Sunday, November 24, 2013

Flight Risk

Some years back, the airline industry came to a startling conclusion: They held the traveling public hostage. The service they provided offered the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B and there was no one in second place.
So to improve their economic bottom line, they began to systematically dump basic amenities along with courtesy and comfort. So what if people complained? Are they going to drive from Los Angeles to New York in five hours?
Thus, air travel became the  cattle drive that we loathe today.
It’s hard to imagine it could get worse. Then, these developments last week.
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days at the airport. On average, airlines across the country see a passenger increase that day of up to 259 percent, according to a new study conducted by the U.S. Travel Association.
But soon, the increased volume of travelers seen around the holidays could become more of an everyday occurrence, the study found. To be exact, within a mere five years, 24 of the top 30 U.S. airports will experience passenger levels that they usually only see on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
“Every projection holds that the demand for travel will continue to dramatically rise,” U.S. Travel President and CEO Roger Dow said in a news release. “But that rising demand will be stifled without a significant effort to modernize infrastructure.”
If that is true, get ready to arrive at the airport five hours before takeoff to avoid nightmarish traffic jams. Be prepared for security lines that make today’s TSA checkpoints look like a supermarket express lane. Overbooked flights will be commonplace. So will lost luggage. And the relative mental health of your fellow travelers will be dark if not downright hostile.
Surely, this is as bad as it gets. But no. Now, the nation’s top telecom regulator will propose allowing passengers to make cell phone calls and use their data plans while on an airplane.
The proposed rule change by the Federal Communications Commission would allow phone use once a plane reaches 10,000 feet, according to a story in the Washington Post.   Restrictions would still be in place during takeoffs and landings.
The agency’s commission is set to discuss the proposal in their upcoming December meeting. According to the Post story, the new rule has the backing of Tom Wheeler, the FCC’s new chairman, who was sworn in just weeks ago.
So let me understand this: After clawing your way onto the airplane and getting stuffed into sardine class, you face the daunting prospect of facing hours being bombarded with cell phone conversations bouncing around the cabin like so many ping pong balls. If you’re stuck in a middle seat, you could be listening to a guy arguing with his wife on one side while the passenger on your right discusses his roofing business inventory.
Mix in a few cocktails and you have a mixture more volatile than jet fuel.
This is a bad idea on so many levels.
For example, mounting evidence suggests that the habits encouraged by mobile technology — namely, talking in public to someone who is not there — are tailor made for hijacking the cognitive functions of bystanders.
One reason, said Veronica V. Galván, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of San Diego, is the brain’s desire to fill in the blanks.
“If you only hear one person speaking, you’re constantly trying to place that part of the conversation in context,” Dr. Galván said. “That’s naturally going to draw your attention away from whatever else you’re trying to do.”
It is also a control thing, Dr. Galván and her colleagues said. When people are trapped next to a one-sided conversation — known nowadays as a “halfalogue” — their anger rises in the same way it does in other situations where they are not free to leave. Like trapped on an airplane.
Author Dave Barry has an ever better take: A study by researchers at the University of Utah proves what many people have long suspected. Everyone talking on a cell phone, except you, is a moron.
To underscore the problem, we leave you with the following “halfalogue” recently reported on social media. Your job is to imagine what the other half of the conversation was:
“I woke up this morning on the beach, without my pants.”
“I don’t know.”
“Nah, I’m on my way to work now.”
This conversation could soon be coming to a seat near you.   Happy landings.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Skins Game

It wasn’t that long ago that a wave of political correctness swept over the country, causing spasms of guilt at every college and university nicknamed the Indians or Braves or Warriors.
It was, we were told, a harmful form of ethnic stereotyping that should be eliminated.
Chancellors and athletic directors moved quickly to wipe out every offending name even though the intent of identifying a team with Native Americans was not mockery but a tribute to their bravery and dignity.
Never mind a 2005 Washington Post article that argued a large majority of Native Americans are not at all offended by “Indian” mascots and that many are proud of the mascot names.
The American Psychological Association saw it differently. Its members issued a resolution “Recommending the Immediate Retirement of American Indian Mascots, Symbols, Images, and Personalities by Schools, Colleges, Universities, Athletic Teams, and Organizations due to the harm done by creating a hostile environment, the negative impact on the self-esteem of American Indian children, and is discrimination that may violate civil rights.”
So the Stanford Indians became the Cardinal (although Robber Barons would have been more appropriate). The Marquette Warriors became the Golden Eagles. The St. John’s University Red Men became the Red Storm. The College of William and Mary changed from Indians to The Tribe, but was chastised because its logo contained two feathers.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania was forced to change its name from Indians to Crimson Hawks. The school gets its name from the city of Indiana in which it is located. Indiana, of course, means land of the Indians. So exactly what was accomplished here?
In the meantime, Central Michigan University (Chippewas), Florida State University (Seminoles), Mississippi College (Choctaws) and University of Utah (Utes) were granted waivers to retain their nicknames after gaining support from those respective tribes. Meaning money trumps a real or imagined assault on one’s dignity.
The reason we are rehashing all of this is because the war on inappropriate ethnic representations rages on. This time the Washington Redskins of the National Football League are the target.
And this time, I’m on board. If I owned a sports franchise, I would no more call the team the Redskins than I would name it the Savages, Slaves or Wetbacks. Imagine what the reaction would be if Washington was awarded a franchise now, in 2013, and decided to call it the Redskins. The hue and cry would be deafening.
Dan Snyder, who owns the Skins, defends the name thus: “Our franchise has a great history, tradition and legacy representing our proud alumni and literally tens of millions of loyal fans worldwide,” Snyder wrote. “We are proud of our team and the passion of our loyal fans ... They speak proudly of ‘Redskins Nation’ in honor of a sports team they love.”
Yet, in the very same city, the owner of the NBA Washington Bullets changed the name of the franchise to Wizards out of a concern for the violent overtones in the original name.
There’s little reason to get misty eyed over the history of the Redskins. The original owner was George Preston Marshal, who ran the franchise from 1932 to 1969. Whatever else he may have accomplished, his reputation as a racist is what many remember. As late as 1962, Marshal refused to have African-Americans on his team. “We’ll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites,” he once remarked.
Finally, Interior Secretary Stewart Udall and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy issued an ultimatum — unless Marshall signed a black player, the government would revoke the Redskins’ 30-year lease on the year-old D.C. Stadium (now Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium), which had been paid for by government money. Marshal relented.
When he died in 1969, he bequeathed $6 million to the George Preston Marshall Foundation that serves the interests of children in the Washington, D.C., area. The gift had the qualification that none of it could be used “for any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration.”
Since Marshall is long since dead (strangely enough, he is buried at a site in West Virginia called the Indian Mound Cemetery), his unfortunate legacy should die as well.
We’re not talking about rewriting the Tax Code here. We’re just changing a name. Let your imaginations run free.
In keeping with the current atmosphere in Washington, we could call the team the Bureaucrats, or the Do Nothings, or the Spendthrifts, the Fillibusterers, Gridlockers or Can Kickers. Better yet, the Partisans.
In a more serious vein, my choice would be the Warriors. This not only honors the men and women who have fought and died for this country but acknowledges the bravery of the American Indians who fought to preserve their lands.
Anything but the Redskins. It’s not a racial reference, it’s a slur.