Friday, January 16, 2009

Wings on the Water

Some thoughts about the US Airways jet that made an emergency landing on the waters of the Hudson river day before yesterday. The media went crazy about this, and spent hours and hours dissecting the story. You would think war had been declared. The thrust of the story everywhere was the heroism of crew and the miraculous turn of fate that allowed this plane to go down with not a single life lost and hardly any injuries.

Let me make an observation about this. Before we go all too nuts about this, let's take a deep breath and acknowledge the fact that ultimately what we're celebrating is that everybody on the crew, pilot included, did their job. Did it well? Yes. Did it very well? Yes. Did something extraordinary? I don't think so, he demurred. I think all the hoopla about this is misplaced. Rachel Maddow (my new favorite openly gay, left-of-center commentator on the news) spent fully half her show Thursday evening on it. Too much. A flight attendant calming a passenger? Flight Attendant 101. Shepherding a aircraft without power to a safe landing? Pilotry 452 (upper division course). Getting people out of a disabled aircraft? SOP, practiced endlessly. Captain last to leave the ship? 4,000 year tradition.

I'm not trying to minimize the wonderful results of the crew's actions or their skills, I'm just asking what exactly would we expect the crew of a commercial airliner to do under these circumstances? Why . . . just what they did do. The jobs they've been trained to do and have been doing for (probably) all of their working lives. There was nothing miraculous about this successful ditching of an airplane.

I think something else is going on. I think what all this celebration is about is really a reflection of just how desperately people are panting, pining for something good to talk about and celebrate. It's a feel-good diversion. Right now the country is in the shitter, in a financial hole so deep the light at the top is out of sight, involved in two losing wars (one will be shed eventually, but the other stretches out to the horizon), personally assaulted by the economy--they've lost their job or worry about it, they've lost their savings or most of them, they've lost their retirement, or they're related or know somebody to whom this happened, etc., etc. There's not a sentient soul in the US who doesn't know what terrible shape we're in as a nation. (Well, maybe there are a few sentient souls . . . but not many.)

And yet another reason: in their heart of hearts people know that Barack Obama is not going to make much of a difference, i.e., things are not going to get that much better in the foreseeable future. Mere changes in policy are not going to right the ship of state right now. Mere changes of faces and yes, even parties, in Congress is not going to change the course the country is on. The events of the past few years and especially the last six months have demonstrated beyond the possibility of contradiction that the people at the top are incompetent, venal, and don't give a whit about the common people. And the people also know in their guts that matters are probably much worse than they're being told. They've been lied to for so long about virtually everything, why should they believe what the government tells them now?

Given all of this, anything that's the least bit hopeful--planes being ditched in the Hudson with no loss of life--is something to go momentarily nuts about. Kinda like Mardi Gras before Lent.

[Just as an aside, I long to be proven completely, utterly wrong about all this doom and gloom. Alas, I see no good evidence that I am wrong, and at this point I require more than the promises of politicians, more than Obama hope, to make me believe that meaningful, lasting, and substantial reform is going to happen or that the country is going to emerge from its multiple problems intact and relatively stable.]
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