PIlot job market no longer clearing (Republic Airways cutting flights)


“Pilot Shortage Halves Republic Airways Stock” is a Wall Street Journal article about how Republic, a regional jet operator, can’t find enough pilots to keep the planes going. In theory they could just offer a $20,000 signing bonus and have all the pilots that they needed, but presumably their union contract with pilots would prohibit that (since the more senior pilots would say “We should get the $20,000 instead”; see “Unions and Airlines” for my article on this toxic combination for shareholders).

I’m also wondering where these low-level pilot jobs will end up after the latest rounds of employment market intervention by the government. The union contract may say $19 per flight hour, for example, roughly $19,000 per year given the typical 1000-hour schedule. But due to the abysmal schedules assigned to new pilots in the U.S. (so that senior pilots can work minimal numbers of days), it might take 22 days per month at 14 hours per day to get in the full amount of flying. That’s about 3700 hours per year of deadheading, waiting around airports, and doing other stuff for the employer’s convenience. At the new $15/hour minimum wage, that’s $55,440 in straight time plus required overtime pay for a lot of those hours? Thus I am wondering if the argument over the typical low wages for entry-level airline jobs is moot. It may soon be illegal to pay anywhere close to those wages.

Labor is at least 20 percent of a U.S. airline’s cost (WSJ 2012; probably more right now due to the collapse of fuel prices). So it seems reasonable to expect ticket prices to go up.

Selling a human egg versus selling an abortion


“Putting a Price on a Human Egg” is a Wall Street Journal story about collusion by fertility clinics to limit payments to human egg donors to $10,000 per cycle. There is a discussion that at least in some cases the process may simply transfer infertility from one woman to another: “Leah Campbell, a 32-year-old writer in Anchorage, Alaska, suffered complications following two donor-egg cycles while in her 20s and said she became infertile as a result.” A quick Google search revealed that nobody seems to know the correlation between egg donation and subsequent infertility.

As noted in Real World Divorce, it is straightforward to sell an abortion for $250,000 in lieu of expected child support payments and the link between abortion and subsequent infertility is well-studied (example paper).

The marketing for egg donation seems to be mostly directed at college students. What if, instead of selling eggs, they were to have sex with the men most conveniently available? http://www.masslive.com/database/umasspayroll/ shows that, in 2007, a full professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts earned about $130,000 per year. Adding 3% annual increases since then gets us to a current salary of $165,000 per year. That’s $3173 in weekly pre-tax income. Feeding that into the Massachusetts Child Support Worksheet yields annual tax-free revenue of $30,368 or $698,464 over a 23-year period plus likely college tuition, day care, and other expenses of roughly $400,000. Thus the professor’s non-abortion cash payments are likely to be $1.1 million.

[Note that, if the professor is married, and his wife chooses to sue him for divorce after finding out about the dalliance with the student, if the student can get her lawsuit filed first and a child support order established, the claims of the wife and children of the marriage will be inferior to the claims of the owner of the out-of-wedlock child. The professor’s income for child support purposes when the wife sues will be figured by subtracting the existing child support order from the “gross weekly income” (fans of arithmetic/accounting will note that the “Other Support Obligations paid” field is an after-tax number being subtracted from a pre-tax gross number, so it is quite possible that the professor’s true after-tax and after-paying child support income is $0 and yet he would be subject to an additional order to pay more child support to a new plaintiff.]

So it would seem that without leaving the campus a student could easily sell an abortion for 25X what she can sell an egg for.

What do readers think? Should the fertility clinics be prohibited from fixing prices? If the answer is “no” and the clinics can fix prices, is $10,000 an acceptable number given the profits available to abortion retailers?

Stupid bicycling question: why are disc brakes popular on road bikes?


I’ve been going to bicycle shops lately trying to sort out the challenges of carrying children on bikes. I’ve been noticing a lot of bikes have extra dedicated brake discs on the front wheels, even bikes intended for on-road use. My stupid question for today is “Why?”

The rim is already a big brake disc, right? It is exposed to flowing air so it won’t build up heat with repeated braking. Due to its larger mass it should be a lot more heat-resistant than a small disc near the hub, no?

If we already incurred the weight of having rims on the bike why would it be a good idea to add more spinning mass in the form of dedicated brake discs?

Is the answer that the latest and greatest rims are carbon fiber and somehow don’t work as well as brake discs? But if that is the answer, why does one see disc brakes on bikes with conventional aluminum rims? Are dedicated discs somehow far superior in rain or after riding through a puddle?

Who has disc brakes and can talk about the practical advantages?

Dumb question #2: The bike shops seem to be selling tubeless tires for $90 each (Amazon has Hutchinsons for $70). TireRack.com will sell you a 195/65R15 tire for a Honda Accord for $52 (I’m going to guess that there is more rubber in the Honda Accord tire). Who is riding with tubeless tires? How do you like them? Why do they cost more than tires for a 3000+ lb. car?

$15 minimum wage and Obamacare impact on home siding


The time has come for new siding on our house, building in 1968 and under constant attack from New England weather, carpenter bees, etc. The architect said that one option was wood with a natural finish: “looks beautiful but it needs to be refinished every three years of so.” What does that cost? He estimated $4000. I replied “With the new minimum wage law and Obamacare health insurance cost increases for employers, that will be $8000 soon enough. What’s the alternative?” He suggested fiber cement siding, which looks like wood but the color is built in and it will probably never need to be touched again. Decision: HardiePanel Vertical Siding in the Select Cedarmill texture (not sure on color yet).  Supposedly it costs slightly more to install because the material is hard to cut, but it will save perhaps $130,000 in maintenance over the next 50 years.

Readers: In what other unexpected ways can labor be cut from the U.S. economy in response to these new laws and regulations? (unexpected = not robots or touch-screen tablets for ordering at restaurants)

Example 1: Buy a new imported $130 bike instead of paying $60 for a repair that used to cost $45.

Example 2: Gutters with covers to keep out leaves instead of paying people to come once/year and clean out the gutters. (Suggesting the iRobot Looj wouldn’t count!)

Example 3: More cruise holidays on ships of international registry with international crews rather than holidays in the U.S. in hotels staffed with Americans and under U.S. labor regulations.


Software engineering = meaningless job?


“The Least Meaningful Job in America” is a Slate article. Look at the small green circle at 29% “high meaning” and $103,000 in median annual pay. That’s “Computer Software Engineers, Applications” and it pretty well screams “Go to medical school so that you can at the top right of the chart instead.”

What do readers make of this chart? Can we rely on data from PayScale? Is it simply that people whose lives are meaningless choose computer nerdism or does computer nerdism render a person’s life at work meaningless?

Digital Gold: Bitcoin, money and drugs


I enjoyed Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money partly because it makes one question long-standing assumptions. Wences Casares, an Argentine Bitcoin pioneer, noted that “The reason gold itself had been used as money was not that it was valuable; it had become valuable because it was used as money. … We use it in jewelry because it’s very expensive. It’s not expensive because we use it in jewelry. … You put the ledger on your neck to show power and wealth.” Debt: The first 5000 years is referenced as the source of the idea that “barter was never common and money was actually an evolution of credit–a way of tracking what people owed to each other.”

If you’re interested in learning about the criminal mind, the book contains a detailed history of Silk Road and the government’s attempts to hunt down the operators. (Silk Road was facilitated by Bitcoin, though not related to the currency any more than street drug dealers using $100 bills are related to the U.S. Mint.)

There is a good explanation of Mt. Gox, a huge success despite the spectacular incompetence of its operators (you’ll hate Bank of America less after you read about what it is like when amateurs run a bank’s IT systems!). It is also kind of inspiring, in a way, because it shows that a huge factor for career success is to be in an industry with rapid growth.

Wences Casares gives a good explanation for why Bitcoin is important: “You can call someone in Jakarta on Skype. You can see them and you can hear them and there’s a synchronous connection with a lot of bandwidth. … And you hang up and you want to send them one cent and that’s not possible. … It should be a lot easier to send a cent than to see video and audio.”

The lion-killing dentist and his receptionist


The New York Daily News has a story about Walter Palmer, the lion-killing dentist, that includes some legal paperwork that could be worthwhile reading. Dr. Palmer employed a receptionist for 5.5 years. Three months after she was fired (for unknown reasons), she filed a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, alleging “verbal comments and physical conduct” during all 5.5 years on the job (“ongoing and unwelcome”).The BLS says that receptionists are paid a nationwide average of $26,000 per year. This plaintiff got paid $127,500 to settle her complaint, roughly comparable to five years of income for a receptionist. (She presumably had to share some of this with her lawyer but receptionists wages are taxable whereas compensation for damages is tax-free.)

[What if the receptionist had sex with the dentist? Her potential child support revenue would be capped at $406,728 under Minnesota child support guidelines. A weekend with the dentist in California, Massachusetts, or even neighboring Wisconsin would work out much better financially.]

Harvard graduate Buddy Fletcher, Ellen Pao‘s husband, made more money from his employment lawsuit than he ever did for investors.

I’m wondering if this is the trend. Could it be that employment litigation will, for most American workers, be more lucrative than employment?


Men in Massachusetts should simply not show up to defend restraining orders, divorces, and other family law matters?


I testified at a Massachusetts State House hearing on S.834 An Act relative to Child-Centered Family Law. This changes the language that courts will use but there are no restrictions on what judges can do and litigants will still fight over a potential for 0/100, 100/0 or any other time split in between; see the “Renaming Custody” section in this chapter for how this has worked in the other states that have tried it. The parent who wins a custody lawsuit would become the “primary parent” rather than the “custodial parent.” (See my own testimony on the likely effects.)

One intriguing idea that I learned at the hearing was that in some cases men might be better off not showing up to court when a case is being decided under the family law and domestic violence system. U.S. Census data from March 2014 show that, when there is enough income for a child to yield a cashflow, men in Massachusetts lose custody lawsuits roughly 97 percent of the time. Typically the man is therefore spending $100,000 to $1 million in legal fees in order to have a shot at being one of the 3 percent. But is the guy actually digging his own grave by showing up?

[In theory the law, unlike in some European and Islamic jurisdictions, is gender-neutral. And, as discussed below, the citizens who came to the hearing included a woman who lost custody of her children due to her higher-income, harder-working status. In practice, however, attorneys say that men cannot prevail on a domestic violence complaint against a woman.]

“I was advised by my lawyer not to show up to defend against a restraining order,” said one father, “because if the man doesn’t show up he can be restrained for only 7 days but if he does show up the order can last for a year.” One take-away from the hearing was that when when the children were potentially profitable, motivated female plaintiffs would eagerly seek, and typically win, restraining orders to keep children from seeing their fathers.

[“The Domestic Violence Parallel Track” explains why this is typically a powerful tool for plaintiffs nationwide, but in Massachusetts a restraining order has a specific cash value. Given a $250,000-per-year defendant, for example, obtaining ordinary “winner parent” status and 2/3 time with the child yields $40,000 per year in tax-free cash via the child support guidelines plus, typically, an order that the defendant pay 100% of the child’s actual expenses (e.g., day care, uninsured medical/dental). If a plaintiff can get the defendant entirely excluded from the child’s life, judges are explicitly encouraged to award additional child support (due to the fact that father is not providing free babysitting 1/3 time). Having 100% “custody” may simply mean dumping the child into commercial care, such as day care or with nannies, and the loser parent will pay for those on top of the enhanced child support.]

This father’s understanding from his attorney was that if a judge doesn’t see a man’s threatening posture alongside the vulnerable plaintiff victim, the judge cannot legally evaluate whether or not a restraining order/custody plaintiff’s case is strong enough to merit a one-year order.

In fact it is likely the case that this layperson was wrong and/or misunderstood his lawyer. I later talked to a Massachusetts litigator and he said that in fact eventually a restraining order could be made permanent (“remember that judges don’t want the woman to keep coming back to court”), but I am wondering if the basic idea could be extended to all of family law. Suppose that the man doesn’t file an Answer to the woman’s Complaint (the document that starts the divorce lawsuit). He will lose a default judgment. In theory she gets whatever she has asked for. She wants the house, the kids, and the cash, for example. But she starts out with more than a 90-percent chance of winning these things anyway. The typical rationale for a defendant in a civil lawsuit, of which a Massachusetts divorce is a subcategory, is that by hiring an attorney he can limit some of the loss. But witnesses who testified at the hearing had been ordered to pay their plaintiffs’ legal fees in addition to their own. Every attempt at defense resulted in larger losses due to the legal fees (up to $2.7 million in one case). Whenever it seemed as though they were making a little progress in defending the divorce lawsuit, their plaintiffs made an end-run around that multi-year procedure with a 15-minute restraining order hearing. As one successful entrepreneur noted, a couple of years after his wife sued him, “every time you score a point against her by proving that she is wrong or lying that’s like giving her $1000 in cash. The right way to deal with this is just to let her punch you over and over, never hitting back, until she finally gets tired of punching. The best defense is no defense.”

What about admitting defeat on Day 1 of a Massachusetts divorce lawsuit? It would seem that there must be some limits on what a plaintiff can achieve via a default judgment against a man who chooses not to show up (as happened 18 percent of the time in our statistical study of Middlesex County Probate Court). A plaintiff cannot expect to prevail with “I have no documents to prove this, but my defendant earns $10 million per year so I want $1.5 million per year in tax-free child support.” She will be limited by what the judge is likely to believe and, perhaps, by any paycheck stubs that she can find (or what the man’s employer produces in response to a subpoena). Without the man there to offer a competing story, the woman’s accusations may be less credible. If the mother says “He is having sex with the daughter” and the father says “No, I’m not” it is natural for a listener to assume that the truth lies somewhere in the middle If the father isn’t there at all the judge might wonder “Wouldn’t it be a little too convenient for this woman seeking 100% of a guy’s money if he were actually having sex with the daughter?” Judges have also seem virtually every plaintiff lie regarding household expenses. They’ve seen women get cash back or a gift card with every grocery purchase. They’ve seen women claim $90,000+ per year in current expenses for which there is no evidence from credit card and checking account statements. So a judge might by himself or herself scale back a plaintiff’s demands just as effectively as a high-priced defense lawyer.

Let’s consider a middle-class couple with 90 percent of their home mortgaged and some savings for the children’s college. Based on our study of Middlesex County, our interviews with attorneys in Massachusetts, and witness testimony at the State House, assuming that both sides lawyer up, the mother is going to get the house and the kids and perhaps above-guidelines child support (in a state that already has the world’s most lucrative guidelines) if she spins a good tale and the father doesn’t seem like the world’s nicest guy and just pleased as punch to have been been sued. The father will be ordered to babysit the kids every other weekend. The lawyers will get the home equity and all of the savings, including the children’s college fund, before telling the parties to settle (see “Divorce Litigation”).

What if the father doesn’t show up? In that case maybe the judge simply won’t have enough evidence to support an above-guidelines child support order. Can the woman show that she is destitute when there is still home equity and a savings account? The woman’s lawyer comes to court asserting that child support should be based on last year’s income times two. Why? The man could work extra hours to support his plaintiff. But how can the judge find that to be true if the target didn’t show up to be questioned? Can the man be ordered to pay his plaintiff’s legal fees (limited to filling out a Complaint form and showing up to court once or twice)? Under what theory did he run up her bill by failing to cooperate? Can the man be ordered to work beyond normal retirement age (67) and continue to pay alimony despite the recent statutory discouragement of this time-honored practice? How can the judge find that he is exceptionally healthy and work-ready if he has never shown up to court?

What about losing custody? Statistically that’s a foregone conclusion in Massachusetts for a father, but losing custody after a default judgment might actually be better. The mother, having secured a total legal victory, won’t have an incentive to rat the father out to DCF as a child molester. The mother’s lawyer will have told her that custody and child support are theoretically modifiable at any time that someone can show a substantial and material change of circumstances (not the “best interests of the child” standard as in other states). So she might not want to block the children’s access to their father for fear that he will go to the courthouse with a post-divorce custody and child support modification case.  She would then face at least some risk of impairment of her control over the children and the cashflow that comes with the kids.

Nearly all of the people who testified at the hearing regarding their personal experiences with the Massachusetts family courts would have been better off had they not defended the lawsuit. The legislators hearing the testimony might have assumed that these were unusual and/or horror stories, but our interviews and statistical studies show that their experiences were fairly typical. (Note that, at least for one of the legislators, divorce litigation is never a horror story. Cynthia Creem, a $500+/hour divorce litigator (she’d be getting paid closer to $200/hour in a state without a winner-take-all system), was sitting right next to the chairman. Thus were citizens able to watch, in real time, people with a financial stake in the law making the law.)

Legal-minded readers: Can you think of a good reason for a middle-class man with no unusual financial circumstances to put hundreds of thousands of dollars into defending one of these actions? There is probably a flaw in the above reasoning but I can’t figure out what it is.

[Of course, this advice would not be good in a state that offers fathers a realistic chance at obtaining 50/50 parenting time schedule, e.g., Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, MainePennsylvania ]


  • Boston.com article on the hearing: “‘I’m out of money, and I’m out of hope’” (opens with the one woman who testified about losing her children; she was a yuppie identified by the court as the family “breadwinner” while her husband, a firefighter whose full-time job consisted of just two 24-hour shifts per week, was anointed the “primary parent” (the “breadwinner” was ordered to keep supporting this guy, and presumably any young hotties he hooks up with, until the kids turn 23))

Female 1960s computer nerd defrosted for the Gender War Age


TIME has an article on Margaret Hamilton and the software for the Apollo 11 mission. The journalist is quick to point out that “she was successful in the pre-women’s lib era in a field that remains tough for women to crack.” Being an Ellen Pao-style gender warrior was apparently secondary in Hamilton’s mind to achieving a successful landing on the moon, but the present-day journalist is quick to fill in the gaps: “Hamilton says that she was so wrapped up in her work that she didn’t notice the gender problems of the time…”

What kind of discrimination did Hamilton actually face? Wikipedia notes that this female graduate of Earlham College was hired for some of the most advanced computer system projects of the day, e.g., SAGE at MIT, and weather simulation for the professor who popularized modern “chaos theory.” Hamilton was promoted to “director and supervisor of software programming for Apollo and Skylab.” Then she was founder and CEO of her own software company, apparently successful enough to survive for at least eight years. For about the last thirty years she has had her own company as well. Her writings are published by the IEEE (example), one of the two most prestigious societies in computer science.

These are the facts that support the present-day journalist’s conclusion that the software industry was unfriendly to women in the 1960s and remains so today.

[Hamilton may have used her gender to advantage via Massachusetts family law. She married a Harvard Law School graduate who went on to found a Boston-area law firm (Boston Globe). The article says that there was a divorce lawsuit but it isn’t clear what alimony and child support profits, if any, Hamilton earned.]

Separately… what do we think of the ideas in that IEEE paper? Plainly big software systems need to be more resilient and to have some learning capabilities. But is this Universal Systems Language an important step in that direction?

The crazy gusty Boeing 777 landing in Schipol (Amsterdam)


Friends are asking me about a video of a KLM Boeing 777 landing at its home base in Amsterdam. “We Asked A Pilot About The ‘Terrifying’ Landing Going Viral” is a Huffington Post article where they ask an airline pilot for his opinion:

“It looks fairly dramatic, but it was not dangerous,” he reassured us. Videos of landings tend to look a lot more dramatic than they actually are. Those judders and swerves? Just normal reactions to gusty crosswinds.

“For the passengers on board, I’m sure there was some jostling, but the plane didn’t come anywhere close to crashing,” he says.

For example, you may have noticed that the plane tilts to its right just before it touches down. It looks like it comes close to flipping over into a fireball of death. Actually, Smith says, that’s a deliberate correction to the crosswind. Pilots are trained to land at an angle, so the wheels closest to the wind land first. That helps stop the wind from pushing the plane sideways across the runway.

“That landing was well within the capabilities of the pilots and also the aircraft,” Smith stresses.

Pilots are trained to abort landings if they feel unsafe, and they don’t lose face among the crew for doing so, he says.

What do readers think? Were they close to scraping a wingtip or engine nacelle? That would not be a sign of prudent planning in the airline world (since you can always choose to land somewhere else and send the passengers onward via bus or train and/or wait a day).

The idea that they could have aborted the landing at the point shown in the video seems questionable. The engines on a 777 take a long time to spool up and then pilots seem not to handle these well (see my explanation in this posting about landing the CRJ, a much lower-inertia aircraft; also see this NTSB report of damage to a Boeing 747 after a low go-around at the very same airport)

What do pilot readers think? Was landing in the worst July storm in a century just another day in the front office or a case of get-there-itis? Did we watch awesome skill or questionable judgment and a bit of luck?


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