June 2020


apocalypse now

This is the end… Image from MGM United Artists

by George Taniwaki

On June 1, 2020, President Donald Trump led a group of White House cabinet members and advisors across the street to St. John’s Episcopal Church. Once there he staged a photo op of him holding a bible. He took a few questions but did not have any prepared statements. Then everyone walked back to the White House.

Prior to the walk, National Park Service police cleared out mostly peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square through use of rubber bullets and pepper munitions. Once they “captured” the square, they formed a cordon around the path for the president and his entourage.

I was rather startled by this event and immediately thought of the parallels to a scene in the movie Apocalypse Now. This classic Vietnam War movie, released in 1979, was directed by Francis Ford Coppola. In the scene I am thinking of, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore, played by Robert Duvall, is the leader of a helicopter cavalry unit. He decides he wants to go surf with his men, so he calls in a napalm strike against a fishing village sympathetic to the Viet Cong. Once the beach is “neutralized” he ends up unhappy because the napalm and helicopters are causing the wind to blow the wrong way, ruining the waves.

One of the most famous quotes from the movie are spoken by Duvall’s character during the scene. “I love the smell of napalm in the morning… It smells like victory.” I can almost imagine Trump saying it.

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More scenes from Apocalypse Now. Images from MGM United Artists

Check out the images below from news sites and compare them to the images at top and above taken from the movie.

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Images from President Trump’s photo op (from top to bottom): Park Service Police clearing Lafayette Square (AP Photo Alex Brandon); Trump and his entourage crossing the Square, Trump giving a fist bump to police; Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in fatigues on the right (AP Photo Patrick Semansky); Trump ignoring the graffiti of FTP (AP Photo Patrick Semansky); Trump holding the bible while pointing at reporter

Update: Corrected first paragraph. President Trump did take questions. But he did not have a prepared statement.

TSA Pre✓Renewal

A simple questionnaire with a big flaw. Image from TSA Pre✓

by George Taniwaki

I recently received a voice mail message from the Transportation Security Administration. A woman’s voice told me that my Known Traveler Number (KTN) would be expiring soon and that I would need to renew it if I wanted to remain in the the TSA Pre✓ program. That’s the short line through security at the airport.

I haven’t been to the airport recently (and I hope you haven’t either) so I don’t know how long the lines are right now. But joining the TSA Pre✓ program is not expensive ($85 for 5 years) and has been worth it for me. So I pointed my browser to https://universalenroll.dhs.gov/ and started the renewal process.

Near the end of the process, I landed on a very unexpected page. It was a survey form asking questions about my flying habits (see screenshot at top of post). There are many problems with this survey that market research experts will immediately catch. But check out the fourth question. “How satisfied are you with your overall airport security experience?”

Geez, I hate airport security. It is intrusive, arbitrary, and time consuming. It also subjects you to radiation and chemicals of unknown safety. I guess it would be worthwhile if it effectively stopped violence and terrorism at a reasonable cost. Unfortunately, there is no evidence of efficacy and lots of evidence that it is really expensive.

Now, how should I answer this question? There is no explanation on the page about how your response data will be used. Specifically, there is no assurance that the responses will not be associated with your personally identifiable information (PII) and only aggregated data will be provided to the TSA.

Since TSA can make your life miserable, including revoking your KTN, the safest thing to do is to tell them you love your experience with airport security. Question 4 has 10 unlabeled radio buttons with the phrases “Extremely Poor” and “Extremely Satisfied” at the ends. I decide to pick the 9th button. High but not perfect. I figured anyone picking the 10th button will also be flagged for attention as either a liar or an obsequious bootlicker.

Anyway, as a marketer you may be tempted to increase response rate to your market research survey by integrating it into a customer transaction flow. Don’t do this. Your responses will be biased.

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Update1: Revised the third paragraph to clarify that there are many other problems with this survey. Thanks to my friend and colleague Carol Borthwick for reminding me that not all readers of my blog are survey experts. Below is a list of some of the obvious errors in this survey.

  1. In the first question, how should one respond if you fly for both business and pleasure? And really, you fly to a destination for pleasure, you don’t fly because the experience itself is pleasurable. Almost nobody flies for pleasure, unless they are a pilot.
  2. In the second question, what is the TSA trying to measure? My guess is the number of times respondents are screened by TSA in a year. A round trip usually involves two waits through the TSA line. However, one should not count trips on private aircraft where you don’t go through TSA lines or flights that originate outside the U.S., even if you go through U.S. immigration at the foreign airport.
    Further, if you have a connecting flight on a US domestic flight, you usually do not go through a TSA line again. If you arrive from an international flight and pass through immigration after the flight, you usually do go through TSA before boarding the next flight.
  3. In any event, this survey was probably designed before the collapse in travel due to Covid-19. Does the TSA want to know the number of trips respondents took last year, this year (zero for me so far), or how many they would have taken if there was no pandemic. It doesn’t say.
  4. What’s up with those weird ranges in question 2? And which radio button should respondents select if they fly exactly 31 times a year?
  5. In the fourth question, notice that the wording of the two end point labels for the scale are not parallel. The low end should read “Extremely unsatisfied”. Also there are no labels for any of the intermediate points, leaving the distance between points up to the respondent’s imagination.

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Update2: Getting back to question 2, if you have a KTN, the TSA records each time you pass through security. So it should already know the actual distribution of how many times a year KTN holders pass through security. So what will it do with the survey data? Compare the response data to the actual data for accuracy? Check for lying and throw out outliers? Who knows.