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Pilots are not always perfect

Monday, 22 September, 2014 0 Comments

In 1979, a new approach to flying passenger planes was brainstormed in San Francisco. It was called it Cockpit Resource Management (CRM), a term since expanded to stand for Crew Resource Management. The idea was to create a less hierarchical cockpit culture where co-pilots were expected to give their opinions and question their captains if they saw mistakes being made. That’s the background to The Human Factor by William Langewiesche in Vanity Fair. It’s a gripping, somewhat terrifying exploration of the Air France Flight 447 crash in 2009, which killed 228 people. Snippet:

The tenets of C.R.M., which emerged from the United States, fit naturally into the cultures of Anglo-Saxon countries. Acceptance has been more difficult in certain Asian countries, where C.R.M. goes against the traditions of hierarchy and respect for elders. A notorious case was the 1997 crash of a Korean Air Boeing 747 that hit a hillside on a black night, while on approach to Guam, after a venerated captain descended prematurely and neither the co-pilot nor the flight engineer emphatically raised concerns, though both men knew the captain was getting things wrong. In the impact 228 people died. Similar social dynamics have been implicated in other Asian accidents.

And Air France? As judged from the cockpit management on display in Flight 447 before it went down, NASA’s egalitarian discipline has devolved within the airline into a self-indulgent style of flying in which co-pilots address the captain using the informal ‘tu’ but some captains feel entitled to do whatever they like. The sense of entitlement does not occur in a void. It can be placed in the context of a proud country that has become increasingly insecure. A senior executive at Airbus mentioned to me that in Britain and the United States the elites do not become airline pilots, whereas in France, as in less developed countries, they still do. This makes them difficult to manage. Bernard Ziegler, the visionary French test pilot and engineer behind the Airbus design, once said to me, ‘First you have to understand the mentality.’

I said, ‘Do you really think they are so arrogant?’

He said, ‘Some, yes. And they have the flaw of being too well paid.’

‘So there must be no problem in the United States.’

But Ziegler was serious. He said, ‘Second, the union’s position is that pilots are always perfect. Working pilots are perfect, and dead pilots are, too.’

William Langewiesche is the author of the splendid American Ground and his reportage is consistently convincing.

The brief September life of T. E. Hulme

Sunday, 21 September, 2014 0 Comments

From The Short Sharp Life of T. E. Hulme by Robert Ferguson: “On 28 September 1917, four days after his thirty-fourth birthday, Hulme suffered a direct hit from a large shell which literally blew him to pieces. Apparently absorbed in some thought of his own he had failed to hear it coming and remained standing while those around threw themselves flat on the ground. What was left of him was buried in the Military Cemetery at Koksijde, West-Vlaanderen, in Belgium where — no doubt for want of space — he is described simply as ‘One of the War poets’.”

The month of September played a determining role in the brief life of T.E. Hulme. He was born on 16 September 1883 and he was killed on 28 September 1917.


A touch of cold in the Autumn night —
I walked abroad,
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
Like a red-faced farmer.
I did not stop to speak, but nodded,
And round about were the wistful stars
With white faces like town children.

T. E. Hulme

The sound of Scotland: RM Hubbert

Saturday, 20 September, 2014 1 Comment

The votes have been cast and the ripples from Scotland are spreading across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. With luck, the result will be a more representative democracy for all the citizens of the United Kingdom. We end our Scottish week here with the excellent RM Hubbert, a guitarist from Glasgow now living in Troon. By the way, he’s playing in Kilkenny tonight, in The Hole in the Wall.


Friday, 19 September, 2014 0 Comments

Scotland and England: A most harmonious union

Thursday, 18 September, 2014 0 Comments

The singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty was born in Paisley, the largest town in Renfrewshire in the Lowlands of Scotland. He found an audience for his music in London and he immortalized the city in Baker Street. With Rafferty’s understated vocals contrasting perfectly with the soaring saxophone of Raphael Ravenscroft, a classic was born. Baker Street will go well with a glass of single malt tonight as excitement about the referendum result begins to escalate.

Caledonian Antisyzygy: Alex Massie says “No”

Wednesday, 17 September, 2014 0 Comments

When he’s not writing or giving interviews, Alex Massie Massie, who lives in Edinburgh, supports the Scottish football team Heart of Midlothian and plays for Selkirk Cricket Club. He’s got the credentials to vote “Yes” in tomorrow’s referendum, but he will be doing the opposite instead. Why?

“I’m voting No because the campaign has surprised me. It’s made me think about my country and, more than that, what it means to be a part of that country. I’ll vote No even though I think Scotland would do fine as an independent country.

Because, even more than the economic sleight-of-hand, I’ve been taken aback by the dishonesty of a campaign that claims you can end the United Kingdom as we know it but retain almost everything about the United Kingdom that actually makes it the United Kingdom.”

Remarking on Britain in Why I am voting No, Massie says it’s “a place in which I’m always Scottish but also, when it suits, British too. A country where you travel to very different places and still always come home without having been abroad.”

The Last King of Scotland

Tuesday, 16 September, 2014 1 Comment

“His Excellency, President for Life Field Marshall Al Hadj Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC. Lord of all the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular welcomes the Court of Kampala and assembled worthies of the city to this his annual banquet.”

So recites a Ugandan official at the annual Ambassadors’ Dinner as remembered by Nicholas Garrigan, Amin’s personal physician, in Giles Foden‘s novel, The Last King of Scotland. What makes the book so readable is that it succeeds in making the incredible — life in a country run by a monster named Idi Amin — credible.

The Last King of Scotland Human rights groups estimate 400,000 people were killed under Amin’s rule. They included farmers, fishermen, students, soldiers, former and serving cabinet ministers, supreme court judges, diplomats, university rectors, educators, Roman Catholic and Anglican clergy, hospital directors, surgeons, bankers, tribal leaders and business executives. Among the foreign victims, one name, Dora Bloch, a 73-year-old Israeli woman, is worth remembering because it helps us focus on so much of the evil that accompanied Amin through his days in power to his deathbed in Saudi Arabia.

On 27 June 1976, seven terrorists, five Palestinians and two members of the German Baader-Meinhof gang, hijacked Air France flight 139 after it left Tel Aviv for Paris. The plane landed first in Libya and then continued, arriving at Entebbe in Uganda early on 28 June. Amin visited the hijacked passengers and then flew to Mauritius where an Organization of African Unity meeting was taking place and where he would hand over the presidency of the body. After making his final address, he flew back to Kampala. He was there when, on the morning of 4 July, Israeli commandos — having flown 2,300 miles — landed, killed the hijackers, rescued 102 hostages and destroyed eight Ugandan Air Force Migs. One of the hostages, Dora Bloch, had been hospitalised in Kampala and the only option for retaliation open to Amin was to drag her from her sick bed and have her killed. For his collusion with the hijackers, Amin was rewarded with the presence of Yasser Arafat at his fifth wedding. Indeed, Arafat was best man.

And then there’s Libya. New of Amin’s death reached the world on the very day that Libya formally accepted responsibility for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people. For those keeping a ledger, it should be noted that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was first to give refuge to Amin after he was forced out of Uganda. Amin’s next stop was Iraq, where Saddam Hussein extended his nation’s hospitality and then, in 1979, he settled in Saudi Arabia, where he was fixed up with a splendid seaside villa in the Red Sea port of Jiddah.

Because he was a convert to Islam, the Saudis were particularly fond of him and he earned enormous respect from the kingdom’s theocrats for his attempts to create an Islamic nation out of a country that was only about six percent Muslim at the time of his take-over. That he had murdered tens of thousands of Christians in the process was seen as proof of his “goodness”.

Arafat, Gaddafi, Saddam, the Saudis… all able associates of Idi Amin, “Lord of all the Beasts of the Earth”.

Caledonian Antisyzygy: Val McDermid says “Yes”

Monday, 15 September, 2014 0 Comments

It all began, some say, with The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Thus was born in Scottish literature “Caledonian Antisyzygy”, which in plain English is the “idea of dueling polarities within one entity”. Viewed historically, Stevenson’s book begat “Tartan noir” and along with Ian Rankin, its most famous practitioner today is Val McDermid, whose novels, especially the Tony Hill series, are known for their graphic depictions of sex and violence.

McDermid will be voting “Yes” in Thursday’s referendum on Scotland’s future. “I understand some people believe in the union and its value to us, and I have no issue with the ones — like JK Rowling — voting no for those cogently expressed reasons. I disagree with them, but I respect their position,” she writes in The Guardian, and continues:

“What I don’t respect are the ‘fearties’ — the ones whose reason for voting no is that they’e afraid we’ll turn out to be incapable of managing our own country. I don’t want us to stay in the union because we’re scared of what the future holds if we strike out on our own.

Look at our history: we invented political economy; we led the world in the practical application of science and engineering; we organised and ran the British empire; we run towards, not away, from terrorists who try to blow up our airport. How can we not believe in ourselves?”

More Caledonian Antisyzygy here on Wednesday from someone who is voting “No”.

Assynt, Inverkirkaig, Stoer, Inchnadamph, Kylesku

Sunday, 14 September, 2014 0 Comments

The curlicue placenames of Scotland give the impression that they were created with an eye on branding single malt whisky, so intriguing are the craggy mixtures of consonants and vowels. Consider the parish of Assynt, which is located on a remote corner of the northwest Highlands. It can boast a neighbourhood of Inverkirkaig, Baddidarach, Stoer, Quinag, Inchnadamph, Kylesku and Lochinver, to name but seven gems. No wonder, then, that Norman MacCaig adored it.

Assynt and Edinburgh

From the corner of Scotland I know so well
I see Edinburgh sprawling like seven cats
on its seven hills beside the Firth of Forth.

And when I’m in Edinburgh I walk
amongst the mountains and lochs of that corner
that looks across the Minch to the Hebrides.

Two places I belong to as though I was born
in both of them.

They make every day a birthday,
giving me gifts wrapped in the ribbons of memory.
I store them away, greedy as a miser.

Norman MacCaig (1910 — 1996)

Muddy Waters and Mick Jagger: Baby Please Don’t Go

Saturday, 13 September, 2014 0 Comments

Jumpin’ Jack Flash: “I was born in a cross-fire hurricane / And I howled at my Ma in the drivin’ rain.” Recently watched the hugely enjoyable Crossfire Hurricane documentary about the early years of The Rolling Stones. It features lots of original footage and some memorable performances, and it reminds one of just how indebted the band was to classic blues and legends like Muddy Waters.

Obama translated

Friday, 12 September, 2014 1 Comment

“Barack Obama‚Äôs address Wednesday on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria was surprisingly terrible: a disorganized mess, insincere and unconvincing.” So begins David Frum’s dissection in The Atlantic of the “Statement by the President on ISIL“, which was delivered at prime time. Frum turns Obama’s words into “plain English” and the results are as amusing as they are perturbing. Example:

“We will also support Iraq’s efforts to stand up National Guard units to help Sunni communities secure their own freedom from ISIL’s control. Across the border, in Syria, we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition.”

In plain English: We’re desperately casting about for allies who aren’t Hezbollah or Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

According to Frum, the question facing the USA is, “What is the benefit of this war to America and to Americans?” His conclusion: “That was the question the speech left unanswered. And the ominous suspicion left behind is that the question was unanswered because it is unanswerable — at least, not answerable in any terms likely to be acceptable to the people watching the speech and paying the taxes to finance the fight ahead.”