James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States, and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book, China Airborne, was published in early May. More
James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.
Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His two most recent books, Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009), are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book, China Airborne, was published in early May. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.
The second weapon Southern senators had at their disposal was their longevity. Control of Senate committees went by seniority and because the South was a one-party state, Southerners were invariably the ones who had been there longest. In the 1920s, when the Democratic Party was being battered by Republicans in national elections, the South was immune. During this period, 67 per cent of all Democrats in the Senate and 72 per cent in the House came from the South. When a new raft of Northern and Western Democrats were returned on FDR's coat tails in the 1930s, the same Southerners were still around. So it didn't matter whether the Democrats were down or up, the South still ended up on top. When the party was down, Southern representatives were the only ones standing; when the party was up, Southern representatives were the ones with all the experience. There was no way for a Democratic president to legislate without letting the South get its fingerprints all over his bills.
Katznelson's argument is that the distinctive character of the postwar American state was determined by the compromises that riddled the New Deal from its outset until its demise under Eisenhower. The result was a 'Janus-faced' politics: outwardly assertive, interventionist, crusading, moralising, always looking to take the fight to the enemy; inwardly constrained, laissez-faire, decentralised, protective of private interests, reluctant to uphold the public good. Katznelson sees this dual state - mixing nearly unconstrained public capacity with nearly unconstrained private power - as both enduring and pathological.
In turn, one lovely detail in this photo made me think of a famous shot from the historical archives. It's of Adlai Stevenson, during his 1952 presidential campaign:The category, I guess, is "It Was Ever Thus for Journalists, Even Before The Internet."This is, by the way, my all-time favorite photo of my dad. How happy I am to find it on The Atlantic's own website! [In an item about David Broder by Ron Brownstein.]
Housekeeping note: As previously mentioned, I've been on an unexpectedly long Internet hiatus, first finishing off one Atlantic project -- and then preparing for another, about which I'm more excited than by anything in quite a long while. I'll be preparing to say more about that later this spring.
For now, to smooth the return to online presence, here is a dispatch I wrote for the latest edition of the Next Economy project, run jointly by The Atlantic and National Journal. The theme in this installment is an examination of what it means, now, to be "middle class," after many decades of economic pressure pushing people both up and down and away from the middle. My part of the project was to ask what the idea of middle-classness has meant to America. The results are in the brief item below.
When sociologists or historians have looked at the United States, they have quickly identified important differences of class. Indentured servants versus free settlers in the colonial era, sharecroppers versus landowners in the post-Civil War South, labor versus management in America's industrial age. Some of the most influential examinations of American culture and politics have applied a class-conscious perspective. These range from academic studies such as John Dollard's Caste and Class in a Southern Town, to novels such as John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, to great works of journalism such as J. Anthony Lukas's Common Ground, his chronicle of the struggles over school desegregation that polarized Boston in the 1970s.
Yet when Americans have looked at themselves, they have usually downplayed such differences in favor of the idea that most people are part of the great American middle class. For people at the top, this can be a form of modesty -- or, more cynically, a way of deflecting attention from inequalities. For people at the bottom, it can reflect hopes and goals -- and, of course, illusions. For everyone else, it reflects the combination of a reality and a theory.
The reality is that, compared with the still-feudal makeup of much of Europe and the stark extremes of many developing societies, America has indeed been the arena in which more people, from a broader variety of backgrounds, could pursue more opportunities than ever before. Even in rapidly growing modern China, the closest counterpart to our term for an average person would be laobaixing, with a connotation less like "middle class" and more like "the masses."
In periods when U.S. society has not been more open, mobile, and equal than others in the world, many Americans have still acted as if there are benefits to believing, or pretending, the contrary. Through ups and downs, we have preferred to believe that the standard middle-class social contract is intact, and that those who follow the rules -- study, marriage, work, discipline -- can expect a reasonable middle-class outcome.
We're now in one of those periods when the reality of intense pressure on the middle class diverges from long-held assumptions of how the American bargain should work. Compared with most European countries, our economy is more polarized and unequal. Compared with most Asian countries, the economic welfare of our middle class has been stagnant rather than rising. Compared with our own 20th-century history, our entire society is materially better off in countless ways -- from life span and environmental improvement to average education levels, house size, and most other material measures -- but is also becoming more stratified and rigid. The education and income level into which a child is born is becoming a better predictor of where he or she will end up as an adult. It has become hard to imagine new waves of opportunity and mobility comparable to those created by the 19th-century settlement of the West, the GI Bill, or the post-World War II migration to the Sun Belt.
In these circumstances, does it make sense for America to maintain the ideal, or myth, that we are a middle-class society? I believe it does, even though this concept may make it harder for us to perceive or discuss the nation's genuine and growing inequalities. It remains worthwhile, because most of the elements of middle-class identity encourage traits America needs.
One of those elements is: Because I'm middle class, I have something in common with my neighbors and fellow citizens. The United States has been at its best politically and economically when we have viewed other members of society as "us" rather than "them."
Another middle-class assumption is: I am as good as anyone else. This is in contrast to the forelock-tugging deference built into feudalism and now on display in Downton Abbey. From Poor Richard's Almanack onward, American culture has reflected the belief that ideas and ambitions deserve consideration no matter their origin. This in turn has been an element of American ingenuity and resilience.
Finally, to be middle class is to believe that any goal should be within reach. Success takes effort, and it depends on luck. But a long string of ascents from middle-class-or-below origins, from the Wright brothers and Henry Ford a century ago to Steve Jobs and Barack Obama and Sonia Sotomayor in our day, suggests a possibility rare in other societies. We are better off believing that this is still the American way.
Yes, this is the 20 millionth time I have made this point. (Recently here, with special Orwell-homage.) But here is why it is worth noting again. Just in the past few minutes readers have sent in these illustrations of the success of step No. 5, above:From Business Insider (source of screen grab above):
GUN CONTROL VOTE FAILS IN SENATE -- Obama Speaks Now On FailureNo, 60 votes were needed to break the filibuster threat. Note that in the "mostly partisan vote of 54-46" the 54 senators were voting for the measure.
With Vice President Joe Biden presiding over the Senate, an amendment to expand background checks on gun purchases failed to pass through the body, falling by a mostly partisan vote of 54-46...
Sixty votes were needed to pass the legislation through the Senate.
The Senate has rejected a bipartisan proposal to expand background checks on firearms and close the so-called gun show loophole, handing President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders a major defeat on one of the key pieces of the president's second-term agenda.I won't add the line-by-line explication because you can do it yourselves. Actually, I can't resist: that last passive-voice sentence calls out for "to break a filibuster threat." Look at this home-page splash from Politico (below), and imagine if it said what actually happened: "GOP filibusters gun control."
The vote was 54-46, with only four Republicans crossing the aisle and voting with the Democrats in favor of the bipartisan proposal by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). Sixty votes were needed.
In rapid succession, a bipartisan compromise to expand background checks for would-be gun purchasers, a ban on assault weapons and a ban on high-capacity gun magazines all failed to get the 60 votes needed under an agreement both parties had reached to consider the amendments.Here's a clearer statement of the reality from an anti-filibuster group called Fix the Senate Now. Its careful phrasing works around the fact that opponents didn't want this to be called a filibuster (see points 4 and 5) but were applying the same filibuster 60-vote standard.
>>During television news coverage in 1966/67, the song was aired as a soundtrack as the cameras focused on US Infantrymen on patrol during the Vietnam War. Later, during that same time frame, Sinatra traveled to South Vietnam to perform for U.S. servicemen. It was used on the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket (1987). Sinatra also sang it on an episode of China Beach in the late-1980s. In 2005, Paul Revere & the Raiders recorded a revamped version of the song using Sinatra's original vocal track. It appeared on the CD Ride to the Wall, Vol. 2, with proceeds going to help Vietnam veterans.In addition, the Fembots were introduced to the strains of the opening and closing notes of the song in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.<<
The best part of the 1980s:
The best part of the 1960s—OK, there were a lot of them, but this is one that is particularly unbelievable in retrospect.
The "Hah!" at time 1:50 is the part that I always thought would make Frank Sinatra proudest of his daughter's ability to express the meaning of a song.
For myself, I am proud to be an American.
Update OK, here is a third video tribute-to-a-decade. It is of toddler-aged pandas playing on a slide at the Panda Base in Chengdu, and it is from the 2010s. I am still proud to be an American, but I'm glad to have seen animals like this at Sichuan province panda reserves.
Thanks to DL for this one, and thanks to the world for providing such riches.
Once [the hacker with an Android] was into the airplane's computer, he was able to manipulate the steering of a Boeing jet while the aircraft was in "autopilot" mode. The only countermeasure available to pilots, if they even realized they were being hacked, would be to turn off autopilot. Yet many planes no longer have old analog instruments for manual flying.
>>I am a United brat - my dad was a pilot with them for 20 years and I grew up traveling only on them. Clearly I have flown United more than any other airline. That said, as I have grown up and graduated from my flight benefits, I have begun traveling for business with other airlines, primarily with American, so I'm not completely inexperienced.Maybe I'm feeling defensive, but I really think you are using your position as a national journalist to pursue vendetta of opinion against United. I genuinely do not understand why you think it's professional to publish 4 or 5 articles about how terrible they are, based off of biased and anecdotal evidence and pass it off as journalism - when it is clearly opinion.Other thoughts:Traveling is no longer a luxury experience. As people demand and airlines come under increasing pressure to lower the costs of their flights, any costs that can be cut will. In order for airlines to be cost competitive, employees have seen their benefits and pensions cut, threatened with furlough, and been generally asked to do more with less. If people want that luxury experience they need to pay for it - like paying for a business for first class seat. Every time I fly in a premium class my experience is unctuous and overwhelmingly decadent. And I like it! You get what you pay for.We live in a post -9/11 world, and this has infused every aspect of the flying experience. As someone who still lived at home post-9/11, I can give a firsthand account about the pervasive fear of flight attends and pilots after. They were literally worried about their lives You and other may think that the captain from the Baltimore flight made a poor judgment call - but that's what it was - a judgment call. The captain is ultimately responsible for the lives and safety of his passengers and crew, and he did what he thought was best. Also, it doesn't shock me that the airline stood behind the captain and crew. That's what they should do. When there are 230 people rocketing through 30,000 feet, there needs to be some sense of hierarchy and leadership.I genuinely think your article showed shoddy journalism. You only presented only one side of the situation - although I grant that you did reach out to United, but unequivocally accepted their story, without exploring other explanations. Do you really and honestly believe that the pilot grounded the flight because two parents coolly and collegially voice rational complaints? Clearly there are other elements to this story and I should think, as someone how has "millions upon millions of accumulated miles, and super-elite status", you should be able to provide some critical thinking and insight to the situation.Yes, there are heinous airline employees but there are also awesome employees. How about mentioning every incident when an airline employee goes out of their way to accommodate, because in my experience, that is by far more common. I mean, the guy from the dress code story obviously a bit over the top - he wanted to claim assault on the pilot for poking him and he's listed at least two other incidents when he's formally complained to the airline. So while I'm not defending the pilot from his dress code story, you have to admit that this person has no problem complaining (and is clearly an asshole - who takes a photo and sends it to corporate, a fucking tattletale?). You're publishing these horror stories from people who obviously have a bone to pick - and it's fantastical journalism and completely biased towards the person complaining. A little objectivity and research might do you some credit.<<
>>I fly for the "Continental" side of United as a line pilot. My wife, though, is a pilot for the United side. This story is very incredible indeed. There is NO WAY this is a normal occurrence. I don't know any pilots that would react that way. I think the story needs further context. Although United, like most airlines, have cranky bad seeds that bloom into bad customer experiences once in a while, this kind of behavior is unheard of. I am very skeptical of the story. Nearly all of the flight crew members I deal with every day I go to work are professional and indeed, pleasant.<<
>>As a pilot for United Airline's with more than 2 decades of industry experience, I am saddened by your experiences on United and even more saddened by your public attempt to shame the employees at United. My defense is three fold. First, your sample rate is tiny in comparison to the number of workers and daily flights. Second, the public's insistence on cheap fairs is driving the quality of employee down, and third, you fail to realize that employees react to their management more than they do to the customer. If there is a failure to be found then why not look at management and it's policies of demoralizing workers at every turn.I'll keep things moving here but again ask you to note the pilot's mention of messages from the cabin crew. We'll pick up that theme in the very next item. Also, for the record, I've flown millions of miles, and therefore paid what has to be hundreds of thousands of dollars, to United over the decades, so I'm hardly trying to do it harm. We move on to:
[JF note: I am going to step in here. On point (1) I agree about the sample rate, but I have flown enough through the decades to observe a "general corporate culture." And, for instance, a recent "America's meanest airlines" survey unfortunately gave United the worst rating, a dead-last result that prevails in some other surveys too. On point (2) I agree that the cheap-fare mania is a central factor in the race-toward-sardinehood in modern air travel. More on that below. On point (3), about the responsibility of corporate leaders to set an overall tone, I totally agree. That is why my leitmotif has been to ask: what is it about the current United corporate structure that -- on average, and in my observation -- leaves so many of the employees seeming so unhappy at their jobs? This pilot suggests some answers.]
To begin with, there are over 11,000 pilots at United and 30,000 flight attendants. I am aware that the number of disgruntled and under performing workers in our industry has increased over the last decade, but to impugn the behaviour of all United workers based on the half dozen examples in your blog is to me shameful. How about the hundreds of "orchid letters" United receives every day? How about when I give up my meal so the Purser can create a vegetarian meal that wasn't boarded? How about the fact that nearly every flight has a disruptive passenger like the one I had yesterday that demanded the pilots use the cockpit fax machine to fax paperwork for him because he'd had that done before?
Most pilots began their career with a decade or more of service to their country fighting in foreign countries or 4 years of college with a B.S. or higher degree, and came to United expecting a bright upper middle class future. Instead, what we got was a 60% pay cut, thousands of lay offs, lost pensions, and zero career advancement all because our industry is structurally flawed. The airline industry is structured with few barriers to entry such that it constantly creates new carriers that have younger employees and newer planes with costs far below their Legacy competitors so ultimately the older workers lose their jobs and pensions at the expense of the younger, and so far this has been the case for nearly every carrier, Pan Am, TWA, Eastern, Braniff, and countless others. Each company employed tens of thousands of employees who lost their jobs and pensions at a point in time they could least afford it and all because the public demanded a $79 ticket from New York to Florida. As a result of this history, the education and experience level of new pilots is plummeting. I challenge you to collect data on JetBlue pilots and compare the number of pilots there who have had a DUI and no college experience versus that average at United, Delta, or American.
The best run corporations in America have managers that inspire their employees to work better and harder. Even in the face of adversity many corporations have found a way to rally their workers and put the best face forward. Why is it then that the major airlines seem so utterly incapable of the same? The answer and root cause of disgruntled airline employee behaviour has more to do with the actions of management than any other single item. When employees have to fight for water to be boarded on flights or to fight for the right go to their parents funeral without being penalized after they have lost so much else you can imagine how frustrated they become. United's new management has failed at nearly every level of integration. Time and again, they have chosen the cheapest option available and the results show. Whether it's the reservation system, the baggage system, the coffee vendor, the new seat formation, or the training materials for employees, United's new managers have gone with the low cost alternative. In some cases the cheaper alternative may have been better, but for a corporation that hopes to charge a premium price for a premium product, isn't it possible that a corporate philosophy of lowering costs at the expense of service is not what makes a world class airline. In short, the employees at United have had to fight tooth and nail for the most basic rights, and the adversarial atmosphere this has created is disastrous for the company. If United's management were quickly to resolve the outstanding contract negotiations and then just as quickly implement them and treat their employees with a modicum of dignity and respect, you can rest assured that the number of "incidents" like those you have highlighted would all but disappear. Workers act and react in a manner equal to how they are treated. Treat them respectfully and show them their value and they will respond in kind. Treat them as chattel and you can expect them to behave the same.
Finally, a note on the particular instance involving the family traveling to Baltimore. I am not personally aware of the specifics, but I will say that flight attendants have been given very particular direction on how to communicate disruptive behaviour to the pilots. If the flight attendant told the pilots that she felt personally threatened by the passenger, then the pilots would be left with absolutely no alternative but to divert. The rules are very specific and not open to interpretation and are centered on the flight attendants interpretation and explanation of the passenger behaviour. It is more than likely that the information given to the captain was of a nature such that it precluded any other choice.<<
>>I subscribe to a professional-pilot paysite forum, ProPilotWorld--you have to be commercial-or-ATP-licensed to be allowed to join--and I've been following the Chicago diversion story there. Surprisingly (since there are so many airline pilots who are members), nothing solid has emerged so far; usually these things get explained in a matter of hours by somebody very close to the situation in question. Everybody is saying, "There -has- to be another side to this story," but one thing that has emerged, and that I wasn't aware of, is that many situations of this sort are totally controlled by the FAs [Flight Attendants].
For one thing, if an FA reports to the flight deck that he or she feels there is a security threat in the cabin, the flight deck immediately goes into automatic lockdown: NOBODY is allowed in, NOBODY is allowed out, not even if there's a fire in the cabin or a riot in progress. The pilots can't even come out to take a piss. ("You done with that coffeecup, Bob?")
At that point, all the captain knows is what he's being told over the phone by the FA, and he or she could well decide to divert because that person is telling him that they're scared of a situation. This could explain the delay between the turn-off-the-movie discussion and the captain's decision to go to ORD: he has talked it over with the FA, he has called the company, somebody in Denver is trying to make a decision, Denver finally calls back and tells him to go to Chicago...
So before we blame the captain...<<
>>Many times FA's get it in their minds that a passenger is a problem and will stop at nothing until the flight crew believes them.
I can't leave the flight deck to deal with the issue, so I have to rely on what I'm being told. Generally other FA's will not go against the problem FA while airborne.
My choices are limited... If the FA continues to call up and complain, at some point I have to put faith in what she/he is telling me and report it to the company. They're generally the ones (unless it's an obvious threat) that will tell me to divert and where to go.
All it takes is a look sometimes to set off these FA's.<<
>>Thank you, once again, for enabling us to tell our story, which you kindly posted on your blog. As we indicated originally, we prefer to remain anonymous to protect the privacy of our children. We appreciate the fact that you, and many of your readers, accepted our story despite our anonymity. To any doubters, we point out that we did reveal to you our identity, and that of the Chicago Police officers and United officials who can attest to the veracity of our story. Further, United's somewhat empty response confirms our story.
We would like to apologize again to our fellow passengers on flight 638 for the hardships they must have incurred after the diversion of the plane. We thank the many passengers who supported us and agreed with our complaint, and we thank Rob Cohen, the director of the Alex Cross, for his personal response. We were told on the plane by the FA that the movie had been edited for language (!), but it seems no amount of editing can ever make a PG-13 movie child-friendly.
The story has now appeared in a large number of national and international media outlets, blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. Therefore, we feel our goal has been mostly achieved: to foster a discussion on the issues we raised: Exposing children to patently inappropriate content without parental consent, and the capricious and irresponsible behavior of the United pilot, whose anonymity we are also protecting.
Of course, we would have preferred a more comprehensive response from United regarding their handling of this incident, and regarding the outcome of their purported in-flight media policy review. A personal response to our original letter would have been preferable and might have prevented the generation of such bad press for them.<<
>>I just caught up with your most recent series on airline service and your search for a "United Field Theory." I have what might be a relevant data point.
I was a United frequent flyer for many years (although hardly "elite") until I finally got tired of writing them letters of complaint... Sometime probably in late 2002, when I was still plenty steamed with United, I was invited to be a member of a focus group in Los Angeles on airline service. As usual, they didn't tell us who the client was, but from the timing I think it might have been part of the market research aimed at launching "Delta Song."
I went in and vented about United and about the generally bad experience we were all getting from airlines. (We got paid extra for cutting up magazines and making a collage -- no kidding, just like in grade school -- that expressed our views on this topic. Mine included a United plane that was part Tyrannosaurus and was chomping on some hapless guy. But I digress.)
It became obvious from the questions that the focus group was intended to test how much more people would pay for better service. At one point, we were given three one-page descriptions of a flying experience: one that sounded like Southwest, one that seemed to be based on the normal service on major carriers, and one that sounded fabulous, like flying the QE II. Then we were asked this: If a normal LA to New York fare on the regular carrier was $300, how much more would you pay for that luxury service? We were supposed to raise our hands, listen while the market researcher raised the price in increments, then drop our hands when the price passed our dealbreaker point.Well, it seemed like my hand was up for the next half-hour. I was by far the last holdout, agreeing to pay something approaching $500 for what they'd described. Now, I was a nontenured college instructor and not anything like wealthy. Granted, I also wasn't raising a family. But an extra $100 or $150 to be treated like royalty instead of herded like cattle? Yeah, sign me up.But I was the ONLY person who was so price-elastic. One other guy held out to $375, as I recall, but most of the dozen or so other focus-ees said they wouldn't pay more than an extra $25. I'm still kind of astonished when I think about this. I pointed out to everyone that $300 was already not very much money for the amazingly complex, high-tech operation of flying someone in near-perfect safety from one coast to another, while also managing hundreds of other flights at the same time. (They might even have said round-trip, I don't remember.) I got the impression that some of my fellow panelists had never thought of it that way, but also that I wasn't changing anyone's mind.The point is, United is dealing with a public that would board a flying concentration camp if it would save them a few bucks. What's amazing, really, is that some airline service for non-elite coach passengers is still decent, that there hasn't been more of a race to the bottom already.<<
>>The plane that the parents were surely on was an A320 series airplane, which has drop-down screens. The flight attendants can only make all of the screens go up or down, they have no control over individual screens. Moreover, I find it highly unlikely the flight attendants are allowed to simply stop showing movies to everyone on the plane at the request of one set of parents. The parents should complain to United about their movie choices (although the movie was PG-13 and already edited for content, as are all mainscreen movies), not insinuate that the flight attendants are lying.It sounds more like your correspondent was being over-entitled and potentially repeatedly harassed flight attendants about something which they made clear at the start they had no control over.In general, it is this kind of attitude - that the airline should make heroic accommodations just for them - that I've sadly seen much too much of as a long time 1K.One of the things about elite status is that it gives certain fliers the right to feel like self-centered jerks around airline staff - to put on airs and treat staff as their lessers. I'm not saying I can excuse poor airline staff behavior, but I feel a certain amount of sympathy for airline staff (flight attendants, etc.) that must continually put up with over-entitled yahoos bossing them around and making unreasonable requests.In a way, I feel like the rise of airline elite status and the decline of the flying experience for the "regular person" has only been a bad thing. It used to be there were few elites on airplanes and everyone was treated reasonably well. Now, a select group of people (me included sometimes) get pampered by the airline while the rest get treated poorly. The pampering goes to some people's heads while the experience of being treated poorly makes the rest resentful and unhappy about flying.<<
>>As a million miler with United I'd ask you to please continue to investigate the story around the family that were ejected from the plane for complaining about the movie. The airline industry in general is known for the low quality of customer service. However post 9/11, and as a frequent traveler, I see more and more abuse from airline personnel who are empowered to use "security" as an excuse for what often amounts to pettiness.
In this case, law enforcement determined that an obvious mistake was made that victimized the innocent and wasted tax payer dollars. Someone was either incompetent or malicious. Either way, they should be held accountable.Please keep after United and do not let the story drop. They care nothing for consumers but you in the media, you they fear. Please make them explain what happened. Nothing would make me happier than to see this story go viral. If nothing else, some "heat" might make the individuals involved behave better in future.
I'd also be interested in the view of law enforcement of the issue ? if I as an individual, deliberately waste the time of law enforcement, that in itself is a crime.<<
>>Thank you for publicizing how United Airlines has dealt with parental concerns over showing violent movies on shared screens. I have written to United about this twice. I received a brush off both times. Here is my most recent letter in case it is of interest. I would be extremely interested to know if and how United changes their movie policy based on the incident you report. My son's comment to me during the flight (full context below), "Mama, it is nicer to watch dancing than people being shot" was especially poignant as this was the day after the Sandy Hook elementary school shootings (of which my son knew nothing, thankfully).Content of letter to United:"I am writing to request a change in your in-flight movie policy. Please stop showing violent films on all flights with shared movie screens. My family and I are in the Foreign Service and thus fly regularly. I have written to your company about this issue once previously and our most recent travel has brought it up again."On December 15, 2012 we flew from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia to Denver Colorado. On the leg of the trip from Seoul to San Francisco, our plane had a shared movie screen. The first movie screened was the Bourne Legacy. I was flying with my 7 year old son. This movie was not only violent, but contained a scene in which multiple individuals were hiding in their workplace being stalked and shot and killed one by one by a co-worker. When the screen is shared there is no way to shield my son from these images without literally covering him with a blanket. As this was the first movie screened and during meal service this was impossible. I did my best to distract him but he, of course, witnessed the violence. The next morning while breakfast was being served a movie about dancing was being screened. It was quite sad to hear my seven year old state, "Mama, it is nicer to watch dancing than people being shot.""As an attorney and a strong supporter of the First Amendment, I do not see the answer to this problem in regulation of your ability to show these movies nor of Hollywood's ability to make them. I see the answer in individual and corporate responsibility. As a matter of corporate responsibility, please do not force me to subject my child to these violent images."As you know, Foreign Service personnel are required to use American carriers as their first choice for business related travel. Although I do not feel it is appropriate to legislate your choice of movies, my choice of airlines is legislated. I will be bringing this issue up with AFSA (the American Foreign Service Association) if I do not receive a satisfactory response."My first e-mail to you about violent movies being screened was answered with "Thank you for your input. Please see our in-flight magazine for all our great movie selections." Please do not send a similar response to this correspondence.<<
>>An interesting thread. I just had one comment. To this day I vividly remember seeing the movie "Manhunter", the first appearance of Hannibal Lecter on screen as an in-flight movie. It must have been 1986 or 1987. I was twelve or thirteen. Suffice it to say, not really appropriate for a mass audience on a plane.<<
>>I had a similar experience on United a few years ago, when my youngest son was about 4 or 5. I looked up from my book to see my son, who had been coloring, staring at the movie screen. I don't know what movie it was because I wasn't watching, but onscreen (for several minutes), a man was holding a knife to a woman's throat, speaking with a menacing expression on his face and her backed up against a wall. When I complained to a flight attendant I was told that she could do nothing about movie content and that business passengers would complain if they only showed "Disney" movies.
Fortunately, I wasn't removed from the flight. (Even though I may not have been quite as cordial as your correspondent.) I did complain online to United customer service. Like your correspondent, no response.
Anyway, I appreciate you putting some light on this problem. It's tough enough traveling with kids -- this kind of thing makes it far worse!<<
>>I am far, far outside my realm of competence here, and surely this is either (a) unfounded or (b) obvious to you, but the PR statement from United strikes me as rather odd.First, it does nothing at all beyond confirming facts you have already published. It does assert that "[we] have since conducted a full review of our inflight entertainment." But the incident took place in February, only 60 days before; allowing some time for reporting, how complete could such a review be? If any aspect of the review could be construed in the airline's favor - participation of senior management, consultation with noted authorities -- why not mention it? And what sort of review could not feature some aspects that a top-shelf PR staff could construe favorably?Second, if for some reason the statement could not be cast to reflect some credit on the airline, why make it at all? Yes, it would be good not to annoy an influential journalist. But surely there are ways to placate James Fallows without issuing a statement, and it's not really a statement that's going to delight any writer. Why not plead an ongoing investigation, threat of litigation, threat of a pending union grievance, or insist that security regulations prevent public discussion?Another easy target for the PR person is the question of fact which remains unaddressed so far: could the individual screen in fact have been retracted? As far as I can see, any response to this question makes the airline look better. Either the flight attendant was right and nothing could be done, or the flight attendant was regrettably mistaken about the capabilities of this particular aircraft, having extensive experience in another time where this could not be done. Either way, it shifts the discussion away from "lazy, unhelpful flight crew" and toward the hardware.Finally, diversions are costly. There might have been an investigation into the entertainment, but there must have been an investigation into the diversion. An extra airframe cycle, the lost time, the fuel expenditure, landing and takeoff at ORD -- that's got to add up to many thousands of dollars, doesn't it? The circumstances invite scrutiny: however scary the angry passenger might be, they're flying with their child. If my subordinate spent thousands of dollars over this (and called down the wrath of The Atlantic on my head), I'd want to ask whether they were really a threat to the aircraft? Or to neighboring passengers? Since such an investigation, formal or casual, involves so many moving parts - the chief pilot, the pilot's union, probably the flight attendants' union as well, conceivably the FAA or Chicago Police -- why wouldn't the PR person try to indicate vaguely that Something Was Done?How often are flights diverted due to passenger disturbance, anyway? My impression was that most of these incidents, since 9/11, still merit a brief mention in major newspapers.<<
>>Good morning from the Four Points in Shenzhen!That is what we call ending on an optimistic note. Now, from another American I know who has lived for years in China:
The good thing for China is that the middle class market is growing [JF note: this had been the topic of the meeting we attended in Washington] and the bad thing for China is that the middle class market is growing. The middle class in China want access to better food, fashion, cars, holidays etc. That's going to be a real headache for the government. China Inc will struggle to meet the requirements this is an opportunity for USA Inc.USA Inc needs needs to get working. It's as if it doesn't see the big picture. I just landed in HKG this morning and you cannot compare it to IAD. We landed at gate 64 one of the furthest away gates. From the plane to the Four Points in Shenzhen it was 1 hour and 15 mins. That's 30 less than just for immigration at IAD.
HK immigration [inbound], baggage (I checked a bag) customs, car to HK/SZ border, HK immigration [outbound] and walk through the SZ immigration control. Then a car ride to the Four Points. The experience at IAD is very telling. What most people were upset with was the attitude of the immigration officers. They were sitting in their booths chatting to each other ignoring the people in the queue. it's as if they don't have a purpose in their work.If America gets its act together it will be a huge winner in these times.<<
>>A good friend and academic colleague (prof at [a well-known West Coast university]), Chinese citizen with a green card, 28 year resident of the USA, is in the customs line at the Bradley Terminal [international-arrivals area at LAX.]Again, for making a joke to a customs agent, a professor coming back to work lost control of the electronic devices through which many people manage their business and personal activities. You can choose how you would like to categorize these reports: under "the way we live now," or "seeing ourselves as others see us." Other possibilities: "life under the sequester." Or, "annals of the security state."
Asked if he had any cash, he answered 'none'. Then, realizing he had some pocket money, he said, "Oh, I forgot - I have a little. Poquito." (smiling)
"Please step over to that line, sir."
In 'the line you don't want to be in', he was searched carefully. He asked why.
"We have a lot of rich Chinese trying to bring lots of money into the USA these days."
"Do I look like a rich Chinese?"
"Could be, sir."
Upshot was that they confiscated both mobile devices and the laptop. He received the mobile devises several days later, they still have the laptop.
He thinks maybe it was the attempted Spanish that ticked off the Latino officer.<<
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