Where Are the Smokers When We Really Need Them?

March 19, 2012

I am often amused by the consequences of the Law of Unintended Consequences:

The law of unintended consequences, often cited but rarely defined, is that actions of people—and especially of government—always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended.
The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics 

Recently Newsweek ran a story titled Is Boeing’s 737 an Airplane Prone to Problems? In brief, Newsweek cites several cases in which the outer skin of a Boeing 737 separated during flight. Rapid decompression of the cabin ensued, creating an in-flight emergency. In the 1988 case of an Aloha Airlines flight a large section of the forward upper fuselage blew completely off the aircraft, falling into the ocean along with a flight attendant. Seven passengers were seriously injured, but the pilots managed to land what was left of the aircraft.


In April 2011, a 5 foot by 9 inch section of the fuselage of a Southwest Airlines 737 peeled off over California. The plane landed safely with no serious injuries to passengers or crew.

In both cases the sudden decompressions were brought on by the failure of lap joints where skin sections are joined to each other, and to the airframe, by rivets and some glue. Every time a transport aircraft takes to the air, it is pressurized so that the passengers don’t suffocate. At 35,000 feet in an unpressurized airplane, passengers would be unconscious in half a minute and dead in about 10, so pressurizing is generally considered good for business.

But, over time, pressurizing takes its toll on aircraft since the skin stretches and contracts with each pressurization and depressurization. Aircraft have to be inspected regularly to ensure that these pressurization cycles have not elongated the rivet holes attaching the skin. Once elongated, these holes are weakened, creating the possibility of a decompression.

So how do the smokers figure in to all of this? Prior to April 1998, when smoking was banned on all US flights, aircraft inspectors would just look for skin joint rivets that had nicotine stains around them, a sure sign the joint was leaking and in need of repair.


IQs and Chronic Poverty

March 4, 2012

The Huffington Post recently published an article by Tom Zeller, Jr., “For America’s Least Fortunate, the Grip of Poverty Spans Generations.” It’s a long piece worth reading. Quoting social scientists and politicians, Zeller cites the familiar litany of reasons for persistent poverty:

  • Multiple teen pregnancies
  • Dropping out of school
  • Lack of economic mobility
  • Dependent children
  • Drug addiction
  • Single-parent households
  • Culture of poverty
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Inability to delay gratification
  • High crime rates
  • Poor health outcomes
  • Competition from more highly-educated workers displaced by a poor economy
  • Impoverished neighborhoods
  • Born into poverty
  • Lack of male role models
  • Criminal records
  • Failing schools
  • Broken families
  • Lack of jobs
  • Violence
  • Failure of character
  • Dependence on government largesse
  • Lack of work ethic

Missing from this Dickensian list is the most important factor: Low IQ.

In our politically correct, “everyone can be president (or veterinarian or pediatrician)” society, few are willing to point out that low intelligence is a major impediment to success.

Consider this: Twenty-five percent of our population have IQs that are slightly low (below 90) to very low. Another 25% have IQs that are slightly high (above 110) to very high. When we compare these two groups we find that those with the lower IQs are:

  • Two and one-half times as likely to be unemployed
  • Almost twice as likely to be divorced within 5 years of marriage
  • Eight times as likely to have children with IQs below 80
  • Nine times as likely to live in poverty
  • Fourteen times as likely to be imprisoned
  • Twenty-four times as likely to be chronic welfare recipients
  • Two hundred and twenty-five times as likely to drop out of high school

(These data are extracted from The Bell Curve, a 1994 book by Harvard psychologist Richard J. Herrnstein and political scientist Charles Murray. The book evoked a shitstorm of controversy when it was published. Few universities have chosen to place it on their required reading lists).

I’m as uncomfortable with these data as you are. Unfortunately, I think Ron White was right when he said, “You can’t fix stupid.”