Plane to Las Palmas

Degrees and probabilities: As with many disasters, I found myself glued to the television yesterday (and putting up with some very bad coverage) as the story unwound about Spanair flight JK 5022 from Madrid to Las Palmas that has left (at last count) 153 dead, making it the worst aviation disaster in Spain in 25 years. It is odd when a story like this touches you closely: I live in Las Palmas and although it is a medium sized city, it is on an island where everybody seems to know one another personally or through a friend in a sort of an abbreviated six degrees of separation experiment. I have also taken that flight with Spanair while going back and forth to the peninsula… Last night, while lying awake in bed, dancing through my head were hazy and equivocal probability scenarios: if Spanair flies to Las Palmas from Madrid three times a day, that means 90 flights a month, what were my chances of being on that flight?

They can’t handle the truth: While watching the story unfold on Spanish television, the numbers of the dead slowly increased from seven to twenty to forty-five, until they started ‘confirming’ the twenty six survivors yesterday afternoon. Spanish broadcasters insisted that they did not have anymore information. Strangely, while the Spanish press was reporting around fify dead, English newspapers such as the Times or the Telegraph were already declaring that the death toll would be around 150. Does the British press have access to information that the Spanish don’t? Or is there some sort of secret censorship office?

In search of tact: In an absolute low moment, Radio Televsión Española (the Spanish state broadcaster) showed an interview of an asshole complaining on live television how Spanair would not get a hotel for him because his flight to Bilbao was cancelled during the commotion. In another regretful instance, officials said that victims of the flight incurred trauma incompatible with life; one might think that a better choice of words like “fatally injured” -or even the old standby “died”- might have been more appropriate.

Update: In an attempt to become the Stray Dog Café’s Corporate Stooge of the Day, Spanair CEO Marcus Hedblom affirmed that he will not ground the airline’s of 36 MD-82/83 that make up over half of Spanair’s fleet. The safety of the planes has been put into question as recenty as March this year by the FAA.

Update 2: A Spanair MD-87 returned from the runway before takeoff after a fuel problem was detected last night.

Advertisements

Nine Things We Learnt This Week

1. Margaret Thatcher, rehabilitated?

Scourge of the Left, in an Aquascutum suit

“But this portrayal of Maggie the seductress, ‘twirling through Young Conservative balls in strapless gowns,’ as the Sunday Times gushed at the weekend, sums up everything that’s wrong about the way Mrs T has been repositioned. She wasn’t a harmless socialite, she’s not a style icon; she was a ruthless politician, who looked 80s because it was the 80s.”

2. Wallis Simpson, rehabilitated?

Unfit for a King?

“English Heritage, giver of blue plaques to People Who Matter, is the latest to bitch-slap her corpse. Last week, it denied a request by a member of the public to stick a plaque outside Wallis’s 1930s London home. But Wallis matters. She drew to the surface many of the foul bigotries of the age: xenophobia, ageism, rampant snobbery and a desire for women to be submissive, uneducated, unthreatening little dolls.

[snip]

So why today does English Heritage continue this old, old vendetta? Its official reason is an affair that she allegedly had with Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German ambassador to Britain in the 1930s. However, there is no evidence that this actually happened. It is true – and unforgivable – that she visited Germany in 1937 and shook the Führer’s hand. But she did not ‘make’ her husband into the Nazi he became. It was his idea: he wanted to play the King and Nazi Germany was the only country that would have him. Wallis spent her life as a whipping girl for her husband’s failures as king. Nobody could accept that Edward didn’t want to rule us; it had to be witchcraft, didn’t it?”

3. She’s not too fond of slaughterhouses, either.

A cynic might say it’s sick-making

“Few pigs turn their snouts up at the chance to roll around in mud. But Cinderella the six-week-old saddleback has adopted a different motto – four wellies good, four trotters bad – after being diagnosed with mysophobia, a fear of dirt.”

4. Those clever Brits.

“Britons consume about 180 million pints of milk a week. At least two thirds of it is sold in plastic bottles, which began to replace cardboard containers in the Nineties. Campaigners claim that if all the plastic milk bottles in Britain were replaced with pouches, 100,000 tons of plastic waste would be saved from landfill sites every year.”

5. No Comment

“Gynecologists say that in the past few years, more Muslim women are seeking certificates of virginity to provide proof to others. That in turn has created a demand among cosmetic surgeons for hymen replacements, which, if done properly, they say, will not be detected and will produce tell-tale vaginal bleeding on the wedding night. The service is widely advertised on the Internet; medical tourism packages are available to countries like Tunisia where it is less expensive.”

6. We need to count the loot.

7. You can also use grapes.

“Illegal ‘tiger bone wine’ is still being made and sold by some animal parks in China, say campaigners.

The Environmental Investigation Agency says staff at two parks offered to sell the drink, made from carcasses soaked in rice wine, to its researchers.”

8. You think?

“Police services covering 87 per cent of Canada’s population reported 892 hate-motivated crimes in 2006, of which six in 10 were motivated by race or ethnicity, Statistics Canada said Monday.”

9. Another reason why same sex marriage is unnatural.

“Notably, same-sex relationships, whether between men or women, were far more egalitarian than heterosexual ones. In heterosexual couples, women did far more of the housework; men were more likely to have the financial responsibility; and men were more likely to initiate sex, while women were more likely to refuse it or to start a conversation about problems in the relationship. With same-sex couples, of course, none of these dichotomies were possible, and the partners tended to share the burdens far more equally.

While the gay and lesbian couples had about the same rate of conflict as the heterosexual ones, they appeared to have more relationship satisfaction, suggesting that the inequality of opposite-sex relationships can take a toll.”

Nine Things We Learnt This Week

1. George Bush, explained.

The devil made him

” ‘Evil exists in politics, quite often in fact,’ Father Amorth said.  ‘The devil loves to take over business leaders and those who hold political office.  Hitler and Stalin were possessed.  How do I know? Because they killed millions of people.  The Gospel says: ‘By their fruits you will know them.’  Unfortunately, an exorcism on them would not have been enough, since they were convinced of what they were doing.  We can’t say it was a possession in the strict sense of the word, but rather a total and voluntary acceptance of the suggestions of the devil.’ ”

2. Ships of the Damned.

“The analysis, due to be published this year by the human rights organisation Reprieve, also claims there have been more than 200 new cases of rendition since 2006, when President George Bush declared that the practice had stopped.

It is the use of ships to detain prisoners, however, that is raising fresh concern and demands for inquiries in Britain and the US.

According to research carried out by Reprieve, the US may have used as many as 17 ships as ‘floating prisons’ since 2001. Detainees are interrogated aboard the vessels and then rendered to other, often undisclosed, locations, it is claimed.

Ships that are understood to have held prisoners include the USS Bataan and USS Peleliu. A further 15 ships are suspected of having operated around the British territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, which has been used as a military base by the UK and the Americans.”

3. And so it begins. (1)

“His wife going off on a rant about how evil “whitey” is, and conspiracies that he is a covert Muslim trying to infiltrate our democracy are nothing more than rumors…at least at this point. However, there are plenty of things the media don’t put enough focus on that are true about the Obamas. Instead they would rather focus on things like his playful fist-bump. They have to keep their priorities on the important issues.”

4. And so it begins. (2)

The victim of a plagiarized lie

“Despite the tenuousness of this rumor, Obama was actually asked about this non-existent video in front of the national press by a reporter the other day. Understandably, he pushed back hard on the notion that he should have to answer such a question.

Now Jim Geraghty of National Review has claimed that the rumor may be based on…fiction. A political thriller called The Power Broker, published in 2006 by Stephen Frey, features the presidential campaign of Dem candidate Jesse Wood, who’s aspiring to be the country’s first African-American president.

We went out and got the book. And sure enough, in the novel, Wood’s opponents discover video of the candidate himself — not his wife — discussing with a radical black minister how he will ‘f— whitey’ when he gets into office, despite all his public rhetoric about racial reconciliation.”

5. We’re shocked. Really.  (1)

“The space agency’s internal watchdog, the inspector general, reports that from autumn 2004 until early 2006 Nasa’s central public affairs office handled global warming in a way that ‘reduced, marginalised, or mischaracterised climate change science made available to the general public’.

The confirmation of political interference is vindication for James Hansen, Nasa’s chief climate scientist and one of the first to sound the alarm over global warming. Claims of political dallying surfaced when Hansen said he had been blocked from taking part in a National Public Radio interview in December 2005.”

6. We’re shocked. Really. (2)

” ‘In making the case for war, the administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when it was unsubstantiated, contradicted or even nonexistent,’ Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the committee chairman, said at a news conference. ‘As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed.’

The report, the last and most contentious of a series of Senate reviews of prewar intelligence, sought to compare the administration’s public claims about Iraq with the intelligence reports available to them at the time. While many of the White House’s statements — such as Bush’s warnings about a secret Iraqi nuclear program — were amply supported by intelligence files at the time, the report said, others were not.”

7. Still dead.

Miracle of the embalmer’s art

8. Must-read essay of the week.

“I am not blind to the imperfections of this America, or the failures to always meet these ideals at home and abroad. I spent 20 years of my life in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans as a foreign correspondent reporting in countries where crimes and injustices were committed in our name, whether during the Contra war in Nicaragua or the brutalization of the Palestinians by Israeli occupation forces. But there was much that was good and decent and honorable in our country. And there was hope.

The country I live in today uses the same words to describe itself, the same patriotic symbols and iconography, the same national myths, but only the shell remains. America, the country of my birth, the country that formed and shaped me, the country of my father, my father’s father and his father’s father, stretching back to the generations of my family that were here for the country’s founding, is so diminished as to be nearly unrecognizable. I do not know if this America will return, even as I pray and work and strive for its return. The “consent of the governed” has become an empty phrase. Our textbooks on political science are obsolete. Our state, our nation, has been hijacked by oligarchs, corporations and a narrow, selfish political elite, a small and privileged group which governs on behalf of moneyed interests. We are undergoing, as John Ralston Saul wrote, ‘a coup d’etat in slow motion.’ We are being impoverished — legally, economically, spiritually and politically. And unless we soon reverse this tide, unless we wrest the state away from corporate hands, we will be sucked into the dark and turbulent world of globalization where there are only masters and serfs, where the American dream will be no more than that — a dream, where those who work hard for a living can no longer earn a decent wage to sustain themselves or their families, whether in sweatshops in China or the decaying rust belt of Ohio, where democratic dissent is condemned as treason and ruthlessly silenced.”

9. Because they can.

House of Commons Votes to Protect War Resisters

Unfortunately, it’s non-binding. The Tories voted against the motion.

From the Canadian Friends Service Committee, the peace and social justice agency of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers):

Today, just after 3 pm, the House of Commons voted 137 – 110 in favour of the 3rd report of the Standing Committee on Immigration and Citizenship, which included this motion:

that the government immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members (partners and dependents), who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations and do not have a criminal record, to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada; and that the government should immediately cease any removal or deportation actions that may have already commenced against such individuals.

The motion is not legally binding on the Government to implement (the governing party is the Conservative Party of Canada of which every member voted against the motion). Most would say it is morally binding as it reflects the will of Parliament, which is to reflect the will of the people.

So, there will still be work to be done to pressure for its implementation (the focus now is really on the Government itself, as all members present from the Bloc, Liberal and NDP voted in favour – and all of these Party Leaders and high-profile MPs from these parties were present for the vote, which is significant).

Thanks to all of you for your terrific action, prayers, and persistence in helping this to happen. The War Resisters Support Campaign, in particular, is to be congratulated for their key role along the way.

Small victories are big steps, and we are closer to our desire to see all conscientious objectors receive the protection they deserve, particularly at this time the ones from the USA who refused to fight in Iraq.

Please monitor the “News and Events” section of http://www.cfsc.quaker.ca and the Campaign’s site – http://www.resisters.ca – for up-to-date information on next steps as the E-newsletter is not scheduled until end of June.

In Friendship,

Orion

Jane Orion Smith
General Secretary
Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers)

Nine Things We Learnt This Week

1. Too much coffee, we think.

Jihadi donuts

“The apparently inoffensive magazine ad shows Rachael Ray, purveyor of quick and easy recipes to millions of Food Channel viewers, in a black and white paisley scarf, clutching her iced latte in front of a row of cherry trees.

The offending item, though, is the scarf, which reminded one blogger of the keffiyeh head-dress worn by Arab men, an item which a second blogger – picking up the theme and running several miles with it – dubbed ‘jihadi chic’. The Little Green Footballs blog, a conservative favourite, accused Dunkin’ Donuts of ‘casually promoting the symbol of Palestinian terrorism and the intifada’.”

2. What recession?

“Two reports released on Tuesday captured the bleak picture. One showed that home prices nationally fell 14.1 percent in March from a year earlier. The other showed sales of new homes, although up slightly in April, remained mired near their lowest levels since 1991.”

3. Me ne frego.

“True to his Fascist roots, the newly elected Mayor of Rome Gianni Alemanno has said he intends naming a street in the city after Giorgio Almirante, the first leader of the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI), the party that took up Fascism in 1946 where Mussolini had left off.”

4. At last, something useful on Ebay.

“A seven-month-old baby has been taken into care in Germany after his parents offered to sell him for one Euro (80 pence) on an internet auction site.

The couple, from the south German town of Memmingen, posted the advertisement to sell their son Merlin on eBay last week after he became ‘too loud’.”

5. At last, something useful on Craigslist. “A Vancouver couple have been arrested but will not be charged after posting an Internet ad on Craigslist, offering their seven-day-old baby for $10,000, police said Tuesday.”

6. No freedom, please, we’re British.

“A masters student researching terrorist tactics who was arrested and detained for six days after his university informed police about al-Qaida-related material he downloaded has spoken of the ‘psychological torture’ he endured in custody. Despite his Nottingham University supervisors insisting the materials were directly relevant to his research, Rizwaan Sabir, 22, was held for nearly a week under the Terrorism Act, accused of downloading the materials for illegal use. The student had obtained a copy of the al-Qaida training manual from a US government website for his research into terrorist tactics.”

7. Good thing she’s not une maudite anglaise.

“In an article published Wednesday in the independent monthly magazine, Victor-Levy Beaulieu said Ms. Jean was appointed to the governor general’s post because she was ‘black, young, pretty, ambitious, and because of her husband, certainly a nationalist as well.’ In an interview with La Presse, the author defended his text, saying he had not intended to be racist. However, his eight references to the ‘negre reine’ caught the attention of Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe and Bloc MP Vivian Barbot.”

8. Dolly duel.

 

Out for blood

9. Fat Chance.

Crocodile Tears

I’m only sorry I got caught

When Tom Lukiwski’s now infamous (and soused) anti-gay remarks became public two months ago, it was reported the hapless MP cried. The more tenderhearted in the media said Lukiwksi wept for embarassing his family, his party, and the government; more cynical wags suggested tears were shed for shattered political propects. It appears the latter was actually correct.

According to The Hill Times:

Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski, who offered an emotional and national apology in the Commons on April 4 and attracted national headlines after the Saskatchewan provincial NDP released a 17-year-old video tape of him making derogatory remarks about homosexuals, still hasn’t reached out to gays in his riding.

Nathan Markwart, a board member of the Gay and Lesbian Community of Regina (GLCR), a not-for-profit organization that runs a community centre in Mr. Lukiwski’s riding, said his organization, along with other Regina-based gay advocacy groups, sent a letter on April 11, both through the mail and electronically, in which they invited Mr. Lukiwski to meet with them, but Mr. Lukiwski did not respond.

“[Mr. Lukiwski] stated he is going to spend the rest of his life making amends, well when does that kick in? It’s been quite a long time [since we sent the letter] and we still have received nothing. He says the only explanation is that it was stupid, thoughtless and insensitive, well I would say isn’t it thoughtless and insensitive not to engage the community after you’ve received an invitation to?”

You’d think. But maybe he’s busy. Maybe he is waiting for the moment political to launch le grand rapprochement. Maybe’s he’s talking to some other gay and lesbian group in Regina — though it’s hard to imagine whom, exactly. Maybe’s he’s mortified into inaction, and spiralling into a pit of depression and self-reproach.  Maybe when he said “the rest of his life” he means some future, yet-to-be-named life uncluttered with confusing and complex realities. Or maybe, he’s just another sad excuse for a politician who really believes what he said 17 years ago and is willing to tell any lie to save a tattered political career.  You choose.

The Hype. The Reality.

From electoral-vote.com:

McCain versus Obama
Electoral Votes: Obama 237     McCain 290     Ties 11

McCain versus Clinton:
Electoral Votes: Clinton 279     McCain 242     Ties 17

There’s a blog called The Truth About John Sydney McCain which has as its tagline:

This blog provides the ugly but well-researched and documented truth about John McCain’s voting record, his fatal inconsistencies, his marital unfaithfulness and divorce record, his absurd and dangerous statements about Iraq and Iran, and all of the reasons why Senator John McCain from arid Arizona ought never, ever become president of the United States of America.

I would probably and unfortunately add, “But will.” Looking at the above maps, I get a sinking feeling, an unpleasant sensation of deja vu.  Since when has recklessness, unfaithfulness and absurdity prevented a  Republican candidate from being elected? John Kerry was supposed to stomp all over George Bush, then eat him for breakfast.  Ditto for Dukakis and the senior Bush.  R. Reagan, the most idiotic and ridiculous of all, won handily, twice.  The plain truth is that Americans and the American media love deeply flawed politicians — if they are Republican.  (There’s even an acronym for the phenomenom: IOKIYAR –It’s OK If You’re A Republican.)

In the weird metaphysics of American political life, obvious character defects becomes assets, because, I think, there is a nice resonance with overtly Christian notions of redemption, and larger American themes of mastering personal obstacles. Reagan’s clear indifference to important details metamorphed into an ability to see the large picture.  Similarly, George Bush the younger’s odd incuriosity is lionized in some places as “studied detachment.”  The transformation of John McCain has yet to begin in earnest, but one suspects his well-documented temper (for example) will become, in time, “assertiveness” or “willing to defend America” or some such tripe.  No such slack is cut for Democrats, who tend to be skewered for the slightest lapses. Contrast Obama’s difficulties with his pastor against McCain’s largely painless collection of John Haggee’s endorsement.

It is admittedly a long way till the November elections, but it seems the Democrats are on the cusp of choosing the unelectable candidate.  Despite the hype confusing desire with reality — and remember the primaries are not the general election — Barack Obama has problems. The mathematics are daunting. Hillary Clinton’s argument, that Democrats ought to choose the candidate who can carry the big states, is essentially correct. Obama’s behind in Florida and Ohio, two states he must carry to win the presidency.  He probably won’t flip any red states.

Politically, the Republicans are going to thump three memes: he’s too young, too inexperienced, and too liberal. The last of these, the tag of liberalism, still strikes fear into the hearts of many American voters, and will be a hard one to avoid, given Obama’s voting record. The ramblings of Obama’s turbulent priest haven’t helped.  The loony right is already circulating stories of Obama being a secret Muslim in thrall to sharia law, and a version of this story has even appeared in the editorial pages of the New York Times.  Like any good propagandists, they know if they say it enough times, it becomes true.  McCain may denounce such idiocies, but note they are consonant with his latest attacks on Obama’s foreign policy objectives. And the media has, thus far, given McCain a free ride, assigning him such vote-getting American virtues as a “war hero”, “straight talking” and “maverick” (though his maverickness has somewhat declined as late: he voted the party line 80% of the time in 2007, as opposed to 65% in 2006.) And he looks like everyone’s kindly grandfather, wisps of thinning white hair blowing in the breeze, though he apparently refers to his wife by a word not repeated in polite company. I will even go on a very windy limb and suggest (with increasing sorrow), that with all of this and IOKIYAR at work, barring some catastrophe John McCain will win in November.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like Obama. If I were an American citizen, I would surely work for him. John McCain I despise, for reasons quite unrelated to his politics. What does it say about his character, to utter a boorish two-liner about an 18-year old girl, even if she is the daughter of a political enemy? (No doubt, somewhere, this is being spun as “straight talk.” And don’t forget IOKIYAR.)

I hope I am wrong, but one must be prepared for the future.  My only advice then, in the face of despair, is to invest in the company manufacturing “Hillary 2012” buttons and related campaign paraphernalia, because surely that’s where she and the Democratic Party are heading.