Sometimes I feel I’m neglecting this blog, which is one of the reasons I’m posting about another mixed bag of subjects today. Why the taco theme? Well, that’s because tacos are the first item in today’s bag!
Everyone’s getting excited over aerial drone deliveries again, and I’m here to piss on the dream. Ever since the original Tacocopter hoax, far-thinking types have been coming up with schemes to deliver stuff via remote control quadcopters. There was that guy who wanted to use quadcopters to deliver cases of beer to ice fishermen in Wisconsin (video link here). And then there’s Amazon Prime Air, which appears to be a serious idea, one that a large organization known for logistical management skills might just be able to pull off.
Ah, but then there’s the Federal Aviation Administration, which does not cotton to the idea of unregulated flying objects buzzing around at low altitude, zipping in front of pilots trying to land or take off, fighting for airspace with police and medical airlift helicopters, or plummeting down onto pedestrians and cars after colliding with other delivery drones and power lines. I don’t mean to be a nervous nellie, but I can easily picture people being seriously hurt by errant drones. I can easily picture assholes taking shots at them. I can easily picture kids running up to landing delivery drones and sticking their hands in the spinning rotor blades.
Because the FAA claims the right to regulate commercial drones, and is taking its sweet time coming up with rules for their safe use, drone delivery, like the hoverboard, has been off in the future somewhere. But now there’s this: Commercial Drones Declared Legal; Release the Tacocopters. Well, that’s what the headline says, at any rate, and Google is full of news links heralding the imminent kickoff of drone delivery service.
I don’t think we have to start ducking just yet. The declaration in question was issued by an administrative law judge working for the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB judge said the FAA does not have a mandate to regulate commercial drone services, based on the fact that the FAA doesn’t regulate hobbyists who fly remotely-piloted model airplanes and helicopters. Okay, well and good, but then there’s this: by law, the NTSB cannot tell the FAA what to do. The NTSB can only issue recommendations; it is the FAA that is legally empowered to issue rules and regulations. The FAA does not have to act on NTSB recommendations, and often doesn’t.
Oh and by the way, we haven’t heard from the Federal Communications Commission yet, and I suspect that agency will have something to say about the radio waves commercial delivery providers would need to use to control their drones. There’s only so much radio bandwidth to go around. The FCC, not the FAA, regulates the radio spectrum and decides who gets to use it.
This is a case of the media jumping the gun, reacting to a recommendation that is far from having the force of law and will probably be ignored by the FAA … and for very good reasons. There, have I spoiled everyone’s fun?
Yesterday a Senate bill to take commanders out of the decision loop in the prosecution of military sexual assault cases was filibustered and is now dead. A majority of 55 senators voted in favor of it, but it needed 60 votes to get around the by-now automatic Republican filibuster (sadly, some Democratic senators crossed the aisle to vote against it).
I was a military officer for 24 years and fully understand military arguments for keeping the authority to investigate and prosecute sexual assault with commanders. But I can no longer support it. Military leadership has promised, over and over again, to get tough on sexual assault. Military leadership has failed, over and over again, to keep that promise. Commanders routinely sabotage sexual assault investigations and prosecutions to protect favored male officers. The military has demonstrated that it is unwilling to protect victims of rape and assault, unwilling to punish perpetrators. Enough is enough; it’s time for a change.
To be fair, some things might be changing. Per the linked article, three months ago Congress passed legislation preventing commanders from overturning sexual assault verdicts and making retaliation for reporting assault a crime. I don’t know whether military commanders are now bound by these new rules; in fact I don’t know that the President has even signed the legislation. It isn’t law until he has, something the media often fails to point out.
What I do know is that if you’re a woman in the military and you are raped or sexually assaulted, you cannot realistically hope for justice. You can choose to report the assault, in which case you will be retaliated against in some fashion, and you may as well seek another career. Or you can choose not to report the assault (reportedly the decision made by the overwhelming majority of sexual assault victims in the ranks) and try to move on. That is the current reality.
The military should be leading the way in going after sexual assault, as it did with racial integration in the 1950s. I’m ashamed that military leaders have chosen to protect a broken status quo. As far as I’m concerned, at least when it comes to sexual assault, military leaders forfeited the moral authority to invoke the sacredness of the chain of command long ago.
In my own small way I fight against censorship and book banning, but I do not want to see porn on social media. I’m happy Facebook has a policy against it, although sometimes its censors get a bit overzealous. Vine, the looping six-second user video service, just announced that it too is banishing porn. I’m all for that. It’s not like porn is otherwise censored; you can find all you want on the internet. I just don’t think we should have to constantly dodge porn in the places where we hang out with our friends online.
But speaking of banned books, I’ll soon be reading Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, which has been the subject of an ongoing book-banning attempt at a North Carolina high school. It’s time I find out what all the fuss is about.
I signed up to lay trail for our local bicycle hash later this month. I rode my planned trail for the first time today, and boy is it a ball-buster. Seriously, why do I sign myself up for torture like this? I picked a particularly hilly part of town, and then picked the steepest, longest uphill section of road in the entire district. Pedaling from the bottom to the top took me half an hour. But hey, if I can do it, the pack can do it, and the hash is on! Here are a couple of thumbs from this morning’s scouting expedition (click on ’em to see the larger originals on Flickr):
Lastly, I know I’ve been remiss in posting new Air-Minded columns, but I want you to know I’m working on two new installments about early jet fighters of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Please stay tuned.
© 2014, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.