Saturday, November 20, 2010

Continental Airlines Takes a Nosedive

So, a blog's reach must exceed its grasp, or what's it good for?  And one of the functions of blogging, and I might go so far as to say that one of the duties of a practicing blogist, is to report to the public on problems related to the consumer goods and services that dominate our culture and environment.  To that end, this post is about Continental Airlines, which is in the process of merging with United Airlines, and turning into one of the largest, if not the largest in the industry.

Living in New Jersey as I do, I usually use Newark-Liberty Airport, where Continental is king of the hill, and that is the airline that I most often use.  At least, that was the airline that I most often used.

And last week I traveled from Newark to San Francisco for the annual meeting of the National Communication Association.  The return flight boarded at 11:00 AM west coast time, and landed after 8:00 PM east coast time.  In other words, we were in the air during at least one meal time, and arguably two.

Now, as you may know, the new policy is not to offer free meals on these flights.  They say no free meals on flights under 6 hours, which sounds rational but conveniently cuts out most transcontinental travel in the United States.  So they offer a menu and food for sale, hamburgers, salads, sandwiches, and snacks.

That's bad, but that's not what motivated this post.  We're all getting the treatment from airlines, like paying a fee for checking your bags, that's old news.  And I noticed Continental now offers seats with extra leg room in coach for an extra $69!!!  Maybe they'll start to offer better quality air for passengers willing to pay a fee?

But no, what motivated this post is the fact that on the flight from San Francisco to Newark they not only charged for lunch, but didn't have enough food to go around.  And of course, you get no information about what's going on before you leave, it's not until you're imprisoned up in the air that you're informed of the situation.

Look, it's bad enough that Continental Airlines offers not so much as a complimentary peanut to eat anymore.  That's more of an insult than an injury.  But to represent that they have lunch items for sale, and then not to have them available, well, what do we call that?  False advertising?  Bait and switch?

You see, when the flight attendant with the food cart got to my row, she informed me that all she had was snacks.  This included two kinds of snack boxes.  And you might say, Lance, the snack boxes are not very good, but they're something, right?  And I'd say, sure, that's true, but wouldn't you expect to be informed of what's in the snack boxes before purchasing them?  Well, it seems that whoever prepared the flight for take off neglected to provide menus in the seat pockets, not a one.  And the flight attendant did not know what was in the box, and wouldn't open one up so I could see what was in it before purchasing it.  Pig in a poke?

So, all of this is pretty bad, but corporate malfeasance is nothing new, right?  But what was over the top is that this flight attendant was angry!  She was angry with Continental about the situation, and made that clear enough, but she directed that anger at me, as I was, I gather, asking the same questions and expressing the same complaints as a couple dozen people had already done in the rows ahead of me.  I'm sure the situation was very unpleasant for her, but she was rude and nasty to me, and when I pay good money for a seat on a cramped and uncomfortable flight, I expect a little better.  Talk about insult to injury, this was just too much. 

I won't go into the specifics of our exchange, they're not important.  And I'm sure she was stressed, tired, etc.  But for me, the bottom line is that when you are taking a paycheck from a company, then you have to take responsibility for what the company does.  You are that company's representative, period.

So, I wound up purchasing one of the two types of snack boxes sight unseen, as I had no alternative.  And to be honest, I felt pretty nauseous afterward.  

I did complain about the flight attendant's behavior to the head flight attendant, a fellow named Don, and while he had already heard her side of the story, he listened to me, acknowledged that her behavior is not always the best, was entirely polite and friendly, and bought me a drink to make up for the way she acted.  Thank you Don, you really salvaged a bad experience for me!

Now, don't get me wrong.  The flight attendant with the food cart may have been a bad apple, but the source of her irritability and anger was Continental Airlines.  Continental Airlines created a situation where it was impossible to satisfy its customers, and where its employees had to bear the brunt of consumer dissatisfaction in a context that they were unprepared to deal with.

The bottom line is information.  Tell me what the situation is.  If you're not going to offer us anything, say so, say it in large letters on the boarding pass, have your personnel announce it at the gate, make it clear, spell it out, so we have a chance to prepare.  If you don't have enough for everyone and may run out, say so, print it on the ticket and boarding pass, send me an email, call me up, announce it at the gate, let us know what the situation is.  We have a right to know, and YOU have an obligation to tell us.

That's the bare minimum, of course.  And with merger mania, the fact is that we do not have all that much of a choice in airlines.  But after hearing folks rave about JetBlue, I really have to rethink my travel preferences.

I should add that my flight home was delayed due to high winds in New Jersey, something we've been experiencing in the New York Metropolitan Area with increasing frequency in the last couple of years.  It's downright scary to see such climate change, and what with strange weather, volcano eruptions and the like, air travel is becoming not only less pleasant and less reliable, but less possible!

My tip for the future, therefore, is invest in high-speed railways!  As I read in a comic book as a kid, good old terra firma, the more firmer, the less terror!

Monday, November 15, 2010

DayRiffer (a one way ticket yeah)

So, I want to take this opportunity to recommend to you my friend Andrew Postman's new website, It's subtitled, Aggregating with Attitude, and that's what it is, an aggregator.  You know what an aggregator is, right.  No, not this:

That's an alligator, not an aggregator.  Now, don't get aggravated, just having a little fun here.  

So, according to good old Wikipedia, an aggregator is "a web site or computer software that aggregates a specific type of information from multiple online sources."  And they list six types of aggregators:  news, video, poll ("aggregates polling data for upcoming elections"), review ("reviews of movies or other products or services"), search ("organizes a specific search from various search engines"), and wellness ("a virtual clinic that integrates a variety of Health and Wellness modalities for people seeking to improve their health and wellbeing").

So, Andy's site is a news aggregator, which puts it in the same category as the Drudge Report, the Huffington Post, and Google news.   Some, like Google news, are based on search algorithms and crowdsourcing and/or ranking, others like Drudge and Huffington, reflect some kind of individual editorial vision, although they have long been collaborative efforts.  Postman's is pretty much a one-man show, or one-man aggregation, put on by a highly talented writer and creative mind.

Here's what he says about it:

It's an aggregator with attitude; an attempt to have a human being select the stories of the day that are most interesting, meaningful, counterintuitive, provocative, odd, moving, funny, with commentary reflecting a certain sensibility, accompanied by a longer, daily "riff." I don't know why I put riff inside quotation marks but I did. So be it.
Andy goes on to say
Any comments or recommendations you may have about the website are most welcome - specifics, you'd visit it daily, you loathe it, etc. It's a work in progress. Then again, so are we all.
So, it's kind of like a blog, kind of like I do here, but better, more reliable, and with a purpose, and linked to all sorts of cool items found elsewhere on the web, so really, it's not so much like this.  But well, why don't you go on, take a look, and make it a part of your daily routine.  Tell him I sent you.

Oh, and the title of this post alludes back to what I take to be the allusion behind the name of the website, that is, the Beatles song, "Day Tripper".  Here are the lyrics, and imagine them applied to the art of the aggregator as you read them:

Got a good reason, for taking the easy way out
Got a good reason, for taking the easy way out, now

She was a day..... tripper, one way ticket, yeah!
It took me so..... long to find out, and I found out

She's a big teaser, she took me half the way there
She's a big teaser, she took me half the way there, now

She was a day.... tripper, one way ticket, yeah!
It took me so.... long to find out, and I found out

Tried to please her, she only played one night stands
Tried to please her, she only played one night stands, now

She was a day.... tripper, Sunday driver, yeah!
It took me so.... long to find out, and I found out

Day tripper
Day tripper, yeah!

Day tripper
Day tripper, yeah!

And, oh yeah, now I just gotta hear the song...

Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's much better now!  So now,  Aggregate!  Aggregate!  Dance to the music!  Or something like that...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Lure of Bateson

So, another great event at the Institute of General Semantics-sponsored New Languages, New Relations, New Realities Symposium at Fordham University was the preview screening of Nora Bateson's documentary about her father, Gregory Bateson.  We had an earlier preview of the film at this past June's Media Ecology Association meeting in Maine, and I was very grateful that Nora agreed to come to New York City last month for the general semantics event.

Gregory Bateson gave the 1970 Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture, and his daughter, and Nora's sister, Mary Catherine Bateson, was last year's AKMLer.  Mary Catherine is the daughter of Margaret Mead, Gregory's first wife, and Nora is the daughter of his third wife, Lois, who we were also honored to have present for Nora's screening and Deborah Tannen's Korzybski Lecture.  

So, you can check out Nora's official website for her film, An Ecology of Mind, subtitled A Daughter's Portrait of Gregory Bateson, at  It includes an homage to Bateson written by systems theorist Fritjof Capra, and here's one excerpt from that essay:

He made significant contributions to several sciences — anthropology, cybernetics, psychiatry, and, most important of all, to the new interdisciplinary field of cognitive science, which he pioneered. But perhaps even more important is the fact that he championed a new way of thinking, which is extremely relevant to our time — thinking in terms of relationships, connections, patterns, and context. As we replace the Newtonian metaphor of the world as a machine by the metaphor of the network, and as complexity becomes a principal focus in science, the kind of systemic thinking that Bateson advocated is becoming crucial.

Nora's site also includes a trailer for the film, and there's a version on YouTube with Italian subtitle's that I can embed here for you (but by all means, check out too, because there's a lot more to look at there):

And here's another excerpt found on YouTube:

Gregory Bateson's work cuts across many disciplines, and certainly adds an important dimension to general semantics, as general semantics emphasizes the relationship of the individual to the environment, whereas Bateson adds an emphasis on the relationship of one individual to another.  Along with his pioneering work in cybernetics and systems theory, he also set the stage for the study of relational communication, including family communication, through his contributions to psychiatry (e.g., the notions of codependency and enabling are derived from his work).  And his work is important for media ecology, in establishing a systems and ecological view on human thought and behavior.  


Neil Postman spoke highly of his book, Steps to An Ecology of Mind, back in the old days of the media ecology program.  And I would also recommend the follow-up volume, Mind and Nature.  Also significant in the fields of communication and psychotherapy is the volume he co-authored with Jurgen Ruesch (Bateson listed as second author), Communication:  The Social Matrix of Psychiatry.  His first two books were devoted to his anthropological research, Naven: A Survey of the Problems suggested by a Composite Picture of the Culture of a New Guinea Tribe drawn from Three Points of View, and Balinese Character: A Photographic Analysis, the latter co-authored by Margaret Mead.  Two more books have been published posthumously, Angels Fear: Towards An Epistemology Of The Sacred, co-authored by Mary Catherine Bateson, and A Sacred Unity: Further Steps to an Ecology of Mind, co-authored by Rodney E. Donaldson.

For a quick summary, there's always the wikipedia entry on Gregory Bateson, and the page devoted to him on the Institute for Intercultural Studies that he helped to found along with Margaret Mead.

Gregory Bateson's emblematic quote, taken from Mind and Nature, which appears on the IIS page and is highlighted in Nora's film, is

"What pattern connects the crab to the lobster and the orchid to the primrose and all the four of them to me? And me to you?"

Patterns that connect, that's what Gregory Bateson is all about, indeed, that's what everything is all about!

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Connected Yelp!

So, with the Institute of General Semantics-sponsored New Languages, New Relations, New Realities Symposium at Fordham University all over and done with, I think I can get back to a bit more blogging, sorry for the lapses and absences and all.  

And it was certainly a pleasure to have with Tiffany Shlain, the daughter of the late Leonard Shlain (see my previous post, A Brain to Remember, Rest in Peace Leonard Shlain) with us at the symposium.  Leonard Shlain was a past Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecturer, a featured speaker at three Media Ecology Association meetings, and an outstanding media ecologist in his own right.  And Tiffany shared with us a rough cut of the new film she's working on called Connected:  A Declaration of Interdependence.  The film goes into Leonard Shlain's life and scholarship in very interesting ways, which I very much appreciated.  Of course, the theme and topic is more broadly about the patterns of interconnection common to biology, ecology, and technology, as can be seen from the trailer:

And on a related note, here's Tiffany Shlain's short film, Yelp (With Apologies to Allen Ginsberg) narrated by Peter Coyote:

I have a feeling Ginsberg would get a real kick out of this.  I know I do, although I admit as well to the irony of blogging about a YouTube video that admonishes us to unplug!  Well, I guess I'll go take Tiffany's advice and do that, so, see ya later!