Flying, United and others

The last time we flew on United, one of their employees at the gate was absolutely obnoxious; another was polite and helpful, which is really the least any employee should be. The flight was miserable, largely because the flight attendants seemed to be deliberately acting to make it so. At two o’clock in the morning, nobody wants the lights on, nobody wants coffee, and nobody wants the attendants running up and down the aisle asking if you want anything. The attendants know this, because they were not doing any of that in first class, where the lights were out and everyone asleep. I suspect United has policies to make coach miserable, to incentivize customers to buy an upgrade.

Other airlines we’ve flown on over the last year have been less unpleasant. American was okay; Virgin and Southwest were very nearly good.

The TSA at one end was obnoxious; at the other end they were not obnoxious, which is as close to good as they ever get. There’s little to be done about that.

Often I consider buying from a business that has just sustained a big customer-service black eye, on the theory that they’ll be exerting themselves to do well, and their prices will be a little lower as customers chose their competitors. In the case of United, I won’t be doing that. Their obnoxious employee at the gate, the (I think deliberately bad) service on the last flight, and other incidents like this make me think that this is their business model, and will remain so until they come up with another model — no easy task. Also, the president of United gives the impression of being a lying weasel who can’t figure out what lie to tell. It’s hard to imagine him fixing things. So I won’t be flying United, and their CEO’s apology tour isn’t going to change that.

Arma virumque cano

Now, a reminiscence. In the early eighties I went to an Army recruiting station to enlist. I’d called the recruiter first, and he seemed quite keen for me to come in. When I got to the office, the recruiting sergeant said to a young man who was sitting there being recruited, “Get up and let Mister _____ sit down.” Welcome to the Army, kid. He got up, and I sat down, initially thinking this looked like a pretty sweet deal. On later reflection, I suspected what was done for me today would be done to me tomorrow, and I was right.

Coal people

picture of wristwatch and belt buckle on miner's dinner bucket

The watch is a safety award from the Peabody Coal Comapny. The belt buckle says “power for progress.” They’re sitting on my father’s bucket, which is just like those my uncles and my grandfather carried down into the mine.

Homogeneity and variety

Years ago I knew a man who had found himself single in the far east, with a lot of money. He bought fourteen corduroy suits, because that’s how many different colors of corduroy the tailor had. The tailor threw in fourteen pairs of shorts, one of which my friend was wearing as he told me the story. He said, and I agreed, that he could have spent the money less well.

Sounds familiar

I don’t really have anything informed to say about this quote one way or the other, but it reminds me so much of my father that I’m posting it here:

“It’s hard to make sense of it all, but, damn if you don’t find an Irishman smack in the middle of every bad political deal American Catholic leaders have ever cut.”

Teaching Shakespeare

David Warren’s teacher meant well. Fortunately, she was too late:

“…by that point in my life (age fourteen) I was already a Shakespeare votary, and no high school teacher could kill my enthusiasm for him, much as she might (unwittingly) kill it in everyone else, by making a drudgery of the subject. The basic clew was missing among the pedagogues, as it still is: that this subject teaches itself. It needs only a stage, only to be pronounced, for the “music” in verse and prose to begin explaining all the words.”

This must be a common experience.

Scimitars and bayonets

Nikolas Lloyd in The Scimitar suggests how it might have been used in battle. It is partly speculative, but a compelling idea. I’ll assume you’ve read the linked article or watched the video, which is certainly worth the two and a half minutes:

The anecdote Lloyd presents supports his point about the bayonet, which is basically that bayonets are good:

If the British soldiers he tells about had been armed with bayonets on their rifles, the guys with the scimitars either would not have attacked, or would have been dispatched instantly. The British soldiers would not have had to worry about shooting into a crowd of by-standers.

My father also maintained that bayonets were good, especially for crowd control. As the second world war was ending, he was sent to the Pacific. Because the Japanese finally surrendered after President Truman dropped a second atom bomb on them, my father was part of the occupation force instead of part of an assault force, and he was assigned to crowd control (and I’m here to tell you about it.) Dad told me the bayonet was great for crowd control, not because he wanted to kill Japanese civilians, but because he didn’t. If there was civil unrest, all his infantry company needed to do was form up, point their bayonets at the crowd at head height, and march forward in line toward the crowd. The crowd departed. My father was a machine gunner, and he regarded it as sub-optimal to fire his .30 caliber machine gun into a crowd of hungry civilians outside the food warehouse. Fortunately, the bayonets always worked.

Later when I was in the army, a sergeant who had done crowd control in the early 70s explained why he disliked the M-16 (9 pounds, 40 inches, plastic stock). It was too light, too small, and insufficiently threatening, even with it’s short bayonet fixed. The only thing you could do if worse came to worst was shoot. The older M-14 (11 pounds, 44 inches, hardwood stock) looked like a serious weapon for grown-ups. It was much more intimidating to the crowd; and if that wasn’t enough you could butt-stroke the loud mouth at the front, and the smelly hippies would get the message without anyone dying.

Drafting technology

From Instapundit, video of a factory. It looks like the late 50s or early 60s. Around 30 seconds in there’s a man using a drafting machine. After learning mechanical drawing with T-square and triangles, I took a summer job where I got to use one of these, and I thought it was fantastic – amazingly faster and better than the old way. Until the late 90s I used drafting machines occasionally, and then took a job using Autocad. After drawing with pencils and pens and using things like this polar planimeter, using a real CAD package was amazingly faster and better than the old way. What’s next – a holodeck? Whatever it is, no doubt it will be amazingly faster and better than those primitive CAD packages from the turn of the century.

Vectra and Herculon

Wonder twins of synthetic fiber

Vectra, amazingly, was used for ladies stockings before it “began showing up in carpeting and upholstery in the 1960s, then faded from view.” Those must have been some rugged stockings. At least one chair, reupholstered with Vectra around 1968, stubbornly refuses to fade away. The Herculon on a non-matching couch is still in good shape too. The fabric on both these pieces of furniture is bound to outlast the frames, springs, and cushioning.