Get These Motherf***ing Geese Off This Motherf***ing Plane

Using tracking data from and Google Maps, a Flickr user has plotted the exact course of the USAir flight that landed in the Hudson today.  (Click here or on the map for full size.)

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This isn’t a commercial pilot. This isn’t just a regular hero. This is John McClane at the end of a Die Hard movie, pulling off a ludicrous, insanely impossible move that people in the real world wouldn’t even dream up, much less accomplish.

The audience in a test screening would never believe it.  They’d be looking for the CGI work and knowingly listening for the Wilhelm Screams in the soundtrack.

Wow.  Hats off. Unreal.

If the pilot is being interviewed, and Alan Rickman suddenly shows up trying to take one last shot before he finally dies… don’t say I didn’t warn you.

PS — I was on an Avianca plane once that had serious mechanical problems shortly after takeoff from Bogotá.  (I never found out what they were.) The pilot banked that 737 around like it was a sprint car on a dirt track and got us back down in what was probably thirty minutes but felt like thirty years.

Not saying I know what it was like for these folks. But I do know that I have been (a) in some awe of pilots in general, and (b) a bit more white-knuckled about flying ever since.

We had to spend the night in Bogotá, so the airline gave everybody free round-trip tickets anywhere they fly, good for a year.  I know their safety record is actually pretty good, I actually loved Colombia and every place I visited in South America, and the free ticket could have gotten me all the way to Buenos Aires again. But somehow… I just never quite got around to using it.

Bipartisan Senate panel: Rumsfeld, Bush WH to Blame for Gitmo, Abu Ghraib Abuse. Media: So What?

The Washington Post says a bipartisan Senate investigation has concluded that blame for the abuse of prisoners at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib — described by the Red Cross and the Pentagon itself as serious violations of U.S. and international law — belongs at the very top:

The report, released by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) and based on a nearly two-year investigation, said that both the policies and resulting controversies tarnished the reputation of the United States and undermined national security. “Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority,” it said.


The true genesis of the decision to use coercive techniques, the report said, was a memo signed by President Bush on Feb. 7, 2002, declaring that the Geneva Convention’s standards for humane treatment did not apply to captured al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. As early as that spring, the panel said, top administration officials, including National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, participated in meetings in which the use of coercive measures was discussed. The panel drew on a written statement by Rice, released earlier this year, to support that conclusion.

Um… that’s kinda big news. Or is it?

The report and the WP story have been out for more than five hours now.

However, as of 2:52 PST on 11 Dec. 2008, let’s see how CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC think:

It’s nowhere to be found on CNN’s front page.

Although they’ve somehow found room for “Child’s Skull Found,” “Navy Mom surprises son, 8, in class,” and “Pretty robot slaps men who get fresh.”

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No surprise, the Fox News front page is also not carrying the story.

Although they have room for “KFC Workers in Hot Water After Sink Baths,” “Outrage After Teacher Tells 7-Year-Olds Santa Is Fake,” and “Ga. School Staff Accused of Inflatable Mattress Sex.”

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To its credit, however, MSNBC, generally considered the most liberal of the three major 24-hour cable news nets, has indeed placed the story on the front page.

In a single-line, fine-print text link.

Just beneath “Bowel-clearing drugs to get sternest FDA label” and “Child’s body found near missing girl’s home.”

In the same vital column with “Vegas still offers fun for the budget conscious” and “Aniston on Jolie: ‘No daggers through the heart.'”

So you can’t say the media is ignoring the story completely.

Comparing U.S. and Indian coverage of the Mumbai attacks

Hoping to visit India in April, I recently bought a package of nine Indian TV channels on the satellite dish here. Coincidentally, service was activated just hours after last week’s attacks on Mumbai began.

Since I’m recovering from a brief illness, I was stuck on the couch anyway, so I watched a ton of both Indian and U.S. coverage of the attacks. From India, I watched two English-language 24-hour news channels, TimesNow and NDTV 24×7, frantically reporting details as they came in. (I also spent some time with Star Plus‘s interruption of its normal programming for 9-11-style temporary 24-hour news; my knowledge of Hindi is pretty much “dal,” “namaste,” and “tayelet kahan hai,” but most of the graphics were in English.) The U.S. channels I watched were mostly CNN and MSNBC, with smatterings of Fox News and network news broadcasts.

Readily conceding the obvious anaytical limitations of what some dude saw on his TV while sucking down cough meds, a few thoughts:

• In the early going, U.S. news networks were more useful for a quick thumbnail of events. There’s a habit of recapping every few minutes — “in case you’re just joining us” — that the Indian networks didn’t bother with while scrambling new footage up. Indian networks were inevitably better for detail and new information, albeit often without context — just tossed on the fact stack before the next footage of shocked people amid darkened streets.

• Indian news producers seem to like flashing big-font headlines just as annoyingly as their U.S. counterparts. During breaking events, nearly a third of the screen may be blocked. At least the headlines are impossible to miss.

• The wide variety of targets and tactics made the story hard for anyone to comprehend right away. Some of the attacks (the police station, Nariman House) had highly specific targets; some (the CST train station shootings, the Metro Cinema drive-by), had completely random victims. The attempted destruction of the Taj hotel would also have had highly random (albeit many Western) victims; however, during the standoffs which followed, it was also reported that attackers attempted to specifically select U.S and British citizens.

• This latter aspect of the story was given wildly different emphasis. Indian reports tended to treat it as only one aspect of massive, varied, semi-random carnage. In contrast, some viewers of U.S. channels could be forgiven for thinking that the U.S. was the ultimate target of the attacks.

• I have yet to see a South Asian commentator utter the words “Al-Qaeda.” Not once. I’m certain somebody must have, but not in front of my eyeballs, anyway, after dozens of hours of viewing.

In contrast, especially in the first days after the attacks, the phrase seemed to pop reliably within minutes of flipping over to CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News. U.S. networks seemed to assume that if goes kaboom, it must be Al-Qaeda, as if there’s no one else violent on earth. For a while on CNN, “all the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda” seemed almost like a chant, with about as much thought behind it.

• The group now widely believed most likely involved, Lashkar-e-Taiba (“the Army of the Pure”), is hardly obscure. LeT is one of the larger and more violent groups in South Asia, founded more than 20 years ago to claim the entire disputed region of Kashmir, currently split between India and Pakistan (with a smidge in China), as part of Muslim Pakistan… and then to do the same to the rest of India… and (someday) the rest of the planet.

LeT considers both Hindus and Jews as particular enemies of Islam — which certainly fits the Mumbai attacks, given the targets — and they’re accused of striking Mumbai before, most notably in the 2006 train bombings.

Not a real hard group to land on as suspects. Heck, they’ve blown up enough stuff up to garner a mention in my 2007 book Who Hates Whom (see p. 109), which is anything but encyclopedic (it’s just a pocket-sized bunch of short essays on 30-odd hotspots, in no way exhaustive) — and I’m hardly an expert. If LeT made it into my teeny book, they ain’t minor.

• LeT was specifically and repeatedly discussed as a probable culprit within 24 hours of the bombings both 24-hour Indian news channels I monitored. (I’m certain of this because of time-stamped emails I sent to friends at the time.)

It’s probable, of course, that many in the Indian government would have looked to blame Pakistanis in any case. A domestic plot would also make New Delhi look pretty damn ineffectual, so external culprits would be highly desirable. (Think about how the anthrax attacks have been all but officially ignored in the U.S., even while external threats are constantly discussed.)

That said, LeT was the only specific group discussed with any frequency on the Indian telecasts.

• U.S. TV networks got a large amount of their footage in early days directly from these Indian feeds. In the first hours after the attacks began, MSNBC even spent considerable time just showing ND 24×7’s signal — the bug was visible in the corner — simply adding their own graphics and audio commentary.

I don’t see how any competent U.S. news producer, actively trying to comprehend events on the ground, could not have known about the rapidly growing Indian consensus around LeT.

However, many U.S. reports continued to speculate about Al-Qaeda — much more than LeT or any other group — for days. (Somebody should do a Lexis-Nexis search and compare the numbers.) One wonders if many U.S. news producers were so blinded by having reported on Al-Qaeda for years that they simply couldn’t recognize any other possibility.

It’s either that, or they couldn’t comprehend the language spoken on the Indian news channels: English.

One laudable exception was Larry King’s program on the very night of the attacks, where LeT was at least mentioned a few times — although Al-Qaeda was still mentioned more than twice as often. However, many reports continued to shoehorn events into Al-Qaeda-targets-the-Anglos.

• Since LeT is based in Pakistan, it’s certainly likely that LeT guys and Al-Qaeda guys have indeed allahued some of the same akbar. But this may or may not indicate Al-Qaeda involvement in this specific attack. We should keep this in mind while digesting new information to come.

Connections, by themselves, don’t mean a lot. Christopher Columbus was hardly behind the Spanish Inquisition, or vice versa — even though they shared the same god, home turf, benefactors, and many of the same general ideas about how the world should be made to look.

Hell, I know a guy who knows a guy who knew a guy who knew Hitler. I also know a guy who knows a guy who knows Anne Hathaway. I am pleased to be one step closer to the latter. But it doesn’t prove much.

• As to what LeT (and/or Al-Qaeda, domestic Indian Muslim extremists, and/or whoever else was involved) might have been aiming at:

The governments of India and Pakistan have been making a surprising amount of nice lately. On the very day of the Mumbai attacks, the Home Secretaries of both countries were meeting in Islamabad, while the Foreign Ministers were meeting in New Delhi.

Compare that to the mood of the two countries now.

As to LeT’s Kashmir ambitions, in the days before the bombings, both the Pakistani president and the Indian Foreign Minister briefly spoke of a hypothetical resolution of the Kashmir issue — which would negate LeT’s reason for existence. (Obviously, the gunmen were already at sea when these comments were made; still, it demonstrates just where the mood of cooperation was.)

If Pakistan and India cool tensions, both governments have more resources to tackle extremists on their own soil. But now, post-attacks, everyone is re-freaked, and each government will now devote energy and resources into alternately threatening and then (hopefully) not blowing up each other.

In that climate, extremist groups like LeT can not only survive, but thrive.

The U.S., meanwhile, is in a bind: pressure Pakistan too little, and piss off 800 million Hindus, possibly weakening the Indian government — playing directly into LeT’s hands. Pressure too much, and weaken relations with Pakistan — whose stability and cooperation are essential for fighting Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Whether or not Al-Qaeda had any involvement or influence with LeT in Mumbai, the U.S. dilemma is a desirable outcome for both.

Or at least that’s how things look from my couch, half-gorked on Sudafed Slurpees. What do I know…