Two engines and a brace of ducks.

The big news story when I was out last night was the Hudson River crash, in which a jet with approximately 150 passengers spilled itself into the river with no loss of life.  The plane, which had taken off from LaGuardia only a few minutes earlier, crashed after losing both engines.  One survivor who sat over the left wing heard a bang and saw blue flame coming from that engine not long after take off, followed by the pilot telling the passengers to brace for a crash. At this time it is supposed that a flock of birds caused both engines to fail, I would guess by being sucked into each.

Scary as the ordeal must have been and grateful as we are for the survival of all passengers, there are questions to be asked about future take-offs and successful landings.  First on my mind is the bird question.  I would guess that the flock in question wasn’t startlings or sparrows or anything of that size – I feel like twin jet engines could chew up and spit out such crunchy little bits without trouble.  I would guess that this flock would need to be made up of a more sizable bird – at least a flock of ducks, or possibly even geese.  I suppose though if you managed to suck in a great enough number of thrushes, say, at the correct density, you could manage to stall the engine.  Still I would find it very unlikely.

So how do we move forward?  Should planes in the future attempt to avoid bird flocks?  Is such a thing even possible?  Just how common are these ‘bird strikes‘, as the pilot called them?  According to Bird Strike Committee USA, there have been more than 56,000 between ’08 and ’04.  Since ’88 however, there have been only 219 deaths as a result of wildlife strikes.  The real cost comes in damage – estimated to be about $600 million a year in the US alone.  Seems we could do something about that.

Finally, warmest wishes go out to our pilot hero man, Sully.  Who doesn’t love a name like that?  And he’s a saftey consultant in his spare time.  I’m sure the current accolades will rev up business for that.  This articl also reveals that the bird or birds in question were, in fact, geese.  So, double bonus points for Sully and the remainder for me.

Forget the quart-sized Ziplocs for gels, just give me a brain scan.

A recent article took a look at the ‘future’ of airport security – behavioral screening, rather than baggage checks.  It will keep lines at airports short, as the combination of sensors, imagers, and subliminal prompts only takes about 30 seconds to process each individual.  Emotional strain, which is a ‘terrorism marker’, will be quickly detected and is a better determinant than traditional security profiling which discriminates based on race and religion.

Of course, there will be problems with the system.  Once someone with emotional strain is identified, they will be taken aside for further questioning,.  So what happens when a passenger is under emotional strain but not a terrorist?  Let’s say you just found out your significant other was cheating on you as he/she dropped you off at the airport.  You’re angry and upset, but holding things together.  Then airport security accosts you with some very personal and invasive questions.  Not going to make you any happier or calmer, is it?  What happens when the nervous flier gets questioned and the sociopath walks onto a plane with guns?

It’s true there can be no complete prevention, that such security is a balance between personal rights and group security.  I’m just not sure that this new type of screening is really that much more effective than the lousy systems we already have in place.


I walk quite a bit in Boston.  I like the feeling.  I like being outside, even in the rain, striding as if I had an intense purpose even when I don’t.  I like feeling the wind against my skin and observing the little thing – a violet beneath a bush, a thrush on a street sign, the tiny bud of some flowering plant just opening – that I wouldn’t notice in a car or bus.  I like feeling my heart pump even though I am moving relatively slowly to the rest of the world.

There are a variety of people who agree with me: joggers, hikers, runners, dog walkers.  I would guess that all of them feel the same type of draw – the combination of joy in the outside world and reveling in the feeling of their own movement.  It’s a powerful draw – there are some who would use almost any excuse to be outside.  However there is an occasional unintended consequence, a misfortune resulting from such outdoor activity that could not have been predicted.  One would be the death of your leashed dog by street sweeper.
Pedestrians get hit by cars all the time.  Dogs get hit by cars even more often.  I would guess that even street sweepers hit people and cars.  But one of the purposes of a leash is to prevent such mishaps.  A leash ostensibly gives an owner the power to prevent dogs from going where they shouldn’t – whether due to privacy issues and social norms of respect, or for the dog’s own safety.  It’s possible that accidents occur when the owners of such dogs are being less than mindful.  However, there is a question of whether a street sweeper should not even notice something as big as a dog getting tangled in its machinery.  Sure, it was a small dog, and those machines are loud.  But considering that the driver didn’t even notice for two and a half blocks that something was amiss with people chasing him and screaming, it makes me wonder if he would’ve noticed if he’d swept up something more precious.  Like a child.

I won’t stop walking.  I certainly won’t stop getting angry at cars that invade MY sidewalk space, or people who don’t bother to check the sidewalk before edging out into an intersection.  But a little care please, on the part of drivers (especially street cleaners) would be appreciated.