Monthly Archives: December 2003

Home Again

The trip passed without incident. Except that BA's 747 seemed in a less than perfect state of interior upkeep. My headrest wouldn't stay up, which is very minor but very annoying when you are tall. More ominously, shortly after takeoff, very dark and nasty-looking brown liquid started dripping from the ceiling in the aisle next to me and also over the seats by the windows (we were in the middle section so it just missed us). The guy from the cabin crew said it was 'just condensation' and went off to get something to wipe it up, leading to a mildly comic moment as he reached up to wipe off the ceiling and got doused when the drip changed to a pour. He later came back to offer the more plausible explanation that there was a humidifier up there and it must have been overloaded with water; when we took off the angle of plane caused some of the water to slosh out.

If it's true that how you celebrate the New Year tells you something about how you will spend it, I will be jet-lagged, dazed and confused, and asleep, in 2004.

Posted in Personal | 1 Comment

I’m Getting Nervous About Our Flight Back to the USA

We're due to fly on British Airways from Manchester to London to Miami tomorrow and it looks as if we may be caught up in the latest terrorism-related scare and political dispute. I'm not nervous about flying…I'm nervous about not flying: it seems there is a chance that my flight may be cancelled due to a dispute between the British airline pilots' union (which opposes any guns on board their aircraft) and the US government which may require armed 'air marshalls' as a condition of flying into the US.

The US is requiring foreign carriers to have air marshalls on board. But the UK pilots' union (and maybe British Airways?) is balking. The UK government appears to have bowed to US pressure, perhaps because of actual intelligence info (who knows?), but BA is not happy about it.

[The UK government] emphasized in a statement on Monday that “only the U.K. can authorize the placing of air marshals on U.K. carriers.”

The British Air Line Pilots Association said in strong terms that arms did not belong on aircraft, and British Airways, the country's biggest airline, said it reserved the right not to fly if it was forced to add air marshals. “We have received the request for the deployment of cover capabilities on flights,” an official with the airline said. “Only if British Airways was satisfied that safety was enhanced would that flight take off.”

The airline pilots were less polite. On the TV news this evening they were quoted as saying that unless they can be satisfied that

  1. The pilot remains in command of the plane.
  2. The air marshalls are operating under written rules
  3. Their training is sufficient to make it safe to have them on board

then they don't want to fly. (The last condition may be much tougher than it sounds, given that the UK is being forced to rush the armed guards aloft without any time to plan this or train them!) The pilot interviewed hinted pretty strongly at a refusal to fly if these (quite reasonable, IMHO) demands were not met.

It looks as if my flight may be the first British one to have the new armed guards on board…and that the pilots' union is advising the pilots to stay on the ground:

The British Air Line Pilots' Association (Balpa) wrote to Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport, yesterday calling for a meeting to discuss the policy which it believes is “dangerous” and flawed. The association, which has said it does “not want guns on planes” has advised pilots to refuse to fly if they do not feel happy carrying armed marshals posing as passengers.

Mr Darling said he would meet the pilots to discuss their misgivings and said they would be told when an undercover marshal was on a flight.

The Secretary of State defended the Government's decision to allow plain-clothes officers with low-velocity weapons on selected flights, saying it was a “responsible and prudent step” that would be used “where appropriate”.

He said their use was “only one of a number of measures” and “a last line of defence”, together with increased screening of bags, to deter terrorists. But he warned that passengers could face longer queues at airports because of the “heightened” state of security.

“The best thing is to try to stop people getting on the aeroplane in the first place,” he said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

“Most of our efforts are rightly focused on the screening of passengers' baggage.”

Sky marshals are expected to begin deployment in the next 24 hours on transatlatic flights to and from the UK.

Wouldn't just strengthening the cabin door to the pilots' area be enough?

If the London-Miami flight won't fly we get stranded in London — we presumably have to do the Manchester-London leg no matter what and can't just elect to stay here, where we have a place to stay, until the dust settles. What happens in the event of a labour dispute to us and to our luggage will probably not be much fun.

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Posted in Personal, Politics: International | Comments Off on I’m Getting Nervous About Our Flight Back to the USA

British Self-Deprecation Taken to an Extreme

Guardian Unlimited | Sweet smell of failure. The possible loss of the much-hyped (here, anyway) Beagle 2 Mars Explorer has caused some dark humor. This article is a particularly funny example of it.

It begins, “the stubbornly silent Mars probe Beagle 2 has reminded us what Britain does best: heroic failure….”

Posted in Completely Different, UK | 2 Comments

Aschroft (Finally) Recuses Himself from Plame Affair. Why Now?

Ashcroft Recuses Himself From Probe of C.I.A. Leak. The obvious questions is, why now? The most likely theory is that the prosectuors have come up with something that made the recusal inescapable. The much less likely and more cynical theory is that Main Justice having done all the obstruction it could do, there was nothing to be lost from getting out of the way.

Better late than later, yes. I still hope the probe at least looks into the apparent obstruction of justice issues surrounding the first 24-48 hours of the leak inquiry. Justice was unbelievably slow about ordering white house staff to keep their files intact. I want to know just how that came to be.

Various commentary at Billmon, Kos, Kos, again, and better and lots of good background at Crooked Timber.

Posted in Law: Criminal Law | Comments Off on Aschroft (Finally) Recuses Himself from Plame Affair. Why Now?

Spineless Press, Pointless Press Conferences

Please read this account of the latest GWB “Press Conference,” Cage Match – Matt Taibbi [link fixed]. I submit that it makes the case strongly for my modest and practical proposal for improving White House press conferences.

Posted in Politics: US | Comments Off on Spineless Press, Pointless Press Conferences

Press Manipulation and the Iraq War: US Was Not ‘Duped’ By British Disinformation — It Duped Itself

In light of stories spilling the beans on a British campaign of lying to foreign (mostly third-world) media about the dangerousness of Iraq, Zbig is putting out the meme that the US got duped into the Iraq war by British disinformation. This is not credible, as can be seen from every “insider's” account (e.g. Seymore Hersh's article in the New Yorker last October).

In the Bad Old Days, around the Vietnam War era, the CIA had an ongoing program of putting US reporters on retainer. That got stopped. And it had another program of dropping disinformation into foreign newspapers, often third world. Some of the disinfo may have been for legitimate intelligence purposes (to confuse the Bad Guys), but a fair amount of it was designed in the hopes that the disinfo would find its way back to the US and be picked up by our newspapers. The goal was nothing less than to subtly manipulate the US electorate. That was supposed to have stopped too.

Perhaps now we do it by proxy. This past weekend the world press reported on a campaign by the British CIA-equivalent, MI6, in which it 'misled' media on Iraq.

But wait! The right wing is already spinning the story! Here comes Zbigniew Brzezinski calling for an investigation into how the US was manipulated into the Iraq war. See, it wasn't our fault! Those perfidious British with their media manipulation and unverified intel about irrelevant non-existent yellowcake purchases! They are responsible, not that nice George W. Bush!

I personally find the idea that the US administration—which by all reputable accounts was lusting for this war since at least 9/11 if not since it took office (or in some cases, since the cease-fire in Gulf War One)—could possibly be manipulated into Gulf War Two to be laughable. Will anyone buy into Zbig's weird spin? Probably.

Posted in Iraq | 1 Comment