Friday, October 27, 2023

Echoes of history

 October 7 is a day that will be long remembered in Israeli and Jewish history. Holocaust analogies are extremely overused, but the reports coming out of Israel indicate that they are apt here. The testimony and reports of Israeli emergency workers bring to mind nothing so much as the Nazi terror raids on Jewish neighborhoods that left many dead and the balance removed to concentration camps. The analogy here between savage murders and kidnappings from three weeks ago and 80 years ago bears more than a passing resemblance. 

That’s from a gentile perspective. A Jewish perspective would probably be to shrug and point out that Jews were the victims of pogroms long before Hitler. If anything has changed, it is in the will and the ability of Jews to fight back. 

Tel Aviv tribute to 30 children being held hostage in Gaza - credit @Israel on Twitter

It is this ability to fight back effectively that seems to make much of the world hesitant to support Israel. I guess it’s easy to put a flag on your social media profile to signify support for the victims of genocidal atrocities, but it’s more difficult to watch while the victims systematically dismantle a terrorist regime that hides behind innocent women and children. Collateral damage is a tragedy of any war, but it is an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. 

Marco Rubio was on target with a retweet (re-x?) of a video showing Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense intercepting flurries of Hamas rockets.

“In Gaza civilians have no electricity and are running out of food, water, medicine and fuel,” Rubio observed, “Yet somehow Hamas still has plenty of rockets.”

As Israel gets accused of implementing fascist policies, it’s ironic to remember that the actual Nazis (as opposed to figurative ones) were instrumental in fomenting the current strife between Jews and Arabs. The Nazis had a warm relationship with Middle Eastern Arabs and Muslims even as they considered them racially inferior and consigned some in Europe to concentration camps. Politics and war make strange bedfellows and Arab antipathy to Britain, which governed Palestine at the time, probably contributed to the alliance. Hitler supported a 1941 Arab revolt against British rule and the 13th division of the Waffen SS was comprised of Bosnian Muslims, ironically the same group targeted by Serbs in the 1990s.

The Germans also had a cozy relationship with Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Muslim grand mufti of Jerusalem. After the end of World War II and Israel’s establishment as an independent state (and its sister Palestinian state’s absorption into the surrounding Arab kingdoms), Husseini became a pioneer of Palestinian rights and Arab anti-Semitism.

What we saw on October 7 wasn’t a new phenomenon as much as a return to the past. In the early days of Israel, cross-border raids by fedayeen, Arab commandos, were not uncommon. 

What was different about October 7 was the scale. Between 1949 and 1956, about 200 Israelis were killed. About 1,400 people in Israel were reportedly killed by Hamas in the opening of the current war. 

October 7 was a pogrom on steroids. We have to go back to WWII and the Holocaust to find a larger mass murder of Jews. Even the infamous Kristallnacht had only an estimated death toll of 91, not counting the tens of thousands who were arrested and would later die in the camps. But the Nazis marching Jews off to the camps has another direct parallel in the contemporary Hamas kidnappings. 

The kidnapping and hostage-taking also hearken back to another Middle Eastern crisis. I was about eight years old when Iranian militants stormed the US embassy in Tehran. It was more than a year before the 52 hostages were released. 

Part of that story includes the first major operation by the Army’s Delta Force, a mission that ended in disaster. The carnage at Desert One became a cautionary tale for overly complex, long-range missions that may have impacted world leaders in their decisions not to overtly attack Iran’s nuclear reactors and weapons program infrastructure. Yet. 

Another recurring theme is that of anti-Semitism. In the weeks since Hamas’s attack, both sides of the domestic political spectrum have pointed the finger of anti-Semitism at the other. Republicans point to Democratic Palestinian sympathizers like Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who is the American-born daughter of Palestinian immigrants. The statements made by some Democrats, including many leftist students at colleges and universities around the country, are very problematic and some even cross the line into racism. 

It’s true that much of the anti-Israel agitation has come from pto-Palestinian segments of the left, but it’s also true that political affiliations are often assumed. For example, we really don’t know anything about the people who attacked a Jewish Tulane student at a pro-Palestine rally. Pro-Palestine does not automatically equal Democrat.

At the same time, the virus of anti-Semitism is present on the right as well, it just takes a slightly different form. For example, Marjorie Taylor Greene isn’t as much as Holocaust denier as a Holocaust generalizer. For she of “Jewish space laser” fame, everything she opposes can be likened to the Holocaust, which is a less direct way of cheapening the price paid by Europe’s Jews.

Then, aside from the neo-Nazi factions of the right, there are people like Nick Fuentes, Candace Owens and Kanye West. Fuentes is an overt Holocaust denier and anti-Semite. Kanye, embraced by the right, has gone on anti-Jewish rants. Owens has been a longtime defender of Kanye and has gone silent on the current war except to call for Israeli restraint. 

For many on the right, there’s a curious cognitive disconnect between being pro-Israel and not liking Jews, who tend to be liberal, very much. For the segment of the right that is Christian Nationalist and/or that dabbles in replacement theology(there’s a lot of overlap between the two), it can be difficult to rationalize support for a modern Israeli state. As I mentioned not long ago, I’ve even heard some on the right who deny that modern Israelis are Jewish. 

I’ve also seen some online accounts accuse Jewish writers of anti-Semitism for such microaggressions as questioning whether the babies in Israel were beheaded before or after death. This becomes a “gotcha” argument against the media even though there was never any question that Hamas murdered the babies. 

In truth, both sides are right that the other side is anti-Semitic, at least in part. We shouldn’t then devolve into a debate over which side is more or less hating of the Jews. Rather, both sides should police their own. Free speech is a requirement at public universities, but private political organizations don’t have to tolerate anti-semitism in their midst.

The fact that both sides have anti-Semites goes way back. The Ku Klux Klan was anti-Jewish as were the Nazis and the communists. So was Henry Ford and a great many blacks as well as whites. Anti-Semitism is a veritable melting pot of races, colors, and creeds. 

In 1930s America, some chose to sympathize with Nazi and Fascist groups who were hostile to the Jews. Others, isolationists and conservatives and leftists, refused to allow more Jews to immigrate. At one point, a ship carrying almost a thousand Jewish refugees was refused permission to land in the US, Canada, and Cuba. The ship ultimately returned to Europe where most were murdered.

Jesus might ask, “Which of these do you think was a neighbor to the Jews?”

“Amen or oh me?” as one of my former pastors used to ponder.

The war against Hamas is recent, but it isn’t new. It’s simply another act in the ongoing play that has been going on since 1947 when Israel was founded. Or maybe it goes all the way back to Haman or even to Cain. Either way, it’s a new version of the old scene

The Gaza War (2023 edition) is already horrible, but it’s going to get worse. What it isn’t, however, is new. The only thing that is new this year is that the bloodshed can be live-streamed into our homes in real-time. 

While these scenes are heartrending and tragic, the current war is 100 percent the fault of Hamas. The Palestinian fighters on October 7 were doing what thousands of anti-Semitic militants have been for decades and centuries: killing and kidnapping Jews. The difference is that Jews now fight back.

Thank you for reading The Racket News ™. This post is public so feel free to share it.


ALASKA AIR ATTACKER WAS ON ‘SHROOMS ABC News reports that the Alaska Air pilot accused of trying to shut down an airliner’s engines in flight allegedly discussed the use of psychedelic mushrooms and said that he felt like he was dreaming and wanted to wake up. Needless to say, psychedelic mushrooms are not approved by the FAA.

MAINE SHOOTER The Lewiston man who killed 22 is still at large. The Wall Street Journal reports that he used a .308 caliber semi-automatic hunting rifle.

Share The Racket News ™

US BOMBS SYRIA Air Force F-16s bombed weapons and ammunition storage facilities linked to Iran in retaliation for attacks against US bases over the past few weeks.

DEMOCRAT CHALLENGES BIDEN Minnesota CongressmanDean Phillips announced a primary challenge against President Biden.

From the Racket News

Thursday, October 26, 2023

'You say what?' Near disaster at Houston-Hobby

 I wrote about the epidemic of aviation near-misses back in August, but what happened Tuesday in Houston wasn’t a miss. Two business jets collided at the downtown Houston airport in what could have been a major disaster. Thankfully, both planes were able to get back on the ground with no injuries.

The accident occurred on Tuesday, October 24, at about 3:20 p.m. local time at Houston-Hobby Airport (KHOU). Hobby was my home base for the five years or so that I flew for a flight department in Texas, and it is a very congested and busy airport that is nestled in very busy and congested airspace with a multitude of other nearby airports. A Southwest Airlines hub, Hobby services a combination of airline and general aviation traffic. For those who know, Hobby is the Texas spirit animal of Chicago’s Midway airport.

Screenshot from @fl360aero on Twitter

Thank you for reading The Racket News ™. This post is public so feel free to share it.


This accident seems very similar to one of the previous near misses that occurred in Boston earlier this year when a private jet took off without a clearance. In that incident, the pilot said that he thought he had heard the tower controller issue a takeoff clearance rather than the actual clearance to line up on the runway and wait for permission to take off.

The Houston incident seems to be exactly the same. In a statement posted to the platform formerly known as Twitter, the National Transportation Safety Board said that the crew of a Hawker 850XP (N269AA) was instructed to line up and wait on runway 22. Instead, the Hawker began its takeoff roll and its wing struck the tail of a Cessna Citation Mustang (N510HM) landing on runway 13R.

The Hawker continued its takeoff and was subsequently vectored back around for an emergency landing. In audio of radio communications after the collision, one of the pilots of the Hawker replies to clearance from ATC, saying, “We just had a midair, we can’t do that.”

“You say what?” the controller asks.

The pilot then shows his unawareness of their violation by blaming the controllers, answering, “Yeah, somebody just, uh, you guys just cleared somebody to take off or land and we hit them on the departure.”

After this exchange, the controller then gives the pilot a vector to return to the airport. The crew was able to land the damaged plane safely.

Photos online show a chunk of the Citation’s tail cone missing immediately aft of the engines. The Hawker’s left wingtip appears damaged with part of the winglet, the vertical part of the wing at the tip, missing.

The crew and passengers of both planes are extremely lucky to walk away from this one. A matter of a few more inches might have severed the Hawker’s wing rendering it unable to fly while several additional feet might have meant a fireball that engulfed both planes.

You might wonder why airplanes were landing and departing on different runways at the same time. The answer is that it’s efficient.

Small, congested airports frequently have several runways in use when the weather allows. Often, one runway will be used for departures while a different runway will be used for arrivals. This allows the controllers in the tower to maximize the flow of traffic.

Sometimes these runways intersect. When this is the case, the tower controllers have to make sure that the airplanes are staggered so that only one runway is in use at a time. The “line up and wait” clearance allows the controller to save time by pre-positioning the departing aircraft to take off immediately after the landing aircraft rolls clear.

In this case, the controller’s plan was probably to have the Citation land on 13R and, when it passed through the intersection, to clear the Hawker for takeoff on 22. It’s a simple scenario that probably happens at least a thousand times every day.

The problem was the Hawker pilots misheard the clearance. Instead of waiting for the go-ahead, they started their takeoff roll and reached the intersection of the two runways at exactly the same time as the Citation.

There are attempts to make the system fail-safe. One method is to have two pilots in the cockpit. In theory, at least one of them should have heard the controller correctly. In the case of a disagreement over what their clearance was, the crew should have queried the controller to obtain clarification.

A second method is in requiring clearances to be repeated back to the controller. Audio of the takeoff clearance is not available at this time, but it will be interesting to see exactly what was said in the moments prior to the collision. Did the controller give the correct clearance? Did the pilot read it back? Did the controller catch the error? I’m sure that ATC tapes as well as the cockpit voice recorder in the Hawker will yield more details about what happened and why.

Additionally, the NTSB will also be looking at the duty times and recent activities of the accident crew. Had they been flying a lot? Were they fatigued? Had they had previous problems?

The two instances this year (that we know of) of airplanes taking off without a clearance are not the first. In fact, one of the worst aircraft accidents of all time was caused by a similar mistake.

In 1977, two 747 jumbo airliners collided on the runway at Tenerife in the Canary Islands. It remains the deadliest crash in aviation history and it was caused by a KLM pilot who erroneously thought he was cleared to take off even though a Pan Am airliner was still on the runway.

It’s difficult to say where we go from here, but not taking off without a clearance is a pretty basic aviation skill. If the facts of the case are as they appear to be, some pilots need to get back to basics.

From the Racket News

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

The Alaska Airlines attack

 I had a request to do another aviation story recently. As luck would have it, one popped up on Monday when an off-duty Alaska Airlines pilot decided to try to kill everyone on board his flight. I’m not sure that there was a connection between the request and the incident, but I also can’t be sure that there isn’t. Who knows what awesome powers my readers might be tapped into, but let’s be careful what we ask for.

Let’s start at the beginning. Alaska Airlines Flight 2059 is a regular flight from Everett, Washington (KPAE) to San Francisco (KSFO). This flight was operated by Alaska’s regional codeshare partner, Horizon Air, and was flown with an Embraer 175 regional jet, an airplane that resembles a baby 737 but is typically configured for between 76 and 88 passengers.

Horizon Air Embraer 175 (By Johnnyw3 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Thank you for reading The Racket News ™. This post is public so feel free to share it.


In the interest of full disclosure, I fly another Embraer product, the Legacy 500, in my corporate aviation job. The two planes are both manufactured by the Brazilian aerospace company and are both sometimes referred to as “jungle jets,” but they are completely different types and I have never been trained on the 175.

On Sunday, an off-duty pilot was commuting in the cockpit of the airliner when the pilot-turned-passenger, in the words of Alaska’s official statement, “unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt the operation of the engines.”

The crew, the statement continues, “quickly responded, engine power was not lost and the crew secured the aircraft without incident.”

“Following appropriate FAA procedures and guidance from Air Traffic Control, the flight was safely diverted to Portland International Airport,” Alaska says. “The jump seat occupant [the perpetrator] is currently in custody and the event is being investigated by law enforcement authorities, which includes the FBI and the Port of Portland Police Department.”

The FlightAware track for the flight shows a 50-minute flight with a cruise altitude of 35,000 feet. The flight is just south of Portland, Oregon (KPDX) when suddenly the plane begins a descent at a turn back to the north. Based on this depiction, it appears that the attack took place at about 6:26 p.m. Pacific Time.

The first question that many readers will have is why an off-duty pilot was in the cockpit of an airliner in the first place. The simple answer is that he was on the way to work. He was scheduled to fly a 737 trip out of San Francisco later.

Many airline pilots don’t live at their base. Airlines extend free or low-cost travel benefits to their employees provided that the seat is not taken by a paying customer. At the companies I used to work for, this was called “non-revenue space-available” travel. Usually, it was shortened to “non-rev.”

Pilots have an additional privilege called “jump-seating.” Airline cockpits contain a small foldout seat called a jumpseat where an additional occupant can sit inside the cockpit perched behind and between the two pilots. The jumpseat is intended for check airmen to observe the crew on line checks (observations of a routine airline flight to ensure compliance with standard procedure), but the vast majority of the time, it goes unused. If the cabin seats are full, sometimes pilots commuting to or from their base are allowed to sit in the jump seat. If you’ve seen the movie “Catch Me If You Can,” you’ve seen the general way that jumpseating works.

ABC News reports that the suspect was en route to San Francisco to work. The flight may have been full in the back so he had to ride on the jumpseat. For some reason, as yet undisclosed, he tried to pull the airplane’s throttles back and cause a crash.

Reuters adds that the suspect tried to engage the engine fire suppression system. This is a key detail because most fire switches on jet airplanes do several things. The goal of pressing the switch is to stop a fire so it cuts off several items that could add fuel to a burning engine. These include closing shutoff valves for the fuel and hydraulic systems and removing electrical power from the engine. Additionally, engine fire extinguishers are armed, and bleed air valves are closed to prevent fiery hot air from moving to other parts of the plane.

The fire switches are always a guarded switch with a cover that has to be opened before you can press it. Why? Because pressing the switch cuts off a running engine, which is almost always a bad thing in an airborne aircraft. I say “almost” because there are certain times, such as when an engine is on fire, that shutting the engine down is preferable to keeping it running, but these are rare occurrences.

The fact that the suspect flipped up a protective cover to try to press these fire switches and shut off the engines says a lot about his intent. He wanted to crash the airplane and kill everyone on board.

I’ll add that if the engines were shut down, they could be restarted, but under the circumstances, it is likely that there would have been a disaster. Restarting the engines is a complex procedure. That’s especially true if both engines are shut down, which would require the crew to maintain control of an airplane that is quickly losing energy. In this scenario, with a suicidal passenger in the cockpit trying to make you lose control, the odds would not have been good for success.

The suspect in custody is Joseph David Emerson, 44. Numerous outlets report that Emerson was (I assume that it’s past tense by now) a pilot with Alaska Airlines. No motive has been named, but there are several obvious possibilities.

The new Hamas war has brought rumors of terrorist strikes in the US and there have been “homegrown” terrorist attacks by self-radicalized American terrorists in the past. There is so far no evidence that Emerson was a radical Muslim, and the FAA said that the incident does not appear connected to world events.

Far more likely is that Emerson was homicidal/suicidal for personal reasons. Back in 2015, I wrote an article about pilot suicides for the now-defunct which is still available on my blog. A number of airline pilots have chosen to end their lives by taking their passengers and fellow crewmembers with them. Notable examples of crashes that are known or suspected to be the result of suicidal pilots include Germanwings Flight 9525 in 2015, EgyptAir 990 in 1999, Japan Air Lines 350 in 1982, Malaysia 370 in 2014, and China Eastern Airlines 5735 in 2022.

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time that a suicidal employee has targeted Horizon Air. In 2018, a disgruntled mechanic stole a De Havilland Q400 turboprop airliner and performed an impromptu airshow before crashing it into an island in Puget Sound. Only the hijacker was killed in that incident.

There has also been at least one case of a cockpit jumpseater attacking the crew in the flight. Back in 1994, a jumpseater on a FedEx freighter attacked the crew with hammers, a knife, and a spear gun that he had carried on board in a guitar case. The crew fought back and ultimately subdued the suicidal hijacker, a FedEx flight engineer, with the help of aerial maneuvers that made it difficult for him to stay upright.

Through the years, I have also seen rumors that at least some of the September 11 hijackers were in the jumpseat, but I have never seen this confirmed. Nevertheless, the entire industry response to hijackings changed after those attacks. Those changes included strengthened cockpit doors and more stringent security measures for jumpseaters.

New measures also included the Federal Flight Deck Officer and Federal Air Marshal programs. FFDOs were pilots deputized to carry guns to protect their airplanes. The fact that Joseph David Emerson, 44, is still alive to see 45 is evidence that no FFDO or Air Marshal was on board Alaska 2059.

As to why Emerson would try to kill himself and a planeload of passengers, I can only speculate. Previous motives for pilot suicides have included mental illness, job pressures, and family and financial problems. Airline flying can be stressful and the current work environment is one that can include a lot of time away from home and exhausting schedules. Airline jobs are notoriously rough on marriages and can lead to what is sometimes termed as AIDS, “Aviation-Induced Divorce Syndrome.” This, in turn, can lead to financial problems.

Back in August, a United Airlines pilot was arrested after assaulting a parking lot gate with an ax at Denver International Airport. CBS News reported that the pilot told sheriff’s deputies that he “just hit his breaking point.”

The Daily Mail reports that Emerson was the married father of two boys who seemed to be the perfect father and husband. Still, personal strife can be difficult to diagnose from next door. The Mail also reports that Emerson lives with his family in Pleasant Hill, California, a San Francisco suburb, so it wasn’t clear why he was flying to San Francisco from Everett, but the answer to that question might provide a motive.

The incident seems to have been handled discretely at the time. It isn’t clear if any passengers or law enforcement officers traveling on the flight helped to subdue and restrain Emerson, but there have been some indications that it may have been a momentary lapse on Emerson’s part rather than a determined attack. Passengers told ABC News that they were told that there was a “disturbance in the cockpit” and that Emerson had suffered a “mental breakdown.”

"It was very professional, handled very calmly, and we didn't really know what was going on until we landed," passenger Alex Wood said.

Emerson now faces 83 counts of attempted murder and a host of other charges. It may be fortunate that he snapped when he did rather than later as a crewmember at the controls.

From the Racket News