29 April 2021

Quiet VTOL and STOL

A new VTOL and STOL family of vehicles and drones uses bladeless fans, similar to Dyson house fans, to be light, fuel efficient, low maintenance, and quiet. 

The VTOL (verticle takeoff and landing) versions have a futuristic look. The STOL (short takeoff and landing) versions have the speed of helicopters, but a much longer range, make much less noise, and can still use primitive short runways with minimal logistics support requirements compared to helicopters.

Jetoptera is more or less agnostic about where it gets its compressed air from, although it reasons battery technology will need to reach energy density figures around 1,500 Wh/kg (current state-of-the-art batteries are around 260 Wh/kg) before it'll start making sense to fit the J-2000 with an electric compressor. In the meantime, it's using gas generators, including a 75-kW turboshaft system based on the Acutronic SP75 for larger propulsion system tests.

What are the benefits? Well, according to the company, this kind of system "improves propulsive efficiency by more than 10 percent while lowering fuel consumption by more than 50 percent compared to small turbojets. The propulsion system saves approximately 30 percent in weight compared to turbofans or turboprops and also significantly reduces complexity." . . .

Jetoptera says these fluidic propulsion systems are "the most silent propulsion method in the skies." The company subcontracted to Paragrine Systems and undertook noise tests as part of a US DoD-funded research collaboration. The results showed the FPS coming in 15 dBA lower than a propeller with an internal combustion engine making the same level of thrust – and this was before any acoustic treatment. The company says once that's done, these things should be as much as 25 dBA quieter than a comparable propeller; at a distance of 300 m (984 ft), Jetoptera predicts noise levels around 50 dBA, which is equivalent to a normal home, quiet office or refrigerator on various noise charts.

Real GDP Almost Recovered

According to Calculated Risk, "real GDP is currently off 0.9% from the previous peak" as of the first quarter of 2021, while it was down more than 10% at its quarterly low point. 

So, we are getting closer to "back to normal", but we aren't there yet. We are still down as much as the peak of a medium severity recession. But, we are in a rapid rebound and are on track to get "back to normal" sometime in the early part of the second quarter (i.e. right around now).

27 April 2021

COVID-19 Fourteen Months Later

COVID and its Variants

COVID-19 means the coronavirus strain that emerged in 2019. The outbreak started in Wuhan, China (a huge city of many millions that has sprung up from almost nothing over two or three decades during China's sustained economic boom). The most likely sources are either outdoor "farmer's markets" or an accidental release from major government biotechnology center. It appears to be derived from a bat virus that initially impacted only a few dozen at most people who had been to a cave with infected bats in a part of Southern China distant from Wuhan quite a few years earlier. By March of 2020, however, the pandemic had spread globally and ultimately took a much greater toll outside China (and East and Southeast Asia generally) than it did in the vicinity where it emerged, in part, due to strict measures imposed by the Chinese government to limit its spread. 

About fourteen months ago, COVID-19 emerged into our consciousness although it was present abroad and in cases that had not been diagnosed at the time sooner. This post reviews what we've learned about the disease, how we've responded to it, and what other impacts the pandemic has had.

It is transmitted mostly by droplets of spit in the air, which face masks are quite effective of shortening the range of, and less effective at preventing the penetration of (except for scarce medical grade masks).

Initially, COVID was seen as a respiratory disease, but increasingly, it appears to be a disease that impacts the ability of the body to process oxygen and that otherwise impairs organ function. Many of the symptoms are similar to the flu or pneumonia, while others, like the loss of taste, are very distinctive to COVID.

The early treatments for severe cases oriented to a respiratory disease model were not very effective, although they saved some lives in moderately severe but not the most acute cases with respirators and the like. With a better understanding of the disease, treatments of severe cases have significantly improved although these treatments still only moderate dent the severity of the symptoms and the number of deaths resulting from comparably severe cases in treated people.

The original strain of COVID killed about one in 200 people, heavily concentrated among nursing home residents, the old, immune compromised adults, obese people, people with diabetes, and people with certain conditions especially respiratory ones. The young and the healthy are less likely to have visible infections (although they can be infected and serve as carriers) and when they show symptoms they are less severe and less deadly. Still some people of all ages have died of COVID. High viral loads (e.g. among medical personnel, transit operators and law enforcement in hot spot areas) are associated with more frequent infections and more severe infections than a person's age and health risks would predict. 

Many more non-deadly COVID cases, with the same basic risk profile, ranged from asymptomatic or a mild illness, to worse than any flu you've ever had, to difficulty breathing and/or organ failure and hospitalization, to "long haul" serious symptoms that persist for many months (either post-hospitalization or in lieu of hospitalization), not infrequently with long term disabilities resulting from the infection. There were multiple episodes in the U.S. and abroad where intensive care units and hospital capacity was overwhelmed resulting in many deaths.

While severe cases are rare in children, a very different mix of symptoms in severe cases has been observed in a small number of children.

There are at least a couple of variant strains of COVID-19 that are circulating that are more virulent, more contagious, and/or less effectively stopped by the vaccines. One is commonly called the U.K. variant, and the other is called the South African variant, after the regions where these variants have become predominant. But, as vaccines and prior infections associated with the original strains in the U.S. stop those strains from spreading, these variants (and perhaps new ones not widely known at this time) will almost surely become predominant in the U.S. sooner or later. 

The Scale Of The Pandemic

U.S. deaths have been higher relative to the norm due to COVID than any time in the last 120 years, including the 1918 flu. (There was a steep deficit of U.S. deaths immediately after the 1918 flu, however, and it isn't inconceivable that something similar could happen in the U.S.).

There have been 571,000 U.S. COVID deaths and 32 million confirmed cases. But, the number of actual COVID cases is probably closer to 114 million, based upon the number of deaths and the infection to death ratio in populations where there has been comprehensive testing. This works out to something like 40% of U.S. adults. COVID deaths are falling, and nationwide, so are COVID cases. There is a great deal of regional variation in these trends in the U.S., which had little positive national guidance in responding, however, and there are still many hotspots. U.S. deaths are falling much more rapidly than U.S. cases because people at the highest risk of death have been given the vaccines first, and the vaccine rollout has been handled better than the pre-vaccine prevention measures were handled. 

I predicted about 540,000 deaths in the first twelve months in early March of 2020, and that prediction unfortunately proved quite accurate. This prediction started with the best available information about the number of flu cases per year in the U.S. I then adjusted up for the best available data at the time on how much more contagious COVID-19 was than the flu and adjusted up again on the assumption that it would be less seasonal than the flu. After that I adjusted down the predicted number of COVID-19 cases for assumptions related to better than a typical flu season precaution measures, producing my estimate of 108 million COVID-19 cases in the U.S. in the first 12 months. I then divided this estimate by 200 which was the best available data at the time on the mortality rate per total number of cases. It helps that my estimate didn't try to time when or where within the U.S. these deaths would occur, although I did break my estimate down by a roughly accurate breakdown of the age demographics of those who would died from COVID-19. The least data based and most judgment based part of the estimate was the estimate of how much more effective than the precautions taken in a flu season the precautions taken would be. But I did do that knowing what political leadership was in place at the time.

Worldwide that have been about 3,122,000 COVID deaths and 148 million confirmed cases, although the actual number of COVID cases worldwide is probably closer to 624 million. In both the U.S. and worldwide the discrepancy arises because many people with less severe COVID infections are never tested for it. 

There has been immense regional variation in the impact of the pandemic. Generally speaking, North America, Europe and Latin America have been hard hit, while Asia and Africa have done much better. But even within these regions there has been great variation in the severity of the outbreaks, a lot of which is due to the governmental and societal response, some of which is due to population densities and connections to global trade and migration, and some of which for poorly understood regions appears to be due to regional ecological or environmental conditions.

Some places in the world are doing much worse than the U.S. right now. India is currently seeing a massive spike in cases, hospitalizations and deaths after keeping COVID tightly under control for almost a year. Brazil isn't doing well. 

Europe is lagging in vaccinations, while the U.S. is proceeding well in vaccination (although certainly not optimally) under President Biden's leadership.

President Trump's Response

President Trump, personally, through his rhetoric and policy actions (before in dismantling U.S. infectious disease response agencies before COVID and in his approach to the disease once it hit) dramatically increased the number of cases in the U.S., the number of U.S. deaths, and slowed the vaccine stage we are in now. 

It wouldn't be unreasonable to estimate that the number of cases and deaths in the U.S. would be three to ten times smaller without his mismanagement of the crisis, and he has probably increased the proportion of people unwilling to get a vaccine for COVID by a similar factor of three to ten. 

President Trump's personal incompetence and willful malfeasance realistically cost the U.S. many hundreds of thousands of lives and caused millions of lives deeply impaired by severe, hospitalized or "long haul" COVID to occur that could have been avoided with even "par for the course" political leadership.


Multiple vaccines have been developed.

The three vaccines circulating in the U.S. {Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson) are nearly 100% effective at preventing death or the most serious hospitalization class illnesses from COVID, although only 65%-95% effective at completely preventing infection from the original strains and significantly less effective at preventing other variants. There are some moderately inconvenient side effects in many people from the vaccines, about a one in a million rate of serious side effects, and about a one in a hundred million rate of death from the vaccines, but the risk-reward ratio is overwhelmingly clear. Several other vaccines are circulating in Europe, Russia and China, and a couple more are about to enter widespread use. Their effectiveness has varied, especially against the new variants, and some have modestly more side effects, but all of them are highly effective at preventing death or severe COVID cases requiring hospitalization.

The minimum vaccination age is currently sixteen. People younger than that can be infected and spread COVID strongly, but younger people are already at much lower risk of death or serious illness from COVID than older people for reasons that aren't entirely clear. A lowering of the minimum vaccination age is imminent and early trials of the vaccines on young people have been very successful.

Booster vaccine shots are planned for about six to twelve months out from now to address the variants and extend the duration of the protection of the original vaccines, but they aren't available yet.

Nationwide in the U.S., about 53% of the eligible population (141 million people) have had at least one vaccine shot which provides at least significant partial immunity even in the two shot regimes. 

A reasonable estimate of the percentage of adults who have either had at least one shot of a vaccine or have had COVID in the U.S. is about 72% which is a level at which herd immunity starts to become a factor. 

We are, however, coming close to transitioning in the U.S. from administering vaccines to people eager to trying get them to people who are apathetic, have trouble accessing the healthcare system, or who actively don't want to be vaccinated (a view that sadly had a strong GOP bias in the U.S. and a strong bias towards less educated people).

My Immediate Circle

My children were both away at college when COVID-19 hit in March of 2020. Their colleges shut down with short notice and they drove home together with everything they could fit in their SUV (abandoning other possessions) from New England to Denver, with states shutting down as they passed through them. They finished the semester with remote instruction from home after a quarantine at home when they returned. My elder daughter was in her last semester and graduated remotely. My younger son was able to return to campus with strict regular testing and other measures in place for part of his sophomore year. 

I worked remotely for several months before returning to work at my office. During that time, my assistant, my office manager, and one attorney contracted COVID-19, with my assistant's girlfriend and our office manager contracting serious cases requiring hospitalization.

My attention is focused on sixteen family members (including significant others of my children and myself), four people who work in my office, and three people who used to work in my office (as well as several of their significant others whom I don't itemize).

Of them, nine family members and two co-workers have received all of their shots although two of those ten people still have some additional time before the two weeks after the final shot for them to be fully vaccinated kicks in. Two more family members (who have had continuous negative COVID tests on a regular basis) and my other two co-workers have vaccine shots scheduled. Three family members aren't old enough to get the vaccine yet. The remaining two family members in the group of twenty people could get the vaccine but are in no hurry to do so. 

None of these twenty people have gotten COVID so far, although three of my former co-workers did, and one of them, as well as one of their significant others, had very severe cases that required hospitalization. Several places I frequently, including grocery stores, had outbreaks early on,. 

The U.S. Economy

Movie attendance is still almost nil, as are live concerts (especially indoors) and other indoor live entertainment, although sports are recovering with accommodations. Transit use is way down. Air travel is still down significantly compared to pre-COVID or even Great Recession levels, but up quite a bit from the bottom. Hotel occupancy is still down, but is up a lot from the bottom and is now only modestly from normal. Gasoline consumption has basically returned to normal. More people are going to offices and gyms and routine medical appointments and doing non-essential shopping although online shopping is up. Residential real estate has remained strong throughout, and personal bankruptcies are down. Commercial real estate is in trouble and commercial bankruptcies are very high. Remote working has soared while office utilization has crashed, in many cases permanently. Some industries like promotions are mostly dead. Others, like the practice of law and grocery stores and liquor stores, have been impacted much less. Despite high COVID specific demand for medical services, overall consumption of medical services has been way down (in part contributing to elevated death rates especially early on). Construction hasn't been very hard hit. Labor intensive kinds of farming is suffering. Restaurant utilization shows great regional variation. 

There were episodes of record low oil demand and oil prices in the U.S. (briefly negative prices), and unemployment and declines in GDP in the U.S. quickly spiked to Great Depression levels although they have recovered far more quickly than in ordinary business cycle recessions. The decline in employment has been very disproportionately in women, in substantial part, due to the need to have mothers with secondary incomes at home with schools closed or operating only remotely for many months.

The Global Economy

The most pronounced difference globally between the U.S. outbreak and the outbreak elsewhere, is that almost everyplace else (except Brazil and Sweden and a few other European countries in the early going) did a better job of controlling the outbreak pre-vaccine, and almost every other country has provided more of a social safety net.

Early lockdowns worldwide produced record low levels of air pollution and vibrations on Earth in the modern era.

Lockdowns were associated with dramatically reduced rates of premature births and adverse pregnancy outcomes (for women already pregnant when the pandemic began), presumably before far fewer women were working late in their pregnancies, especially in Europe.

U.S. Government Operations

The voter turnout in 2020 was record high due to accommodations for COVID making it easier to vote and intense interest.  The Census was behind schedule and probably less complete than many times. Courts are mostly operating remotely with jury trials still at a near standstill nationwide, but other matters moving along, albeit sluggishly with a backlog developing.

U.S. Crime and Criminal Justice

School shooting were almost nil for many months because almost no one was going to school in person, but as restrictions have eased, mass shootings have returned. Murder rates are up significantly. Domestic violence rates are up moderately. Rates of many other kinds of crime are down significantly. Incarceration rates are down, but COVID cases, serious COVID cases and deaths from COVID among people who are incarcerated have been very high relative to the norm of the demographics of incarcerated people.

Early on in the pandemic, mass Black Lives Matters (BLM) protests against excessive uses of force by police in mass outdoor protests resulted in significant policy changes and reductions in police use of force, although also in increased crime, in part, due to a demoralized police force that felt it lacked community support in those communities.

Other U.S. Impacts

Immigration to the U.S. is at record lows, due to the weak economy and a temporary near total halt of international travel. 

The year 2020 had record low U.S. pregnancy rates, with modest regional variation. 

Suicide has been down. 

There have been almost no flu deaths since COVID struck due to the generally effective against airborne virus transmission measures that were taken.

26 April 2021

Colorado Reforms Felony Murder Statute

This statute is an improvement relative to the status quo, although it is still quite harsh in cases  of intermediate culpability. 

Colorado has loosened the sentencing standard for people convicted of being present for but not actually responsible for a killing, bringing it down from an automatic sentence of life without parole to a sentence of between 16 and 48 years in prison.

Gov. Jared Polis on Monday signed into law SB21-124, a bill that he said ensures the “punishment fits the crime.”

“The person who did the murder should do the most time,” Polis said. “If you’re standing there, you are guilty. This keeps that. … (But) you’re not in jail as long as someone who pulled the trigger, or stabbed a person.”

This new law doesn’t apply to past cases and won’t take effect in courts until Sept. 15.

Via the Denver Post

A safety valve provision for individuals with particularly little culpability, and an exclusion for deaths of co-conspirators, had already been part of the prior law.

18-3-103. Murder in the second degree - definitions. (1) A person commits the crime of murder in the second degree if: 

(a) The person knowingly causes the death of a person; OR 







The residual First Degree Murder statute now reads as follows:

Colorado Murder -In The First Degree (18-3-102)

A person commits the crime of murder in the first degree if:

(a) After deliberation and with the intent to cause the death of a person other than himself, he causes the death of that person or of another person; or

(c) By perjury or subornation of perjury he procures the conviction and execution of any innocent person; or

(d) Under circumstances evidencing an attitude of universal malice manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life generally, he knowingly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to a person, or persons, other than himself, and thereby causes the death of another; or

(e) He or she commits unlawful distribution, dispensation, or sale of a controlled substance to a person under the age of eighteen years on school grounds as provided in section 18-18-407 (2), and the death of such person is caused by the use of such controlled substance; or

(f) The person knowingly causes the death of a child who has not yet attained twelve years of age and the person committing the offense is one in a position of trust with respect to the victim.

As I read the statute, it also means that a triggerman in a murder committed during a felony does not automatically receive life in prison without parole, and will often qualify for a second degree murder charge, which is more lenient than the act has been described in the popular press as being, and could often secure a second degree murder charge.

Colorado has also abolished the death penalty for first degree murder under prior law. 


Reapportionment Based Upon The 2020 Census


These are the winners and losers in the reapportionment based upon the 2020 census. Texas is up by two seats. The other states in green are up by one seat. The states in orange are down by one seat (via CNN and confirmed from U.S. Census Bureau).

The Rust Belt continues to decline.

By partisanship

Safe Dem (CA, CO, OR, IL, NY) -1

Swing State (MI, PA, NC, FL) 0

Safe GOP (OH, MT, TX, WV) +1

Within the swing states, the ones losing a seat voted for Biden, and the ones gaining a seat voted for Trump, but all were very close. So, it is really worse than a new 2 seat shift to the GOP, but not as bad as the gain of three seats for Trump states and the loss of three seats for Biden states would suggest. Maybe it tips the Electoral College balance in favor of the 2024 Republican candidate by a net four seats on average.

Of course, all 50 states have to redraw their Congressional and state legislative districts, which on one hand, presents new opportunities for gerrymandering, and on the other hand, systemically shifts political power from depressed that tend to lean red areas to growing areas that tend to lean blue within states.

So, while reapportionment tells us something about the shifting trends for the 2024 Presidential election, it isn't terribly informative about what Congress will look like in 2022.

California's Recall Election

In other news, California's Governor Newsom is going to face a recall election, but: "A recent statewide poll found Newsom had a positive job approval rating and that Californian voters would vote to keep him by a double-digit percentile margin."

So, the recall election may end up being a non-event that leaves Republicans in the state discouraged.

Alito On SCOTUS Original Jurisdiction

It is a rare day that I see eye to eye with Justice Alito, one of the archconservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court. But I have some sympathy for a dissent from denial of motion for leave to file a complaint today in the case of Texas v. California.

The U.S. Supreme Court has exclusive original jurisdiction in suits between U.S. states under Article III of the U.S. Constitution. But, in practice, for the last 45 years has been to require a state to file a motion for leave for file a complaint in the U.S. Supreme Court, similar to a petition for certiorari, before it will entertain a review of the case on the merits, effectively rendering it discretionary.

This means that when the Supreme Court denies leave to file a complaint, it denies a state all means of securing review of its claim on the merits.

Almost always, when a motion for leave to file a complaint is filed, the Supreme Court would have denied relief on the merits anyway, usually for lack of standing or some similar preliminary reason. 

But the constitutional text certainly seems to imply, and Justice Alito argues credibly, that the U.S. Supreme Court should consider the complaint substantively rather than making review truly discretionary, even if the complaint is then immediately dismissed on a motion to dismiss, although at that point it becomes something of a matter of form over substance.

SCOTUS blog explains the substance of the case:
Whether California’s sanctions against Texas and Texans – prohibiting state-funded or state-sponsored travel to Texas because Texas protects the religious freedom of faith-based child welfare providers within its borders – are born of religious animus and violate the Constitution’s privileges and immunities clause, interstate commerce clause and guarantee of equal protection.

This is a case that it might very well be helpful to resolve in state v. state litigation, even though I'm loathe to think what the outcome on the merits would have been if it had been considered. 

14 April 2021

NASA Working On Quieter Supersonic Aircraft

[NASA and Lockheed Martin are developing a] "single-piloted X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) aircraft [which is currently half built and in three different sections] which will be used to provide rule-makers the data needed to enable a new commercial market for faster-than-sound air travel over land. The aircraft’s uniquely crafted parts help ensure it will reduce a disruptive sonic boom to a quiet sonic thump to people on the ground when flying.
. . . 
The team will soon merge all three sections together and gear up for final assembly in 2021. The X-59 will undergo numerous tests to ensure structural integrity of the aircraft and that its components work properly. First flight of the aircraft will be in 2022, and community testing to understand the public’s perception of the X-59’s sound will begin in 2024.

From here

Its cruising speed will be around Mach 1.4, and is estimated to produce a mere 75 decibels or sound, roughly comparable to a home vacuum cleaner.

This optimistic sound estimate is hope to be achieved thorough the X-59’s long and narrow fuselage, and two forward canard wings, which are designed to prevent or disperse shock waves that cause a sonic boom.

From here (also the source of the image).

The X-59 itself, which would have a single pilot, no passengers or significant cargo space, no armaments, none of the avionics, radar stealth, or maneuverability of a 5th generation fighter jet like the F-22 or F-35, and none of the sensors of a spy plane, is purely a technology demonstrator with little or no utility of its own, except that it is cool. 

Past Supersonic Flight

Supersonic flight itself is also not cutting edge technology. Russia had a supersonic commercial airliner called the Tu-144 which was first to fly by a few months, but it made only about 102 flights, only 55 of which carried passengers. A British-French joint venture was more successful with its contemporaneous supersonic commercial airliner:

The Concorde flew for about a quarter of a century, not exactly a star compared to other commercial jet designs like the 474, but it was at the top of the supersonic pack. It was lighter, and somewhat smaller than the Soviet copycat. It offered quick service between western Europe and the East Coast, though exclusively for the luxury air travel crowd.

One of the Concorde’s drawbacks, like the Tu-144, was its loud sonic boom. To reduce disturbances to residents on the ground, the Concorde’s throttle was restricted over land, taking advantage of its supersonic top speed only over the ocean.

Most modern jet fighters, especially those designed for air to air combat, are supersonic.

A California company is currently working on developing a supersonic replacement for Air Force One targeted to enter service in the 2030s.

Obviously, though, success in developing quiet supersonic flight would have significant commercial and military applications. But the benefits are more modest than they might seem at first blush.

Commercial Benefits

One of the reasons that the Concorde went out of business is that the market for the time savings that it provided, relative to its inflated cost, was pretty modest. So, the cost premium has to be pretty small to make it profitable in the long run.

Supersonic flight (at Mach 1.4) cuts air travel time roughly in half (the peak speed is about 1,075 mph but average air speed is always a bit slower). 

This saves about three to three and a half hours on a New York to Los Angeles, or New York to London or Paris flight, and five and a half to six hours on a Los Angeles to Tokyo flight. New York to Paris and London were the only routes where the Concorde flew.

But, it would only save about an hour on a flight from Denver to Minneapolis (a 912 mile trip by car), which is more typical of domestic air travel.

One can obtain almost as much reduction in point to point travel time for commercial air travel, without increasing the air speed of the aircraft at all, on all but the longest trips, simply by having fast rail or express toll road or helicopter transportation to and from the airport, and by cutting the delays associated with security, luggage management and boarding an aircraft. 

These delays typically up two to three hours per trip, in addition to flight time at something on the order of 500 miles per hour. It takes about three and a half hours on average to go 500 miles by plane, about four and a half hours to go 1000 miles by plane, and about five and a half hours to go 1500 miles by plane.

These fixed time delays per trip are especially important to the competitiveness of air travel with driving a car on a 75 mph interstate highway and 75-225 mph high speed rail on medium distance trips. 

A car on an interstate highway takes six hours and forty minutes to go 500 miles, thirteen hours and twenty minutes to go 1000 miles, and twenty hours to go 1500 miles. 

A car driven on a fast interstate highway is faster than a commercial flight, with existing delays, for distances of up to about 225 miles (about three hours by car or plane), and is still competitive for distances of up to about 300 miles (four hours by car vs. three hours and ten minutes by plane).

A 200 mile per hour train takes two and a half hours to go 500 miles, five hours to go 1000 miles, and seven and a half hours to go 1500 miles. There is only a very modest penalty for the time needed to get from a high speed rail train station to a destination, relative to travel by plane, because it is easier to local a train station close to a central city than it is to do the same with an airport.

A 200 mph train is faster than travel by plane, with existing delays, up to about 830 miles, and is still competitive up to about 1200 miles (six hours by train vs. four hours and fifty minutes by plane). 

The competitive advantage of slower high speed rail options splits the difference between the car range and the train range.

Of course, if planes did have competition from high speed rail, the incentive to reduce non-flight time delays on short distance domestic flights of a few hundred miles might very well reduce those delays.

There is no real viable alternative to aircraft for intercontinental and long distance passenger or express delivery flights, where supersonic flights have a clear edge.

Military Benefits

The benefits of quiet supersonic flights are very different in the military arena, where supersonic fighters are already common.

One application would be to use supersonic fights to respond more rapidly, with less notice and hence, less exposure to anti-aircraft weapons in bombing runs, especially combined with other stealth technologies. But it offers little benefit relative to low flying hypersonic cruise missiles.

Air to air combat is quite rare and generally a first to shoot wins affair these days, so additional rapid response time without sonic booms is a pretty modest benefit from a practical perspective.

Supersonic aircraft are still highly constrained in passenger and cargo capacity compared to conventional transport aircraft, and they tend to be ill suited to primitive field airstrips. It isn't a sensible solution to deploying heavy military vehicles like tanks or Patriot missile launchers to a combat zone, nor is it a sensible solution to deploying a division, brigade, or even a battalion or regiment of troops. At most, one might deploy a platoon or company of troops this way.

So, if you have up to several dozen personnel who need to apply their skills in person on a highly time urgent basis, and they have essential skills so scarce that you have only a few hundred or fewer people in the world with those skills, this might make sense.

Realistically, however, the kind of people who fit that description are primarily specialist physicians, specialist engineers and technicians, linguists in obscure languages, diplomats and dignitaries, ace fighter pilots, and perhaps truly remarkable veteran military commanders. And, realistically, even including bodyguards, aides and support personnel for the VIPs being transported, a dozen or two passengers is probably enough.

With any less scarce skillset, prepositioning personnel at multiple locations around the globe to reduce the distance that they need to travel probably makes more sense than trying to cut their travel time in half.

13 April 2021

Most Conservative Circuit Finally Acknowledges Prisoner's Rights To Punitive Damages

The 11th Circuit is the most conservative of the U.S. Courts of Appeal, but even it has to succumb to peer pressure sometimes.

In this case acknowledge statutory rights that it has tried to deny incarcerated people who have had their civil rights deprived from them, without a legitimate reason to do so, under case law it established out of little more than conservative animus towards prisoners in the year 2000. 

In 2013, Conraad Hoever was incarcerated at the Franklin Correctional Institution (FCI) in Carrabelle, Florida. According to Mr. Hoever’s complaint, correctional officers there subjected him to harassment and threats of physical violence in retaliation for his filing grievances about his mistreatment. Proceeding on his own (without counsel), Mr. Hoever successfully defended against the officers’ attempts to dismiss his case, and he was ultimately able to present his claim of First Amendment retaliation to a jury. After a three-day trial, during which the jury heard testimony from Mr. Hoever, the defendant officers, and witnesses who corroborated the threats, the jury returned a verdict in Mr. Hoever’s favor. But vindication of Mr. Hoever’s constitutional rights was limited. That is because this circuit has interpreted the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e), as barring punitive damages for a prisoner’s civil action where no physical injury is shown. The jury, therefore, awarded Mr. Hoever only one dollar in nominal damages. 
Our circuit stands alone in enforcing § 1997e(e) as a complete bar to punitive damages, no matter the substantive claim, in the absence of physical injury. Because our interpretation runs counter to the text of the statute, today we correct our course. We now recognize that § 1997e(e) permits claims for punitive damages without a showing of physical injury.

From Hoever v. Marks, Case No. 17-10792 (11th Cir. April 9, 2021) (en banc 10-3 decision).

Even the dissenting opinion states (at page 11 of the slip opinion):

I acknowledge that I’m a lonely voice— that pretty much everyone seems to think the Court has § 1997e(e) exactly right.

The statute does bar non-economic damages (e.g. emotional distress and pain and suffering) in the absence of physical injury. 

Better yet, in an ideal world, the court would have the authority to insist that the offending civil rights violating guards lose their jobs and lose the ability to serve in a law enforcement or corrections position ever again. We don't yet live in an ideal world. But legislatures have the power to improve it by statute.

12 April 2021

Measuring Market Bubbles

A new paper formulates a way to describe the extent to which a financial markets are at risk of crashing. 

At its heart, it measures the extent to which particular securities are moving in lockstep with each other, as opposed to independently of each other.

The paper is:

Areejit Samal, et al., "Network geometry and market instability." 8(2) Royal Society Open Science 201734 (2021) DOI: 10.1098/rsos.201734

06 April 2021

Why Is Gun Control Is Good Policy?

Many posts I make on gun control carefully cite the factual support behind reasons for gun control. Click on the gun control tag if you want to review them. This is more of a laundry list of reasons.

Legitimate Uses Of Firearms

* Banning guns is not like banning other inherently dangerous products like cars or cooking facilities or knives that have many legitimate and commercially essential uses.

* The legitimate uses of guns are (1) hunting, (2) defense from animals, (2) self-defense and defense of other from humans, (3) military use, (4) target shooting, and (5) as historical artifacts in collections.

* The vast majority of non-law enforcement, non-military defensive uses of firearms are acts that are actually crimes.

* Legitimate defensive use of firearms is very rare.

* More active shooters are forcibly stopped with non-firearms than with firearms.

* Most deaths from gunfire happen very quickly.

* Owning a gun subjects you to great risk of being a victim, not lower risk statistically.

* Encouraging political accountability and discouraging counter-insurgency type measures from the government is not a legitimate use of firearms, or legitimate reason to own firearms. It is also futile.

* Many kinds of firearms, ammunition, and firearm accessories are categorically inappropriate for many of the legitimate uses of firearms, more are not reasonable necessary for many legitimate uses of firearms. Handguns and assault rifles aren't appropriate for hunting. Neither is large capacity ammunition. Neither are silencers. Neither are automatic weapons or accessories like bump stocks used to create a similar effect. Neither is large caliber ammunition in most case. Neither is armor piercing ammunition.

* Different kinds of illegitimate uses of firearms are associates with different kinds of firearms, ammunition, and firearm accessories. For example, assault rifles (loosely defined) are overwhelmingly the weapon of choice in mass shootings.

* A significant share of illegitimate uses of firearms comes from people who obtained and possessed those firearms legally until shortly before the crime (e.g. until they are brought to someplace that guns aren't allowed).

* Openly carrying a firearm as a private citizen is inherently an act of intimidation and an implied threat. Notably, because of this, no law enforcement officer is almost every prosecuted or held liable for shooting and killing someone in possession of a firearm with an ability to use it.

Law Enforcement Use Of Firearms

* Widespread availability of firearms is one important cause of excessive use of deadly force and inappropriate use of techniques like "no knock" warrants.

* Law enforcement deaths in the line of duty are rare. The profession is nowhere near the top of the list for the highest risk of occupational death or injury.

From the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

From 2015-2019 the number of fatal occupational law enforcement injuries in the U.S. ranged from 97 to 127 . In 2019, there were 97 law enforcement deaths in the line of duty, 52 from violent acts, 42 from traffic incidents, and 3 from other causes. This is a rate of 6.7 deaths per 100,000 full time equivalent workers, which is a bit less than truck drivers and taxi drivers and a bit more than average rate of occupational fatalities as employed men generally (5.7). The likelihood that a police officer will be killed in the line of duty over the course of a 40 year career is about 0.4%.

* A significant share of uses of deadly force by law enforcement are not legally justified, although significant accountability for law enforcement that uses deadly force in an unjustified way is rare.

* Even when the use of deadly force by law enforcement is legally justified, it can often be prevented with good training and wise law enforcement tactics.


* Removing one means of committing suicide does not increase the likelihood of using other means.

* Preventing one suicide frequently prevents someone from ever committing suicide.

* Access to guns, often manifested in gun ownership rates, is significantly correlated with suicide rates.

Other Points

* The U.S. has more gun deaths than pretty much any other country. This is correlated strongly with rates of gun ownership in other countries.

* Poor control of access to firearms causes lots of gun deaths (often accidental) among children, and also increases the availability of stolen firearms to people intending to use them in crimes.

* Celebratory gunfire kills people every year.

* Gunshots that miss routinely go past their intended targets, potentially causing collateral damages that is unintended. Gunshots also often go through their intended targets.

* Handguns aren't very accurate in the hands of the vast majority of handgun owners except at very, very short ranges.

* Some of the main kinds of gun murders are domestic violence, murder-suicides of acquaintances, gang warfare, impulsive heat of passion shootings (often when drunk or on drugs).

* Allowing an armed property criminal to escape is better than creating a situation where an armed property criminal uses deadly force.

* The vast majority of murders are of people of the same race and ethnicity.

* Men overwhelmingly misuse firearms in all respects much more often than women.

* Women are much less likely to use firearms inappropriately and are also much less likely to use firearms legitimately.

* Mass shootings traumatize society much more broadly than other kinds of shootings because they are harder to protect and guard against.

* Predicting who will be a mass shooter is highly imprecise.

* Alcohol and drug use are often co-morbid with improper uses of firearms.

* Lead in hunting ammunition makes the environment more toxic.

* Essentially every mass shooter either dies in the act or is convicted of a serious crime and never released until on the brink of death, if at all.

* The death penalty does not meaningfully discourage crime relative to long prison sentences.

* Decapitation of organized crime entities typically leads to many deaths in gunfights of succession without reducing organized crime for any significant period of time.

* Organized crime is possible mostly because of the inappropriate criminalization of vices (but see, piracy, smuggling, black market trade in legal regulated or taxed things like loan sharking, gambling, prescription drugs, cigarettes).

* Many kinds of gun control work, but the broader the geographic area they apply to, the more effective they are at producing results.

* Lots of immigration to the U.S., particularly asylum seeking refugee immigration, is driven by Latin American organized and gang crime in Latin America which is driven by the drug war and demand for drugs and for trafficked women and girls in the U.S., and is largely facilitated by smuggling of U.S. purchased guns to Latin America.

* Prior to Heller, the Second Amendment was a dead letter in American jurisprudence that did not create an individual right. A follow on case made it applicable to state and local governments in a poorly reasoned decision.

* The best argument for a right to bear arms is that in the U.S. there is no legally enforceable right to have law enforcement try to stop violent crime. This obligation is purely political. Most people are surprised by this fact.

* Recreational hunting is becoming rapidly less common as the nation urbanizes. 

* Natural predators are often a better solution to controlling game animal populations than recreational hunting.

* Very few people are badly injured or killed by wild animals that firearms would be purchased to defend against.

* U.S. laws related to guns that do exist are deliberately ineffectively enforced for political reasons.

05 April 2021

SCOTUS Continues To Tame Intellectual Property

The U.S. Supreme Court continues to weaken the pro-IP holder intellectual property rulings of the Federal Circuit (a policy with bipartisan support in the nation's highest court with which I agree).

This case involved the question of whether the Android OS code infringed Oracle's copyright. As the Court explained in its official syllabus of its decision.
Oracle America, Inc., owns a copyright in Java SE, a computer platform that uses the popular Java computer programming language. In 2005, Google acquired Android and sought to build a new software platform for mobile devices. To allow the millions of programmers familiar with the Java programming language to work with its new Android platform, Google copied roughly 11,500 lines of code from the Java SE program. The copied lines are part of a tool called an Application Programming Interface (API). An API allows programmers to call upon prewritten computing tasks for use in their own programs. Over the course of protracted litigation, the lower courts have considered (1) whether Java SE’s owner could copyright the copied lines from the API, and (2) if so, whether Google’s copying constituted a permissible “fair use” of that material freeing Google from copyright liability. 
In the proceedings below, the Federal Circuit held that the copied lines are copyrightable. After a jury then found for Google on fair use, the Federal Circuit reversed, concluding that Google’s copying was not a fair use as a matter of law. Prior to remand for a trial on damages, the Court agreed to review the Federal Circuit’s determinations as to both copyrightability and fair use.
Held: Google’s copying of the Java SE API, which included only those lines of code that were needed to allow programmers to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program, was a fair use of that material as a matter of law.
Google LLC v. Oracle America, Inc., Case No. 18-956 (April 5, 2021) (6-2).

02 April 2021

Is U.S. Civil Procedure Trending Neo-Liberal?

I'm not a great fan of the concept of "neo-liberalism", but the trends identified are real and do show some coherence.
This Article argues that the current era of U.S. civil procedure is defined by its neoliberalism. The Supreme Court has over the past few decades reinterpreted the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in ways that place barriers in the way of citizens seeking to bring civil claims. The major decisions of this new era—in areas as diverse as summary judgment, pleading, class actions, and arbitration—exhibit neoliberal hallmarks. 
They display neoliberalism’s tendency to naturalize existing market arrangements, its focus on efficiency and obscuring of questions of power, its reduction of citizens to consumers, and its attempt to analyze government through the lens of market-modeled concepts. 
As the Court’s procedural decisions make it increasingly difficult for citizens to bring claims enforcing regulatory law—including antitrust, antidiscrimination, consumer protection, and worker protection law—the Court’s neoliberal orientation lurks in the background and helps to explain procedure’s modern progression. 
In order to fully appreciate, critique, and potentially move beyond the current era of U.S. civil procedure, it is important to understand the neoliberal logic that drives it—and the logics and values it obscures and sidelines.
Luke Norris (University of Richmond School of Law) has posted Neoliberal Civil Procedure (12 U.C. Irvine Law Review (2022, Forthcoming)) on SSRN via the Legal Theory Blog.

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April 1, 2021 at 7:17 PM

01 April 2021

How Effective Have Masks and Social Distancing Been?

One of the best measures of how effective masking and social distancing has been is how much it has reduced the incidence of other respiratory diseases that are transmitted in basically the same way, for which we have much better baseline reference points. 

We can reasonably infer that reductions in flu and cold incidence also correspond to reductions in COVID incidence if these measures had not been taken (after accounting for the fact that some people who died of COVID, especially in high risk groups like nursing home residents, probably would have died to pneumonia or the flu instead if COVID had not killed them first).

Clearly, masks and social distancing (and other lockdown measures) have made a big difference, despite the fact that the U.S. has been among the worst countries in implementing these measures.

A study released this month in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, led by researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, found that across 44 children's hospitals, the number of pediatric patients hospitalized for respiratory illnesses is down 62%. Deaths have dropped dramatically too, compared with the last 10 years: The number of flu deaths among children is usually between 100 and 200 per year, but so far only one child has died from the disease in the U.S. during the 2020-2021 flu season.

Adults aren't getting sick either. U.S. flu deaths this season will be measured in the hundreds instead of thousands. During the 2018-2019 flu season, which experienced a moderate level of flu activity, an estimated 34,200 Americans died.

From National Public Radio

The U.S. Military Keeps Getting Worse At Procuring Major Weapons Systems

The U.S. military is getting worse and worse at procuring new major weapons systems. The chart above is from a Washington Post piece that starts its discussion with the problematic roll outs of the K-46 aerial refueling tanker aircraft and the F-35:
Only in February did the military begin using Boeing’s KC-46 tanker, developed to replace the 1950s-era KC-135, on a limited basis. After a decade of development, and 20 years since the Pentagon first launched efforts to field a new tanker, the plane has still not been deemed ready for combat. A leading general recently described it as a “lemon.

Even more well known is Lockheed Martin’s F-35, the stealth fighter whose two decades of development have been plagued by setbacks and mechanical problems. The plane, which costs between $77 million and $100 million apiece, has yet to hit full-rate production. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee called it a “rathole.”

China, the piece notes, setting up an adversary to give urgency to its argument now that Russia has faded in its military primacy, does better.

The problem certainly isn't confined to Air Force procurement discussed in the article either. 

The U.S. military's poor track record of development and procurement of new major weapons systems is one reason that the U.S. continues to produce, or keep in service, old systems that are no longer optimal for their missions. 

The Air Force is currently even seriously considering bringing back an upgraded version of the F-15, because of the reduced buy of the F-22 that was supposed to replace it, and the exploding costs of both the F-22 and F-35, even though the new F-15 won't be significantly cheaper per unit than the F-35 even at its currently inflated prices.

The U.S. Navy

Consider the $7.5  billion per ship Zumwalt class destroyer which one analyst described as "an unmitigated disaster" that was terminated after just  three were built (and has a main gun for which no ammunition has ever been designed).

Consider the two classes of Littoral Combat Ships in the Navy (the Navy has already decided to put the first four of them in reserve status after the new designs entered service in 2008 and 2010 respectively; the entire Freedom class meanwhile has a serious design defect with its transmission system), both of which were abject failures.

Further back, the Seawolf submarine, while impressive in capabilities, was a procurement disaster that was terminated early with just twelve built after the price tag grew to $3 billion each (after $3.5 billion for the first one) "making it the most expensive SSN submarine and second most expensive submarine ever, after the French SSBN Triomphant class."

The latest U.S. aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Ford, has stumbled along the way as well, although not quite as badly. Construction began in 2005 and it was delivered in late 2019, at a final cost of just over $13 billion, but serious "punch work" remains:

According to a GAO report in mid-2020 the Gerald R. Ford was still reporting significant problems with the operation of its weapons elevators, while a DoD report in early 2021 stated that the ship was still not combat-ready, citing continuing problems with the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS). Designed to achieve 4,166 aircraft launches between operational mission failures, instead it went 181 launches between failures, "well below the requirement".

The Navy finally gave up trying to build a viable frigate of its own and is now buying a variant of a French design that is already in production

The U.S. Army

The Army has had trouble developing next generation armored ground vehicles that it hasn't fully replaced since the 1980s. 

The U.S. Marines

The Marines latest amphibious armored personnel carrier has taken decades to field and still doesn't meet the original program's targets.

Stillborn Programs

Moreover, just looking at the projects that eventually happened understates the problem because many of the U.S. military's major weapons systems in my lifetime were stillborn, with the programs terminated before any operational units were produced, after great costs overruns, delays, and failures to perform as promised.

The Army cancelled the Bell ARH-70 Arapaho, a four-bladed, single-engine, light military helicopter designed for the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) program in 2008. 

The Army cancelled the Boeing–Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche stealth armed reconnaissance and attack helicopter, following decades of development, in 2004, after spending nearly $7 billion on development for the helicopter.

The XM2001 Crusader self-propelled howitzer program was cancelled in 2002 before any of the 480 units the Pentagon has planned to buy for $11 billion entered service.

The Navy's McDonnell Douglas/General Dynamics A-12 Avenger II carrier based attack aircraft program was cancelled in 1991.

The Army's M247 Sergeant York self-propelled anti-aircraft gun was cancelled in 1985 after eight years of development before entering service.

Even when programs have made it into production, many, such as the B1-B bomber, the B-2 bomber, and the F-22 fighter, the Seawolf, the Littoral Combat Ship, and the Zumwalt destroyer have each been produced in far smaller numbers than initially anticipated. It looks likely that the F-35 will continue this streak.