At the airport, there are two security lines. There is one where you have to take off your shoes, and another where you do not. Yes, you guessed it: for the second you need elite status.
It shouldn't be surprising that an airline, a corporation, would divide humanity into two classes. It is the invisible hand of the market at work.
In today's New York Times, Josh Barro, in Facing Elite Bloat, Airlines Move the Goal Posts, writes about his elite fall from grace. It seems that now plebes contend with not only the elite and the super-elite, but even higher orders. Remember how we used to speak of the 99% and the top 1%? And how now, more often, we refer to the top 0.1% or even the top 0.01%? Well, this elite thing has done so well for the airlines they are now facing elite bloat, where some plebes have invaded the bottom tier.
Their first response was to add classes to top the top elite, perhaps platinum, diamond, kryptonite, and unobtanium. But that didn't fix things. As Josh Barro writes, “But mostly, (the airlines) have dealt with the problem by devaluing the lowest tier.”
Does that feel familiar? It probably does if you have a job, or if your degree is not from an elite university, or if your annual income is less than $1M. It certainly does if you are a tradesperson, or a nurse, or a teacher. You know, one of those people who has to rely on union seniority or tenure to have a chance in the marketplace.
Yes, it is as true in politics as it is in marketing – we have discovered a common denominator lower than greed: feeling superior.
So before you vote next time, ask yourself a question: do I feel superior to anyone? If you do, chances are someone has been pulling your chain.
You’re at the local airport. You watch landings, because pilots always do. Today, because there is a lot of traffic and you're not pressed for time, you watch for awhile. Twenty, maybe thirty landings go by. What do you see? Fifty percent (this is a flight school strip) touch down halfway down the runway. One or two touch down in the last 1000 feet.
What do you take away from the experience?
Gossip, certainly – if you're standing there with fellow pilots. Comfort, possibly – if you feel you can do better than most of what you're watching. Or perhaps chagrin, if the reverse is true and a recent example of your own work sticks in your craw.
But there is a more important take-away: forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing.That is the dictionary definition of judgment. And the aviation version of judgment is more practical: if I find myself in this situation, can we do it?
The we in the last paragraph refers to you and your airplane. You learn skills and you memorize your airplane's limitations. You are a team.
The situation is whatever pickle you're going to get into on your next flight. Can I land on a 2000-foot runway?
You look up the Landing Distance Required in your Flight Manual or Pilot Operating Manual. For my N-Model Bonanza I find 1600-2000 feet (no wind, 75°F. or less, 2000 feet pressure altitude or less). So we can do it, right?
Not so fast. The runway at my local airport is just under 4000 feet long. I consistently turn off on the center taxiway, but not without some braking. I have a bit too much speed over the fence and I float too long. So I'm not quite ready for that 2000-foot strip. My airplane is, but I am not.
Here is another clue. My POM also lists Landing Distance Required for a Short Field Landing. Same configuration, but the over-the-fence speed is 5 knots less. Instead of 1600-2000 feet, the required distance is 1200-1400 feet. Add five knots and add five hundred feet! Nope: my energy management – hey, my hands and feet, if you get right down to it – are not good enough yet.
Why not, you may ask? After all, I have been a pilot for 45 years. Well, two things: first, I'm 68 years old; and second, after I retired from airline flying I didn't touch a yoke for six and a half years. So I had to write exams and do a lot of re-learning. Now I'm learning the hands and feet again.
In short, for the moment my airplane is better than I am.
Hours, Experience, and Judgment
How do we discern and compare on the road to developing pilot judgment? First, look at the one or two Bottom Guns who touched down in the last 1000 feet. “Good enough,” they say. I guess so, if their airplane can stop in that distance. Then the fifty percent who touched halfway down. “Plenty of runway left. No sweat.” These guys are like me. Their airplanes are better than they are. It's just a matter of how much better.
What's missing? A path to learning judgment.
Experience is measured in hours. Judgment, theoretically, comes from experience. But it is not automatic. Hours of flight or even hours of practice take you nowhere unless they are accompanied by some discernment and comparison. Neither the Bottom Guns nor the halfway-down-the-runway pilots are safe trying to land on a 2000-foot runway. But do they know that?
Spiders are kind to their own. Well, story except for the kinky Black Widow, who eats her husband after sex.
Spiders are very good at controlling the populations of lesser insects – gnats, for example.
Above all, spiders dine in style. Pheasant under glass has nothing on them. Have you noticed? A fine, strapping exoskeleton gets stuck in a beautiful, geometric web whose strands are stronger than steel. There is no rush, no baring of teeth or ripping of flesh. No blood on the floor.
The spider, epicure and medical professional, injects a magic potion under the shiny shell. The guts and muscle of the beautiful captive are reduced, sautéed and flambéed. Only then does the spider dine – elegantly and unhurriedly.
After the meal the prize remains. The beautiful prey is still there, intact and whole, framed in the skyscraper web. Its value seems undiminished.
But it will move no more, except when the wind pulls at the strands binding it. The soul is long gone.