Daily Digest: Bouncing back, at the airport and the stock market; great drama in court, and bad drama at the theater

Mike Mullen

-This morning’s Washington Post has a frightening read on aborted landings at Reagan National Airport in D.C. Apparently, between 10 and 20 times a month, a plane approaches the runway, drops its landing gear, and then suddenly takes off back into the sky, most often with passengers unaware of what’s happening and why. Here’s how one passenger described it: “I could see the Potomac, the landing gear was down, and suddenly we’re going back up, sharply,” Gutner said. “The pilot didn’t say anything for several minutes, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only person worried about terrorism. The pilot finally came on and said there was an aircraft in the runway that prevented us from landing.” These “go-arounds” are typically the result of miscommunication and bad timing between air traffic controllers and pilots, and the fact that Reagan only has one long runway for the jetliners among its 726 daily flights. The Post’s story follows on last week’s revelation that two pilots had to land at Reagan without assistance when the (the, as in, the only one) overnight controller fell asleep in the tower. There are two lessons to take here: pilots are good, and apparently can land planes on their own, or change plans quite quickly; or, two, if you must go to D.C., take the bus.

– The Atlantic has an interesting story on Applied Quantitative Research, an investment fund that relies heavily on computer analysis and mathematical models to make investments. The fund lost more than half its money, shrinking from $39 billion to $17 billion, during the recession. But it bounced back in a big way, to $33 billion by the end of last year. While its manager Cliff Asness, gives credit to the models, and the system he operates, the fund has also rebounded as the rest of the stock market did — as the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, hedge fund levels are back to their pre-crisis level. In the course of the story, Asness also makes an interesting admission: “With some reluctance–given the vitriol with which he typically condemns Washington on his blog–Asness conceded that the government bailouts in September and October 2008 saved AQR by rescuing the firms with which AQR trades, an outcome at odds with his Chicago-school economic training, which champions Milton Friedman, free markets, and the survival of the fittest.” Still, Asness, with all the sentimentality of a calculator, said he thinks the bailouts were a mistake.

– The San Francisco Chronicle has the story of Jason Giambi’s testimony in the Barry Bonds perjury trial, in which Giambi said Bonds’ trainer provided him with steroids. Giambi testified that after meeting trainer Greg Anderson, he asked about Bonds’ training. Anderson asked Giambi to send him a urine sample (which I often do after first meeting someone) and began sending packages to Giambi. “Anderson first sent a package of ‘testosterone, syringes (and) vitamins’ to Giambi’s home near Las Vegas. Later, in 2002 or 2003, the trainer sent ‘some white pills and some yellow pills’ as well as the BALCO undetectable steroids, ‘the cream’ and ‘the clear.'” Giambi’s story is, to me, like something out of Greek tragedy. (Though to be fair, at the time of the Greeks, there was no designated hitter rule.) As a young player in Oakland, Giambi was a long-haired, tattooed slugger, and (he claims) steroid-free. Then he went to the Yankees, got a huge paycheck, cut his hair, shaved off his goatee, and sucked. So he started using performance enhancers, which, in his case, did not work at all. By the time the Yankees won the 2009 World Series, Giambi was back in Oakland, oft-injured and rarely effective, a shell of his slugger past. He’s now on the Colorado Rockies’ roster. The goatee, now with a lot more gray in it, is back. His talent is gone, probably for good.

– The LA Times has an surprising look at the downturn in American and Canadian movie-going. Apparently, theater attendance is down 20% this year compared to last. Among all the possible explanations — rise of online entertainment, 50,000 cable channels, the recession — movie executives have come to an interesting conclusion: bad movies. As the Times writes, “While audiences have outright rejected such recent movie offerings as ‘Mars Needs Moms,’ ‘Sucker Punch’ and ‘Take Me Home Tonight,’ even hits like Justin Bieber’s ‘Never Say Never,””The King’s Speech’ and ‘Battle: Los Angeles’ pale in comparison with the early 2010 blockbusters ‘Avatar’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland.'” Of all the movies in the first half of that sentence, only one, “The King’s Speech,” is actually a good movie; the rest are just supposed to be money-makers, and weren’t. Well, good, I say. Let’s reward good work. Want to see something worth lifting yourself off the couch and taking money out of your pocket? Try the new Paul Giamatti movie, “Win Win.”