The Bright Coast

Progressive Thoughts from San Diego Alums on Law, Politics, and Culture

Archive for December, 2009

Are New Airline Annoyances Really Worth It? (The Odds)

Posted by demkid on December 30, 2009

By now, we all know about the new travel restrictions affecting airline passengers in the United States, brought on by the Nigerian terrorist’s attempt to light his underpants on fire on Christmas Day.  These restrictions include less freedom to move around the airplane during flight, removal of blankets and pillows off laps during the final hour of the flight, no bathroom access during the final hour of the flight, shutting off in-flight entertainment systems with embedded maps or GPS software showing the plane’s location, and enhanced security check-ups and body searches at the airports.

This has clearly been the main news story this past week.  In addition to the new restrictions, there’s been thorough discussion of the Obama administration’s response to the incident, how the 23-year-old could have attempted this when he was on a watch list and his father had allerted authorities, and how Yemen has now become the hot zone for Al Qaeda activity.  The one thing that really hasn’t gotten any airtime though, in my opinion, is a discussion of whether this singular failed attempt should really result in so many additional petty restrictions on travelers.  It seems to me that banning blankets or bathroom trips during the last hour of flights is silly.  If a terrorist wanted to take down a plane, wouldn’t he simply try doing it now before that 1-hour time limit is reached?  We can all wait on the now likely news story of a mother having to be physically restrained because she became hostile after not being allowed to take her child to the lavatory for one full hour. 

Bring in Nate Silver to shed some statistical light on this story.  In a recent post, he used some “non-fancy math” to determine the odds of being the subject of an attempted terrorist attack on a commercial flight.  While his analysis doesn’t take into account some points (one really can’t accurately examine a 10-year range when 4 of the 6 incidents happened on the same day, the odds of an incident on a large international flight are likely larger than those on a turbo prop flight from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles), the main conclusion, I think, is a valid one.  If you’re concerned with being blown up in a plane, don’t be.  As we can see from the last incident, the odds of an attempted attack are extremely low, and the odds of that attack succeeding are even lower, particularly due to the heightened diligence of airline passengers after 9/11.  Furthermore, after considering these odds, one really has to ask whether the ever increasing inconveniences to passengers are worth it.  Sure, screening of bags and people is important.  I really wouldn’t mind going through a full body scan prior to boarding if it ensures absolute safety.  It’s entirely arguable though, that little things like blanket and bathroom restrictions (and restricting bottled water from being carried on), are simply overkill.  From Nate’s post:

There were a total of 674 passengers, not counting crew or the terrorists themselves, on the flights on which these [terrorist] incidents occurred. By contrast, there have been 7,015,630,000 passenger enplanements over the past decade. Therefore, the odds of being on given departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. By contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are about 1 in 500,000. This means that you could board 20 flights per year and still be less likely to be the subject of an attempted terrorist attack than to be struck by lightning.

So don’t fret, people.  Let the media do that for you.


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A Decade of Change (or not?), in Numbers

Posted by demkid on December 29, 2009

This is a pretty neat list that was linked on Yahoo earlier this evening.  It simply shows how certain figures have changed over the past 10 years in a variety of different categories, like politics, the environment, technology, the economy, education, etc.  Lots of these numbers definitely reflect the current sad state of our economy.

In the first decade of the 21st century, numbers show that the U.S. has grown in population but that its per household earnings, adjusted for inflation, have declined. The trade deficit has increased with China , but declined with Europe . The number of Republican public officials has dropped and so has the average approval rating of the presidents. Exxon Mobil has replaced Microsoft as the most valuable U.S. company. The number of college students has dropped, and cell phone use has skyrocketed.

It’s a pretty comprehensive list, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s into statistics, or who simply wonders how this country and the world have advanced or declined in the last decade.  The following are what I found most interesting:

Female Members of the U.S. Senate: 9 (1999); 17 (2009).  Millionaires in the Senate: 30 (1999); 67 (2009).  The Senate is truly a millionaires club, but at least the number of women has doubled in the past decade!  I wonder how many of those 17 are millionaires themselves?  I definitely know our senior Senator is!

Total Federal Debt: $5.606 trillion (1999); $12.9 trillion (2009, estimate).  Unemployment Rate: 4.2 percent (1999); 10 percent (November 2009).  Jobless Workers: 5.7 million (1999); 15.4 million (November 2009).  Pretty sad.  Who was President for 8 of those years?  I thought the GOP was the party of fiscal responsibility?  At least the Democrats were able to do something about the minimum wage (yet not enough): $5.15 (1999); $7.25 (2009).

U.S. Trade Deficit: $265.09 billion (1999); $695.94 billion (2008).  Trade Deficit with China: $68.7 billion (1999); $188.5 billion (through October 2009).  Yep, that’s almost a 3-fold increase in the last 10 years.  Anyone see the Saturday Night Live open that made fun of this complete dependence on China?  Something’s got to change here in the next 10 years.

U.S. Automakers’ Market Share: 69 percent (1999); 44.6 percent (through November 2009).  Auto Manufacturing Jobs in Michigan: 94,200 (1999); 31,100 (October 2009).  The end of Detroit?  Pretty soon we’ll all be driving Hondas and Toyotas. 

Average Annual Estimated CO2 Emissions Worldwide (Tons): 23.4 billion (1999); 29.9 billion (2007).  United States: 5.97 billion (1999); 6.01 billion (2007).  China: 2.91 billion (1999); 6.28 billion (2007).  Europe: 4.42 billion (1999); 4.69 billion (2007).  So, while pretty much everywhere else has stayed static, China’s emissions have gone wild and it’s surpassed the U.S. as the top carbon emitter.  This trend will surely continue into the next decade, along with the upward trend in China’s oil consumption. 

Average U.S. Vehicle Gasoline Consumption in Miles per Gallon: 27.5 (1999); 27.5 (2009).  This figure was probably the most shocking to me.  I thought we’d at least made some advances here in the past 10 years!  Simply pathetic, and this number needs to be far different by the time we hit 2020. 

States that Have Legalized Medical Marijuana: 5 (1999); 13 (2009).  Number of States that Permit Same-Sex Marriage: 0 (1999); 6 (2009).  Any guesses on where these two numbers will be in 2020? 

I’d also recommend looking at the military numbers.  Interesting to see how our troops have become less educated, how we’ve shifted troops out of Germany and Korea, and how China and Russia’s military spending has skyrocketed.  Finally, here’s to an increasingly safe next decade!  Number of Trojan Condoms Shipped in the United States: 340.992 million (1999); 552.672 million (2009).


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Guess the State: Drunk 4-Year-Old Steals Christmas Presents

Posted by demkid on December 20, 2009

If you said Tennessee, you’re a winner

A 4-year-old boy, beer in hand, is accused of stealing Christmas presents from his neighbors. It’s a strange story, but also a sad one. 

April Wright is 21 years old and is going through a divorce with her husband who is in jail.  She says she is not sure how her 4-year-old managed to get out of the house, open a beer, and steal the neighbors presents from under their tree.  Now she’s just glad he’s okay and says she won’t let it happen again.

The child, Hayden Wright, was found around 1:45 am Tuesday, wandering the streets of his neighborhood.  In a police reports, officers said he was wearing a little girl’s dress and drinking a beer. The police report says the child had to be taken to the hospital to be treated for alcohol consumption.

If only I had a crystal ball to see where young Hayden will be in 15 years.  In jail like his father for burglary, drug possession, and DUI?  Like his mother, looking 20 years older than his actual age and with a kid of his own?  Maybe he’ll continue with the cross-dressing, escape from Chattanooga, and wind up in West Hollywood.  One can only hope!

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Strangest CL Posting So Far

Posted by brightcoast on December 17, 2009

Daniel Kowan was a research associate at Clinton, Struck and Moss, a firm representing defendants in product liability cases. Clinton, Struck and Moss is based in The City. OK, not The City. San Jose.

Clinton, Struck and Moss has its offices in a 1920s mission style home near the Rose Garden. The old house, and its lawns and gardens, are nice enough. Parking is a pain in the ass, it’s hard for clients to find, and there’s nothing decent to eat in the neighborhood.

Daniel provides support to the firm’s attorneys defending corporations against claims of negligence in product design, manufacturing and packaging. Daniel, a self-identified liberal and champion of the common man, isn’t particularly conflicted by this. In fact, he takes a secret satisfaction representing “the enemy.” He enjoys the irony of being a double agent. When his university classmates were looking for internships in environmental law, intellectual property, and entertainment law, Daniel sought out firms that represented tobacco and oil companies.

Just last month, Daniel had been recognized for his work on a case in which a client had been accused of manufacturing an electric stapler with a tendency to spring open on its own and fire off a few dozen rounds of staples into the air when positioned at a certain angle. Daniel had found prior cases in other industries in which defendants were able to secure a dismissal by claiming users of dangerous devices have a safety obligation of their own, and manufacturers alone can not be expected to anticipate all the scenarios under which such a device might be used. Further, no deaths had occurred, and only three people received serious eye injuries, even though the company had shipped several hundred thousand staplers, which was well below acceptable rates for workplace injuries.

Daniel wasn’t thinking about electric staplers. He was thinking about the 19-year-old Goth chick behind the counter at ShittyMart. The name of the store was actually CityMart, which Daniel found too cosmopolitan, and he was fond of inventing his own names for things anyway.

He had a thing for Goth chicks. Had she given him more than a courtesy smile this morning as he stopped for breakfast? He was certain she was interested at some level. Most days he wore a suit to work, which he reasoned might be a barrier, her with her black jeans and t-shirt. He hadn’t said anything to her this morning, other than “thank you,” nor had he any other morning for nearly a year. Perhaps tomorrow would be the day he came up with something clever to say, though probably not.

The clock on the wall indicated something like 3:39. It was analog, making it nearly useless for displaying the precise time. Daniel decided he would leave at 4:42, the displacement in cubic inches of a certain classic Olds engine. He believed that certain numbers brought with them good fortune.

Daniel looked at the clock on his computer, and at 4:40, he shut it down. He gathered his things, and walked slowly to the door, looking at the time on his phone, making sure to walk out at exactly 4:42.


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Lawschool prospects are AWESOME

Posted by brightcoast on December 14, 2009

Having some technical difficulties, I also recommend carol pt. 4 & the versatility of a law degree. (HT: TPB) It just keeps getting better & better.

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More Law Raps

Posted by brightcoast on December 9, 2009

very close to my heart and just in time for finals studying distractions. (Hat tip TPB)

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