No Planes

April 24, 2010

The skies were quiet last week, and I quite liked it. There’s an airport within the Belfast city limits, and I hadn’t realized just how noisy the planes flying in and out of the city were until I couldn’t hear them anymore. It certainly helped that the weather got gorgeous while the planes were grounded, so it was quiet skies, warm weather, and contrail free. It wreaked havoc for some of my friends, though. Jun was stuck in Europe for the entire duration of the flight ban, slowly going broke, and Erin’s boyfriend wasn’t able to make the trip out to Belfast from America because of the ash cloud. This was annoying to everyone involved. Most people kept a bright outlook on things and gamely struggled through, though.

Now I find out that the airlines are throwing a strop about the whole thing. On one hand, I understand their argument. They lost millions of dollars by not being able to fly. On the other hand, when they act like Ryanair’s Chief Executive did, it makes it very hard for me to have sympathy with them. Under EU rules airlines are obliged to pay for accommodation and food costs if passengers are stranded through no fault of their own. I do understand O’Leary’s point; Ryanair couldn’t possibly have foreseen these circumstances, and the delay was much longer than usual. The volcano exploding wasn’t Ryanair’s fault. It wasn’t the passengers fault, either. I’m not really sure why passengers should be expected to pay but Ryanair shouldn’t. Surely one of the largest airlines in the world should be able to cover their obligations.

More annoying to me is the response of British Airways officials to the length of the flight ban. The Chief of BA is upset that the flight ban went on for as long as it did. Again, I have a little bit of sympathy for the airlines on this count; they were on the ground, losing money, for a long time. So why did the flight ban go on for as long as it did? Because authorities thought it was unsafe. It’s really not difficult to comprehend this. Sure, they probably erred on the side of caution, but don’t you want regulatory bodies to do that? What if they’d ok’d flights and had one fall out of the sky? The loss to the airlines would be infinitely greater. Save your outrage, airlines; people come before your bottom lines.

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I mentioned on facebook that I was pretty upset with Comedy Central about the recent South Park controversy. In a recent episode, the Prophet Muhammad was depicted. That resulted in a not-so-veiled threat against the creators by a group based in America called Revolution Muslim. (I’m not going to link to their site, because I don’t want to drive traffic to them.) Comedy Central responded by censoring the episode, and all past South Park episodes that depicted Muhammad without incident at first airing. (Yeah, they’ve shown him before and not gotten into trouble.) This whole thing is driving me crazy.

Understand, first, that most (but not all) varieties of Islam have a taboo against depicting the Prophet and God. So when a Muslim gets upset at seeing a depiction of these two figures, it isn’t so much the content of the depiction that gets them upset (As opposed to Christian reaction to Piss Christ) but the fact of depiction itself. That’s a crucial distinction. Still. This is a multicultural society, and these taboos aren’t shared. At some point when living in a pluralist world one has to realize that not everyone agrees with them, and shouldn’t face death threats for that fact. Comedy Central was unbelievably spineless to pull this episode.

Some more commentary on the issue:

Michael Moynihan:

The issue here is not causing offense to those who believe the rest of us must abide by the rules of their religion, by not representing their “prophet” in cartoon form (demonstrating that the turban bomb was mere icing on the cake). The answer to this niggling problem is simple: screw ’em. No, the real problem is the pathetic, spineless cowards at Comedy Central, who mock one and all nightly on the Daily Show and Colbert Report, but submit to the outrageous demands of the violent and superstitious. Actually, being that this is a preemptive measure, could we not accuse Comedy Central of Islamophobia? Are they not fearful of Islam, despite receiving only one threat from a group of subliterate wackjobs in Queens?

Aunt B. via Andrew Sullivan:

This large media conglomerate is regularly and repeatedly signalling that, even if they’re willing to stand up to angry Baptists or Jews with hurt feelings, pissed off Muslims are so scary and weird and “other” that they have to be handled with kid gloves. I know plenty of fucked-up Christians who I’m sure have sent angry letters and phone calls to Comedy Central about South Park. So, what Comedy Central is saying is that some death-threaty, angry, fundamentalist kill-joys, if they’re Christian, obviously don’t reflect the opinions of all Christians or warrant changing programming to accommodate. But some death-threaty, angry, fundamentalist kill-joys, if they’re Muslim, will be treated as if they are the legitimate authority on their religion and Comedy Central will respond in fear to them. And fear is just the submissive expression of hostility.

And Dan Savage: Everybody Draw Mohammad Day!

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Final thing, in the course of reading about some recent stirrings for Washington DC statehood, I ran across this post by Jonathan Bernstein on founding principles. Here’s a particularly good paragraph, I think:

Here’s the thing about representation, something that is I think fairly little known: political representation is a really, really new idea, historically speaking. For example, you won’t find it in Shakespeare, because it hadn’t really been invented yet. By 1776 it was an established and recognized fact in England, but there was very little systematic thought about it yet (Burke’s famous speech to the Electors of Bristol was in November, 1774).. So in large part, the Framers were making it up as they went along; Madison’s insights into democracy and representation were really very new, really original. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if their understanding of representation was not fully mature. Folks back then thought that women didn’t need to vote, and they had ideas about representation to support that notion, but they got that wrong — and they got representation of arbitrary pieces of land wrong, too, to the extent they believed in it. Anyway, as we know, the House/Senate distinction wasn’t made on principle; it was a compromise forced on everyone by political necessity. So while we’re stuck with it, we don’t have to embrace it as a virtue or a founding principle.

Its a great point, and syncs with a point I made a month or so ago, namely; all the stuff we hold so sacred is really very new in the scheme of human events and probably shouldn’t be written in stone. I was talking then about capitalism, but I think the critique works when we’re talking about the Constitution of the US, too. As currently constituted, the US is one of the oldest countries in the world, and most countries don’t adopt constitutions based on our model. (Coincidence?) This reminds me of some critiques of religion that I’ve seen.

A group of brilliant theologians shows up and begins to articulate a new and exciting way to think about God. Their positions are threatening to the established order, but they soldier on in the face of opposition. A vibrant movement is the result. And when the leaders die everyone makes the tacit assumption that the work has been finished. The Reformation has occurred. The form has been perfected. Those who criticize from within are ostracized.

Now, substituted constitutionalists for theologians, and the Constitution/government for God. Seriously. We’ve made the Constitution into a God.

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I lied, actually. This is the last thing. A series of articles/podcasts that you simply must read/listen to.

The Guardian on Goldman

This American Life on Magnetar, a corporation that made millions betting against the housing market.

Slate’s Book Club on Michael Lewis’s The Big Short, a book about the financial collapse.

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