Category Archives: Random Thoughts

Taking a Step Back from UA 3411

With the recent social media outrage at United’s scandal on board UA 3411, I must admit that my initial reaction was complete disbelief that such an abhorrent thing could occur on a US domestic flight. While I do not mean that as any sort of credence that US flight carriers have amazing customer service, I mean that more as “how could they not have considered the media ramifications of such a move?!” Now, having thought about it on-and-off for about a day, I actually feel like that’s really the only thing that they messed up there. I recognize that this point of view may be considered callous and certainly unpopular, but hear me out.

To start off, let’s talk about what factually happened.

  1. UA 3411 flight was overbooked.
  2. United asked for volunteers to board next flight at compensation of upwards of $800 + hotel stay.
  3. No one volunteered, so United decided to randomize the selection of individuals to be “volun-forced” to board next flight.
  4. Couple was picked, they left. A doctor was selected to leave, he refused.
  5. Doctor was dragged out by Chicago Aviation Police forcibly. Injuries incurred.

Now, let’s talk about what’s “wrong”:

  1. Overbooking. As a lot of people outraged about airlines overbooking their flights, I actually feel this is not as evil as people think, and definitely not a problem specific to United Airlines. Overbooking is something like rating by credit score in the insurance industry (sorry, gotta stick to what I know). Your initial reaction is always going to be – “that’s not fair!”, but the truth of it is that it probably leads to lower flight prices for everybody. Without any sort of regulation stating that airlines cannot overbook a flight, the airline that employs overbooking (even with the gaudy compensations should the flight truly become over-filled) will out-compete all other airlines. By ensuring near maximal capacity on your flights, you definitely can spread out the per unit cost better than if you can only guarantee 80% capacity on your flights, which leads to lower prices. Unless we as a market can suggest that we value getting on our flight 100% of the time (over, say, 99% of time) is more important than cheaper fares, we have forced the airlines’ hands. They (and indirectly, we) have made the clear tradeoff that cheaper airfares greatly outweigh the inconvenience. In fact, I would almost argue that the fact that airlines hire mathematicians and statisticians to create models to forecast the probabilities of overbooking to minimize the negative PR has shown to me that they have been more than sufficiently responsible in utilizing this profit maximizing tool. Now whether or not you believe on principle this should be allowed, that’s a discussion for another day. But in an unregulated environment, I find no fault in airlines that do this and certainly not United Airlines.
  2. The $800 + hotel compensation. To be honest, this is probably the primary thing that I think United Airlines played incorrectly. Even then, its a bit grey. I do think that they should’ve increased the compensation until someone agrees to it. I believe that the overbooking was a fault of United Airlines (though perfectly legal), and a good way to avoid negative PR would be to hit a point in which you get the necessary volunteers to take another flight. Now, whether or not there would be any takers with the maximal benefit of $1350 (I think we should be asking why is there even a cap on the maximal benefit here) can only be left to speculation (in fact, it may be the case that the hotel + $800 hits the maximal benefit of $1350 and that United’s hands were tied).
  3. Randomizing “volunteers” to leave the plane. Okay, first, let’s get over this whole “volunteer” vs “non-volunteer” business. Yes, they were forced off the planes. No they did not volunteer. At the point in which the randomization occurred, I do not believe anyone believed they would be “volunteering” when chosen. It was clear they would be asked to leave the plane, which, by the way, is perfectly legal and at the discretion of United. Let’s not skew the discussion with mockery of United’s definition of “volunteering” – at that point, it was way beyond that. Now, given that you absolutely HAD to remove people on the plane to make room for United employees, randomizing is probably the fairest approach (pun intended). So really, the only qualm that you could possibly pick here is whether or not it was an “absolute must” to remove people on the plane to make room for United employees. Unfortunately, I do not know enough of the logistics here to say that there wouldn’t be a better approach, but I am also sure that neither do any of the other people that responded so vehemently on social media. Should United have considered another approach? Probably. Did they consider other approaches? Most likely. Would this be horrible PR? Definitely. Is this illegal? Definitely not.
  4. Doctor refusing to leave. This. This is the fact that everyone glossed over. From all the hurricane of responses on the internet, the hidden implication is that the doctor, without a doubt, was entitled to be there. I agree that he paid for the ticket, but if we were to believe that in #3 above that United HAD the right to remove people from the plane in a case of an overbooking (which a simple google search could verify), the doctor was refusing to abide by the rules! I truly believe that the doctor himself did not know he was refusing to abide by United’s rules (as I’m not sure if the overbooking clause is published in any fine print, and even if it is, I highly doubt anyone read it), but nonetheless, the doctor himself refused to abide by the “law” of the airline. He was no more entitled to his seat than anyone else on that plane and, in this situation, no one was entitled to their seat in an overbooked situation.
  5. Doctor being forcibly dragged out of the flight. First, I do want to point out that the security guard that dragged the doctor out is part of the Chicago Aviation Police acting under the orders of United Airlines. Whether or not that matters, thats up to you. But now, if we have established in #3 that United was within their legal bounds and that #4 the doctor was the one not abiding by the rules, then its fairly clear to see that the doctor was, for a lack of better phrase, “resisting arrest.” The doctor had to be removed from the plane (to guarantee the integrity of the “randomization” in #3) yet he was refusing to do so. Now, I can’t speak to what happened that caused the injuries, but I am going assume that the doctor struggled against the “arrest,” and in the chaos, he had to be subdued. I’m sure all of you are aware of how small those airplane seats are and thus, how difficult it would be to remove a struggling individual from that seat. Note that I am not condoning what was done, but I do believe that it was not done out of malice and certainly not intentional. It is certainly tragic that the doctor was injured in this exchange, but if you look at police videos of arrests (and I do recognize that upholding airline laws and criminal laws do have key differences, but the nature of the actions and consequences are undeniably similar), I’m not sure you can really find malicious intent in this exchange. Now, I do feel like the doctor getting dragged out is a bit excessive (I felt they could’ve helped him up and walked him out), but I feel like thats beyond the principle that everyone is discussing.

Some additional notes:

  1. There has been some discussion regarding the profession of the doctor (verified?) and the fact that he needs to see patients the next day. Unless you agree that certain professions should get better treatment on flights due to the nature of their job, I think we can agree that his “doctorship” matters very little. The focus on his profession just seeks to over-sensationalize the situation. Randomization chose him and that is fair enough to me (unless he provides proof of more than compelling evidence why he HAS to make that flight).
  2. A lot of people seem to citing that the police is here to protect the people not to intimidate the people. Uh, no. The police is here to enforce the laws. The lawmakers are here to ensure that, by enforcing the laws, the police are protecting the people. As a social construct, I believe that it is in our best interest to protect each other, but thats NOT the role of the police. The police is here to enforce the laws – we can only hope (well, we can do better by electing the law makers) that by doing so, they are protecting our best interests.
  3. Some people have argued that the United employees on that plane should have spoken out/taken action to stop the Aviation Police from forcibly removing the doctor from the plane. But let me ask you, how many people have you seen “fighting” the police to stop an arrest?

All in all, I think this goes back to my qualm about social media. In this day and age, we have access to so much information at such a rapid pace, all of which is goading us into making snap judgments. Even in this case, in which we are exposed to a video which almost seems “impossible” to take out of context, we jumped to a conclusion and picked up our pitchforks way too soon. I think we should demand an investigation, demand a response from United – that I have no question. But instead of leaping out and condemning what we do not understand, we should all take a step back and remove our emotions from the facts.

Perhaps you agree with me, perhaps you do not. I do not seek to convince you, I just seek to provide another point of view for your consideration.

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Post Election Thoughts

So I have stayed relatively silent about the election, and in a large part, I do believe that the liberal side of the US vastly overreacted to the results of the election on a POLITICAL level. There were a lot of rhetoric about the world being over and secession and not accepting the results of the election, which, to me, is INSANE. I do believe this is exactly how the right side of the spectrum felt when Obama was elected (for good reason or not), and we chastised them for being extremists – our reaction to this election honestly have been no different.

That aside, my main reservation with Donald Trump is not with his politics. I think with media/social media (and I think most of you guys know my view towards this) being a massive echo chamber, I do welcome the insight of the right to take precedent in the next 4 years so that we can at least understand what their views are. We may all come to the conclusion that it is bat-shit crazy, but lets at least start with an open mind. I welcome the chance to compromise, debate, and learn, whether it is for myself or for my “opponent.”

However, what I DO worry about – is the racist/sexist/overall intolerant rhetoric that Trump used to get here. Whether or not you consider an argument tactic (which is actually a VERY interesting theory), the fact that he used that rhetoric and ended up getting elected EMPOWERS people with similar mindsets. This is clearly unacceptable. I want to distinguish this with a difference in ideals. I know a lot of people have considered Bernie’s policies to be crazy and unfeasible; I think thats okay. He was definitely socialist leaning and whether or not you agreed with his principals, at the end of the day, does not challenge our integrity as human beings. It merely acts as an information exchange in which extreme views are met with practical limitations and then formed into viable policy. However, the danger with Trump is that his (spoken) ideals challenges our fundamental principals as human beings. Regardless of how effective his domestic/financial policy will be, I cannot accept that trade if its for minority rights, minority well-being, and the general freedom of mankind and womankind. This was my main disconnect in this election.

In any case, this election has signaled to me that we have our work cut out for us. And by work, I don’t mean the impeachment of Trump, I don’t mean the secession of California, I don’t even mean the race to the midterms to elect a liberal congress. This election has shown me how big of an effect social media has on our lives – how much of an echo chamber is has left us in and how much more is out there. As educated people in an information rich generation, we need to be proactive in seeking news sources, contemplating ramifications, and approaching things with an open mind. I don’t want to be part of the righteous generation that condemns people with different beliefs and seeks to take away their rights to satisfy what we believe is right. I saw too much of that in this election (on both sides), and I will say that I’m utterly disgusted. Let’s not forget our integrity of human beings, what it truly means to live in free country, and our real civic duty – which is not just to vote, but to stay completely and earnestly informed of the things that not only affect us, but also those that disagree with us.

I know I have not done well in that regards, have you?

With that in mind, I will leave some articles that I have found interesting recently. Read them at your own leisure, but I think I got a lot of good insights from them in contemplating on the future:

Day 1 Trump’s America

Democrats and the Working Class

Her Loss

Donald Trump and the Lessons of Brexit

Why Twitter Must Be Saved

In all, I welcome Donald to the white house. While I look forward to working with you in making America great again (even if that means voting for/against your policies), know that I will not waver when your policies question our integrity as a human being.

Thanks for hearing me out,

Alen

The Race Card

So randomly browsing through my facebook this morning, i found something interesting through the facebook grapevine:

UCLA Race Card

Granted that I am not that familiar with any racial situations in UCLA, but this guy seems to be desperately playing the race card. People need to understand that one-sided statistics, coupled with fancy rhetoric does not incite change among your educated masses. You might be able to incite a reaction from your typical college student, but this video leaves a lot of question to be answered. To me, this is the spin doctor.

Until people learn to drop the fancy, biased rhetoric (the analogy to the palette of colors is interesting, but almost COMPLETELY irrelevant) and start learning how to compare statistics, think critically, and dig deep for the root of questions (is it really true that African American students are not graduating due to lack of financial aid? California does not have affirmative action – does that mean its not a level playing field?), videos like these just serve to undermine your credibility on these issues.

I am disgusted by this video – the ineptitude to provide relevant information only seeks to mar the purity of your cause. 

Dear Modern Day Statistics Student

I’m sure most of you guys have heard of the whole BART strike fiasco up in the Bay Area for the last couple of months. While the issue itself is immensely interesting, it also led me to things like this:

http://enjalot.github.io/bart/

Now, on initial glance, the hidden statistician and truth seeker in all of us will rejoice at the data and information at our hands. We will play around and hover over each bubble trying to figure out what story each visualization has to share.

And herein lies the problem.

These visualizations tell us no stories. Well, maybe thats not fair. These visualizations have stories to tell us – its just that the authors and creators have made them mute. I get it. These visualizations look nice. These visualizations are not made from simple excel bar charts and pie graphs but are rather made from fancy javascript where bubbles get bigger when you hover over them. These visualizations are what I would have put in a 5th grade science fair project to wow all the asian parents into comparing their sons and daughters to me. But honestly, that is exactly what I think it is – shiny, 5th grade art.

Now, to clarify, I am not against creative data visualization. I think the very act of visualizing data not only helps emphasize our insights into the data, but can also instill those very insights into our minds. To be able to creatively illustrate a point is like the milk to your statistical cookies (sorry, lactose intolerant people you’re going to have to imagine this). But this? This is all wrong. This is like pouring milk, thinking you have cookies only to realize that you actually have no cookies. Then you just stand there thinking why in the world you poured the milk.

Lets take the first graphic for example “How Much Do BART Employees Earn?” When I look at these dots, I have no idea what kind of conclusion I am supposed to draw. Okay, predominantly the people who make the most money, most contributions to pension, most any kind of benefits are those not in Unions. So what? This tells me nothing about the BART organization. This tells me nothing about whether or not the Union is justified in making demands. This just tells me about a comparison that gives me no context to the issue. But man, look at how those circles move when you change that drop-down.

Okay, so lets go a bit further down to “are the demands reasonable?” Here, we have a fairly standard graph with 4 lines. At initial glance, what hops out at you is that MAN THOSE UNION PEOPLE BE RIDICULOUS. Then you start to ask yourself. What is “Index”? What does that measure? Do I generally want to stay above the index or below the index? Is it only the slope that matters or do the actual values matter? Nope, no information. Luckily there is a link below about the “fairness in transportation” that uses the same graph. Clicked-in, found some blog with some fairly large words and complex ideas (which, by the way, are fairly interesting), yet still no explanation of the what the graph is trying to show us.

Maybe the problem lies with how most people view statistics. Most people view statistics as a way of aggregating knowledge. It takes millions and millions of numbers and letters and otherwise seemingly unrelated things and ties them together for us to see. I disagree. Statistics is a way of parsing out all the noise in the world for us to see truth. It allows us to absorb and quantify millions and millions of occurrences of events so that we can being to formulate an opinion about what is truth. And that is what is different. Statistics is not a reporting tool; Statistics is a tool allowing us to dig and claw and reassess our knowledge of truth. And, honestly, the only subtle difference between the two is the story we glean from the statistics.

So. Statistics students of the modern age. I challenge you to be proactive with your statistics. Use your analysis and data visualization to challenge (or reaffirm) your view of the world. Use it to elucidate, to influence, to persuade others with what you see as truth. The numbers do not speak – you will have to be the orator for the single most powerful pool of knowledge in the information age.

Just remember: Statistics is a contact sport – do not be a passive onlooker.

Charisma

The difference between those with charisma and those without is quite simple.

When someone without charisma tells a good joke, everyone laughs and thinks “nice, that joke was awesome”; however, when someone with charisma tells a good joke, everyone laughs and thinks “hell yeah, this guy is awesome.”

And yeah, that semicolon did happen.

Get well soon

The strangest thing to here your vet say to you: “Oh, Rhino will stop leaking a bit.

Get well soon, buddy.

A Dog’s Purpose

So my mom likes to send me random bits of the internet from time to time. This could range anywhere from spam mail to some pretty profound articles. As I was working late last night, I happened to open some of my old emails and found this little gem:

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife, Lisa, and their little boy, Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.

I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker’s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.

The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker’s death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives.

Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, ‘I know why.’

Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comforting explanation. He said, ‘People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life — like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?’

The six-year-old continued, ‘Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.’

Live simply.
Love generously.
Care deeply.
Speak kindly.

Remember, if a dog was the teacher you would learn things like:

1. When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
2. Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.
3. Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure ecstasy.
4. Take naps.
5. Stretch before rising.
6. Run, romp, and play daily.
7. Thrive on attention and let people touch you.
8. Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
9. On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.
10. On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.
11. When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
12. Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
13. Be loyal.
14. Never pretend to be something you’re not.
15. If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
16. When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle them gently.

You know, maybe we got it all wrong. Maybe it IS just as simple as a dog sees it.

Deserving Happiness

Its somewhat an odd statement to say that someone “deserves happiness.” What does that mean? What do you do to deserve it? What do you do you to lose your entitlement to it? It seems to me that this statement should be more of a statistical conclusion – something along the lines of “because of historical data, I can conclude that I deserve happiness.” Its simply a measurement of how many things go right when they could have gone wrong – or perhaps a statistic about a streak of events someone deems to make them happy – and then we can conclude that whether or not that person was born with the entitlement to happiness.

So with that being said, I can say with 95% certainty that I do not deserve to be happy – and I have no clue why.

Because YLOO

Sometimes the whole world forgives you.
But to grow, you must not forgive yourself.

Sometimes the whole world refuses to give you a chance.
But for hope, you must give yourself a chance.

Unknowingly, I have been giving up on myself. No more, I refuse to lose.

Not Special

What an amazing message.

Because no one is “entitled” to anything. No one “deserves” happiness. It is not something that drops into your lap, it is not something that had your name on it at birth. We must all fight – fight and struggle and claw through our experiences in life. Because, at the end of the day, the end doesn’t matter – it is the journey that defines us. The fulfilled life is a consequence of meaningful journeys, not of well-kept accomplishments.

 

And read… read all the time… read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self-respect. Read as a nourishing staple of life. Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it. Dream big. Work hard. Think for yourself. Love everything you love, everyone you love, with all your might. And do so, please, with a sense of urgency, for every tick of the clock subtracts from fewer and fewer; and as surely as there are commencements there are cessations, and you’ll be in no condition to enjoy the ceremony attendant to that eventuality no matter how delightful the afternoon.

[…]

Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you. Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly. Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion – and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.

Because everyone is.