the most common mistakes in travel planning is to get together with a group of people who want to go to "the same place," and not to realize until you get off the plane that one of you wants to spend time on the beach, one in the shops, one in the temples, one in the museums, one in the cafes, one in the villages, one in the mountains, and one in the brothels. That may be possible, but if you are going to split up immediately on arrival there isn't much point in going out of your way to travel together in the first place.

Make a list of where you want to go, what you want to see or do there, and what your goals and priorities are for the trip. Do this separately, without consulting each other, and then compare your lists.

Because reasons for going places or seeing things vary so much, and because it's often the small details of daily traveling life that cause the most friction, it's especially important not just to list destinations or sights of interest. Get together with everyone with whom you are considering traveling, and have each one of you describe to the others, in as much detail as possible, what they envision a typical day or two on the road would be like: what you will do, where you will stay, where you will eat, how you will get around, how you will make decisions, etc. As you listen to your prospective traveling companion(s), try to actually visualize the trip described, and to compare it with your own vision of the trip you expect to take.

These predeparture exercises are no less necessary if you plan to travel with a spouse or lover. Travel can place severe stress on a relationship, in ways different than love, marriage, or living together. Don't take for granted that someone you love and/or can live with happily is someone with whom you'll want to travel, or that someone you fall in love with on the road, and with whom you love traveling, is someone you'll love to settle down with or live with at home. People who set out in couples should leave themselves open to the possibility that they might split up along the way, and that even if they do, they might want to be together again once they get back home. Travel can bring out behavioral traits and aspects of people's personalities that aren't visible, or don't cause problems, at other times. Don't take for granted that you know your lover's tastes in travel if you haven't traveled together before.

The real problem wasn't that Mallory wanted to go on without Mark's bag, or send a taxi driver to look for it, while Mark wanted to go back for his bag. The problem was that, as Mark said later, they hadn't yet established a basis for trust in each other, hadn't discussed contingency plans, and hadn't agreed on a way to resolve disputes.

Rather than take time to make a joint decision, Mallory immediately started trying to get a taxi driver to go get Mark's bag and bring it back. By the time Mallory gave up trying to get any of the nearby drivers to understand what she wanted (it probably would have been possible with pantomime and pictures and lines drawn on a map, but Mallory only tried to communicate in spoken English words), it was too late for Mallory and Mark to go back for the bag themselves without being eliminated.

So far as I can recall, no team has ever been eliminated from The Amazing Race because they took too much time to consider their options. Many teams have been eliminated as a result of hasty mistakes and bad snap judgements that cost them more time later on. When you are in a hurry or on a deadline, you can't afford mistakes. That means, as Mark recognized, that when time is of the essence, you need to slow down and take extra care with critical decisions. Run for your train, or for the finish line of the race, but only after taking a minute to confirm and agree (unless you have decided in advance which one of you will make the decision in such a case) that you are running in the right direction.

Link | Posted by Edward, 2 March 2014, 23:59 (11:59 PM) | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, 24 February 2014

Book launch today for Julia Angwin's "Dragnet Nation"

Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and author Julia Angwin, formerly of the Wall Street Journal and now with the non-profit investigative journalism organization ProPublica, is speaking today on NPR's Fresh Air and at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU about her new book, Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance.

I've been reading an advance proof Dragnet Nation, and I recommend it highly. You can read an excerpt here. The official publication date is today, but it's already in a second (hardcover) printing based on pre-orders.

As it happens, I met Ms. Angwin when she came to a talk I gave at the same venue, the Brennan Center, in 2012. We'd been corresponding before that by e-mail. Later, as Ms. Angwin describes in her book, I helped her decipher the redacted file of records about her travels that she obtained from the DHS, as part of her "threat assessment" and audit of the ways that she was being tracked and her activities recorded by governments and corporations.

Everyone who has obtained their travel files from the DHS and asked me to review them has been creeped out by something I pointed out in the DHS records about them. Ms. Angwin was no exception. From the description in her book, it seems like her travel files from DHS were some of the more disturbing records about her activities that she was able to obtain.

It wasn't just the intimacy of the details in the DHS files (cellphone number, what size bed was requested for her in a hotel room on a business trip, etc.) but the bleeding through and commingling of information from conceptually compartmentalized aspects of her life, crossing implicit boundaries. Is this what's meant by, "connecting the dots"?

Information provided to or obtained by an airline or travel agency for commercial purposes showed up in its entirety in permanent government files. The same records that contained details of a personal trip with her children (dates of birth, passport numbers, etc.) to visit her husband's family also contained information about the purpose of a reporting trip that she had provided -- in confidence, she thought -- to her editors at the Wall Street Journal.

(The Journal's lawyers had been unaware that this was happening -- although they shouldn't have been -- and at least temporarily suspended travel by their reporters on a certain airline, presumably one of those hosted in the same CRS/GDS system as was being used by the Journal's corporate travel agency. Ms. Angwin describes it as a "technical glitch", but it's partly a result of travel agency procedures and partly an inevitable and unavoidable consequence of giving DHS root access to the CRS/GDS systems used by both travel agencies and airlines.)

In the second half of "Dragnet Nation", Ms. Angwin tries to find out whether, to what extent, and with what difficulties and drawbacks it is possible to "opt out" of being tracked. She explores both technical measures for self-protection (e.g. e-mail encryption) and opt-out polices (e.g. asking data brokers to be removed from the databases they sell or rent).

She's honest about her lack of success, and realistic about the compromises she has to make: If I send out the invitations in code, will anyone decode them and come to my party? (No.) How much longer will it take me to search for a nearby restaurant on my smartphone, if I haven't set it always to tell Google or Apple where I am? (Not much longer for each search, but multiplied by the number of geographic searches a busy person performs each day, a lot.) Am I willing to run my own e-mail server, or download my e-mail with a desktop client and store it locally even if that means I can't access it anywhere, from "the cloud", on any device? How much additional personal information am I willing to give a data mining company in exchange for its promise to stop selling or renting the information it has already collected about me?

Any why should the burden of privacy protection all fall on the people who want to opt out of being tracked?

Ms. Angwin's pragmatism about the costs and ultimate futility of an arms race between privacy invasion and privacy protection technology sets this book above most treatises on technical counter-measures as the final solution to privacy self-defense.

Ultimately, Ms. Angwin suggests that in a society that wants to make decisions democratically, privacy has to addressed as a political rather than a technical issue.

If this book sensitizes readers to the extent and significance of pervasive tracking, and gets us past, "Just opt out", and "Just encrypt everything", to a real debate about privacy and surveillance as political questions, it will have provided a valuable service.

Link | Posted by Edward, 24 February 2014, 06:26 ( 6:26 AM) | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Amazing Race 24, Episode 1

Santa Clarita, CA (USA) - Guangzhou (China)

This is the third "All-Star" season of The Amazing Race. As in seasons 11 and 18, all of the cast members have been in previous seasons of the show. This gives us, the travel voyeurs in the reality-TV viewing audience, a chance to see what's different about how people approach their second or third trip around the world. What do they do differently after having had time to think about what went wrong the first time?

Season 24 of The Amazing Race began on a football field near Los Angeles. After watching the UCLA marching band perform the Amazing Race theme song, the racers were told to drive to the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and fly directly to Guangzhou, China.

Or, to be more precise, fly indirectly to Guangzhou, because that's what the TV producers told them to do.

The producers of The Amazing Race figured out years ago that most television viewers aren't interested in airport-fu. Just as when we are travelling, we want to get through the airport and on to our destination as quickly as possible. A race decided by a foot race, or by speed in completing one of the challenge tasks, will draw more viewers than one decided by skill at choosing airline routes and connections.

The amount of TV airtime devoted to airports in The Amazing Race broadcasts has declined, and the TV producers plan the race routes so that the teams are likely to end up arriving on the same flights.

On the first leg of each season of the race, the TV producers usually book blocks of seats in advance for the racers, divided between a couple of flights. From LAX to CAN (the airport code for Guangzhou still reflects the pre-Pinyin romanization of the city's name, "Canton"), the TV producers booked the racers on connecting flights through Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific (CX) or through Taipei on China Airlines (the Taiwanese airline, IATA code CI, not to be confused with Beijing-based Air China, CA).

Given that neither Cathay Pacific nor China Airlines was given credit for a paid product placement, it's noteworthy that the TV producers chose those indirect routes in preference to the daily LAX-CAN A380 nonstop operated by China Southern Airlines (CZ).

If there is any route on which it makes the most sense to choose a mainland Chinese carrier over competing Hong Kong, Taiwanese, or other foreign airlines, this is the one.

Guangzhou-based China Southern is by many measures the largest airline in Asia, and Guangzhou-Los Angeles is its flagship long-haul route. When CZ started serving this route in 1997, it was the first and only nonstop flight on any airline between Guangzhou and anywhere in North America, and it remains so today. When CZ took delivery of its first Airbus 380 double-decker superjumbo jetliners (the first Chinese airline to do so), the first international route on which they were deployed was, naturally, CAN-LAX.

I don''t think bigger is necessarily better, but on a 15+ hour flight, space to get up and walk around is important. And when there's a daily A380 nonstop, why would you choose connecting flights on smaller planes on some other airline? Did I mention that CZ is often cheaper than its non-mainland-China competition?

Many foreigners still think of Hong Kong as the best gateway to to the rest of China, or at least as the gateway to the Pearl River Delta region. But it's no longer necessary or even desirable to go through Hong Kong to get to the rest of China.

It's much easier for a US citizen to get a visa for China in the US than in Hong Kong. You might be able to get a visa for the rest of China in Hong Kong, if you haven't been able to get it in advance in the country of your citizenship. But applying for a China visa in Hong Kong should be a last resort, only if you are on too long a trip to get your China visa before you leave home.

There are direct flights between the Shenzhen (SZX) and Guangzhou (CAN) airports and many other cities in China. Shenzhen has only a few international flights to and from nearby countries, but Guangzhou has a growing number of direct long-haul flights to and from Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, and North America.

Guangzhou is a far larger city than Hong Kong. Shenzhen and Dongguan each have roughly the same population as Hong Kong. All of these cities have excellent modern local and regional transportation infrastructure.

If you do find it much cheaper to fly into Hong Kong even though you are really trying to get to Guangzhou, consider taking a bus, train, or ferry for the last between Hong Kong and Guangzhou rather than a connecting flight. If you aren't in a race, and especially if it's your first visit to the area, I recommend surface travel to get a sense of the Pearl River Delta conurbation as you travel from Hong Kong through Shenzhen and Dongguan to Guangzhou.

Flight connections are marginally faster, but depending on exactly where you are going in Guangzhou, express buses from Hong Kong Airport may be the simplest way to get there with the fewest changes. Trains or ferries don't go directly from Hong Kong Airport to Guangzhou -- you have to change in downtown Hong Kong -- but avoid the chance of road traffic delays.

Flying from Los Angeles to Guangzhou via Taipei (LAX-TPE-CAN) makes even less sense than flying through HKG. The route to the mainland via Taiwan route is noteworthy mostly just for the fact that it has recently become possible after a hiatus of many decades. The first flights between Taiwan and mainland China in 2005 were charters for Taiwanese managers of mainland factories to visit their families back on Taiwan on holidays and weekends. Regularly scheduled flights between Taiwan and mainland China resumed in 2008, but remain limited and priced high for business travelers.

I've been on trans-Pacific flights on Cathay Pacific and on China Airlines. Although I haven't flown on China Southern, I have been on a trans-Pacific flight on one of the other major mainland-Chinese airlines, Air China. I wouldn't hesitate to fly on any of them again, or go out of my way to avoid whichever was cheapest and/or most convenient.

Mainland Chinese airlines are typically the fastest, easiest, and cheapest ways to get from North America to those mainland Chinese cities with direct trans-Pacific service: Guangzhou, Beijing, and Shanghai. To major provincial Chinese cities, the shortest, easiest, and cheapest connections from North America are typically via Seoul on either of the major Korean Airlines, Korean Air (KE) or Asiana (OZ). Korean Air serves more gateways in the USA than any other Asian airline, and more cities in China than any other non-Chinese airline.

I enjoyed my visit to Guangzhou. As the racers saw, it's changing rapidly. The current conflicts over gentrification and displacement in San Francisco are nothing compared to those in the old urban centers of the new Chinese upper class, including Guangzhou as well as Shanghai and Beijing. If you have a chance, get there while it's still a relative bargain.

Link | Posted by Edward, 23 February 2014, 23:59 (11:59 PM) | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, 21 February 2014

Comments to the US Dept. of Transportation on airline pricing

I filed comments today with the US Department of Transportation (DOT) in two regulatory proceedings:

It shouldn't require complaints and interventions by private individuals to get DOT to enforce Federal truth-in-advertising laws and requiring airlines to operate as common carriers. The need for public vigilance and participation in these proceedings is symptomatic of DOT's continued laxity in fulfilling its consumer protection duties.

Link | Posted by Edward, 21 February 2014, 16:03 ( 4:03 PM) | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Why would an airline pilot divert a flight to seek asylum?

On Sunday night in San Francisco (early morning on Monday in Geneva), I listened live and followed reports on Twitter (where the story was reported hours before mainstream media figured out what going on) as an Ethiopian Airlines flight, originally destined for Rome and then Milan, landed in Geneva with one of the pilots requesting asylum.

This diversion of the flight by one of the pilots wasn't what I would call a "hijacking". It does nothing to change my opinions of Ethiopia as one of the best and safest destinations in Africa for foreign tourists, of Ethiopian people as friendly to foreign visitors, and of Ethiopian Airlines as the best airline on the continent and justifiably an object of national pride.

But this incident leaves many foreigners wondering, "Why would an airline pilot divert a flight to seek asylum?"

This is really two questions: Why would he want to leave Ethiopia and seek asylum in Switzerland? And why would a pilot do so by diverting a regularly scheduled flight?

First, Ethiopia is a very poor country. Many Ethiopians would leave if they could, perhaps with sadness at leaving their homeland but in hope of a more secure material existence elsewhere. Many Ethiopians work abroad, with or without government permission. When we left Ethiopia, our flight to Sana'a was filled with young women, many of whom were on an airplane for the first time in their lives, on their way to contract jobs as maids and nannies in places like Jeddah and Beirut. More Ethiopians are turned back trying to emigrate illegally to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States across the Red Sea, or to Europe or further afield, even the USA, if they can make it that far.

But a pilot flying Boeing 767 widebodied jets for the national airline is at the high end of local salary scales, and would have relatively little economic reason to leave. That tends to support the likelihood that the pilot had genuinely political, non-economic motives for seeking asylum in Switzerland.

That brings me to a second key point: Ethiopia is a police state. As I've noted many times before, that doesn't necessarily mean it's not a pleasant place to visit (as long as you don't talk about the government), but I wouldn't want to live there. Any criticism of the Ethiopian government is treated as a treasonous sign of support for the existential enemy next door, Eritrea, which won its independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after decades of armed struggle.

Relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea are on a par with those between other bad neighbors with deep historical, cultural, and ethnic ties but warring polities: North and South Korea, Taiwan and mainland China, India and Pakistan, or previously East and West Germany. Fears of a fifth column are exacerbated by the fact that many people have been stranded since the partition on the "wrong" side of the border from that which they would have chosen.

The border between Ethiopia and Eritrea is closed and fortified, there are no direct flights between the two countries, and anyone in either country who receives a letter from the other side is liable, we were told, to receive a visit from the secret police shortly thereafter.

Pilots for any national airline are entrusted with self-propelled pieces of government property worth tens of millions of dollars. It's hard to hide a jetliner, but it's also hard to repossess one once it's on enemy territory. There's a considerable history of both military and civilian pilots defecting with their planes, often to a hero's welcome. In 2012, for example, two Eritrean Air Force pilots flew the presidential plane to Saudi Arabia, where they requested and received political asylum. So governments that are generally distrustful of their citizens' loyalties tend to be especially wary of pilots (and to a lesser degree flight attendants and anyone else who travels regularly abroad), and to keep at least as close watch on them and their loyalties as on the keepers of the crown jewels.

There have already begun to be reports that the pilot who diverted the Ethiopian plane to Switzerland "believed he was under surveillance". Given the lengths to which Ethiopia's government has gone to spy on journalists and suspected dissidents in the Ethiopian diaspora, even as far away as the USA, it's hard to discount the pilot's reported fears as unfounded paranoia.

I could only speculate (although I can think of several potentially valid reasons) as to why the Ethiopian pilot thought his asylum claim would be more favorably and/or impartially received in Switzerland than in Italy. But once he decided he wanted to seek asylum in Switzerland, wouldn't there have been other ways for him to get there, or to make his claim for asylum there?

Not necessarily.

Although Switzerland is not a part of the European Union (or the Euro zone), Switzerland is part of the Schengen Zone (within which border controls have been abolished) and the Dublin Regulations on asylum. Under these rules, any application for asylum is referred for a decision to the first member country in which the applicant arrived. So if the pilot had absconded during the crew layover in Italy, made his way to Switzerland, and then applied for asylum, he would have been sent back to Italy and his asylum application would have been ruled on by Italian authorities, under Italian law.

You can only apply for asylum in Switzerland at the Swiss border or on Swiss territory. In practice, because all of Switzerland's land borders are with other parties to the Dublin Regulations, you can only have your asylum claim heard by Swiss authorities, under Swiss law, if you fly into Switzerland without first entering any other country that subscribes to the Dublin Regulations.

That's relatively easy if the police aren't after you (or watching all the foreign airline offices, as they are in many countries) , you have enough money, and you have a passport from a country like the USA whose citizens don't need visas to enter Switzerland.

It's not so easy, even with enough money and if the police aren't watching you, with a passport (assuming the government will give you a passport) from most of the world's countries who (in general) need visas to enter Switzerland or the USA.

If an international airline passenger is denied entry to a country, the airline that transported them to that country is responsible for taking them away again, and in many countries including the USA for the costs of detaining them until they can be deported as well as additional administrative fines. The airline can try to recover those costs from the passenger, but the chances of collecting costs measured in thousands of dollars from a failed asylum-seeker are poor.

The attitude of airlines (and governments) towards asylum seekers was made explicit at a symposium on travel documents I attended in 2006 at the headquarters of of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO):

Bob Davidson of the airline cartel IATA had one of the most objectionably inhumane lines of the entire event when he told the assembled government representatives, "Every time someone at a border says the magic words, 'political asylum', you've lost." So much for the idea that each time someone reaches a place of refuge from a well-founded fear of persecution, it's a victory for human rights.

So in practice an airline won't let you board an international flight unless you can show that you already have whatever documents the airline thinks you will need in order to be admitted to the country of your destination. Airline conditions of carriage typically phrase this in terms of what documents are "required", but technically speaking asylum seekers don't need visas, passports, or any other documents -- if their asylum applications are eventually granted.

You are entitled to apply for asylum on arrival in Switzerland or the USA, but regardless of the seeming merits of your claim, asylum can never be guaranteed in advance. No airline will sell you an international ticket for the purpose of seeking asylum.

To travel by air to a country of potential refuge, you need to either (1) have a passport from one of the (mostly rich) countries whose citizens don't need visas to enter, (2) get a visa under some other pretense (which is likely to involve fraud), (3) obtain forged or fraudulent documents, or (4) buy, rent, charter, divert, hijack, or otherwise get control of an airplane.

There is no legal way for legitimate, qualified asylum seekers from most countries in the world to fly to any country of potential refuge where they could apply for asylum. Willingness to engage in document and/or immigration fraud, or take other more drastic and/or dangerous action, is the typical (risky) prerequisite to applying for asylum.

It doesn't have to be this way: This is the direct and foreseeable consequence of sanctioning airlines for transporting passengers who are denied admission, and failing to sanction airlines that violate their obligations as common carriers. The rational response, from a purely profit-seeking perspective, is for airlines to direct their check-in staff to act as asylum and immigration judges of first and last resort, with an overwhelming presumption of denial.

Link | Posted by Edward, 19 February 2014, 16:56 ( 4:56 PM) | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

"Have travelers lost the class war?"

TWA Ambassador Club membership certificate, 1953

[TWA "Ambassadors Club" membership certificate presented to my grandfather, L.P. Hasbrouck, in 1953. Click image for full-sized version.]

Thanks to Christopher Elliott for mentioning the unmentionable -- "class" -- in an article in USA Today on "the growing rift between the 'haves' and 'have-nots' in travel":

As always, the airline industry is boldly leading the way when it comes to separating the well-heeled from the rest. But make no mistake: The travel industry is following, often enthusiastically. Remember, only a fraction of American travelers fly; the rest drive or use mass transit. Consumer advocate Edward Hasbrouck sees the class war unfolding on the ground in places such as San Francisco, where mass transit can be tedious and unreliable, unless you're one of the privileged commuters with a ticket on a private express bus.

"There's a dramatic contrast between waiting for slow, late, overcrowded public transit and the luxury buses, hiding their occupants behind spotless tinted glass, that pick up thousands of moneyed young geeks every day and whisk them off to the Silicon Valley campuses of Google, Facebook and Yahoo," he says.

Hasbrouck fears a day might come when the class divide will resemble a scene from a dystopian novel. Something like it already exists. In São Paulo, laborers spend hours on overcrowded buses getting to and from work, while the affluent are carried by helicopter from the rooftops of their condo towers to the rooftops of their office towers.

"That," he adds, "is the most extreme class divide in transportation."

The article and the comments on Facebook are worth reading, but I hope they are only the start, not the end, of an overdue discussion of class, privilege, and travel.

To be clear, "It's not about the buses," as my Mission District neighbor Rebecca Solnit recently wrote. The private shuttle buses and the tech workers who ride them between homes in San Francisco and offices in Silicon Valley are merely the most visible symbol of a problematic civic dynamic.

When my partner and I moved to San Francisco in 1985, we settled in the Mission District for reasons similar to those of many younger people today: the lifestyle of a dense inner-city neighborhood close to downtown San Francisco, combined with relatively easy access by highway and commuter train to technology-driven jobs in the suburbs.

These days I work at home, and my partner has switched from programming to teaching in a public school in the city. But if our employers when we were working on the Peninsula or in Silicon Valley had chartered express buses to the city for their employees, we would have been riding those buses -- happy not to have to drive (I've never owned a motor vehicle or commuted by car) or wait for slow, unreliable public buses (been there, done that).

The real flashpoint for protest, I think, is a particular form of de facto privatization, in which "public" services remain nominally in place, but new, private alternatives allow wealthier people to effectively "opt out" of public services which rich and poor alike used to use. Once rich people opt out of using public services or facilities, they tend not to notice their condition and not to want to pay taxes to maintain them. Nor do they think about the fact that most people can't afford the private alternatives.

The worst example of this is the abandonment of big-city public schools by the new urban upper class (except for a few families who take advantage of valuable specialized programs such as those for gifted and talented students). Yuppies used to move out of the city to wealthy suburbs when their children reached school age, afraid to send their children to inner-city public schools. Today, yuppie parents of school-age children are staying in the city, many of them in our neighborhood. They no longer care about the public schools, or see their deficiencies as cause for concern, because they are paying to place their children in (urban) private schools.

In travel, this pattern manifests itself in a growing range of high-end alternatives to common carriers and publicly-franchised and regulated transportation services like medallion taxis. Don't like the traffic or the condition of the pavement on the public roads? For a price, you can take the private toll roads (or the private toll lanes alongside the free public lanes of some highways). Don't want to wait for a bus or a cab on a rainy day or a Saturday night? If you are rich enough to pay the Uber "surge" fee, you can get a car right away.

Unlike common carriers or regulated services and utilities, private services aren't required to provide universal service. UPS and Fedex can choose where they want to offer delivery, and where they don't, leaving the Post Office (with its duty to provide universal coverage) to serve rural and other less-profitable areas. Medallion cabs are required to pick up anyone who hails them when they are available, and take them anywhere they want within their authorized territory. Car services like Uber and Lyft can redline certain neighborhoods and "reserve the right to refuse service" to anyone whose reviews they don't like. Public schools have to provide educational opportunities to all students, even those with special needs that are expensive to serve. Private schools can (and often do) deny admission to such students, or expel them if they become too difficult to deal with. Costs for public services are naturally higher than those of parallel private services when the private services have "cherry-picked" the most profitable, highest-paying, lowest-cost market segments, and dumped the unwanted higher-cost remainder on the public (or publicly regulated) sector.

Most large Silicon Valley technology companies have located their office "campuses" in the middle of nowhere, far from either housing or public transit. If they want their employees to have better transportation options, the civic-minded thing to do (aside from moving their offices closer to housing and/or transit, such as to the city or near existing commuter-train stations) would be to subsidize public transit routes, operated by public agencies, that suit their employees' needs. Shuttle-bus riders who want to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem, should be lobbying their employers to replace private shuttles with underwriting of public transit.

Buses should be allowed to use public bus stops only if they operate as common carriers open to the public, rather than being allowed to pay to use these portions of scarce space on the public right-of-way, previously dedicated to public transit use, for private purposes.

The amounts of money being spent on company-specific private shuttles could support frequent, comfortable express bus service between San Francisco and Silicon Valley, and/or critically needed upgrades to the Caltrain commuter-rail line, that would benefit these companies, their employees, and the public. As it is, the private shuttles divert at least some riders who might otherwise ride (or lobby for) public transit, thus reducing transit ridership and revenues and making the situation worse for everyone except the private shuttle riders.

[Addendum: There are examples of shuttles and bus routes like this elsewhere, although not -- so far as I know -- in Silicon Valley. In the Bay Area, the Emery-Go-Round is funded by office-park and apartment and condo-complex owners, but open to the public. When I was a student at the University of Chicago in the late 1970s, the university operated a network of private shuttles throughout the surrounding residential neighborhood, open only to the university "community", i.e. those with university IDs. At some point -- I don't know when -- these were replaced with subsidies by the university to the Chicago Transit Authority to operate public buses on similar routes, on which university ID-holders ride free (presumably with the fare they would have paid reimbursed by the university to the CTA) but which anyone can ride for a normal CTA fare. Interestingly, at night the shuttles are still operated by the university for university ID-holders only. I guess the black skin of the university's neighbors is more frightening at night? On the other hand, the U. of Chicago continues to operate a variety of private alternatives that allow members of the university "community" (or outsiders with enough money to pay for them) to opt out of public services: the university's private Laboratory School as an alternative to the Chicago public schools, the university's hospitals as alternatives to Cook County Hospital, and so forth. As director of community relations for the U. of Chicago hospitals, Michelle Obama was the university's flack-catcher for protests against some of these policies.]

In air transportation, the ultimate "opt out" is the use of private aircraft to avoid, for a very high price, the hassles of common-carrier airlines. Private charter flights are exempt from TSA screening searches, and often operate from separate "executive" terminals or even separate airports most airline passengers have never heard of, such as those in Teterboro, NJ, for New York City, or Van Nuys, CA, for greater Los Angeles.

On common carriers, segregation of passengers by class on ships and trains has a history that long predates air travel. Steamship lines were accustomed to carrying "steerage" passengers below the decks of even their most prestigious vessels. (On today's cruise ships, those lower spaces are occupied by crew accommodations.) The same railroads that operated the expresses whose names survive on today's Amtrak routes also operated much larger numbers of slower, cheaper, trains with fewer amenities.

The first airlines offered only one class, first class in both price and exclusivity. Service on the Pan Am "Clipper" routes in the 1930s, both in flight and on the ground, was comparable to that of the premier single-class "all-Pullman" first-class sleeping car trains of the same era. But as soon as air travel began to be affordable to a slightly wider demographic, airlines began to segment their services and facilities for different classes of passengers.

The first separate waiting room for VIP airline passengers, the American Airlines "Admirals Club" at La Guardia airport, opened in 1939. TWA followed with its first, invitation-only "Ambassadors Club' in 1952. My grandfather, already a frequent domestic and international business traveller at the tail end of the steamship and railroad era, received the membership certificate above, hand-signed by TWA President Ralph S. Damon, in 1953. That was the year the Ambassadors Club opened in New York in conjunction with TWA's launch of the first scheduled nonstop transcontinental service. (Within a few years these framed certificates with ribbons and gold seals and the member's name in calligraphy were supplemented by more practical laminated wallet cards.)

Separate areas for nomenklatura and foreigners have just as old a history in airports, and often train stations, in ostensibly "classless" countries. I have fond memories of the uncrowded (!) comfort of the soft-sleeper waiting room at the Shanghai train station, and of complementary champagne, caviar, and and omul (a Lake Baikal fish delicacy) while waiting for a delayed flight in the VIP lounge at the airport in Irkutsk.

Observing who is using which classes of transportation services and accommodations is a lens through which a visitor can learn about the local class hierarchy and how it is shaped by wealth, caste, skin color, ethnicity, political connections, and other factors. Mahatma Gandhi's first run-in with law enforcement came when, shortly after arriving from India, he was thrown off a train in South Africa for refusing to vacate the first-class compartment for which he had bought a ticket. India had (and has) at least as arcane a stratification of railway service as did South Africa, but it was different. A wealthy English-speaking upper-caste Indian like Mr. Gandhi could (and was expected to, to preserve his caste status) ride in first class on the Indian Railways, but the South African Railways class system was based more strictly on "race", with caste or other factors largely irrelevant.

Does each class of air travellers pay its fair share? That's hard to say. An airline evaluates each passenger cabin, as well as the cargo hold, as a separate profit center for each flight. "As a flight attendant, it's like working for two different airlines on the same plane." Return on investment is typically much higher for the front cabin(s) and for cargo than for the main cabin. Coach passengers are what an airline uses to fill the space and generate as much revenue as possible from that portion of the aircraft's capacity that can't be filled with more profitable front-cabin passengers or cargo. Coach passengers are most of the body count, but airlines see them as filler, not as the people who pay for the plane.

Airlines are heavily subsidized by governments. I suspect that the subsidies for front-cabin (first and business class) passengers are disproportionately greater than those for economy-class passengers, although I've never seen any attempt to analyze this. Whether or not this is true, the fundamental inequity is that most taxpayers travel primarily by car, even for long distances, and can rarely afford to fly. Members of the jet set rarely notice that air travel in the USA, even in the back of the plane, is still largely the province of the upper classes. Subsidizing air travel is incredibly regressive.

If you are flying in the back of the plane, does it even matter what it's like up in front? Probably not.

There's no necessary positive correlation between the quality of service, or the value for the money, in different cabins on the same airline. If an airline has chosen to invest more in service and amenities for one class at the expense of those for another, the correlation may even be negative. That means that reviews or comparisons of business or first-class service are at best irrelevant, at worst misleading, as guides to economy-class service or value for money. For the same reasons, comparisons of costs and services for luxury resorts or business travel services are useless for choosing destinations or comparing costs for budget tourism.

The practical lesson to take away is that the only reviews and cost comparisons that are likely to be useful are those written by people who travel in the same manner, in the same class, that you plan to travel. Reading about how the other 1% or 10% travels may make for interesting (or enraging) armchair travel, but it won't really help you plan your own trip.

P.S - My feelings about São Paulo, like those about the tech company buses, are considerably more mixed, and in some respects more favorable, than you might infer from just the quotes from me in USA Today reproduced at the start of this article.

On the good side, São Paulo is one of those urban agglomerations that is so large, so important, and so distinctive (in some respects) that a visit is essential to a well-rounded picture of the world. It's also utterly, astonishingly, off the international tourist map. There are lots of foreign business visitors to São Paulo, but few foreign tourists and especially few foreign backpackers. Local people, whether rich or poor, are unlikely to relate to you as a "tourist".

(Because they have few occasions to deal with foreigners, ordinary Paulistas of all classes are also unlikely to speak English or understand any foreign language other than possibly Spanish, which they will typically answer in Portuguese. Brazil is its own self-contained world, and the language barrier is high.)

Many of the reasons for the lack of foreign tourists in São Paulo are related to "class war", which in Brazil is more than a figure of speech. Street crime is epidemic and often violent, unlike in some parts of the world where it is largely confined to theft and other property crime. Of the places I've been, only the USA and South Africa have rivaled Brazil for the risk of violent crime against ordinary foreign tourists.

São Paulo sprawls, and upper-class Paulistas (i.e. those who, like their counterparts in the USA or among white South Africans, call themselves "middle class" even if they are in the top 10% of national wealth) get around mainly by private car. Except for the limited number of destinations served by the Metro system (which is priced out of reach of the poor), urban public transit is slow and uncomfortable at best, dangerous at worst. Like Los Angeles or Gauteng (metro Soweto/Johannesburg/Pretoria), the urban areas with which it is most comparable, São Paulo can be impenetrable without a local host to drive you around and introduce you to the many parallel worlds being lived by different classes of people behind different walls, whether those of the favelas or those of the "gated communities" of the rich.

All that said, the Paulistas we met were wonderfully generous, hospitable, and open to us about their lives and the city they love. We couldn't have asked for more of a welcome.

Travel can be at its best when looking at foreigners and foreign places enables us to better understand ourselves and the places we call "home". São Paulo is sui generis, but it also focused my attention on relationships of class and urban geography that influence the terrain of travel in many places while often being hidden from tourists' notice.

In that anthropological sense, and as a mirror in which to look at the way class shapes cities in the USA, I've never been anywhere as thought-provoking as São Paulo. I highly recommend City of Walls: Crime, Segregation, and Citizenship in São Paulo, by Teresa P. R. Caldeira, which makes these comparisons between São Paulo and Los Angeles explicit.

Link | Posted by Edward, 5 February 2014, 17:04 ( 5:04 PM) | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

What can be done about San Francisco police bias against bicyclists?

An unprecedented number of bicyclists and pedestrians run down and killed by motorists in San Francisco in the last year has prompted unprecedented public debate about what Jane Kim of the Board of Supervisors (i.e city council) correctly describes as the driver-first culture of the city and county where I've lived, when I'm not travelling, since 1985.

That description by Supervisor Kim is intended to contrast the current driver-first reality with the self-described transit-first policy in the charter of the City and County. (The private publisher of the city's legal codes makes it impossible to link directly to the specific provision. Follow the link to the 1996 charter, then navigate to Section 8A.115.)

At a hearing before a committee of the Supervisors in October, I was one of a long parade of witnesses who came forward to describe the police bias we've experienced as bicyclists. I testified again before the Police Commission last week, at 2:23:00 of this video, about some of what I think needs to be done. A special joint hearing hearing of the Supervisors committee and the Police Commission is scheduled for tomorrow evening, January 16th.

I think that most of the City's political leaders are getting the message that they need to do something (or appear to do something) about cyclists and pedestrians getting run down and killed by motorists who drive off unperturbed into the sunset in their weapon vehicles.

But I don't think many of the Supervisors or Police Commissioners, much less the chief of police, really understand the problem. It's not enough to throw more money or resources at "traffic enforcement" if the issues of enforcement bias aren't acknowledged and addressed.

Here's what I think needs to be done, and why:

Continue reading "What can be done about San Francisco police bias against bicyclists?"
Link | Posted by Edward, 15 January 2014, 13:40 ( 1:40 PM) | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, 23 December 2013

"US-Aktivist: Berlin tut gar nichts"

I was interviewed for a feature this past weekend in the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper in Gernany, "Für deutsches Datenrecht" -- US-Aktivist: Berlin tut gar nichts (by Waltraud Messmann, 21 December 2013).

The full interview (in German translation) ran in the print edition. But since only the introduction seems to be available online, and the subject may be of interest to those who don't read German, I'm posting the original interview (which was conducted in English) below:

Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung: Have you been surprised by what has been uncovered by former NSA employee Edward Snowden?

Edward Hasbrouck: No, I have not been surprised. Snowden has provided more proof, and more details. But everything he has revealed was already suspected.

NOZ: Do you think his revelations to date are only the tip of the iceberg?

EH: I don't know. How much worse can it get?

NOZ: What else do you expect to come up in the future?

I think we have a good picture now of the NSA panopticon. Maybe there is still more to learn about how this information was "shared" with U.S. government agencies outside the NSA, or other countries. For example, what role does information from NSA spying play in "no-fly" decisions, in the U.S. or in other countries that rely on the U.S. "no-fly" list?

Continue reading ""US-Aktivist: Berlin tut gar nichts""
Link | Posted by Edward, 23 December 2013, 08:23 ( 8:23 AM) | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)