Just got off a 13-hour flight and sitting in the lounge at the airport in Taipei with free Wi-Fi. 🙂 It’s very weird to be halfway around the world from home and be able to act like you’re at your desk, checking email, reading news, IMing, posting a blog entry…

The plane did not even crash _once_ the entire flight. Just one more flight to go til Denpasar on Bali. We met a guy from Virginia here at the airport. He was on the same flight and flew from Richmond to Chicago to Seattle to Taipei.

I had a hard time sleeping on the plane, but got maybe 2-3 hours of sleep off and on. Watched “Dodgeball” (very funny) and “Harry Potter 3”.

Review of Tom Douglas' Lola, Seattle

We went to dinner last night at “Lola”: with Eric & Steve. It was disappointing, though. We went weeks ago for lunch and it was great and I’ve been dying for a good Greek restaurant since moving to Seattle in ’97, so I had high hopes for dinner. The food was good, but not great and pretty expensive. For appetizers, we had pita with tzatziki and “minty feta dip”. Both were great. We had prawn kebabs and pork kebabs; the prawn kebabs were average with the sauce just spread on like peanut butter, but the pork kebabs were good, although others disagreed with me. We had goat and roast leg of lamb for main dishes. Bother were good, but I expect something surprising from Tom Douglas.

The service was mediocre, it took us 10 minutes after sitting down and three attendant visits to get a drink order. I had a manhattan but they made a “perfect manhattan” (half sweet, half dry vermouth), not what I ordered, because I don’t like the dry vermouth. Bartenders should all know how to make manhattans, IMO. We ordered the little yeast doughnuts for dessert, but they weren’t as good as the doughnuts Dahlia Lounge serves. And their dessert menu did not have baklava, a staple of Greek desserts that even Americans like, and it had appertifs, but didn’t list ouzo.

The decor is typical Seattle, but poor lighting (Gay & I were bathed in light, our friends were in the dark) and it is a very loud room. It was a struggle to hear our waiter or our friends over the room noise. But we think Tom Douglas realizes this… when we were there for lunch weeks earlier we sat at the bar right next to Tom Douglas and apparent business associates and they were discussing solutions to the noise problem.

Cost: $200 for four people, including a ($35) bottle of wine, one round of drinks, 2 appetizers, 2 main dishes, coffee and one dessert. Seems pricey. If I’m going to spend that much for dinner, I’d just assume go to Dahlia Lounge.


China Airlines menu

I can select the meals I want on our China Airlines flight _now_. And it looks good, especially for an airline. I can’t believe I’m looking forward to an airline meal, but I’ve read good things about the food. I’ve also read that their “wine selection is good”: — on an airplane! Selecting your meal days before your flight sounds like a great service, but really, I can’t tell you what I’ll want for dinner tonight, much less on Wednesday.

China Airlines menu

Note the message at the bottom: “…have not used your computer for a while”. I use it every day! 🙂

The “meal photos”: of the Business class (what we’re flying, hey, it’s our honeymoon and this flight is 14 hours!) look better than most Seattle restaurants. Is that brandy in that glass???

And “the lounge”: at the Taipei airport looks pretty sweet. Wi-Fi internet, noodle bar, plasma screens, shower facilities; sounds better than home. 🙂

Bali Honeymoon

On Tuesday night, we’re leaving Seattle on “China Airlines”:, heading to Taipei for a three-hour layover and on to Denpasar on Bali. Gay did all the travel reservations and I was out of the loop for the details like airlines, flight times, etc. But now that it’s coming up and because the flight from Seattle to Taipei is 14 hours, I started researching the airline to see how good the service is. Bad idea. Especially for someone who doesn’t like to fly.

Thanks to “”:, I quickly learned that China Airlines (CAL) has had a “_terrible_ safety record”:, the 6th least-safe airline in the world. In fact, of all the airlines in the world that have flown more than 750,000 flights, CAL, which flies 900,000 flights per year, is the least-safe airline in the world. They are three times more dangerous than North American and European airlines.

They’ve had four fatal crashes in the last 10 years: 1994, 1998, 1999 and 2002. The first three crashes were all due to pilot error. In “1994”:, “1998”: and “1999”: the pilots simply crashed while landing. The 1999 you may remember as the one where the plane ended up upside down but, miraculously, only three of the passengers were killed.

The 2002 crash was caused by an explosion in the fuel tank, the same thing that happened on “TWA Flight 800”: in 1996 off the coast of New York. Apparently, airlines typically kept the center fuel tank only partially filled to save money on fuel (lighter plane equals less fuel consumption) on shorter flights that required less fuel. A “bug” in the 747 causes a short in the electrical system to explode the tank, which obviously doesn’t end well. Boeing recommended against this practice of partially-filling the center tank after the 1996 TWA 800 crash, but China Airlines ignored this, causing the tragedy. Fortunately, we are flying the 747 on the long flight from Taipei to San Francisco, so they should have all tanks full.

Why so many problems? The airline is 71% owned by the Taiwanese government, which is usually a bad idea, and appears to be the root of their safety troubles, i.e., bureaucracy, no commercial need to change, etc. The government is “trying to make the airline more private”: and did take steps in 1999, after two crashes, to improve its safety procedures by hiring Lufthansa to help. They didn’t follow Lufthansa’s recommendations and had their latest fatal accident in 2002 that was caused by the same problem that caused the November 2001 crash in New York and _after_ Boeing made formal recommendations to airlines to avoid this problem.

All of these recent accidents were caused by admittedly poor standards and procedures that China, the country, is “trying to solve”: So the question is: is China Airlines improving? No way to know, apparently, but “they set a record”: in safety recently. And China Airlines increases the number of passengers by 15% per year, which makes them the fastest-growing airline in the world.

And if you discount the 2002 crash and assume that this well-known problem with 747s can be easily-avoided, China Airlines may not be a cause of concern today. Of course, this is only if we can believe that they have better-trained pilots, have better maintenance practices and follow the proper safety procedures. The FAA seems to think things are much better today for the airlines of China. And “Epinions reviews”: are favorable. So if things within China Airlines’ control are handled properly, that leaves freak accidents or malfunctions in the planes. So what about the planes?

We’re flying an Airbus A340 to Taipei, an Airbus A300 to Denpasar, an Airbus A300 back to Taipei, a 747 to San Francisco and a 737 to Seattle. The good news is that “the A340 has never had a fatality”: It’s a “new aircraft”:, introduced in 1993, so all the planes are young for aircraft which is reassuring. And it is a popular plane so it has been getting tested in real-world use.

The Airbus A300 has had “nine events since 1976”: but three of those are hijackings and one was accidentally “shot down”: by the US Navy in 1988. So that leaves five A300 crashes to be concerned with. Four of those (including a China Airlines flight) were caused by pilot error. But the American Airlines crash in New York in November 2001 was apparently a mechanical problem. The plane took off too closely behind another plane and the rudder malfunctioned in its wake and it crashed into a Brooklyn neighborhood.

The Boeing “747”: and “737”: both have quite a few “events” in their histories. In fact, the 737 is Boeing’s most dangerous plane. But it’s also a very popular plane.

Anyway…. I’m not terribly happy that we’re going to a country with a “State Department Travel Warning”: about it and I’m not happy that we’re flying on an airline with a poor safety record. But I am looking forward to the first vacation we’ve had in a loooong time.

Worse than Vietnam

Sidney Blumenthal has a great piece in The Guardian which includes many quotes from US military’s leading strategists and prominent retired generals who all consider the Iraq war lost.
“I see no exit,” said Record (professor of strategy at the Air War College). “We’ve been down that road before. It’s called Vietnamisation. The idea that we’re going to have an Iraqi force trained to defeat an enemy we can’t defeat stretches the imagination. They will be tainted by their very association with the foreign occupier. In fact, we had more time and money in state building in Vietnam than in Iraq.”
Retired general William Odom, former head of the National Security Agency: “I’ve never seen it so bad between the office of the secretary of defence and the military. There’s a significant majority believing this is a disaster. The two parties whose interests have been advanced have been the Iranians and al-Qaida. Bin Laden could argue with some cogency that our going into Iraq was the equivalent of the Germans in Stalingrad. They defeated themselves by pouring more in there. Tragic.”