schenker28 (schenker28) wrote,

plane thing

I don't get this news story about the 747 freaking out everyone in Manhattan a few days ago. I'm frankly not too surprised that it didn't seem like a big deal to the guy in Washington to have a plane fly by. I think it's whacky to want to take a photo there -- that's another issue. But *I* wouldn't have ever worried that a plane near NYC would cause some huge panic! I don't understand why the news hasn't mentioned this:

NYC is surrounded by 3 crazy busy airports. Just a few months ago, that one famous flight was taking off, flying over your unforth 's new apartment, then it hit the birds, and had to fly left over the GW bridge and landed in the Hudson... I'm not saying that Hudson landings are common, but in my mind (and experience driving up the NJ turnpike into NYC), the area is swarming with huge planes, like no other place on earth!

Why did this one freak everyone out, when the plane that was flying by and hit the birds & landed in the river didn't freak everyone out?? I guess there must be something special about the area right around the tallest super-downtown part of Manhattan, whereas planes flying by just a little tiny bit away from there or a tiny bit higher up are normal.

In my mind, NYC has planes flying all around it 24/7. I'm sure there is something a bit wrong with this mental idea, otherwise the one a few days ago wouldn't have been noticed.

But I think that, except for native New Yorkers or something, it doesn't seem like a big deal to have a plane nearby, 9/11 notwithstanding, because it's sandwiched between these 3 huge airports! Not only that, I'm used to flying into Newark myself, looking down at the buildings, the Statue of Liberty, etc etc. Doesn't seem like an out-of-the-ordinary spot for an airplane!

People are saying that the whole thing demonstrated that some D.C. guy had "a felony lack of common-sense".... but I think to the rest of us, it's not strange to have planes zooming around near Newark, JFK, and LaGuardia.

My point is that this was an easy mistake to make, and I can imagine almost anyone doing the same thing.

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Fallacy in the argument: At least in NYC, the plane that landed in the Hudson DID cause people to freak out. A lot of people who saw it said their first reaction was to fear 9/11 all over again. And none of the planes that fly into or out of any of those airports fly low over the city - usually only helicopters do that. Believe me, what happened the other day was anything but routine. Now, that said, I can't say I'm at all worried or care one way or the other, but ultimabaka was one of the people evacuated from their building. No one told them what was happening or why they were being evacuated, and they were very scared - I can't say that I blame them. The plane wasn't NEAR JFK or Laguardia, downtown is miles and miles from there. If you lived 5 miles from an airport, would you expect to have a full-size plane pass only a feww hundred feet overhead?

The real thing, though, is to understand just how traumatic 9/11 really was here. Everyone I know who was here when it happened and here in the years afterwards tells me the same thing - that every time they heard a plane pass overhead - even very high overhead - they looked up and were scared. I was a little scared myself, come to think of it.

But really, the key problem with your argument here is that your planes that land at Newark have never flown in and among the Financial District skyscrapers! No planes do that, or even come close. Just cause the skyline looks close to you when you do that, think about how really high up and far away you actually still are. And that's why people were freaked. And while I can't say I'm scared or that I anticipate another 9/11, I have to agree with the statement that "a felony lack of common-sense" was exhibited - seriously, what a fricken stupid thing to do.
Just another quick note, this is a picture that I took over the weekend while I was at a baseball game at Citifield. Note the plane. I thought it was unusual enough to see a plane from this close that I decided to take a picture of it. Citifield is only about a mile from Laguardia. From the pictures I've seen from the thing the other day (which aren't many, I can't say I've paid all that much attention to the coverage) the plane was this close and closer. And as a native NYer I thought this was unusual when I was a baseball game and knew how close the airport was.
Thanks for the pic and the reply! I had originally written my post in an email to you but decided to stick it on here instead.

I'm not sure if I was as clear as possible about -- it's possible I'm just wrong, of course, instead of just being a bit unclear in writing... but I'll try to clarify just in case, because I found this to be a cognitively interesting event, and that's why I was thinking about it.

I don't think I was trying to make an "argument" in the sense that "people shouldn't have been scared" or something... but rather, I was trying to argue why, as an outsider, the whole geography of NY plus airports makes it seem like low-flying airplanes should be an ordinary occurrence, not a special, scary event. Rather that thinking this D.C. person must be incomprehensibly stupid, I still suspect it's the kind of mistake many bright, educated people could easily make.... I think it's not a surprising mistake because of how we have simplified mental models of the world in our heads.

here's an example of a mental model: Manhattan is a tiny little island full of huge skyscrapers. That Hudson River-bound plane seems to have flown over, (or at least very near to) Manhattan, because when I saw its flight path in some CNN graphic a few months ago, I thought "wow, it hit the birds right over Claire's apartment". Maybe it was further north or east by some small distance, but in my mental model it was right over Manhattan, and then veered left and down to land in the river. Sure, the plane might have scared people after the bird strike, but as an outsider, it feels like it was taking off from the airport and flying right over your Manhattan-based apartment, before anythign went wrong. And that little thing makes it seem to me like huge planes must be going by right over your head there all day long.
I think it takes some more careful measuring of distances on a map, some understanding of typical rates/angles of ascent for jumbo jets, and maybe some trigonometric computations, so figure out where that assumption is wrong. Also, it probably requires breaking up "Manhattan" into lots of tinier pieces -- your mentioned "Financial District" district in your message, but when I was sitting in D.C. watching the Hudson River landing news story, I didn't think about, say, the average heights of buildings in the north part of Manhattan vs the south part... Manhattan is just a tiny little dot on a map, with three little airport dots touching it on every side.

Here's the main point, though, I was trying to make. I wish I could find a better analogy -- I know about the flaws, but I think it captures the idea:

If I had to get a photo taken of me with some nice fresh French baguette, maybe I'd say: "Hey, let's go to Paris, the home of baguettes, and buy a delicious hot baguette and go take a photo of me with this thing, maybe over at that pretty church sort of near the Louvre that I visited 10 years ago. You know, the church with the 'piece of the original holy cross' on that display with all the pretty stained glass. It's the prettiest place in all of Paris!" However, I can imagine that I'd arrive at the church, baguette under the arm, ready for my little photo to be taken. However, I can imagine it causing an uproar on arrival: a baguette in the church? How horribly rude to have not only food in a church, but a big hunk of bread, of all things! The holy cross fragment on display and everything makes people think about Jesus, crucifixion, the last supper, etc etc., taking a photo of me with a baguette in (or even near) the church: it just makes me look like I'm making fun of the church, ready to take a huge metaphorical bite out of Jesus, or something. Of all places in the world, perhaps to a Catholic Parisian, this particular church, with its fragment-of-cross on display, might be the worst, offensive, crazy place possible to take a photo of a baguette! What horrible, rude, typically-American insensitivity! American tourists should just be shot!

Now, from the point of view of me back in the US, wanting this photo of me with some French bread and a pretty backdrop, it seemed that this church -- the site of my favorite photo of Paris a decade ago -- was an ideal spot! It might never occur to me that a baguette would be out-of-place anywhere in Paris! After all, the entire city smells like baking bread at 6 am every day. Paris (that's Pah-REE, of course!) is French-Bread Ground-Zero! It's the MOST likely place in the whole world to find a baguette! But to our Catholic Parisien, this particular small church, right in the center of town near the Louvre, is the LEAST likely place to have a baguette in the whole world!

Therein lies the conflict, and my hypothesizes source of the problem: very different mental models in the minds of Manhattan residents vs. photo-shoot arrangers far away in D.C.

I think it's natural to want to take a photo of French bread in France, and to find a pretty backdrop of my favorite example of stained glass in a Parisian church. It takes a lot more mental effort as a non-Catholic American to come up with the idea that the baguette might somehow symbolize Jesus's body, and I need to be careful where to have bread in Paris. In my mind, Paris is full of baguettes everywhere! But for a Parisian, a map of Paris might be superimposed with big red zones -- places where baguettes, or bread of any sort, must not be on display, or eaten, or even smelled! A non-Parisian doesn't have such a refined sense of the interplay of Catholic symbolism and local geography.

I hope that was more clear, at least taking into account my goal which is to propose why might not seem strange for someone in an office in D.C. to say "let's snap a couple of photos of a plane near Manhattan". It's like saying "where should we get some French Bread? Of course, let's go to Paris!..." etc. What American would have thought that a chunk of French Bread in the heart of Paris would even be capable of causing some religious faux-pas?
Ah, but folks in DC are supposed to research on proper norms and expectations. They're in politics - they are paid to understand that part of their jobs is not to do anything that compromises the government.

Anyway, what you say doesn't really violate my fundamental point: while it may seem like planes from the (on the map) very proximal tiny dots of the airports over the tiny dot of the buildings, this isn't actually the case. If a plane flew low over the Pentagon, which of course was also attacked on 9/11 by a plane, you'd better believe all hell would break lose. Thus, why is it a surprise that all hell broke lose when the same thing was done by where the World Trade Center used to be? The difference between my neighborhood and the Financial District isn't the size of the buildings, it's their importance. The Hudson River plane, which - as I mentioned - DID cause a stir and a lot of fear over whether it was going to plow into buildings - wasn't AS scary because there's simply nothing all that important here. The casualty rate would be terrifying, but ultimately it's just residential buildings, many of which are mostly empty during the work day. The Financial District, on the other hand, is still one of the most important financial centers in the world, and anything that damages it does noticeable, if not substantial, damage to the economy - data from post-9/11 bears this out.

Also, I feel obliged to point out the "hindsight is 20-20" component of your argument. Now, looking back, we know that it was just a photoshoot. But while it was happening, how many people actually knew? Again, I know very little about this, I haven't read about it, but it seems like they didn't warn ANYONE that they were doing this. I would imagine Air Force One can't even be hosed down for an airplane wash (as opposed to a car wash) without orders signed in triplicate and an examination by the CIA - yet everyone in NYC seems to have been taken completely by surprise by this photo thing. If this is the case, how on earth were we supposed to know that it wasn't something serious? Stories from 9/11 make it clear that no one was afraid of those low flying planes until they crashed directly into the tallest buildings on the island. I don't think anyone can blame us for being a bit wary. Again, the Hudson River plane isn't a good example, because it DID prompt similar responses immediately after and while it was happening.

While I think that your example is interesting and related, I also think that it calls in a lot of different and more difficult to grasp cultural norms than does this example. 9/11 was only 8 years ago, and everyone on that plane was alive when it happened, and would have considered it a big deal, given that many of them were probably in Washington DC, which went into panic mode after it was attacked. And there's the fact that, even if you didn't see your Parisian baguette photograph as offensive, and if to me, as an outsider like yourself, it also seems reasonable, this doesn't change the fact that it WAS (in your example) highly offensive and inappropriate to the Parisian Catholics, and they're equally justified in their opinion. We're welcome to think they are over reacting (and they probably are) but your behavior, to them, was super-rude and wrong. Likewise, New York may seem to be over reacting to what, to the outside, appears to be nothing much, but that reaction (if silly and blown out of proportion, which it is) is still not unreasonable.

But, in the promoters and government types, it was their JOBS to think about the ramifications of their decisions. And they didn't do so. Which is why I think they are prize-winning idiots.
Well, I have more to say, but that was interesting to think about and I think I need to keep working on this paper.... but to be fair, it sounds like D.C. did inform NYPD and FAA about flight beforehand... however, it came with an order saying the flight was secret, due to the super-sensitive Air Force 1 paranoia that you mentioned. That extra secrecy perhaps prevented some common sense from prevailing somewhere in the chain... it'll be interesting what the result of the investigation thing is.

I didn't communicate something about the Hudson river plane correctly. My point was really about the moment of hitting the birds, not the stuff afterwards. I remember seeing a graphic that said "point of bird impact" and the plane was right over near your current apartment. I may have even thought to myself "wow, those planes are flying right over Manhattan, I thought maybe they didn't do that anymore because of 9/11".

I think that there must be something really different about the north part of Manhattan vs. the south part, such that in your neighborhood(!) big planes flying overhead aren't a surprise, but they are furthur south. (The alternate explanation is that I misremembered the position of the bird strike from the graphic, but my impression was "right over manhattan, or maybe a tiny bit north/east"). That's why I talk about Manhattan just being a dot in the mind of an outsider in a different city. Maybe jumbo jets aren't scary north of 70th st or 90th st. or 190th st or something, but to an outsider, we don't see these fine distinctions of local geography inside a city that already isn't very big in terms of land area. And in my mind, the whole island is a forest of really tall buildings.

I don't know -- I felt the need to defend this guy in D.C. because I feel like a huge number of sensitive, bright people could have made the same mistake. Indeed, also invoking the 20/20 hindsight idea, I think the potential for causing worry and disruption wouldn't have been as obvious as we think in hindsight. It feels to me like to have predicted this would take all sorts of specialized knowledge of how close big planes come to various sections of Manhattan, what flight paths they take landing/taking off from the 3 nearby airports, etc. My overall hypothesis is that the cognitive act of predicting panic on the streets due to a jet flying by is actually really tricky and requires just the right collection of specialized facts, which many non-Manhattenites would not have on the tip-of-the brain and ready to put together in just the right way.

I actually have mixed feelings about this after discussing it so much, and taking a flight just to do a photoshoot seems utterly ridiculous, so maybe everyone involved really were a bunch of idiots. I may have been too willing to give them the benefit of the doubt!

Aw crap, I wasn't gonna reply, and I got sucked in. :) Maybe Egypt killing all its pigs is the next stupid thing on the menu to think about!