If helping migrants is a moral imperative, what about non-migrants from the same countries?


Bureaucrats in Brussels have been telling European countries reluctant to accept immigrants from Africa and Islamic countries that they have a moral obligation to do so. If someone has the physical stamina to cross the land and/or sea and make it to a European shore then that person has the right to asylum. But if it is a moral imperative to save Syrians and Afghanis from the situations prevailing in their home countries, why is the moral imperative limited to those who show up in Europe? If a person is elderly and/or physically disabled, shouldn’t that person have at least as strong a moral right? If so, shouldn’t the Europeans be flying 747s (max passenger configuration up to 660) and A380s (max passenger capacity 853) to airports in Afghanistan and picking up anyone who wants to leave? Why limit the offer of European residency to those who are strong enough to trek over mountains? Similarly, for Syria and north Africa, shouldn’t the Europeans send passenger ferries to pick up anyone who wants to depart and can show that he or she is from a war and/or poverty zone?

In short, if accepting asylum-seekers is a moral question, how can it be legitimate to filter by physical stamina and capability? Shouldn’t the Europeans be favoring the physically weak instead?

Real-life murder mystery from 1985


A New Yorker story about a 1985 murder mystery: “Blood Ties”. Technically this is a solved case, with jury verdicts rendered and convicted criminals in prison. Yet none of the competing stories seem to fit…

NBAA perspective on Obama’s welcome to Syrians, et al.


President Obama was on TV here in Las Vegas scolding some less evolved Americans regarding their lack of enthusiasm for new neighbors fresh from the battlefields of Syria. A guy wearing an NBAA badge said “It takes a lot of personal courage to dismiss the security concerns of others when you have Secret Service protection for life and will never board another commercial flight.”

Al Gore For A Day





Inequality among corporations


The Wall Street Journal ran an article, “Behind Rising Inequality: More Unequal Companies”. with some interesting charts.

Since 1990 the return on capital of a 90th percentile U.S. company has spiked from its historical average in the 20-30% range up to about 100%. Within-firm employee pay distribution hasn’t changed that much but if you work for a winner (market-leading or monopoly) company you probably get paid very handsomely compared to people who work for a loser (exposed to competition) company.

Some excerpts:

everyone at the top companies, from the lowest to highest paid, pulled away from the pack, and everyone at the bottom companies languished.

The economists did find that the top 0.2% of earners in firms with more than 10,000 employees did significantly better than their fellow workers. But for the other 99.8%, the expanding pay gap can be explained by where they work.

Some companies may so dominate their market that they can extract profits over and above what a purely competitive landscape would allow; economists call these excess profits “rents.” Employees at those companies then share in those rents.

Airbus wants you to fly a piston-powered helicopter


Airbus Helicopters, formerly Eurocopter, is famous for kicking in the teeth of America’s jet-powered helicopter manufacturers. In fact, so great was the disparity in technical performance that even the U.S. military had to cave in and buy machines from the absurdly named “American Eurocopter.” Now it seems that Airbus is gunning for our piston-powered market as well. From “New High Compression Engine”:

Airbus Helicopters has successfully completed the first flight test of the high-compression engine demonstrator aircraft at around 3pm on Friday, November 6th, at Marignane Airport.

“The first result of the 30 minutes flight confirms the advantages of new-technology high-compression piston engines for rotorcraft in offering reduced emissions; up to 50% lower fuel consumption depending on duty cycle, nearly doubled range and enhanced operations in hot and high conditions”, said Tomasz Krysinski, Head of Research and Innovation at Airbus Helicopters.

Integrated into an H120, the 4.6-liter high-compression piston engine incorporates numerous technologies already applied on advanced self-ignition engines, and runs on the widely-available kerosene fuel used in aviation engines. Its V8 design has the two sets of cylinders oriented at a 90 deg. angle to each other, with a high-pressure (1800 bar) common-rail direct injection and one turbocharger per cylinder bank.

Other features include fully-machined aluminum blocks and titanium connecting rods, pistons and liners made of steel, liquid-cooling and a dry sump management method for the lubricating motor oil as used on aerobatic aircraft and race cars.

English-language translation: We stuffed a diesel engine into a standard jet-powered helicopter and now it can fly twice as far on one tank.

Note that the five-seat H120 (formerly EC120) is roughly comparable in size and capability to the Bell JetRanger.

Separately, what does it say about a U.S. industry when a company using French labor can take over the market?

Would an admitted ISIS member qualify for refugee status/asylum under EU rules?


People are arguing about whether or not ISIS members can “slip through” the EU’s refugee processing system and/or whether at least one of the Paris attackers came to Europe as a migrant/refugee. In poking around international law, e.g., this article on asylum and Wikipedia, I’m wondering whether an admitted ISIS member wouldn’t qualify. The refugee/asylum standard seems to start with

A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

Thus if there is an armed conflict between two sides, a person from either side should be able to asylum on the ground that he or she might be killed by a person on the other side. There is nothing in this standard that says the “political opinion” of ISIS leads to a stronger or weaker claim than the “political opinion” of someone who supports the Syrian president.

What would stop a person from showing up in England, France, or Germany and saying “I am a member of ISIS and I have a well-founded fear that I will be killed by opponents of ISIS, including military forces from your own country” and getting asylum on the basis of that statement?


Custom dog chew toys with a likeness of someone the dog hates?


I was with friends who have a Tibetan Mastiff who is the size of a small pony. I’ve known this animal since he was a puppy and he has always been a (big black fluffy) marshmallow with me, but they mentioned that he truly hates a mutual acquaintance and has nipped this guy. I said “Maybe we should get a custom chew-toy with [Donald’s*] likeness for him.”

What about this idea for a business in our Etsy/3D Printing/computer-controlled embroidery age? Chew toys for dogs in the shape of or with the likeness of someone the dog hates?

* Name changed to protect the guilty.

Ivy League debate over Halloween costumes


Some of my Yale-graduate friends, most of whom are now college professors, were discussing the twisted panties at Yale regarding Halloween costume etiquette (see “The New Intolerance of Student Activism” for some background).

What is known is that a person currently named “Erika Christakis” wrote an email that some students didn’t like. The only other item regarding the email author that seems to be authoritative is that this person is married to “Nicholas Christakis.”

One of the Yale graduates in the exchange wrote the following:

On a campus where students of color regularly experience racism, a request goes out to refrain from costumes that mock and demean people of color. A request, not an edict, to refrain from hurting and dehumanizing others.

A straight white woman with no experience of being afraid on campus poo-poos the request, equating black-face with harmless child’s play. Her email completely ignores the issues which led to the request, as well as the tremendous imbalances of power that exist on a majority-white, majority-straight campus, where there’s no such thing as peer pressure curbing the impulses of frat boys to mock, demean, and threaten marginalized students.

[emphasis added]

Suppose that we accept the idea that the ideas expressed in what literature scholars call a “text” should be judged according to the sexual preferences and gender identity of the author. If we also accept the idea that biology is not destiny, is it reasonable to make heteronormative and cisgender-normative assumptions about an author? And who among us is qualified to look at a photograph of an email author and say “this person identifies as white”? Finally how does anyone know if another person has “experience of being afraid on campus”?

I prodded the author of the passage quoted above and asked how it was possible for us to know definitively that “Erika” identified as a woman and also to know what kinds of sexual desires were present in Erika’s brain. The Yale graduate responded with “It’s relevant that the author of the email comes from a position of privilege … It’s not a question of her ‘sexual practices,’ but of how she experiences the world as she walks through it – differently than the students who had a problem with her email.”

Christakis’s web page notes that her highest level degree is a master’s and that she specializes in early childhood education. In any other context she would be described as an underpaid victim of a society that doesn’t value K-12 teachers (they are so undervalued, of course, that hundreds apply for an open public school position!). Or she would be the subject of sympathy as an underpaid adjunct teacher and/or an exploited master’s degree holder at an institution where the people making real $$ ($820/hour at Yale!) are PhDs. But for this purpose she needs to occupy a “position of privilege.” A Yale graduate responded to this by citing a cartoon on everydayfeminism.com explaining white privilege. Yet the rest of the content on that site explains that women of all races in the U.S. are oppressed victims. Can Erika Christakis, if indeed she identifies as a white woman, simultaneously be privileged because of her race and an oppressed victim because of her gender identification?

Gary Shteyngart writes about being at a liberal arts college in the 1990s (previous posting):

I master an Oberlin technique called “As a.” “As a woman, I think …” “As a woman of color, I would speculate …” “As a woman of no color, I would conjecture …” “As a hermaphrodite.” “As a bee liberator.” “As a beagle in a former life.”

These self-identification prefaces still make logical sense in our gender-is-a-state-of-mind world. But how does it make sense to make an assumption about an author’s gender or sexual preferences unless one has intimate knowledge of that author? And if it is not reasonable, does that mean that entire careers of literature scholars are in jeopardy?

[Separately, if you’re an employer watching this unfold, do you want to pay a premium for a Yale graduate? What’s the value of an employee who will devote a lot of time and energy thinking about what people should wear to the company Halloween party?]

Meet at NBAA or for breakfast in Las Vegas?


I’m polishing my sequins and heading out to Las Vegas this week to interview with Cirque de Soleil. In hopes of seeing Al Gore at the Gulfstream booth, I thought that I would also check out NBAA. Please email me ( philg at mit.edu) if you’d like to get together. I can meet at 7:30 am for breakfast at the MGM Grand on Thursday 11/19. I may also be able to meet Thursday for afternoon coffee or dinner.

And, of course, if you happen to be attending NBAA as well, let’s meet at Al Gore’s ceremonial lighting up of 50 barrels of Jet-A.

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