Friday, September 22, 2006

The Ongoing Creep of New Feudalism...

A while back, under comments, I posed a small question that some people have urged me to make a headline item... after all, it seems to have almost completely escaped notice as a symptom of a growing class divide.

Does the demise of First Class bode poorly for an egalitarian civilization?

That sounds like a contradiction. A question that would seem to refute itself, a priori. After all, First Class is, by its very nature, unequal treatment, no? Did we not all grow up glancing through those curtains at the champaign-swilling luxury of giant seats, leg room, table cloths and rubbing elbows with the rich and famous?

Only the “rich and famous” aren’t flying First class anymore. Without fanfare or publicity (deliberately, of course) the wealthy/celebrated have been shifting their travel methods, switching away from First Class on regular airline flights, transferring either to corporate style smaller jets or else to special "charters" -- that in fact are starting to take on the regularity of regular airlines, with a few special features. (See also : Airline Deterioration and the New Elite.)

1) They fly out of charter terminals, allowing special security treatment - both greater saftey and lesser screening hassles that bypass what the rest of us (even “frequent/trusted flyers) have to endure in the main terminals.

2) Naturally, the whole VIP lounge thing goes over the top at these terminals for the aristocracy.

In fact, have you noticed? First Class has almost no rich or famous people anymore. Just businessmen and frequent flyer upgrades (a great way for airlines to sop up millions of surplus miles). Along the way, of course, “first class” has also degraded... in ways beyond simply losing the capital letters. Lower levels of service, fewer amenities, though you do get the latest electronic gimncrackery earlier than people back in the cattle coach.

It all makes me wonder about the agenda. If First Class is no longer for the highest, but more of a way to deliver upper-middle-class specialists to their next busy meeting a little less worn out -- and a way to sop up double frequent flyer miles -- then how long before citizens even get around to noticing that another threshold has been passed, on our way to a caste-and-class ridden society?

No wonder the new charter companies strive so hard for “discretion.”

Steve Sailor's blog offers this: “I can't imagine any reason anyone would object to President Bush's latest effort. The AP :

Thousands of students from Saudi Arabia are enrolling on college campuses across the United States this semester under a new educational exchange program brokered by President Bush and Saudi King Abdullah.The program will quintuple the number of Saudi students and scholars in the United States by the academic year's end. And big, public universities from Florida to Oregon are in a fierce competition for their tuition dollars. The kingdom's royal family -- which is paying full scholarships for most of the 15,000 students -- says the program will help stem unrest at home by schooling the country's brightest in the American tradition.

“Of course the U.S. should help Saudi Arabia with its traditional practice of pawning its hotheads off on the rest of the world. What could possibly go wrong?”

Under the category of unbelievable... no matter how many times you hear it...

* Amazingly, the FBI under the Bush administration has identified “eco-terrorism” as America’s #1 domestic terrorism threat. Seriously. This is despite the fact that no one has died from any acts of politically-motivated vandalism by the environmentalists and animal-rights activists deemed “eco-terrorists”.

* In the five years since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, it has been a clear trend for the federal government to conceal more information about its own activities, while engaging in more surveillance of Americans' private lives. The change has been dramatic. In the 1997 fiscal year, the federal government spent $3.4 billion on securing classified information, a figure that rose to $7.7 billion for 2005. Similarly, the government declassified 204 million pages of documents in 1997 but a mere 29.6 million in 2005.

NASA’s Goals * Delete Mention of Home Planet -- (NY Times -- July 22, 2006) From 2002 until this year, NASA’s mission statement read: “To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers ... as only NASA can.” In early February, the statement was quietly altered, with the phrase “to understand and protect our home planet” deleted - coming as an unwelcome surprise to many NASA scientists, who say the “understand and protect” phrase was not merely window dressing but actively influenced the shaping and execution of critical research priorities.

* An interesting riff on “sousveillance” and a future “panoptic” world... kind of chilling... until you realize this is our only real hope.


Anonymous said...

Are there any articles out there on the charter flight issue?

* * *

For just this week:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by Google.

It's a short-short by Bruce Sterling, describing a variant of the "geezer goggles" notion in Earth. RFID tags and ubiquitous computing invisibly hem in the activities of rowdy teens.

Rob Perkins said...

I just don't agree at all.

There are between 24 and 50 airports in the U.S., I think, where the most stringent security measures are in place, and they're only in place

The other 3450-or-so airports are not nearly as stupidly secured, nor are the general aviation terminals as stupidly secured.


Well, because *fewer people go there to fly*, and because *the equipment itself cannot cause widespread catastrophe*. It's as simple as that.

Why can't you apply the same reasoning to security measures as you have to airspace designations, David? AOPA and EAA worked like fiends to prevent a TSA agent from being assigned at great expense to every GA terminal in the United States.

Your rhetoric doesn't help matters, because you've ignored the fact that *I*, as a middle-classer, also have the right to fly out of those terminals under those security restrictions. And I can still *pilot the airplane* I'm flying in out of those terminals, sharing the runway in my $50,000 Cessna with the $200 million jumbo jet. And I've done it!

So yeah, sure, the "Rich and Famous" are flying private jets. Except, apparantly, Bill Gates, as far as I know.

But aside from him, they always have! The hub-and-spoke airline system simply doesn't go to regional areas any longer except at a cost that means you might as well charter a jet!

And let's face it. Under part 135 you're not going to be in an airplane larger than can carry 19 people, and probably only six.

Those machines cannot cause widespread catastrophes. Why secure them as though they could?

In short, lay off the class warfare, and lobby the FAA to get off it's calcified rear end and certify very light jets for air taxi service. Then you'll see the same service for the "rich and famous" actually extend to regional airports and the everyman, again. And we can let the stodgy old airlines rot in their complacence, with VIP lounges and $2 per bag checking fees.

Anonymous said...

I think feudalism denotes how the wealthy acquire their wealth unfairly.

I don't think the term should be applied to how they spend their wealth...

Rob Perkins said...

I think David is using "feudalism" in its Marxist context, as a society where there is an owner class and a renter class, but no middle class.

In such a context, how the super-rich spend their money is appropriate to examine.

Anonymous said...


We're not talking about the involuntary harvesting of peasant organs or having your pals in the government sending over troops to put down a worker revolt at your factory.

Good guy anti-feudalist billionaire Warren Buffet will provide you with a seat on a private jet for around $600 per hour of flight time.

Expensive, yes, but hardly a service only the super-rich can afford...

Anonymous said...

monkyboy, your prices are a bit off. NetJets (Buffet) lowest cost option is 25 hours for a little over $100K. Other charter options can get you down to about $2000 an hour.

These prices are actually comparable to where first class pricing was twenty years ago (adjusting for inflation), so I'm not surprised that the wealthy have switched.

Anonymous said...

The price you quote is for a jet that can take 8 passengers, rjh...

Don Quijote said...

Marijuana Arrests For Year 2005 -- 786,545 Tops Record High... Pot Smokers Arrested In America At A Rate Of One Every 40 Seconds

The total number of marijuana arrests in the U.S. for 2005 far exceeded the total number of arrests in the U.S. for all violent crimes combined, including murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

You'd think we would have better uses for all that police power, like TWAT.

The Ends of the World as We Know Them

Why weren't these problems obvious to the Maya kings, who could surely see their forests vanishing and their hills becoming eroded? Part of the reason was that the kings were able to insulate themselves from problems afflicting the rest of society. By extracting wealth from commoners, they could remain well fed while everyone else was slowly starving.


In contrast, the elite in 17th-century Japan, as in modern Scandinavia and the Netherlands, could not ignore or insulate themselves from broad societal problems. For instance, the Dutch upper class for hundreds of years has been unable to insulate itself from the Netherlands' water management problems for a simple reason: the rich live in the same drained lands below sea level as the poor. If the dikes and pumps keeping out the sea fail, the well-off Dutch know that they will drown along with everybody else, which is precisely what happened during the floods of 1953.

Which is our situation?

Me said...

David, this is totally off topic. I apologize to you and your readers. However, I just came across an article on ThousandReasons ( that drew my attention about a new documentary about the Red States that I believe is important. The article was teased as follows:

A History of Fear
Paul Krassner
--Huffington Post
Michael Shea, dismayed over the Bush, er um, victory in the 2004 election, made sure to shave off his grundgy-looking beard and get a haircut before he, with a documentary camera crew, traveled to 22 red states, the better to understand why so many inhabitants re-voted him into the presidency.

Sam Seder, co-host of The Majority Report on Air America calls the resulting documentary, Red State, "Eye opening and scary for those who think America could never become a theocracy."


The entire article may be found here:

This article links to the blog site for the DVD The Red States which may be found here:

I recommend viewing the video clips offered at this site for a taste of what the DVD contains. There is also a link to purchase the film.


Perhaps I am merely passing on information you and your readers are already aware of. I know the problem itself has been well discussed within these pages. However, this DVD provides a way to pass the word around to those outside the "Brin Circle" who may not be aware but should be.


Anonymous said...

The price is for a 6 passenger. But you pay the same regardless of how many seats you fill. That makes it very expensive for one person and only moderately expensive if you have six people in your party.

Anonymous said...

The pricing is for a six passenger. The eights cost somewhat more. But you pay for the jet hours, not passenger hours. It is that price for one person or for six. The commitment is also there. The twenty-five hours are in one year and you must pay for the whole amount, not per flight.

Anonymous said...

I wondered why the feds were spying on Vegans and PETA. Now I know: they must be eco-terrorists, because they don't want to hurt animals.

It was obvious why the feds were spying on the Quakers. Quakers are anti-war. To this pro-war administration, that is the ultimate subversion.

Anonymous said...


Did you ever go to a movie or a concert and have one person buy the tickets?

Ever go to lunch and have one person pay the bill?

You can always pay them back.

You can get 25 jet hours, or 200 passenger hours, for $115,000.

That comes to $575 an hour per seat on the jet.

Yes, you have to buy in bulk to get this low price, that's the case with most things.

The point is, 8 middle class friends who live in L.A. and like to take, say, a few ski trips to Sun Valley each year, can afford the service...

It's not just the "super-rich" who are buzzing around the country in small jets.

Rob Perkins said...

Both of you make my point, and defeat David's about airline seats.

Anonymous said...

I agree, rob.

Dr. Brin has a habit of plunging a rhetorical icepick into the skulls of his supposed fellow anti-feudalists.

Poor Warren Buffet, face down in his surprisingly tasty private jet meal...

Naum said...

Airports and airfares have always struck me as socialism for the upper middle class and above... me, there seems to be a great amount of subsidy in building/maintaining (as well as providing security) airports. There's also a great amount of subsidizing occuring in the airplane industry... ...has there ever been a study on this (similar to those I've seen on highway abd automobile subsidies that mask the true cost of the price of gasoline)... sure seems that a lot of people are directly and indirectly taxed to support those who do avail themselves of air travel, odd when those who do air travel on a greater than semi-frequent basis are a lot that wouldn't seem to need such subsidies... ...but then the airline industry would be embroiled in even a deeper stew...

Back to charter flights and neo-feudalism, here I think the separation is due more to all the post 9/11 security arrangements, in conjunction with municipal airport alterations that just arn't very user friendly (let me note however that not all airports are equal in this regard...)... ...writing from firsthand experience, where 2003-2004, I basically flew, on average 2-3X or more per week on commercial flights (mostly flying coach, sometimes upgrading to first class), I'd say the greatest incentive for going to charter route is all the time lost to just getting unentangled from all the bureaucratic rigaramole...

* Some airports, when flying on certain airlines (NW at Minneapolis/St. Paul), getting there 2 hours early, means you'll just be able to board the flight in time if nothing goes askew...

* Airports that close all the restaurants and shops at 7 or 8p...

* Lack of wireless net access (though I think this is being remedied now...) and other amenities for waiting travelers (and waiting friends and families).

* On the lack of amenities, a great number of airports got hammered after the separation of security checkpoint (i.e., shopping now denied to waiting folks and/or you have to back over checkpoint...).

* As blatantly obvious, just the hassle of being denied carry on things, being squeezed into seats, now even some airlines are banning IBM (Lenovo) and Mac laptop comptuers...

Whether the motivation, I agree with David on this point... ...and one thing that is making it much more a realization is the greater disparity in income/wealth. Greater concentrations of wealth at the top enable this behavior. For contrast, Kevin Phillips *Wealth and Democracy* is a great read on how this has changed since the Democratic 1950s, where the mansion and other upper class elitist stylings slipped out of vogue and most Americans were not that spread apart...

David Brin said...

Rob, I am well-aware of the difference between General Aviation and the new, aristocratic charter airlines. I took flying lessons, passed ground school, I know TCAs etc. And your subsequent posts proved that YOU know the difference, as well. Apples and oranges.

In fact, you are naive to believe that TCA does not hound passengers at smaller airports. My own puddle-jumper airport, Carlsbad (CLD), flies only turboprops (Embraer) to LAX & Phoenix. 20 passengers, max. Yet the TCA staffing is SEVEN. In order to look busy, they X-Ray, wand, frisk and virtually clean out your pores. Unnecessary on about twelve levels, and I assure you, the folks getting on executive/charter jets NEXT DOOR aren’t going through this.

So much for streamlined government, run by conservatives. The very same people who hated featherbedding, when it was done by unions, don’t mind a bit when the graft-laziness is run on no-bid basis by well-connected contractors.

As for the change in First Class, alas, this is one of DOZENS of “under examined stories” that could suit some brash investigative reporter, if we still had such people in this wretched century. A real pity because this is exactly the sort of story that 60 Minutes used to do well. Politically neutral (at least superficially) social trend analysis with hints of corruption...

...but 60 Minutes is no more.

Rob, how on Earth is that “defeating my point”? $575 per passenger hour is still more than the price for today’s cattle car First Class. And with the demise of travel agencies, very few middle class folks can or will arrange the logistics you guys describe.

Moreover, I don’t give a #$%$#$! if the richest and best organized guys in the upper middle class can cleverly lease a jet and squeak in at the low end of the new Aristo-Charter network. Big deal!

What? Are you claiming that my point is that Upper Middle Class folks are DISALLOWED or BANNED from doing this? Where did I ever say that? Of course Net Jet will take their money (but bump them if some movie stars or oil barons suddenly need space.) FInd where I said these new companies won’t take middle class money!

My point was that the rich and famous have abandoned our airlines, en masse. With many many consequences. Including the fact that airlines can no longer overcharge as much for First Class, which used to subsidize the rest of us! Including the ever-increasing sense that they are detached from the “little people.”

Moreover, once, the mighty had to care at least a little about the health/quality/service on the airlines, and now they don’t!

Look, I fly First now and then. I used to meet high level folks. Now, I am always, always the most famous guy in the cabin.

That’s really pathetic. In a canary-in-the-coal-mine kind of way.

(PS... I do not mind Warren Buffett making a buck off of this trend. The uber-investor is good at trend spotting. It is the news media that I blame, for failing to let the public even KNOW that this is going on. The media masters realize that re-instituting privilege in America will not be popular, when the people finally wake up. They need time to make it an assumed thing.)

Jeanne, the documentary about Red State America sounds interesting... and I have no doubt that it’s exaggerated and tendentious, utterly ignoring counter-trends, like the softening of racism down south, the skyrocketing of university education and the immigration of many northerners to southern cities. When watching such things, we need to keep these factors in mind and ask: is this sort of thing really fair? Can we maybe win by conversion, instead of outright resumption of the American Civil War?

All it might take is a swing of 10% of the voters, down there.

Alas, 10% is huge. Moreover (turning 180 degrees), I am utterly engraged by the failure of anybody to point out that urban America is the target of terror and it is the America that’s vastly more courageous, more willing to get on with life and more dubious that one hit automatically means a “state of war.”

All right, assume the divide really is bitter and un-exaggerated. So it is culture war. The confederacy is finally having its revenge. How to fight back?

Well, folks in Ohio and Pennsylvania and Indiana need to be reminded that their ancestors bled in Phase One of this war. While we try to be nice, down south, I wouldn’t mind a little militancy rhetoric in Ohio.

Because Heinlein warned us. The 2012 election is when Nehemia Scudder becomes president through Diebold style cheating... and soon after becomes Prophet of the Lord.

Finally, about feudalism. Please, stay metaphor-agile. Obviously the strict definition is not as broad as I use it. Oaths of fealty and time-tithing obligations based upon hierarchies of inherited feifdoms... come on, work with me here!

But the “inherited hierarchy” part IS broadly and nearly universally pervasive across human history. The Soviet Nomenklatura had begun to fit that pattern by Stalin’s time, and totally fit right in, by the era of Brezhnev. It is far more a matter of human nature than a matter of left-right. In fact, both ends -- the romantic far left and far right -- want this, deep down.

When I say “neo-feudalists” I am talking about people who want their kids to OWN my kids.

That’s enough for me.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Brin,

We've enlisted in your squad of anti-neofeudalist Colonial Marines...

...but I feel like you keep sending us into the cooling tower while you stay in the op-center with a bandage on your head feeding us bad targeting data!

Private jets are a bastion of neofeudalism...

...but the people who own and operate the private jet companies aren't the neofeudalists...

...nor are the people who actually ride in the private jets.

It's the people that want to OWN your kids we need to get?

Look man! I only need to know one thing: where they are.

Rob Perkins said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rob Perkins said...


Are you talking about Terminal Control Areas?

David, it's been some number of years since American Aviation even used that term... these days they're using the ICAO letter designations.

But we were talking about the use of the GA terminal. And I've shown that using a different approach to air travel (even smaller GA airplanes or flying with friends) makes it possible for anyone to use those lower security terminals.

And, frankly, someone else showed that the hourly cost for those flights today are little different than the regulated prices of yesteryear.

Again, count that as an *advantage to modernism*. AOPA and EAA and others fought hard for the GA exception to TSA nonsense. The fact that the charter set also benefit (because their operations are *GA*, not because they're *ultra-rich charter*) is not something I choose to see as a divisive factor.

The one time I flew a friend of my brother's from Portland Oregon to Astoria Oregon in a beat-up '57 Cessna 172, her one comment on approach was, "WOW, I feel like Demi Moore flying into Sun Valley!!!!!"

Her cost for the trip was $40. Gas money. And she flew out of one of those unsecured GA terminals you're decrying.

You want to call that super-rich?

Big guys aren't going those routes at *any* price. Think about it.

And of course I know the difference for Carlsbad. The difference is that your puddle-jumpers are operating under a different part of the FAR's than out of the GA terminal, under the scheduled service rules. The fraction share charters are not.

Further, it's far likelier that you have seven TSA inspectors at CLD because the county authority demanded it from the TSA on less than reasonable grounds. I dimly recall something about Carlsbad's city council being one of those who wanted the same stupid things for all GA there as exist for the Part 121 scheduled carriers.

I refuse to play that bad attitude card. Personal aviation is *just* out of my reach, and even though I'll probably buy my own Cherokee Six (or the *sweet* Piper 6X which replaced it on that airframe) when I get there rather than fraction sharing, it will be neither impossible, nor will it require that I sit on billions the way you've implied.

And then, I'll share it with *you* when you come to town.

(You are right, though, if you want to claim that TSA is worse in some areas than others. PDX is decent, St. Louis, which destroyed the packaging on a computer I checked on a plane, is the other end of the spectrum. And don't get me started about the utter mess the regs have made of Boston Logan's American terminal.)

David Brin said...

Monkyboy, my first priority is that the people know THAT all this is going on. That it penetrate. That they know, deep down, that the old enemy of markets and freedom that Adam Smith most despised, is back with a vengeance. After that? Frankly, I do not have a plan, per se.

Except to note that these big charter jects are MORE dangerous than airliners, because regular airliners are packed with irrascible citizens who have proved thay’ll leap on a troublemaker and sit on him. Whereas a charter can be... well... chartered! This method don’t work if ALL the passengers are in on it.

Hence, there should be just as much anal-probing over there. Actually, we need to tax AristoAir enough so that we get back to the situation before, where the rich were helping subsidize the rest of us in the air. There, happy?

All right Rob, it’s been years since I took ground school, sue me! In fact, this PROVES that I didn’t just go look up a credibility-enhancing term. In fact, ,y lessons were in a “beat up Cessna 172.”

“Her cost for the trip was $40. Gas money. And she flew out of one of those unsecured GA terminals you're decrying. “

Guh! Did any (all?) of the rest of you see that I made this distinction as clear as possible? Rob, go back. Read again. You are utterly conflating here. I have not said one... single... word against personal or general aviation. In fact, I didn’t even remotely MENTION it!

Again, this is SOCIAL commentary! When the most famous guy in First Class is me. When the richest is some hardworking engineer on his way to Dubai to fix the wells. When the average guy is a frequent flyer upgrade and “first class service” amounts to getting a beverage (while the cattle do not)... I mean dang?

(Oh, Monkyboy, Aliens II was a great movie. Someday, folks, trigger my "I hate all sci fi THIRD movies!" rant!)

Rob Perkins said...

I have not made the distinction between charter fraction sharing and the rest of GA because the FAA doesn't. It's all GA, which is defined as all the flying done by people who don't carry passengers or cargo on a regular schedule, in smaller planes.

Now if you're saying that there are regularly scheduled charters, that's an interesting development. I don't know where those fit in.

And honestly, the answer isn't to anal probe everyone! Not if it's already being overdone *now*! That's the wrong direction for a libertarian to espouse, isn't it?

You wanna tax the super-rich, that's OK with me. But what I'd rather see is faster approval of the micro-jet class of equipment, along with streamlining the regs around air taxi service. Then we can, almost all of us, fly in those littleplanes with service to places the big iron won't and can't go!

Perhaps you haven't heard of Airport Watch. (

As people go, the subculture of American pilots is, while in every other respect quite representative of the national polity, fiercely protective of its airports and airplanes. Your scenario for "more dangerous" is ludicrous on two counts.

First, the pilots are also irascable. And we talk about what we'd do in the event of a takeover. That's even part of FAA training, for crying out loud!

You're not gonna need irascable passengers if *I'm* at the stick. One false move and I'll just concuss your head against the top of the cabin at 3 G's, (I'm belted in, so there) followed by a slip designed to knock you off your feet. And the terrorists *know this*, I'm sure.

Second, the kinetic energies possible in the small planes doesn't even begin to approach something which can cause danger. The fuel and mass simply aren't there. Work the numbers yourself if you want, but there you are.

And honestly speaking, I think you mentioning TCA's is just as credibility enhancing as if you had mentioned classed airspace, but I still thought you could use the updated info. The space around LAX is now called "Class B", with lighter restrictions for the smaller airports (classes "C" and "D"), in line with your own observations about TCA's and how they were hammered out.

Anonymous said...

I have no expertise in the aviation area, and can't really add to this debate other than to note:

The character of commercial air travel has changed enormously in the last fifty years.

I grew up on Long Island, where the big airports where JFK and LeGuardia. These are/were designed to be classy, modern places where air travelers dressed to the nines, would assemble, have cocktails, and have last minute shoe shines before heading down the jetway.

One fancy terminal at JFK (TWA I think) was an architectural marvel that looked like a bird or manta ray; passengers walked through futuristic cylindrical corridors with carpeting on the walls. When I was a kid, gone to see family friends off on a trip, I imagined the place as a space station.

When I was a business traveler in the early 90s, these places were undergoing massive and ungainly retrofitting. They were being turned into what amounted to utilitarian bus depots. The 50's Modern style interiors were not suited to the volume and nature of modern air travel. LeGuardia's roadways and parking were being rebuilt while still in operation.

The TWA terminal was slated for demolition. I don't wonder; the layout made security check-in and baggage check a hideous ordeal. I think it was kept as a landmark.

It was so nice getting away from that mess to modern airports out west!

* * *

From the "Golly gee, who could have predicted that?" department:

Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terror Threat

"WASHINGTON, Sept. 23 — A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks."

Anonymous said...

Brin - "An interesting riff on “sousveillance” and a future “panoptic” world... kind of chilling... until you realize this is our only real hope."

To use your preferred trope, David, pinning our hopes on a panoptic, reciprocal society strikes me as a rather romantic idea. It sounds good and makes for interesting speculation and story notions, but suffers from the same flaw as Chicago-school economics and Ayn Randian schema. To wit: there is already a good bit of real world evidence available that contradicts the theory.

As I see it, your whole notion of "reciprocal accountability" rests on the expectation that there will be a sufficient number of citizens actually paying attention to any given malfeasance to do something about it (I won't even address the difficult question of what instrumentalites would translate such knowledge into corrective or punitive action). But just look at our current politics! A quite large percentage of the population is basing their opinions on "information" which is diametrically contrary to fact. Fact which is readily available to anyone who can afford a basic computer and an internet connection (or just time and a library card, for that matter). Yet bad information drives out good, and in spite of multiple print, sound and video records, there is essentially no public memory.

I could expound on some of the reasons for this disconnect, but that shouldn't be necessary. I'm sure you see my point. Water may be all around, but the horse still has to amble over and dip his nose in...

Now it has been a while since I read your "Transparent Society" book, so could be I'm missing something(s). Feel free to correct that. And I would love to hear your "third movie" rant too.

David Brin said...

redkitty, the thing you are "missing" is... us.

Seriously. You can take any social theory or prescription or concept and deride it as unrealistic... or, my fave derision, "romantic." So, am I no different? Just using words that I hypocritically can't see applied to my own ideas?

Well... that paragraph shows a willingness to CONSIDER being wrong (how modernist of me!) But that could just be blather.

There's a better answer. Reciprocal accountability does not need me to defend it. It is, in fact, the ONLY successful alternative to pyramidal hierarchies of force.

Moreover, you are at this very moment using it. Not just in attempting to skewer me with the accountability of fierce questions, but in the myriad ways that others are deterred from harming you, every second. Deterred by the knowledge that you might hold them accountable.

Honestly, I find that WOMEN get this better than men do. We fool ourselves into thinking we're autonomous. Women know better. They will spend all their lives potentially in danger from a myriad large and potentially dangerous creatures, many of them wanting to perform acts of predation. But deterred by accountability.

The very fact that RA is deteriorating in society - temporarily we hope - must be seen in context of its incredible success. Look at:
and ponder how EACH of the great arenas that made our civ rich and mighty are built upon systems that prevent elites from doing what they always did elsewhere... squelch competition.

Our markets, science, democracy and courts work PRECISELY to the degree that RA happens and they fail precisely to the degree that it doesn't.

So, I don't really have to defend reciprocal accountability. My role is simply to say LOOK! Look at what made you what you are. The relentless suspicion of authority progaganda that made you an individualist... thinking then that you invented it? Really?

You didn't.

Rob, just because AristoAir operates under General Aviation rules doesn't make that right. It is a loophole.

Oh, there's one more disadvantage. The movie stars and moguls etc who ride AristoAir start thinking of each other as fellow members of a class. A different order of being. Far MORE different than First Class could ever accomplish.

Anonymous said...

No room in your calculations for common decency, Dr. Brin?

Big C said...

monkyboy said:
"No room in your calculations for
common decency, Dr. Brin?"

I don't think Dr. Brin discounted common decency. But common decency alone isn't enough. If it were, we wouldn't need civil rights laws. We wouldn't need freedom of expression laws. Common decency can be thwarted by group/tribe dynamics. Sure, you are easily willing to treat someone of your own nationality/ethnicity/religion/family fairly, but what about the unfamiliar stranger?

Common decency only works if you consider the stranger a fellow human being. As is evident throughout history, cruelty can easily be rationalized by the perpetrator by considering the victim either as inferior in some sense, or as an irreconcilable, unrepentant enemy with which there is no common ground. David's post on expanding horizons of inclusion and altruism a few months ago gives a good exploration of this, I think.

Consider the civil rights movement. It started with challenges to institutional racism via court cases, nonviolent protests, and boycotts. The minority was holding society accountable for its mistreatment. Once these grievances are directly confronted and addressed, there is still the hard work of changing hearts and minds. That is where an appeal to common decency figures in, in my opinion. You can appeal to people's sense of fairness and decency to change their attitudes, but those attitudes must first be challenged.

Without reciprocal accountability, the grievances of the few can be either suppressed or rationalized away by the majority or the powerful.

Rob Perkins said...

David, I still think you've got the whole thing just completely backwards.

That loophole is in place for the *same reason* as the cutouts in controlled airspace: the threat profile is much smaller for much smaller aircraft, even "AristoAir"!

You keep not listening to that part of it.

The thing that isn't right isn't the fact that GA escapes security scrutiny, it's that Part 121 operations get too much of it in all the wrong places, over ideological shibboleths such as "equality" and "no racial profiling".

Therefore the fair thing isn't to extend stupid security to two orders-of-magnitude more airports and air terminals, it's to lay off the stupid stuff at the 50 or so where it's stupid.

As to the social aspect, I think the newsflash is that the rich thought they were in a separate class from us even when they flew in the same big planes. That much can be traced to the memes we give *every* American child in any case: "You're unique and special, a class all your own with talents and abilities in a combination noone else shares!" is bound to create noveau-riche with the same sense of personal entitlement as any Roman patrician ever had, to the point where as soon as they're rich, they act rich...

I'm not going to give ground on this one, David, because I think you're not correct. Socially it's all same old same old (a point I'm sure you'll agree to), but it's not convincing evidence of feudal creep.

For that, I'd much rather look to land ownership and corporate share ownership. The mess that real estate hyperinflation has made of *your* State, for example, is a better bellweather.

And, politically, it's a useless observation if the end result is not less stupid "security", but more.

Anonymous said...

I'd say we have a lot of stupid security, but not in the names of "equality" or "no racial profiling", but because, simply, a lot of the "security precautions" at airports are stupid. Making people take off their shoes, banning all kinds of liquids and electronics, none of these really make us safer. They're just done so the politicians can look like they're doing something, without figuring out what actually needs to be done.

And so we end up with stupid security at airports, while the vast majority of Republicans vote against amdendments that would require things like 100% of all containers at our ports get checked before they're off the boat.

I'm starting to suspect some of the Republicans don't want to stop terrorism, because it's been a winning political issue for them, and the Democrats keep being too...something, to take them to task on it.

Anonymous said...

Interesting comments, all, about airline security. Obviously a hot topic.

I'd like to comment on another portion of the post, though. In regards to "eco-terrorism", Dr. Brin said, no one has died from any acts of politically-motivated vandalism by the environmentalists and animal-rights activists deemed “eco-terrorists”.

That hasn't been for lack of trying on the eco-terrorists' part, though. A UCLA professor's family was the target of a firebomb claimed to have been placed by the Animal Liberation Front. Though it was mistakenly placed on a neighbor's porch, and thankfully didn't go off, it likely would have killed those inside.

Please note, I'm not disagreeing with the suggestion that the "#1 threat" ranking is inappropriate. (Though it gives one pause ... perhaps the danger of a terrorist attack is being just a wee bit overinflated?) I simply suggest that it would be wrong to dismiss the threat entirely.

Anonymous said...

Brian you forgot about Ted Kasinisi, who despite being a mentally disturbed anti -modernist genius, I think failed to actually kill anyone. Earth First who spiked old growth redwood trees to destroy the saws and ended up injuring a few sawmill workers by accident. That did not seem to help their cause. The UCLA thing sounds like the work of one disturbed individual or something that the FBI or Mosad would do to create a backlash. One defective molitov is not much of a threat.

Anonymous said...

Big C,

I think laws are a poor attempt to replace common decency when it fails.

Look at CEO pay. Common decency was what held it down to reasonable levels back in America's "diamond days," now that it's gone...laws aren't doing a very good job of replacing it...

Anonymous said...

Come on, folks. The main point of Dr. Brin's post, which as far as I can tell NO ONE has disputed, is that the movement of 'the rich and famous' away from 1st Class--and therefore away from us peasants--does not bode well for the future of our society. He's not saying the people flying charter are being immoral, he's saying that the increased social separation between the extremely well-off and the rest of society--which we as a nation had been reducing through much of the second half of the twentieth century--is not good news.

Is the current social separation between 'upper' and 'middle/lower' classes (and, really, the high reaches of the 'upper classes') horribly bad? No, not in broad historical context; we're still about as good as it has ever gotten. However, the apparent reversal of the trend toward reduced separation (of which air travel practices is but a small symptom) is not a good sign if we hope for a future in which talent, hardwork, and results can compete with privilege.

Big C said...

"I think laws are a poor attempt to replace common decency when it fails."

Um, okay. Does that invalidate my point in any way? I never said anything about replacing common decency with laws. I said common decency alone was not enough to produce a society that guarantees freedom and opportunity for all. Do you disagree with that?

Reciprocal accountability isn't just about laws. It's about enabling everyone to hold their fellow citizens or institutions accountable, regardless of how much power or influence they have. Laws and the courts are only one aspect. Democracy and free markets are others.

Common decency is what happens when we hold ourselves accountable for our actions towards others, and therefore avoid actions that would cause others harm, and instead try to help as much as we can.

Unfortunately, we're not perfect, and we don't always do the right thing. So reciprocal accountability is necessary to ensure everyone gets a fair shake. Note that "reciprocal accountability" isn't just "make lots of laws."

Tony Fisk said...

Before I wade in, I heard this on the morning news:

US report says Iraq fuels terror.

Stefan's already noted it and, as he says, no surprises there. The only thing I want to add is that the report was classified.


60 Minutes is dead in the US, eh?

I wonder why that is? Is it due to the rising tide of bloggers who are continually observing, recording and comparing notes (in which case, David, you're just doing the job! ;-)

The age of amateurs! But there's a downside to this. To rise above the level of innuendo and scuttlebutt, a story like this needs to have some backing detail, and who has time to do that these days?

Indeed, why we seem to be getting increasingly 'time poor' is another social trend story in the same vein as the 'demise of first class'.

It might be a social trend, but I'm sure feudal interests are all too willing to make use of social trends (after all, feudalism's supposed to be the natural order, n'est-ce pas?) Why I have my suspicions about work levels is that I remember the late eighties and early nineties, when environmental issues were becoming increasingly vocal in Australia (Katrina arrived in SE Australia c 1982-3, in the form of the worst drought in history, ash wednesday bushfires, and dust storms in Melbourne!). It got stymied by the onset of an economic recession 'that we had to have' according to the leaders of the day. Suddenly, people were too busy worrying about their future, rather than their children's future, and got back in line.


MB: 'Common decency' is just RA applied to yourself by yourself. It is less trouble to all concerned. For that reason alone, it is to be encouraged. However, it is arbitrary and subjective; so it can't be relied on. RA applied by others is a backstop.

(Apparently, blogger have their beta hassles sorted)

Anonymous said...

"60 Minutes" isn't dead. In fact, it is playing right now . . . just not on my TV.

It still has a little spine, compared to a lot of TV "news" magazines, but it isn't the fierce muck-raking force it once was.

If his administrations' blunders and incompetence had recieved the full light of critical journalistic attention, Bush would be giving lectures to true believers on the rubber chicken circuit.

David Brin said...

Why not tutoring fellow inmates' reading skills?

In 2008, when he pardons 10,000 guys, we'll have one consolation. Cannot pre-pardon himself.

Rob... one point. I think you are envisioning these people flying teeny little air taxis. NOT! Aristo-Air flies some really big sky yachts, complete with lounges and even casino-like ambiance. And some even have quasi-regular schedules. Calling that 'general aviation' is a stretch.

Tony Fisk said...

Well, Sixty Minutes isn't the only ones in the business.

Just to keep the pot simmering, consider this excerpt from a recent Four Corners report:

LIZ JACKSON: How long was it before you had a take on who might've been responsible (for 9/11)?



RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER US COUNTER TERRORISM ADVISER: Well, you have to remember we had been predicting, for several months, that there would be a major al-Qaeda attack.

Ah, the A(ustralian)BC! The government network that the government loathes!

(One wonders how far the rubber chicken circuit extends, these days.)

Nothing to do with regular airline services but, doesn't John Travolta fly his own jumbo?

Tony Fisk said...

Oooh, an agenda?! Just reading a bit more of that transcript:

LIZ JACKSON: When was the first time that Iraq entered the discussions about responding to 9/11?

RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER US COUNTER TERRORISM ADVISER: Iraq began to be discussed in the White House bunker on the evening of September 11. People like Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld were saying, "Well, it's all fine to go into Afghanistan but," quote, "there's not enough to bomb in Afghanistan." And I actually thought that was a joke, that it was a bad joke and a badly timed joke but he wasn't joking. They were beginning to discuss - Wolfowitz, his deputy, the Defense Minister Rumsfeld, were beginning to discuss going after Iraq that night while the Pentagon was still on fire.

I thought they were out of their minds, once I realised that they weren't kidding. The most inappropriate, the most counterproductive thing we could've done would've been to invade Iraq and I rather thought that was self-evident.

So, Afghanistan wouldn't do, eh?

(Sorry this is off-topic, but it's interesting wrt a few other ongoing discussions here)

I can envision a cartoon of the kleptocrat's last supper (Nero style): much dyspeptic belching and murmurs of 'pardon/pardon/oh! pardon me!?'

Don Quijote said...

Look at CEO pay. Common decency was what held it down to reasonable levels back in America's "diamond days," now that it's gone...laws aren't doing a very good job of replacing it...

Common decency didn't have a damn thing to do with it, powerful unions & people who actually remembered the great depression did.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, the rich using chartered jets seems kinda beside the point. When the President's trying to get Congress to pass a law making a series of illegal prisons legal, and to move them outside the oversight of any but the Executive branch, and to give the Executive the right to unilaterally decide who gets stuck into the secret prisons as "enemy combatants", I think there's a lot more pressing signs of creeping feudalism than jets.

Hilzoy over at Obsidian Wings is much better at this than I.

Anonymous said...

Big C,

I think the last place the "little people" are going to find justice against billionaire neofeudalists is a court of law.

As common decency fails, the law is actually being used to cement the power of the neofuedalists...

Tony Fisk said...

An interesting comment, given this: GPL Upheld in Germany Against D-Link

Doubly interesting, since the legal system could be seen as a precursor to scientific method. Due process and all that.

That said, all systems can be corrupted, occasionally.

Anonymous said...

On the eco-terrorists, I'm with Brian on this one. Maybe listing them #1 does seem a bit odd, but then again maybe their listing as #1 is accurate. And if it IS accurate, then what does that tell us about the overall dangers of terrorism in general?

No more carry-on luggage because those damned "eco-terroists" might want to fly a plane into one of those cosmeteics manufacturers to save those bunnies!!!

Since you are more likely to be killed by a cop's bullet (3,949 deaths since 1995) then you are to die by terrorrism (3,147 deaths since 1995, and that's INCLUDING 9/11 in the figures), maybe we should start a Global War on Police? (,71743-0.html)

In all I'm pretty likely to elieve that eco-terrorists really are the worst form of terrorism we are realistically having to put up with and when all is said and done, we've been taking this whole terrorism threat way over the top.

Rob Perkins said...

David, it might be true that these airplanes are tricked out, but I refuse to begrudge someone a ride in them. Heck, *I* can afford a ride in them. Once. On a payment plan. And I'm sure they'd take my check and admit me.

But the bulk of my objection to your observations doesn't come from the fact that the very wealthy live differently than I. It comes from the implication that stupid security measures ought to be extended to them *just because of their wealth*.

I would much rather extend security measures where the threat profile calls for it.

That's the seed of class warfare. If it's not what you meant, then hey, I'll gladly rephrase-and-so-forth, but that's what it sounded like to me.

David Brin said...

Folks, please re-read Rob's posting several times.

Although he and I have been obstinately talking past each other for several exchanges, please note how he rises above that and gives a nod to:

*the likelihood that he HAS been talking a bit past me.
*nevertheless criticizing what he had subjectively taken to be my meaning
*above all, citokating me for having ALLLOWED that misinterpretations to stand.

A fellow with at least a smidge of maturity.

Nevertheless, I do wish he'd understand. I was pointing out a SYMPTOM of a larger problem, the re-emergence of caste in America. Still, this symptom hurts.

I doubt these folks are disallowed to bring their cosmetics right on the plane. And so long as they needn't share our pain, they have little incentive to use their elevated status/power to help EASE that pain.

Rob Perkins said...

David, perhaps there's more at work on my end.

I may be one of those about to *join* the owner class, in a position of enough wealth to establish a quasi-feifdom of my own, in the form of a single additional home which I plan to rent to others.

So, rereading your initial post, you make two points:

1 - They fly out of "charter terminals". Those things don't exist: They're the GA terminals, and the lesser security treatment has to do with efforts of people like me, relatively-current pilots, not wanting the extra expense FBO's would necessarily incur where the threat profile is smaller. And I did point out that anyone with a bit of moxie, and just half again as much money, can also use those terminals to travel. As long as you're not trying it at LAX or LaGuardia.

So, what about a compromise? If you operate out of a high-security airport at all, regardless of the FAA reg you're operating under, you should really have to have the high security everywhere at that airport "to make it fair".

The historical choices the FAA has made regarding regs would make that exceedingly unpopular, because then the part-91 general aviation littleplane types would simply be shut out of operations at those airports, which introduces certain safety issues which can't be overlooked.

Oh, it's complex to do what you say we need to do.

Even so, point to you: The social aspects are interesting; the wealthy are routing around the rest of us. But, they were doing this sort of thing *before* 9/11, and before the new security regs. I remember a coworker from ten years ago who gushed about the flight he got to take on ALLTEL's corporate jet. Once. And then only because it was going his way and there was a seat.

And, not to put too fine a point on it, but you don't have to be super-rich to do it, either! One of the charter brokers will let you play for as little as $50k on account; which is within the easy reach of a small law firm or a company like mine with revenues less than a million a year. Especially since we'd bill the business use back into the cost of our product if we wanted to use it that way.

Now, here's the fun part: If you want to allege that the corporate "charters" are running on too regular a schedule to be considered part-135 operations, *you can blow the whistle to an FAA inspector*. So, y'know, do it!

Also, consider that the "rich and famous" might have no other choice; with the crowds the way they are at airports today, someone like Justin Timberlake couldn't go it alone into First Class; he'd be mobbed by everyone but me (I can't stand him.)

So I'm likelier to assign the demise of first class to the much greater popularity of air travel, and to pine a bit for something like Europe's systems of travel, where rail has a role it just doesn't have in the U.S.

Though, over there, the "rich and famous" would simply be in automobiles. :-)