Malta: Gateway to the Mediterranean (just don’t hire a car)… Computer News: Where in the world am I? … Your old Granny W. sploshes in galoshes … End of Everything, Update … Afterthought: And where do you come from?

“Her uncompromising blog and scathing pen spared no punches, hitting out mainly at exponents of the ruling Labour Party and their supporters, but also sometimes criticising officials of the centre-right Nationalist Party, including its newly-elected leader.”

Malta: Gateway to the Mediterranean (just don’t hire a car)

So writes Herman Grech, online editor of The Times of Malta, following a powerful car bomb explosion at the weekend in which former Times reporter and political blogger, Daphne Caruana Galizia was blown to bits outside her home, in a rental car.

Daphne Galizia: had promised to reveal the ownership of a company involved in a possibly corrupt power station contract.

Ms Galizia has been an outspoken critic of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat since his name popped up in the 2015 release of The Panama Papers, suggesting that he and his wife had been corruptly salting away money paid to him by Azerbaijan in offshore companies.

To remind viewers and listeners, the Panama Papers were 11 million documents leaked from the offices of the law firm, Mossack Fonseca, detailing the setting up of tens of thousands of virtually untraceable shell companies to hide money in places like the British Virgin Islands, whom God recently punished with a hurricane.

“While offshore business entities are legal, reporters found that some (actually, rather a lot. Ed.) of the Mossack Fonseca shell corporations were used for illegal purposes, including fraud, tax evasion, and evading international sanctions.” (Wikipedia)

Weeping copious crocodile tears, Mr Muscat went on televisual record as saying:

“I condemn without reservations this barbaric attack on a person and on the freedom of expression in our country.”

And we must take him at his word. Although, it ought to be said, Mrs Galizia knew how to make enemies.

The one thing one doesn’t get from this BBC News story is any sense of who might have perpetrated the outrage in a supposedly peaceable part of the world where such things don’t normally happen; although Malta’s strategic ‘crossroads’ location 60 miles off the Libyan coast and former Arab history, together with its latter status for many years as a British dominion have for centuries made it a hotbed of espionage and intrigue.

Grech’s Times of Malta Online piece doesn’t appear to dare to venture even a hint of a suggestion, but instead sprays out a list of people Galizia might have pissed-off, including some she might not have, i.e. politicians opposed to the government of Dr Muscat. Only…

What is going on?

The US State department’s official website, while being unable to correctly spell ‘Assad’, the name of the President of Syria, nevertheless generously praises Azerbaijan for its co-operation on international terrorism and its opposition to: “terrorist organizations seeking to move people, money, and material through the Caucasus”.

That would presumably not include the Trump Organization’s friends, the Iranian National Guard Corps, whose money (according to The New Yorker magazine) moved through a failed Trump hotel development in the Azeri capital, Baku, part-financing an improbable project being managed by Trump daughter, Ivanka, in partnership with local oligarch and notoriously corrupt ‘family business’ boss, Zia Mammadov.

As “Trump said” (or someone did, he can’t string two words together):

“Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku represents the unwavering standard of excellence of The Trump Organization and our involvement in only the best global development projects,” Trump said when the venture was announced in 2014. “When we open in 2015, visitors and residents will experience a luxurious property unlike anything else in Baku—it will be among the finest in the world.” (Mother Jones)

Despite the ringing endorsement, the project (in a down-at-heel suburb of the capital) got dumped before Trump’s election. Nevertheless, many Western countries have flocked to oil-rich Azerbaijan and its hospitable (although not to journalists or political opponents) President Ilham Aliyev. The BBC reported:

“Deals with international energy producers have allowed the country to use its energy revenues to create a government-run fund involved in international projects … Despite its wealth and increased influence in the wider region, poverty and corruption continue to overshadow the country’s development.”

Maltese cars seem to have a distressing habit of exploding. In October last year, local Buggiba businessman John Camilleri was assassinated in a powerful explosion that only narrowly missed a passing school bus full of children. Again, in reporting the incident the Times of Malta curiously avoided any of the normal press speculation as to the reason behind the attack, or to describe Mr Camilleri as anything other than the proprietor of a bathroom-tile business; but merely concentrated on its own – and the government politicians’ – handwringing.

So much for “freedom of expression”.

In January 2016, a person “registered as a fisherman”, local boat-owner “Martin Cachia, 56, from Marsascala, who has a pending court case in connection with human trafficking, according to sources”, as anyone might, was blown up and died when his car crashed into a wall. While in September 2016, an unnamed man “not well-known to the police” was seriously injured in another car bombing in Mosta, losing both legs, and his passenger also injured; a third man was injured in his car as he was passing by.

How normal is it for a national newspaper not even to try to identify any of the three victims of an attempted murder, or to speculate on who might have been behind it, but merely to drop huge clues to local people as to the identity of the main target? What are journalists afraid of, we wonder?

Just what is going on in tiny island Malta?

Well, if you Google ‘organized crime in Malta’ you get only the results of an optimistic, anodyne official inquiry covering burglaries and suchlike, that makes no reference whatsoever to targeted assassinations. Self-censorship seems to reach up from the press into the higher echelons of government and law-enforcement. The European Union, of which Malta is a relatively new member, is silent on the subject.

But not everyone is afraid to speak out, provided they do so under conditions of anonymity. On 16 October, 2017 The Independent online (UK) among others reported on the Galizia murder:

“A politician said her death marked the “collapse of the rule of law” in Malta, the smallest (country) in the European Union. Tributes to Galizia poured in on Monday evening, as thousands of Maltese gathered in the streets for a candlelight vigil to the reporter.  Galizia is believed to have just published the last post on her widely read blog, Running Commentary, just before leaving her house (in) Mosta, a town outside the capital Valletta.”

“There are crooks everywhere you look now,” she had written, “the situation is desperate.”

In advance of his second visit to Azerbaijan in four months, to attend a conference where he was due to mingle with such luminaries as the peace-prizewinning war criminal, Henry Kissinger, Dr Muscat’s people were less than forthcoming in response to enquiries by The Times of Malta (who weren’t invited on the official junket): “Dr Muscat (is) committed to continue to do work to bring more investment and jobs to Malta.”

At what cost?

The traffic is, of course, not just one-way. Azerbaijan’s foreign affairs minister, Elmar Mammadyarov visited Malta for three days last week, conceivably to discuss an ongoing project involving Azeri state oil and gas company SOCAR, to build a power station on the island. Malta Today reported:

“Mammadyarov’s visit comes as Daphne Caruana Galizia has pledged to publish proof this week that a bank account of a company owned by politically exposed people in Azerbaijan was used to transfer large sums of money to offshore Panama companies owned by minister Konrad Mizzi, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri, and a third company, Egrant.”

It is strongly rumoured among opposition politicians that Joseph Muscat and his wife may be the beneficial owners of Egrant. While, despite an impeccable record of Western education at Brown University and diplomatic service to his country, the Azeri’s Wikipedia entry reports:

“Under Elmar Mammadyarov the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan was hit by numerous scandals and corruption allegations. Stories and documents published in a number of Azeri news sites, blogs and social media claim that Mammadyarov is involved in illegal employment of staff for diplomatic service, irregularities, corruption and espionage along with his deputies and other high foreign service officials.”

Dimech: the ‘gangster’s moll’. But what was the politician really up to? (photo from website)

Was the killing of Galizia timed to entertain the visiting Azeri minister?

Business in Malta is clearly booming. But a casual browse on Mrs Galizia’s website reveals an intricate web of social, political and business relationships on the island that is almost impenetrable to an outsider. She covers numerous stories, many of them on the surface little more than tittle-tattle revealing a fetid atmosphere among the island’s half a million inhabitants.

One caught the attention of the BogPo, concerning the apparently close friendship between the much younger girlfriend of a convicted drug dealer, Rebecca Dimech (see photo) and the wife of the leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Dr Adrian Delia; whom Galizia hints at not so much having an affair with Ms Dimach, but more of being involved in her boyfriend’s cocaine enterprise:

“Miss Dimech … is an amateur glamour model from the wrong side of the tracks, whose long-term boyfriend, Andre Falzon … is a convicted drug-dealer well known to the police. He was released from prison last June. … Mrs Delia was at pains to dismiss any suspicions people might have had about “infidelity” by telling her interviewer “we laughed our heads off”. The widespread suspicions she needs to address about her and the Opposition leader’s relationship with Miss Dimech, though, have nothing to do with infidelity….” (Running Commentary)

Whatever may be going on with the Azerbaijan connection, it seems Mrs Galizia had a way of making powerful enemies in many areas of island life. Drugs, money-laundering, racketeering, people smuggling…. Perhaps we should not be too quick to point the finger of blame for her death at anyone special.

It’s clearly just a cultural thing.

 

x

Computer News

“Probing deeper, I discover a little map of ‘South Bank’, and with a start of recognition realize that it is a part of London I know fairly well…”

Where in the world am I?

Likers, Spammers, Followers and Those No Longer Reading this, muh bogl, will possibly have noted one of the sources for our regular Granny Weatherwax roundup of extreme weather events worldwide is a research group called Weather Underground, blogging as Wunderground, which is – we believe – owned or sponsored or funded by the CNN News organization in America.

Despite the defiant name, these weather guerillas seem to be perfectly reputable, highly qualified meteorologists running an efficient website combining official data sources and up to the minute satellite feeds with detailed reports, forecasts and expert commentary.

Heading their homepage every day is a weather report along the lines of the BBC’s clever “and now the news where you are” feature, a personalized facility for which some algorithm has been programmed to guess where in the world you are and tell you what the temperature, the windspeed and the precipitation are outside, roughly now.

So for weeks, I’ve been getting weather reports and forecasts for somewhere called Grangemouth, United Kingdom.

Now, until this began happening I had no idea where Grangemouth is, I had never heard of the place. Somewhat frustrated, as you can try keying in your actual location but the next day you wake up back in Grangemouth, I looked it up on the ever-reliable Google maps, and found it is an industrial coaling port all the way across the other side of the UK, on the North Sea coast. No wonder it’s always ten degrees colder there than it is here in the West, warmed as we are by the Gulf Stream (my next-door-neighbour has a well-advanced palm tree growing in their garden. Grangemouth is more famed for its tundra).

Why the boffins of Wunderground have decided I live there, or have the slightest interest in the prevailing conditions for the hardy Viking stock of Northumberland, I have no idea. But in recent days, it seems that I have sold up my home in Grangemouth and moved to somewhere called “South Bank”, where I notice it’s currently 51 deg. F. and sunny, with a high of 61 expected later.

There’s very little wind in South Bank, I notice, compared with here where we had a bit of whiplash from ex-Hurricane Ophelia yesterday as it chewed its way up the west coast of Ireland; although nothing like as bad as the “85 mph gusts” forecast.

Probing deeper, I discover a little map of South Bank, and with a start of recognition realize that it is a part of London I know fairly well, having been born and lived across the other side of the river for many years (there is no “North Bank”, by the way – it’s just known as Embankment, that eventually becomes other riparian districts like Pimlico and fashionable Chelsea Reach).

South Bank – or to give it its proper place names, Southwark, Vauxhall, Battersea –  is pretty famous, historically as the site of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and nowadays, for Sir Denys Lasdun’s ’60s Brutalist concert venue, the Royal Festival Hall; the Tate gallery and for the human statues and what-all else annoying buskers who infest the walkways.

But it’s still 256 miles from where I live now; while since my poor old mum passed away last year, I know no-one living anywhere near there, having almost literally burned my bridges as far as the capital is concerned. Looked at objectively, you can buy a three-bedroomed house in Grangemouth for £40 thousand; while the average price of a three-bedroomed house anywhere near “South Bank” (which is not actually a residential community) would be about £2.5 million. The “hiraeth” from which I suffer at the thwarted hope of someday returning to South Kensington, place of my boyhood, is mocked now by the vast economic divide in our society.

Meanwhile back in algorithm corner, I find on the Guardian website I am being offered the opportunity to buy yet more one-off items I have already just bought, or looked at on shopping websites and rejected.

What is the point, I ask myself and any passers-by who will stop to listen?

Here, for instance, is the opportunity to buy the bedroom chair in the color I rejected in favour of the bedroom chair I actually ordered, now in my bedroom. It might be several years before it wears out and I need another one. It’s quite a small room, with no room for two. And look, here next to it is the mattress I bookmarked before I baulked at the £700 price ticket, given that I have a mattress already.

I had thought seriously about changing it after reading Tim Dowling’s acerbically humorous Saturday column in the Guardian last week, about his adventures in acquiring a new mattress for their new home in grimiest Acton, West London (the running gag every week being how he and his wife don’t get along, although it seems they still share a bed, enabling them to fight amusingly over hopeless American-in-London, Tim’s inability to acquire a new mattress).

Mine started life as a pretty supportive, midrange orthopedic design, with 1800 sprung pockets, but over the six years I’ve had it, it has become soggy and pliant beneath my constantly revolving bulk. When Tim mentioned waking up every day with numb hands and a stiff neck, familiar symptoms, I knew it had come time for me to look for a new mattress, and Googling “mattresses” found many affordable examples advertised with free delivery.

I always reason that cheap is crappy and the more you spend, the happier you will be. But you can’t tell, can you, from a photo? Although £160 would probably not buy you a mattress that would stay the course for long, £700 could turn out an expensive mistake; like the new cooker I ordered last month….

ouwhouawhouaaa (eerie flashback music):

(The story so far: shortly after the gas man turned up yesterday on £100 an hour after the previous week’s false alarm and disconnected the old cooker, he summoned me from my shed where I had been hiding to tell me with a long face that the new cooker the shop had just delivered “doesn’t fit”.

Instead of the double-oven, gas-powered, under-counter model I had so carefully described to the man at the counter, the shop had sent over a single-oven electric cooker made to fit an eye-level unit. Back went the old cooker.

Later on, I get a call from the store to say oh dear, they have two cookers in the shop with my name on, and neither of them is the one I ordered, they can’t think how that happened, nevertheless the right one will most assuredly be with me in three weeks’ time… (It isn’t…)

I could offer a column about my life to The Guardian, maybe, only it’s just me and Hunzi, and occasionally Katz… the wife and I stopped fighting after the divorce eight years ago, and there wasn’t another in stock.)

So I switched my attention to other things.

Algorithms never forget, however. So now everytime I go to The Guardian website, which I have to do daily to find interesting items to report here on the BogPo, there’s the one mattress I hovered over, looking pleadingly at me. Should I buy it?

I have decided on principle, no, I shouldn’t. For £700 I can put up with numb fingers in the morning and a stiff neck, although the lack of support makes reading in bed a torture.

And it isn’t only images of tub chairs and orthopedic mattresses I’m being bombarded with, despite my helpful ad-blocker.

The expensive guitar I bought in London last month already has a carry-case, thank you, Gear4Music. It was included in the price. I only wanted to check with you to see what they cost, hard-cases the right size for my little Fibonacci, because the one it came with is embarrassingly cream-colored and I hate to be noticed when carrying a guitar, as I don’t play that well and people always ask, don’t they.

They see your guitar, and the first question that springs to mind is, do you play it?

But now I’m being offered a new guitar case in brown or black every day, and it’s not likely I shall really want to buy another as they can cost £120; while I seldom travel with my guitar far enough to bother.

Then as I have previously mentioned there is the BBC’s online viewing service, the iPlayer, that is forever offering me as personalized suggestions for programmes I might like to watch today, the programmes I watched yesterday. And, as I live in Wales, naturally, many programmes in Welsh: a language that might as well be Welsh to me.

The worst is, there’s no opportunity either to switch off the promotional images, or to explain carefully to the advertiser why you won’t be buying whatever it is they’re offering, day after day, principally because you don’t need another one, you can only play one saxophone for instance (okay, so I can’t play it at all, I soon found out it has more little keys than I have fingers, and none of them seems to do anything to alter the note) – or you just don’t want it.

Why can’t algorithms be programmed instead to offer you interesting and imaginative new things you haven’t already bought, or rejected? Like a cricket bat, or a submarine? I assume the advertisers are paying for those wasted spaces?

As a marketing tool, dialogue is so much more effective.

Wherever in the world you are.

Postscriptum:

Okay, own up. Who told Weather Underground where I live? More importantly, where to find The Boglington Post?

Because since I Posted this Post this morning the sarcastic bastards have switched my ‘weather where you are’ from central London, where I am not, to where I actually am, although I have never specified where that is, indeed I have not even mentioned the problem I was having with the anomalous locations to them directly. No wonder paranoia is going viral.

I plan to buy a camper instead, sell my little cottage and stay on the move in my own safe space.

I’m feeling violated.

Braga, Portugal, 15 October. (Photo: Daily Mail)

 

Your old Granny W. sploshes in galoshes

The Planet: “September 2017 was only the planet’s fourth warmest September since record keeping began in 1880, said NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) and NASA this week. The warmer Septembers came during 2015, 2016, and 2014”

Global warming is a myth. Look, Republican states voting for denial! (NOAA)

Near-ground atmospheric temperature however was the warmest on record: “record warmth was observed across parts of central and southern Africa, southern Asia, across the western, northern, and southern Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean (off the southeastern coast of South America), the Norwegian Sea, Greenland Sea, and Barents Sea, and across parts of the Indian Ocean.

No land or ocean areas experienced record cold September temperatures.”

But in total, the average temperature of the world in 2017 to date is still 0.13 deg. C colder than last year. I suppose the key question is, if 2017 hasn’t been hotter than 2016, are we on the way to a cooling planet? Is global warming a myth?

Portugal/Spain: The most shockingly apocalyptic images emerge from more than 500 major fires that erupted all over northern Portugal around Braga and neighbouring Galicia province in Spain at the weekend, after months of drought, continuing high temperatures and strong winds. 49 dead so far, over 100 fires still burning. Suspected arsonists arrested.

China: Typhoon Khanun brings heavy rainfall, flooding and landslides to the island of Formosa (Taiwan! Ed.) before heading across to Hong Kong – Guangdong and Hainan provinces – 114 kph winds and up to 520 mm (0.52 metres) rainfall causing major disruption, and on down into North Vietnam, still recovering from last week’s lethal floods and landslides that killed 70. Reports suggest it’s already dissipating, but:

Japan: Tropical Storm Lan is several hundred miles out northeast of the Philippines on a possible track for Japan and rapidly developing towards a typhoon with sustained windspeeds already of 70 mph. “The beginnings of an eye were apparent on microwave satellite imagery.”

Philippines:  “Heavy rain, strong winds and storm surge from TS Paolo have caused flooding in areas around Zamboanga, Mindanao. 1 dead, 12,000 people (2,448 families) displaced. Strong winds caused storm surge along coastal areas. Heavy rain also increased river levels in the area, causing further flooding. The Pasonanca Dam is at “critical” level. As of 18 October it stood at 76.10 metres, where normal level is 74.2”. (Edited report)

Thailand: central Bangkok was underwater on the 14th after torrential rain (worst in 25 years).

India: 5 dead as major flooding arrives in Bangalore. Local govt. officials slated for being out of town playing a game of cricket while rain-sodden citizens endured disruption to the city’s already crumbling transportation system.

Australia: Up to 208mm of rain fell over parts of Queensland on 16 Oct, causing flooding. One person dead. Heavy rain is continuing across parts of the state. A search is underway for a fishing boat missing with 6 crew. Bundaberg, subject to severe flooding last week, is also affected.

USA: cooler, calmer weather is helping the nearly 11 thousand firefighters battling 14 wildfires in the Santa Rosa, California region. The death toll still stands at 40, but with 154 missing, nearly 6 thousand homes and vineyards in the Napa Valley destroyed and 75 thousand-plus people homeless or evacuated.

Still no sign of Trump, too busy insulting grieving Gold Star service families. For God’s sake, someone in office put a bullet through his diseased brain and end this nightmare.

(Just noticed from a US TV news crawler, it was 96.8 deg. F (36C) in Phoenix, Az. yesterday. In mid-October. (But not the record: 2003 saw a 98 deg. C. high at this time of year. September was only the fourth hottest on record, but 168 record highs have been reported as opposed to just 17 record lows anywhere in the northern hemisphere this year. Sea ice-loss forecasts for the Arctic proved wrong, again – “The Arctic reached its lowest extent for the year on September 13, which was the eighth lowest extent on record. The five lowest Arctic sea ice extents were measured in September 2012, 2007, 2016, 2011, and 2015.”) However, ‘extent’ is not a measure of volume and is dependent on other feedbacks than temperature.

Puerto Rico: further tropical depression brings new flooding to Caguas province; town underwater.

Mexico: powerful flash flood hits Santiago Tuxtla, Veracruz. Over 400 properties damaged, nearly 40 homes destroyed; shortage of drinking water.

Spain: “Grazalema in Cádiz recorded 111.4 mm of rain in 24 hours between 17 and 18 October. (Most of it fell in a torrential one-hour period.) Images on social media showed flood water raging through streets of Jerez de la Frontera in Cadiz… (Several people had to be rescued from their cars.) The heavy rain also caused a major rockfall in the Serrania de Ronda, in the western part of province of Málaga (more landslides blocking roads).”

Serbia – ‘possibly disruptive’ heat warnings in force.

Ireland: Following on the heels of ex-Hurricane Ophelia five days ago, Subtropical Depression-about-to-become Atlantic Storm “Brian” is heading straight for the Irish Republic with 80 mph winds, high seas and heavy rain likely to batter the whole of the British Isles over the weekend.

Climate and Extreme Weather News #74/ Euronews/ RUPTLY/ Al Jazeera/ Wunderground/ Floodlist/ NOAA

 

End of Everything Update

Germany: a long-term scientific survey has found there has been a 78% decline in flying insects in the past 30 years; almost regardless of climate change.

“Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

USA: A number of smallish earthquakes – M1.5 to M2.3 were recorded in New York State and New Hampshire on 17 Oct by local and international agencies. Those earthquakes are still (10 pm 18 Oct) not showing on the US Geological Survey’s 24-hour updates and have presumably been CENSORED, as a) the eastern seaboard is not supposed to have earthquakes, and b) the earthquake activity was PREDICTED three days in advance by Michael Janich of St Louis, who vlogs regularly several times a day as ‘Dutchsinse’, and whose 80%-plus record of accurately predicting both the magnitude and location of earthquakes from global survey data has led to the USGS, which vehemently denies the possibility that earthquakes can be scientifically predicted, attempting to impose a blackout on his website, even at the expense of providing a full information service.

Just sayin’. (But if Yellowstone was about to blow, just consider if the USGS would tell anyone?)

Yellowstone: Swarms of M2.5+ earthquakes are continuing just outside the caldera at Soda Springs, Idaho and Lincoln Montana indicating magma still flooding horizontally into the chambers beneath the caldera. USGS under more criticism for failing to post significant quakes. Residents feel ‘constant vibrations’ coming from under the ground and are no longer bothering to report small earthquakes.

Nothing suggests that these are not serious indications of an impending eruption, since they seem to fit so precisely into the USGS’s own definition of what constitutes the right time to panic. They’re still reassuring the public that although we’re 40 thousand years overdue for another cyclical eruption, it can’t happen.

No need to remind you that a full-blown eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano will very likely bring the world’s economy crashing down and a ‘volcanic winter’ leading to drastic food shortages, with casualties in the millions.

The Greenhouse Effect: Did you ever run the 100 yards dash when you were at school? So you know how far 70 yards is, right? So, run 70 yards (if you still can). Now, turn 90 deg. left and run another 70 yards. Then again, turn 90 deg left and run another 70 yards – and finally, another 90 deg turn and another 70 yards.

So you’ve run a square with an outer perimeter of 280 yards without bumping into a building? Well done. The area inside the square is one acre.

Now, imagine 12 million of those acres.

That’s as much forest, farm and scrubland – trees, bushes and crops (a few thousand houses) – as has burned in wildfires in the USA this year.

You can add maybe two more millions for Canada – British Columbia had a record year for fires – then there’s Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, the Mediterranean islands (most of them), north Africa, Turkey, Croatia, Ukraine, Poland, Russia and the republics (Siberia had a record year for heat and wildfires) – even Greenland.

That’s just the northern hemisphere. Australia and South America have also had record wildfire years.

Now double it to count 2016’s total, and again for 2015, again for 2012 and worse for 2005.

All that burned vegetation has returned its stored CO2 to the atmosphere, millions and millions and millions of tonnes of it, and the latter years’ ‘biomass’ won’t be absorbing any more CO2 for at least a couple more years until it greens up again; only it’ll probably burn down again when it does.

See the problem?

 

Afterthought

And where do you come from?

American researchers are scratching their tousled or receding heads over the discovery that marriages created through online dating apps are both more stable and more likely to be of an interracial character. They just can’t think why.

For what it’s worth my suggestion is that it’s to do with the format of the encounter.

When you encounter a person of a different ‘race’ in the flesh, as it were (there is biologically speaking no such thing as ‘race’ as genetic differences lie on a continuous spectrum, but we’ll move on), cultural assumptions and associations are triggered automatically merely by their appearance, that immediately distance you from the other person and place self-imposed obligations on you to react in a conditioned way, whatever it may be.

Your reaction to meeting a person obviously of a different ethnic background is almost certainly either to become effusively over-polite, or to retreat into your shell: outwardly hostile or violent reactions to interracial encounters are very rare. You are unlikely to discover much about the Other from that first encounter; other, perhaps, than that they were ‘born here’….

But when you are in the safety and comfort of your own home or the wine bar browsing through photographs and self-descriptions and profiles and convoluted explanations and stories that are often warm and witty and perceptive and surprising and funny, you have time to adjust to the Other and are not required to be polite to an actual person merely for the sake of form, in case the cultural ‘difference’ should prove too much for both of you.

Online dating, then, is a passive-encounter format that encourages imaginative, wishful thinking, that can lead to experimentation, new freedoms and happy discoveries; or a rejection without the need for politeness and difficulty.

Difference can be negative – or positive.

Ask any 1.5 volt battery.

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Come back Swampy, all is forgiven

“Bristol airport is like a giant branch of Debenham’s department store – a tasteless bazaar with a runway attached”

Air travail

It generally takes me three weeks to decide how I’m going to get to France for my annual week’s treat, attending ‘boot camps’ – workshops for jazz musicians, held in agreeable chateaux .

The problem is, there’s no direct or cost-saving way of getting to the places I need to get to, which tend to be a bit out of the mainstream of holiday destinations, from where I live; which is to say, a remote backwater of the UK poorly served by transportation.

The other problem being, travel websites can’t seem to tell you which airline or train service goes to where you need to go, from where, when, at precisely what time and for how much – and if there’s a seat available – until you have correctly guessed all those things for yourself.

There’s a stopping train, two crowded coaches taking three hours just to ‘sprint’ as far as Birmingham, 90 miles away. From there, changing trains it’s still another two hours to London, and another sixty miles or so to the Channel Tunnel. I’ve used the grimy Eurostar service a few times, but it’s difficult to find a seat on the day and at the time I need to travel unless I book months in advance, long before I finally know that I’m even going to have the money to travel at all; while the fares continually whizz up and down depending on the time of day, making budgeting impossible.

Or you could drive, but once you’ve managed the seven hours to Portsmouth and the five-hour crossing and back again, assuming you could easily navigate through the backstreets of Caen (I don’t get SatNav, the sun suffices) it’s going to cost around £800 minimum, on top of the fee for the week, your food and the bar bill.

It can’t all be done in a day, whichever route you choose.

Three times, I’ve tried introducing flying as part of the mix (it’s no quicker). Twice from Bristol, a four hour drive away, to Bergerac, a tiny local airstrip served in summer by two Ryanair flights a week. Bristol airport is like a giant branch of Debenham’s department store with a runway attached, that you reach only after a mile-long walk through the perfume department. That reminds me next time to get one of those wheely case things.

Airports are increasingly like abattoirs, aren’t they. You go in and it all looks friendly and well lit with glossy stuff everywhere you think you’re going to be pleasantly rewarded with, cake shops and coffee bars; until you’re dragooned through a hidden doorway at the back and prodded onto an industrial-looking ramp that leads to almost certain doom, helpless in a pressurised cigar tube, jammed into the tiny space between a sweating fat man reading a broadsheet newspaper and a child with jam on its face playing a noisy video game on a handheld device you know you couldn’t afford if you saved for a month, being flogged prize draws and more perfume by stressed cabin crew while drunken women shout and laugh and run up and down, dangerously unbalancing the plane, fumbling with heavy stuff in the locker above your head.

It’s like a flying wine bar. And they wanted me to pay double to take my guitar.

The last time I flew, I got drunk, overslept and missed my return flight. Luckily I got a lift to Bordeaux, where I managed to get the last seat on an afternoon EasyJet back to Bristol in exchange for driving my rescuer 90 miles home in the middle of the night.

And once from Heathrow to Lyon: a saga I have previously recounted, as St Exupéry airport was where we had to call out an engineer at 2 am to release my phone from a charging dock, only to realise it wasn’t my phone, which was still in my pocket, and I spent the rest of the night hiding under a flyover while they called my name on the tannoy.

I don’t travel well, to be honest.

Which is why I’m hard pressed to understand why on earth we need more airport capacity in Britain? What we have is awful enough.

I lived for a couple of years in Hounslow, West London, not far from the airport. It was intermittently horribly noisy. Even in Central London you’re not spared the roar of Emirates’ 777s descending from their holding stacks and thundering along the Cromwell Road at 600 feet. It’s easy to imagine, isn’t it, one of those falling out of the sky onto Hammersmith, the horrific aftermath. You’ll have seen photos, I don’t doubt, of 747s approaching over Staines at rooftop height, how anyone lives there and at those prices it is impossible to comprehend.

Building an airport on marshland outside London was a wartime necessity, but as the city has expanded and overflowed it looked more and more like a terrible idea; and not just because it’s fogbound practically 363 days of the year. That’s why they built more airports, at Luton, Gatwick, Stansted, London City Docklands… while Charles de Gaulle is only 90 minutes away by TGV. And we still have the MoD airport at Northolt; Biggin Hill, Marlow, Blackbushe…. London is awash with airport capacity already!

Now however the Government – by which, I mean Mrs May – has finally shut its eyes and stuck a pin in the various plans to create yet more capacity in the Southeast of England; got bulb-headed Grayling and his PR baboons to spin up some crap about showing the quaking world that Brexit Britain is Bropen for Brizness, or whatever; bowed to the as-ever selfish and cretinous business lobby, and decided once-and-for-all (lolz!) after fifty years of arguing, in favour of flattening half a dozen ancient villages and their historic English Perpendicular churches for a third runway – at an airport that is already so busy it can barely cope – at a cost of (more hollow laughter) only £18 billion.

It’s insane, the worst possible decision. And so much for the vaunted ‘Northern Powerhouse’; Heathrow being (as politicians seem to imagine – one even said so on the Today show) in the Midlands. As far as Mrs May is concerned, that’s near enough the North as makes no difference.

I’m both flattered and dismayed that the Government – which is to say Mrs May, most of her immediate subordinates, and even her own Maidenhead constituents soon to be under-the-flightpath being virulently opposed to the plan – has adopted my own method of deciding how to proceed with travel arrangements:

…spend days consulting all the mutually contradictory oracles, take far too long dithering until your best opportunity is lost, heave a sigh of frustration and eventually just plump for the worst designed, most expensive, most environmentally damaging, most likely to go wrong arrangement that Tripadvisor can come up with.

She knows too, doesn’t she, that she can muzzle her sock-puppets all she likes; we are in for years of legal arguments and protests. Local elderly vicars and WI members will be chaining themselves to the porches of their beloved churches and lovely C18th Regency buildings, having to be cut loose and dragged away by G4S goons in the full glare of the media; the spirit (or maybe even the tenacious person) of Swampy* will return, along with thousands of environmental protestors marching through Whitehall; up in the trees and burying themselves in holes in the ground; and it’s all going to be one fucking huge mess.

What is the point? I mean, really?

I’m starting to think our unelected Prime Minister is a bit of an idiot, really. Or maybe not, maybe approving Heathrow is the best way of burying this madcap scheme for another 50 years.

*From The Telegraph, September 2013; Seasoned environmental protester Swampy (real name Daniel Hooper, of the Newbury Bypass campaign fame) has retired from protesting to a life of picking acorns and planting trees to support his four children. … Now the father of four spends his days living on the self sufficient Tipi Valley commune, which has no mains electricity or running water…”

Where are you when we need you, mate?

Glad EU-le tidings

At long last, I no longer need feel depressed and bereaved.

Britain’s Christmas-tree growers have hailed the Brexit vote as a boost to their home-grown produce, on account of a 15% increase in the price of a Danish tree. Hurrah! I knew there was a reason for abandoning our treaty partners and selling out to the Chinese. It almost makes you want to stand up and sing the national anthem.

If only anyone could remember the words.

Beating everyone to the counterpunch

NATO is reportedly deploying troops, ships and aircraft to the Baltic region to counter a buildup of Russian forces ‘on manoeuvres’ in the area.

“Nato does not seek confrontation with Russia. We don’t want a new cold war and we don’t want a new arms race,” the alliance’s head, Jens Stoltenberg, was quoted as saying. “What Nato does is defensive and it is proportionate.” – The Guardian, 27 October

Mr Stoltenberg’s logic seems confused. If we don’t want a new arms race, what does he imagine deploying a counter-force is?

Proportionate defence means just that: confrontation, and a matching-up of capabilities. To even think like this is to define the other as the enemy. Provided therefore no incident occurs leading to a tactical strike and counterstrike that could escalate into full-scale conflict, with the probable deployment at first of battlefield nuclear weapons, before a general obliteration of one another’s cities, we are indeed in a new Cold War.

Happily, the British contribution to the rapid reaction force is not due to arrive in Estonia until “next May”, according to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, who added:

“Backed by a rising defence budget this deployment of air, land and sea forces shows that we will continue to play a leading role in Nato.”

Yes, wherever Britain goes, and indeed whenever, others follow.

By which time, we hope, the Russians will have gotten tired of their manoeuvres, leaving our heroes cold, bored and fidgety, staring out at an empty waste and eagerly anticipating their next rotation.

All 850 of them.

Je suis Legend

What a nightmare (quel cauchemar).

Because of the hordes of disease-ridden insect-scroungers swarming at Calais like fruit-flies for a mass attack on the sacred White Cliffs of Douvres, I decided at the last minute to change my travel plans.

The thing was, I had only 40 minutes to get across Paris to make my connecting train. It seemed not impossible in the heat of the moment – and let’s remember, 1st August sees the regular outbreak of mass holidaying in France known as la fermeture annuelle – that there might be some delay getting through the Chunnel. Even a half-hour holdup would mean becoming stranded in Paris for a week, wandering around an empty and closed city on the lookout for zombies: Je suis Legend

So, with an eye on the newscasts, I nervously cancelled my train tickets, writing-off the two hundred pounds, and (after some internet nonsense in which it appears I had also booked a second ticket for use in December, when I was not intending to fly to France) just managed to secure the last seat on the 06.25 Ryanair flight out of Bristol, to where I uncertainly drove, arriving shortly before one a.m on the Friday night – I always believe in allowing plenty of time to check-in; while the Park and Ride turned out to be about ten miles away through the backstreets.

Hordes of tourists swarmed all night through the Departure lounge, with its many acres of shopping, each loudly trundling a suitcase with rumbling, squeaky wheels. Sleep was impossible. I could see no-one else with any luggage resembling my own, unfashionably strappy and behandled, expensive overnight bag in Burgundy-coloured Italian leather, that I had purchased for the occasion via Bagsonlinedotcom.

I don’t know, it’s like you go to an airport nowadays only to shop, and out the back where the changing rooms used to be you’re goaded onto a seemingly endless walkway and down a ramp into a cigar-tube with wings, where exhausted but still-smiling salesladies plastered in layers of makeup ply you with more opp0rtunities to shop, only to land two hours later at another department store somewhere warmer and muggier, but essentially identical.

A process not unakin to an abattoir, as I remarked to a fellow traveller, a total stranger, who didn’t seem to find it funny. He’s probably never kept a pig.

A week of similarly sleep-deprived nights followed, as we partied until dawn. Which explains why, on the last morning, I woke up on the bed fully clothed, and disbelievingly checked my watch, and gradually realised that, having merely gone to my room to collect my stuff, I had keeled over and missed the transport that must have left an hour earlier to take some of us to the airport, forty kilometres away.

There was still, however, an hour-and-a-half to spare to get to the airport before the boarding gate closed.

I could still make it!

The only human being I could find to explain my plight to was one of the hotel waiters, whose grasp of English was tenuous at the best of times. He too was crapulous with wine and lack of sleep after our last-night party. The French have an annoying habit, one no doubt among many, of considerately striving to muster their few words of English while you are conversing as fluently as you know how in your best French, thus ensuring there is no possible meeting of minds on the matter at hand. If only we could agree to stick to one language or the other, communication might be restored and a thousand years of history reversed.

Anyway, my urgent request that he telephone for a taxi met with the explanation that it would be very expensive, I would need to be a millionaire; and so, no, he or another would be honoured to drive me. Excusing himself, he disappeared off upstairs. Twenty minutes later he returned, to explain sheepishly that he could not find any car keys, or anyone at all, and anyway, he was still well over the legal limit to drive. Again, I pleaded with him to just call a taxi. ‘Per’aps feefty Euro!’ he expostulated, with a Gallic lift of both eyebrows. Increasingly agitated, I explained carefully that I did not give a fig how much it cost, I just needed to be there before nine o’clock.

He disappeared again. Another twenty minutes passed, before he returned with the news that the nearest taxi was in Marmande, 15 km away, and the lady owner did not think there was now time to drive to where I was to collect me and bear me thence to the airport by nine o’clock. My mind was racing: what possible alternatives could be plucked from the increasingly humid atmosphere?

By now, helpful English people were trickling in to breakfast, thus starting a fresh train of time-consuming red herrings and wild goose-chases. Ancient Mariner-like, I pathetically described my plight to all and sundry. Clever phones were produced and prodded, to no avail. We traipsed hither and yon, searching vainly for a reliable signal bearing possible news of timetables and suchlike; while in my brain, irreparably clogged with proteinaceous gunge, Time itself seemed both to contract and expand simultaneously. Internet connection at the place was, the proprietor shrugged, a trifle patchy, owing to it’s being ‘la campagne‘ – the countryside, a place of profound tedium and despair in the French mind, especially for those condemned to live there.

At last, the time for the aircraft’s scheduled departure came and went; all hope evaporated. With no means of contacting the airline, since their absurd website is designed specifically to prevent such a thing, I pictured the flight crew anxiously hovering by the aircraft door, checking their watches and the manifest for any sign of the missing passenger; my name being broadcast with increasing urgency over the airport tannoy; frustration and impatience written on the faces of my fellow low-cost passengers as the minutes tick by, anxious to depart; the eventual abandonment of expectation as the pilot finally makes an executive decision and revs-up the motor for takeoff.

French computers are not as English ones are. They are not called computers, but ordinateurs. The Qwerty keyboard layout is not just subtly different. The ubiquitous @ character required for the at-least four compulsory entries of your email address on all travel documents is one of three on its key, leaving you to work out that you need to press Ctrl. Alt. first, in order to separate it from the others. The full-stop, or point symbol, is hidden among the numeric keys, as far as possible from the other punctuation. The navigation is all in French, which by and large I comprehend but obviously not all the technical stuff.

Then, of course, although it is a situation by no means unique to my hosts (it happens every day to me at home), the printer has run out of paper, toner; and, since you printed out the wrong page first and then left it to time-out for five minutes, the driver has defaulted to a different (non-existent) printer, and you have left your passport in your suitcase in the other building, just when you come to the bit about printing-out your own boarding pass or face having to pay an extra 45 Euro to have one issued at the check-in desk; while EasyJet has already forgotten you said you were a ‘Mr’, necessitating a re-entry of all your other data.

But with the help of a kind Dutch guest and some interventions from the proprietor, whose ordinateur it was, I did eventually manage to make the booking, securing once again the last seat on the plane; and set off for Bordeaux, driven in a cute menthol-green hire car by a bluff and sailorly Englishman; a horn-player who, luckily for me, happened also to be booked on the 16.30 to Bristol, and happened to require a lift at the other end as, by chance, his own Byzantine travel arrangements had meant having to leave his own car at home; and who happened to live only an hour away from where I am sitting now, recounting my adventures.

Of such happenstances is life made, fortunately. I finally got in around midnight, to find my young dog-sitter packed and waiting anxiously, surrounded by mess and muddle after a week of holidaying in my little house, and my lovely Hunzi alive and well; which is all, frankly, that really matters.

It was certainly worth writing-off a third tranche of two hundred pounds just to see his little sweet furry face again, his reproachful eyes and his sweeping great plume of a tail threatening to send everything flying in his excitement. Hopefully we shan’t have to go through this torture again for another year, if then. I may just move permanently to France, it would be easier and cheaper.

Oh, sure, it was a great week, as always, but the travelling takes its toll every time on my sanity and my fragile bank balance. I am, I freely admit, administratively challenged. No, I will say: incompetent. A total booby, in dire need of a good PA – or a third wife, whichever comes first. I have read a review of a book by the estimable Alain de Botton, a public philosopher, in which he argues the case for accepting travel as an integral part of life. (I think at the time he was on a year-long grant from the British Airports Authority as the official sage of Heathrow.) I am not of his mind: travel is Purgatory, pure and simple – an uncertain and menacing space between worlds.

This is the fourth time I have made this pilgrimage to one of the great Continental temples of jazz, and the fourth time my journeying there and back, a distance totalling only 1800 miles, has turned to farcical disaster, bungled experiments, needless delay and expense (see Posts passim); all as a result of my inchoate attempts to find the quickest, the safest, the most reliable, the most direct – and the cheapest – way to travel, without losing my tickets on the way.

As for the possible ‘delay’ causing me to miss my train in Paris, there is an epilogue to my story.

It seems a fellow guest had chosen to travel by the same original route I had abandoned at the last minute, involving many trains. He told me, they experienced no delay in the tunnel and he safely made the transition to catch his onward connection in Paris – the one I had most feared missing. Luckily, he had decided to travel with his bicycle, to do a bit of sightseeing; because, when they arrived at the town where he was to make the final connection with the cross-country local service towards our destination, from where it was still a forty-minute car journey to the place, he found that the French railway workers were staging one of their perennial wildcat strikes and there was no train.

He was thus faced with a 65-kilometre bike ride through the night, and arrived at dawn the next day. Happily, his instrument was small enough to carry in his pocket: he is a harmonica-player, who, since the legendary Toots Thielemans retired last year at the age of 93, may be one of the few jazz harmonica-players currently practising, which is a shame but there you are. They say it is better to travel in hope, than to arrive.

I say, bollocks to that.

And now, blessed sleep…

Postscriptum

04.00 hours: Oh, hello Cat, pleased to see me back, are we?

Up, up and away

camphone 3 033Interviewed on the wireless today, one of Branson’s test pilots for his ludicrous ‘space tourism’ venture remarked that if Otto Lilienthal had crashed his glider and people said that would be the end of Man’s attempts to fly, where would we be now?

And I thought, yes. Yes! (punches the computer for emphasis).

Maybe powered flight is the absolute worst idea in history…

Let’s just take a minute to imagine a world without aeroplanes (US trans: airplanes). For a start, we wouldn’t go around dropping bombs on one another just to make a political point. All those people, mostly non-combatant civilians, women and children, needn’t have died before their time. It’s been going on for exactly a hundred years. Has anyone kept score? What are we talking? Millions of dead?

And rockets, and now unmanned drones controlled by teenage substance-abusers in a bunker somewhere in Virginia; swarms of tiny powered insect drones programmed to overfly a crowd and surgically take out all the people called Roger, using tiny missiles…

Then, without powered flight  the world might be a little quieter.

I bogld yesterday my despair at the racket my neighbours make, their builders and decorators, the ceaseless whine and grind of power tools. I’ve complained before at the constant susurrus of distant traffic at night, punctuated by the snarl and rumble of speeding Subaru Imprezas and huge lorries in the street outside, the damned racket the seagulls make at dawn. Sirens; distant car alarms. Sometimes, as now, a train clatters past on the line behind the flats they built across the road.

But nothing compares to the mighty rush and roar of jets landing and taking off every two minutes, screaming over your home near the airport, starting up at five a.m. I used to live near Heathrow, very many years ago. I know. And I have lived on a Welsh hillside, where at any moment two RAF Tornado jets might suddenly appear from behind a hill and scream at rooftop height over your peaceful valley, transformed for a moment or two into a green parody of some flyblown mountain fastness, sheep and horses running about in panic.

And then there’s the pollution, engines injecting water vapour and particulates into the upper atmosphere. It’s estimated the world would be twenty per cent brighter without it, as was demonstrated when the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull (test me!) erupted and put a stop to commercial flights in the northern hemisphere for four sparkling days.

Probably the worst effect of commercial flights however is the ceaseless churning of citizens around the globe, the homogenisation of formerly disparate cultures, the increasing sameness of everywhere; starting with the bustling impersonality of countless airports. The onward transmission of mediocrity, amid a climate of perfervid boredom and intense, irrational paranoia.

This has contributed in no small measure to the dangerous idea, and to the American Project for the 21st Century, that everywhere should be a consumer capitalist liberal democracy, buying our stuff – or we’ll bomb the shit out of you from on high.

And without the dream of space flight, maybe overgrown kids like Branson – a true product of the consumer capitalist liberal democracy, if ever there was one – would spend a little more time and energy and (our) money fixing things down here, where they matter.

The endless game

A contributor to a well-known news comment thread appends a long list of civilian airliners that have been shot-down by military action, both deliberately and (possibly) accidentally, in all parts of the world since 1974.

(I have rePosted it under Pages – 1,000 words or less).

It is a depressing toll. And, if you were to add all the lethal attacks on civil aircraft by quasi-military groups and State-licensed agents and, possibly, even corporate interests, either in the air or on the ground; plus any whose loss remains unexplained, yet – owing to details of the passenger manifest or the political state of the region in which they were lost, or from which they came – can most easily be ascribed to hostile acts, I am sure it would mount into the hundreds.

We can conclude then that flying is dangerous.

Not all such flights may be entirely innocent. Some appear to be the result of civil aircraft flying over contested airspace. A Korean Airlines Boeing 747, the ominously listed Flight 007, was shot down by Russian fighter planes in September 1983 after apparently diverting far beyond its normal course and overflying several highly secret military installations. This diversion was put down to pilot error, but normal curiosity would suggest the hand of the CIA.

The list did not go back as far as the 1963 assassination of UN Secretary-General Dag Hammerskjold, whose light plane was destroyed by a South African bomb*; or the suspicious death in a mid-air explosion of the Polish commander, Wladek Sikorsky, after a summit meeting in 1943, off the coast of Gibraltar. Conspiracy theorists have even suggested that the buck might stop with Winston Churchill.

Nor did it include Pan Am Flight 101, brought down over the village of Lockerbie, in Scotland – where a further eleven people were killed on the ground. Never fully explained, the incident was wrapped-up with the gaoling of Abdul al-Megrahi, a medium-level Libyan intelligence agent, on flimsy evidence connecting him possibly with an item of clothing found in a suitcase thought to have contained the bomb. The increasingly deranged Libyan leader, Gadaffi later agreed to pay compensation but admitted no liability.

The best explanation is that it was a contract killing carried out by Libya on behalf of the government of Iran, in revenge for the accidental downing of an Iranian civil airbus over the Gulf by a trigger-happy missile operative on board the carrier, USS Vincennes. It was also reported that several US embassy ‘officials’ due to fly on 101 had withdrawn at the last minute, leaving their seats to be taken by a number of young students. This suggests the appalling possibility that the US government at some level may have assented to the attack. But the trail is now cold.

Whatever the reasons, or non-reasons, for these atrocities – and the perpetrators must realise that their actions make travel less safe for them as well as us – they bring home the truth that we live in two parallel universes, that occasionally collide with disastrous effect.

Literally over the heads of most of us, there is a game going on. Anyone is entitled to opt-in, or opt-out, but at their own risk. It’s called warfare, and Humanity has been playing this same game for tens of thousands of years. The weaponry may have grown more sophisticated, but the participants haven’t. Nor do the rules ever change: might is right. What’s yours is mine. My enemy’s enemy is my friend.

Periodicity in History studies is a category error. You cannot simply parcel-up wars into convenient blocs: The Wars of the Roses. The Franco-Prussian Wars. The First World War. The Cold War. All wars are connected, indivisibly. While the campaigns themselves may start and finish on the hour, and you can trace the first shot, and the last; the precedents and causes, the arming and the disarming, the statistics of the dead and the social outcomes, the treaties and defensive pacts and documents of surrender, the technological developments, History offers us no clear beginnings or ends.

There is only one, endless war.

Like a grand palace, room after room interconnects, with few passages between. Its location may shift, this way and that; its causes may be more or less distinct, its participants change and have their allegiances, their reasons for joining in; whole civilisations may wax and wane on the basis of their success at conquest and oppression, their defences against the barbarians and the efficiency or brutality of their armies and generals (it is equally a category error to imagine civilisations as being distinct entities in History, nevertheless we soldier on…), but war itself never ends; only morphing into new wars, different brutalities.

This war is for many a parallel universe of adventure and excitement, of dynastic rivalries and intrigues, of the exercise of power and the testing of sinews, the trial of nerve and resolve. But for those who choose not to participate in the game, it is an eternal misery, that in too many parts of the world becomes indistinguishable from any other way of life.

When the two universes intersect, as they did for the passengers of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine last July 18, as they have done for the children of Gaza, who are even now being inducted into the war without end, we are all reduced to one shameful creature. Man.

* Maybe a white separatist Rhodesian bomb. It’s complicated.

 

So what has happened to Flight MH370? And why are you asking me?

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: A Study in Scarlet.

So, what has happened to Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, missing now for nine days? The Comment threads are buzzing with the usual uninformed speculation. Among the many plausible and not-so plausible theories people have posted are:

1 It blew up in mid-air. A bomb. A fuel explosion following an engine fire. Cabin fire. A missile. North Korea. Single engine transponder continued to ping for 6 hours, picked up by Inmarsat. Why did it take them a week to report it? Was it pinging from the air? From under the sea? From on land? Why has it stopped? If terrorism, why no claim of responsibility? Why no wreckage? Why was it three days before we were told the plane had altered course unexpectedly?

2 Massive electrical failure. Solar flare? It came down in the sea, intact, then sank. On land. Stranded. Why no emergency message received? What happened to the passengers?

3 The onboard navigation systems failed. The pilot thought he was on-course. Ran out of fuel over the Indian Ocean. Tried to put it down somewhere. Crashed. But pilot had 18,000 hours’ experience. And why no emergency signal?

4 The pilot hijacked his own plane to flee abroad or commit suicide. Why? He’s a pilot! Malaysia’s is not a closed border. Where did he go, where is it now? Did he go mad? Why did the rest of the crew not intervene? Why did the co-pilot bid Malaysian air traffic control a cheery ‘goodnight’, if the pilot was busy committing suicide? Why did he build his own flight simulator at home  – was it to rehearse taking a plane? To train terrorists? If landed somewhere, why not reported by the local airport authorities? What happened to the passengers?

5 The pilot and/or co-pilot was part of a conspiracy to hijack the plane and made sure all comms were disabled. What was the purpose? Why has no-one claimed responsibility? Did someone want to get hold of 777’s secret technology? Did they decide to seize a plane of their own to mount a 9/11 attack because it’s too difficult to hijack a plane? Somewhat illogical reason! If plane recrossed Malaysian airspace en route to Andaman Islands, why not noticed on civil/military radar? Why airforce jets on standby not scrambled? (Port Blair runway too short to land a 777 but up to a dozen – or 600 – others in range.)

6 The aircraft has 8,000km range, fully fuelled. So landed at a secret destination, possibly a former Soviet ‘Stan’ republic, and is being kept hidden/being repainted. (Or in Australia, according to US ‘intelligence’,17th March). Either as a future weapon for a 9/11 attack (Petronas Tower?) or because Malaysian Airlines is in financial difficulty*. Again, what then happened to the passengers? Hostage? Murdered? Was any individual on the passenger manifest a potential target for kidnap or assassination?

7 Why did no-one on board apparently use their mobile phone to broadcast a message? Has anyone checked? Could terrorists really have taken phones off 230 people before anyone could call or secretly text? Did plane blow up suddenly? (So why not seen? Wreckage not found?) Or did no-one realise they were in danger? Already asleep because after 1 a.m.? Knockout gas in ventilation system? Temporary depressurisation of cabin? Suggests pilot/crew involvement. But no suggestion pilot was political. Except he was, sort-of. Politics? Blackmail? Family threatened? Huge bribe? Or just out of cellphone signal range?

8 Attention focussed for several days on two young Iranian men travelling on stolen passports. It is believed there are a million stolen passports in circulation. Background checks showed one of the men was hoping to find asylum in Germany. Also Sweden. Could both have been hijackers? And foiled the plane’s comms systems? And taken it over, and taken the passengers’ phones? Where would they have gone? Would we not know by now?

9 No attention seems to have been focussed on two Ukrainian and one Russian citizen on the flight. Ukraine is currently an international flashpoint, with Russian troops massing to invade. Again, could just two men take over a 777 with locked cockpit door and 239 passengers? Was there a fight, with shots fired, that caused sudden cabin depressurisation, hence no phones used? Shoe bomb used to blow open cabin door. Was Moscow a target for a 9/11 attack?

10 Separatists, possibly with China involvement, ie Uighur moslems; or one of many Indonesian separatist movements, e.g. Bandah Aceh; or al-Quaeda cells from Bali, Indonesia, Philippines, etc. Maoist Indian Naxalites. Or Tamil Tigers. So why no demand or claim of responsibility? Why none of these on pasenger manifest? Plane blown up unintentionally en route to target? Switched in mid-air with another commercial flight? Shot down by military fighter jets to prevent an attack? Or by accident – automatic defence systems triggered by plane off course and not responding??

11 A high-tech explanation. Possibly a trial run for a 9/11-type operation? Testing 3D-printed weaponry (undetectable plastic)? Cyberjacking – using mobile phones or satellite technology to see if a plane can be taken over from the ground, comms disabled, and flown by remote control? Then ditched in the Indian Ocean (2km deep water!)? The real operation comes later?

12 Fire in the cockpit. Pilots shut down comms transponder to put out fire (WTF?? Ed.) Set course for emergency airfield, passengers, pilots and crew all overcome by smoke. (Why didn’t pilots put on emergency oxygen, then?) Autopilot flies plane on and on, out into the Indian Ocean, until it runs out of fuel. (Fails to explain why plane alters course three times… also would you not make a Mayday call BEFORE you disabled your comms?)

13 Alien abduction by traction beam. Mid-air collision with alien craft. Slipped through a wormhole into another dimension or parallel universe. Portal opened up into the future. Plane found on moon…

Actually, I’ve made up the last bit. It seemed the most probable explanation.

* Blogger ‘Gary’ (Yahoo!, 17 March) quotes an interesting report of a proposed CIA operation in the 1960s to switch a regular flight with an identical radio-controlled airliner and deliberately crash it to falsely implicate Cuba. (If that is the plan, it’s not going to work, because everyone now knows the real plane is missing! – Ed.)

Strangely, an Australian aviation expert on BBC radio this morning (17th March) claimed that the hunt for MH370 has switched to the southern ocean as the result of information supplied by US intelligence. Yet this information is only being generally reported on newswires today (20th March) as aircraft search for two ‘objects’ ‘spotted four days ago’ 1,500 miles from Perth in the Southern Ocean by an ‘Australian’ (sic) satellite…

Postscriptum

I have just vaguely recalled that I dreamed something like this scenario about a year ago.

Post, postscriptum

Okay, I thought I could keep it going but it’s now three minutes past six pm on 31st March and we’re still no nearer finding this plane. Vast areas of ocean have been combed, intelligence satellites and planes have spotted literally tonnes of floating garbage, some of it the size of  an aircraft, none of which appears to have anything to do with Flight MH370 (so you wonder what the hell it is, then? Why are we just chucking this stuff away?Alll the recorded faint ‘pings’ have been analysed, but Malaysia is still not releasing the information they are getting from the investigating team. China is practically at war over the incompetence with which the episode is being handled by the State airline, mass protests have taken place demanding the authorities either come clean or stop putting out misinformation, especially by text messages. Numerous relatives have been interviewed saying they believe their loved ones are still alive; although we know of course that there is no air on the moon. It is all very difficult, as if you don’t know anything, it’s hard to say what it is you don’t know, without sounding as though you do know really, when all you know is that nothing is known.

Meanwhile, the days roll by.

 

The train now departing

The government seems determined to push through the HS2 high-speed rail line, no matter what.

This bizarre obsession with a grandiose scheme costing £50 billion, that will cause untold misery and inconvenience to thousands of people for the next fifteen years, is defended with extraordinary illogicality.

For instance, it is argued that it will solve problems of capacity on the existing network. How, exactly, will a new railway line built between London and Birmingham increase capacity on the lines to Swansea, Penzance or Norwich? Let alone on the lines where the worst capacity problems are experienced, the cattle-truck commuter services in the Southeast?

Will it not simply deliver more passengers onto trains departing from Birmingham to onward destinations, thus worsening capacity problems in the Midlands?

And how, exactly, will a line that stops at Birmingham create economic growth in the North of England – forgetting that the Southwest and Wales are also among the worst-performing, most underinvested parts of the country? Birmingham is not in the North, although I suspect few London-based politicians know that. But it is already the second wealthiest city, after London.

The aim is to extend the line to Manchester and Leeds sometime in the 2030s, but a lot can change by then. My bet is that the line won’t get beyond Birmingham, the northerly legs will be cancelled owing to rising costs. Would it not make more sense, if Northern regeneration is the aim, to start the new line at Leeds and work southwards?

And is there not in any case an argument that says the line is just as, or even more more likely to deliver additional prosperity to the South as to the North? The money following the money, as it were? Unless, that is, the service is only one-way. But it is hard to see exactly what prosperity is being talked about, and how it will be delivered. The evidence of the worldwide development of railways in the Victorian period is that prosperity may blossom around the railhead, but it is bled from communities not served by the line.

Then there is a simple point to be made about priorities. There are already adequate rail services between the various destinations proposed for HS2. To disparage them as ‘Victorian’ is disingenuous: the routes may have been laid down in the C19th, but the lines, the rolling stock and the stations — the ticket prices — are modern and could, given a fraction of the cost of HS2, be made more so.

Thanks in part to the Beeching cuts, other parts of the country are not connected to the rail network at all. Should these not be served first, and the network upgraded, before the national profit for the next fifteen years is expended on this one project, massively greedy for money and land? Should we not be focussing on high-speed broadband as a deliverer of future prosperity, rather than on wasteful physical travel?

HS2 will doubtless end up as the ‘first-class’ business service and have little to do with transporting ordinary people. It’s easy to envisage a ticket costing £200, great for MPs and business executives, local authority bigwigs and NHS managers rushing between conferences on taxpayer-funded expenses. The ordinary traveller living at either end, hoping to visit relatives or attend job interviews or go Christmas shopping or get to far-flung airports will be shunted onto the existing ‘slow line’, a third-class service for a third-class citizen; a line so starved of funds that non-paying passengers will be carried, clinging to the carriage roofs.

Has anyone supporting this incomprehensibly expensive project tried to imagine actually using the service? Apart, that is, from fantasising about the thrill of hurtling uncontrollably through a blurred green landscape at 250 miles an hour, to a place where you would probably rather not be going, hoping against hope that bored children will not have dumped a concrete block on the line during the night?

Have they, for instance, ever travelled on Eurostar’s dismayingly grotty ‘low-speed’ Channel Tunnel service, HS1, for which you have to book months in advance?

The pricing is unpredictable, fluctuating wildly according to demand, and there is seldom a seat available when you need to travel. Booking on-line is a matter of guesswork: you tell the computer when you need to travel and where from, and to; it tells you to guess again. The return journey is equally an uncertain process, with a completely different price being charged and no guarantee of seat availability at the time of your choosing.

Will this then be the model for HS2? You can’t just turn up and get on a Eurostar TGV train, you have to ‘check-in’ half-an-hour ahead of departure and be searched for contraband. It’s the train that thinks it’s an airline, only with the shabbiest decor and most uncomfortable seating imaginable. Like an airline, in fact.

Only, one that never gets off the ground.