More on GDP, airplanes (updated)

I mentioned yesterday that a good NYT op-ed this week on the limits of GDP-as-Holy-Grail paralleled a similar argument in an also very good Atlantic cover story from 1995. To round out the trio of excellence, I should mention a NYT column last year by the economist Robert Frank, of Cornell, on the ways in which money does and does not buy happiness. The column comes up as a PDF here. The three are worth reading together.

In the same item yesterday, I mentioned that an NPR correspondent had sounded Chicken Little-ish about the recent tragic aerial crash over the Hudson, the only such collision in the many decades in which planes and helicopters have flown that route. Miles O'Brien -- ex of CNN, now of True/Slant, and pilot himself -- is much less polite about such coverage, in two items, here and here. Eg:

"Those of us who fly through this airspace are responsible for seeing and avoiding each other. There are no air traffic controllers serving as traffic cops here.

"And before you get yourself all spun up about this (I am talkin' to you Sen. Schumer! [and the NPR guy]), before this tragic crash there has never been a mid air collision like this in New York City.

"Over the years, many thousands of airplane and helicopters have successfully and safely plied their way through this corridor of airspace wherein the responsibility for collision avoidance rests entirely in the cockpit.

"And the real truth is it makes flying in the New York City airspace safer - because all the aircraft who fly in this zone are not taxing already maxed out air traffic controllers.

"If tour helicopters had to check in with ATC every time they alighted with a load of tourists, the system would bog down in a hurry.

"It is NOT the Wild West up there... It is a busy place with a lot of traffic and you have to pay attention all the time. But that's New York for you. When two cars collide in Midtown Manhattan, do we instantly insist the traffic laws be changed?"

I'm with him.

UPDATE: I am also with my colleague Jeffrey Goldberg, here, in his life-extension maxim of "never take a helicopter ride for fun." I love airplanes and aviation; in the three China-based years that I've been away from flying I've actively missed the "aerial view," the particular perspective you get on the world from a few thousand feet up; like everyone who has thought seriously about flying, I know it brings risks. But helicopters are to me a different matter. If you've studied aerodynamics, you know that airplanes "want to stay in the air" -- if the engine fails, they turn into gliders, not plummeting objects. Helicopters "want to fall out of the air" -- yes, despite the limited ability to "autorotate" and avoid a direct plummet. I respect people who fly them, which is harder than flying airplanes. But I keep a respectful distance.


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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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