Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Interlocker is Out

News item (

Jul 2, 2009 11:11 am US/Central

Computer Glitch Traps United Flights At O'Hare

All United Air Traffic Stops For Much Of Morning

A computer glitch kept United Airlines planes at the gate at O'Hare International Airport early Thursday. Just in time for the mad rush of travelers headed out for the 4th of July weekend, a computer problem has made it so United Airlines flights cannot leave O'Hare International Airport.

...For most of the morning, one glance at the departure board told you all was not well as United. Rather than "on time," or "delayed," many flight status messages read "computer failure."

Passengers arriving at O'Hare thought the long lines were because of holiday travel. It was actually because the computer glitch, which started at 1:30 a.m., meant they all had to be checked in by hand.

By 9 a.m., hundreds, if not thousands, of passengers, were lined up waiting for news on their flights.

If any of you noticed, this bears an eerie similarity to a modern version of a scene near the end of Atlas Shrugged, when Dagny Taggart, Operating Vice President for Taggart Transcontintental Railroad, has been called to a meeting of top people in government with a handful of "leading businessmen" and "humanitarians", to solve the crisis of the country’s rapid economic collapse.

The six men in formal dinner jackets, facing her about the table, were Wesley Mouch, Eugene Lawson, Dr. Floyd Ferris, Clem Weatherby, James Taggart and Cuffy Meigs.

...She felt certain that she had no chance...

The men before her are remarkably like our own leaders.

"As, I think, you will concede, Miss Taggart, there now seems to be no economic justification for the continued existence of a railroad line in Minnesota, which..."

"...even Miss Taggart will, I'm sure, agree that certain temporary retrenchments seem to be indicated, until..."

"Nobody, not even Miss Taggart, will deny that there are times when it is necessary to sacrifice the parts for the sake of the whole..."

Sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice. The drone of their mental functioning.

...It was not an attempt to delude her into believing that they were consulting her, but worse: an attempt to delude themselves into believing that she had agreed. ...They seemed to want her approval, without having to know whether she approved or not.

Not unlike the TARP, with the sub-text of a mafia enforcer, “Take our help, or we’ll break your kneecaps.”

...She regretted that she was dressed as she was. "It's formal," Jim had told her, "but don't overdo it... what I mean is, don't look too rich...”

Don’t let the press know you’re flying a corporate jet to Washington, for damn sure.

“ people should avoid any appearance of arrogance these days... not that you should look shabby, but if you could just seem to suggest... well, humility... it would please them, you know, it would make them feel big."

Recall those auto executives on their knees before Congress? Broken kneecaps and all.

"It's a great responsibility," said Eugene Lawson, "to hold the decision of life or death over thousands of people and to sacrifice them when necessary, but we mast have the courage to do it." His soft lips seemed to twist into a smile.

A dirty job, best done by someone with compassion oozing from every pore.

"The only factors to consider are land acreage and population figures," said Dr. Ferris in a statistical voice, blowing smoke rings at the ceiling. "Since it is no longer possible to maintain both the Minnesota Line and the transcontinental traffic of this railroad, the choice is between Minnesota and those states west of the Rockies which were cut off by the failure of the Taggart Tunnel...”

Or the banking system.

“ well as the neighboring states of Montana, Idaho, Oregon, which means, practically speaking, the whole of the Northwest. When you compute the acreage and the number of heads in both areas, it's obvious that we should scuttle Minnesota rather than give up our lines of communication over a third of a continent."

Pretend what’s being “scuttled” is the thousands of automobile dealerships ordered closed by Obama’s “Car Czar”. Think of the sacrifice of businesses built up over decades, who suddenly had their net worth reduced to zero at the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen – for no reason other than to sacrifice them. Why? To preserve the remaining dealerships. Which ones? Who gets to live and who gets to die? Ask Washington.

Obama’s communiques seem to run though ABC News these days, and that brings up another parallel. “It’s obvious that we should scuttle Grandma rather than give up little Suzy over a third of the continent.” Who will get a transplant and who won’t? Who will get a cancer treatment and who won’t? Who will get a broken kneecap set and who won’t? Ask the car dealers.

"I won't give up the continent," said Wesley Mouch, staring down at his dish of ice cream, his voice hurt and stubborn.

It’s not so much concern for Grandma as it is about relinquishing a feifdom.

[Dagny] noticed that Clem Weatherby, their technical expert on railroads, was the man of least influence among them, and Cuffy Meigs [the explicit thug of this group – think ‘Rahm Emanuel’] --of most.

... Meigs sat sprawled in his chair, with a look of patronizing tolerance.... She noticed that neither Jim nor Mouch resented it. They seemed to welcome the authority of his assurance; they were accepting him as their master.

Jim Taggart and the CEOs of every major corporation in America today.

"We have to be practical," Dr. Ferris kept saying. "We have to be scientific."

"I need the economy of the country as a whole," Wesley Mouch kept repeating. "I need the production of a nation."

In our own morality play, Ferris can best be represented by James Hansen, the NASA global warming alarmist, and Wesley Mouch is some kind of two-headed siamese twin combining Economic “Czars” Tim Geithner and Ben “Helicopter” Bernanke. (You can’t make this stuff up... he once said that if he had to throw money out of a helicopter to save the economy, he would. Welcomd to the New World Order.)

It was no use. [Dagny] said it as many times, with as many details, statistics, figures, proofs, as she could force out of her weary mind into their evasive hearing. It was no use. They neither refuted nor agreed; they merely looked as if her arguments were beside the point.

Kind of how I feel all too often these days. Seen anybody from industry today being consulted in D.C. these days? They go to D.C., alright— but for only two things: orders and favors.

"There's trouble in California," said Wesley Mouch sullenly. "Their state legislature's been acting pretty huffy. There's talk of seceding from the Union."

Actually, that’s closer to the truth than most people realize. Today there’s talk of asking for federal money to bail them out; if they don’t get it they’ll have to print their own money. Think about it. You need your own treasury for that.

"Oregon is overrun by gangs of deserters," said Clem Weatherby cautiously. "They murdered two tax collectors within the last three months."

Good for Oregon. Ever see an old movie “The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming”? Actually, just another Hollywood whitewash to make us realize that “communists are people, too!”, but the title is appropos here: The Tax Collectors are Coming, The Tax Collectors are Coming! And the response of any good Turtle applies: You bet your sweet ass they are.

(Turtles are a much more interesting secret society than those damned do-gooding whirly-gigs, the Rotarians — or the oh-so appropriately named “Skull and Bones”, the elite group that brings together such like-minded people as John Kerry and George Bush, who camp together under the starlight, wearing togas in front of the campfire and talking about really important matters affecting the fate of nations and free peoples. Really. Look it up.)

"The importance of industry to a civilization has been grossly overemphasized," said Dr. Ferris dreamily...

Who needs money for investing in industry? Who needs industry? We’ve got to keep the creaking engine of government clunking along so that old jalopy can run us all over.

"...What is now known as the People's State of India has existed for centuries without any industrial development whatever."

"People could do with fewer material gadgets and a sterner discipline of privations," said Eugene Lawson eagerly. "It would be good for them."

A little more of that gruel that feeds the soul till you reach the Nirvana of starvation.

"Oh hell, are you going to let that dame talk you into letting the richest country on earth slip through your fingers?" said Cuffy Meigs, leaping to his feet. "It's a fine time to give up a whole continent—and in exchange for what? For a dinky little state that's milked dry, anyway! I say ditch Minnesota...”

Me, too, ever since yesterday, when their Supreme Court allowed a communist weasel like Al Franken to steal an election with thousands of manufactured votes that appeared magically after he lost. Of such things do filibuster-proof majorities and the fate of the world hang.

“...but hold onto your transcontinental dragnet. With trouble and riots everywhere, you won't be able to keep people in line unless you have transportation—troop transportation—unless you hold your soldiers within a few days' journey of any point on the continent. This is no time to retrench. Don't get yellow, listening to all that talk. You've got the country in your pocket. Just keep it there."

I would say that this exactly describes the attitude of White House Chief of Staff Emanuel. And don’t allow those Tea Parties to develop into anything threatening.

"In the long run—" Mouch started uncertainly.

"In the long run, we'll all be dead," snapped Cuffy Meigs. He was pacing restlessly. "Retrenching, hell! There's plenty of pickings left in California and Oregon and all those places. What I've been thinking is, we ought to think of expanding—the way things are, there's nobody to stop us, it's there for the taking—Mexico, and Canada maybe—it ought to be a cinch."

Maybe even Honduras, too. Welcome to the New World.

Then she saw ...the secret premise behind their words. With all of their noisy devotion to the age of science, their hysterically technological jargon, their cyclotrons, their sound rays, [their I-pods and blackberries and I-phones and notebook computers,] these men were moved forward, not by the image of an industrial skyline, but by the vision of that form of existence which the industrialists had swept away—the vision of a fat, unhygienic rajah of India, with vacant eyes staring in indolent stupor out of stagnant layers of flesh, with nothing to do but run precious gems through his fingers and, once in a while, stick a knife into the body of a starved, toil-dazed, germ-eaten creature [emphasis mine], as a claim to a few grains of the creature's rice, then claim it from hundreds of millions of such creatures and thus let the rice grains gather into gems.

There’s the real nature of Obama’s “evil eye” – not the scowl referred to by Matt Drudge the other day: the indolent stare of a man who feels entitled to rule you, who feels he’s entitled to decide the fate of your life, who feels entitled to collect your life’s effort to support him in riches.

....what these men knew in their secret, furtive souls... that so long as men struggle to stay alive, they'll never produce so little but that the man with the club won't be able to seize it and leave them still less, provided millions of them are willing to submit—that the harder their work and the less their gain, the more submissive the fiber of their spirit—that men who live by pulling levers at an electric switchboard, are not easily ruled, but men who live by digging the soil with their naked fingers, are... [emphasis mine]....

You have to think hard about this one: the people now in control of Washington do not want us pulling the levers of an electric switchboard or anything else that requires us to think for ourselves in any way whatsoever—they want us digging in the dirt.

She saw what they wanted and to what goal their "instincts," which they called unaccountable, were leading them. She saw that Eugene Lawson, the humanitarian, took pleasure at the prospect of human starvation—and Dr. Ferris, the scientist, was dreaming of the day when men would return to the hand-plow.

This is exactly the kind of men leading our country right now.

Incredulity and indifference were her only reaction: incredulity, because she could not conceive of what would bring human beings to such a state—indifference, because she could not regard those who reached it, as human any longer.

Ayn Rand is admirably correct in this analysis: the people in Washington, the humanitarians who claim to want to help the “little guy”, are mercilessly punishing the producers in their quest to “help” the needy and save the planet and humble America before the world. They have renounced any claim to the title of “Man” or the connection to “human”.

Now I get to the connection to that news story:

"Miss Taggart," said a politely rational, faintly anxious voice—and jerking her head up, she saw the courteous figure of a waiter, "the assistant manager of the Taggart Terminal is on the telephone, requesting permission to speak to you at once. He says it's an emergency."

After the ABC Health Care debatacle, the Cap and Trade Bill, Al Franken’s ascension, and Obama’s abandonment of Honduras and declaration of solidarity with Hugo Chavez and Fidel, the klaxons are going off and the sirens are wailing like another 9/11 has hit us.

... It was a relief to hear the assistant manager's voice... "The interlocker system is out, Miss Taggart. The signals are dead. There are eight incoming trains held up and six outgoing. We can't move them in or out of the tunnels...

Or through the airport.

“...we can't find the chief engineer, we can't locate the breach of the circuit, we have no copper wire for repairs, we don't know what to do!"

"We don't know whom to call for what sort of permission. There are no rules to cover an emergency of this kind. There aren't even any rules about who's to lay down the rules for it!"

In the age of the “Patriot Act” or Sarbanes-Oxley, or TARP or 27 different economic “czars”, no one else does, either.

...she hurried down the passenger platforms, past the huddling, shifting groups of travelers by the motionless trains. She hurried down a narrow catwalk, through a maze of rail, past blinded signals and frozen switches, with nothing but the beat of her satin sandals to fill the great vaults of the underground tunnels of Taggart Transcontinental...

The tower director...understood what she wanted him to do from her first few words... She knew how fully he understood it, from a single glance he threw at her, a glance of indignation and endurance... "Yes, ma'am," he answered woodenly.

...she saw the tower men standing grimly idle [before the broken interlocker].... thousands of electric circuits... an enormous complexity of thought condensed into one movement of a human hand to set and insure the course of a train, that hundreds of trains might safely rush by, that thousands of tons of metal and lives might pass in speeding streaks a breath away from one another, protected by nothing but a thought, the thought of the man who devised the levers. ...

Or the computers of today. Think of those hundreds of inbound and outbound flights that were ground to a halt in Chicago today. When the computers break down, what do you do?

Another parallel can be found in a very old short story by E.M. Forster, “The Machine Stops” ( A story about a world where people live their entire lives in underground rooms, supported by the “machines” which provide them an automatic source of air and food and all other necessities. Only rarely do they leave to take windowless airships to other places, and most human interaction is via devices like computers. The story is an anti-technology screed about what happens when the machines stop (remarkably, it was written in 1909), but for me, it is a good metaphor about what happens when people become completely dependent on the “machine” of government.

"Call all of your unskilled laborers," she said to the assistant manager, "the section hands, trackwalkers, engine wipers, whoever's in the Terminal right now, and have them come here at once."


"Here," she said, pointing at the tracks outside the tower. "Call all your switchmen, too. Phone your storehouse and have them bring here every lantern they can lay their hands on, any sort of lantern, conductors' lanterns, storm lanterns, anything."

"Lanterns, Miss Taggart?"

"Get going."

"Yes, ma'am."

"What is it we're doing, Miss Taggart?" asked the dispatcher.

"We're going to move trains and we're going "to move them manually."

"Manually?" said the signal engineer.

Let’s return again to that news item:

The computer system kept coming up and going down. Agents got in touch with other airports, and checked people in by hand...

Hundreds of flights and tens of thousands of passengers, every one of them checked in by hand. Remember, too, that in an age of almost zero profit margins—the cashing in of regulation, fuel shortages, taxes, unions, and everything else government inspired—United Airlines has been the most aggressive among all the airlines in overbooking flights by sometimes up to 20 or 30 people per flight in order to stay profitable. Can you imagine the complexity of keeping track of all that when your computers break down? No less than Dagny’s interlocker:

"Yes, brother! Now why should you be shocked?" She could not resist it. "Man is only muscles, isn't he? We're going back-back to where there were no interlocking systems, no semaphores, no electricity—back to the time when train signals were not steel and wire, but men holding lanterns...

Or “energy efficient” flourescent light bulbs filled with toxic mercury.

"How will we work the switches, Miss Taggart?"

"By hand."

"And the signals?"

"By hand."


"By placing a man with a lantern at every signal post."

"How? There's not enough clearance."

"We'll use alternate tracks."

I’m just waiting till the approach radars and radio communications break down and we have guys standing at the end of the runway waving flags to guide planes to a landing. Won’t that be fun? But better than Amtrak.

"How will the men know which way to throw the switches?"

"By written orders."


"By written orders—just as in the old days." She pointed to the tower director. "He's working out a schedule of how to move the trains and which tracks to use. He'll write out an. order for every signal and switch, he'll pick some men as runners and they'll keep delivering the orders to every post-and it will take hours to do what used to take minutes, but we'll get those waiting trains into the Terminal and out on the road—"

I have a vision of all those United ticket agents running back and forth passing handwritten notes to each other like hand grenades at the Super Bowl.

"We're to work it that way all night?"

"And all day tomorrow—until the engineer who's got the brains for it, shows you how to repair the interlocker."

Who is John Galt?

...She could barely distinguish the faces of the men when they gathered at the foot of the tower. ...They stood in silence, not with the apprehensive curiosity of workmen, but with the heavy indifference of convicts.

“...The interlocking control system has broken down. It will now be replaced by human labor. Train service will be resumed at once."

Which brings us to the present.

Then she stopped. It was his eyes and hair that she saw first—the ruthlessly perceptive eyes, the streaks of hair shaded from gold to copper that seemed to reflect the glow of sunlight in the murk of the underground—she saw John Galt among the chain gang of the mindless, John Galt in greasy overalls and rolled shirt sleeves, she saw his weightless way of standing, his face held lifted, his eyes looking at her as if he had seen this moment many moments ago.

The man who said he would stop the motor of a world – and did.

Jul 2, 2009 11:11 am US/Central

Computer Glitch Traps United Flights At O'Hare

All United Air Traffic Stops For Much Of Morning


A computer glitch kept United Airlines planes at the gate at O'Hare International Airport early Thursday.

Just in time for the mad rush of travelers headed out for the 4th of July weekend, a computer problem has made it so United Airlines flights cannot leave O'Hare International Airport.

As CBS 2's Ed Curran reports, the computers were back up and running by about 9:45 a.m., but the damage was done.

For most of the morning, one glance at the departure board told you all was not well as United. Rather than "on time," or "delayed," many flight status messages read "computer failure."

Passengers arriving at O'Hare thought the long lines were because of holiday travel. It was actually because the computer glitch, which started at 1:30 a.m., meant they all had to be checked in by hand.

By 9 a.m., hundreds, if not thousands, of passengers, were lined up waiting for news on their flights.

Many passengers didn't have a clue there was anything wrong until they arrived at the terminal.

"I'm wondering why we have all these long lines, and that every single computer check-in is closed," said Mary Hartnett.

Hartnett didn't like the answer. But Mark Majewski, a Las Vegas-bound frequent flyer, took it all in stride after hearing it on TV.

"I heard on your TV station this morning before I left the hotel to come here, that there was some confusion," Majewski said, adding that he would be "about 4 or 5 hours late, but still, nonetheless, we'll be home sometime today."

Nick Forbes got in line at 7 a.m.

"Waited for about an hour and a half, got up there, and they told me the flight's closed," he said.

The computer system kept coming up and going down. Agents got in touch with other airports, and checked people in by hand, or in some instances, with wireless laptops. They also advised passengers to check in at home.

But for a while, even those who succeeded in checking in weren't getting very far. A ground stop program was put into effect for United flights, and none of them left the airport. Flights still arrived.

By around 9:45 a.m., the computers were running again, slowly easing long lines of passengers. It was not clear whether all of the computers were functioning again, but some ticket agents were able to check in passengers, and the self check-in kiosks were working.

The airline said a "travel waiver" has been issued for all flights out of Chicago on Thursday, allowing travelers to reschedule flights online without being charged any additional fee.

United passengers were spotted stranded on the sidewalk in front of Terminal 1 at O'Hare early in the morning.

The statement recommended travelers check in on, then use the Web site to check flight information.

Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Karen Pride said she doesn't know how many flights were affected.

O'Hare is a United hub, and the problems have been causing delays at other U.S. airports.

A greater amount of traffic than usual is expected at the airports this weekend due to the July 4 holiday.

This is not the first time that a computer failure has caused big problems for United Airlines. On June 20, 2007, a similar glitch grounded hundreds of United flights for at least two hours across the country.

That day, the computers that record a plane's weight, balance and fuel failed. United Airlines planes that had just arrived at O'Hare were unable to move off the tarmac because other United jets were stuck at gate after gate, unable to leave Chicago.

It took about two hours to resolve the 2007 incident.