No fly ban, the sleep of reason

April 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

Early January I found myself on the main road from Sligo in the Republic of Ireland to Dublin. Outside, the temperature was minus five. The grass on the verges was sparkling white, the mountains snow-capped. The EU funded dual carriageway, though, was perfectly clear, as smooth and black and driveable as a runway. Nevertheless, everyone was going along at a crawl of 50 kph.

It was obvious we could have been doing twice that. But on the car radios across the nation, presenters were relaying police and road authorities’ demands that drivers should exercise extreme caution. People I spoke to in Dublin were of the same opinion, the reality of the particular road in question being beside the point. I detected a kind of pride, as if this hard put-upon nation, stripped bare by the civic unvirtue of its banks, was finding unity in the abolition of common sense and the dangers of three inches of snow.

Now that we’re into the fifth day of the “volcanic ash crisis” that has paralysed Europe’s airports, you can only wonder if the no fly ban implemented by our aviation authorities isn’t of a same piece. As early as Saturday 17 April, the Telegraph reports, airlines like Lufthansa, BA, and KLM were sending test planes up into the skies without incident. No ash cloud sandblasted windshields, blocked fuel nozzles, contaminated oil systems or blocked airspeed sensors. Ash did not collect on engine blades. Engines did not lost thrust or shut down. Conditions, as a BA spokesman has said, were “perfect” – i.e. without ash.

There is no ash, but computer says No. So we can’t fly. Giovanni Bisignani, director-general of the International Air Transport Association has called this, “a European embarrassment… Europeans are still using a system that’s based on a theoretical model, instead of taking a decision based on facts and risk assessment.” Air France pilots last night on France Culture were fuming too, as is Air Berlin’s CEO, which has also sent test flights up. He has declared himself “amazed” that the results of the German airlines’ flights “did not have any influence whatsoever on the decisions taken by the aviation safety authorities.”

And the politicians back them. “Mandelson’s Dunkirk” pipes the Independent, with a photo of him and luminaries in front Number 10, Downing Street. The British government is attempting to summon up the fondly remembered spirit of getting kicked out of France by the German army in 1940. This by deploying the Royal Navy to rescue 150,000 British citizens now stranded abroad. Similarly Denis MacShane in the London daily’s op-ed pages argues we need “a 2010 equivalent of the Berlin Airlift” to give the EU “a chance to show what it is made of”. The list of urgent measures is long. One includes “Local university students who speak the foreign languages of stranded citizens can travel to help monolingual people.” So avid is the rush to conjure up of all sorts of spirits of World War 2 or the Cold War, that the question as to why planes aren’t just back up in the sky shuttling monolinguals home is completely overlooked.

There’s a cloud hanging over Europe right now, but not the one gushing from the mouth of Eyjafjallajokull. This one is an even darker fog projected by increasingly irrational authorities. Think of Goya’s The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters with its ghoulish birds flapping about the dozing scholar’s over-heated unconscious. In the past year we’ve been treated to swine flu pandemics, Himalayan glaciers melting, and Obama’s claim that we are threatened by SPECTRE-like terrorist organisations bearing rogue nukes when actually existing Al-Qaeda operatives in the West have trouble even blowing their trousers up. Now there’s a toxic airborne event that hasn’t brought down a fly. Exercising extreme caution when the roads and skies are clear are just another symptom that we can longer distinguish dream from reality.


Iran, ’68 and all that

June 19, 2009 § Leave a comment

Michelet, in his famous history of the French revolution relates the story of an aristocrat disguised as a peasant, fleeing Robespierre’s Terror for the safety of what it is now Belgium. Feeling peckish while still in France, he entered a tavern. When invited to order, he eagerly called for a twelve egg omelette, and thus sealed his own fate. Unmasked as a toff, he was dispatched back to Paris to, one suspects, an unpleasant fate.

Such a story springs to mind after a recent article covered here at Presseurop. British Airways, it seems, is doing so badly that CEO Willie Walsh has sent out an invitation to the company’s 40,000 employees that in order to “fight for our survival” employees should go without wages for up to a month. Walsh strangely believes he can lead by example by proudly announcing that he will forgo his own July intake, a modest £62,000 pounds out a total of £743,000 per annum “basic”. This is nearly seventy times more than the annual wage a member of cabin crew pockets. However, Walsh still expects “volunteers” to turn up by June 24 and share in his vast sense of personal sacrifice.

There is something so charmingly naive about Walsh’s idea that it has a whiff of the Ancien Régime about it. And who says Ancien Régime in 2009 suggests that our crisis ridden time is ripe for revolt. But wait. Since last year’s May 68 commemorations, it seems that not a week goes by without someone wondering if we’re not entering a new patch of historical turbulence. Witness a recent piece in the New Statesman by Andrew Hussey, in which he focuses on Olivier Besancenot’s NPA (Anti-Capitalist Party) apparently the darling of French youth, and very much a party that sometimes wittily exploits the great abyss that lies between the great and good’s perceptions of life’s trials, and those of us muddlers on planet Earth.

Witty, but not nearly so captivating that Besancenot could talk a single seat out of France’s fed up electorate in the recent European elections. The answer might be in the party’s name. NPA might be anti-captalist, but the moniker fails to suggest a direction forwards. A look at its manifesto and what you get is the long road back – a call to salvage the remains of the walfare state, in other words a sixty year old post World War 2 consensus. Nothing wrong with that as such, but hardly surprising then that French writer Julian Coupat should have said in an interview with Le Monde that NPA has got something of the “Stalinist grey” about it.

It may be all journalists’ dreams, and yet, all these 68 headlines suggest there’s a longing out there for the intoxications of the past, the dangers of doing over a cynical old order. Among the moody young, there’s definitely much apprehension as to what that unlikely philosopher Johnny Rotten once called the “third-rate reality” we live in. Right now, there can’t be anything more redolent of a third rate reality than what Iranians bore witness to last week, when a creaking power most probably frauded its own re-election. There’s something so compelling about watching millions of protestors in the streets of Teheran asking for their vote back that we would rather forget that the people’s champion Mir-Hossein Moussavi, as several commentators have pointed out, has also got a big streak of Stalinist grey running through his soul. Now that the mood in Iran sours, as the regime looks to be brazening its electoral theft out, Libération editor Laurent Joffrin is apologising for the left-leaning French daily’s jumping-the-gun “Teheran Spring” headline last Saturday. And yet, couldn’t all these Iran and 68 fantasies suggest that here in the west there’s some as yet inarticulate sense that our freedom is also thwarted? Maybe. In the meantime, though, in the absence of any credible alternative, our leaders can go on ordering giant omelettes.

Gerry Feehily @ Presseurop

Photo : Hamed Saber

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