April 19, 2012

Carnival Has More Blood On Its Hands

All maritime nations are signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS.

Article 98
Duty to render assistance

1. Every State shall require the master of a ship flying its flag, in so far as he can do so without serious danger to the ship, the crew or the passengers:

(a) to render assistance to any person found at sea in danger of being lost;
(b) to proceed with all possible speed to the rescue of persons in distress, if informed of their need of assistance, in so far as such action may reasonably be expected of him;
(c) after a collision, to render assistance to the other ship, its crew and its passengers and, where possible, to inform the other ship of the name of his own ship, its port of registry and the nearest port at which it will call.
2. Every coastal State shall promote the establishment, operation and maintenance of an adequate and effective search and rescue service regarding safety on and over the sea and, where circumstances so require, by way of mutual regional arrangements cooperate with neighboring States for this purpose.
Few rules are more sacrosanct than these articles of Maritime Law.  The ocean is an unforgiving environment, and men are so small on its surface.  Coming to the aid of a ship in distress is one of the oldest maritime traditions, and it is the first principle taught to any mariner: when someone's in trouble, you stop and help.

Passengers on the Star Princess spotted a small boat adrift on the open ocean on March 10, 2012.
One of the other birders on the Star Princess was Judy Meredith from Bend, Ore. She says, "We all watched him for a bit and thought, 'This guy's in distress. He's trying to get our attention. And he doesn't have a motor on his boat.' We could see that."

Meredith went inside to try to place a call to the ship's bridge, to alert the crew about what they'd seen. The only crew member she could find was with the ship's sales team.

"He called the bridge and I sort of talked through the story," she says. "And I was trying to have a sense or urgency in my voice — and tell  them that the boat was in distress, and they were trying to get our  attention."
A crew member used Gilligan's telescope to look at the drifting boat. Gilligan says, at that point, "We were a bit relieved because he had confirmed that he had seen what we were describing. We expected the ship to turn back or stop or something."
-- National Public Radio
The boat the passengers spotted had set out from Rio Hata, Panama, on February 24, 2012.  The three men aboard had intended to spend a few hours fishing just offshore, in their 10' long skiff.  But their engine failed, and they soon drifted out of sight of land.

The boat had been adrift for sixteen days when it was sighted by passengers on the Star Princess. But the ship never stopped.
"I said, 'God will not forgive them,'" Vasquez told The Associated Press as he recalled the encounter in the waters off South America. "Today, I still feel rage when I remember."
-- The Associated Press
The passengers weren't able to get answers aboard ship about the incident; one of them sent the boat's coordinates to the Coast Guard over the internet, once they realized the ship wasn't going to do anything about it.  Amongst themselves, they discussed the likelihood that the ship had radioed the appropriate authorities.

But at least one of them followed up with the cruise line after her trip:
Meredith says she was told that the Star Princess contacted the boat and "that they were asking the ship to move to the west, because they didn't want their nets to be damaged. And that the ship altered course. And they were waving their shirts because they were thanking the ship."
-- National Public Radio
Unfortunately, that was a complete lie.  The ship never contacted anyone; not the Panamanian government, not the Coast Guard, and certainly not the men aboard a boat that had no radio.
On Thursday, Princess Cruises, based in Santa Clarita, Calif., said a preliminary investigation showed that passengers' reports that they had spotted a boat in distress never made it to Capt. Edward Perrin or the officer on duty.

If it did, the company said, the captain and crew would have altered course to rescue the men, just as the cruise line has done more than 30 times in the last 10 years. The company expressed sympathy for the men and their families.
-- The Associated Press
If his crew didn't tell him about boaters in distress, or even passengers reporting a boat in distress, Captain Perrin has done a piss-poor job of training his crew.  And if Princess Cruise Lines didn't make sure that he had properly trained every single member of his crew, Princess has done a shoddy job of management.  And if the crew decided not to bother passing along the information to the captain, they are guilty of gross negligence resulting in the lingering painful death of two men.

But here's the thing; Princess Cruise Lines is owned by Carnival Corporation, which owns ten other cruise lines, including Costa Cruises.   You may recall the Costa Concordia ran aground a few months ago; not only did it run aground because the captain was showboating, he failed to start evacuating the ship until it was too late to use the life boats safely.  Worse, crew was sending passengers back to their cabins, stating that there was no emergency.

Over a dozen passengers died in their cabins, or in the companionways below decks, as they tried to get out of the sinking ship.

Two ships, two lines, with needless deaths, and one owner in common; Carnival Corporation.
Vasquez recalled seeing the ship — "It was big. It was white." — on the morning of March 10.

Vasquez remembered jumping up and waving the sweater. He raised it over his head, dropped it down to his knees, over and over and over. Though near death, Elvis Oropeza Betancourt, 31, joined in, waving an orange life jacket.

"'Tio, look what's coming over there,'" Vasquez recalled saying.

"We felt happy, because we thought they were coming to rescue us," he said.
-- The Associated Press
The day after the Star Princess passed them by, Elvis Oropeza Betancourt died of thirst.  The three men had been adrift for seventeen days.

Several days later, sixteen year old Fernando Osorio succumbed to thirst.  The eighteen year old Vasquez pushed both of their bodies overboard.  If not for a rain squall, he would have died a few days after that.

For a ship to be so close, for it to be so close that passengers could see a ten foot long boat and discern men waving for help, for the passengers to have done everything that good people should do in this kind of situation, to have this improbable sequence of miracles occur, and then to have the crew turn their backs on their duty is an outrage beyond any tolerance.

I find myself pining for the days when they'd have been strung up from the yardarm.  They'd die an easier death than Oropeza Betancourt or Fernando Osario.

There is a disturbing trend of negligence and incompetence in the cruise industry, and the lackadaisical response from the home office does little to inspire confidence.  From the captain who ran his ship aground and failed to evacuate the ship in a timely manner, to this case were the crew is either not bothering to pass along critical information or the captain is ignoring the crew, it's increasingly apparent that cruise lines are not bothering to train their crews to any kind of reasonable standard.

As someone who has worked in the cruise industry, it's appalling.

How many more people must die unnecessary deaths before Carnival starts cleaning house and taking charge of its affairs?

April 15, 2012

Miami City Commissioners Wield Their Ignorance

Let me posit a situation to you;  you want to create a highly specialized facility to lure a highly specialized industry to town.  You want members of this industry to choose you over all other possible locations on the planet.

Do you:
  • Find the person most qualified on the planet to create your facility, someone with a proven track record of success and a sterling reputation for serving the industry you're attracting.
  • Hire your neighbor, who has absolutely no experience or reputation in this highly specialized field, and is completely unknown to this industry.
Well, if you're the Miami City Commission, you go for your neighbor.  After all, they know absolutely nothing about the highly specialized needs of the highly specialized industry.

In this case, we're talking about the film industry.  The CRA has been tasked with building a soundstage with production support facilities to lure film and television production to the area.  It's a good plan.  But lousy execution.

Film and TV production not only have very specific needs, those needs must be addressed in a certain fashion.  For example, it's not enough to know how to wire a building; it's not enough to know that it needs a lot more power than you think it should, you also have to understand how that power needs to be distributed so that the various uses of that power don't conflict with one another.  These are things not addressed by the building codes; they are learned through experience.

Miami Today News reports that the commission has decided to exercise their dismal ignorance and rejected a surprisingly well conceived selection made by the Community Redevelopment Agency.
Citing their wish to give preference to local companies, directors of Miami's Community Redevelopment Agency have rejected a selection committee's recommendation to hire California-based Bastien & Associates Inc. to evaluate the possibilities for the Miami Entertainment Center...
Since you're probably not in the film industry, you may not know who Bastien & Associates are.
"Bastien & Associates is No. 1 in the world for this type of thing," said Mike A. Shehadeh, senior vice president and chief operating officer of CES Consultants Inc., which would have been the local partner to Bastien & Associates. "They have built more than 150 sound stages and they have 90% direct client contact. They have the experience and relationships with producers and operators of studios and can bring them to Miami."
Now, if you're a smart person, this sounds like just the kind of company we need.  Production companies will know that any project B&A is associated with will meet the industry standards they need.  That's because they've built a lot of the best studios on the planet, for most of the major film and television production companies.

Sadly, we don't have smart people on the commission.
"There's a strong feeling that we should have local preference," said Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones.
Right.  Because when you think "world-class film production facilities," your first thought is "Miami."  Well, of course, that's only if you're a commissioner in Miami with utterly no background in film production.  Well, at least Spence-Jones was cleared of that ethics charge.
"Part of a CRA is to promote local businesses," said Commissioner Francis Suarez. "If it's not a local firm, who's going to be checking?"
So let's not go with a company that will inspire confidence in the film industry.  Let's go with someone with very little experience.  Good plan - if you want the project to fail.
But "Bastien is not here today," said Willy Bermello, a principal of Bermello Ajamil & Partners, an award-winning Miami company that has landed such high-profile projects as a Port Miami makeover. The company's projects in the entertainment sphere include the Univision Network offices, television and radio broadcasting studios for the Spanish Broadcasting System in Miami, and the G-Star School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, the largest motion picture sound stage in South Florida.
And why am I not impressed? 

First, the Port of Miami has fuck-all to do with film and television production.  Second, the actual production facilities they have done don't exactly stand out.  G-Star School of the Arts?  Really?  I mean, it's a decent enough facility, especially since it's really currently the only one in Florida.  But it's one sound stage.  And a couple of broadcast stages, which are not remotely considered sound stages, FYI. 

Bastien and associates has built over 150 sound stages.  They include:
  • Los Angeles Center Studios, California ( 2 sound stages and support facilities)
  • Manhattan Beach Studios, California (2 sound stages, production support buildings, commissary, and administrations office building)
  • Dubai Studio City, United Arab Emirates (14 sound stages, production, admin, and so on)
  • Viacom Broadcast Center, California (newsrooms, broadcast stages, and support spaces)
  • CBS Studio Center, California (three sound stages, four story production support building)
  • Paramount Pictures, California (2 sound stages and facility renovations)
  • Dreamworks SKG, California (8 sound stages and production support buildings)
And these are just the ones I could find in a quick Google search.  There are dozens of articles about the studios and stages they've built, the master plans drawn up for facility growth and enhancement.

And see those names?  Major production companies: CBS, Viacom, Paramount, Dreamworks.  These are the companies we want filming here in Miami.  Which do you think will give them more confidence; coming to film in a sound stage built by the same company that built their own studio, or some firm that's won awards for parking garages and toll plazas, and, oh yes, they built a sound stage for some school in the sticks, once.

Yes, the CRA is there to create opportunities for our local businesses; but to do that, you have to bring in the experts that will equip our local businesses for that success.  And that's not some local company that commissioners have received kickbacks from a relationship with, but a world-class firm that's actually creating the standards with the industry we're trying to attract.

The Miami Commission is making an incredibly stupid and irresponsible decision.  It's past time to clear these morons out of office.

April 5, 2012

Why The Straits Haven't Sparked Nationwide Debate.

Ah, the right wing has a new response the Trayvon Martin case: a tragic home invasion in Oklahoma. 

Here's the latest right wingnut meme:
This won't make coverage. Obama and/or any politicians won't bother with it...and the murderer will probably hire a Pro Bono lawyer (I have Jose Baez - Casey Anthony's lawyer) and if he is lucky, will have the trial moved to Florida with the same jury...
In fact isn't it sad that you will only find this story in a UK newspaper?
It's followed by a link to an article in the Daily Mail, a United Kingdom news outlet. It picked up a tragic tale from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Bob and Nancy Strait, a couple married for 65 years, were the victims of a brutal home invasion robbery; the husband was shot in the face, while the wife was raped so violently that she died of her injuries.

The  point being made, I guess, is that the President and everyone else should be having the exact same reactions to the death of the 85 year old Nancy Strait as we do to the death of 17 year old Trayvon Martin.  Why isn't Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson in Tulsa, protesting the vicious attacks on Mr. and Mrs. Strait?  Why isn't this all over the major networks?  Why isn't NPR doing analysis of it?  Is it because they Straits are WHITE?

I assume we're all familiar with the Martin case; the basic undisputed facts are that neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teen who was not breaking any laws at the time.  Zimmerman has not been charged with a crime as of the time this article was posted. The official story is that there is nothing to contradict Zimmerman's story that he killed the unarmed Martin in self-defense.  Of course, the only witness is the dead teen.

So let's see what the facts are in the Strait case.

Because that's the kind of guy I am, I will be referring exclusively to US news sources.  Yes, it turns out that we can find the story in something other than a UK newspaper. 
TULSA, Oklahoma - Nancy Strait, the 85-year-old victim of Wednesday's brutal home invasion died Thursday evening at a Tulsa hospital. Nancy Strait suffered the brunt of the attack that also critically injured her husband, 90-year-old Bob Strait. He remains in critical condition at the same hospital.

Tulsa Police named 19-year-old Tyrone Woodfork the principal suspect in this case. He was booked into the Tulsa County Jail and faces several charges, including 1st degree murder.

- NewsOn6.com, March 15, 2012
Tyrone Woodfork, 20, was charged in Tulsa County District Court with felony first-degree murder, two counts of robbery with a firearm and first-degree burglary.

Bob and Nancy Strait were assaulted March 14 in their home in the 3300 block of East Virgin Street. Nancy Strait died March 15 from injuries related to the assault. Bob Strait is still recovering from multiple injuries.

- Tulsa World, 3/26/12
Can you spot the main difference between the two cases?  It's not that in one, the victim was black and the attacker was white while in the other the victims were white while the attacker was black - although that is an interesting parallel.

No, it's that Nancy Strait's killer has been charged with her murder, and arrested.

There are no massive protests demanding justice because justice is already in process.  The killer was tracked down, and promptly placed in jail.

What, precisely, are we supposed to be outraged about?

But perhaps the rightwingnuts have a point; this white couple was brutally attacked in their own neighborhood, and the killer was found and arrested and charged, while the black teen was brutally attacked blocks from his father's home, and the killer walked away scott-free. Perhaps I've been in denial about the racist aspects of this crime; I've been going along under the presumption that Zimmerman is just a cop wannabe that stepped over a line because he has no training.

No, I'm convinced now that Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson should be holding up this story before the nation, and pointing out that these right-wingnuts have proven that white victims get justice while black victims get none.

Thanks, Tea Party; I was wrong.  You are good for something!