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Chinese Airplanes in American Skies, German Words in American English, and Other Links of the Day.
Things to read, watch, listen to, and think about—other than politics. And sneaking in a little politics too.
Seventeen years ago this month: Flight crew of a Cirrus SR-22 just after landing at the enormous Zhuhai International Air Show in far southern China. On the left, my dear friend the late Peter Claeys—of Belgium, China, Japan, and the world. I’m on the right, wearing a beloved flight jacket that I later misplaced somewhere in China. In between, our friend Walter Wang. The story of this eventful flight, which tempted us all to kiss the tarmac on arrival, is in my book China Airborne.
The purpose of this post is to link to a number of updates, podcasts, reports, and other info I hope will be interesting.
1) Why all these airport close calls? A New Republic podcast.
Over the past two years I’ve written about the mounting number of publicized close calls in the US aviation system. Are they just bad luck—inevitable results of the “law of large numbers” when some 50,000 commercial flights take off and land at US airports each day? Or are they fateful warning signs, of a system being pushed too far?
Those are some of the questions I discussed last week with Laura Marsh and Alex Pareene on The New Republic’s podcast “The Politics of Everything.”
You can listen to it (or read a transcript) here, and I hope you will.
2) Why America’s modern Wright Brothers have come under Communist Chinese ownership—and why the Chinese have been good owners.
(A contrarian tale. Which may be about to change.)
The photo at the top of this item is of a Cirrus SR-22—invented and designed by young entrepreneur-brothers in small-town Wisconsin, then produced and assembled by craftsmen in Duluth MN and Fargo ND. Over the past two decades it has become the best-selling small airplane in the entire world.
How it reached that status is a long story—long enough that I told parts of it in a 1999 article for the New York Times Magazine, and in the 2001 book Free Flight, and the 2012 book China Airborne. This is also the kind of plane that Deb and I first bought in 2000 and have owned most of the time since then.
But wait, there’s more! In last week’s edition of David Barboza’s elegant new publication The Wire China, I told the highly improbable story of how this classic-America startup firm became, 12 years ago, a fully-owned subsidiary of the Chinese state aerospace ministry—and how, even more improbably, the relationship has become a huge success. If such a setup were proposed in 2023, it would never get through political clearance on either side. But 2011 was a different time, and things have worked out amazingly well.
Now this dozen-year success story is about to take a different turn. That’s the substance of what I go into for The Wire. David Barboza has generously OK’d my offering a PDF version of the full story to Substack readers. You can download a 4MB PDF of the full article from this link. The Wire China is a paywalled publication, which I have subscribed to and found valuable from the start. I hope you’ll check it out. My thanks again to David Barboza and his team.
3) How to ‘Reimagine the Economy.’
I liked two recent NYT pieces about re-considering the US economy and how we think and talk about it. One was the latest Paul Krugman column on perceptions about “the economy” versus measurable realities of economic trends. The other was a Sunday feature by Conor Dougherty on “the Georgists” and why their analyses and passions and generations from a century ago might apply now. Let’s hope this second piece will boost sales of Henry George’s Progress and Poverty!
Here is something else I hope: that considerations about the fundamentals of the US economy—who is helped, who is hurt, what it overlooks, how its rules might be reset—will include a new report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
The report is a product of a commission that has worked over the past few years on assembling data and proposals for the reset of American economics that so many people feel is overdue. I know about the commission’s work because I was one of its members.
The assembled output is important without being self-important, deeply provocative while seemingly calmly reasonable. The commission included people of very different party-politics alignments, who shared a sense that the rules of today’s economic game were mis-aligned with today’s economic realities.
I hope you’ll pay attention to its recommendations, which range from the role of organized labor to the future of the local and regional press; and to its “voices,” section, with understated but powerful accounts of what daily life is like on different strata of American life; and to its photojournalism, in the revelatory tradition of the New Deal-era work of Dorothea Lange and Russell Lee; and to its innovative new scoring system, for opportunity and equality across the nation.
I played a small enough part in these deliberations that I can say without embarrassment that I think this is an important work, which deserves wide attention.
4) Politics: No.
My previous post was about why political journalists were so terrible at prediction and should instead spend their time on other things. A related theme is why the people who run the press should be more transparent about their priorities and processes, especially since so few papers now have in-house Public Editors.
Here an illustration of the kind of political judgment that a press that believed in transparency—or even one with a Public Editor—might be willing to discuss.
On the left, the print edition of the NYT just yesterday. On the right, the way the exact-same story was played in the online version of the Times.
These are quite different “framings.” Which one is the “official” Times view? More important, since this is a columnist’s argument rather than the paper’s ex-cathedra editorial stance, who decided, and when, and why, to make the change?
If I had to guess, I’d say that the version on the left, from the printed paper, is an editor’s attempt to sum up what the column actually says. And the version on the right, online, is some other online editor’s guess about what might attract more readers. Or maybe it’s something entirely different. That’s the problem. No one outside the bubble knows.
C’mon, NYT. If you’re not going to bring back the Public Editor, at least respond to questions from outside.
5) Politics: Yes.
Political coverage driven by polls is usually best ignored. Political coverage that reflects on history is worth considering.
A recent example comes from my friend and long-ago Washington Monthly colleague Walter Shapiro. He writes in The New Republic about how Biden should learn from and use the record of a president he (arguably) resembles: Harry Truman.
I opined recently on CBS Sunday Morning that Biden could use the example of Eisenhower. Walter makes a more detailed case for Truman than I did for Ike, but it’s worth thinking about both examples in the wash of “Biden Too Old!” coverage.
6) Not politics: Linguistics.
Our inhouse language expert, Deborah Fallows, says that there are two changes underway in colloquial American English that you might find annoying but that are going to happen anyway. I will paraphrase:
-The Germanification of English. The German word for street is strasse, pronounced as if it were spelled with an extra “h”: Shtrasse.
American English is becoming more like this. Street is becoming shtreet. Stress is becoming shtress. Strong is becoming shtrong.
Start listening for it. You will hear it everywhere. Especially on NPR, which seems to be leading the way in standardizing this pronunciation—even for words that start with just St- rather than Str-. Like, Shtandardizing.
Deb has a linguistics-world theory for why this is inevitable. I’ll leave that to her for another time.
-The vaporization of the past participle. English has its irregular verbs: I see, I saw, I have seen. I eat, I ate, I have eaten. I am, I was, I have been.
Deb says that these “third forms” of many irregular verbs are disappearing and being replaced by the simple past tense. Every few days she writes down examples of people she hears on NPR or cable news or other mainstream outlets saying things like “I have ate” or “I have went” or “I have saw.”
You may not believe it. But start listening. Or looking, as below — from a few hours ago, on a sports podcast that is known for its verbal sophistication:
To answer the headline’s question: No, they [the DC NFL team, after scoring a touchdown] should not have went for two. They should have went for one! I mean, they should have gone. (As they done—I mean, as they did.) And we all should have seen this coming. It is happening around us.
7) Not politics: Life.
Deb and I have often noted how fortunate we were to be teamed up with the filmmaking couple Jeanne Jordan and Steven Ascher in making the HBO documentary Our Towns.
Steven Ascher has just announced the debut of a new short film, which explores AI-and-life but mainly life itself. We have seen a preview and highly recommend it. More info here.