Friday, March 22, 2019

Life imitates art, badly

I see that the previous post contains numerous movie references.  Here comes another one.

Remember the scene in A Day At the Races (1937) when Groucho, as Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush, arrives at the track to place a bet?  He is importuned by Tony, an ice cream vendor (Chico), who assures him that a different horse is certain to win.  For only a dollar, Tony will sell him the name of the horse.  Groucho ponies up (sorry) and is handed a piece of paper.  The horse's name is in code.  To decipher it requires a code book, which Chico also sells him.  The code book lists the horse's ancestry, which must be traced through a breeder's guide.  The cart, we now see, holds a lot of books and not much ice cream.  Eventually Groucho manages to learn the name of...the jockey.  The name of the horse is always one payment away, and when he finally gets it, the race is over.

It's funny, because nobody dies.

At some point Boeing, a once-reputable builder of aircraft, seems to have adopted Tony the tout as a business model.  They will sell you their new 737 Max for millions of dollars, but if you want any of the extras -- let's say, the backup fire extinguisher for the cargo hold -- well, that's extra.  Some airlines, like Lion Air in Indonesia, have opted not to buy, choosing instead to keep fares affordable and stockholders happy.

From the New York Times:

"As the pilots of the doomed Boeing jets in Ethiopia and Indonesia fought to control their planes, they lacked two notable safety features in their cockpits.  One reason:  Boeing charges extra for them...add-on features can be moneymakers for plane manufacturers:  $800,000 to two million dollars on various options..."

The FBI has opened a criminal investigation of Boeing, but it isn't clear that they have broken any laws or FAA regulations, just as the Titanic carried the number of lifeboats required by the British Board of Trade.  Nobody went to prison in 1912.  In the present political climate, I can't imagine a big corporation being penalized for cynical greed, no matter who runs the FAA (at one point Trump was ready to appoint his personal pilot as director, remember?).  Regulations are "bad for business," and life is cheap, especially in the parts of the world serviced by Ethiopian Airlines.  And the Dear Leader has already explained why planes crash:  they're too complicated.  "I don't want Einstein at the controls," says the man who can't operate an umbrella.

Netflix and hot towels in First Class are options.  Software to keep the plane from nosediving on takeoff probably should not be.  But I'm no expert.  "Get-a you tootsi-fruitsiā€¦"  


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