Saturday, August 30, 2008

Coup A'Brewing

Bangkok, Thailand

I arrived last night in Bangkok.

There's a decent chance that the Thai military will stage a coup in the next day or two.

The two events are not related.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

What Your Mother Taught You

Little India, Singapore

From the Letters to the Editor in yesterday's Straits Times, the government-controlled Singaporean broadsheet:

For one thing, young women today are totally lacking in fu dao (the way of women), a Confucian ethic. According to Confucius, "a woman should serve her family first and herself last." Young women today are too arrogant, too loud, and don't even know how to sit properly. It makes one wonder about their parents and shudder at the thought of them becoming mothers.

Miss Jennifer Wee


First Impressions: Incheon International Airport

Incheon International Airport, South Korea

-- Another sparkling Asian airport that is to JFK and LAX what the MacBook Air is to the Kaypro II.

-- The internet lounges are free.

-- The seven-year-old airport is built on an artificial island off the northwest coast of South Korea. The things you can accomplish when development is not crippled by environmental lawsuits.

-- The luggage trollies are free.

-- Building an airport on an island necessarily requires the building of a bridge. So the South Koreans built one, with a second one under construction.

-- There's an airside hotel if you want to shower or sleep in between flights. There are two more hotels (a Best Western and a Hyatt) four minutes away by courtesy shuttle.

-- There is plenty of space. I hung around the airport for about six hours, and it never felt cramped or even particularly busy.

-- Fresh paint, clean floors, no dirt, lots of clocks. There's a reason -- or many reasons -- why Incheon is one of only three airports to receive five stars from the Skytraxx air travel rating firm. (The other two are Singapore Changi and Hong Kong International.)

-- Hotness is obviously a hiring criterion for Korean flight attendants. Walking down the concourse is like strolling through an airport-themed afterparty at the Miss Busan pageant.

-- When it comes to public works, the United States used to be the "can do" nation. Now we're the "can't do" nation, and our Asian frenemies are laughing at us when they're not wrinkling their noses at our disgusting "gateway" airports (SFO excepted).

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Coming Database State: The Importance of Being Unreasonable

Little India, Singapore

The U.S. government began this year to record and store information on all U.S. citizens who walk, drive or boat across a border into the United States, the Washington Post recently reported.

The new procedure is eminently reasonable -- which is why it must be opposed ferociously.

Under the rules, which were announced in an impenetrable Federal Register notice, Customs and Border Protection will log the name, gender and birth date of each citizen crossing into the U.S., as well as the date and time of the crossing and a photo (if available). The information is then stored for 15 years in a database called Border Crossing Information, the contents of which can be made available to other agencies, foreign governments and civil litigants.

In other words, your border crossings are about to become public information.

Still, on the surface, the procedure seems reasonable. U.S. citizens re-entering the country have the legal burden of establishing their citizenship, and returnees expect to have their documents scrutinized and, perhaps, recorded.

But "reasonable" regulation isn't. One of the great lessons of the last thirty years is that the American administrative state increases its power -- and steals our liberty -- in small, incremental steps, each of which seems reasonable at the time.

Smoking is the best example. The health fascists correctly observed in the early 1980s that there was no political consensus for a comprehensive smoking ban. So a war of attrition began: smoking was first banned on public transport, then in governmental offices, then in public accomodations, then in all private businesses, etc., etc., and now we're at the point where the ability to smoke in your home is about to be extinguished.

Each ban was limited, targeted and reasonable. But each moved the standard for acceptable government action, making the next prohibition seem logical, obvious and -- you know what word I'm about to use.

The border crossing database is itself a reasonable extension of a prior, ever-so-sensible regulation. Citizens have customarily been able to re-enter the U.S. from Mexico or Canada with an evidence of citizenship, such as a driver license or birth certificate. But this puts border officers in the admittedly impossible position of trying to identify forgeries among more than 50 state and territorial licences and the almost limitless number of forms of birth certificate. So the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative is in the process of requiring that all such crossings be conducted with a standardized passport (or certain other documents that require a passport). And now that all returning citizens will be required to present the little blue book, the government is taking the next reasonable step.

The goal of the health fascists is to ban all smoking, and they're 80% there. The goal of the federal government is to create a Database State, in which all actions and transactions by citizens and visitors are collected, stored and analyzed, a Panopticon beyond Bentham's imagination.

Tracking border crossings by citizens is a small, reasonable step toward that Database State.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

U.S. Policy: We Can And Will Seize And Copy Your Laptop For No Reason

Sherman Oaks, California

The U.S. government revealed this month that it can seize and copy the laptops of citizens returning from abroad – for any reason or no reason.

The policy, which you can read here, is not limited to laptops; all “documents or electronic devices” are subject to arbitrary seizure.

“Arbitrary” is not an exaggeration. The policy reads:

“In the course of a border search, and absent individualized suspicion, officers can review and analyze the information transported by any individual attempting to enter, reenter, depart, pass through, or reside in the United States, subject to the requirements and limitations provided herein.” (Emphasis added.)

The “requirements and limitations herein” include language about returning property and destroying copies if no incriminating evidence is found, but the five-page policy contains a conspicuous omission: no rules were drafted to govern when a Customs and Border Protection officer can seize your documents or electronics.

The policy generally states CBP's mission is to ensure compliance with “customs, immigration, and other Federal laws at the border.” But the policy's express reference to searches without individualized suspicion means that a CBP officer can seize items and copy data without any evidence or suspicion that a federal crime has been broken.

An uptight CBP officer who does not like the way you dress can seize your iPod. A bitter, sexually repressed CBP officer can copy all of the photos of you and your lover stored in your camera. And, it goes without saying, these petty Pol Pots can and will seize your property if you question or resist their authority in any manner.

Although these regulations were released two weeks ago, I haven't blogged about them because this topic both depresses and angers me.

The topic depresses me because the U.S. government, which enjoys broad authority at international borders, has decided that standard-less searches are an acceptable way to treat its citizens. The humblest student of government can see that this non-policy is an invitation to abuse.

The topic angers me because, except for a small core of libertarians and travel rights activists, no one cares. The government publicly states that it can seize and copy your most personal data without any basis in fact or law – all because you carry a device over a border – and there's little outcry or outrage. A bill or two have been introduced in Congress, and they'll go nowhere. People are more concerned about a Chinese girl lipsynching during the Olympics.

Pictured: A laptop being inspected by an officer of the TSA (which is separate from CBP).

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New Law Book Smell

Sherman Oaks, California

Friday's Highlight: Thomson West distributed by mail the 2008 Revised Edition of Federal Civil Judicial Procedure and Rules. It has a dark purple cover, which distinguishes it from its predecessor, the 2008 Edition, which has a dark blue cover.

This is what passes for cool in the legal world.

Kidding aside, the book, informally referred to as the "federal deskbook," is one of the key legal tools. It contains most of the national rules and statutes which govern the procedures used in federal court. Litigators tend to keep a copy on their desks, hence the name.

Perhaps of interest to non-lawyers is the fact that you often don't "buy" a lawbook, you "subscribe" to it. For a fixed rate, you receive the book and then receive periodic updates which come with adhesive strips that let you glue them into the back of the book. Sometimes, as in this case, the law changes so much that the publisher sends you a new, replacement book as part of the initial price.

Perhaps, on reflection, that wasn't of interest to non-lawyers.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Korean Airlines Starts Direct Flight From Asia To Latin America

Sherman Oaks, California

Korean Air added this summer a route which increased by one the number of flights between Asia and Latin America, one of my pet topics. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on your perspective), it lays over at LAX.

Korean Air flight KE061 originates at Seoul/Inchon, flies to LAX in a Boeing 777-200 or 777-200ER, stops for three hours, and then proceeds to Sao Paulo, Brazil. Total eastbound travel time is about 26 hours. The return, Korean Air flight KE062, flies into the prevailing winds and takes about 29 hours. The flights are thrice a week, and every seatback is equipped with video on demand (pictured).

For Los Angeles passengers, the flight is great news; its second leg is the only non-stop between LAX and Brazil. On the other hand, the layover subjects everyone to U.S. homeland security procedures, including the requirement that transiting passengers go through immigration.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Disheartening Specifics About The China Tourist Visa Crackdown

Sherman Oaks, California

Obtaining tourist visas into China may become a lot more difficult.

Edward Hasbrouck, travel guru and author of The Practical Nomad, has terrible news. China has greatly restricted the availability and length of tourist visas, and many of these changes may become permanent, Edward reports in characteristic Hasbroukian detail.

In short: Multi-entry tourist visas are rarely being granted. A visa limited to one or two thirty-day stays is now the norm. Applicants must apply at the Chinese embassy or consulate of their residence or citizenship. The days of easily picking up a tourist visa at the China Resources Building in Hong Kong are over.

Worst, tourist visas now require evidence of paid hotel reservations, according to Edward. This destroys the essence of independent travel: the ability to change plans on the fly. The best experiences on the road occur because plans were changed to accommodate a thunder storm or a different destination or the interests of a new-found companion.

During my Chinese travels in 2006 and 2007, internal travel by foreigners was something the government did right. With the exception of Tibet, the China visa granted access to the entirety of "mainland" China. You could hop on a train and go anywhere, no questions asked. More than anything, this freedom to travel made China feel like it was becoming an open society. (I'm referring only to the experience of a foreigner; China's control of its citizens via its work permit system is another matter.)

Edward reports that some of these restrictions may ease in October; that's also what I've heard from my sources in China. But moving to a system of pre-arranged itineraries is exactly the wrong step; that's how the Soviet Bloc worked, with a few holdout nations still requiring Letters of Invitation and other similar controls.

2008 may go down in history as the year that China had the opportunity to open itself to the world but instead retreated into a sulky, self-defeating xenophobia.

Pictured: A Chinese tourist visa allowing multiple entries of up to 120 days each over the course of one year.

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Customs Seizes $12,000 From NPR Personality

Sherman Oaks, California

Writer and NPR commentator Elvis Mitchell (pictured) is not a telegenic 12-year-old blond girl, but he'll do for now as a poster person for abusive and knuckleheaded law enforcement.

Mitchell recently had Cuban cigars and $12,000 in cash seized at the U.S.-Canada border, according to The New York Post.

Incredibly, it is de facto illegal in the United States to have more than $10,000 in cash. While Mitchell's situation is a little different (he reportedly failed to disclose the cigars and cash on his customs declaration), law enforcement officers feel free to seize any sizeable amounts of cash. Whoever you are, whatever you're doing, you will fit a profile of a drug courier or a terrorist financier or whatever other lame excuse the cops concoct.

Because this is "civil" forfeiture, the burden of proof then falls on you to prove that you earned the cash in a lawful manner.

The purpose of these laws: to reduce citizens' ability to engage in anonymous, unrecorded cash transactions.

Our government can't stand it when people do something and it can't watch.

The "Banal E-Mail" Test

Sherman Oaks, California

Film critic Gene Siskel famously employed a test to determine if a movie met a minimum standard of entertainment: "Is this film more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch?" Many films failed, particularly the mid-career works of Michael Caine.

A commenter named only Bill came up with an analogous test for blog posts and newspaper articles.

Today's Telegraph printed an article about Blackberry addiction by Bryony Gordon.

Bill was not impressed:

"Why does the Telegraph employ people to write pieces that would seem banal if you got them by email from a friend? I always suspected that the editors have a lot of unemployed nieces."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Travel Notes

Sherman Oaks, California

-- More ICE Thuggishness. The New York Times' Nina Bernstein reports on the death of Hiu Lui Ng, who died of cancer while in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Despite repeated requests for treatment, Ng, 34, was denied medical attention on the grounds that he was faking his symptoms. By the time a federal judge ordered an MRI, it was too late. (The Times is publishing a series of articles about deaths of people held in immigration detention.)

Our air and border security agencies -- ICE, CBP, TSA -- are a disgrace. Ill-conceived procedures are applied thoughtlessly by stupid and cruel employees.

But most Americans don't travel much, and most Americans don't care what happens to foreigners. The situation won't change until a telegenic white girl from Scandanavia is killed by these thugs.

-- LAX Concessions.Bill Boyarsky of L.A. Observed reports that, while the Tom Bradley International Terminal is being spruced up, the domestic terminals in LAX won't see much improvement. Boyarsky lays some of the blame on the fact that the owners and operators of the dreary concessions contribute heavily to L.A. council members in a succesful effort to maintain the status quo.

What I hate most about LAX are the food outlets (I wouldn’t call them restaurants) and the marginally maintained bathrooms. Second on my hate list are the lack of a variety of shops, found in other airports, and the generally dreary look of the place—not to mention the crowded terminals. [snip]

Our airport should be as good as San Francisco’s. There, travelers find good if not great restaurants and pleasant shops that sell the city’s signature products like sourdough French bread and Ghirardelli Chocolate. There is also an excellent bookstore.
Our airport should be as good as Singapore's or Hong Kong's or Sacramento's or Phnom Penh's or . . . .

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Democrats Abroad Pushes For Expat Medical Coverage

Sherman Oaks, California

An American citizen who is forced to pay into Medicare her entire working life can retire abroad and be forbidden from receiving Medicare benefits.

Medicare only authorizes payments to medical providers in the United States. Even though quality health care can be obtained in other countries for a fraction of the U.S. cost, Medicare refuses to pay for extraterritorial procedures. If you want to incur $40,000 in costs for heart surgery in Bangor, Medicare will gladly pay; if you offer to fly to Bangkok and have the doctors at Bumrungrad Hospital (room pictured) perform the identical procedure for $4,000, Medicare will refuse.

While this seems like a perverse incentive, it's exactly what the Medicare system was designed to do. Contrary to political myth, Medicare does not provide health insurance to people; it provides payment insurance to the health care industry. In the post-war years, health care executives realized that the best way to protect their revenue was to identify the people who most used their services -- people over 65 -- and have the government guarantee their hospital bills. Thus was born Medicare Part A.

Viewed in that light, Medicare's rule against foreign reimbursements makes sense. The low price of high-quality, overseas health care is good for patients and good for the Treasury, but it's terrible for U.S. health care providers. They want that money! And they damn sure won't allow their pet goose to stop laying golden eggs.

So the Medicare laws contain a "Benedict Arnold" provision which prohibits otherwise eligible U.S. citizens from collecting benefits if they are treated abroad. While this theoretically affects everyone, the brunt is felt by expat retirees.

So I'm glad to see that the political group Democrats Abroad has raised the issue and, given the ulterior motive of the Medicare system, offered a practical proposal: allow Medicare-eligible expats to receive care from the U.S. military's global TRICARE system (which is controlled by U.S. health care interests).

Sadly, even this common sense proposal has little chance of passage. Americans are not a well-traveled people, and the thought of retiring to a foreign country is alien to most Americans (although retiring to Mexico is a growing trend in the Southwest border states). And, since Americans do not value freedoms with which they disagree, most voters won't care that some weird one-worlders are getting shafted on their Medicare contributions.

But maybe, with an aging population and ballooning Medicare costs, the economic argument will win the day, and Congress will recognize that it can't continue subsidizing the U.S. health care industry -- not at ten times the Thai rate.

LINK: My three-day stay in a Thai hospital, which cost $550, is described here.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Move Over, Euterpe

Ellen Page is the muse of our age.

Top song by Stephen Conn; bottom song by Wilson Rodriguez.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The New Kings of Comedy . . . of South Africa

Sherman Oaks, California

Rian Malan files a great piece in today's Wall Street Journal about a new generation of transgressive comedians in South Africa.

They're up against a lot:

After losing power in 1994, South Africa's white right-wingers withdrew into psychic exile, leaving the chattering classes to pursue a political agenda so correct that it sometimes verged on insanity. Newspapers were soon filled with great billows of soft-left pabulum. Talk show hosts routinely used appalling terms like "gendered" or "Othering," and almost everyone observed an unwritten law stating that it was unfair to criticize black people on the grounds that any failings they might exhibit were attributable to poverty, oppression and bad education, otherwise known as "the legacy of apartheid." In time, I came to feel as if I were suffocating in a fog of high-minded pieties, a condition that often reduced me to cursing and throwing things at the TV set.

In the course of one such episode a few years ago, I switched channels and came upon a demented comedy sketch in which a gunman was tutoring a class of black schoolchildren in the finer points of armed robbery. "You got to have an inside source to tell you where the money is," yelled the gunman, "and when you get caught -- I just love this bit -- when you get caught, blame it on the legacy of apartheid. OK! So what have you learned today?" The children chorus, "Blame it on the legacy of apartheid!"

If you're not South African, you'll probably never understand how dumbfounding this was, but let's give it a try. What do you do, if you're young, gifted and African, when the Economist describes your home as "The Hopeless Continent"? Contest this assessment and you sound like a silly white liberal, which is anathema to a cool dude like comedian David Kibuuka. "The way the foreigners see Africa is sort of the way it is," he says. "Wars, people dying of diseases that were cured long ago and so on." But acknowledging such truths is dangerous, too, because some brothers are always going to accuse you of being a self-loathing sellout, and that's enough to keep most Africans quiet.

Read the whole thing. You'll be glad you did.


Write Your Own Caption


Saturday, August 09, 2008

Best Taiwanese Parliamentary Fist Fights

Canada's version of The Daily Show reports on Taiwan's version of Robert's Rules of Order.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

History Repeats Itself In Southern Africa

"I thought I understood that this process -- known euphemistically as resettlement, bluntly as removal, and cynically as repatriation -- represented a final stage in a campaign to alienate blacks from their land that had already gone on in the Transvaal for 140 years. For seventy years it had been illegal for blacks to purchase land in more than eighty-six percent of the territory the world still knows as South Africa. For thirty-five years they have been forced, cajoled, and squeezed off 'black spots,' land to which they had secured proper title according to the white man's law, prior to the passage of the Native Lands Act in 1913. I knew the resettlement was central to the government's audacious plan to redefine the bulk of the black population, if not all of it, as foreign."

-- Forced Busing by Joseph Lelyveld (1985),
from The Granta Book of Reportage (1998).

"You can feel the population loss in Harare [in Zimbabwe], which is palpably less bustling and vibrant than it once was. There's a second reason for this. Three years ago the authorities launched Operation Murambatsvina -- Operation 'Clear Out The Shit' -- to expel masses of people from Harare and other towns and cities, and demolish their houses, in what was touted as urban renewal. The victims understood it to be an act of 'electoral cleansing,' designed to rid the cities of the urban poor, who have increasingly opposed Mugabe. All told, some 2.4 million people have been affected by Operation Murambatsvina -- many of them driven out from the cities at gunpoint and dumped in the countryside."

-- "Day of the Crocodile," by Peter Godwin,
from Vanity Fair September 2008.
Pictured: A street in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Courting The Expat Vote

On the one hand, it's great that at least one political party recognizes the American expat community.

On the other hand, I don't want any of these people voting.

On the third hand, Gwyneth is ever so lovely.


Sunday, August 03, 2008

Postgraduate Study In The U.K.

Postgraduate Study In The UK: The International Student’s Guide by Nicholas Foskett and Rosalind Foskett (Sage 2006).

One of the best ways to kill time is by thinking of applying to graduate school.

Not by actually attending graduate school. Not by applying. But by thinking of applying. Seasoned procrastinators can spend years considering whether a Master of Arts or a Master of Science would look better on their Facebook profiles.

To add another level of time-consuming complexity, the hypothetical graduate program should be in another country, requiring investigation – and lots of reflection – on issues such as student visas, exchange rates and differing academic terminology. With perseverance and a little luck, the process of selecting a graduate program can continue past retirement.

Postgraduate Study In The UK takes some of the fun out of the process, since it provides a basic orientation (the British would say “induction”) to masters and doctoral study in the United Kingdom.

For students from the United States, the biggest difference will be how little time the Brits spend in class. U.S. courses are measured in credit hours – roughly one credit hour per hour of weekly in-class instruction. U.K. courses are measured in credit points – roughly one credit point per 10 hours of required study. So a class at a British university might meet once a week, if that, which is great for people like me who will gladly read until five in the morning but aren’t keen on attending an 8 a.m. class three times a week.

“Class” is not the correct word, though. In much the manner that Mormonism adopted Christian words but gave them different meanings – making it difficult for a Mormon to understand a conversion-minded Baptist missionary – the Brits have a similar, but different and confusing, academic vocabulary.

A postgraduate student – that’s the first major difference; we say “graduate,” and they say “postgraduate” -- might take two or three “courses” per term, each of which will consist of a reading list and meetings with a professor (“fellow” or “don”). Sometimes a student presents a paper for critique by the group. The academic emphasis is on what students do outside of the classroom to earn their PGDip, MA, MEng, MPhil, MRes, MSc, MSt, DLitt or DPhil. (You didn’t think the degrees had familiar names, did you?)

Certain of the universities employ a Lecture List or Seminar List. Instead of requiring students to attend lectures given at regular intervals by the same professor in the same room, some British universities distribute a list of all lectures (sometimes called "seminars") which will be given by anyone – faculty or a visiting scholar – on a particular topic. The student attends whichever ones are of interest.

A biochemistry student at University College London, for example, would be presented with a straightforward Lecture List, with each day's session building logically on the previous one.

Meanwhile, a student of Indian religions at Oxford University would be feasting on a buffet of options from the Lecture and Seminar Lists issued by the Oriental Institute, the Division of Social Sciences, the Faculty of History, the Centre for Hindu Studies and the Centre For Islamic Studies, as well as the Modern South Asian History Seminars and the Early Modern South Asia Workshop offered by the Asian Studies Centre.

While U.S. universities predominantly employ a semester system, many British universities divide the academic year into three ten-week terms, each with a medieval religious name such as Michaelmas Term or Trinity Term. This gives university towns a distinct rhythm, bustling during term, quieter during the vacations in between. (Your math is correct; the university is in session for thirty weeks, leaving twenty-two weeks of vacation -- which expains why Evelyn Waugh characters had so much free time).

Every university in the U.K. is a public, government-funded institution, except for the University of Buckingham, the nation’s only private university. Not coincidentally, the cost for a U.S. citizen to attend almost any university in the U.K. is roughly the same, at current exchange rates about $22,000 in academic fees. When you consider that annual tuition at a second-rate, State-side institution such as Boston University is $37,000, the University of Edinburgh starts to look attractive, the Scottish winter notwithstanding.

There is one striking similarity between the two countries. As in the U.S., it’s all about the rankings, called the “league tables.” We have U.S. News & World Report; they have the Times Good University Guide and the Guardian University Guide. Going global, the Times Higher Education Supplement publishes an annual World University Rankings. The British government also gets in on the act, with a Research Assessment Exercise every few years that grades university programs on a six-point scale (1,2,3,4,5,5*), the higher the better.

By necessity, Postgraduate Study in the UK cannot be too detailed. It has to provide information to everyone from a mid-career oil refinery manager from Venezuela who wants to earn an MSc in Control Systems from Imperial College London to the parents of a child prodigy from Smolensk who think the kid is ready for a Ph.D. in Composition from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

Within that constraint, the book provides an excellent overview, as well as material for months, perhaps years, of thought.

Pictured: Graduation at the University of Glasgow.

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

THAI Cancels Non-Stop Service To United States

Sherman Oaks, California

-- Thai International Airways (THAI) cancelled its non-stop flights, TG790 and TG791, between Bangkok and JFK as of July 1, 2008. The “New York Express,” which which I blogged about last year, will not be replaced; THAI is no longer servicing the New York market.

-- THAI will continue to service Los Angeles but, as of sometime in October 2008, the airline will change from a non-stop flight equipped with an Airbus A340-500 (my favorite large commercial jet) to a "direct" flight which stops in Osaka, Japan, and is equipped with a Boeing 777-200ER. (I blogged about the LAX-BKK flight as well.)

-- The move away from "ultra-long-haul" flights is an industry trend powered by the high cost of jet fuel. "With these flights, what you get is a flying tanker with a few people onboard," Air France-KLM chief executive Pierre-Henri Gourgeon told The Wall Street Journal.

-- The change of equipment is understandable. An Airbus A340-500 has four engines (and uses four engines' worth of fuel), while the Boeing 777-200ER has two. That being said, the Boeing has the longest range of any large commercial jet currently in existence and could fly non-stop from L.A. to Bangkok. The reason the flight is stopping in Osaka is to load Japanese passengers and their yen.

-- So the bottom line is that, after October, there will no longer be any non-stop flights between Thailand and the United States.

-- Luckily, no decision by the Thai government (the airline's largest shareholder) is permanent. If influential Thais demand non-stops to LAX and JFK, the flights will return.

-- THAI's decision leaves only two pairs of non-stop flight between the U.S. and the Southeast Asian mainland, i.e., Singapore Airlines' flights to and from LAX (SQ37 and SQ38) and Newark (SQ21 and SQ22). These flights are currently configured as all Business Class flights. People who want to fly Singapore Air in the cheaper seats need to stop at Tokyo-Narita (from LAX on SQ11), Hong Kong (from SFO on SQ1), Seoul (from SFO on SQ15), Frankfurt (from JFK on SQ25) or Moscow (from Houston-Bush on SQ61).

-- Fact: Both Los Angeles and Bangkok are called “The City of Angels.”

--"The era of ultra long-haul flights has come to an end,” said THAI executive vice-president Pandit Chanapai. I certainly hope not.

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A Precursor To Garfield Minus Garfield

Sherman Oaks, California

Garfield Minus Garfield is one of the internet hits of the year. By removing all references to the lasagna-scarfing cat, GMG becomes the story of a man who wanders empty, Beckett-esque spaces while in the throes of a powerful mental illness.

Looks like two bloggers, Malcolm and Jillian, stumbled upon half of the idea two years ago. Close, but no cigar.