Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Dr. Seuss is the Outrage du Jour

 For the second time in two weeks, there is news that a familiar part of American culture is being canceled or reprogrammed by the left. And for the second time in two weeks, the breathless reports by culture warriors were wrong.

The first skirmish came last week in the battle over Mr. Potato Head. The initial reports from the social media front sounded the alarm that the left was forcing Mr. Potato Head to become gender-neutral.

Photo credit: Marcus Winkler/unsplash.com

My response was, “So what? He’s a potato and potatoes are asexual anyway.”

But the reports were inaccurate. As Mr. Potato Head’s maker, Hasbro, confirmed in a tweet, only the brand name was being changed. Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head were keeping their assigned genders.

Fresh from that farce, we now have people proclaiming that Dr. Seuss is being canceled. Once again, the claims are not exactly true.

The reality is that only six books that will cease to be published and they are not books that most people will recognize. The six books are:

  • "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street"

  • "If I Ran the Zoo"

  • "McElligot's Pool"

  • "On Beyond Zebra!"

  • "Scrambled Eggs Super!"

  • "The Cat's Quizzer"

Of the six, the only one that I’m sure I’ve read is “If I Ran the Zoo,” although “Mulberry Street” sounds vaguely familiar. And those memories are from my own childhood. I’m pretty sure that none of the books was among the Dr. Seuss collection that my kids enjoyed. You can rest easy that the “Cat in the Hat,” “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish,” and “Green Eggs and Ham” are not being canceled.

Which brings me to my second point. Is this really a case of “cancel culture?”

There was no hue and cry over the Dr. Seuss books. The company was not facing protests or a backlash from readers, although the AP does cite a few sporadic and outside-the-mainstream complaints over the years.

Instead, this seems to be an internal decision that was made by Dr. Seuss Enterprises of its own volition. CNN reports that the company may be responding to a study published in 2019 that found a heavy majority of Asian and black characters in Seuss’s books had stereotypical characteristics, but there was no broad movement to force the company to change.

This situation seems less an example of “cancel culture” than how one might treat a beloved but embarrassing family member. Many people of older generations can unintentionally do or say racist things because they were brought up in a different time that had different social mores. You don’t want to erase them from the family albums completely, but you may not want to leave in every photo either. Some things are best forgotten.

I suspect that, in addition to the objectionable material, the six books on the list just weren’t profitable. Seuss wrote more than 60 books, most of which you’ve probably never heard of. Only one of the six going out of print, “Mulberry Street,” appears on a list of the top 16 D. Seuss books, and even then, it checked in at #15, between “Horton Hatches and Egg” (another Seuss title I’d never heard of) and ‘Yertle the Turtle,” one of my childhood favorites.

If “cancel culture” is not really the issue, property rights are. No one is forcing Dr. Seuss Enterprises to drop the books, but the company owns the copyrights and has every right to make its own decisions on how to handle its business. That doesn’t mean everyone has to agree, but it does mean that the company is within its rights and, if the company is being pressured in any meaningful way, it is by the culture warriors who are outraged - OUTRAGED - to find that a private company decided to stop publishing books that they probably never heard of or read.

It’s part of human nature to be nostalgic for our childhoods and to want to preserve the things that brought us joy, but the problem with the angst over the Potato Heads and Dr. Seuss is that people are being stirred up over misrepresentations of what is happening. Mr. Potato Head is unchanged and the good doctor is not being canceled. We aren’t losing the Cat in the Hat or the Grinch. Dr. Seuss’s books are not being burned or otherwise destroyed.

If you feel strongly enough that the survival of American culture depends on seeing Asian characters in coolie hats and stereotypical black characters, then you do have some options. As of this writing, the books are available on Amazon and other bookstores and websites. Books often go out of print, but that doesn’t mean that they go away. A more long-term option is to wait for Seuss’s books to enter the public domain and then fund a new edition. Depending on each book’s date of publication, the copyright term could be 28, 56, or 95 years.

Neither the Potato Heads nor Dr. Seuss are vital to American culture. And more importantly, neither is going anywhere despite what you’ve heard on the internet. We need to stop falling for the Outrage du Jour clickbait and focus on more important issues.

From the Racket


Issues like Andrew Cuomo, who may be getting canceled. Yesterday, I wrote that Cuomo was sinking fast. To continue the nautical metaphor, the SS Cuomo took on more water during the night and is starting to list markedly to one side.

The New York Times fired another broadside into the erstwhile governor’s hull with a new report that a third accuser has come forward. Anna Ruch met the governor at a wedding reception in 2019 when he allegedly placed his hand on her back. Ruch says that she removed Cuomo’s hand and he became “aggressive,” putting his hands on her cheeks and asking if he could kiss her. And guess what? This time there’s a picture.

Ironically, the sexual harassment allegations are still pretty tame. To me, the more serious problem is the allegation that Cuomo’s Administration covered up the tragic results of its nursing home policy for recovering COVID patients. The policy itself can be excused due to the new and unknown nature of the disease, but if Cuomo really cooked the books and misled others about what was happening in the midst of the pandemic, that is a much more serious problem that could have cost the lives of other seniors.

I still don’t think that the allegations are enough to force Cuomo to resign or for impeachment, but his political career is over. Look for him to announce his retirement before the next campaign season starts. The twin scandals are still unfolding, but I’m still betting that the crippled SS Cuomo will be able to limp into port and complete his term, but once there, he’s likely to be scuttled.


On a final note, a Trump advisor told CNN that Donald and Melania Trump secretly got the COVID vaccination at the White House in January before he left the presidency. Trump had said in December that he would get the vaccine when his doctors recommended it.

Why wouldn’t Donald Trump announce publicly that he was getting the vaccine? I can think of only one reason. Trump is obsessed with appearances and he probably thinks that getting the vaccine makes him look weak, especially after pooh-poohing the danger of the virus for the past year.

Donald Trump could have done a good thing for the country by publicly getting his shot, as Joe Biden did, or at least made a public announcement. This would have been invaluable because there is a strong correlation between pandemic-vaccine skeptics and the former president’s supporters. The lives he could have saved would have been those of his own voters.

Donald Trump’s secret vaccination is just one more example of his inability to lead and his failure as president.

Monday, March 1, 2021

The Republicans and the golden calf

 I’ve written many times that if it sounds too stupid to be true, it probably is. However, I’ve also written a somewhat contradictory corollary to that statement, which holds that, quite often in our times, reality is more unbelievable than satire. It was the second statement that was on display this week at CPAC when Republican activists wheeled out a golden statue of Donald Trump.

Given the high percentage of self-proclaimed Christians among the activists at CPAC, you might think that some would see the parallel between a golden, graven image of the former president and the numerous Biblical admonitions against idol worship (as well as idle worship, but I digress), but the crowd seems to have been lacking in such self-awareness.

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If you’ve seen these pictures, you may have wondered, as I did, why and how the conservative conference came to play host to a modern-day icon of a political figure for quasi-religious veneration. CNN provides the backstory on the golden Trump:

Tommy Zegan, a California-based artist, created the Trump statue in response to the multiple pieces of art mocking Trump.

"Two years ago, when I saw all those statues of naked Trump and Trump on a toilet, I said, 'You know what? I can do better,' " Zegan told CNN Friday as attendees gathered around the statue to snap photos with it.

Zegan said the piece on display at CPAC is actually the fiberglass mold of the real, stainless steel sculpture currently stored in a warehouse in Tampa where it awaits a potentially high-profile showcase.

"It is museum-quality, and that's the one I'm eventually hoping to get in the Trump library," Zegan said. "It is literally priceless."

"The coat and tie is the fact that he's a professional, he's a businessman," Zegan said. "The red tie symbolizes he's a Republican. The red white and blue is that he's a patriot. The fact that he's wearing thongs and shorts is that he's at the age where he should be retired. He should be at the beach right now."

The golden Trump, which ironically was made in Mexico, is strongly evocative of any number of Bible stories. There was the golden calf that the Israelites made in Exodus 32, the tendency of the Israelites to set up idols of Baal in the high places, and most ominously, the image of the Antichrist that John predicted in his Revelation would be the focus of compulsory worship in the last days.

The context of the golden Trump at CPAC is that members of a party, which many already believe has become a personality cult, have cast a golden statue of its leader that strongly resembles an idol. On Twitter, Scott Lincicome won the internet for the day by referring to the statue as “DeploraBaal.”

Now, I’m pretty sure that the intent of Zegan, Look Ahead America, the organization at whose booth the statue resided, and CPAC was not to induce people to bow down to a golden effigy of Donald Trump. I’m also positive that no other Republican leader would be the subject of such devotion.

Mitt Romney and John McCain would definitely be averse to being the subject of a golden effigy, being the humble and unassuming men that they are (or were, in the case of McCain). I pretty sure that neither of the Bushes or Reagan would have been comfortable being the subject of such adoration either, even though they accomplished much more than Trump.

I’ll acknowledge that Abraham Lincoln was posthumously awarded the Lincoln Memorial and a spot on Mount Rushmore alongside Teddy Roosevelt, but we also have to admit that Lincoln and Roosevelt had much more success as presidents than Trump. Lincoln preserved the Union and Roosevelt at least won two terms, although in one of history’s ironies he split the GOP after leaving office in 1909 as Trump is splitting the party today. Roosevelt broke with conservative Republicans to form a pro-labor “New Nationalism” movement and ended up handing the House to Democrats for the first time in 20 years.

Even including Lincoln and Roosevelt, I can’t imagine any other Republican being the subject of a golden statue. I’ll extend that statement to Democrats as well. Even Barack Obama, who gave his 2008 convention speech from a stage that was created to resemble a Greek temple and was the subject of his own devout following, would most likely be uncomfortable with such veneration.

The golden Trump seems to be unique in American politics. Even though we’ve occasionally embraced politicians as celebrities, the veneration and… well, worship of Donald Trump is something I’ve never seen in this country before. Even leaving aside the golden idol, the prevalence of Trump flags around red states is unprecedented, especially four months after his election loss. Aside from a few Obama flags, I don’t recall ever seeing any politician’s name emblazoned on flags.

Republicans may not think that they are part of a personality cult centered on Donald Trump but parading around golden idols of the former president is going to make it tough to convince the rest of the country. That’s especially true since I haven’t heard a single Republican complain about the unseemly statue. Instead, Republicans like Mitch McConnell and Marco Rubio line up to affirm Trump’s continuing role in the party, despite provoking his base to attack to attack the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the election.

Everything else aside, the purpose of a political party is to persuade people to vote for its candidates. Republicans may be enamored with Donald Trump and amused by the golden statue, but to the rest of the country, it affirms the GOP’s descent into an irrational cult of personality. If the Republican Party wants to have a future, it needs to change its current image as a party that exists to praise a failed and unpopular former president.

Republicans need to junk not only the Trump idol but the Trump idolatry.

From the Racket

Andrew Cuomo is sinking fast

A little less than a year ago, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was the darling of the media. His press conferences at the height of the pandemic in New York evoked an air of professionalism and competence that was sorely lacking from President Trump’s daily press briefings. At one point, I even speculated that Democrats might try to dump Joe Biden and draft Cuomo as a presidential candidate. It’s a good thing they didn’t because these days Andrew Cuomo is like a ship in distress. He’s taking on water and sinking fast.

Cuomo’s problems began with the revelation that his Administration had been less than forthcoming with its statistics on COVID deaths in the state’s nursing homes. Now, however, the governor has been hit by something that is much damaging in today’s society than a possible attempt to cover up mistakes made in the early days of the pandemic: sexual harassment.

At this point, there are two allegations against Cuomo. The first came in December from Lindsey Boylan, a former Cuomo staffer, who said Cuomo harassed her about both her work and her looks. The tweet thread, based on a possibility that Cuomo was being considered for Biden’s attorney general, also accused the governor of running a “toxic” workplace. Cuomo’s team denied the allegations per CNBC.

Last week, the plot thickened as a second former aide came forward with similar accusations. The New York Times reported that Charlotte Bennett, a 25-year-old former aide, said the governor asked about her sex life and whether she slept with older men but never made physical advances.

Cuomo initially made a statement denying the claims, saying, “I never made advances toward Ms. Bennett nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate. The last thing I would ever have wanted was to make her feel any of the things that are being reported.”

A day later, however, Cuomo issued an apology, calling his behavior “being playful and mak[ing] jokes that I think are funny.”

“I have teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married,” Cuomo said. “I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.”

“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended,” Cuomo continued. “I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.”

But Cuomo also stressed that his behavior went no further than making jokes and teasing, saying, “To be clear I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to.”

After initially saying that his own office would investigate the complaints, Cuomo relented and agreed to allow an independent special counsel to probe the matter.

There are a couple of points to make here. The first and most obvious is that between the two scandals, Cuomo’s political career is almost certainly over. He is in his third term as New York governor, which expires in 2023, and could run again since New York has no term limits on its governors. However, the twin scandals will still be fresh in voters’ memories when the campaign starts next year. I would bet that Cuomo will announce his retirement after this term.

Second, Cuomo’s problems undercut the Republican belief that the media covers for Democrats. There has been widespread coverage of both scandals in the mainstream media even though I’ve seen numerous social media claims that both stories are being ignored. The New York Times broke the story about Cuomo’s second accuser. The reporting on Cuomo is proof positive that the media covers Democratic scandals when there is real evidence to report, unlike in the Hunter Biden conspiracy theories.

There’s also an interesting dynamic with respect to sexual harassment accusations against a Democrat. In many past cases, I’ve noticed that the probability of believing someone who accused a prominent politician of misbehavior was inversely related to whether the voter shared that politician’s party affiliation. In other words, Democrats believed people who accused Republicans and Republicans believed people who accused Democrats.

On the Democrat side, that seems to be changing. Al Franken and Katie Hill are two recent examples of Democrats holding their own side accountable for sexual misbehavior. Andrew Cuomo may be the third.

In Cuomo’s case, quite a few Democrats are already deserting the governor. Democrats in the legislature were already joining a Republican effort to limit Cuomo’s emergency powers and there is talk that he may be forced to resign.

Republicans are understandably giddy about this, but given their own party’s difficulties in holding their own officials accountable for much more serious misbehavior, both in the realm of corruption as well as unwanted sexual advances, they should probably sit this one out. Jumping into the fray would only serve to remind voters about the GOP’s repeated failures to hold Trump accountable.

If Democrats face the Cuomo scandals head-on, damage to the party will probably be inconsequential. New York is not going to go red because of Cuomo and there is no real link to tar the Biden Administration with Cuomo’s problems. Unless Cuomo runs for re-election, most voters will have forgotten about the matter by November 2022.

Still, how the Democrats handle Andrew Cuomo will shed light on the inner workings of the party and whether they will hold their own elected officials to the same standard that they apply to Republicans. So far, it’s too early to tell what Democrats will do, but I am in favor of holding public officials accountable for their actions, regardless of party. 

From the Racket

Saturday, February 27, 2021

The coming COVID economic boom

 

2020 was a mess of a year and 2021 isn’t starting off a whole lot better. However, we do have something to look forward to. After just over two months of vaccine distribution, Our World In Data reports that over six percent of the US population has already been vaccinated. As America and the rest of the world become more thoroughly vaccinated and COVID-19 has fewer hosts to which it can spread, we are about to experience a global economic boom.

The question is not whether there is pent-up demand that will be loosed when the pandemic is over, the question is when that pent-up demand will become unpent (to coin a phrase). No one knows exactly when the virus will be relegated to occasional outbreaks among the unvaccinated, but the Atlantic recently surveyed public health experts to find out when they thought the danger would be passed. The general consensus was that the combination of widespread vaccinations and warmer weather will make COVID-19 relatively rare at some point between June and September.

people partying with confetti
Photo credit: Pablo Heimplatz/unsplash.com

As COVID recedes, people will come back out and start spending money. Travel restrictions will be dropped and people will board trains, planes, and cruise ships once again to return to crowded beaches, cities, theme parks, restaurants, movie theaters, you name it. Not all businesses will survive the pandemic, but many of those that do will soon be adding employees to handle the influx of customers.

Many people have suffered financially during the pandemic, but many others have been earning money and unable to spend it. As we say in the South, this money will soon be burning a hole in their pockets. People newly freed from a year’s relative isolation will be anxious to spend, travel, and enjoy life.

People who have lost jobs or wages in the pandemic will also be poised to gain from the recovery. There will be new jobs, promotions, and pay raises as the rising tide lifts all boats. The recovery will be widespread.

The strength of the COVID recovery will likely be strong enough to overcome bad economic decisions, which is one reason I don’t worry too much about the Biden Administration (with another being the independent streaks of Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema). If we’ve learned anything over the past 12 to 20 years, it’s that the American economy is extremely resilient. We’ve weathered terrorist attacks, massive government control of large portions of the economy, tax increases (remember that tariffs are taxes too), trade wars, civil unrest, and attempts at central planning by both parties.

Through it all, the economy has withstood the dumbest policy decisions that both parties could throw at it. Even the Great Recession only lasted 18 months. More often, we psych ourselves into believing that the economy is either good or bad depending on whether our tribe’s guy is in office while the economy chugs along like the little engine that could. Until the trade war recession and pandemic hit, the Trump economy and the Obama economy were basically the same, but you’d never know it from listening to the partisans.

I say that to say this: I don’t think that bad Democratic economic policies will kill the recovery. I don’t favor tax increases, increasing the minimum wage, or any number of other Biden proposals, but I also don’t think they will crash the economy or kill the recovery. At worst, the Democrats might make the recovery a bit smaller than it would have been otherwise.

There is always the possibility that something unforeseen might alter the trajectory of the post-COVID recovery. There might be another terror attack on the order of 9/11, a war might break out, there could be a catastrophic natural disaster, or maybe the SMOD will finally show up. The mysterious illness in India could even turn into another pandemic.

A lot of things could happen, but the odds are good that we are due for some much-needed relief in the form of an economic boom. Pandemics are rare in modern life, but remember that the 1918 flu pandemic ushered in the prosperous Roaring Twenties. It’s very possible that the 2020s will roar as well.

If you’re near the end of your rope, realize that things will get better soon. And you can do your part to fuel the boom by getting the vaccine and staying safe until then.


You may be wondering why no one on the Racket has addressed the burgeoning Potato Head crisis. The reason that I haven’t written on it is that, frankly, I don’t care.

I would like to make two points, however. The first is that, as an Alert Reader pointed out on our Twitter account, the Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head will not become gender-neutral. As AP points out, the toy line is losing the “mister,” but the characters will retain their gender-specific titles. Therefore the whole Potato Head crisis is really misunderstood. Or more likely misrepresented by the Outrage du Jour set.

Second, even if the Potatoes were transitioning to gender-neutral status, so what? They’re potatoes. If we are going to talk science, let’s also discuss the fact that potatoes are asexual and do not have genders. A gender-neutral potato head would be scientifically accurate.. except for the anthropomorphic features.

Better yet, let’s not get on the micro-aggression train at all.


On another note, as I’m writing this, news has come in that the US has launched airstrikes on Iranian-backed militias in Syria in President Biden’s first military action as president. The attacks were in response to attacks on US military personnel and in response to “ongoing threats” per CNN.

This seems to strike the right balance. Biden has alternately been accused of being weak on foreign policy and being a warmonger. I don’t think either accusation is true (and both are ironic coming from people who cheered Trump’s threatens to go to war with Iran and unilaterally withdraw from Syria). President Biden showed that he is not a pushover.

I don’t think for a minute that this is an indication that he’s about to invade and occupy Syria. This is business as usual for a superpower with troops in a hostile land. For better or worse.


Finally, there was another piece of good news this morning as the Senate parliamentarian ruled that the minimum wage cannot be changed through a budget resolution. The Democratic leadership is under a lot of pressure to ignore the ruling and scuttle the rule. If Biden and Schumer stand firm and abide by the decision, they will deserve a lot of credit for standing up to the progressive left.

As I wrote yesterday, Republicans should meet the Democrats halfway by engaging in good faith talks to find a compromise for something that the country overwhelmingly wants. If the GOP “just says no,” it will increase pressure to eliminate the filibuster and ignore the budget reconciliation rule

The American form of government depends on the ability to compromise with our opponents. We need to rediscover that.

From the Racket


Monday, February 22, 2021

US passes 500,000 COVID deaths; the pandemic was a big deal after all

 The US has passed the half-million mark for Coronavirus deaths after less than a year of widespread transmission of the disease. On the occasion of passing this solemn milestone, I think it is appropriate to take a moment to remember all the people who spent months telling us that COVID-19 was a “hoax” or “no big deal.” My purpose here isn’t to say “I told you so,” but to call these people to accountability.

As I write this, Worldmeter, one of the go-to sites for COVID statistics, puts the US death toll at 511,338. This represents three percent of 19.4 million resolved cases, which is far higher than the one percent or 0.1 percent that many COVID skeptics cite.

To put that number in perspective, the 1918 flu pandemic, which ran from 1918 through 1919, killed an estimated 675,000 Americans. Coronavirus is closing in on that grim total and may surpass it by the time the COVID vaccines are widely distributed.

Globally, the Coronavirus has killed more than 2.4 million people, which also represents about three percent of resolved cases. This is equivalent to the impact of many of the plagues of antiquity.

The current tally already gives COVID-19 the status of third-highest cause of death in the United States as ranked by the CDC. The only killers that are more common are heart disease (659,041 deaths annually) and cancer (599,601 deaths annually). At 173,040 annual deaths, accidents are a distant fourth-place finisher. When you consider that none of these other causes of death are communicable diseases, the danger and furor of COVID-19 should come into focus.

As you see references and remembrances for the half-million Americans who have died from COVID, I encourage you to think back over the past year and recall the people who told you that COVID-19 was nothing to be concerned about.

You remember these people. This time last year I remember many people on social media watching the virus ravage China and saying that it would not happen here because Americans were healthier and we had a better hospital system. I remember people saying that the virus only affected senior citizens and calling it a “boomer remover.” I remember people who said that the virus would disappear in summer and then swore that hydroxychloroquine was a miracle cure.

I remember people telling me that, because there was no vaccine for other Coronavirus diseases such as SARS, there would probably never be a vaccine for COVID-19. I remember people telling me that masks were ineffective against viruses even though they have been used as a defense against influenza and other viruses for more than 100 years. There are many pictures of mask-wearers in the 1918 pandemic. There were even mask mandates.

And all that is just misinformation. We haven’t even gotten to the conspiracy theories. I remember people who said that the COVID vaccine was going to be a hoax to implant people with mind-control chips, tracking chips, or was the Mark of the Beast. I’ve been told that masks are some sort of plot to promote compliance with government edicts and that the pandemic is a ruse to curtail religious freedoms and impose martial law, socialism, fascism, authoritarianism, or some combination of these and other -isms.

Every one of the pieces of misinformation that I listed was wrong. They were lies. Some people promoted disinformation intentionally and some did it in good faith because they actually believed it themselves, but the result was the same.

The misinformation and conspiracy theories about the pandemic got thousands of people killed needlessly. I’ve lost count of the stories that I’ve seen about anti-maskers and pandemic-deniers who got sick and died from COVID-19. Business Insider lists eight such cases here.

In other cases, the anti-maskers caused people that they loved to get sick and die. Jada Woods, a TikToker from Alabama, was known for her anti-mask rants until three of her family members died from COVID.

After Woods posted about the death of an uncle and an aunt who was on a ventilator in December, she posted, “I never took COVID serious until now. Praying for all the families going through the tragedies of the virus. #prayforme #covid19.”

I’m going to make a distinction between the scientists, who were learning about COVID and adapting recommendations to a changing situation and new information, and the people who looked for reasons to discredit the science of the pandemic for their own ends. For example, the early statements from medical experts who said that masks were not recommended have been repeatedly trotted out as examples of scientific inconsistencies, but these have also been explained. In context, those statements were made early in the pandemic before wide community spread of the virus. The changed recommendations were also due to new information about the ability of the virus to spread from person to person in aerosol droplets from coughing, sneezing, or even talking.

This stands in contrast to the people who keep spreading debunked and discredited information. As an example, there was some early hope that hydroxychloroquine could be effective against COVID-19. However, studies have long since shown the drug to be ineffective. We’ve now known for months that the drug was ineffective against Coronavirus. The FDA withdrew its emergency authorization to use the drug for COVID patients way back in June yet some people are still pushing hydroxychloroquine and those who touted it in the spring are mostly silent on their mistake.

Both now and when the pandemic is over, I challenge you to remember the people who told you things like what I’ve discussed here. These people lied to you and misled you. You shouldn’t trust them for medical advice about the pandemic and I wouldn’t trust them for anything else important either. If you can’t trust people to give you reliable information about a life-threatening pandemic, you probably can’t trust them on other matters either.

If you’ve been one of the people who forwarded (or created) misinformation or conspiracy theories, it isn’t too late to change. If you want to salvage your reputation and credibility, you can start by apologizing and correcting bad information that you passed along. Above, don’t continue to spread lies about masks and the vaccine.

We should all be discerning about where we get our information and what we put into our brains. As the computer guys say, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

If we have been following sources, whether they be websites, publications, or individual posters on social media, that are giving us bad information, we should probably terminate our relationship with those sources. At the very least, we should read them with a skeptical mind and corroborate their information with other, more reputable sources.

Among the sources that I consider most problematic are partisan websites, unsourced YouTube videos, lawyers, politicians, and anyone who posts rants on any subject, especially if that person records the video in a car. If your source is any one of these, it should raise red flags. And yes, the effect is cumulative. An unsourced YouTube video of a lawyer ranting in his car would rank very high on my bovine excrement detector. Bonus BS points for anyone who isn’t a doctor but is giving medical advice.

My own personal advice is that, if something seems suspicious, you should go look for primary sources and check the information in context. Remember that if it sounds too stupid to be true, it probably is, although I admit that 2020 and 2021 often reach points at which reality seems more satirical than satire.

From The Racket

Sunday, February 21, 2021

United’s fiery engine

 Passengers on United Flight 328 from Denver to Hawaii got a surprise on Saturday when one of the Boeing 777’s engines caught fire and began shedding parts in mid-air. Video of the flaming engine is dramatic and would have doubtless been terrifying to those on board.

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Another video, taken from the ground in Broomfield, Colorado, a Denver suburb, shows large pieces of the aircraft falling from the clouds to the ground.

Other pictures show the large, circular engine inlet cowling resting in the yard of a house. It is remarkable that no one on the ground was injured by falling debris.

Modern jet engines are extremely reliable, so failures of this nature are extremely rare. That doesn’t mean that they are unheard of, however. One of the most famous engine failures of recent years was USAirways 1549’s double engine failure which resulted in a ditching in the Hudson River in 2009. That incident was caused by bird strikes.

With newer aircraft like the 777, there is little that a pilot can do to inadvertently destroy an engine. Where older engines, required close attention to several controls, new engines come with Full Authority Digital Electronic Control (FADEC) by redundant computers. The pilots have switches to control the flow of fuel to the engine, the ignition, a throttle, and little else for normal control of the engines. Pilot error seems unlikely in an incident like the one yesterday.

It’s difficult to say what would cause an engine fire like the one on United 328. One possibility is a broken or disconnected fuel line that sprayed fuel onto the engine, which was then ignited by high temperatures. This might have been caused by a faulty part, ingestion of a foreign object, or improper maintenance, but it’s impossible to say for sure what happened or why without an investigation.

What we can say is that the pilots handled the situation well. Procedures for handling an engine fire are similar in most aircraft. The fire would have triggered an alarm in the cockpit and prompted the pilots to follow emergency memory items. These steps would have included reducing the throttle to idle and pressing a fire switch that would close fuel, hydraulic, and engine bleed air (which is used for a variety of tasks such as heating the wings to avoid icing and pressurizing the passenger cabin) valves.

If starving the engine of fuel did not put the fire out, the next step would have been to discharge a bottle of fire-extinguishing agent into the engine. From the video, it looks as though this fire might have required both of the fire bottles that most jets carry.

Although airliners can fly with a failed engine, getting the airplane back on the ground would have been a priority. The fire could have damaged other systems before it was extinguished or could continue to burn undetected so the safest thing to do is return the plane to terra firma.

As I watch the videos of large pieces of metal falling from the sky, I have to wonder whether they were all parts of the engine cowling or whether the plane might have shed some skin from the underside of the wing as well. There are fuel tanks in the wing of the 777, so if the fire came close to entering the wing it would mean that a larger tragedy was narrowly averted.

Often, aircraft fires lead to emergency evacuations. In the case of United 328, I have not seen any indication that the passengers were evacuated. In an additional video of the landing, the fire seems to be out, which would have allowed the passengers to deplane normally. I think that we can forgive the passengers for cheering and applauding after this landing.

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The 777 has been in service since 1995 and has experienced remarkably few accidents. At this point, only seven airplanes have been lost and two of these, Malaysia 370 and Malaysia 17, were due to foul play. Of the remaining five hull losses, three involved fires but were not engine fires like the problem United 328 experienced. One plane caught fire while being towed and another while being loaded, an accident which may be the result of lithium-ion batteries in the cargo overheating. The third hull loss to fire was a cockpit fire that also occurred on the ground.

One of the most serious similar incidents was Singapore Airlines Flight 368, which experienced an engine fire in 2016. About 30 minutes after takeoff, the crew noticed high oil pressure and low oil temperature on the right engine as well as strange vibrations. They ultimately elected to return to the airport and the engine caught fire after landing. The cause of this accident was determined to be a fuel leak due to a cracked fuel tube. The fuel ignited after coming into contact with hot engine metals.

All of the passengers and crew of Singapore 368 survived the incident and the aircraft was returned to service. FlightAware shows its last flight less than a year ago on March 25 as the pandemic was heating up.

Interestingly, the Pratt and Whitney 4000 engines used on the 777 have a history of recent problems. In December 2020, a Japan Air Lines 777 suffered an engine failure in which two of the engine’s fan blades broke off. On February 20, 2021, the same day as the United accident, a Longtail Aviation 747 freighter equipped with similar engines had a severe engine failure that rained debris down on a village in the Netherlands. Unlike in Denver, a woman on the ground was injured by falling aircraft parts. Given these similar incidents, NTSB investigators will likely be looking for problems in the design or the maintenance of the Pratt and Whitney engines, a model which has been in service on a variety of aircraft since 1987.

Fires are one of the most serious situations that you can encounter on an airplane, but engine fires are usually easily dealt with by shutting off the supply of fuel. Engine fires and engine-out approaches and landings are practiced frequently in simulators.

Fires in the cabin are far more serious and deadly as well as difficult for the crew to fight. A number of airliners have crashed due to inflight fires within relatively recent history. Cargo airlines are particularly vulnerable to this sort of accident, but passenger carriers are not immune. One of the most famous crashes due to an inflight fire was the 1998 crash of SwissAir 111, which crashed less than 20 minutes after a fire in the plane’s wiring was first detected.

Boeing, fresh from its 737 Max 8 scandal, definitely does not need more bad press. Thankfully, none of the recent incidents involving the Pratt and Whitney engines were fatal, but three uncontained engine failures within three months seem outside the realm of coincidence. If I was an investigator on the United 328 fire, I’d start by looking at new repairs or modifications or recently installed parts on the engine.

from the Racket