What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Opinions. Having an opinion is a fine thing, but it’s helpful to remember that not all opinions are created equal. I don’t know at what point we decided the ideas of random cranks on social media carry equal value with the opinions of those who have spent a lifetime studying medicine and health policy, but here we are. It’s just the latest bit of the long thread of anti-intellectualism that weaves its way through American history. At some point, though, it would be really nice if we could hold dumbasses up to public ridicule and shame rather than lionizing them as telling secret truths “that no one wants us to know.” 

2. Joe Biden. In an interview this week, President Biden defensively maintained that there was no for American forces to get out of Afghanistan “without chaos ensuing.” Having spent a fair amount of my early career working in various emergency response activities, I’ll admit that they are often messy… but the heart and soul of managing through a crisis is having a sense of what to do after you get hit in the face with a shovel. The answer shouldn’t be telling American citizens to get to the airport while in the same breath warning them that the US Government has no plans to ensure their safe conduct to the airport from other locations in Kandahar – let alone any poor bastards stuck elsewhere in the country. That’s before we even get into a discussion about the responsibility we have for Afghan nationals who worked with and for us over the last two decades. The handling of this last gasp of American power in Afghanistan heaps shame and ignobility on the President of the United States, the State and Defense Departments, and the entirety of the United States of America.

3. Bandwidth. That’s it. That’s all the bandwidth I’ve got for this week. Between the continued rise of misguided opinion over verifiable fact and the absolute debacle in Afghanistan, I simply haven’t had room to process anything else this week. I’m sure there were a million other points of annoyance I walked right past, but there’s only so much anyone should be expected to process in a single sitting.

Fact check…

I’ve seen a couple of posts banging around the interwebs today that claim if we just gave every American a slice of the upcoming Powerball jackpot, everyone would get about $4.33 million and we could dispense with poverty forever. It’s a fun idea, except for the part where the math is utterly wrong.

With a estimated cash payout of about $868 million and about 300 million Americans that works out to $2.89 per person… or enough for everyone to get themselves a extra large coffee from Dunkin Donuts. While I’m not theoretically opposed to the everyone-gets-coffee scheme, I think it’s pretty clear that it’s a long way from “curing” poverty.

It’s a stone fact that for a handful of people in the next few days life is most likely going to take a radical departure from its current trajectory. It’s not going to lead to a chicken in every pot, although that makes for a nice little story on the internet.

Unfortunately it also illustrates nicely why fact checking shouldn’t just be for history majors.

Deeply unsatisfying…

I’m not a conspiracy theorist by any stretch of the imagination. As a rule, I favor a liberal application of Occam’s Razor to most points of confusion. Given the current wall to wall coverage of Flight 370, it feels a bit like world needs to take a breath and let the razor do its thing.

So far I’ve heard or read every conceivable explanation from terrorism to extra terrestrials. Bird strikes, hijacking, space-time disturbance, you name it and the crackpots are out in force making their respective cases – even when those cases are long on supposition and very, very short on actual facts.

From what I’ve been able to gather, the facts in evidence are fairly stark: Forty minutes after takeoff, at an altitude of 35,000 feet, and traveling at a speed of 471 knots, Flight 370 lost communication with the ground. Monitored by military radar, the flight changed heading and descended until radar contact was also lost somewhere over the Straits of Malacca. There were no distress calls and no automatic alarms triggered. As I write this, those meager bits appear to be the sum total of what is “known,” or at least the facts as they are being reported.

I know we’ve all been hard wired to look for boogiemen under every bed, but if I may be so bold, it feels a bit like the simplest explanation available is being thoroughly ignored… and that explanation is that sometimes complex systems just fail. When they do, especially when traveling at a high rate of speed and at altitude, those failures tend to be catastrophic. A cascading systems failure of multiple components on that airframe feels unlikely, but not more so than any of the other plausible alternatives the media has jumped on.

As for the issue of being “lost without a trace,” well, a Boeing 777 is a pretty big jet, but in comparison to the size of something like the ocean, it’s the kind of thing that makes seeking out needles in haystacks seem like amateur hour. Flight 370 will turn up somewhere… Eventually. When it does, we’ll get some of our answers. Even then, I suspect they’ll be deeply unsatisfying.