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Automation of Planes Began 9 Years After the Wright Bros Took Flight—But Still Leads to Baffling Disasters

March 20, 2019 in History

By Becky Little

The first successful airplane pilot, Wilbur Wright, flew his 1903 craft by . “For example, if the pilot pulls back on his or her control stick, the fly-by-wire system will understand that the pilot wants to pitch the plane up, and then will do it at just the right angle and rate.”

In the late 1980s, Airbus fully introduced this technology for the first time on its A320 plane, also known as the “Electric Jet.” Other aircraft carriers like Boeing adopted these fly-by-wire systems in the 1990s. But in the 21st century, this technology drew scrutiny after a series of accidents in which automation was a factor.

In a 2009, an Air France Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris mysteriously crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 228 people aboard. Air traffic controllers lost contact with the Airbus A330-200 plane in the middle of a thunderstorm, and investigators didn’t discover the plane’s black box records for over two years. They concluded the autopilot and fly-by-wire functions had malfunctioned and turned themselves off, and the pilots were unable to take over the plane manually.

Investigators look through debris from the mid-Atlantic crash of Air France flight 447 on July 24, 2009 at the CEAT aeronautical laboratory in Toulouse, France. The Air France flight from Rio to Paris came down during the night of May 31 to June 1, 2009 during a storm, with the loss of all 228 people on board.

Journalist and former pilot William Langewiesche later wrote in Vanity Fair that because flying a commercial plane had become such an automated process, the pilots on Flight 447 didn’t have the experience necessary to take over in emergency conditions.

“To put it briefly,” he wrote, “automation has made it more and more unlikely that ordinary airline pilots will ever have to face a raw crisis in flight—but also more and more unlikely that they will be able to cope with such a crisis if one arises.” This was a problem the Future Aviation Safety Team had been warning airlines about since at least 2004.

The Flight 447 crash prompted calls to retrain pilots on how to manually fly a plane, but a decade later, concerns about pilots not having enough experience to take over a plane manually persist. Investigators are still determining what caused the Lion Air Flight 610 crash in October 2018 that killed 189 people …read more


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2020 Democratic Hopefuls Need to Stop Pandering, Actually Commit to Helping Puerto Rico

March 20, 2019 in Economics

By Federico A. de Jesús, Colin Grabow

Federico A. de Jesús and Colin Grabow

While Democratic presidential hopefuls have been
making their way to Puerto Rico
win support
from both island residents and their diaspora on
the mainland, it’s actually a Republican who has
introduced a bill
that would provide immediate relief to the

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is heading the efforts to repeal a
restrictive trade law known as the Jones Act. This should be a
bipartisan issue, as the Jones Act has been nothing but trouble for
the people of Puerto Rico. And now, more than 30
local and national organizations
are urging all presidential
candidates — of both parties — to support a
comprehensive policy platform in their campaigns that addresses the
most pressing issues facing Puerto Rico, including a call to exempt
the island from the Jones Act.

For starters, the
Jones Act
, which has been in place since 1920, mandates that
goods transported between U.S. ports be conducted by vessels that
are U.S.-flagged, U.S.-crewed, U.S.-owned and U.S.-built. Such
requirements don’t come cheap. Ships constructed in U.S. shipyards
are commonly estimated to cost
up to five times
more than those built elsewhere, and they are

nearly three times
more expensive to operate. These costs are
ultimately passed along to consumers who get stuck paying what
amounts to a de facto Jones Act tax. But instead of this money
going into public coffers, it is used to fill the bank accounts of
a few corporate shipowners.

By supporting a Jones Act
exemption, Democrats will raise economic growth, rein in corporate
interests and encourage competition.

This all hits Puerto Rico particularly hard. Except for the
relatively small number of goods flown in on airplanes, everything
not produced on the island must be brought in by ship, much of it
from the U.S. mainland.

The cost of bad laws

A new report found that transporting containers to the island
was 2.5 times more expensive from the U.S. than from foreign ports.
That translates into
$367 million in added costs
for food and beverages alone.
Another report from 2019, meanwhile, placed excess shipping costs
$569 million
and said that prices on the island are $1.1
billion higher than they would be without the Jones Act.

For an island of only 3.2 million U.S. citizens with a poverty
rate of more than 44 percent,
such numbers constitute a terrible economic strain. These extra
costs mean less money in the pockets of Puerto Ricans and increased
profits for shipping companies.

Adding insult to injury, …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Mysterious Ships Described by Herodotus Discovered After 2,500 Years

March 20, 2019 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Around 450 B.C., the Greek writer , Belov places the vessel within ancient Egyptian and Mediterranean boat-building traditions, and traces the many similarities between the wreck’s nautical architecture and Herodotus’ description of the baris’ construction.

Celebrated by many as the “Father of History,” Herodotus has also had his fair share of critics, many of whom accuse him of writing more fiction than fact. Some of his tallest tales, his detractors claim, involve the various things he said he saw during his wide-ranging travels in Egypt, Africa and Asia Minor.

To take one famous example, Herodotus claimed that in Persia he saw giant “ants” the size of foxes, which spread gold dust when they dug their mounds. After being dismissed for centuries, his story was vindicated in the 1990s, when the French explorer Michel Peissel discovered a fox-sized marmot in the Himalayas that did spread gold dust while digging, and had done so since ancient times. The Persian words for “mountain ant” and “marmot” were quite similar, it turns out, leading Peissel to conclude Herodotus had probably fallen victim to a simple error in translation.

…read more


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Book Review: Punishment without Crime: How Our Massive Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal

March 20, 2019 in Economics

By Jonathan Blanks

Jonathan Blanks

Punishment without Crime: How Our Massive Misdemeanor System
Traps the Innocent and Makes America More Unequal

by Alexandra Natapoff
Basic Books (2018), 352 pages, $30

Although many of the criminal justice policy reforms proposed in
the past few years have dealt with “mass incarceration,”
particularly sentence reductions and alternatives to incarceration
for nonviolent felony offenses, most criminal convictions in the
United States are actually for misdemeanors — ranging from
serious crimes such as domestic battery and driving under the
influence of alcohol to less serious offenses like blocking the
sidewalk, failing to pay a parking ticket, and public intoxication.
Typically, misdemeanor convictions mean no jail time or are
punishable by no more than one year in jail. A perception thus
exists that infractions that bring fines or a few weeks in jail do
not merit reform efforts as much as crimes that result in decades
in prisons do. As a result, our misdemeanor system has largely
escaped thorough examination by reformers and politicians, and the
injustices in that system continue to affect millions of Americans
each year.

In her new book, Punishment without Crime: How Our Massive
Misdemeanor System Traps the Innocent and Makes America More
, law professor Alexandra Natapoff pulls the curtain
back on our justice system to reveal frightening, punitive
bureaucracies that wreak havoc on the individuals caught up in the
morass of petty-offense enforcement and excessive policing.
Natapoff convincingly argues that state and local governments have
created machineries of injustice that undermine the most important
functions of criminal law by corroding the processes meant to
provide equal justice. That same machinery effectively extracts a
punitive tax through the criminal system from the people who can
least afford it. In places like Ferguson, Missouri — where a
woman was arrested twice, assessed more than $1,000 in fines and
fees, and served six days in jail all stemming from a single
parking ticket — the unnecessary cruelty in handling
misdemeanors poses severe risks to the legitimacy and effectiveness
of the criminal justice system.

The Basics of Crime and the Law

Perhaps the most fundamental purpose of criminal law is to pass
the condemnation of the community onto someone who has violated the
rights of one of its members and the moral foundations of that
community. Generally speaking, offenses within the community can be
described by one of two Latin phrases: malum in se (“wrong
in itself “) or malum prohibitum (roughly “wrong because
it’s prohibited”). These are not legal distinctions, but they are
useful in describing how we think about crime and other

Malum in se refers to offenses that are self-evidently
wrong. They violate basic rights or morals and include assault,
robbery, rape, and …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Protecting the Internet After Christchurch: Far Easier Said Than Done

March 20, 2019 in Economics

By Matthew Feeney

Matthew Feeney

Last week a man in Christchurch, New Zealand filmed himself murdering 50 Muslims at their places of worship. Daoud Nabi, an Afghan who fled to New Zealand to escape the Soviet-Afghan war, greeted the shooter saying, “Hello, brother,” before the shooter murdered him. The shooter’s livestream cut out after he conducted his slaughter inside the Al Noor Mosque and before he continued his rampage at the Linwood Islamic Centre.

Since the shooting, there have been calls for internet giants to do something to address the spread of graphic content. Anyone with an ounce of sympathy understands these calls, but we should keep in mind the difficulties associated with content moderation and the risks of crackdowns on particular kinds of content.

The scale of last week’s attack may be difficult for many Americans to appreciate at first glance. New Zealand is a small country, about the same size as Colorado with a population a little higher than Louisiana’s. It’s also a country with a strong outdoor culture. As the son of a New Zealander, I grew up with stories of my father and his brothers playing rugby, spear-fishing, and rabbit hunting. On recent trips to New Zealand, I’ve shot handguns and semi-automatic rifles at a gun club. There are about three citizens for every gun in New Zealand.

Despite what many people think about the relationship between the number of guns in a country and crime rates New Zealand is a peaceful country, with a homicide rate far lower than that of the United States. In such a small and peaceful place an attack like the one last week is rare, and its impact profound. Although New Zealand authorities have yet to finalize recent homicide data, it looks likely that the gunman killed more people than were murdered in the entire nation in 2017. The shooter deployed this barbarity in about half an hour.

It’s unclear how many people have watched the Christchurch murders video. According to Facebook, users viewed the original video 4,000 times. The social media giant removed 1.5 million videos of the attack within 24 hours. Other websites, including YouTube, scrambled to remove it.

While Americans are no strangers to mass shootings, there is something alien and at the same time uniquely 21st century about the Christchurch murders. Video of murders posted on social media sites are relatively rare, though not unheard of. The Christchurch shooter, a …read more

Source: OP-EDS