Saturday, July 21, 2007

That's the Ticket: Serenity Now, Dammit!

Lucky Lula with his sporty sash and patriotic lapel flag-pin

Jon Lovitz's Saturday Night Live character Tommy Flanagan (pronounced "Fla-NAY-gan") followed each chronic lie with the exclamation: "Yeah ... that's the ticket!"

Oct. 1, 2006, was election day in Brazil. Anti-Americanism, always simmering below the surface, had bubbled up in a rage.

Two days earlier, 154 people on a Brazilian airliner had died in the Amazon after a mid-air collision with an American private jet flown by two American pilots.

Through some extraordinarily fickle toss of fate, all seven on the private jet survived.

Within a day after the Sept. 29 disaster, politicians and the Brazilian military, along with their Amen Chorus in the media, were blaming the Americans as the election fast approached.

Emotion was heated.

Never mind that both airplanes had been put on a collision course at 37,000 feet by Brazilian air traffic control, or that it was already well-known that, through a combination of lassitude and corruption, Brazil's air trafic control system (run by the military, of course) was broken down, both in personnel and equipment.

Radar and radio dead zones over the Amazon? Controllers asleep at the switch? Hah! A slander by the Americans to avoid accepting the blame for the accident -- blame that, by election day, and even as bodies were still being carried out from the remote jungle, was already firmly assigned to the American pilots.

Lucky Lula -- Luis Inacio Lula da Silva -- managed to squeek into a run-off election, and later was re-elected President. Many observers thought that the deftly manipulated emotion surrounding the Sept. 29 accident (which still runs high) was the reason he slid back into office.

Now we have a new tragic disaster in the same broken-down aviation system, which has been in a state of chaos since Sept. 29. Two hundred more are dead in a plane crash, bringing the total death toll for two aviation disasters in the last 10 months to over 350.

Finally Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, three days silent after the new disaster, roused himself to speak to his nation.

The real problem, Lucky Lula told the people, is that Congonhas Airport, South America's busiest airport, located in the congested center of São Paulo city, where the Tuesday disaster occurred, is in the wrong place.

And so a new airport, said Lucky Lula, shall be built!

Cue the crowd roar! Hurrah for Lucky Lula, master builder!

Now, Lucky Lula -- perhaps under the rhetorical influence of his sometime-buddy George ("I Like Starting Wars But I Avoided Serving in One Myself") Bush -- had no details to offer on when this marvelous feat might be accomplished. It takes at least a decade, as a rule, to build a big airport, assuming a competent effort is undertaken. Nor did Lucky Lula suggest how much this new marvel of first-world aviation would cost (counting what inevitably will be stolen).

Maybe George Bush, himself tragically unable to employ cheap anti-American sentiment to boost himself in the polls, should get an emerald-and-gold sash just like that soignee number Lucky Lula sometimes sports. (By the way, it does take a degree of fashion-daring for a democratically elected president to accessorize himself with a gaudy gold sash, looking like some Generalissimo of the School Safety Patrol, in a country that was ruled by a strutting, ribbon-bedecked military dictatorship just 22 years ago).

Perhaps under the cognitive influence of his sometime-friend up north, Lucky Lula further proclaimed that, other than the tiny problem of Congonhas Airport being located in a place where landing aircraft practically brush people's apartment terraces, everything else is honky-dory! There are no systemic aviation problems! Do not believe what you read and hear in the 'reality-based world'!

"The safety level of our air system is compatible with all the international standards. We cannot lose sight of this," Lucky Lula said, despite all evidence in the universe to the contrary.

In his television address, Lucky Lula also called on Brazilians to remain "serene, so as not to commit injustices."

Meanwhile, we've also heard from the bumbling Defense Minister, Waldir Pires, whose department is in charge of air traffic control and who was among the first in the rush to scapegoat the American pilots after Sept. 29 (remember his crazy-old-coot accusation that they were performing acrobatics and other "aerial maneuvers" over the Amazon skies?)? Here is what Wonderful Waldir had to say after the most recent aviation disaster on his watch (you know, the one that did not have any Americans to blame:)

"It's a moment for caution, and until the results of the investigation are known, it's better to maintain sobriety and avoid quick judgments."

Yeah ... that's the ticket!



RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) - An unexplained two-hour outage at a radar facility in the Amazon forced at least four American Airlines flights from the U.S. heading to Brazil to return to Miami International airport early Saturday. ... An official with Brazil's national airport authority, Infraero, confirmed that radar under the command of the Cindacta-4 radar center headquartered in the Amazon city of Manaus went down ... "It's true, some flights were sent back to their point of origin at that time,'' [the official] said.

[My note, according to, American has seven flights into Guarhulhos International Airport in Sao Paulo today. Four were turned back, and the other three haven't been tracked yet. Delta Air Lines has four flights into Guarhulhos, two of which have already been cancelled.]


[Thanks, by the way, to several readers who sent me tips on how to fix the new Blogger glitch that wasn't allowing spaces between paragraphs. You hold down "Shift" and hit "Enter" twice at the end of each paragraph]


Cassandra_Moderna said...

No one expected him to tell the truth anyway.

PATRICIA M. said...

Joe, perrrrfect! You got the point here. The whole air traffic system in Brazil is wonderful. The machinery we have, the people we have, the infrastructure: everything first world class!

(oh well, forget the fact that the air controllers DO NOT speak ENGLISH, haha, they are patriotic men who refuse to speak that imperial language)

Now, what have they done to CONGONHAS during last year? Do you know that, Mr Sharkey? I tell you: they have built a shopping center out of it. They put money down to build convenience stores, to make it more shiny and beautiful to our dear air passengers. In 2 words: MAKE UP, they did some make up in the airport. The runway? Unfinished, as we've seen...

Isn't that cool, Mr Sharkey? Now, let's tell the world about it.

Joana said...

This is no joke. Lula is ridiculous. I have no idea what went through people's heads to re-elect him or to even vote for him in the first place. I actually feel the same about Bush - From what he said, you can be sure nothing will be done in his government. I really hope Aecio gets elected to be the president next election. Maybe somethings will change. So disappointing...

Joana said...

Lula and Bush should just hold hands and disappear (Although I would love for Cheney to go with them). Nothing will get done under his government about this. So sad.

wondering ego said...

This is a good one, Joe!
But you have to prove that the current status of the ATC is due to corruption, as you say in many posts. I haven't seen any evidence on that, but it may be due to mismanagement, plain incompetence. Thats why WW must go.

Concerning Brazil being a "thin-skinned country where politics are inexorably tied to public emotion". This is good and right! BUT currently, in the US is THE SAME, and your people and your politics are DOING MUCH DAMAGE TO the world safety and peace, then ANYONE and ANY COUNTRY. Of course you americans like to blame the pathetic SADDAM, or IRAN or NORTH KOREA, now that Russia is not such a threat, etc. So open up your eyes!

Marcelo said...

Although we all have our different thoughts about the politics running our country, air traffic safety should not be mixed with Brazil's politic system. That part does not make sense. I believe Lula gets involved just because He sees so much incompetence on the airline business that He wants to help.

As far as jumping into a conclusion, that does not seem to be happening. Although some specialists and ex pilots go to TV shows to talk about the accident, no one that is really involved with the investigation has said anything yet. This type of discussion is just to get TV audience and it is happening in US too (CNN). I am not sure about how much Portuguese you speak but we may have some translation issues here.

The point you need to emphasize in your blog is how the air line business is run in Brazil. Needless to say that we have successful companies but there is still a huge gap between the way some industries work in US if compared with those of other countries - not only Brazil. We can see a considerable amount of amateurism in this business believe me or not. For those who watched TV last Thursday, you may have seen a company VP speaking about �reporte� as a reference to report with Portuguese pronunciation. He did not pronounce the English word correctly. In fact He should have said the freaking word Portuguese. This is not about how much English is around everyone�s life. This is about a VP that needs to send a clear and correct message to all Brazilian citizens through the most popular TV channel in Brazil.

The amateurism used to handle a situation like this (Air Traffic Control) may explain why more and more people do crazy things to study business in the US. This is just ridiculous and we should not have to lose so many lives to change what�s wrong. In certain business, we just can�t be in the reactive motive.

WestEdge said...

"This is good and right! BUT currently, in the US is THE SAME, and your people and your politics are DOING MUCH DAMAGE TO the world"

Hey - people of Brazil ... This may come as a surprise to you but 90% of Americans are all too aware that our own country is F**ked up! Those who think that we criticize officials in Brazil while we sit around thinking our government and system great are living in a dream world.

Yes we have killed over 700,000 Iraqis and spent ourselves into virtual bankruptcy. But that is not Joe Sharkey's 'Department'. His department is 'Air Travel'. If you want to talk about Iraq go to or .

Marcelo said...

Urgent News... The black boxes that were brought to US for technical examination were not really the black boxes. What??Apparently they were just parts of the airplane. Two high ranked militars from Brazil ended up going to US for what? That's the inconpetence I talked about in my last post!

Some used to say that in Brazil we don't have extreme groups like we see in some parts of the easter Europe, we don't have weather issues like we see in US and we are not involved in any war activity. So what???

The inconpetence kills the country's potential to be the biggest nation in the world!


PATRICIA M. said...


"I believe Lula gets involved just because He sees so much incompetence on the airline business that He wants to help."

Does he want to help? Oh really? Why hasn't he done anything since Sep 2006? He did not even dismiss Waldir Pires. Everything was left as it was, since the crash. To blame just the companies is to be really naive about the huge problems we have in Brazil. Problems that need government intervention.

Rod said...

I hate the brazilian government. I'm a flight attendant afraid to fly. 22 years old away from working under psychiatric orientation. Nice, isn't it? That's Brazil. I totally agree with you.

Carlos said...

It is indeed quite amazing to see that 100% (ok, 99%) of the bloggers here are Brazilians discussing these problems in English. Meanwhile, there is absolutely NO messages in the American blog. Since this is a problem that affects thousands of Americans who travel to Brazil every year, I wonder why there are no Americans discussing things in this blog. Just one more OBVIOUS thing (and I hope I won't be censored at this time, but anyways...): nowadays, ANY international matter related to anything (security, economy, politics, health, etc) MUST have the participation of European countries. As a Brazilian, I WELCOME any criticism (as strong as it may be) from the European Nations. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the Americans. This attitude is not a personal opinion, it is actually based on FACTS. I live in the US, I work in the US, I am housing an American in my apartment for free, I have many American friends, I am not against Americans. I am just pointing out FACTS. Facts that cleary show that, due to recent international events, Americans have little or NO authority over important matters around the planet. Any Federal organism in the US is questionable. And this is not ANTI-americanism. This is not hostility. Can't you separate things???This is based on facts (and lies told to millions of people worldwide by the actual American administration).

Cláudio said...

Westedege, so I'm sorry to say: 90% of americans are stupid and ignorant. You guys that go crazy saying that "US is F**ked up" should take a deep look at poorer countries. People DIE trying to cross the US frontiers to work in underpaid jobs. This has to mean anything, don't you think?

Regarding the US position in the international scenario, one thing you all have to have in mind: a lot of people in the third world hate your country and always HAVE HATED simply because you are the living proof of the success of capitalism (this is not a natural feeling. It has been introduced in our youth's minds by socialist teachers and intelectuals. That's why as much formal education people have as much they despise US.). Antagonism to USA did not start with Bush administration and will not end when (IF) a Democrat goes to White House. Basically for us the rule of thumb is: "US is the devil! No matter what."

Cassandra_Moderna said...

Excuse me, Sr. Carlos, but the last time I looked, I was born and raised in the U.S., and my parents were both Americans, so I guess that makes me an American. Last year, it crossed my mind to apply for Brazilian citizenship so that I could vote here (I had already done campaign work for an honest politician - there are one or two of them around still), but then the Gol tragedy occurred and the pilots were nearly lynched, and that kind of made me step back and think about it a bit more. I have spent 19 of my 52 years in other countries, but I have never seen hysteria like that which occurs here. It really is time for the world to stop blaming the U.S. for all of their own problems. Sure, I am no fan of Bush. I think he is probably the worst thing that could ever have happened at this crucial point in our communal history.

But, I am writing not to argue with the other writers here. I am very curious about a technical matter, and I am hoping that Mr. Sharkey can shed some light on the subject or provide links to information on this particular subject, which is that both TAM and the Aeronautica are saying that it is not essential for the reversers on the engines to work in order to land. I have flown a lot, and I can never remember not hearing the loud roaring of the reversed engines upon landing. On Thursday, the head of the Center for the Investigation and Prevention of Accidents, Brig. Jorge Kersul Filho, said that "the reverser is a gift to the pilot." Mr. Sharkey, can you give us some information on this please?

Hilton said...

although the situation is tragic I must say your commentary on lucky Lula was funny.
Keep on making pressure, the common sense must preveil after all this circus.

Carlos said...

A brief addendum: I protest against the image of Carmem Miranda and the phrase "My business is bananas". That's, to say the least, bad taste from the part of Joe Sharkey. In a moment of so much distress, this kind of irony is unacceptable, specially coming from professional journalists. (I hope this message won't be censored).

jogoliveira said...

Joe Sharkey,

Discrimination. That's what's been happening with the two american pilots here in Brazil. But why americans have been discriminated? What have americans done worldwide?
Maybe you should reflect about that and you might find the answer for the discrimination of your countryman.