Archive for November, 2010

What We’ve Lost

The Good Old Days

There was a time when taking an airplane flight was a glamorous and special event.  No, I’m not kidding.  People actually dressed up.  Relatives and friends would go to the airport, right up to the gate and see you off.  Inside the aircraft, there was plenty of leg room.  Almost every flight included food service, on real china with real silverware.  I’m not kidding.

When airline travel was in its infancy, the railroad passenger train was the dominant form of intercity travel.

Milwaukee Road "Skytop"

Milwaukee Road Skytop Observation Car

The above example was the rear car of a deluxe train which traveled between Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis / St. Paul.  Imagine twenty other railroads, each with their own distinctive train colors, unique dining car china, signature food and high speed service on privately funded rights of way and you have a picture of what America lost when the passenger train went away.  It is hard to understate the contribution which governments (Federal, State and Local) made to killing the privately operated passenger train.

Popular tastes moved over to the modern passenger airplane.  There were, to be sure, hold-outs.  Most notable was the boulevardier Lucius M. Beebe.  Very much the railroad enthusiast, Beebe refused to fly.  In his salad days as a society reporter for the New York Herald-Tribune, he repeatedly tried to convince the editors to keep a Box Score of airline passenger fatalities on the front page.

In later years, after he had retired to the west coast, his partner, Charles Clegg, convinced him to take a ride in an airplane from Reno to San Francisco.  When the airline discovered that THE Lucius Beebe was taking his first flight on their airline, several company executives rushed out to the airport to see the great man.  A notorious imbiber, Beebe was escorted into the airport bar for a drink prior to his flight.  Regaling the executives with colorful stories, the one drink expanded into several.  Meanwhile, the scheduled flight, on a non-air conditioned prop plane, waited outside on the hot tarmac, well past departure time.

The merry group eventually left the bar and the tipsy Beebe and Clegg climbed the stairs to the plane.  Walking in, Beebe was greeted with the glares of hot and angry passengers.  After one long look, he loudly pronounced: “Get me off this hell-bound cartridge of death” turned around and stumbled back down the stairs.  More than a few of the passengers joined him.  Beebe never flew.

For the rest of America, airplane travel was no longer the harrowing flirtation with death.  It became romantic.  Jet travel enhanced this image even further; Peter, Paul and Mary sang “Leaving on a Jet Plane”.  The airlines competed for business in a variety of interesting ways.  Here, a Braniff Airlines advert:

Braniff Air Lines Advertising

Along the duration of the flight, the stewardesses would have several costume changes prior to arrival.  It should be noted that one joke of the day was that: “If you took all the airplanes in the world and threw them up into the air, the Braniff ones would be the last to come down.

Likewise, Braniff went from staid to bold, decorating their fleet of aircraft in a variety of colorful liveries.

The Old Braniff




In many ways, Braniff set the stage for today’s colorful aircraft, but at the time, there was a certain derision directed toward them.  “Okay, the cute pink Braniff 27 is cleared for takeoff.

Actually, the loss of the term “stewardess” is perhaps the most grievous.  The name was the feminine of the term “steward” (an employee on a ship, airplane, bus or train who manages the provisioning of food and attends passengers).  In the early days, when every airplane flight was an opportunity for the grim reaper, being a stewardess was a responsible position.  Most airlines required them to be registered nurses, and much of their early responsibility was reassuring passengers that air travel was safe.

It was inevitable that having a natty uniform combined with extensive travel in this new medium would make the stewardess job a highly coveted one.  By the 1960’s, the stewardess was a major promotional item for the airlines.  So, the airlines began to focus on weight limits for the stewardesses rather than for the aircraft.  So, too, looks were everything.  Fashion ruled:

It was, of course, bound to end.  Just like the 1960’s themselves, the stewardess as sex kitten and entertainer had to go.   Now, of course, we have the flight attendant, with the attendant part being key.  Makes the job sound like the prime responsibility is to keep an eye on the refrigeration mechanism for a truckload of meat.  Which it probably is these days.

The departure of the glamorous stewardess was part of a larger process.  Air travel became a commodity.  Whatever specialness that plane travel had was slowly winnowed down to today’s decidedly unromantic flight.  The process seems to have started with Peoplexpress Airlines, or as many referred to it, the Greyhound bus of the skies.

Deliberately marketed to the, ahem, value oriented consumer of airline travel, Peoplexpress had all the charm of a Soviet-era farm cooperative.  Its low-cost approach also attracted the low-cost customer, right down to their tank tops and flip flops.  Other airlines riffed on this image, especially Southern Airlines, which ran an advertisement that encouraged passengers to remember to bring a wood crate to sit on.  Regardless, the era of passengers as valued guests began to slowly evaporate.

There would be other trouble appearing on the horizon.  Aircraft hijacking would notably pick up in the 1960’s, with many of these events requiring airlines to make an unscheduled stop in Cuba.  This was during the early years of the Castro revolution, before Fidel had worked his magic on the Cuban people and their culture.  Now, of course, the problem would more likely involve people hijacking planes to get out of Cuba.

The Cuban airplane hijacking was not the first example of an airplane being commandeered, but it was the start of the searching of passengers prior to admission to the aircraft.  Of course, since that time, matters have only become worse, culminating with today’s debacle at the airport.  Like 1960’s stewardess fashions, security measures have become so extreme that an adjustment is overdue.

Consider the implications of a parent telling their child that it is not okay for a stranger to touch you, only to have that child groped at the airport.

I suppose that it is okay if the person doing the groping is in uniform, but there are other countries in this world that do not resort to such intrusive measures.  The preoccupation is with “safety”, but the only ones that are safe seem to be the terrorists.  As hard as it is to say this, it seems that the terrorists are quietly winning this war, while we have to resort to even more extreme measures.

Public resistance has developed against these extreme measures, for good cause.  I suppose that it is just a matter of time before we are told that the airport body scanners will now be used for national health care screening.  How long before the TSA agent  pokes his finger into my scrotum and says “Turn your head and cough”?

Say what you will, Americans tend to respond to problems by telling jokes.  At one point, TSA was supposed to mean “Thousands Standing Around“.  Now, TSA stands for “Touching Sensitive Areas“.  Wags have suggested that the full body grope should also include, for an additional $25.00, a “Happy Landing“, where the process started by excessive groping of the private parts is brought to its logical biological conclusion.  The problem to this new service appears to be over revenue sharing between the airlines, the Federal government, and the airports.  Also, no mention, as of yet, as to tipping for the TSA agents themselves.

This whole flap over the TSA groping and X-Raying is slowly moving toward a crescendo, and at this writing, its outcome is not clear.  One thing is clear, however, you couldn’t ask for a clearer image of what a strong and intrusive Federal government looks like:

Big Brother Is Watching You

Big Brother Is Watching You

Have a safe flight.

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Well, since I’ve got some intellectual momentum, let us revisit the issues in my previous blog about college cheating.  If there is any great public moral outrage about this story, it hasn’t reared its ugly little head yet.  Presumably, in a few weeks, a reporter will do a follow up story on the young man who claimed that everybody cheats in college.  One can only guess as to the character of that unreported story.  On the other hand, there has been online discussion about it.  Perhaps the most bothersome was this comment to one of the online articles about the event.

His views probably probably represent 80% of college students who are majoring in law, economics, business, accounting, medicine and the other disciplines where morality, ethics and integrity are not taught. He is your (and our) future.

And it is the “your future” part that is most disturbing, because the person who posted that comment is right.  What if we become a world where anything is possible because “everybody does it”.

Chris Matyszczyk, of Cnet.com, writes about the University of Central Florida cheating scandal.  In part his attitude about the matter comes from John 8:7, although he does not cite that passage:

So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

Taken out of context, those words would indicate that nobody should say anything  about anybody because we’re all sinners.  It may be true that all are sinners, but one of the major tenets of religion is an acknowledgment that we are sinners.  The idea is to try and do better.  Besides, if applied, the “we’re all sinners so we can’t judge others” would destroy our legal system, the mechanism which protects us from the predations of others.

There’s always an inclination to let things slide, and the phrase “everybody does it” is particularly insidious.  Especially since while everybody may be doing it, specific names of just “who” is doing it are rarely cited.  There’s just this nebulous mass of humanity out there doing it, and I want to get mine while I can.  This is the sort of stuff that you tried to feed your Mom in high school.  It didn’t work then, and it probably should not work now.

Humanity has a track record for letting things drift downward and then catching itself.  Inevitably, there are those who call for “new thinking” on a topic.  The old ideas are just that, old.  We need new stuff.  Consider this extension of that logic:

After extensive research, the staff of the School of Divinity have determined that the Ten Commandments should now be described as the Ten Recommended Practices.  To quote the school’s Dean, “This makes our coursework congruent with modern day realities.  It conveys the modern interpretation of God’s Will into the context of daily life.”

Of course, I’m just riffing here, but you can see the logical train of thought.  The seventh commandment (“You shall not commit adultery”) becomes RP 7 (“You shouldn’t sleep around”).  And, because we are a litigious society, the Ten Recommended Practices would be subject to extensive bureaucratic examination and clarification.  For example:

RP 7 (4)(c)(ii):  It may be possible to sleep with a person who is not your spouse / partner if you are at a convention more than 500 miles from your place of domicile and you have consumed four margaritas and three Cuervo shooters.

Certainly words for our modern times.

Matyszczyk ends his column with:

….there is an essay question: “Cheating in business is both natural and prevalent. Discuss.” You have three hours to answer that one.

Well, to start with, I have to admit that I have already cheated on this essay because I first saw this question three days ago, not three minutes ago.  Be that as it may, I feel that I am still entitled to complete the question and you’ll be hearing from my attorney if you object.  But, hey, that’s the current state of academia.

Moving along, there certainly is the popular conception that business people cheat and steal as a matter of course.  Just take a look at many movies produced by Hollywood.  It is almost always the big bad business people who are doing the cheating and stealing.  Of course, there is little discussion about Hollywood’s typical approach to motion picture accounting, although The Player comes disarmingly close.

With those examples extant, it is no wonder that some of our children draw the conclusion that “This is college, everybody cheats.”  Suit yourself, but I’ve got to believe that children can’t be left to their own devices in front of a television set.

The source of this conversation is a cheating scandal at a university in Florida, but it could just as easily be coming from almost any quarter of our society.  Yes, everybody might cheat, but there are penalties for doing so.  In part, this is a personal favorite of mine, the conservative tenet of taking responsibility for one’s actions.

An individual can cheat on their taxes.  And it is possible that they can get away with it, but if they get caught, the penalties are often substantial.  Needless to say, there are a lot of “ifs” and “ands” to that statement, especially if you have enough money to afford a very good lawyer.  What the government gets you on is false swearing, misrepresenting your financial transactions.  Cheating, if you will.  By cheating on the test, the business students were misrepresenting their knowledge of the subject matter, essentially a false swearing of fact.

The real issue is that we still consider cheating to be deviant behavior.  If we didn’t, one would think that there should be college courses in the art of cheating.  Actually, there are institutions that serve as teaching facilities for cheating; they’re called prisons.  Even if they’re the very nice penal facilities that allow you to improve your tennis game, they’re still jails.  And most who are residents of those facilities are guilty; many of those residents will also assure you that they are, in fact, innocent.

So, while  Cheating in business is both natural and prevalent” in your mind, that doesn’t make it any more legal than it was a hundred years ago.  Hopefully, the same will be true in another hundred years.  In the greater sense, the University of Central Florida cheating scandal is a paradigm for what is going on in our society in general.

If someone doesn’t stand up and object to the cheating, regardless of their personal sins, it will only grow worse.  And, we are the poorer for that.

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Shocked, shocked!

Americans are an idealistic people.  We are corny enough to believe that our fellow citizens and our institutions should be honest.  So, at least some of us are upset to find that a massive cheating scandal has broken out at the University of Central Florida.  There it is, right there on the screen:

The gist of the story is that a college professor figured out that 200 of his 600 business major students had cheated on an examination.  Talk about doing a volume business….  And, this is a place where the examination room security supposedly rivals that of Las Vegas.

In my day in the ivied halls of the academe, the college I attended had an Honor System that apparently worked.  I was aware that other institutions of higher learning might or might not have such rules in place.  Well, presumably all institutions have such rules, it really is a matter of enforcement.

In any case, the ABC news story included a couple student interviews.  Disturbingly, “Opinions on campus are mixed…..”, but the real deal sealer for me was the statement from the individual below: “This is college, everyone cheats….”

Your Cheating Heart

I have obscured this student’s name, but it is clearly visible in the video.  To be sure, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of the media quoting things out of context, but this individual’s statement appears clear enough. Perhaps he needs to take a course in media management.

Interestingly, an individual with the same name living in the same area of Florida has a page on LinkedIn.  No doubt, this morning he is quietly enjoying a no-fat soy latte, blissfully unaware that people around the country are putting the electronic dots together.  No doubt, his current employer, a corporation which offers building security systems, is also blissfully unaware of what is happening.

The effects of cheating in the educational environment have a way of meandering into the real world.  And you don’t have to look very far for examples.  Consider this one which also appeared on page A3 of today’s Atlanta Journal Constitution.

  • White House altered report justifying drilling ban.  Inspector general finds it was altered to imply it was peer reviewed

Of course, there are numerous other examples of cheating in our society, but having a casual attitude about truth and honesty is corrosive for our society.  We trust our elected officials to be honest, at least most of the time.  We trust business to be honest, too, yet it was a business course where the UCF scandal erupted.  If you can’t trust people, just what do you have left?

Yet, in all of this to-do about cheating, it was the reporter’s use of the word Shocked that teed me up:

And, as only Hollywoood can, the phrase has worked its way into daily life:

Shocked, indeed.

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The Big Day

Today is the big day.  Today is the day that the American people decide to take their government back.  Or not.  Today is the only opinion poll that really counts.  I now trot off to the polls, eager for change.

There are still questions:

  • Whose judgment do you trust more: that of the American people or America’s political leaders?
  • Has the federal government become its own special interest group?
  • Do government and big business often work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors?

The answers to these questions will not be immediately evident.  It will take years to unwind what has happened to our government, to correct the profound inequities that have been allowed to happen.  Yet, today is the beginning.  Once this process is started, we must continue to be vigilant, for we have seen what happens when we are not paying attention.

To borrow from the 1970’s, today is the first day of the rest of America’s life.  What will we do to make things better?  What will we do to leave things better for the generations that follow us?  Today is the start of something big.

To get an idea as to how far we have sunk:

I hear people saying they are afraid that… if the republicans do get things moving again in the economy then it could make Obama look good and lead to a second term.

Presumably, this sort of talk is coming from the television set, and, in a ray of hope for our Republic, the viewer saw through that nonsense:

Well, frankly this is not about making Obama look good or bad, this is about stopping the madness that many of us feel will lead us to bankruptcy as a nation. Even if it does lead to a second term for Obama, it is still far better than continuing on the current path we are on.

This is not about Republican or Democrat, it is about the fact that we cannot afford to continue running our governments in the way that has been done in the past.  There has been a fundamental disconnect between our elected leaders and the citizens who pay the bills.  At the taxpayer level, people are having to tighten their financial belts, why can’t our government?  But it is more than that.

For the last two years, the country has been in the firm grip of “progressives”, and it has not been pretty.  Certainly, the voters are reacting badly to be treated as if they are stupid.  Granted, there’s anecdotal evidence to support that, but it is more than that.  Consider these words from a blog:

….that liberals regard conservatives as not merely wrong and wrongheaded but illegitimate, dishonest, pathological, and unworthy of being taken seriously. In this view, conservatism is not a philosophy but a conspiracy. Paul Krugman is explicit that conservative policy ideas are, by definition, lies advanced for ulterior purposes. But the assumption is implicit in the haughty rhetoric and actions of a great many liberals, including President Obama.”

“…They believe that the natural course of history is the emergence of secular rationality as the true way to think about problems and of state power as the effective way to organize society along rational lines. If that is your worldview, then such things as revealed religion, cultural tradition, and the marketplace (whose outcomes are spontaneous, not rationalized) are vestiges of our primitive past, sure to be displaced by the spreading application of human reason.

The world that they envision has no place for me.


Hubris: means extreme haughtiness or arrogance. Hubris often indicates being out of touch with reality and overestimating one’s own competence or capabilities, especially for people in positions of power.

Well, there you have it.  Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Reality Check

I like the free market and I like individual freedom, even though it means that I have to sit down and actually think about something every now and then.  For that, I get described by the Progressives (so-called) as being irrational, clinging to my guns and religion.  For liking my freedom and free-will, I am described as one of those torch-bearing villagers in an old Frankenstein movie.

The problem is that I am a taxpayer in the village, that I am being forced to support this grand progressive wet dream.  Given that, one would think that there would be respect.  You can only get so far by patronizing the villagers.  So, I march off to the polls this morning; I don’t need a torch because it is daylight, but the monster must be controlled.

The Neutron Bomb

One problem rears its head.  If things go as the telephone polls predict, there are going to be a lot of Congress-persons who will be unemployed in January.  Back in the 1950’s, some bright nuclear weapons designers came up with an idea for a new nuclear weapon. Rather than yield explosive energy, it would yield “energetic neutron radiation”.  In the administration-ese of the day, this was to be an “Enhanced Radiation Weapon“.  This gadget, when exploded, would spew out vast amounts of destructive nuclear radiation, ultimately killing all living things exposed to it.

Although developed during the 1950’s, the Neutron Bomb made its public introduction during the Carter administration.  It was an instant hit; the enemy was killed but the buildings remained! English, adaptable as always, quickly latched onto the term and we got “Neutron Jack“, for Jack Welch; the people were gone but the desks remained.

Eventually, cooler heads gained control and reminded everybody how the neutron bomb really worked.  First, not only were the enemy soldiers zapped, but also any civilian anywhere in the vicinity.  Also, the neutron bomb’s action was not immediate; soldiers did not just keel over like in Goldfinger.  No, for several days afterward, they would be able to still fight and kill.

At some point the soldiers and civilians would become aware of the fact that they were destined to die horribly of radiation sickness in the immediate future.  Knowledge of this fact would lessen the ethical boundaries of their behavior, leading them to ignore the agreed-upon niceties of warfare.  Knowing that they were destined to die, who knows what mayhem would be unleashed by these soldiers before their ultimate death?  The idea of a neutron bomb went away with good reason.

Soon though, the halls of Congress will be awash with the walking dead.  Current Members who have been voted out today will be unemployed shortly and may have little reason to act in the best interests of The Republic.

Earlier, in October, Congress departed Washington with a large number of ordinary items left undone.  This was not only regular Congressional business, but also the tax-cuts passed during the Bush administration, which expire at the end of the year.  Failure to renew these cuts is going to add another huge burden to our struggling economy.  Congress must pull itself together to complete what is required.  We can only hope that these walking dead will take their departure philosophically.

The Media

The media has been absolutely breathless.  Liberal or conservative, there has been a lot of advertising sold because of our political situation.  Likewise, the pollsters have been in their Golden Age.  Not a day goes by without yet another poll, and the politicians selectively take what supports their position.  Today, it is no longer theoretical.  Today, we get what we want, for at least a year or so before the election cycle starts again.  Perhaps, in the quiet moments, there will actually be resolution to some problems.

The media selectively tells us what they want us to hear.  Yet, at the same time, other groups have been spending even more money.  AFSCME, a public employees’ union, has outspent the private sector.  Likewise, two other big spenders in a group of six are also public employees’ unions.  Their members take money from government, pay union dues which are then spent for political campaigns.  Can we survive this much longer?

Breaking the Cycle

We have been in an unending cycle.  Government “solves” a problem, which results in a new problem that government must “solve” again.  The reality is that the political structure is operating beyond its functional limits.  It is time for change.

Grace in Victory

We are obligated to respect our fellow citizens.  In the first American Revolution, not every resident of the Colonies was for separation from King George.  After the War, these opponents were not marched out and shot.  They were allowed to continue, to thrive.  In time, their views would somehow be incorporated into the genius of America.

Those who have argued for the progressive life are entitled to their opinion, even though they themselves have not been gracious about it.  Somehow, we must find a way to accommodate their ideas without giving up the core values of our country.  We must find a way.  Being conciliatory is not the same as giving in.  They are American citizens, too.

A More Perfect Union

Once this election is complete, the votes counted and the banners furled, the bandwidth will be filled with post-election analysis.  Which will drag out for months, but I pray that there will be no gloating about this election’s results.  For gloating about election successes takes away the appreciation for the significance of this particular election.

Today’s election is not the end of things, it is merely the beginning.  Our country is a place of ingenuity and independence.  We live free and as a result we think free.  From that freedom comes something uniquely American.  It took us to the moon, not by computers but by slide rule.  It gave us a powerful economy that, if left to its own devices, will thrive.  It’s as true today as it was two hundred years ago.

United we stand, divided we fall.

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