Rerun: The Dream(liner) and the Nightmare (of Social Toxicity)

The FAA has issued an Emergency Airworthiness Directive against the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The AD requires that the battery system be reviewed and modified as necessary to eliminate the danger of fires such as those that have recently occurred on these aircraft. The changes needed could presumably involve manufacturing processes, sourcing of components, electrical-system design, or some combination of these things.

The FAA’s action here seems to me like simple and reasonable prudence. It is not uncommon for new aircraft types to encounter problems during their early operational days, and the 787 is an innovative plane in many ways, especially in the use of electrical means to replace functions traditionally done by hydraulic systems and by engine bleed air.  There may well turn out to be simple fixes that can be quickly implemented to resolve the issue; on the other hand it’s possible that the fix will involve signficant redesign and will cost Boeing and the airlines considerable money. Purely as speculation, I’d guess that the worst-case result for the study required by the AD would be the mandated replacement of the plane’s lithium-ion batteries with conventional aircraft batteries, at some sacrifice in the plane’s useful load and some redesign both of the relevant control systems and of some interior spaces.

But the purpose of this post is not to talk about 787 technical issues, as much fun as that might be.

After clicking on the Yahoo report about the AD issuance yesterday, I took a look at some of the comments, and a depressing experience it was. Here are some samples:

Makes you wonder if Boeing did not have the FAA inspectors in their back pocket while certifying this airplane “air worthy”? Maybe a few bucks went along stuffing their respective back pockets as well. Good example of certifying government agencies working too close with the manufacturer.

For the FAA to say it’s safe and then ground the planes, all credibility and trust in competence is out the window.

Were they just going to wait until the costs of wrongful death lawsuits surpassed the cost of fixing the problem?

They do lots of testing but just like windows they release it to the public and then we will fix all bugs in the system

Parts made in China

#$%$ batteries made in China and a world-class American airplane manufacturer fell for their cr@p product. Do you think that perhaps Chinese agents were behind deliberately sabotaging our country’s product?

Dream gone bad. Overseas outscourced components on the cheap, assembled by redneck scabs in South Carolina.

Just one more example of the FINE work being produced by wonderful, hardworking and dedicated union workers.

Just more retaliation from Obama for the move to non- union South Carolina.

no one care anymore all the factory workers just go to work to try to make $$$$$ and this it is hard too the pride in making or to build something does not exist anymore!!!!!!!!!!!!

Too bad the GOP helped rich buddies ship all the manufacturing jobs to china? Expertise comes with manufacturing. Burger jobs make poor planes?

Read through several pages of comments like these, and the overwhelming overall impression is one of social toxicity…of people glaring furiously at one another, quick to assume that anything to goes wrong in any aspect of life is due to either malice or incompetence or both. It is a picture of generalized resentment and distrust, coupled with entitled ignorance.


I don’t want to be too alarmist here…the people who comment at large impersonal sites like Yahoo are surely not a representative sample of American society or of blog commenters generally..but still, this, in especially in combination with other indicators, is worrisome. Our country seems to be in transition from what was a reasonably high-trust society to what will be…unless current trends change markedly… a very low-trust society. Low-trust societies are not economically prosperous, and they are not very happy places to live.

While there are many factors in the erosion of social trust, I believe one of the most important is the politicization of absolutely everything. See this article–the bitter wastes of politicized America–which I have previously linked:

Of course the character of this politicized nation is growing more sour.  How could it be otherwise?  We make too many decisions by voting for other people to make them for us.  We communicate through force instead of persuasion – a one-way transmission of absolutes, rather than a productive exchange of ideas.  Instead of actively testing and improving solutions to our own problems, we yell curses and shake our fists while waiting for political champions to emerge from Washington’s bloody arena, carrying the latest thousand pages of badly-written central planning as trophies.

Consider the following comment from the Yahoo Dreamliner thread:

Just more retaliation from Obama for the move to non- union South Carolina.

I certainly don’t agree with this explanation for the AD; in fact my immediate reaction when first reading it was “this is insane.” But you can see why someone might believe this, given Obama’s demonstrated readiness to use his administrative authority to reward his friends and harm his political opponents. In the case of the Dreamliner, Occam’s Razor would suggest the the decision to issue the AD was based on legitimate–indeed obvious–safety concerns…and additionally, I doubt that Obama’s malevolent use of his authority has yet penetrated deeply into the FAA’s safety culture. But give him or someone like him another four or eight years, and it probably will.

At Ricochet,  Peter Robinson quotes Richard Epstein on the difference between good business deals…in which everyone is happy–and good settlements…in which everyone is unhappy:

Why is everybody happy in a good business deal?  Because everybody expects to profit.  That’s the whole point of business.  It produces growth–a bigger and bigger pie.  Why then is everybody unhappy in a good settlement?  Because each party recognizes the resources they’re dividing among themselves are limited–that is, there is only so much pie–and wishes he could have figured out how to get more.

“Which is the problem with our politics,” Richard continued. “When economic growth was still running at the postwar norm of between three and four percent, there was enough pie to go around.  Democrats and Republicans can compromise in the expectation that both sides will benefit.  But at two percent growth?  There’s a lot less pie–and fighting over who gets what will get very ugly very fast.”

“Thank God that life consists of more than politics,” says Peter in closing. But sadly, increasingly it does not…because everything in our society is becoming politicized. There is no escape, even when discussing battery problems on an airliner.

The overwhelming growth of government would…for the reasons explained in the above two links…tend toward creating social toxicity even if the President were a thoughtful individual who genuinely wished to foster a climate of mutual respect. With leaders such as Barack Obama,  who encourages demonization and regularly engages in demagogy, the process is much more rapid.  (7/22/2018:  Trump does more of this sort of thing than I like, but I don’t think he reaches Obamian levels.)

The original post, which has a good comment thread, is here.

7 thoughts on “Rerun: The Dream(liner) and the Nightmare (of Social Toxicity)”

  1. I just finished reading an interesting book called, “Darker Shades of Blue: Rogue Pilots, by an Air Force colonel who works on safety issues and cockpit management.

    His point is that rogues are often enabled by superiors and airplanes are now flown by teams. He has a chapter on the days when “rogues” were useful in pushing the envelope.

    The most famous rogue was the pilot of this B 52 who was known for dangerous maneuvers.

    He had been warned and many crew refused to fly with him. The co-pilot on that last fight was another colonel who had tried to get him grounded.

    Aircraft safety is a peripheral interest of mine as medical safety has some of the same issues.

  2. These comments are either from basement living post teens or members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The union just lost a ratification election at the SC Boeing plants.

  3. Not only blaming malice and incompetence, but pre-deciding what the forms of malice and incompetence must be, before any evidence is submitted. I have a friend slightly younger than me who traces all the country’s ills directly to Reagan, except those that go back as far a Nixon.

  4. I suspect that the FAA was another agency that, along with the FBI/DOJ, IRS, VA, etc were corrupted to assist in the political aims of the “Chicago Mafia” in global trade. Now the hairy apparent did not assume the throne and some government employees may be feeling “vulnerable” if something unpleasant and dramatic happens to an approved aircraft type.

    There are supposedly many thousands of sealed federal indictments all over the country. Who knows what this may represent? Lithium batteries are powerful, useful, and dangerous. When they fail, they fail with disasterous results unless containment of that sort of failure is built into the design. I do not know if that level of containment is possible, therefore approving such batteries, battery storage and the battery charging mechanism is quite risky.

    I would not want my name on the aircraft design approval if an aircraft with several hundred passengers became a flaming streak in the sky. The agency “reputation” would be the least of my worries.

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