Fund burning of existing copies of harmful Dr. Seuss books?

Books containing harmful ideas will no longer be sold new, says “Dr. Seuss Enterprises Will Shelve 6 Books, Citing ‘Hurtful’ Portrayals” (NPR):

“In And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, for example, a character described as Chinese has two lines for eyes, carries chopsticks and a bowl of rice, and wears traditional Japanese-style shoes. In If I Ran the Zoo, two men said to be from Africa are shown shirtless, shoeless and wearing grass skirts as they carry an exotic animal. Outside of his books, the author’s personal legacy has come into question, too — Seuss wrote an entire minstrel show in college and performed as the main character in full blackface.”

Let’s look at If I Ran the Zoo. The used (“collectible”) book is still available at Amazon, however, for $1,700:

and it may be available in a lot of public libraries where young minds could fall into error.

Would it make sense for a billionaire Silicon Valley progressive to fund the purchase of all extant copies of these harmful works and then burn them? A typical public library would presumably be happy to receive $1,700 for a worn book that had originally cost them $10. Like the Pfizer vaccine that is not banned in India (“mostly false” and a “conspiracy theory” according to Newsweek; it is just that the vaccine is not approved and therefore illegal to use), the libraries wouldn’t be banning If I Ran the Zoo. It would just be deaccessioned to make room for better/newer books.

(If your budget is smaller and you’re looking for bedtime stories that don’t offend modern merchants, Amazon will sell you a new copy of Mein Kampf for $22.49 ($10.99 Kindle):

“I am convinced that we cannot possibly dispense with the trade unions. On the contrary, they are among the most important institutions in the economic life of the nation. Not only are they important in the sphere of social policy but also, and even more so, in the national political sphere. For when the great masses of a nation see their vital needs satisfied through a just trade unionist movement the stamina of the whole nation in its struggle for existence will be enormously reinforced thereby.” and “For this, to be sure, from the child’s primer down to the last newspaper, every theater and every movie house, every advertising pillar and every billboard, must be pressed into the service of this one great mission”)

The Russians and Dutch rebels behind Library Genesis have preserved a PDF of the not-banned Dr. Seuss work. The world of 1950 contains some all-white neighborhoods:

But one can travel to find Asians (“who all wear their eyes at a slant”):

He goes to Nantucket without a Gulfstream? My rating: #MostlyFalse

The remote African island of “Yerka,” not as realistically depicted as in National Geographic:

As with the 2016 election, it all comes down to the Russians:

Update, evening of 3/3: at least some sellers are hoping to get $5,000 per copy.


  • the Cobra effect (if a billionaire offers $1,700 per copy, maybe more copies will magically appear?)
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College degree vs. education

I enjoyed a new translation of Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas, a standard work of Brazilian literature (published 1881 by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis). The protagonist becomes enamored of a cash-oriented local gal, who demands continuous infusions of costly gifts in exchange for continued romantic and sexual favors. The father decides to preserve the family fortune by sending the protagonist back to the Old Country:

And so it was that I disembarked in Lisbon and traveled on to Coimbra. The university awaited me with its many demanding subjects; I studied them in a very mediocre fashion, and yet I still graduated with a bachelor’s degree; they bestowed this upon me with due solemnity after the required number of years had passed; it was a beautiful ceremony that filled me with pride and nostalgia—mainly nostalgia. In Coimbra I had become famous as a reveler; a profligate, superficial, riotous, insolent student, much given to love affairs, a romantic in practice and a liberal in theory, living according to a pure faith in a pair of dark eyes and a written constitution. On the day when the university credited me, on parchment, with a knowledge that had certainly not put down any deep roots in my brain, I admit that I felt in a way cheated, although proud too. Let me explain: the diploma was a letter of manumission; it gave me freedom, but it also gave me responsibility. I put it to one side, left the banks of the Mondego, and came away feeling distinctly sad, but already filled with an impulse, a curiosity, a desire to elbow others aside, to influence people, to enjoy myself, to live—in short, to prolong university life for the foreseeable future . . .

Some other items from the book…

The author might not have supported the idea of depriving young people of a year of education/work/exercise/social life in order to preserve 82-year-olds from coronavirus:

A bachelor who breathes his last at the age of sixty-four is hardly the stuff of tragedy,

Death from disease was as arbitrary then as now:

My weeping father embraced me. “Your mother isn’t long for this world,” he said. For it wasn’t her rheumatism that was killing her now, but a cancer of the stomach. The poor woman was suffering horribly, because cancer is indifferent to the virtues of the person thus afflicted; when it gnaws, it gnaws; its job is to gnaw.

How could such a sweet, gentle, saintly creature, who had never caused anyone to shed a sad tear, how could this loving mother, immaculate wife, die like this, tortured and gnawed at by the tenacious teeth of a pitiless illness?

A viral epidemic (yellow fever) deprived the protagonist of a fiancée:

I never could understand the need for that epidemic, still less that particular death. Indeed, it struck me as even more absurd than all the other deaths. Quincas Borba, however, explained to me that epidemics were useful to the species, albeit disastrous for certain individuals. He pointed out that no matter how horrific the spectacle may be, there was one advantage of great importance: the survival of the greater number.

The author wouldn’t be surprised at our politicians who come to believe their own fables:

When I was born, Napoleon was in the full pomp of his glory and power; as emperor, he was the object of universal wonderment. My father—who, in persuading others of our noble origins, had ended up persuading himself of them—harbored a purely mental loathing for him.

Would Machado have selected an innumerate 78-year-old to lead a “scientific” assault on coronavirus?

Fifty is the age of wisdom and of government.

People fought over inheritance back then, as now:

We did finally divide up the inheritance, but we parted on very bad terms. And it pained me greatly to fall out with Sabina. We had always been such good friends, had shared childish games and childish squabbles, the laughter and tears of adult life, had often fraternally shared the bread of joy and sadness, like the good brother and sister we were. But now we had fallen out. Just as Marcela’s beauty had vanished with the smallpox.

Being born into poverty wasn’t good:

She was the illegitimate daughter of a cathedral sacristan and a woman who sold homemade cakes and pastries. She lost her father when she was ten years old. By then she was already grating coconut for culinary purposes and performing whatever other tasks were compatible with her age. At fifteen or sixteen she married a tailor, who died of consumption soon after, leaving her with a daughter. Widowed and little more than a girl herself, she was left to care for her two-year-old daughter and her mother, who, by then, was worn out with hard work. Three mouths to feed.

“So one day, the cathedral sacristan, while serving at mass, saw entering the church the lady who was to be his collaborator in the life of Dona Plácida. He saw her on subsequent days, for weeks on end; he liked her, complimented her, trod on her foot while lighting the candles on the altars on holy days. She liked him too, they became close, and fell in love. From such a conjuncture of idle passions sprang Dona Plácida. One assumes that Dona Plácida could not yet speak when she was born, but if she could, she might well have said to the authors of her days: ‘Here I am. Why did you call me?’ And the sacristan and his good lady would naturally have answered: ‘We called you so that you could burn your fingers on the stove, ruin your eyes with sewing by candlelight, eat badly or not at all, trudge back and forth, cooking and cleaning, getting sick and then better, only to get sick again and better again, sometimes sad, sometimes desperate, at others resigned, but always with a cooking pot in your hand and your eyes on your needlework, until one day you end up in the gutter or in hospital. That’s why we called you, in a moment of kindness.’”

On financial prudence:

He was often reproached for being stingy, and not without reason; but stinginess is simply the exaggeration of a virtue, and virtues should be like budgets: better to have a surplus than a deficit.

Will Machado be canceled for not including any LGBTQIA+ characters in his 19th century work? The biography at the end suggests that he might be safe. His paternal grandparents were “mulattos and freed slaves.”

My favorite part of Brazil, Iguazu Falls (2003, taken from the Argentina side):


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Stop whining about the cold: The Impossible First

For lovers of Antarctica exploration tales, The Impossible First is worth reading. Struggling to muster the energy to head out into a windy Boston January to walk the dog? The author, Colin O’Brady, walked into 50-knot headwinds in -25 degree temperatures while pulling a 300 lb. sled containing supplies for a solo unsupported unresupplied coast-to-coast trip, via the South Pole, across Antarctica.

An endurance athlete, the 33-year-old O’Brady was racing against 49-year-old Louis Rudd, who also managed to finish the trip. To me that was even more inspiring.

One thing I learned from the book is that if you have enough money you can do almost anything that you want in Antarctica, including sleeping in a heated tent at the South Pole. A.L.E., the Antarctic Logistics company, will arrange everything. Climb a mountain, hassle some Emperor penguins, or just walk from the ski plane to your tent.

The author is not a gifted writer and there are a fair number of flashbacks to only loosely-related mountain climbing expeditions (including Everest, way more crowded near the top than Manhattan during coronapanic). Feel free to skim this filler if you’re more interested in Antarctica than in the author’s personal journey.

One question is how people today are able to do the coast-to-pole-and-back or coast-to-coast trip so much more easily than the original explorers, notably Amundsen, Scott, and Shackleton. Today’s adventurers don’t need companions, dogs, ponies, depots, etc. Seemingly more often than not, they are actually successful in accomplishing whatever they set out to do. Is it because the modern ultramarathon athlete is way more fit than the heroes circa 1900? Is it because the routes are mapped and today’s travelers have GPS? Is it because they can travel with a thinner margin of supplies, knowing that if the weather turns against them or if equipment fails a helicopter or ski plane rescue is a Garmin inReach message away? [See Update below for the main reason; O’Brady traveled a shorter distance, starting and finishing via aircraft rather than via ship.]

The author sold clothing companies, such as Nike and Columbia, on sponsoring the project with the idea that his story would inspire kids and ordinary folks. Maybe they couldn’t climb Everest, but they could climb their Everest. With even young healthy Americans generally too afraid to leave the house, this is kind of funny to contemplate. Maybe the most that we non-athletes can take away from this is that we shouldn’t complain if we have to bundle up for a 15-minute evening dog walk.

More: Read The Impossible First.

Mindy the Crippler is never a whiner… (from this afternoon)

Update: Paul (see comments) highlighted this National Geographic article, which shows the vastly longer distance traveled by Borge Ousland in 1997. Ousland was solo, but sometimes used a kite to help move the sled.

Looking at a map of Antarctica, you might wonder how O’Brady’s 932-mile route can be considered a crossing of “the entire continent,” as he calls it, since it appears to start and end several hundred miles inland, especially compared to the much longer journeys of Ousland, Mike Horn (who completed a daring 3,169-mile solo kite-ski crossing of Antarctica in 2017), and others.

Ousland skied from water’s edge on the Ronne to water’s edge on the Ross. When he undertook his expedition two decades ago, this was considered the only way to claim a crossing of Antarctica.

“To me, Antarctica is what you see on a satellite map,” says Ousland, noting the ice shelves have been a part of Antarctica for at least 100,000 years.

But there is a continent somewhere under there, detectable with remote sensing equipment. In recent years, adventurers have begun claiming a crossing by citing this unseen “coast.” Some, in order to please sponsors and media, did this only after failing in their attempt at a full crossing. Suddenly an Antarctic “crossing” had shrunk in half.

… adventurers eager to shorten the feat quickly seized on the new abbreviated definition. An unsupported couple crossed in 2010, skiing 1,118 miles. A solo woman crossed (with two food drops) in 2012, skiing 1,084 miles. But O’Brady took the invisible coastline strategy to its extreme—his journey was nearly 200 miles shorter than these earlier trips, and the shortest route yet that anyone had claimed as a “crossing of the continent.”

Put another way, it’s not so much that no one had been able to cross Antarctica this way before, it’s that no one had defined a crossing in such achievable terms.

Maybe this is the athletic/exploration equivalent of “A good lawyer knows the law; a great lawyer knows the judge.”


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A 2012 novel about the victims of COVID-19: Big Brother

Aside from killing the very old and frail, COVID-19 has a reputation for targeting the morbidly obese. And, of course, obesity will kill far more Americans than unmitigated COVID-19 ever could have, even in the most lurid/absurd scenarios painted by folks calling themselves “scientists”.

Who thought about this before 2019? Lionel Shriver, author of the awesome novel The Mandibles (see previous posts). Back in 2012, she wrote Big Brother, about a woman who finds that her brother has suddenly become huge.

The book is also notable for inventing a plausible business success.

Some excerpts:

We are animals; far more than the ancillary matter of sex, the drive to eat motivates nearly all of human endeavor. Having conspicuously triumphed in the competition for resources, the fleshiest among us are therefore towering biological success stories.

I didn’t hold many opinions. I didn’t see the point of them. If I opposed the production of nongerminating disease-resistant corn, it would still be sold. I considered most convictions entertainment, their cultivation a vanity, which is why I rarely read the newspaper. My knowing about an assassination in Lebanon wouldn’t bring the victim to life, and given that news primarily aggravated one’s sense of helplessness I was surprised it was so widely heeded.

He lowered himself into the bucket seat with the delicacy of a giant crane maneuvering haulage from a container ship. When he dropped the last few inches, the chassis tilted to the right.

Shriver is married to a jazz musician and, based on my conversations with some Manhattan-based jazz experts, she has captured their thoughts. From her jazz musician character:

“Personally I blame jazz education. Sonny, Dizzy, Elvin—they didn’t get any degrees. But these good doobies coming out of Berklee and the New School—they’re so fucking respectful. And serious. It’s perverse, man. Like getting a Ph.D. in how to be a dropout.”

Shriver foresaw not only COVID-19, but the iPhone 12:

I wasn’t sure what my brother got up to while I was at work. I think he spent a fair bit of time on the Web, the great time-killer that had replaced conspicuously passive television with its seductive illusion of productivity—

Perhaps I overemphasized the value of keeping busy and might have learned to relax more, but I did find it disturbing how, especially with the assistance of media gizmos, it was possible for time and time and more time to pass in the process of doing absolutely nothing.

We condemn the morbidly obese for their lack of self-control, but are most of us any better?

“You gained a few pounds yourself. You like to drop those, too?” “Yes, as a matter of fact.” “So why don’t you? Or why haven’t you?”

I frowned. “I’m not sure. Ever since Fletcher became such a goody-goody, it’s seemed almost like my job to be the one who’s bad. My coming home from the supermarket with a box of cookies has provided a release valve. If we only stocked edamame, you’re right: we’d lose the kids to Burger King for good.” “Pretty complicated for learning to skip lunch, babe.” “Well, maybe it is complicated.” “So for me it’s even more complicated, dig?” He was getting hostile. “You can’t even lose thirty pounds, and I’m supposed to lose—I don’t know how many.” “I don’t need to lose thirty pounds, thank you. More like twenty, at the most.” “Don’t worry, if this is a contest, you get the gold star.”

Shriver points out that our collective obesity masks our individual obesity: “If everyone is fat, no one is fat.”

This isn’t tackling as big an issue, so to speak, as The Mandibles, but I recommend Big Brother.


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Testing the first jets

Hitler’s Jet Plane: The ME 262 Story (by Mano Ziegler, a Luftwaffe pilot, included with Kindle Unlimited) has some interesting parts, especially regarding just how brave a person would have to be to be a test pilot in World War II Germany.

Wolfgang Späte shows up and starts flying with minimal prep:

Continuing his test programme a few days later, he lost power in both engines at 9,000 feet. From an examination of the earlier flight data – principally in flying at slow speeds – it could be seen that he had throttled the engines back gradually to 2,000 revs. At the end of this experiment he attempted to regain thrust by pushing the throttle levers backwards and forward repeatedly, but neither engine responded, the rev counter remaining at 2,000. A brownish-black banner of smoke streamed astern from the jets. The engines would not restart and after several more desperate attempts to regain control he had lost so much height that his only alternatives were abandoning the aircraft or crash-landing. Suddenly he recollected Wendel’s instructions for such an eventuality. Wendel had once told him that in this predicament the thrust levers had to be restored to neutral and the engines restarted by the same procedure as if on the ground. At this juncture this advice was clearly not without its perils. If Wendel’s advice was wrong, Späte would have lost so much altitude during the attempt that it would be too late to escape by parachute and he would be forced to crash-land. This might succeed but an explosion was a possibility. Fortified by the philosophy ‘Nothing is known for sure’, Späte decided to stake all on Wendel. Meanwhile the aircraft had sunk down to 4,500 feet and Späte had no more time to lose. Putting the thrust levers to neutral, he made an injection of fuel and pushed the left throttle very slowly forward. Suddenly there came the short explosive sound that was music to his ears, accompanied by an increase in speed which confirmed that the left turbine had ignited. The engine rev counter climbed to 4,500, a little later to full thrust. The altimeter read only 1,350 feet, but already Späte no longer needed to concern himself with the question of baling out or crash-landing. On one engine he could maintain at least this height. The starboard engine responded similarly and he made a normal landing. This extremely unsettling state of affairs for pilots was typical of what had to be endured when the powerplant of a new aircraft was not unconditionally reliable.

Why did the engines quit?

The investigation into Späte’s almost disastrous flight came up with the explanation that if the Me 262 yawed when running at low revs, the strong lateral airflow could stop the compressor wheels and extinguish the ignition flame.

In other words, the same issue that resulted in the death of America’s first female-identifying Navy fighter pilot (Kara Hultgreen, who mistakenly tried to fix a bad approach with rudder instead of aileron, resulting in the shutdown of one of her F-14’s engines), though the German test pilot was exploring the flight envelope, not trying to land.

Luftwaffe general Adolf Galland’s book is quoted in this one, regarding a May 1943 flight:

The – at the time – fantastic speed of 850 kph in level flight meant a jump of at least 200 kph ahead of the fastest piston-engined fighter anywhere. Moreover, the aircraft could stay up from fifty to seventy minutes. For fuel it used a less costly diesel-type oil instead of the highly refined anti-knock kerosene which was becoming ever harder for us to obtain. First the works chief test pilot demonstrated one of the two warbirds in flight. After it had been refuelled I climbed in. With numerous hand movements the mechanics started up the turbines. I followed the procedure with great interest. The first engine ran smoothly. The second caught fire. In a trice the turbine was in flames. Fortunately we fighter pilots are used to getting in and out of a cockpit rapidly. The fire was soon extinguished. The second Me 262 caused no problem. We set off down the 50-yard wide runway at ever increasing speed. I had no view ahead. These first jet aircraft were fitted with a conventional tail wheel in place of the nose-wheel gear which the type had in series production. Additionally one had to step on the brake suddenly. I thought, the runway is not going to be long enough! I was going at about 150 kph. The tailplane rose at last. Now I could see ahead, no more feeling that you are in the dark and running your head into a brick wall. With reduced air resistance the speed increased quickly. I was over 200 kph and some good way from the end of the runway when the machine took off benignly. For the first time I was flying under jet power! No engine vibrations, no turning moment and no whipping noise from an airscrew. With a whistling sound my ‘turbo’ shot through the air. ‘It’s like having an angel push you,’ I said later when asked what it was like.

As noted above, the first planes literally could not be flown while rolling on their mains and the tailwheel. Pilots had to raise the tail by stepping on the brakes suddenly to get initial lift.

Hitler had the terrible idea of using the Me 262 as a bomber rather than a fighter, which slowed down development and production to some extent.

In the Messerschmitt factories and SS-run bomb-proof assembly plants there now began the hectic programme to follow the new plans for turning out the Me 262 fighter as a fast bomber. To extend its range two supplementary fuel tanks of 250 litres each were fitted beneath the pilot’s seat. In the fuselage a 600-litre tank went behind what had been previously the main tank. This additional tank was the counterweight for the two 250-kg bombs slung below forward of the fuselage. Under normal circumstances aircrew would probably refuse to fly an aircraft cobbled together in this manner, even if the air force found it an acceptable addition to the fleet. Even without the possibility of encountering enemy aircraft it was problematic to fly the Me 262 bomber. Meticulous attention had to be paid to how the aircraft was manipulated. The particular problem was the rear 600-litre fuel tank. If this tank was full the aircraft was dangerously unstable without the bombs because the centre of gravity was too far back. Before dropping the bombs, however, the pilot had to ensure that the tank was empty. If he forgot this in the excitement of the moment or was forced to jettison the bombs in an emergency, the Me 262 became very tail-heavy and assumed an attitude out of the horizontal in which control could be lost. In turn the speed would drop to 700 kph or less, at which the aircraft was easy prey for a fighter. It was weakly armed in any case because two of the four machine-guns in the nose had been removed for weight reasons. Finally the Me 262 bomber had no bombsight and the pilot had to use the reflecting gunsight (Reflexvisier or REVI) for bomb-aiming in horizontal flight or a shallow dive. The instrument would have been useful in a steep dive but this form of attack was too dangerous to attempt.

The author describes Allied bombing raids as highly effective in disrupting German engineering, tooling, and construction of aircraft. Allied fighters are also reasonably effective in shooting down the Me 262. Pilots who bail out often slam into the empennage and break bones, a good illustration of why the ejection seat is important.

What were the engines like? The book quotes Dr Anselm Franz, who came to the U.S. and become VP of Avro-Lycoming (Werner von Braun and his 1,600 friends at NASA were not the only Germans advancing “American” technology):

Taken as a whole, the 004 jet bears great similarity to the modern jet engine. It consisted of an eight-stage axial flow compressor, six single combustion chambers, a single-stage axial turbine which drove the compressor and a jet with an adjustable needle which was built from the beginning for the later addition of an after-burner. A special regulator had been developed which at higher revolutions kept the selected revolutions and the corresponding gas temperature constant automatically. This regulator was mounted together with other equipment on the upper side of the compressor housing. The starter motor was located in the compressor intake hub. The contract specified a thrust of 600 kg at full throttle, but a large reserve was expected.

Materials were terrible compared to those that go into modern jet engines, thus leading to time-between-overhauls of 25-35 hours (125 hours for Frank Whittle’s designs in Britain). TBOs today are 5,000+ hours.

Willy Messerschmitt is an interesting Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurial figure in the book. He overpromises and underdelivers. The business thrives in the early years of the war, a reminder of how the National Socialist German Workers’ Party gave a big boost to industry.

It’s an interesting book for folks interested in the history of technology. It seems so obvious to us today that the jet fighter is better than the piston-powered fighter. But throwing major resources into the jet fighter wasn’t obvious to a lot of Germans, even though they saw the Me 262 flying with turbojet engines in July 1942.

More: Read Hitler’s Jet Plane: The ME 262 Story.


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Captain Tammie on Southwest 1380

Second post regarding the book Nerves of Steel


Continuing the “anti-Sully” theme (Sully having portrayed himself as a single-pilot hero):

Commercial aviation is a team sport. When a crew gathers for a flight, all crew members’ names are on the paperwork, but knowing the names is not the same as meeting the people and getting to know them. The trick is in figuring out how to turn five strangers into a team in five minutes or less.

Captain Tammie gives full credit at all times to Darren Ellisor, her co-pilot, and flight attendants Rachel Fernheimer, Seanique Mallory, and Kathryn Sandoval.

Captain Tammie is Pilot Flying for the first leg (the co-pilot is then “Pilot Monitoring”):

The first leg of our flight together that day, from Nashville to LaGuardia, was smooth—though I confess my landing at LaGuardia was a little more Navy than I would have liked. We rolled out, exited the runway, and made our way to the gate.

Why land firm at LGA? See My visual approach, and Asiana’s.

The Southwest 1380 emergency begins much more violently than a simple engine failure:

We had been airborne for about twenty minutes and were passing 32,500 feet when it felt like a Mack truck hit my side of the aircraft. My first thought was that we had been hit—that we’d had a midair collision. Darren and I both grabbed the controls and watched as the left engine instruments flashed and wound down. A moment later, truly the tiniest slice of a second later, we couldn’t see anything. The jump seat oxygen masks and fire gloves went flying from their storage compartments and bounced around in the cockpit with other loose items. The aircraft began to shudder so violently that we couldn’t focus our eyes. The cockpit filled with a cloud of smoke, which made me think there was a fire, but the fire alarm wasn’t ringing. It was like being inside a snow globe that someone was shaking, hard. Just as suddenly, a deafening roar enveloped us. We couldn’t see, we couldn’t breathe, and a piercing pain stabbed our ears, all while the aircraft snapped into a rapid roll and skidded hard to the left as the nose of the aircraft pitched over, initiating a dive toward the ground.

They didn’t know it at the time, but the left engine had come apart.

The initial sensation of being hit by a truck was brought on when a piece of a turbine fan blade in the left engine broke off and caused catastrophic engine damage. The explosion caused the leading edge of the engine cowling to disintegrate—I heard pieces of it were found scattered across the Pennsylvania countryside—and the rest of the cowling around the engine to roll back like a banana peel. It remained attached at the aft end of the engine, flailing around in the wind. What was once sleek and aerodynamic was now more like a barn door swinging in a hurricane. Shrapnel from the explosion took chunks out of the leading edge of the wing and the tail, ripped a panel open underneath the wing, and severed hydraulic lines around the engine. A fuel line was also cut above the cut-off valve, so we had no way of shutting off the fuel that was flowing out of the left fuel tank. A piece of debris hit the window at row 14, causing it to fail and blow out, which is what generated the deafening roar and the sudden loss of pressure in the cockpit and the cabin. If you’ve ever been in a car when someone rolls down the window at sixty miles an hour, the noise is unpleasant. I don’t have words to adequately describe the ear-drum punishment of a five-hundred-mile-per-hour experience.

A good qualitative aerodynamic explanation:

The combined damage on the left side of the aircraft is what caused the violent shuddering, because instead of an engine under the left wing, we now had what amounted to an anchor. The huge asymmetry (the difference between a dead and severely damaged engine on the left and a healthy engine on the right producing thrust) immediately pushed the nose of the aircraft hard to the left. That rotation caused the outside wing to generate more lift than the wing on the inside of the turn, which made the aircraft roll rapidly toward the bad engine.

Due to the extra drag and loss of half the thrust, the aircraft descended 18,000′ in the first five minutes, even without the pilots trying to dive. The aircraft has a strong desire to turn left (it is no longer an ambiturner).

Captain Tammie on the PA:

“We are not going down,” I said. “We are going to Philly.”

As in the Oshkosh talk that she and Darren Ellisor gave, she gives the most credit to those who chose to take risks when they could have avoided any additional risk:

Oxygen masks were dangling from the overhead compartments, but only a few people had them on correctly. [Sound familiar?]

Seanique, Rachel, and Kathryn strapped on their portable oxygen bottles, put on the masks, and unbuckled from their jump seats. Then they began the dangerous process of moving through the cabin, helping people secure their oxygen masks and assuring them that we had a destination—we were going to Philadelphia. It’s important to me that you know the extreme risks these women took in that setting to unbuckle and get out of their seats. Some might think they were simply doing their job; they did more than their job that day. They would have been justified to stay seated, as they were placing their own lives at risk to do otherwise. Setting aside concerns for their own well-being, all three women chose to get up. With the rapid depressurization, they knew there was a hole in the aircraft somewhere (they didn’t know where at first), and it was possible that at any moment some other part of the aircraft might tear away and take them with it. As they stumbled down the aisle, they took a beating. They were struck by flying debris. They sustained strained backs and bruised ribs from bouncing off the seats, and the oxygen bottle straps lacerated their necks. Everyone on board had been affected by the rapid depressurization just as Darren and I had been, with shooting pain in their ears and the terrifying feeling of not being able to breathe. But one by one, shouting over the din while they also paused to help people, the attendants went from seat to seat, yelling, “We’re going to be okay! We’re going to Philly!”

She also credits passengers Andrew Needum and Tim McGinty for unbuckling and trying to rescue Jennifer Riordan, who had been pulled partly out of the aircraft during the window failure and depressurization. As long as the aircraft’s speed and altitude were such that Riordan couldn’t be pulled in, anyone with a brain would have known that there was a risk to unbuckling and a 10X risk of getting near the failed window.

Captain Tammie explains why she and Darren Ellisor swapped roles:

In an emergency situation it’s the captain’s responsibility to land the plane, regardless of whose turn it is to fly, so I took over the controls.

After seeing all of the damage, Captain Tammie selects a non-standard lower-drag higher-speed landing configuration of Flaps 5 rather than Flaps 15, which is standard for a single-engine approach. (27L at KPHL is 12,000′ long, enough for the Space Shuttle)

When I tried to level off, I realized I couldn’t add enough thrust to maintain airspeed and altitude. The amount of rudder it took to keep the aircraft in balanced flight now became the limiting factor in how much power I could add from the right engine. If I added too much, I wouldn’t have enough rudder authority to overcome the asymmetric thrust, and it would push the nose to the left, causing even more drag. So there was a point at which adding power became detrimental, …

I had Darren select Visual Flight Path on my HGS (Heads-up Guidance System) so I would have a 3-degree glide path reference for my approach to the runway. Because we don’t typically land Flaps 5, even when practicing single-engine approaches, the sight picture as I looked at the runway would be very different from what I was accustomed. With the lower flap setting, the nose of the aircraft would be higher than normal, but the symbology in the HGS combiner glass would be familiar. We also would be flying about 50 knots … faster than normal, which would also change the sight picture. But since I use the HGS for every approach, I wanted a little slice of normal for this anything-but-normal approach. With the decision made to head directly for the airport rather than take extra time to work through more checklists, I had one more 90-degree right turn to go to line up with the runway. That is when things took a turn for the worse. I had already made a 90-degree right turn when I was over the city and heading east, but I had done that while still descending and with the right engine at idle power. Now, heading south, I had added power to slow our descent. When I put in the controls to make the final right turn that would line us up with the runway, absolutely nothing happened.

There was nothing I could do about the weight of the aircraft or the extreme drag hanging off the left wing. My only option was in the palm of my right hand. The answer was clear, but it was not what I wanted. I was already concerned about the energy state and my ability to even make it to the runway, so the last thing I wanted to do was pull power on my good engine and sacrifice airspeed and altitude. But it was clear that I didn’t have a choice. The aircraft simply would not turn right with all of the drag pulling the left wing backward and all of the thrust from the good engine pushing the right wing forward. I made the decision. I eased the right throttle back, stood on the right rudder, and fed in some ailerons (input that tells the aircraft which way to turn). And it worked! As the nose slowly swung around to the right, and we were finally headed toward a nice long piece of concrete, I called for landing gear down. We were getting close, but we weren’t there yet.

Due to the high drag and single engine, the crew has one chance for a landing (i.e., go-around not an option).

The plane slowed as we descended toward the runway. At seven hundred feet we were doing 170 knots, or 194 miles per hour. We touched down at 165 knots, or about 30 knots faster than normal, but 15 knots slower than my target. The usual margin for error in approach speed is only 5 knots below the target airspeed. However, had I held my speed, we would not have made the runway.

So many things had gone wrong that day, but so many things had gone right too. The distance between the explosion and Philadelphia was just the right distance for us to have made it to Philly. We couldn’t have made an airport any farther away. My inclination to use Flaps 5 had turned out to be the right choice. Everything had gone as well as it possibly could have in the circumstances, right down to the moment when we lowered our gear and turned in. Nothing was perfect, but everything worked.

Trigger warning: Don’t read the next quote if you #FollowScience when it comes to COVID-19:

When the airstairs arrived, I helped people

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The latest Edward Tufte book: Seeing with Fresh Eyes

From the world’s leading expert on how information presentation affects decision making, a new book: Seeing with Fresh Eyes.

A new book on information design is either extremely timely, if you believe that humans are making data-driven decisions regarding coronaplague, or mostly for post-vaccine reading, if you believe that humans are using “science” and data to confirm already-held beliefs regarding what should be done.

As with previous books by Professor Tufte, the teachings are via positive and negative examples. The reader can dip into the book at any point and if you don’t get something that you can use from one example, you might from the next.

Pages 48-53 provide interesting demonstrations of the dramatic impact of breaking up a continuous paragraph with newlines.

Page 66 looks at a word tree from a book by Galileo and also “stacklists”, a way of formatting words that would be tough to replicate in HTML and certainly isn’t supported by WYSIWYG editors.

A healthy (so to speak) fraction of the book deals with data in medical contexts. Sample:

Screening tests produce many false alarms, terrifying millions of healthy people. False alarms cascade into more tests. Mass screenings are now regarded as dubious–because of false alarms, harms, and failure to reduce all-cause mortality. … Since survival time = time from diagnosis to death, early diagnosis can create statistical illusions of improved survival times. And false alarms, if their falsity is not detected, lead to treatments of patients for a disease they don’t have.

(The latter point is the true magic of screening tests. The annual mammogram that Americans eagerly adopted circa 1990 resulted in improved five-year survival statistics… because people who didn’t have breast cancer and who nonetheless received treatment for breast cancer were unlikely to be dead from breast cancer five years later.)

On page 94, Professor Tufte provides what I think is the best example of survivorship bias: “Most medieval castles were made of wood. We think most were made of stone because of survivor bias.”

As the author of the world’s first web-based electronic medical record system, Tufte’s lambasting of the EHR is a little painful to read, but I’ve written some similar stuff here! (see, for example, Doctors willing to say that the electronic medical record emperors have no clothes)

Page 108 provides “a short list of medical reversals,” many of which were due to misinterpretation of data.

Faith that government experts and regulators will save us from coronavirus? Page 112:

Every single oxycodone pill was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and was made by licensed drug companies, prescribed by licensed doctors, sold by licensed pharmacists. All 72,000,000,000 pills (500 pills/U.S. household) were tracked to the exact place/time/amount of sale by the Drug Enforcement Agency.

(See Who funded America’s opiate epidemic? You did.)

The above paragraph subtly shows a Tufte principle by placing the 72 billion pills in context with “500 pills/U.S. household.”

Readers know how passionate and frustrated I am about dishwashers. Page 18 singles out a particularly bizarre Bosch owner’s manual page. A similar one from our latest Bosch:

Who back in Germany thought that there was someone in the U.S. who was going to follow this plan? (Or that this was an effective way to communicate it?)

Computer programmers will appreciate page 14, pointing out the importance of spacing and formatting for source code.

Some of the last pages relate what Tufte has learned from teaching 930 one-day courses to 320,000 students and are worth reading for anyone who wants to give effective presentations. (The one-day course is now offered in an online video version that includes a complete set of the hardcopy books.)

The organization and formatting makes this more challenging than some of Professor Tufte’s earlier works, but it should reward study. A great Christmas gift for anyone who has the preceding four books!

Related (read these first if you’re new to Tufte):

And, what do we think of this U.S. map in which every state, except Hawaii, is presented in the same color? (from, which Maskachusetts officialdom uses to decide whether or not to fine residents $7,000 or not if they choose to travel)

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What did Return from the Stars get right?

I’ve been listening to Return from the Stars, which Stanisław Lem wrote in 1961. The book is set in approximately 2088 when a 40-year-old astronaut returns to Earth after 127 years of high-speed travel with consequent time dilation.

Lem’s vision of economics is pure Marx. Despite a proliferation of humans, there is no scarcity. Not only is electricity too cheap to meter, but also apartments, food, clothing, and transportation. It is unclear how this happened, but perhaps it is due to robots, which are the workers in restaurants and hotels (also free). On the third hand, the novel describes a “real” star who lives in a fabulous suburban villa. So there are some people who live way more luxuriously than others, but there is no mechanism for dealing with scarcity for lifestyle items.

Lem envisions the Kindle (on which Return from the Stars is now available), but not a public computer network to fill it up with content. (Computer networking existed in 1961, but the packet-switched wide-area networks with which we’re familiar weren’t conceived of for another few years.)

I spent the afternoon in a bookstore. There were no books in it. None had been printed for nearly half a century. … No longer was it possible to browse among shelves, to weigh volumes in the hand, to feel their heft, the promise of ponderous reading. The bookstore resembled, instead, an electronic laboratory. The books were crystals with recorded contents. They could be read with the aid of an opton, which was similar to a book but had only one page between the covers. At a touch, successive pages of the text appeared on it. But optons were little used, the sales-robot told me. The public preferred lectons—lectons read out loud, they could be set to any voice, tempo, and modulation. Only scientific publications having a very limited distribution were still printed, on a plastic imitation paper. Thus all my purchases fitted into one pocket, though there must have been almost three hundred titles. A handful of crystal corn—my books. I selected a number of works on history and sociology, a few on statistics and demography, and what the girl from Adapt had recommended on psychology. A couple of the larger mathematical textbooks—larger, of course, in the sense of their content, not of their physical size. The robot that served me was itself an encyclopedia, in that—as it told me—it was linked directly, through electronic catalogues, to templates of every book on Earth. As a rule, a bookstore had only single “copies” of books, and when someone needed a particular book, the content of the work was recorded in a crystal.

The originals—crystomatrices—were not to be seen; they were kept behind pale blue enameled steel plates. So a book was printed, as it were, every time someone needed it. The question of printings, of their quantity, of their running out, had ceased to exist. Actually, a great achievement, and yet I regretted the passing of books. On learning that there were secondhand bookshops that had paper books, I went and found one. I was disappointed; there were practically no scientific works. Light reading, a few children’s books, some sets of old periodicals.

So the bookstore is somehow linked via a network, but the network can’t reach into homes or pockets. Speaking of pockets, Lem did not anticipate wearable or pocketable technology. There are no smartphones. There is no email. People send telegrams at “the post office” (Lem didn’t imagine that Bad Orange Man would dismantle this institution in 2020!).

Lem envisions a world of fantastically advanced construction technology. Although the city of 1961 looked a lot like the city of the 1830s, he expected the cities of the 2080s to be spectacularly different. I.e., the very field that has been most stagnant he expected to undergo the most dramatic changes and the very field that has seen skyrocketing costs he expected to become almost free. (Again, maybe the prediction is based on the fact that Lem has envisioned a world in which there are 18 robots for every human.)

Lem correctedly predicted the end of monogamy (some real life history). There are still marriages, but they are brief and easy for one partner to dissolve unilaterally (not too many couples have children, so litigation over profitable child support isn’t possible). An old doctor advises the returned astronaut:

Once, success used to attract a woman. A man could impress her with his salary, his professional qualifications, his social position. In an egalitarian society that is not possible. … Take in a couple of melodramas and you will understand what the criteria for sexual selection are today. The most important thing is youth. That is why everyone struggles for it so much. Wrinkles and gray hair, especially when premature, evoke the same kind of feelings as leprosy did, centuries ago . . .

In other words, it is just like Burning Man!

Marriages, to the extent people bother with them, last about seven years before people move on to new/additional sex partners. Perhaps more commonly, marriages end automatically after a one-year trial period.

Lem completely misses the LGBTQIA+ rainbow wave. Nobody in the novel changes gender ID. Everyone identifies as a “man” or a “woman”. Cisgender heterosexuality now, cisgender heterosexuality tomorrow, cisgender heterosexuality forever!

On the other hand, the OLED section at Costco would not have surprised Lem:

I realized that what I had in front of me was a wall-sized television screen. The volume was off. Now, from a sitting position, I saw an enormous female face, exactly as if a dark-skinned giantess were peering through a window into the room; her lips moved, she was speaking, and gems as big as shields covered her ears, glittered like diamonds.

Big TVs are used as ceilings with video feeds so that everyone in this heavily populated Earth can see the sky.

Lem completely missed coronaplague and the terrified flight to the suburbs and exurbs. The multi-level cities he created would be the perfect breeding ground for an enterprising virus. On the other hand, he foresaw that humans would become dramatically more risk-averse and therefore it is fair to say that he foresaw cower-in-place as a response to the novel coronavirus. On the third hand, in trying to understand how an astronaut died, a character asks “Could he have had a corona?” (maybe we need to adopt this coinage?)

Lem is stuck in the European perspective that children are products of marriage (US vs. Europe stats). There are no “single parents” in the novel. But children are also essentially products of eugenics. Those who can’t pass an exam can’t breed:

It was considered a natural thing that having children and raising them during the first years of their life should require high qualifications and extensive preparation, in other words, a special course of study; in order to obtain permission to have offspring, a married couple had to pass a kind of examination; at first this seemed incredible to me, but on thinking it over I had to admit that we, of the past, and not they, should be charged with having paradoxical customs: in the old society one was not allowed to build a house or a bridge, treat an illness, perform the simplest administrative function, without specialized education, whereas the matter of utmost responsibility, bearing children, shaping their minds, was left to blind chance and momentary desires, and the community intervened only when mistakes had been made and it was too late to correct them. So, then, obtaining the right to a child was now a distinction not awarded to just anyone.

What’s the technology by which risk has been eliminated from this timid society?

Every vehicle, every craft on water or in the air, had to have its little black box; it was a guarantee of “salvation now,” as Mitke jokingly put it toward the end of his life; at the moment of danger—a plane crash, a collision of cars or trains—the little black box released a “gravitational antifield” charge that combined with the inertia produced by the impact (more generally, by the sudden braking, the loss of speed) and gave a resultant of zero. This mathematical zero was a concrete reality; it absorbed all the shock and all of the energy of the accident, and in this way saved not only the passengers of the vehicle but also those whom the mass of the vehicle would otherwise have crushed. The black boxes were to be found everywhere: in elevators, in hoists, in the belts of parachutists, in ocean-going vessels and motorcycles.

The other core technology is modifying humans in early childhood via “betrization,” which renders them incapable of perpetrating violence.

So… the big misses for this futurist were (1) Internet, (2) battery-powered personal electronics, (3) portable communication, and (4) stagnation, not innovation, in architecture and construction.

(Lem also failed to predict a world obsessed with politics. There are no materially comfortable people protesting BLM or anything similar in Return from the Stars. Material comfort has apparently made people content with whatever the government is. Lem didn’t anticipate that the richer a society got the more pissed everyone would be!)

More: read Return from the Stars.

As close as we’ve gotten in the pre-Musk/Bezos era… (from the Kennedy Space Center’s visitor center)

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Sexuality in Brave New World

Aldous Huxley, in Brave New World, predicted that human adults, freed from the obligations of rearing children and caring for aging parents, would have sex with new friends at least once a week.

This was written in 1931, 40 years before the no-fault divorce revolution, 80 years before Tinder.

In the years since the novel’s publication, at least in the West, we’ve had progressively less social pressure to get married, stay married, and have children. Free of these pressures, what did humans in fact do? “The average number of sexual partners for each generation… from baby boomers to millennials” (The Sun) says that each generation in Europe (where Brave New World is primarily set) had sex with more partners than did the previous generation. So Huxley was right!

Would it be practical for Americans to adopt Brave New World sexuality? Behaving like a character in the novel, the typical student would have sex with at least 200 different partners during four college years. In light of the recent conviction of Harvey Weinstein for acts that occurred years prior and that weren’t reported to the police at the time, a winning financial strategy would be to save physical evidence from each of these 200 encounters and then wait to see which of the 200 partners become financially successfully (it would be terrible luck if none ended up as a “one percenter,” right?). Then launch a criminal and/or civil rape case and demand compensation. The statute of limitations for a rape prosecution is now 20 years in New York, for example (CNN). By the time all of the litigation ended, there should be a substantial reduction in inequality (though maybe the litigators would pocket most of it and become the oligarchs).

Huxley imagined some tremendous advancements in technology. The book was written ten years before the first production line for helicopters was set up, yet every Alpha male seems to own an aircraft kind of like a Lockheed Cheyenne, one of the most advanced vehicles of the 1960s. But he couldn’t envision a simple system of contraception. Fertile women (there are only two genders in the book and the LGBTQIA+ rainbow was not contemplated) wear “Malthusian Belts” and undertake a complex bathroom-based process with the items carried in these belts to avoid pregnancy. When that doesn’t work, there is a high-rise abortion center large enough to warm the heart of any modern Democrat running for President.

(Speaking of aircraft, as noted in the previous posting on this book, Huxley doesn’t envision any form of radio navigation. The pilot-citizens of Brave New World follow a ground-based system of “lighthouses”. This is despite the successful use of radio navigation in in 1928 and 1929 (source) and a pioneering effort in 1920.)


  • “Sexual Hookup Culture: A Review” (Rev Gen Psychol. 2012 Jun 1; 16(2): 161–176): “Several scholars have suggested that shifting life-history patterns may be influential in shaping hookup patterns. In the United States, age at first marriage and first reproduction has been pushed back dramatically, while at the same time age at puberty has dropped dramatically, resulting in a historically unprecedented time gap where young adults are physiologically able to reproduce but not psychologically or socially ready to “settle down” and begin a family and child rearing”
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Revisiting Brave New World

Published in 1932, Brave New World is worth re-reading in every election year when politicians promise us salvation through technocracy. Today is the first day of the Democratic National Convention and presumably we’ll hear a lot about how the government can take care of all of our wants and needs (but without significantly higher taxes, except on “billionaires” and “the rich who are not paying their fair share” and maybe “corporations that aren’t paying their fair share”). Let’s see how many of Brave New World’s promises will be repeated this week.

Huxley was all in on what was then the infant technology of helicopters. The term “main rotor system” had not been coined and therefore the book describes “helicopter screws” on a vehicle that sounds like a Lockheed Cheyenne (pusher prop in the back and stub wings). Then stub wings and a tractor propeller it seems. Perhaps the author, writing in 1931, was aware of work by Étienne Oehmichen (1922-24) and Corradino D’Ascanio (1930). All of the pilots are Alpha males, though already in 1930 Amy Johnson had flown solo from London to Australia. (Hannah Reitsch would fly a practical helicopter for a German audience in 1938.)

Huxley had no vision of progress in information technology, despite the fact that there were some extremely capable punched card machines prior to 1931. Hence the need for Epsilons to serve as elevator operators and for all of the helicopter-airplane hybrids to be continuously hand-flown. Televisions, in their infancy in 1931 (history), were cheap enough to place at the foot of every bed in a hospital for the dying, but the only phones were landlines. Presumably the signals for the televisions were being transmitted via radio waves,

It seems as though there is an equal distribution of sexes within each caste, but Huxley couldn’t find any jobs for the female Alphas. He completely missed the trend toward women in management and high-level technical jobs. (He also completely missed the Rainbow Flag religion. Everyone is either male or female, though some females are sterile “freemartins”. Nobody has sex with a person adhering to the same gender ID. Nobody changes gender after being decanted.)

Humans don’t age in Brave New World. Technology is used to maintain health and vitality at roughly a 30-year-old’s level. This wears out the body so that people end up dropping dead at 60, but without a period of decline first. If we’re going to spend 20 percent of GDP on health care, maybe we should ask for this (though with a later drop-dead date please!) instead of what we are getting, which is to keep the ancients (like me!) hanging on despite total decrepitude.

The optimized Brave New World includes an ample helping of racism. Low caste members are described as being “part Negro” or “Octoroon”. But this doesn’t make any sense given the goal of complete harmony among men and women, which drove the technocrats to seek to generate humans in batches of 100+ with identical genetics. Why have more than one race? Maybe the “one race” would contain some genetics from multiple pre-Ford existing races, but everyone should have the same skin color. It can’t be because Huxley thought that only certain races had the necessary genes for low IQ. The low-intelligence babies are produced by putting alcohol into their gestation bottles.

Huxley’s character, Mustapha Mond, seems to predict that Americans who want to feel heroic will refuse to be happy about a buoyant economy and stock market under Donald Trump:

The Savage shook his head. “It all seems to me quite horrible.”

Mustapha Mond: “Of course it does. Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the over-compensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.”

One thing that Huxley gets absolutely right about the modern-day U.S.: opioid addiction. It isn’t exactly clear what soma is, but it seems to be an opiate. People feel great after taking it and also sleepy. There is no alcohol-style hangover after moderate indulgence. People who take too much will die.

Readers: Please let me know what the Democrats promise this week at the convention and whether any of it aligns with Brave New World!


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