31 July 2007

$18,500 for a first-class ticket

And the "gap" just keeps growing

We knew they didn't want to sit next to us; now we learn that don't even want to sit near to us!

The relatively recent emergence of first-class-only airlines has, it seems, really started to take off. In another newspaper report (NYT) - they just keep coming! - there's talk of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic launching their own rival versions of Eos and MAXjet, Silverjet - three of the better known such airlines flying between New York and London.

NYT: Mr. [Richard] Branson said that Virgin’s research showed a “mood change in the last five years” among business travelers, who “want to sit in an airplane with people who are also working.”

“It’s a status thing,” he added, “and a psychological thing.”

About three months ago I had the chance to try one of these airlines out for myself - part of my Global Mobilities research project - and there wasn't a lot of working as far as I could tell (see pic from Eos). I'm pretty sure that's just a convenient pretext for the "status thing" Richard Branson talks about.

This exclusivity comes at a tax-subsidized price of about, for New York-London round-trip walk-up fares, of $5,400 (Eos), $3,300 (SilverJet) and $2,600 (MAXJet) - compared with a standard fare transatlantic ticket of about $800. That's tax-subsidized because these are mostly corporate dollars which we all subsidize in one way or another. Having said which, these are bargain-basement prices compared with, say, the $16,500 to $18,500 one pays for a first-class Seatle-London return ticket with British Airways - I kid you not: check it out (next post) - or the tens of thousands for a trip with a private flight with NetJets.

All this, and still 1.1 billion people live each day without safe drinking water (WHO)


Celebration or critique?

I can't decide whether Fergie's "London Bridge" video celebrates or parodies the excesses of conspicuous consumption. It certainly seems to single out many of the most popular symbols of old-fashioned and new-fashioned super-elite lifestyles. (Thanks, Rebecca Clark, for showing me the video to start with.)

1,000 US billionaires and counting

Within days of launching i-needle, here's yet another report (The Guardian) on the extraordinary, extreme wealth of some Americans. There are now 1,000 billionaires in the USA (up from 13 in 1985) with a combined wealth of $30 trillion - more than the GDPs of China, Japan, Russia, Brazil and the EU combined. But isn't that a great thing for the USA? Doesn't this benefit everyone? Surely some of the $30 trillion's "trickling down"? Well, not to the 36 million Americans (i.e. 6%) who live in poverty it's not.

Meanwhile ...

"We're trying to feed and manage this insatiable appetite for luxury."
That's a guy who runs a time-share company for the super-rich with a "Platinum membership" start-up fee of $875K and an annual fee of $42K. People who can afford this are the same people looking to burn their easy-come (ill-gotten?) money on $736K Franck Muller watches, on $10K martinis at the Algonquin Hotel in New York. May this is Larry Ellison's life? The founder of Oracle owns a five-storey 450ft "yacht" with 80 rooms, a helipad and a cinema (see pic above).

These contemporary excesses are clearly of Marie-Antoinette proportions. And we all know what happened to her.

29 July 2007

Choosing a name: The eye of the needle

In finding a name for this twinned project - that's both iNeedle and iNeedless - I start with where I'm at: Seattle. There is much to be learned about the world from attending to what the Welsh call y filltir sgwar ("square mile"). In other words, my own backyard. The kinds of symbolic and material inequalities that concern me are realized on a local, national and global scale. Choices I make each day in my own home bolster my privilege and entrench the poverty of someone else a thousand miles away.

I also want to draw deliberately on the various meanings of "needle" given in the header: as an instrument for stitching things together and as an indicator of direction; as the act of piercing something through and of inciting someone to action. The added idiomatic significance of perspicacity (sharp as needles) and tenacity (needles in haystacks) convey ideal qualitites to be strived for as the project grows. As I strive to recognize the relative affluence of my own life, I find myself constantly grappling with the nagging sense of lack which persists in spite of my privilege. I have been so deeply enculturated into always wanting more, into believing that I actually need more. When in fact, like so many people living near the privileged centre of gobal capitalism, the simple truth is that I actually need less. That so much of our lust for stuff is needless.

In this regard, and in keeping with my cultural heritage, it is also not without signficance to me that the aphoristic associations of the needle's eye are to be found in the the Bible as well as the Talmud and the Qur'an. I mention this at the risk of appearing to uphold religious doctrine which typically offers such mixed messages about wealth and poverty, and which has been misused so many times to justify any number of inequalities. Nonetheless, at a time of such disjuncture perhaps it makes sense to draw on a language of faith which apparently resonates both deeply and widely. And so, we find the following:

  • It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
  • They do not show a man a palm tree of gold nor an elephant going through the eye of a needle.
  • They who deny our revelations and scorn them, for them the gates of heaven will not be opened nor will they enter the garden until the camel goeth through the needle's eye.
Lost sentiments? Enduring wisdom?

[picture source: http://www.picture-your-world.com/]