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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Contemplating the Incomprehensible

[Yes, this is late to need, even by my dodgy standards. But shifting continents and going without teh intarwebz will do that.][Along with a desperate wish to avoid the subject entirely.]

When I first heard the circumstances of MH370's disappearance, I immediately saw it for what it was: a mass-murdering suicide.

The day Germanwings 3252 crashed, I was having dinner with some friends in Los Angeles. Aware that I have some expertise in the field, the very first topic of conversation was: What happened?

So I fired up the Speculamatator™. Based on the few known facts, I worked my way through each possibility: decompression, fire, hijacking, engine failure. Each ran into insuperable difficulties long before the airplane hit the ground.

Oddly, given that I was so quick to suss MH370, the idea that GW3252 was also a suicidal hijacking never crossed my mind.

After all, even leaving MH370 aside, it isn't the first time it has happened. (That article leaves out another case of pilot suicide, this time using an A-10 by a guy I happened to briefly meet a couple months before his fatal flight.)

The MSM have covered this story reasonably well, considering reporters have very little insight to a profession that is, in many respects, so unique as to defy more than passing comprehension. By that I mean the MSM got most of the basics right, but had nothing beyond that.

First, some perhaps dispiriting news. In contrast to what I have read in a few places, pilots are not subject to any systematic psychological testing. Some airlines make a stab at it during the hiring process. One I know of used the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory; having taken it, I doubt it would successfully diagnose a serial murderer caught in the act. However, at least at the major airline level, the interview process itself is very stressful. There is a great deal at stake, and every step along the way, of which there are a great many, is designed tighten the rack another notch. All of this makes sense. Pilots need to be cool under pressure, highly skilled, at least reasonably intelligent, and well adjusted enough to get along with other people for long periods in confined conditions.

Having passed that hurdle, though, there are no psychological examinations worthy of the name. I take a Class I flight physical from an FAA approved examiner twice a year. The joke is that there are two requirements to pass: be able to fog a mirror, and sign a credit card receipt.

So we are all just playing Russian roulette, then, right?

Well, yes, but mostly no. There have been aircraft suicides in the US, but aside from the A-10 I mentioned above, all have involved light aircraft. To merely hope to get an interview at a major American airline requires extensive, successful, experience: at least 2,000 hours as pilot in command of turbine powered aircraft. US airlines can hold that line because the civil aviation sector has not yet been taxed into a coma, and the military still produces a decent number of pilots.* This is also true of England and Australia.

Most of the world's airlines outside the Anglosphere do one of two things: hire pilots from the Anglosphere, or resort to ab initio flight training. In ab initio training, airlines hire people with little or no experience, run them through a training program that, in a year or so, puts butts into airliner first officer seats.

That is how GermanWings has a 630 hour A320 first officer; in the US, it takes 1,500 hours just to get an Airline Transport Pilot certificate.

Which could be why, while there have been pilot suicides in the US, none have yet involved airliners.** Profoundly disfunctional people can fake normalcy, but it is a real tough act to pull off for very long.

Then there are the pilots themselves. There is no more self-similar group anywhere. More than 94% male. In Western countries, about 98% white, 98% conservative, and roughly 130% own guns. To the extent my gaydar is correctly calibrated, virtually none are gay; in 37 years of flying, I know of two.

We all dress the same -- negligently -- have the same hobbies, and talk about the same stuff: a few words about the family, more about hobbies, toys, guns. Some shots at the circus act in the White House. Then mostly nothing, unless it is about flying.

I have no data, but I suspect that alcoholism is lower than the general population. Not because pilots are better somehow, but rather that the nature of getting the job filters out all but the most high functioning addicts. Which isn't to say we don't drink -- almost all of us do, and we make a point of it. But over 15 years in this job, I have only flown with one guy who drank too much, and his hangover, vicious though it surely was, didn't bleed over into the next flight.

Similarly with emotional issues. For the most part, unless sarcasm is counted as an emotion, pilots don't have any. The rate of expensive divorces is disturbingly high, as is the rate of marriages to flight attendants. The insufferable fundament rate is far less, although not invisible.

What I'm getting around to here is that where winnowing has a chance, the chaff will get left behind.

This is getting dangerously close to affirming that merit matters. Just as it is getting dangerously close to recognizing that protections we put in place for the vast majority of those with mental issues put as at the mercy of those whose issues are one more step beyond. We protect the rights of the Adam Lanzas, and the Andreas Lubitzes. Why? Because there are thousands of not quite, and, before the act, indistinguishable from, Lanzas and Lubitzes.

The problem is even more fiendish than mere numbers. Addiction is the perfect analogy. Until twenty or so years ago, admitting addiction, alcohol or otherwise, was a career death sentence for pilots. Finally, reason prevailed: the smart way to do things was not to punish admission, but rather subterfuge. Admit to addiction outside the flight deck, and your job is protected. You will have to undergo extensive addiction treatment and testing, true, but your livelihood isn't at risk.

The results speak for themselves.

Unfortunately, the model doesn't hold for the mentally ill. There is no test for that. Impressions are subjective. Germanwings (an airline I fly frequently these days) has absolutely no interest in retaining a pilot that has mental health issues. Unfortunately, the individual has every incentive to hide those issues from the company, and the system itself has nothing to offer. In Europe, there seems to be a greater tendency Not a lot.

The report with the recommendations, which has been presented to the European transportation commissioner, Violeta Bulc, for review, follows more than two months of discussions led by the regulator, the European Aviation Safety Agency, after the March 24 crash of a Germanwings airliner. The flight’s co-pilot had a history of severe depression and had shown suicidal tendencies.

The mind boggles.

If accepted by the European Commission officials, the changes could take effect within the next year. But the initial proposal has already been watered down, notably because of privacy concerns from Germany, and officials said they were prepared for delicate negotiations over the coming months with European pilots’ unions, which have until now resisted such monitoring as overly intrusive and only minimally effective in improving safety

There are some jobs, easily enough identified, that by their very nature put themselves beyond "privacy concerns". If you wish your privacy concerns to be paramount, find something else to do. Just as, in the US, the FAA doesn't give a damn about probable cause: if your number comes up for a random urinalysis, then a urinalysis you will do.

Aside from its new medical oversight proposals, the task force that issued the report said it would maintain its recommendation that two crew members be present in the cockpit at all times. The two-person rule, which was standard in the United States and other parts of the world after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, was not widely adopted in Europe before the Germanwings crash.

Well, duh. Flight attendants don't have a clue about how to fly the airplane, but they do know how to make a move to the door. The standard practice for FAs in the US is to sit in the vacant seat, which does no good whatsoever. If I was Head Dude What's in Charge, I would have them stand right at the flight deck door, ready to open it at the first sign of homocidal insanity.

So, where does that leave us?

Largely subject to fortune. There is no getting around that if a pilot wishes badly enough to kill everyone en route to his own suicide, he is likely to achieve his goal. MH270 has proved that***. Insisting upon a regime that treats all occurrences of depression as another mass murder will eliminate self-admission; yet, even self-admission is scarcely any better. Unlike alcohol, there is no blood-depression test.

For the US residents in the audience, your sleep will be less troubled in knowing that the experience requirements are high enough to have, so far, almost, provided a sufficient barrier to letting homicidal maniacs at the controls. As for everyone else, you can spend more time wondering just why it is that suicides occasionally insist upon including so many others in their desire for self destruction.

* Civil aviation costs in the US aren't at the prohibitive levels of Europe, but they have been heading skyward over the last 40 years (h/t !@#$%^& scum bag *&^%$#@! lawyers). At the end of the Cold War, the Navy and Air Force were producing about 3,000 fixed wing pilots per year. Now that number is below 900. A few weeks ago, I saw a presentation from our Chief Pilot. According to him, US airlines will run out of qualified candidates in three years.

** Some luck is involved here. FedEx 705 should have been an absolute horror show: the intent was to crash the plane into the Memphis hub.

*** The recent discovery of a piece from MH270 should shed some light. Having been through a mishap investigation course, I have some knowledge as to how much information metallurgists can get out of a piece of airplane: more than you would think possible. To my amateur eye, the piece separated without significant impact damage, which suggests that the attach points failed. Therefore, my guess is that the suicidal pilot ditched the airplane, which, in turn, makes the search area so large that we can confidently predict we will never find the wreckage.

Monday, August 24, 2015

In Defense of Planned Parenthood

I really like to eat rack of lamb. Yum.

On the other hand, I'm also really glad I don't have to slaughter and butcher the lamb to be able to eat it. It's very nice having that bloody and grisly activity hidden from me so I can just wander into a store and buy it all neat and packaged and then cook it up on the grill.

Life saving surgeries are a great thing.

On the other hand, have you ever watched videos of surgeries? Ewwww! I'm really glad someone else does that and not me. How about a knee replacement surgery? It looks to me like half of those tools came from Home Depot for use in carpentry. I have a bad knee so I shudder just thinking about it!

The point is that there are some really gruesome, but necessary, activities that most of us fortunately never have to perform or observe. And if it's performed on us, we get to be anesthetized so we remain blissfully unaware. In my opinion, it's wonderful to be sheltered from those sorts of things.

Some disturbing videos of Planned Parenthood activities are being released by an organization called The Center for Medical Progress. In these videos, they show various representatives of Planned Parenthood discussing the sale of fetal parts (organs, limbs, etc.) to buyers in the medical research community. There are apparently going to be future videos that will show the actual procedures (perhaps some such videos already exist).

Yeah, the concept is kinda gruesome.

However, once a fetus is aborted, it doesn't just magically disappear into thin air. It has to be disposed of and that's also rather gruesome.

Given that abortion is legal, that abortions happen in large numbers, that like medical procedures and butchering abortion is grisly, that the aborted fetuses are dead (or very soon to be), and that the dead fetuses have to somehow be disposed of or otherwise processed, why is it worse that the fetal tissues be used for research rather than being disposed of? Just because it's grisly? Isn't the whole thing already rather grisly? Doesn't it seem better to salvage something of value from the process?

I really don't get it.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Do They Make Pantsuits in Felony Orange?

It is now beyond denial, even by those with ideological tunnel vision, that Hillary Clinton prevarications about her email server are out and out lies.

That's bad enough. Worse is her demonstrable lack of judgment. Never mind the legalities, setting up her own email server for official SecState communications was foolish, and her assertions she that the server never contained any classified information are either stunningly obtuse, self defeating, or casually dismissive of the most obvious security requirments.

Perhaps unbeknownst to her, information itself isn't necessarily the reason for a security classification. Otherwise innocuous things can become classified because of the sources and methods involved: Al Splodeydope's shopping list can, no, will be classified because of how we came to know it.

Okay, let's leave that aside. She has maintained that none of her emails as SecState contained classified information. Let me put that in perspective. Back in the day, I was a staff officer at the Pentagon for a few years. My position was roughly five levels below hers; I was, relativey speaking, a peon. Yet even at my peonage, much of the things I dealt with were at least SECRET NOFORN [a middling grade of classification, NOFORN expands to No Foreign dissemination without clearance from someone far higher on the food chain than I.] The rest was TOP SECRET of various flavors.

The point here isn't to reminisce about the good old days, but rather to note that it is singularly curious that she maintains nothing she received, or sent, was as sensitive as a mere Lt Col dealt with everyday. Which kind of puts here smack dab between the devil and the deep blue sea: either she is expecting us to swallow a bald faced lie, or her job amounted to nothing more than this.

Perhaps our country would be better off if it were the latter, but let's give her the credit her ego demands.

Fine: she belongs in prison. How do I know? Because that is exactly where I would have ended up had I shown her brazen disregard for information security.

Thursday, August 13, 2015


Another giant passes from the scene, a polymath and most serious historian, Robert Conquest:

It is easy now to forget just how terrifying the Cold War seemed. Across the Western world, many doubted Communism could be defeated without unleashing nuclear Armageddon.

What is more, many Western intellectuals — from Marxists such as Communist historian Eric Hobsbawm and his friend Ralph Miliband (father of Ed and David, a political theorist at the London School of Economics, a devout follower of Marx and an unswerving believer in revolutionary socialism) to woolly, well-meaning Lefties in universities across the country — were quick to defend the regime whenever it was criticised.

Lenin and Stalin, these ‘useful idiots’ claimed, had been much misunderstood.
It was Conquest, more than any other writer of his generation, who did most to expose this deceitful drivel.

At a time when intellectual fashion was on the Left, he had the guts to lay out, in devastating detail, the truth about the blood-soaked Soviet experiment.


It was Conquest’s close attention to detail that made his expose of Communism so devastating. The Great Terror was based on hundreds of accounts by Soviet dissidents and work camp inmates. He showed that life under Stalin’s regime had been even worse than outsiders suspected.

Even today, The Great Terror is a chilling read and an unforgettable record of the bloody consequences of ideological utopianism. It is hard to read about the starving children in Ukraine or about the ordinary men and women frozen and tortured in the Siberian camps without a shudder of horror.

 Vladimir Tismaneanu posts his tribute at frontpagemag:

Robert Conquest (1917-2015) was a great intellectual, historian, and moral conscience. For the denizens of what used to be the Soviet Bloc, Robert Conquest’s name is truly legendary. I remember my own first experience with Conquest’s masterpiece The Great Terror.
Political Violence is much more than the traditional anthology of solemn, frequently hackneyed paeans to a great scholar. It is in fact an excellent collection of penetrating studies on the very concepts that did underlie Conquest’s lifelong endeavor: the centrality of violence in the Marxist revolutionary eschatology; the links between utopia, violence, ideology, and terror; the limits and relevance of comparisons between the Nazi and the Soviet totalitarian experiments. As Conquest put it himself in a seminal essay on history as a battleground:
“The huge catastrophes of our era have been inflicted by human beings driven by certain thoughts. And so history’s essential questions must be: How do we account for what has been called the ‘ideological frenzy’ of the twentieth century?  How did these mental aberrations gain a purchase?  What was the sort and condition of people affected?  Who were the Typhoid Marys who spread the infection?” (Reflections on a Ravaged Century , New York: Norton, 2000, p. 3)

From Lenin to Mao and Guevara, the apostles of utopian collectivism were possessed by revolutionary hubris. Leszek Kolakowski is therefore right: communist nihilism is related to Dostoyevski’s demons’ contempt for individual rights and their reckless exaltation of the cathartic virtues of violence. In his writings on the ravaged 20th century, Conquest highlighted precisely this enduring attraction of rebellious intellectuals to a closed universe of empirically non-demonstrable yet compellingly contagious certainties. Let me say that at a time when many were ready to close their eyes and endorse, implicitly or explicitly, the self-serving Leninist narratives about the ultimate goal somehow justifying the appalling methods used to attain it (the proverbial need to break eggs in order to make the revolutionary omelet), Robert Conquest defended the honor of Sovietology. For him, there was no doubt that millions, not only “hundred of thousands” perished in the vortex of the terrorist universe. He never doubted the uniqueness of the Holocaust as the ultimate horror of a horrific age, but insisted on the monstrously murderous features of Bolshevism in its various incarnations.

For Conquest, evil is not a category scholars should avoid if they wish to fathom the age of ideologically-generated cataclysms. May he rest in peace, he deserves all our gratitude and admiration.

There are some other tributes here and here.  I remember reading several works of Mr. Conquest.  They made quite an impression.  It is amazing how many intellectuals wanted to be deceived.  Some still can't come to terms with the reality of the matter, but what do you expect.

There is also a post which includes a video from a dinner in honor of Mr. Conquest from 1992. 

 Czeslaw Milosz (introduced ~18:00, speaks ~21:00-32:00) status, group think and self-deception

Aaron Wildavsky (~32:00-50:00) importance of telling truth, our greatest possession - liberty

John O'Sullivan (~50:00-1:02)

Yelena Bonner  (~1:02-1:20)

Robert Conquest (~1:22-1:46) struggle against oppression and lies, bad ideas: scientism, all is struggle, new human beings; education on these matters - overcoming impatience and laziness

Of particular interest are the remarks of Milosz, Wildavsky and Conquest.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Empire of Lies

As Hey Skipper has noted:
Every time I follow a link what I find is either ignorant, ideologically hammered, or outright mendacious. As in the knowingly lying kind of mendacious. It is symptomatic of progressivism's pervasive habit: elevation of narrative over reality.