Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Airlines' golden age wasn't so golden.

If you think about air travel 50 years ago, you probably envision smartly dressed businessmen reclining in big, comfy seats and enjoying elaborate meals. Meanwhile, attractive young stewardesses fawn over their customers -- the legendary "coffee, tea or me" days. Those days weren't, however, as glamorous as you might imagine.

I have a copy of TWA's flight schedule from June 1, 1959. The first jets were being introduced into the fleet, but the vast majority of flights were still on propeller-driven aircraft. There's an ad in the timetable for TWA's low coast-to-coast "excursion fares." Los Angeles to New York was only $168.40 roundtrip, if you traveled Monday through Thursday in Sky Club Coach class. That bargain is roughly equivalent to $1,225 today, before tax.

These fares weren't valid on the fastest aircraft, so you had only two options, neither of which went nonstop. There was the 10:10 a.m. departure from Los Angeles that arrived in New York at 11:41 p.m. that night or the 7:55 p.m. departure that arrived at 10:56 a.m. the next day -- more than 12 hours in the air. This was on a Lockheed Constellation, which, while beautiful, bounced you around in the weather at about 20,000 feet, far below the 35,000 to 40,000 feet you'd cruise at today. Even when the weather was good, that trademark prop vibration left you feeling like you were sitting on a washing machine for hours after you landed.

So what exactly was so good about the old days? The service was excellent, and the meals in First Class were quite indulgent. But in Sky Club Coach, the timetable noted, "Box lunches must be purchased at airport before departure." As in most cases, memories get better with age. Today, you can fly across the country in less than half the time for less than a quarter of the inflation-adjusted price, and you can watch TV or surf the Web along the way.


Carlsberg Brewery Workers Strike in Denmark After Bosses Tell Staff They Can Only Drink at Lunchtime.

The money quote:

He added that the company's trucks have been fitted with alcohol locks so that drivers would not be able to drink too much and drive.


Dead Dogs: Breed bans, euthanasia, and preemptive justice.

Nowadays, dangerous-dog hearings decide if dogs live or die. Vicious-dog law, or what some simply call “dog-bite law,” usually precludes any legal challenge—especially if the offending animal happens to be identified as dangerous simply because of the breed.

In May 2005 animal-control units began to round up all pit bulls within the Denver city limits. Dogs were taken from their homes and put down regardless of their disposition or demeanor. Last summer the New York City Housing Authority issued a ban on pit bulls (also identified as American Staffordshire terriers or Staffordshire bull terriers), rottweilers, and Doberman pinschers—“all of these either full breed or mixed breed”—or any other full-grown dog over 25 pounds in all public housing. So New York, the most urbane of American cities, now boasts the harshest public-housing dog regime in the country. What Gladwell described a few years ago as “a generalization about a generalization about a trait that is not, in fact, general” anticipated the undesirable, if not toxic, effects of unfounded prejudice.

In May of last year, Judge Burke F. McCahill of Loudoun Circuit Court in Virginia ruled legal Loudoun County Animal Care and Control’s current “No Adopt Out” policy. That meant that any abandoned dog identified as a “pit bull,” even if judged temperamentally sound by animal-behavior specialists, had to be euthanized rather than adopted. In the past three years, more than 200 dogs have been put down in Loudoun County. McCahill ruled that “a Citizen’s right to own a pit bull is entirely different than a citizen’s right to adopt.” So if you already possess a pit bull you can keep it, but anyone who wants to acquire one from a shelter is prohibited from doing so.

Today’s pit bull bans tell us more about ourselves than about the breed: about the rituals and the illusions that have become necessary to our survival.


Democrats at the Edge of the Cliff.

Something unique happened in the first Obama year, about the last thing the Democratic Party needed: The veil was ripped from the true cost of government. This is the ghastly nightmare Democrats have always needed to keep locked in a crypt.

Before the Internet, that was easy. Washington, California, New York, New Jersey—who knew what the pols were spending? The Democrats (and their Republican pilot fish) could get away with this. Not now. Email lists, 24/7 newspapers, blogs, TV and talk radio—the spending beast is running naked.

Read the whole thing.

The Myth of Lady Jane Grey.

The traditional story runs like this: Lady Jane Grey was born in 1537, the daughter of Henry VIII's royal niece, Frances, and her husband, Harry Grey, Marques of Dorset. The stout, bejewelled woman in a double portrait by Hans Eworth is still used to illustrate Frances's nature. "Physically she bore a marked resemblance to Henry VIII," notes Alison Weir, a best-selling historian, in her book "The Children of Henry VIII". Here was a woman, "determined to have her own way, and greedy for power and riches," who "ruled her husband and daughters tyrannically and, in the case of the latter, often cruelly."

So Jane grew up an abused child, beaten regularly by her unloving mother. In 1553 the 15-year-old Jane was forced (beaten again) to marry the 18-year-old Guildford Dudley, son of the principal figure in the King's Privy Council, John Dudley. Frances believed the marriage would promote Jane as heir to the dying Protestant King Edward VI. Weeks later Edward did indeed bequeath Jane his throne, in place of his Catholic sister Mary Tudor. Jane was obliged to accept, though she protested through tears that Mary was the rightful claimant.

On July 10th 1553 Jane was processed to the Tower as Queen. The red-haired, red-lipped, smiling girl was so tiny, the story goes, that she wore platform shoes to give her height. Nine days later Mary Tudor overthrew Jane, imprisoning her in the Tower from where she had reigned. Tried and convicted of treason, she remained a prisoner, hoping for pardon, until her father led a failed rebellion against Mary. Although she had nothing to do with the rebellion, Jane was beheaded on February 12th 1554, an "innocent usurper". She was only 16.

The myth is encapsulated in Paul Delaroche's 1833 portrait of Jane, bound and dressed in white on the scaffold (pictured above), a painting with all the erotic overtones of a virgin sacrifice. (Nancy Mitford startlingly told Evelyn Waugh that this image was the source of her adolescent sexual fantasies.) Seemingly unmoved by the execution of both daughter and husband, Frances was remarried within a month to a boyish 21-year-old servant named Adrian Stokes. She lived only for pleasure.

But what factual basis is there for believing Frances was a monster?

More here.

How Corrupt Is the World Food Program?

How pervasive are the problems at the World Food Program, the largest hunger relief agency in the world and the United Nations agency responsible for food aid? It’s a $2.9 billion question—the amount of direct aid disbursed by the WFP. A significant part of its budget comes from U.S. contributors, and USAID coordinates some of its work through the WFP.

It’s been a month since the leaking of a scathing evaluation of WFP’s Somalian relief program written by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia. The body, created by the UN Security Council, alleges that three Somali businessmen who held about $160 million in WFP transport contracts were involved in arms trading while diverting the agency’s food aid away from the hungry. A New York Times report also claimed food was being siphoned off by radical Islamic militants and local UN workers.


Inside the Federal Reserve Bank in New York.

The gold you see in the vault of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York attracts more than 25,000 visitors a year. It is the world’s largest accumulation of gold and belongs to 36 foreign governments, central banks and official international organizations. Only a very small portion of this gold belongs to the U.S. government. The Federal Reserve Bank does not own the precious metal but serves as guardian for the nations and international organizations that choose to leave their monetary gold reserves in the Bank’s custody. It is estimated that the gold in the vault represents a significant portion of all the monetary gold that has ever been mined.

The gold stored at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is secured in a most unusual vault. It rests on the bedrock of Manhattan Island—one of the few foundations considered adequate to support the weight of the vault, its door, and the gold inside—80 feet below street level and 50 feet below sea level.

Lots more here.

Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, and Lester Young.

A Complete List Of Bad Things Attributed To Global Warming.

It seems hardly a day goes by without some new outlandish claim that some misfortune or other is caused by Global Warming. Well, somebody has compiled a list.

The list is here.

Not Content to Merely be Nuclear Rivals, India and Pakistan Compete Over Silly Walks.

h/t Ace.