Americans will soon have a chance to comment on the Federal Communications Commission's proposal to allow in-flight cellphone use on commercial airliners. The agency is holding an open meeting today at 2:30 p.m. ET to discuss rules that would allow voice calls while jetliners are in the air — something that's been forbidden on U.S. flights.
You can watch the session live online — and we'll update this post with highlights.
The meeting is an initial step toward approving phone use during flights, a process that would likely take more than a year. The FCC's five commissioners will vote on the proposal today; if it's approved, it would then be posted online for public comment, likely for three months or more.
If the proposed rules gain final approval, airlines would then decide if they want to allow passengers to use phones during flights. (Some have already said they won't offer the service.)
Airlines who want to allow phone use would need to license bandwidth for equipment called a pico cell, essentially a base station that handles wireless data and calls. Then they'd need safety approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, as well.
Reaction to the FCC's plan has been mixed, at best.
A recent AP poll found that only 19 percent of Americans support the idea of talking on phones during flights. A large group was neutral, and 48 percent were against it. But the opposition was greater among people who have flown in the past year, with 59 percent saying calls shouldn't be allowed.
Our post on the story last month generated this top-rated comment:
"Zombies in their cars, zombies on the street, now zombies in the air. There is no escape," wrote a reader named harry guss.
And in response to another comment's hypothetical phone call from an airline passenger named "Alice," a reader named Lencho wrote, "This is when I reach over and yank the cell phone out Alice's hand and run to the rest room and flush the dang thing down the toilet."
In an editorial for USA Today that was timed to coincide with today's session, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler sought to ease consumers' concerns. He noted that the proposed change is still in the early stages.
And he said he doesn't want to sit next to anyone who's on the phone during a flight, either.
"I certainly empathize with those who don't want to be stuck listening to loud phone conversations in-flight," Wheeler wrote. "Because the airline can block or otherwise control voice calls, there is a technical solution to this concern."
That echoes a recent post on the FCC's blog, in which Julius Knapp, head of the Office of Engineering, and Roger Sherman, acting chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau.
The pair stressed that even if the proposal is approved, there are several levels of cellphone acceptance between a relatively silent cabin and endless chatter from passengers telling their families about their trip or checking in with the office.
Those incremental levels are reflected in the policies of European carriers who already allow passengers to use mobile phones during flights.
Some have instituted data-only restrictions. Others, such as Virgin Atlantic, place limits on voice calls and charge a steep premium — more than a dollar a minute — for using the service.
As we noted in November, Wheeler is a former cellphone industry lobbyist whose move to allow more use of phones in plane cabins was welcomed by the Telecommunications Industry Association.
Barbara J. King
Some of the people who will read this blog post are female, some are male, some are both and some are neither. To all, greetings of the season!
Of the many things I want to celebrate during this annual round of holiday joy, the beauty of human diversity and the pleasure we may take in recognizing it sit near the top of my list.
Yet here's something I've noticed: While the array of gorgeous human skin colors and ethnicities and sexualities is increasingly embraced as a matter of human rights, we are slower to celebrate multiple genders.
I would like to make clear right at the start that breaking out of a male-female gender dichotomy isn't some 21st century liberal-progressive agenda, as it is sometimes painted. Spending some time with this interactive map shows that fluidity in gender roles is and has been evident in societies around the world. A non-binary perspective is neither new nor Euro-American.
The existence of third genders is noted in quite a few entries on that map. Germany recently became the first country within modern Europe to move beyond official male-female gender status. The German rationale for doing so makes sense: The parents of intersex babies shouldn't have to force upon their child a gender identity at birth.
But are three genders enough?
I know it's challenging to break out of a binary mode, and for good reason. Most of us do identify as either male or female, after all. It's what most of us grew up with, and what feels safe and familiar. Like most people, I don't know what it feels like to identify, for instance, as both male and female or neither male or female.
But I know that others experience the world differently than I do. And because of this, I favor a broad approach that goes beyond three genders. People who are born male or born female may not — as older children, as young adults, as middle- or old-aged adults — identify as their birth gender. Their identities may shift over time.
The transgender community is rich and vital. The full slate of options within it isn't captured by just considering those who transition male-to-female or female-to-male.
We have (or should have) long ago left behind the simplistic division of biology versus culture in discussions of this sort.
It's not as if intersex babies are on some biological end of a continuum and people who embrace non-traditional gender roles are at some opposite cultural pole. Yes, intersex infants are born with (or develop) certain anatomical or physiological characteristics that aren't wholly either male or female. But the decision facing parents about how to raise these babies is a cultural one and often co-constructed by medical professionals and the surrounding community and later, the children themselves.
Similarly, adults who adopt non-traditional gender identities have biological bodies and brains and those bodies and brains are real. There's no leaving out biology or culture for anyone here.
Is my hoped-for celebration of diversity furthered when we expand our gender categories from two to three, and beyond? We humans are exquisitely attuned to thinking in categories, so I'd say yes, maybe it's a start, maybe it does help to expand the official options.
Within the Washington State Community and Technical College System, for instance, applicants now have multiple choices on offer when replying to questions about their sexuality or gender identifications. For gender identity, the offered possibilities are seven: feminine, masculine, androgynous, gender neutral, transgender, other and prefer not to answer.
It's a great thing when families of intersex babies are no longer shoe-horned into making premature choices, or when college students feel more comfortable being able to claim who they are, because more than "male" or "female" are finally available to them.
But we can do better. We can be unafraid to move not only beyond male-female dichotomies, but also beyond an insistence on any hard-and-fast fixed categories. What, after all, is there to fear? We are all human; we all live and love.
Barbara thanks her daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Hogg, for her word-selection finesse and for sharing a very cool link.
He defied a military dictator, sacked a prime minister, and persistently sought to call generals and intelligence chiefs to account.
He became a symbol of hope for an impoverished multitude, seeking to assert their rights in a land where these are frequently ignored and abused.
He was one of his country's best-known figures who was seen — though not usually heard — on his nation's television screens as frequently as celebrity actors and cricket stars.
For any judge, in any land, this is an improbable record. In Pakistan, where for much of its history the judiciary was a puppet of the executive, it is remarkable.
Pakistan's Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has just retired after a tenure that is threaded through with contradictions, missteps and controversies — but that changed the balance of power in his turbulent nation.
He exited in thunderous style, delivering a farewell speech Wednesday before the Supreme Court, in which he urged his fellow judges to defend the judiciary's independence — and issued a somber warning to his 180 million fellow Pakistanis.
"It seems that the divide between the haves and have-nots is increasing day by day with the executive being unable to curb this growing disparity," said Chaudhry.
"Until we can tackle the ever-growing cancer of corruption the rich will keep getting richer and the poor will keep getting poorer," he said.
Chaudhry, 65, spent his final days on the bench delving into one of Pakistan's murkiest corners: the fate of "missing persons" who have been "disappeared" by the security agencies and are either being secretly held in prison, without trial, or are dead.
He ran into stubborn resistance from the authorities, but Pakistan's Defense Ministry eventually produced six men, who were led into the Supreme Court with their heads concealed by blankets. Pakistani activists say there are thousands more.
Chaudhry countered with a ruling explicitly forbidding the intelligence agencies from detaining people without sharing information about their whereabouts with their relatives.
History, however, will remember Chaudhry chiefly as the leading player in a bare-knuckle showdown that transfixed the outside world, and ultimately led to the downfall of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who is now facing trial for treason.
The judge and the dictator got off to a good start. Chaudhry was among those who signed an oath that, in effect, legitimized the coup in which Musharraf, then chief of the army staff, seized power in 1999.
Their standoff began in 2007 when Musharraf suspended Chaudhry as chief justice, and later fired him. This triggered a rolling political crisis that the general could not contain, despite imposing a state of emergency.
Lawyers took to the streets to protest Musharraf's brazen interference with what was supposed to be a foundation stone of the state — an independent judiciary. Civil rights activists, opposition political parties and the media joined in.
Chaudhry became their figurehead, driving from city to city — accompanied by dozens of TV crews — at the head of large and angry convoys of chanting protesters who were determined to bring an end to military rule. Along the way, the Pakistani public turned out in large numbers to cheer and throw flowers at the passing judge.
In more stable countries, the retirement of a chief justice would merit a news story or two. But, though now under civilian rule, Pakistanis remain acutely aware of the fragility of their civil institutions, and of the far-reaching, behind-the-scenes influence of their military and intelligence services.
So, in the last few days, Chaudhry's retirement — and the energetic debate about his legacy — has filled Pakistan's airwaves, entirely outshining the ceremonies marking the death of Nelson Mandela.
Reviews of the chief justice's career range from ecstatic to disapproving.
The Daily News describes him as "a shining star" who "turned the country's tame and obedient judiciary into a pillar of strength and freedom for everyone but the corrupt and the incompetent — the undeserving elite that has ruled this country."
The common theme of the judge's many critics is that he over-stepped the mark. He set up a human rights cell in the Supreme Court, which received hundreds of petitions a day from the public to ensure, as he puts it, "the man in the street is also within reach of justice."
But Chaudhry's liberal use of suo moto powers (when a court initiates action of its own accord) to probe into a variety of issues led to accusations that he had strayed into political activism, and too often interfered with the running of government.
These complaints reached a crescendo last year when he ordered the removal of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, for failing to obey court orders relating to corruption allegations against the then-president, Asif Ali Zardari.
There are now calls for limits to be placed on the court's suo moto powers — raising the possibility of another shift in the balance of power in Pakistan, in favor of the government.
It is too soon to say to what extent the new chief justice, Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, would fight against this. He has a reputation for being mild-mannered; he is also due to retire this summer. (He got the job because he was next in line.)
As for Chaudhry's future, the law says a retired chief justice cannot run for office for two years.
Yet few in Pakistan believe this battle-hardened, steel-nerved campaigner has permanently departed the limelight for a cozy retirement.
The judge will be back.
Godzilla is back in the news and there's word that a massive boring machine appears to have hit something it can't get through under Seattle.
But before we get carried away about creatures beneath our cities or hidden chambers holding eggs that will hatch monsters, let's focus on what we know about what's happening in the Northwest.
"Transportation crews still don't know what exactly is blocking the path of 'Bertha,' the giant boring machine that's drilling the new Highway 999 tunnel under Seattle. The machine was stopped on Friday after encountering an object 60 feet under South Main Street."
SeattlePI.com says "the latest trouble started ... when Bertha's five-story tall cutter head felt some resistance, then stopped."
As The Blaze notes, since Bertha "is designed to tunnel through rock and soil without issue, it's puzzling as to what could have stopped it."
Today, we're hearing from The Seattle Times that it will likely take about two weeks to figure out what's blocking Bertha. It adds that:
"The leading theory is that Bertha hit a boulder, but the soil around it is too soft to hold it snugly and allow the rotary cutter head to crack the rock apart."
What to do?
According to the Times:
— Either pull Bertha back to allow crews to get around it and then, using power drills and hammers, break up the boulder (assuming that's what the problem is).
— Or, "work from above ... to drill down and break up the object or to lift it out. That likely would require a protective wall or pit to be installed, holding back sand and groundwater."
But if the problem involves something more mysterious ... suggestions are welcome in the comments thread.
Bertha is cutting a nearly 2-mile tunnel that will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct — a double deck roadway along the city's waterfront on Highway 99. She's the world's largest tunneling machine, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Former Price Is Right host Bob Barker wants Florida voters to come on down to the polls for Republican David Jolly next month.
Barker, who retired from the popular daytime game show in 2007 after 35 years, appeared in a television ad Thursday on behalf of Jolly, a lobbyist running in a special election for a St. Petersburg-area congressional seat.
"Folks, when you get to be as young as I am, you call it like you see it. That's why I'm supporting David Jolly for Congress," Barker says in the ad. To close out the spot, Barker says, "with Jolly, the choice is right."
The Jolly campaign booked airtime in Florida's 13th District, which is home to a high proportion of senior citizens, during Thursday's edition of the "Price Is Right", according to Roll Call. Barker, whose long-running show was known for its signature catchphrase "Come on down!", also made a special cameo in the episode to celebrate his 90th birthday.
In the ad, Barker praises the work Jolly did as an aide to his "good friend" Congressman C.W. "Bill" Young, who Barker formally endorsed during the 2010 campaign. A special election was called after Young died in October at the age of 82.
Barker's endorsement comes just as a dispute between Young's widow and son, who are backing different candidates in the Jan. 14 GOP primary, is boiling over.
Beverly Young said her husband wanted Jolly to succeed him, and she made a brief appearance in one of his recent campaign ads. But Bill Young II has thrown his support behind one of Jolly's rivals, state GOP Rep. Kathleen Peters.
The family feud spilled into public view after a candidate luncheon last week, when Beverly Young told her son "you have hurt me beyond belief," according to the Tampa Bay Times.
The winner of the Republican primary will face the likely Democratic nominee, Alex Sink, in what is expected to be a tight March 11 general election contest.