22 September 2010

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?
    - "Yip" Harburg, lyrics and Jay Gorney, composer

Even though our government is trying to make us believe that the economy's again on an upswing, I find that really hard to believe. The national Bureau of Labor Statistics provides compiled statistics that completely undermine the Administration's efforts to rally and cheer us. As of the end of August, 2010, the unemployment rate is stagnant at 9.6%, Payroll employment is down by 54,000, employment cost is up, and productivity is down by 1.8% in the second quarter of the year. What does that tell you? Not much, if you don't have a working knowledge of economics.

How about this, then? The same agency reported in the same time frame, government employment fell when 114,000 census workers were laid off. They also say that the "long-term unemployed" ranks, the people who have been out of work for more than 27 weeks, make up 42% of the total number. What is the total number? 14.9 million. Does that tell you anything?

I thought so. I'd write more, but you can get the full effect of these numbers from the Feds at the BLS website. If you go to the site, you'll read how the number of "discouraged workers" has increased by 352,000 from a year earlier. "Discouraged workers" are the people who don't look for jobs because they don't think there are jobs they can get. If you weren't discouraged before, you should be by now.

In my chosen profession, writing, there's something new and terrible going on, and it's getting worse. More and more ads are being placed in "Services Offered" for the writing of term papers, dissertations, college application essays, and book reports. All the things that students are supposed to do for themselves, and all the things that if others do for them, reduces the value of the grading system. We're talking an order of magnitude worse than a parent "helping out" with a homework assignment--this is just wholesale academic dishonesty and fraud. Professional writers know this, but it now appears a good many of them are willing to forego ethics and authorial integrity in order to put an iPhone in the pocket or bread on the table. I personally don't care why they're doing it--it's disgraceful, in both the buying and the selling. It's plagiarism, pure and simple.

What to do about it? This is one time when I think a "zero tolerance" rule is applicable. If you buy a paper and you get caught, you get expelled from the class with an automatic "F." If you sell a paper to somebody who gets caught, your name appears in a "Writers' Wall of Shame" in local newspapers, and any academic credentials you possess get rescinded on the spot, no exceptions.

This would solve the problem, I think, and would also improve the likelihood that the people who actually do their own work get graded on an even playing field, rather than against professionals. It would also ensure that if a person isn't up to doing the job, they don't get moved along and matriculated--thereby lowering the overall value of the credentialing. Really, it's not rocket science.

Excuse me. I have to write some letters to area college deans, asking them to investigate this issue and take aggressive steps to end the practice of academic papers for hire.


09 September 2010

Treat everyone with politeness, 
even those who are rude to you--
not because they are nice, 
but because you are. 

When Steven Slater delivered his parting shot at the rude, annoying passenger and then slid down the emergency chute with a couple of bottles of beer in hand, he probably lived out many a flight attendant's darkest fantasy and provided them with a guilty, vicarious thrill, even though it's clear the airport, the police, and the JetBlue management are taking a decidedly dimmer view of his antics. Slater's become an Internet sensation for having allowed his temper to boil over at a passenger during what started out as a routine taxi across the tarmac.

By all accounts, the passenger Slater chewed out over the intercom system was indeed a problem--she'd been in an earlier altercation over overhead bin storage, she refused to stay seated until the plane stopped moving, she opened an overhead compartment and could have hurt others sitting nearby if the luggage she was after had shifted, and the coup de grace--she cursed at Slater after he tried to stop her and ended up cutting his head with a corner of the bag she she was trying to maneuver.

Irrespective of anything else--costs, safety considerations, security breaches, and the like--I'm just stunned by the overall incivility of the incident. When did air travelers decide that it's okay to treat the people paid to assist in ensuring their safety badly? I don't need to repeat what the passenger called Slater here, but had those four syllables been aimed at me, I'd have been enraged, too. Something inside Slater snapped. After more than two decades of flying with increasingly hostile, nasty, and unheeding passengers, he'd had enough, and dropped his smile and solicitous manner to strike back.

I've been on flights with people who are like the woman with the luggage. It's like they travel in some extra-dimensional space where nobody else exists. They're too busy making sure they're comfortable and have what they need to notice that there are other people around waiting for their seats, some overhead storage space, a cup of coffee, or a pillow. With these people, you can expect delays and aggravation at every step of the journey--they have difficulties checking in ("What do you mean, I have to pay extra for 200 pounds of luggage?" or "What do you mean, the plane is full and I can't change my seat assignment?"); they expect flight attendants to disregard the rules as they enter the plane ("This isn't really a carry-on bag--it's my makeup case!"); they cannot stow their gear and seat themselves in fewer than five minutes; they either chat during or ignore completely the pre-flight safety instructions; they behave like Mexican jumping beans hopping in and out of their seats all through the flight, even when flight attendants are pushing carts through the aisles; and when the flight ends, they jump up one final time and clog up the aisles for another five to ten minutes while people must wait for them to re-orient themselves to reality.

Worst of all, though, are the passengers who do all the above, and complain loudly to anyone who will listen (in a plane, it's a relatively captive audience) about the poor quality of everything, including the flight attendants. These passengers want everyone to know how special they are, and how deserving of better treatment.

JetBlue and Slater have parted ways. Passengers no longer have to worry about being chastised for being nasty.

Excuse me. I think I should call my broker and invest in rail, boat, and bus companies. Chances are pretty good that the skies won't be friendly any time soon.