Monday, March 31, 2014

TWA Flight 599

"I heard the plane flying above the clouds hanging low over the ground.  The motor was sputtering. Suddenly the plane shot out from the clouds.  It was tipping to one side and headed straight toward the earth.  A moment later I saw a part of the wing floating down to the earth."

With the fate of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 dominating the news, let's take a moment to talk about another aviation disaster which took place 83 years ago on this date, triggering major changes in aviation safety and aircraft development in the United States.  There were eight fatalities, the two pilots and the six passengers, one of whom was America's most famous college football coach (certainly then, and even, perhaps, still today) - Knute Rockne of Notre Dame.
TIME Magazine Cover: Knute Rockne -- Nov. 7, 1927
Rockne had been the coach at Notre Dame since 1918.  In thirteen seasons his teams won 105 games, tying five and losing only twelve.  Five times (1919, 1920, 1924, 1929 and 1930) Notre Dame had been undefeated, losing more than one game in a season on only two occasions.  Knute was an innovator, popularizing the forward pass and backfield shifts and was a phenomenal motivator and he became more than a football coach; he was an American icon, the epitome of sportsmanship and one of the most well-known and popular figures in the country (you can find his NY Times obituary here).  An observer of the uproar after his death on TWA Flight 599 remarked:

"The aviation industry, TWA and Fokker [manufacturer of the aircraft] could have had no more adverse publicity had the victim been the president of the United States."

Rockne's Norwegian family emigrated to the United States in 1893 when he was five years old, settling in Chicago.  Though Knute was an avid athlete he never graduated from high school but in 1910 passed an entrance exam and enrolled in Notre Dame (Rockne was a Protestant who converted to Catholicism in the 1920s).  Rockne played football and became captain of the 1913 team which, in an enormous upset, used the forward pass to an unprecedented extent (with Knute playing end) and upset Army 35-13.  After graduating with degrees in Chemistry and Pharmacology, Rockne stayed at Notre Dame teaching chemistry and as assistant football coach taking over as head coach in 1918.

His first great teams were in 1919 and 1920 and starred George Gipp "The Gipper" who played quarterback and halfback while also handling the punting.  Gipp, who Rockne always called "the greatest player Notre Dame ever produced" died of a strep infection shortly after his final game at the school.  Eight years later, Rockne used what he said were Gipp's final words to him to inspire and underdog Notre Dame team to beat undefeated Army.  It also became the big scene in the 1940 film, Knute Rockne, All American starring Pat O'Brien as Rockne and Ronald Reagan as The Gipper.
The undefeated 1924 team led Grantland Rice, after yet another Notre Dame upset of Army, to write one of the most famous ledes in sportswriting:

"Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again.  In dramatic lore their names are Death, Destruction, Pestilence, and Famine. But those are aliases. Their real names are: Stuhldreher, Crowley, Miller and Layden. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another fighting Army team was swept over the precipice at the Polo Grounds this afternoon as 55,000 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below."

1930 was yet another undefeated season for Notre Dame and for the 43-year old Rockne the future seemed limitless.  In March 1931 he embarked on a trip to Los Angeles to help in the production of a film The Spirit of Notre Dame, stopping in Kansas City to see his two sons in boarding school.  On March 31 he left Kansas City on TWA Flight 599 with its next stop in Wichita.  He was traveling in a Fokker F-10A Trimotor, a wood framed aircraft.
Fokker F-10A Super Trimotor NC999E (The Fokker which crashed)
In the four years since Charles Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic (see Flyboys) commercial aviation had exploded in the United States despite a spate of fatal air crashes to which Rockne's flight was soon to be added.  About 90 minutes after takeoff, in wintry conditions after hitting a cold front, the Fokker fell from the sky hitting the ground near the small town of Bazaar, Kansas.  The exact cause remains controversial but it is known that one of the wooden wings separated from the body of the plane.  The wing was made of laminated wood and moisture leaking into it weakened the structural members tying the wing to the fuselage.
(from Irish
The overwhelming public interest in Rockne's death and the crash led to two changes in the course of American aviation, one short-term and the other playing out over several years.

Until TWA Flight 599 federal government investigations of air crashes had not been released to the public.  The limited authority of the government was vested in the Department of Commerce which had a mandate to encourage the growth of the aviation industry along with no authority to subpoena information in its investigations or specific directive as to how to handle or publicize findings.  The result was chaotic.  On occasion airline companies actually removed wreckage from sites and destroyed records to thwart investigations while at other times the government gave the industry the results of its reports but did not disclose them to the public or the families of crash victims.  The conflict in DOC's mission can be seen in this quote from a department official:

"We are trying to sell aviation to the public and the wreckage of a plane lying around for people to stare at has a bad effect" (Quote from "The 'Rock': The Role of The Press In Bringing About Changes in Aircraft Accident Policy" by Randy Johnson, Journal of Air Transportation World Wide, Vol. 5 N. 1 (2000), a thorough review of this issue)
In the aftermath of the Rockne crash the DOC reversed its policy, releasing information and making its findings public for the first time.  By 1934 Congress passed the Air Commerce Act giving DOC the authority to issue subpoenas and directing it to make investigations public.

The longer term impact was on aircraft development.  The crash meant the end for Fokker as a viable aviation company and more broadly the end of wooden aircraft in commercial aviation.  The immediate winners were the all-metal Ford Trimotor and the Boeing 247 which seized the market.  More importantly, TWA was frozen out of the Boeing market by rival companies which had tied up all of its production and in response sent a request and specifications for an new all-metal airliner to Douglas Aircraft which in one year developed the DC-1/2 which eventually became the DC-3, the most successful and long-lived (the last DC-3's went out of service in the early 1990s) airliner in commercial aviation history.
DC-3 commercial transport in flight
The impact of the DC-3 and the crucial role played by TWA Flight 599 is told in The Legacy of the Rockne Crash by Herbert M Friedman and Ada Kera Friedman, Aeroplane Magazine, May 2001.

The DC-3 turned air travel from an adventure into a business. Impressive as its performance was, what especially interested the airlines was the drastic decrease in cost per seat mile. British author Peter W. Brooks showed that the 21-passenger DC-3 achieved an astounding 47 percent reduction on the Fokker F. Vllb/3m the F-10A's tri-motored cousin, still being produced the year after the crash. All told, well over 10,000 DC-3s were built in the USA, plus some 2,000 in Russia and nearly 500 in Japan. As the C-47 it flew in just about every Allied airborne operation of the Second World War, played a significant part in the Berlin Airlift and flew operationally in the Korean and Vietnam wars. In the late 1940s and early 1950s several manufacturers offered "DC-3 replacements", but the DC-3 outlasted them all. The effects were far greater than the feats of this single type. The DC-2/DC- 3 series established the USA as the undisputed leader in airliner construction, a lead that has only recently been challenged by Airbus Industrie.

How much of this can be traced to the crash at Bazaar? Even if Rockne had landed safely at Los Angeles, we would not still be flying in three-engined wooden airliners at 120 m.p.h., but the development of the all-metal transport may well have been different. We have only to look at the Junkers Ju 52/3m, manufactured in its thousands from the mid-1930s, to see that the familiar airliner shape was not inevitable. Were it not for the market created by the Rockne crash, Douglas would not have built his masterpiece, the DC-3. Without the economy, safety and comfort of the DC- 3 worldwide air travel would have developed more slowly, and there might have been a slower acceptance of the stressed-skin low-wing monoplane as the key to high performance in military as well as civil aeroplanes.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Little Wing

Some good listening on a rainy Sunday morning courtesy of Stevie Ray Vaughn.  And here's a marvelous live version by Jimi Hendrix.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Why Smart People Sometimes Don't Know Much

In recent years, THC has increasingly found that in discussions of current events there is often difficulty in finding common ground regarding basic facts, particularly with those relying upon sources such as the New York Times, The New Yorker and NPR for their information. Having stopped reading the Times and New Yorker several years ago, THC feels immeasurably more knowledgeable (though admittedly others might prefer to say he has become invincible in his ignorance).

Ann Althouse, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin, brought to our attention a perfect example of this syndrome in her post about Jeffrey Toobin's New Yorker article on the recent Supreme Court arguments in the Hobby Lobby case.  Toobin frequently writes on legal issues for The New Yorker as well as being a legal analyst for CNN.

If one was relying upon Toobin's article, entitled Women Justices Rock The Hobby Lobby Argument, to be informed about the substance of the legal issues in dispute, one would come away armored with misinformation.  In Toobin's telling the case is a constitutional one about "freedom of religion" writing:

"Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who was defending the law, invested heavily in the argument that for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby simply do not have rights to religious expression under the First Amendment."

The article made no mention of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) which is what the Hobby Lobby case is actually about, not the First Amendment.

In 1992, the Supreme Court, in a First Amendment religious freedom case decision authored by Justice Scalia, agreed with the Federal government's attempt to ban the use of peyote during certain American Indian religious rituals.  That decision was met with vocal bipartisan disapproval and the following year, the RFRA (with one of its chief advocates being Ted Kennedy) was enacted with only three no votes in the Senate and none in the House and signed by President Clinton.  RFRA requires that in any legal challenge to a law restricting religious practice that the standard of strict scrutiny be applied.  In order to prevail the government must show it has a compelling government interest and that its actions must be the least restrictive way in which to further the government interest.

Interestingly, the New Yorker has since altered the online version of the article to include a quote referencing the RFRA without explaining its significance other than explaining in a somewhat disparaging way that it refers refers "to a law on religious expression that Hobby Lobby had cited" instead of pointing out it is the key element of the case  This case is about statutory construction, not the First Amendment.

Toobin makes a second significant factual error with his claim that:

"The Affordable Care Act requires employers who provide health insurance to their employees to include coverage for contraception".

In fact, the ACA does not require coverage for contraception.  Because the RFRA is a statute, Congress could have chosen to insert an exemption from that law into the ACA.  It chose not to.  Instead, the Obama Administration decided, for political and ideological reasons, to make the provision of contraception a regulatory requirement.  It was the Administration that decided to pick this fight placing the Hobby Lobby, a company which already provided health insurance to its employees (and which starts its lowest-paid employees at a wage almost twice that of the minimum wage) in a very difficult position.

Toobin is a smart guy.  He also knows what his audience wants - comfort food that allows readers to feel morally superior.  The result is that his readers, who are smart folks or at least people who think they are smart, end up poorly informed.  As mentioned this general problem is not just limited to The New Yorker and THC covered it in more length in How Can You Be So Obtuse?   That post prompted a request for a correction from Linda Greenhouse, former legal correspondent for the New York Times.  In contrast to the Times' dilatory correction process, within thirty minutes of seeing the email, THC double checked the accuracy of the reference, made the requested correction and informed Ms Greenhouse.  In that instance, despite the Official Policy Of This Blog, making the correction was the right thing to do.

Several other real points to keep in mind about this case.  The Administration has given some waivers to the contraception mandate for some non-profits such as churches.  They've also effectively waived or delayed requirements of the ACA for just about everyone else in America at this point.  What's the big deal about doing so here?  How can you have a compelling government interest in requiring this when so many others are exempt?

Don't let the rhetoric about for-profit versus non-profit applicability of the RFRA confuse you.  The government is still trying to crush the "obstructionist" Little Sisters of the Poor (see Little Sisters of the Poor v Sebelius and the post It's The Law) in order to bring those dangerous renegades into conformance with the Will of the State. 
(Enemies of the State)
And the next time someone asks you how a corporation can be religious just tell them that it is well established legal doctrine today that corporations can have a race - it's how affirmative action works in government contracting and corporations can sue for racial discrimination.

THC predicted this ongoing conflict between the Administrative State and our constitutional liberties back in June 2012 (More Thoughts About The Decision) in the wake of the Supreme Court's Obamacare decision:

While this may be the end of constitutional challenges to the entire statute it is only the start of a wave of litigation over the next few years regarding various aspects of the healthcare law.  Because of its scope, complexity and structure as an extensive regulatory scheme with a goal of controlling a large swath of the American economy and the lives of its citizens, Obamacare will inevitably butt up against many aspects of what have, until now, been considered aspects of private life, triggering conflicts with our Constitutionally protected liberties, including rights of association, free speech, religion and, to put it at its most basic, our rights to be left alone.  There is simply not enough space in society for Obamacare and constitutional liberties to co-exist in peace.  Sort of like when the Lakers had both Kobe and Shaq on their team a few years ago.

A totalizing legislative scheme requiring (by some counts) more than 1,000 new regulations and establishing new, and largely unaccountable, administrative bodies such as the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) in an area intertwined with every aspect of our economy and our lives will be a source of unending friction in our society.

The administration's assault on religious liberty (via the contraception mandate) and its directive to insurers to provide a product for free (why didn't the Adminstration just cut out the middleman and order contraceptive manufacturers to provide their products for free?) is just the beginning.  The outcome of these conflicts has the potential to fundamentally redefine the relationship between citizens and the government.  Brace yourselves. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Setting A Pick

This is how it's done.  Raymond Felton of the New York Knicks runs Ray McCallum, making his first start for the Sacramento Kings, into an immovable object (Tyson Chandler).


Meat Is Good

It's true.  A study just published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found, contrary to what we've been told for years, "no evidence that eating saturated fat increased heart attacks and other cardiac events" according to the New York Times.

The lead author of the meta-study, reviewing 80 studies involving a half-million people,  is quoted in the Times:

My take on this would be that it’s not saturated fat that we should worry about” in our diets, said Dr. Rajiv Chowdhury, the lead author of the new study and a cardiovascular epidemiologist in the department of public health and primary care at Cambridge University.

Time to head for In-N-Out Burger to get their Monkey Style burger.
monkey-style-burger.jpg(There's a burger there underneath the fries, cheese and onions).

If you're feeling a little intimidated about ordering it Monkey Style here's how to do it (courtesy of OC

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Lonely Guys

Turns out the Vikings were really sensitive guys.

Report: Vikings ‘abandoned Greenland due to loneliness and limited foods’

Research leader Niels Lynnerup, an anthropologist from the University of Copenhagen, told the media that he believes they may have had a wealth of food, but added, “perhaps they were just sick and tired of living at the ends of the earth and having almost nothing but seals to eat,” The Daily Mail reports.

Finally, the team said that it appears that women of child-bearing age may have led the exodus, as very few were found alongside the remains of their male counterparts in the region’s cemeteries.

See Ice News for the entire story



Thursday, March 20, 2014

Israel As A Jewish State

We are in the midst of the latest set of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, this one being brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry.  It will fail with the only question being who will bear the blame for it.  One of the most important issues on the Israeli side is the insistence that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish State as part of an overall comprehensive settlement.

This condition has triggered a lot of commentary and confusion (for another example of confusion on this subject see Masters of Conventional Wisdom featuring Fareed Zakaria).  Its importance has been heightened by recent events.  Initially, Kerry included this in the US set of conditions for the peace framework it was presenting to both sides.  However, in recent Senate testimony, Secretary Kerry indicated that this condition was no longer necessary since the Palestinians had "implicitly" agreed to it since the original United Nations resolution dissolving the British Mandate in 1947 declared Israel to be a Jewish state.

The request did not originate with the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, having been insisted upon by all Israel governments, regardless of party, over the past decade.  It arose from the discussions leading to the Palestinian refusal of a state when they rejected the Camp David accords in 2000 and instead launched the bloody Second Intifada.  Prior to then, Israelis had been focused on the distinction between those who rejected the very existence of Israel, such as Hamas, and those who seemed to, at least on occasion, accept a two state solution.  But during the Camp David meetings and their aftermath, Israelis (including President Clinton to his surprise) heard Yassir Arafat claim that there never was a Jewish temple in Jerusalem and there was growing rhetoric revealing that many of those Palestinians who seemed to be accepting of a two state solution meant it only as a temporary solution and that what they were really referring to was the creation of a Palestinian state alongside an Israel to which millions of Palestinian refugees could return ultimately transforming it demographically into a second Palestinian state which, THC supposes, would emulate all of the traditions of religious and ethnic tolerance, democracy, free expression and peace of Israel's neighbors - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.  

The disillusionment this caused among Israeli peace activists at the time is chronicled in an anecdote from Yaacov Lozowick's 2003 book Right To Exist.  THC has referenced Lozowick before (see the last part of the post Jerusalem: The Biography) and his mostly inactive blog remains an unmatched source for thoughtful pieces on this subject.  Lozowick had been on the Left in Israel, and an active participant in Peace Now, the large movement in the 1990s that strongly supported the Oslo peace process.  The second intifada which began in 2000 led to a change in his views and he eventually, to his own surprise, ended up voting for Ariel Sharon, a transformation he discusses in Right To Exist.  Here's what he reported:

All the Arabic readers I have asked tell me unanimously that while some Palestinians grudgingly accept that Israel may be here to stay, none of them acknowledge the right of the Jews to be here . . . 

In July 2001, nine months into the Jerusalem intifada and four months into the government of Ariel Sharon, a group of some two dozen intellectuals from both sides convened to build a bridge over the ruins of peace.  These were all old friends who have been meeting for many years in hope of finding enough common ground to enable the politicians to pick up the torch. . . . Between them there must have been many thousands of hours of dialogue.  Intelligent, educated individuals, rational realists, there was not a hard-line militant among them.

Their idea was simple: to agree on a joint declaration calling on the warring factions to desist from their insanity and return to negotiations . . . The Palestinians were willing to join in, stating that there should be two independent states alongside each other, but the Israelis, alerted by the fiascoes of Camp David and Taba to a nuance they had previously overlooked, demanded that the statement clearly say that Israel would be a Jewish state and Palestine an Arab one.  The Palestinians refused.  Jews, they said, are a religion, not a nationality, and neither need nor deserve their own state.  They were welcome to live in Israel, but the Palestinian refugees would come back, and she would cease in time to be a Jewish state.

If even the peace-seeking extremes cannot agree, there is nothing left to strive for.
The one-sided reasoning of the Palestinians can be seen in that statement; "Jews, they said, are a religion, not a nationality, and neither need nor deserve their own state".  First, let's clear up the language.  When we describe the conflict as Israeli-Palestinian we do the participants a disservice.  It is a Jewish-Moslem conflict.  It is Islam that still fuses religion and the state.  That's why there is an Organization of  Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a fifty-six nation group delineated by religion even though there are substantial religious minorities in many of the member companies.  Why is there no Organization of Christian Cooperation or a Buddhist Nations Conference?  The OIC is a unique, national religious organization in today's world. While Jews and Christians can be tolerated in an Islamic country, that tolerance is dependent upon them agreeing to accept a subservient status that can be revoked at the discretion of Islamic authorities.  It is very different from the modern Western idea of tolerance (see All Possess Alike Liberty of Conscience) and it is why the Palestinian resistance to the concept of a Jewish State is simply doublespeak.  Islam, in the view of its adherents, deserves its own state (actually, many states), but followers of other religions do not.

Peace will never come until the Palestinians fundamentally recognize the rights of the Jewish people to have their state (as state that includes today 20% Arabs with full civil rights).  Israel has recognized the Palestinians right to have their state, even one that is ethnically cleansed of Jews (under the Palestinian Authority the sale of any land to a Jew subjects the seller to the death penalty).  While THC supports the removal of many of the Israeli settlements from the West Bank as part of a peace pact, the settlements are not the issue preventing peace.    The Palestinians rejected the original division of the British mandate and vowed to destroy Israel before there ever was an occupation of the West Bank.  Papering over this issue once again in the desire by the US Administration to declare victory will not result in lasting peace, it will only set the stage for the next phase of the conflict.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Other than Matmos, this is THC's favorite new song from the last year or so. Radioactive is Imagine Dragons' heartfelt tribute to the benefits of diagnostic imaging utilizing radioisotopes.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

At Vindobona

Yesterday was the 1,834th anniversary of the death of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius who passed away at the age of 58 in 180AD at Vindobona (modern-day Vienna) on the banks of the Danube River.  Writing a half-century later, the historian Cassius Dio lamented that as of that date "our history now descends from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust" and the day was chosen by Edward Gibbon as the starting point for The History Of The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire.

Marcus Aurelius is the emperor portrayed by Richard Harris in the opening scenes of the movie Gladiator.  As the movie describes, his son Commodus succeeded him and was a disaster, ending eighty years of stability under the prior four emperors, and meeting his end by being strangled in his bath twelve years after the death of his father.  Apart from that the rest of the movie is historical fantasy though Harris and Russell Crowe (who seems to have imbibed the essence of classical Stoicism) contribute great performances.

Marcus Aurelius spent much of his reign fighting barbarian incursions along the Danube, finally achieving victory, and imposing a series of peace settlements just before his death.  While on campaign he wrote a collection of notes in the form of reminders to himself which were later compiled and are known today as Meditations.  Some excerpts:

A man should be upright, not kept upright.

Never esteem anything as of advantage to you that will make you break your word or lose your self-respect.

Is any man afraid of change? Why what can take place without change?

If it is not right, do not do it, if it is not true, do not say it

Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be.  Be one.     
Sounds kind of like Yoda with better syntax.