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What is Civilization? March 23, 2020

Posted by Peter Varhol in travel, Uncategorized.
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I never thought I would have to have an answer to that question before today.  To be fair, I’m not a particularly deep thinker, so I mostly see civilization as a gradual but extended run of increasing concern and action for our fellow human beings.

Today I learned otherwise.  Our collective response to coronavirus has severely shaken that.  Young Germans spitting on older people, shouting “Corona!”  French citizens who openly flout attempts to bring order to the chaos.  And of course, worst in my mind, American college students on spring break who don’t care who they may be infecting.  Of course they became infected.  The big question then becomes who might else they infect?

Because there seems to be a rather large segment of our population, in the US certainly but also worldwide, that views civilization as a form of, well, hedonism.  Civilization exists to benefit the individual, personally, in a large way.  They don’t care about what happens to anyone else, but they need to get something out of it, an advantage.  And if I have to step on some other people to do so, so be it.

I realize that it isn’t probably a majority of the population, but based on the last several weeks, it seems to be significant.

I am greatly troubled by this trend.  I had a somewhat personal involvement in 9/11.  After 9/11, it seemed that many people pulled together to help one another.  What has changed so much over the last twenty years?  I regret that I don’t know the answer to that, but even if I did, I couldn’t change the tsunami of time.

I am not a curmudgeon in the sense that I think that subsequent generations are inferior.  Quite the opposite.  Throughout my adult life, I have strongly believed that those younger than me would be in a civilized sense better than me.  It’s disheartening to think that the exact opposite has happened.

So, pray tell, what has happened?

You Can Tell a College Man March 16, 2020

Posted by Peter Varhol in travel, Uncategorized.
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But you can’t tell him (or her) much, as adults know.

Okay, I’m going to write this.  I realize that I may be a curmudgeon.  To be fair, that’s probably a given, but I have some defenses.  While I did the usual residential college 18-22 years old in the late 1970s, I grew up working poor, and had to work during my breaks to pay the bills.

Apparently many college students today don’t.  Because they are not letting coronavirus upset their Spring Break partying.  This article is especially telling, although there are others.  “I am a slut,” one person says.  Another.  “No one at college told us we could get sick having sex on Spring Break.  They just said to not share drinks.”  “If there are no parties in Florida, we’ll go to someplace where there are.  Toronto maybe.”  Toronto, pay attention.

I’m sorry that you don’t realize the world has changed, not quite overnight like it did with 9/11.  And I’m sorry (not really) that the world has changed on you.  After all, it changed very dramatically on me with 9/11.  And we didn’t respond by going to Toronto.  In fact, if you want to read about the Canadian response to 9/11, read about Operation Yellow Ribbon.  I cried.

But you will live forever, and you will never infect anyone, ever.  Right now, you are the stupidest people in America.  And I don’t think that will change over time.  But you don’t care, because it’s all about you.  The problem is that you don’t even know how stupid you are.

I was always sanguine about getting older, because I had faith that the coming generations would do what was necessary.  But partying in the face of a worldwide pandemic is not only not necessary, it is criminal.

You need to grow up, really fast.  That is the world that we are in.

Interconnected! March 15, 2020

Posted by Peter Varhol in travel.
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In the back of our minds we always knew this, but it had become so much a part of our social fabric that we never pondered it until perhaps now.  The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is an amusing game, but is also true of anyone who has any friends or colleagues.

I have approximately 1100 LinkedIn connections.  This apparently translates into several hundred thousand connections through the third level, perhaps as many as a million.

That’s not to say I’m going to see these people anytime soon, but it does point to relationship networks that didn’t exist twenty years ago.  In a sense, it’s good that this network is largely virtual, given the necessity of limiting physical contact as much as we can right now.

We are all more interconnected today, physically as well as virtually, which I think is generally a good thing, but it may also make us more fragile as a society.  We are seeing that fragility as we face our existing crisis.

That means that as we become more efficient in trading and communicating and sharing as a society, and as a collection of societies, we also make it possible to do others harm.  While the most immediate harm seems to be infection, whether direct or indirect, but there is also the ability to cause other types of harm.  We can use our social media voice to provoke people we have never met and don’t know, or we can project an air of “who cares, it won’t affect me”.

But most of us will probably be exposed to coronavirus, whether through work, school, shopping, and simply encountering random people who may be infected.  That doesn’t mean will will be infected, or get sick, but we simply can’t help the exposure.  To not acknowledge that is irresponsible.  And to not realize that we could be doing others harm is simply stupid.

UPDATE:  And then there are those college students who are using this pandemic as an excuse to extend their Spring Break partying.  They will surely live forever, or find someone else to blame if they don’t.  More on this later.

Flying, Now and Then January 16, 2020

Posted by Peter Varhol in travel.
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First, let me say that Chris Elliott does good work.  Really good work.  If I had a beef on travel, I would want his team on my side.  But occasionally, for whatever reason, he goes off the reservation.  I guess I get it, in a larger sense he’s got business reasons for catering to those who expect Cadillac service on a Yugo budget, but I have to call him on this.

In this article for USA Today, he bemoans the fact that what used to come with your airline ticket is now a group of optional extras, at an additional price.  I get what he’s saying, but Chris knows better than most people that he is being misleading here.

But basically he’s correct in his details, although he leaves significant gaps in his explanations.

Now, let’s take a look at the airline industry over the last fifty years.  Fifty years ago, the closest I got to a commercial airliner was when my father took me out to the end of the runway at Greater Pittsburgh International, and we spent the afternoon watching jets (mostly 707s) take off.  Occasionally there would be a C-123 or C-97 from the Air National Guard base there too.  I had no expectation of actually flying in a commercial aircraft; that was for people of means, and we most certainly were not that.

And yes, they had things that were included in the ticket, including meals, drinks, seat assignments, and luggage handling.  I get that.  Once again, they serviced people of means, with very good service.

A lot has changed since the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978.  Mostly, airline fares (and to some extent service) have been a race to the bottom.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Far more people who could not dream of flying before this do so, and many do so often.  I count that as a net positive, although it involved tradeoffs.

Second, in getting to a reasonable point of profitability today, just about every airline has filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  Some storied names (PanAm, TWA, Braniff, etc.) went under completely.  Costs had to come down.  9/11 almost destroyed the commercial airline industry in the United States.  Those that survived reassembled the pieces, and are once again going concerns.

I won’t say that it was easy.  Many hardworking people saw their pay and benefits slashed (although, this also happened to other people in many industries over the last twenty years).  Today, we look at an airline making a couple billion dollars in profit, and we say they are cheating the public.  However, their profit is also on the low end of US corporations in general, even though a couple billion dollars sounds like a lot of money.

And seriously, even factoring in the fees that have come with decoupling fares, those fares are in general the same, or even less (accounting for inflation) that the elitist flying public paid in the 1960s and 1970s.

Now, I am most definitely not a shill for the US airlines.  I do frequent one airline group more than others, and fly frequently enough to at least occasionally get many of these perks for free.  But people simply can’t expect the service of fifty years ago with fares in force today.

Chris, give it a break.  You’re not telling the whole story.  I, and many others, would stand no chance of flying today without the drastic shift we have seen in the industry.