Thursday, April 13, 2017


Friday Fragments

Tim Burke’s recent piece on academic bullying had a line that made me chuckle in rueful recognition.  According to a faculty survey done at Swarthmore, most faculty agreed on two points:
1.       Faculty-to-faculty bullying is pervasive and often severe
2.       The administration absolutely should do nothing about it
In a nutshell, that’s the dilemma of administration.  (“Things are terrible, but don’t change them!”)
Learned helplessness is a profoundly depressing way to live.  I know there’s a phobia of power, but I’ll often prefer organized, legible, and accountable power to guerilla attacks.  At least with the former, there’s the hope of winning.


The Bluetooth gods are fickle.  On Saturday, mid-ride, the Bluetooth simply stopped working.   On Wednesday, without warning, it started working again.
I shouldn’t anthropomorphize a wireless transmission technology, but it’s mischievous.  Or maybe it just doesn’t like my taste in podcasts.  

The recent IHE piece about women doing more of the “college service” work than men rang true to me.  Some men step up to do college service, but far more women do.
In this sector, it doesn’t have a negative impact on tenure or promotion chances, since there’s no research requirement anyway.  But when you’re trying to put together groups to work on various tasks, it’s hard not to notice a pattern.  I’ve seen it at every college at which I’ve worked.
On the bright side, it has made it easy to promote women to positions of authority.  They’ve developed the track records.  At Holyoke, by the time I left, the academic affairs meetings consisted of me and eight women.
A few men step up, but as a group, the difference is palpable.  The articles I’ve read treat the difference as a negative reflection on naïve women, but I read the situation the other way: it’s a negative reflection on free-riding men.  The work needs to be done.  How do we get guys to step up?


This may sound simpleminded, but I still don’t know why overbooking a flight is legal.  If you sell something you don’t have – in this case, a seat – that’s theft by deception.  Why isn’t this?
I’ve heard the argument from efficiency, but I don’t buy it.  That argument claims that it’s more efficient for an airline to oversell by a bit, since a fairly consistent percentage of ticketed passengers will never show.  That works until it doesn’t, and it only considers efficiency on the airline’s side; it utterly fails to address efficiency on the passenger’s side.  If I miss, say, a job interview, the monetary losses could be far beyond any compensation the airline would offer.
If overbooking were banned, airlines would have to charge a little bit more.  But we’d know that the seats would actually exist.  And if the rule were applied to every airline, its competitive impact among airlines should be zero.
I’m mystified.  Why is this still legal?

Don't you overbook your classes, expecting some number to drop? I am referring to administratively adding a student that puts the class over its cap.
CCPhysicist: well, I do. But even if they don't drop, it really isn't a big deal, because it's not like we get anywhere even in the neighbourhood of full attendance. Like, 50% is fairly common. (R1)
"He who sells what isn't hisn/Gives it back or goes to prison." Something my father used to say about short-selling.
You're going to get into Chicago style situations even with a ban on overbooking, simply because an airline (or any other transportation system) has to have some robustness against surprises. The routine operating plan might hold some seats for deadheading of crews (although if that happens on a regular basis, there's probably a better equipment and crew diagram for the scheduling department to figure out.) Then bad weather or mechanical troubles hit, and you have to move that crew on another plane. Or the crew are all where they should be, but there's a mechanical problem, and the only plane available is smaller. Do you delay everybody until the proper sized plane can be found, or do you figure out some way to move most of the traffic on the schedule?

Now, on the flip side, is it legal to buy more tickets than you wish to use? That's one way passengers might defeat a more rigid system of reservations and waiting lists such that nobody holding a reservation is denied boarding. If you absolutely, positively, have to be there, it might be worthwhile to reserve seats on multiple trips, cancel the reservations for every seat but the one you occupy, and eat the refund charge.

If what I just described looks a lot like the strategy students use at college admission season, that's because it is.
I don't know about overbooking, but the incident in the US which is obsessing the global media was not overbooking but the airline trying to take seats away from passengers who had already boarded to give them to staffers. Why American law allows them to call in the police to remove passengers is a whole other question!
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