Last Sunday, a security officer dragged a 69-year-old physician, David Dao, off a United Airlines plane at O’Hare Airport. Dr. Dao was injured in the altercation. The extent and severity of his injuries remains unclear, but are likely to receive close attention when he sues. Video of the incident ignited an internet firestorm.
The past week has occasioned thousands of tweets, countless newspaper op-eds and commentaries about how lousy airlines generally are, and how United Airlines in particular needs to raise its game.
A week later, I fear the real lesson is being lost.
Our captains of industry (the kind of people Donald Trump loves to throw into government jobs for which they are completely unprepared) are really smart in so many ways, or they wouldn’t be so rich, right? The latest awkward exceptions are the Wells Fargo bosses who supervised a national enterprise of cheating retail customers, and Oscar Muñoz of United Airlines, who somehow contrived to be the last person on the planet to figure out that dragging [sic] a paying passenger off his plane so he could ferry four staffers to a location convenient to United was Not OK. Muñoz’ witless behavior is something of a surprise, because he has not spent his life in a privileged bubble; according to Wikipedia he was the first in his family to go to college, from a family of nine kids, and last year took off a couple of months from work to have a heart transplant. The man has paid some dues.
I would like to add to the ample discussion of this episode (see especially Helaine Olen’s piece enlarging the scope of debate beyond the case at hand) an insight I owe to my late colleague Robert Leone: Muñoz’ problem, and his lieutenants up there in the executive suite, have their feet nailed to the floor for two reasons. One is that they are actually not that smart, and do not understand their own cost structure. The other, and my main point here, is because they have no clue what it’s like to be one of their customers! They never fly Y class, or at least haven’t since that product became a hated, degrading, wretched experience in their hands. Continue Reading…
I was a Dodger fan in youth, the only acceptable choice for a New York red-diaper kid. I didn’t know any Giants fans. One day I sat down to breakfast and opened a paper newspaper and learned that the team was going to Los Angeles; might as well have said “moon to move to new galaxy”. In fact that move was not the cynical greedy play it appeared to be, more the result of Robert Moses and New York political leaders flubbing the job (on the Giants’ side, not so much, having more to do with fan indifference). But the disillusionment was extreme, and put me off baseball for decades…living in Boston for twenty-five years, I entered a serious flirtation with the Red Sox, but still gingerly.
Parents advise their kids, “don’t fall in love with someone who just wants your money.” Duh. OK, a professional team isn’t a charity for the benefit of fans (though the municipal/nonprofit Green Bay Packers are a notable exception). But the departure of the Raiders from Oakland for a much less promising fan base and market, entirely because Nevada pols are willing to dip into their citizens’ pockets* to line Mark Davis’ while the admirable mayor of Oakland put her foot down and would not be rolled, is a good lesson for all. Sort of like the same lesson currently on offer from Donald Trump, as we see the only thing he actually wants to do is put his marks/voters’ money in the pocket of his rich pals, Russian and other.
Now, the Raiders are going to be here for two more years, and tens of thousands of fans have bought season tickets. I wonder if there’s a nice class action lawsuit here: “I bought tickets to see my home team, ; now it’s just a bunch of guys in black uniforms. Refund!” Update 28/III: the Raiders are refunding season tix. Good for them.
*Technical note: the Las Vegas subsidy comes mostly from a tax on tourists. Well, if tourists can be gouged for those hundreds of millions without damaging the local economy, they can just as well be gouged for schools, streets, and the like (Clark County schools are seriously hurting), so in the end it’s the locals’ money being shoveled to Davis.
I received this post from a friend:
This morning I received an email from the National Academies Press (see the URL, below) containing both the script of President Trump’s recent Joint Address to Congress and — interspersed at relevant locations — copies of various NRC reports from the National Academies containing information, data and recommendations about the many scientific, engineering and medical issues facing our country (and the world).
I was digging through some boxes and found an old calabash pipe and stand. It’s the sort of pipe that people think of Sherlock Holmes smoking even though in the books he didn’t (William Gillette added the calabash for a stage adaptation over a century ago and it stuck).
Gourd pipes have gone out of style, being largely replaced by mahogany. That makes this calabash if not an antique at least a curio I could put in my office as a conversation piece. But the decades-old cork ring is eroded and the whole thing is smoke scarred and tobacco encrusted. What to do?
I talked to a local tobacconist who gave me the phone number of a pipe maven in Tennessee who might be able to help. I talked to said Tennessean on the telephone and he said he could probably restore the pipe, so I have mailed it to him.
What is striking about this relative to other business transactions is that this is all done on trust. I don’t know the pipe expert from Adam (not even his last name); he could keep my pipe and there would be nothing I could do about it. On his end, I didn’t send any money so he could do the work and not get paid. But I just had a feeling that I could trust him and I guess he felt the same as we didn’t even agree on the price — we will work that out later on the basis of reason and good faith, jointly applied.
No receipts, no travel to meet in person, no insurance, no contract — all of those costly things are not needed because we exist in an atmosphere of trust.
It reminded me that one of the early stamp collecting companies used to mail sets of valuable old stamps to collectors who were asked to take what they wanted, mail in a check to pay for it, and then mail the stamps directly to the next collector on a list. Anyone could have easily stolen stamps under this system, but apparently few people did because the company was highly profitable.
We spend so much money because of distrust, whether it’s locks on our doors, liability insurance, receipts in triplicate or certified mail. We accept that we can’t trust each other and endure much deadweight financial loss on that basis. We would reap enormous economic benefits if we were more trusting and trustworthy. We think of these things as virtues and they are, but they also have large economic consequences (Did you know that the Amish are so dutiful about paying back loans that banks give them extremely low interest rates?).
I could never prove it, but I think the decline in trust in the country reduces GDP as much as many other factors that are blamed for poor economic performance. Just one more reason why the coming years are not likely to be good ones for our country.
The constant of Trump’s business career has been to stiff investors, lenders, customers, suppliers, taxpayers, and partners at every opportunity: bankruptcies (a fancy name for not paying your debts), the piano seller, Trump U. students…the list is endless. If you invest with Donald, you do it for his profit and not yours.
Now he has embarked on a political career, and the pattern is already repeating itself, in two ways. Voted for him because he would trash climate stabilization? because he would put Hilary in jail? because he would torture terrorism suspects “worse than waterboarding”? In a roomful of New York Times reporters, on the record, we learn “You already voted? OK, you’ll get none of those things, suckers!” And it’s not even Thanksgiving.
One one point of fundamental principle, however, the Donald is firm: the point of his new job is his personal enrichment. He is going to hold on to his businesses, and he is going to use his position to make more money. Blind trust…what are you, some kind of moron?
The 3 AM phone call goes like this:
Mr. President, I need a large shipload of tanks and artillery to put my uppity neighbor in its place…what’s that? you say the neighbor is a peaceable country where the US has large investments? and you’re worried about the conflict spreading?…Mr. President, the other thing I wanted to talk to you about is the bill in our parliament nationalizing your hotel/casino complex. No, of course we don’t pay compensation when we protect our national interest! As I told Jared yesterday, I would really hate to have to sign that bill if it passes, and we also have the permanent tax and labor law exemption for the hotel drafted…I know, the royal suite you provide us is nice, but about those armaments…don’t forget the spare parts, and extra ammunition.
This is the time we bit-stained wretches compete to identify “the cause” of the election debacle. Hillary was a bad candidate; no, Comey put his thumb on the scale; no, racism/sexism… Stop it; when your house burns down because you left something on the range frying instead of boiling, and the grease ignited, and your kitchen fire extinguisher was out of date and didn’t work, and the fire department got there late, there are just multiple ’causes’: if any had been otherwise, the outcome would have been different.
This doesn’t mean nothing mattered; everything did. One of those was completely atrocious coverage in print and video, as well as the ‘off-the-books’ discourse on social media, and that has mattered so much that if we fixed everything else we would still be in terrible trouble. “The media”, wrapping up facebook, blogs, real newspapers, and tweets, created an uninformed electorate voting in the dark from the heart instead of the head, and from fear and anger instead of hope and reflection. TV news, and print media, uncritically peddled Trump’s nonsense hour after hour as though it were the considerable discourse of a basically serious person; wallowed in vacuous ‘damn email stuff’ and horserace opining rather than policy; and so on. These are sound criticisms, but it’s not Wolf Blitzer’s fault or the New York Times‘ that they didn’t do better. All the media are deep in a downward spiral not of their making, and it will get worse before it gets better. There may be incompetent journalists, cynical meretricious tweeters and bloggers, and venal production company execs, but even Edward R. Murrow could not have fixed this. Continue Reading…
This is not the republic of my imagination.
–Charles Dickens, letter to William Macready, from Baltimore (1842)
I had my shoes shined just now by a real pro, which made me remember this post from 5 years ago, which I am re-upping.
The amount of time it took me today to find a shoe shine stand in a major airport attests to how changes in men’s fashion over the past 50 years have contracted the size of the market. But I eventually located a master practitioner of the craft and emerged with my footwear emitting the distinctive soft glow of well-attended black leather.
In Mamet’s movie version of “Glengarry, Glen Ross,” Alec Baldwin’s character degrades the less successful salesmen by saying “You’ll be shining my shoes,” reflecting the ancient idea that what is associated with the feet is disgusting, including of course cleaning the feet of others (the Biblical story of Jesus asking his disciples to follow his example of service and then washing their feet didn’t stimulate a widespread change in attitude).
As I got my own shoes shined, I remembered a story told by former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young. When he was mayor of Atlanta, he would get his wingtips buffed by an older man who charged $4, making a $5 bill the perfect payment including tip (This apparently is still the business model, I tend to get charged $7 to $8 today, just below the Alexander Hamilton breakpoint). Perhaps feeling a little awkward that he, a very successful post-civil rights movement African-American man, was having his shoes shined regularly by a pre-movement older African-American man, Young made an effort to get to know him and found out to his surprise that the shoe shiner restored so many pairs of shoes a day at $5 a pop that he had been able to afford the rearing of four children, including sending all of them through college.
The conclusion Young drew has stayed with me: “There is no such thing as menial work, only menial pay.”