The Biggest Racket: Airline Travel

As someone who’s studied a bit of psychology, I know that many people crammed into an enclosed space rapidly can become unruly. And I know from first hand experience that traveling in an airplane is a miserable experience, start to finish.

Since the government bailed out the industry in 2001 with $15 billion in compensation and loan guarantees, the industry has thanked the taxpayer by not only imposing ludicrous fees on everything from reserving a seat to carrying on luggage, but also designing narrower seats with vanishing legroom.

For two summers in a row, we traveled out west, to Arizona in 2015 and to California in 2016. Here’s how our experience with air travel went:

1. Because of various bankruptcies and mergers in the industry, we’re quite limited in choices of airlines. We always go to a smaller airport because it’s not as crowded and closer to home. (We would have a greater selection if we used a larger city’s airport, but it’s much more of a hassle to get there.) 

2. When we check in, we always find that we have to rearrange our seats, despite selecting them online ahead of time. My children are too young to travel without my husband or me next to them.

3. The flight has been overbooked. The boarding procedures are time-consuming and asinine.

4. The first leg of our trip always is to the “hub” of the airline. Most often, there are delays at the hub because the plane for the second leg of the trip hasn’t arrived yet, or something’s broken, or there’s inclement weather, or we’re waiting for the crew.

5. Repeat #3, but with an honorable mention: the crew on the first flight can do nothing about connecting flights. Amazon recommends stuff for me before I need it, but an airline can’t flag passengers who are going to potentially miss connecting flights because of unforced delays and log it so personnel can already work on accommodating them by the time the passengers reach the gate?

6. Despite the second flight taking at least four hours, there is no movie and all the airline offers is free soft drinks. Do you know how happy my kids would be if they got to see a movie on a plane? They wouldn’t even fight over any of the selections, something that takes up a good 30 minutes of our “family movie night” now. Because the airlines prioritize profit over comfort, long flights are terrible. I have to shift every 10 minutes to stave off potential cramping in my legs. Getting to the restroom is a feat of ingenuity because the aisle is so narrow.

When staff ask for volunteers to give up seats on overbooked flights, my price is an upgrade to first class for my family and me for the entire trip. (When we were discussing an overbooked flight from Flagstaff to Phoenix, I was willing to forgo the flight entirely for a kickass rental and first class the rest of the way home.) No one has taken me up on it yet.

As of late this afternoon, United CEO Oscar Munoz, after two failed attempts, completely apologized for forcibly dragging a passenger off a plane who did not volunteer to give up his seat. You know, creating more stress and havoc over a process that does not seem to go easy, ever. I’d love to see some rules in place preventing airlines from overbooking, but given our president’s penchant for eliminating regulations that help consumers–and his lack of experience in flying coach–I don’t think he’ll help any time soon.

The Biggest Racket: Airline Travel

Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and a Toxic Work Culture

My first, very cynical thought when reading this thoroughly reported New York Times story about Fox News settling harassment claims–to the tune of $13 million–against mega-star and cash cow Bill O’Reilly was, “how can anyone be surprised.”

After all, it’s been, what–nearly nine months?–since the cable channel’s founder, Roger Ailes, was ousted after creating and fostering a toxic work culture that thrived on misogyny, paranoia and corruption. To reward all his years of service and for his pesky habit of demanding sexual favors from his female employees in exchange for career advice, Ailes departed Fox News with a $40 million severance package.

Many predicted the channel would implode, but then Donald Trump won the election and despite having the highest security clearance in the nation, he chooses to get his news from–and live-tweet–Fox News programs. (To say nothing of the numerous sexual harassment claims filed against HIM.)

Bill O’Reilly’s response was that he’s a target because he’s famous and successful, and that none of the women–whom his network determined had serious enough causes to settle their claims–had followed proper procedure and documented their concerns with human resources or called a hotline specifically created to address sexual harassment complaints. Indeed, the network has doubled down on its star and extended his contract.

Lots of men in the network news business are famous and successful: Jake Tapper. Anderson Cooper. Scott Pelley. None of them have had to field sexual harassment complaints. And if you work for a company whose founder and CEO has encouraged a culture of sexual harassment, how comfortable are you going to be going through official channels at said company?

(And to be inclusive in all the nasty, here’s a woman at Fox News, an employee for two decades, who was fired for saying completely inappropriate things.)

How far do we have to go to believe women at face value when they claim they were harassed? A lot of the media world right now is bending over backward to accommodate O’Reilly’s response so the reporting is perceived fairly. How long do you think those employees had put up with the innuendo, the unwanted advances, the leers, before they had enough and filed suit? In those situations, women are subtly encouraged to just suck it up and deal for the sake of their careers.

Someone, somewhere had to do the math and risk analysis to come to the conclusion that O’Reilly is worth so much to Fox News that paying out $13 million worth of settlements was a necessary expense. That’s what makes this whole episode so sad and strange to me. Brian Stelter, CNN media critic, in his email newsletter compared O’Reilly to a troublesome sports star whose off-field antics begin to distract fans from his success in the game. But that analogy doesn’t work for me. I can’t think of many sports stars who were accused of harassing their colleagues in their work environment, like O’Reilly. (The only example that comes to mind is Richie Incognito.)

Finally, Fox News is one of the most successful networks, despite its toxic work environment. At this point, owner Rupert Murdoch is willing to look the other way as long as the channel makes money. How depressing.

Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and a Toxic Work Culture

On Leggings and Michael Pence

My 11-year-old daughter, on the cusp of puberty, is rapidly transforming into Lady Longlegs. She is uncomfortable in denim and wears dresses maybe twice a year, mainly because she can’t stand tights.

What does that leave her? Cotton pants, jeggings and leggings. (A post for another time: girls’ clothes aren’t nearly as sturdy and well made as boys’ clothes.) 

Her school has a dress code and since my daughter is a conscientious person it’s always at the back of her mind. Like most dress codes, it’s mainly written for girls and/or women. I imagine it’s similar to the dress code United Airlines has for people flying on buddy passes. 

My point here is not to argue about the dress codes in and of themselves, but how they perpetuate the assumption that girls and women need to be modest and cover themselves up. Otherwise, they become wanton temptations for boys and men. This argument not only does a disservice to girls and boys, reducing them to objects and urges, but also reinforces rape culture, a term I hate but is the most accurate in a society’s way of blithely assuming that women and girls are “asking for it” when they are sexually assaulted.

When other parents tell me they’re teaching their daughters to be modest, I immediately ask them what they’re instructing their sons. That girls have brains and feelings? That they should be respected and be considered persons in their own right, regardless of how many piercings they have or how their clothes fit? That they’re not objects of temptations, but the sum of more than their body parts, and future colleagues and bosses? 

When my son tells me he has a crush on a girl, he usually tells me it’s because the girl is cute, but I try to make him understand, even though he’s only 8, that girls can be attractive because they’re smart and funny, too. After all, those qualities have nothing to do with what clothes the girls are wearing.

There’s still a lot of work to do, because women (including me) have been harassed while fully clothed and wearing a winter coat. But I think it’s an important first step, to teach and reinforce these ideas in boys starting when they’re young and as they become teens.

To illustrate my point, we have Vice President Mike Pence, who considers women other than his wife to be such a distraction he won’t eat alone with them or attend functions alone with them where alcohol is served. Again, I don’t want to criticize his marriage. You do you, Mike and Karen! But I am concerned about how this affects Pence’s view of women in government and in places of power? Will Pence dine with Angela Merkel or Theresa May to discuss sensitive political matters without his wife? Nancy Pelosi? Elizabeth Warren? Does this policy mean he won’t hire women as high-level staffers in his own office, because there’s a chance he might have to dine with them alone? I mean, according to Pence, women are such distractions and objects of temptation there’s no way men can have platonic relationships with them. They’re not more than the sum of their parts. They’re solely objects.

On Leggings and Michael Pence

I Missed the Biggest Story of Spring Training

In what was surely inevitable, Major League Baseball is teaming up with Game of Thrones for a big promotional hootenanny.

I came across this story this afternoon on the Twitters, where I first learned Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard will have a walk-on role on this season of Game of Thrones. (He was available to film in November because the Mets lost their sole play-off game hahahahahaha #soblessed.)

As a surprise to no one, I have some ideas on how to incorporate the Game of Thrones world into baseball games.

1. Introducing the players and their positions. Use the GoT music and title sequence to announce fielders, with each player having his own sigil and his position having a construction similar to places in GoT.

2. Quotes for different situations:

  • Bottom of the ninth inning: “What is dead shall never die.”
  • Substitutions, especially during the game: “His watch has ended.”
  • Refer to a particularly brutal inning as the Red Wedding.
  • Referring to the umps: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

3. Recite lineups like Arya Stark’s list of revenge. 

4. DRAGONS! (I haven’t thought this one through yet.)

5. DIREWOLVES! (Ditto.)

I Missed the Biggest Story of Spring Training

Spring Training Update: Let’s Check in on the Phillies

When we last left our intrepid heroes, a quick start to the 2016 season had slowly but surely sunk into a listless and dispirited limp come October.

Interestingly enough, pre-season baseball in Philadelphia right now is competing with the NHL trading deadline (even though, as I understand it, the Flyers are out of playoff contention), a devastating injury to a 76ers player and the NFL … offseason, I guess? There are lots of “trade discussions” and “cuts” headlines floating around.

But in Clearwooder, spring training is a breath of fresh air. John Kruk, he of the 1993 National League Champions (Team Mullet) fame, joins the booth! Roy Halladay, a player on the enormously popular Golden Age of Phillies baseball teams, might be an instructor! Matt Stairs (also on those teams) is teaching Odubel Herrera how to hit, but whether this ability can manifest when the games actually count is up for debate! Brock Stassi is coming out of nowhere to hit massive dingers in an appeal for a bench job!

But friends and neighbors, Aaron Nola, whose promising 2016 season was cut short when nearly every part of his pitching elbow became messed up, stepped on the mound today. His elbow did not disintegrate while in use. His control wasn’t there but the speed was. Everyone is cautiously optimistic.

Nothing else is really happening, except this seems to be the last season for the bar to be so low, and the hope is the prospects will start to deliver next year.

Spring Training Update: Let’s Check in on the Phillies

A Few Words About Trump and the Media

Before I became a stay-at-home mom, I worked in the communications world. I dabbled in everything from B2B (advanced technology to machining) to healthcare, from writing to editing to public relations.

From my experience as an in-house PR gal, I can tell you that Trump’s frustration with the media is entirely typical of a person who’s used to total control. I lobbied my bosses for media training for certain employees so they could understand how reporters and editors functioned, but it never took. 

Here are some hard and fast rules to consider when the President throws around words like “fake news”:

1. You can’t control what the media publishes or airs. In the B2B world, it’s a little different. Those editors sometimes solicit more technical pieces written by engineers (usually ghostwritten by a communications person), but the engineers have the byline. In nearly all other instances, a press release that’s been endlessly crafted and has gone through tens of revisions will not be run verbatim. I don’t care how perfect the quotes are; a reporter will want to conduct an independent interview. If you want something published exactly the way you want it written, you need to buy an ad. Advertising, or paid media, is not the same as public relations, or earned media.

2. Nearly everything happens at the last minute. A story you’re expecting in a certain issue or above the fold or right after the weather at 6 p.m. easily could get bumped if something else more newsworthy comes along. And you’re entirely beholden to their schedule and deadlines; you have to play by their rules.

3. Reporters, copy editors and editors have different roles. A reporter, more than likely, won’t know when a story will be published or aired. Instead, reporters are responsible for the meat of the story; they usually don’t even write the headlines. Copy editors do, which is why sometimes there’s a huge disconnect between a headline and the story. Editors determine reporting assignments and placement of stories. So when you’re going to complain, direct your ire to the right person. Incidentally, editors get story pitches from their own reporters in addition to PR folks.

4. Anonymous sources have their own agendas. An outlet worth its weight won’t publish a story based on one source who refuses to go on the record. The information the source provides is usually confirmed by either one person is willing to be quoted publicly or multiple, reliable people who aren’t. But editors always take into account why a person is leaking (or corroborating) particular information.

5. Are stories made up? Sometimes. But so do Trump and his surrogates. Jayson Blair, for instance, completely fabricated stories, in addition to plagiarizing colleagues. Brian Williams at best embellished anecdotes and at worst outright lied. Those guys are the most infamous transgressors but there are lots more. However, for the most part, outlets have robust fact-checking in place. Ignoring fact-checking calls and emails before deadlines and then claiming a story was incorrect is pretty disingenuous. Also, Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer, in addition to Trump himself, have told some pretty big whoppers. Printing (and refuting) those lies doesn’t make publications “fake news.”

A Few Words About Trump and the Media

Cyberbullying: No Easy Solution

Over the past year or so, I’ve rarely posted on Facebook, and when I have, it’s mainly (approved) pictures of my children and/or family, with a few anecdotes thrown in. To me, Facebook has become a toxic place. I’ve muted some friends after the election because I can’t take all the hate that’s casually thrown around. Also, I don’t know of anyone who changes his or her mind after a Facebook conversation, so I’ll just take all the pet and/or dinner photos, thank you.

Last week, a friend of mine added me to a private Facebook group concerning a student who attends the same school as my daughter. The girl received alarming messages via Snapchat from a fellow student, who threatened to rape her and kill her family if she didn’t send him nude pictures. The girl’s family immediately alerted the school and local law enforcement, who responded promptly and are handling the case.

Many parents in the private Facebook group are alarmed that the student who sent the messages seems to still be attending school, although he allegedly was transferred to another team of kids. Because of privacy laws in our state, school officials and staff cannot let parents know if he is still in school (parents learned about that from their kids); if he’s being punished and what the punishment is, if anything.

Even though the girl’s family knows who the student is, they haven’t released his name within the Facebook group. In the span of a few days, some parents have posted comments that have taken on a distinctive tone of vigilantism. The group, originally created to support and uplift a vulnerable girl in a shitty situation, has unraveled as infighting and name-calling–among adults–has taken over. The moderator has decided to delete comments deemed hateful.

Others have organized a walkout tomorrow to peacefully protest the school district’s response, or lack thereof. My children won’t be participating, although many kids will be. I told my kids what had happened and showed them the messages the student sent to the girl, which the girl’s grandfather shared in the private Facebook group. My son has been clamoring for his own personal YouTube channel for weeks now, and my daughter has wanted social media privileges like her friends have. (Texting and Instagram, mostly.) My daughter immediately groaned and said because of that situation, she probably would have to wait longer to be on social media. I won’t let my kids take the day off because I believe that won’t do anything to help the situation, and if you really think about it, the bully wins. He wins because everyone is changing their behavior because of his actions.

My daughter has had issues with a student, on and off, since kindergarten. Teachers and staff had advised her to stay away from the other student, so my daughter left her normal table at lunch and ate by herself. Things came to a head last year and for the first time ever I requested that my daughter be placed in a different class than my daughter. But nothing really changed for the other girl. Even though the teachers were aware of a “mean girls” clique that the other student was in charge of, and separate her from her friends, there wasn’t a lot they could do.

Earlier this school year, a fellow student yelled out “F*ck you!” to my daughter as she was riding her bike home from school. She told us, and I immediately emailed her vice principal. We didn’t know who the kid was, but we knew with whom he was walking. The vice principal called my daughter into her office the next day and they pored through yearbooks, looking for the other kid. She must have found him, because my daughter said the kid apologized to her later that week for what he said. She forgave him, and we haven’t had a problem since.

Obviously, my daughter’s experiences are nothing compared with a girl who was threatened with violence to herself and her family. I feel for the girl and for the family, who must be living a frustrating nightmare as they navigate this situation. But I don’t think skipping school is a good solution to a complex and troubling problem. I hope our district policies are changed to reflect the inadequacy of letting a kid still be in the same school as the person he’s threatened, but that takes time.

Cyberbullying: No Easy Solution