Seventeen years later and we still have a September 11 security fee?

If you’re traveling today, God help you!

I made it back to Boston from Denver via United Airlines on Wednesday. Buried in the fine print of a “Fare Breakdown” was “September 11th Security Fee: $11.20”. There is also “U.S. Passenger Facility Charge: $9.00”

It has been 17 years since 9/11. Why do we still pay a fee associated with that event? The TSA is not temporary. If we have a permanent high cost of going through an airport, shouldn’t that just be added to the “facility charge”? That would make it an even $20.

Inquiring minds want to know!

(Separately, my hotel in downtown Denver tacked on a mandatory “resort fee” that added roughly 10 percent to the cost of the stay. What stops them from selling rooms at $1 via Orbitz or Expedia and then using fine print to note that there will be a mandatory $175/night “resort fee”?)

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If we’re so rich, why aren’t we better off?

Thanksgiving weekend seems like a good time to ponder the big picture.

Here are a couple of potentially helpful articles. From Newsweek:

The United States has spent nearly $6 trillion on wars that directly contributed to the deaths of around 500,000 people since the 9/11 attacks of 2001.

Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs published its annual “Costs of War” report Wednesday, taking into consideration the Pentagon’s spending and its Overseas Contingency Operations account, as well as “war-related spending by the Department of State, past and obligated spending for war veterans’ care, interest on the debt incurred to pay for the wars, and the prevention of and response to terrorism by the Department of Homeland Security.”

The final count revealed, “The United States has appropriated and is obligated to spend an estimated $5.9 trillion (in current dollars) on the war on terror through Fiscal Year 2019, including direct war and war-related spending and obligations for future spending on post 9/11 war veterans.”

This could explain why many Americans aren’t all that thankful. The economy has grown, but $6 trillion of the growth has been spent on something that does not make us better off.

“Taxpayers Cannot Afford More Subsidies For The Middle-Class” (Forbes):

The federal government spends about $4 trillion per year. Of that, somewhere around $3 trillion is what economists call transfer payments. A transfer payment is when the government just takes money from one person (through taxes or borrowing) and gives it to somebody else. Social security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare payments, farm programs, corporate welfare, and the like are all transfer payments which simply redistribute money.

Middle-class benefits are an entirely different story, however. The bottom 75% of households by income pay only about 13% of all income taxes. If we define the middle-class as the 70% of households below the top 10% and above the bottom 20% of households by income, the middle-class only pays about 29% of all income taxes, according to IRS data.

Because the middle-class doesn’t pay much in taxes and because they are the largest in number, there is no way to pay for generous benefits for that many people. Today, the middle-class is collecting around $2 trillion per year in federal transfer payments. Yet, even accounting for payroll taxes, they are only paying taxes of $1 or $1.1 trillion per year (29% of all individual income taxes and about 50% of all payroll taxes). Thus, the rich are already fully paying for all the benefits to themselves and to the poor, plus around half of the benefits to the middle-class.

Another reason why we might not be thankful is that many of us expect more than is theoretically possible given the size of our economy. Also, a huge amount of these transfer payments is devoted to subsidizing an inefficient health care industry. So beneficiaries of Medicaid, Medicare, and Obamacare subsidies are not actually benefitting as much as we might expect given the spending levels.

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LA Times trashes Robinson Helicopters

“Danger spins from the sky: The Robinson R44, the world’s best-selling civilian helicopter, has a long history of deadly crashes” (LA Times):

It is the world’s best-selling civilian helicopter, a top choice among flight schools, sightseeing companies, police departments and recreational pilots.

It also is exceptionally deadly.

Robinson R44s were involved in 42 fatal crashes in the U.S. from 2006 to 2016, more than any other civilian helicopter, according to a Times analysis of National Transportation Safety Board accident reports.

That translates to 1.6 deadly accidents per 100,000 hours flown — a rate nearly 50% higher than any other of the dozen most common civilian models whose flight hours are tracked by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Robinson points out that the flight hours reported to the FAA are likely undercounted (e.g., if an owner/operator gets sick of onerous annual surveys and tosses them into recycling… not that I know of anyone that irresponsible…)

I’m not surprised that an owner-flown $400,000 R44 is twice as likely to be involved in a fatal accident than a professionally-flown $3 million Airbus AStar.

Having been an instructor in the Robinson R22, however, I’m shocked that the fatal accident rate for this $200,000-ish (rebuilt) flight school mule is comparable to that of a $3+ million Bell 407 (i.e., less than half the rate for the much-more-forgiving R44). I guess this shows the advantage of being in the training environment, in which encountering bad weather is much less likely than when an aircraft is used for transportation. Alternatively, you could say that this shows the safety advantage of a two-pilot crew. A higher percentage of R22 hours are student and instructor rather than a single pilot. (The Schweizer 269‘s accident rate is even lower; this is a machine that is essentially exclusively used for training.)

Here’s a cited accident that would have been much less likely to occur with two pilots on board:

Take the case of Jim Bechler, an Orange County attorney who had piloted Robinson helicopters for more than 30 years and bought a new R44 in 2008. He was flying home from a business meeting near Temecula when he stopped to refuel at Corona Municipal Airport.

Minutes later, as the helicopter lifted off with 40 gallons of fuel in its tanks, its rotor blades clipped a metal canopy over the fuel island. The R44 flailed briefly, dropped a few feet to the pavement and burst into flames.

(This also shows the tragic backwardness of certified human-occupied aircraft compared to $500 drones. A consumer drone wouldn’t fly itself into an obstacle as described above.)

Given the numbers, the LA Times could have cast the story as “local company makes an inexpensive helicopter that is remarkably safe when flown by two pilots”. The story’s focus on mast bumping does not make sense. The statistics in the article show that the Bell 206, which has a two-bladed rotor system subject to mast bumping, has a lower rate of fatal accidents than the Bell 407, whose 4-bladed rotor system isn’t at risk.

Personally I would like to see robot copilots for both helicopters and airplanes.

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Boeing 737 MAX 8 crash, clear tech details

“What the Lion Air Pilots May Have Needed to Do to Avoid a Crash” (nytimes) contains a lot of good cockpit photos and illustrations explaining the combination of manual and automatic flight controls that likely played a role in the recent Boeing 787 MAX 8 crash (see ).

If it sensed a stall, the system would have automatically pushed up the forward edge of the stabilizers, the larger of the horizontal surfaces on the plane’s tail section, in order to put downward pressure on the nose.

To counter the nose-down movement, the pilot’s natural reaction would probably have been to use his yoke, which moves the other, smaller surfaces on the plane’s tail, the elevators. But trying that maneuver might well have wasted precious time without solving the problem because the downward force on the nose exerted by the stabilizer is greater than the opposite force the pilot would be trying to exert through the elevator, said Pat Anderson, a professor of aerospace engineering at Embry Riddle.

“After a period of time, the elevator is going to lose, and the stabilizer is going to win,” he said.

(The same guy gave an interesting lecture this summer; see “Transitioning to electric flight (lectures at Oshkosh)”.)

The pictures show a mix of 1950s (the big trim wheel), 1980s (the switch-controlled trim and trim interrupt), and 1990s (the MCAS layered on top that puts in heavy trim silently).

My comment on the NYT piece:

I sometimes fly the Pilatus PC-12, a simple 11-seat turboprop. Its stall-protection system was designed in the early 1990s. There are two angle-of-attack (AOA) sensors, one on each wing. There are two computers, each one of which is connected to a single AOA sensor. Only if both AOA sensors show a stalling angle of attack (“nose too high”) AND both computers agree THEN there will be a “stick push”. Thus there could never be a nose-down push due to a single bad AOA sensor. In the unlikely event that both sensors and/or computers went haywire at the same time, there is a “pusher interrupt” switch right on the yoke (“stick”). So the pilot need not hunt for an out-of-sight and never-previously-used switch.

It sounds as though Boeing engineered something that relies on just one sensor.

Plainly the Pilatus-style system would not have interfered with these 189 souls making their way safely to the destination. I wonder if a simple voice annunicator on top of the Boeing system would have also saved the passengers and crew. If it had said “trimming down, trimming down” into the headsets, the pilots would have known to direct their attention to the trim and trim interrupt switches.

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Women suing Dartmouth demanding damages sufficient to send every Dartmouth student to University of New Hampshire

“7 Women Accuse Dartmouth Professors of Sexual Abuse in Lawsuit” (nytimes):

Seven women are suing Dartmouth College for sexual assault, harassment and discrimination they say they experienced from three prominent professors who, according to the suit, turned a human behavior research department “into a 21st-century Animal House.”

For over a decade, the professors — Todd Heatherton, William Kelley and Paul Whalen — “leered at, groped, sexted, intoxicated and even raped female students,” according to the court papers, which were filed Thursday in federal court in New Hampshire.

The lawsuit, which seeks $70 million in damages…

There are approximately 4,300 undergraduates at Dartmouth. In-state tuition at University of New Hampshire is $18,500 per year (source). At rack rates, therefore, 4,300 students would pay $79.5 million at UNH. Assuming only a modest amount of financial aid, then, it would cost less to send all 4,300 of these undergrads to UNH than the amount of damages that was inflicted on these seven women.

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The Amazon HQ2 deals show how to implement a planned economy?

I’m wondering if the Amazon HQ2 deals show how to implement a planned economy without having to acknowledge that one’s country has transitioned away from the market.

Planned Economy v1.0: It is illegal for anyone to operate a business without approval from a government ministry. Government experts decide which companies can operate, from which locations, and engaging in which businesses.

Planned Economy v2.0: Set up tax rates that are, by global standards, punishingly high. It is therefore impractical to do business if a company must pay the headline rates. Government experts decide that certain companies, in certain locations, and engaging in certain activities, can operate with tax rates that are closer to global norms.

We’re not quite to this point, but with a few upward tweaks of the tax rates I think that we could be.


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If the migrant caravan demands buses, why not give them plane tickets to Canada?

Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau says that Canada welcomes any refugees or asylum-seekers that the U.S. rejects. “Central American Migrants in Mexico Want Buses to US Border” (nytimes) says

Central American migrants in a caravan that has stopped in Mexico City demanded buses Thursday to take them to the U.S. border, saying it is too cold and dangerous to continue walking and hitchhiking. About 200 migrants, representing the roughly 5,000 staying in a stadium in the south of Mexico’s capital, marched to the United Nations office in Mexico City to make the demand for transportation.

What is the practical obstacle to giving them plane tickets to Toronto?

Separately, “Caravan Walks Quietly On, U.S. Opposition a Distant Rumble” (nytimes, 11/9/2018) is interesting for describing the experience of the folks in the current caravan:

Ms. Alvarado and her relatives left their home on the outskirts of Comayagua, a city in central Honduras, on Oct. 12. They came from a family of farm laborers who worked for abysmal wages in coffee plantations. Generations of residents from Comayagua had made the trek to the United States to find better-paying work, and the possibility was always forefront in the minds of those who remained behind.

Ms. Alvarado, one of the few in her family who had managed to escape the coffee fields, had been working as an assistant in a government social development program, but barely getting by on a salary of $200 a month.

(So the woman who gets a monthly paycheck from the Honduran government will have to claim in her asylum hearing (2-3 years from now?) that she is being persecuted by the Honduran government?)

Do-gooders should considering seeting up a shoe distribution center on the southern border of Mexico, rather than thoughts and prayers on Facebook:

They, like most members of the caravan, were ill-prepared for walking. Ms. Jiménez was wearing pink plastic sandals. Ms. Banegas and her son wore flip-flops. Ms. Jiménez’s 3-year-old had to be carried by the adults for much of the way.

The mechanics of getting into the U.S.:

The group did not plan to apply for asylum. Rather, like many other families in the caravan, their plan was to cross between official border entries and turn themselves into the United States Border Patrol. Since they were women traveling with children, they hoped they would be released quickly from detention and allowed to remain in the United States pending the outcome of their deportation cases. It’s a practice that has been widely used for years, but one that Mr. Trump is seeking to end.

Ms. Banegas said she picked Elmer, who left school three years ago to work in the coffee fields, to travel with her to the United States because he was her oldest minor child.

With him, “I might have a better chance of getting in,” she said.

The women had heard that the Trump administration policy of family separation had ended. Other migrants from their hometown had successfully crossed into the United States since then and had been released with their children.

I’m still confused by the policy of limiting refugee/asylee status to those who are fit enough to make an overland trek to the U.S. If we are humanitarians, given that Honduras has an awesome airport with a 9,500′ runway (MHLM), why aren’t we sending a daily Airbus A380 to pick up the elderly and disabled in 900-person groups? If we are not humanitarians, why do we accept any low-skill refugees/asylees?

Circling back to the top of this post… even if we take Canada out of this, why buses? Why wouldn’t the U.N. charter an Airbus A350 (after the A380, the world’s quietest airliner so that caravan members can relax!) to bring caravan members to the U.S. destination of their choice? If the U.S. objects to the daily arrivals, the U.N. can simply cite that the U.S. signed up to the 1967 refugee protocol.


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Family background of the California shooter?

The professor in Why You Are Who You Are: Investigations into Human Personality cites research that personality is highly heritable and disordered personality characteristics are even more heritable.

The Son Also Rises finds that personal success is highly correlated with extended family success.

The perpetrator of the recent Thousand Oaks shooting was plainly someone with a disordered personality and also not a very successful person. The media seems to blame his actions on PTSD from his time in the U.S. Marine Corps. Certainly a high percentage of Americans who serve in the modern military become disabled due to PTSD, but is that enough to explain a shooting rampage?

I’m wondering about this guy’s family background. Were his biological parents, aunts, and uncles simply mild-mannered accountants? Does he have siblings? What are they like?

Readers: What have you heard? Would someone who looked at this guy’s relatives have had any inkling that he was likely to do something crazy and violent?


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Why does Eric Schneiderman run free while Harvey Weinstein is criminally prosecuted?

“Schneiderman Will Not Face Criminal Charges in Abuse Complaints” (nytimes):

After a six-month investigation, prosecutors said Thursday that they would not pursue criminal charges against Eric T. Schneiderman, the former New York State attorney general who resigned in May after four women accused him of assaulting them.

“I believe the women who shared their experiences with our investigation team,” Ms. Singas wrote, “however legal impediments, including statutes of limitations, preclude criminal prosecution.”

The women, who had been romantically involved with him, accused him of choking, hitting and slapping them, sometimes during sex and often after drinking. All of them said the violence was not consensual.

Harvey hasn’t been accused of being violent, right? He is accused of trading roles in movies for ordinary non-violent sexual favors?

This former New York politician was inflicting non-consensual violence on women, possibly every night year after year (since the women continued their romantic relationship with him despite the violent attacks). Why isn’t that more worthy of prosecution than Harvey’s casting bathrobe operation?

[Separately, the Times also says 

In the immediate wake of the allegations, Mr. Schneiderman at first denied assaulting or abusing anyone, saying he had “engaged in role-playing” with the women. But in a statement issued Thursday morning, he apologized both to them and to the people of New York. He also said that he had spent time in “a rehab facility” and was “committed to a lifelong path of recovery and making amends to those I have harmed.”

What kind of “rehab” would be effective for changing someone’s sexual proclivities? We ridicule anyone who says that they are going to “rehab” people out of homosexual desires, right? Why would it be more effective to rehab this guy out of whatever he was enjoying in bed for the last 5-10 years?]

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Wishlist for when Google employees stop having sex in each other’s hotel rooms

Based on media reports it seems that the Google employees spend a lot of time on stuff that isn’t helpful to end-users. For example, “How Google Protected Andy Rubin, the ‘Father of Android’” (nytimes):

The woman, with whom Mr. Rubin had been having an extramarital relationship, said he coerced her into performing oral sex in a hotel room in 2013

Mr. Rubin said in a statement after the publication of this article. “Specifically, I never coerced a woman to have sex in a hotel room. These false allegations are part of a smear campaign by my ex-wife to disparage me during a divorce and custody battle.”

[See this chapter on California family law for how Rubin’s defense in the family court is likely to go; Rie Rubin sued Andy in 2017 and her LinkedIn profile, with no conventional employment since 2009, suggests that she’ll be able to devote full-time effort to maximizing her child support profits. See this chapter on Nevada family law, with its default 50/50 shared parenting and capped-at-$13,000-per-year child support, for how Rubin could have saved his children the trauma of being the subject of custody litigation, himself a huge amount of time and energy that he’d have been able to devote to parenting rather than lawsuit defense, and his personal reputation (since Rie Rubin wouldn’t have had any financial incentive to disclose her defendant’s alleged sex habits) if he’d flown into KPAO from Vegas every day (see “Facebook uses a Malibu-flying engineering manager to promote careers in engineering”). The difference between Nevada and California child support guidelines? Sufficient for Rubin to have purchased a factory-new pressurized airplane and hired a professional two-pilot crew… every year of the marriage and for every year until the cash-yielding child turns 18. (e.g., Rubin could have bought a $2 million jet-powered short-field-capable Piper Meridian every year on January 1 and donated it to charity on Dec 31, times 20 years, for less the difference between what he will likely pay his plaintiff under CA versus NV law)]

On the chance that Google employees will cut back on having sex in each other’s hotel rooms, have a “work-in” rather than a “walk-out,” and manage to streamline their defenses of the various family court lawsuits, I wonder if it would be helpful to put together a wishlist of stuff that we humble users want them to work on. Here’s mine:

  • Make Google Docs as good as spotting spelling errors as Microsoft Word was in 1985. Example: “acquishing” not flagged as misspelled (Millennial attempt at “acquiescing”).
  • Fix Google Contacts. Example: I recently tried to add a phone number for a pilot working on his instrument rating. We had exchanged mobile numbers via email. Google’s Huge-Brained AI (TM) suggested that my own cell phone number should be added as his cell phone number. This despite the fact that I have a Google Voice account and use that number for two-factor auth, etc.
  • Bring back or open-source Picasa. (see this 2016 post on the topic)
  • Restore the portfolios that people took the time to add in Google Finance (2018 post)

Readers: What would you like to see Google coders work on?

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