Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Sunday, January 12, 2020

Imagine being a victim

It is, perhaps, the most terrifying way to die. No one likes falling, not even off a footstool. But being hundreds or thousands of feet in the sky, and falling helplessly, is everyone’s nightmare...

            But it wasn’t a dream for 176 people aboard Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 earlier this week.

            Early Wednesday morning, that flight left the international Airport in Tehran. Two minutes into its flight to Kyev, the plane veered right and plunged to the ground.

            Everyone on board died; 138 of them were bound for Canada; 57 were Canadian residents.

            Fortunately, these disasters don’t happen often. If you’re going to put your life into someone else’s hands, commercial aviation offers the safest, best regulated, way of travelling. Ian Savage of Northwestern University  calculated fatality rates per passenger of various forms of transportation. Airlines came in at 0.07 per billion passenger miles. Bus, subway, and train all ranked below one per billion miles.

            Cars were seven times higher; motorcycles more than 200 times higher.

            Setting aside a plane’s greenhouse gas emissions, you’re safer flying across a continent than walking to the corner store.

            Except that if something goes wrong at 35,000 feet up, you can’t get out and walk home.

            It’s why there’s such a sense of shock over the crash of the Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 crash shortly after takeoff from Imam Khomeini International airport in Tehran.


Mixed reactions

            As I write this column, Iran has admitted that the plane was shot down by an Iranian missile. By mistake, they say. I’m inclined to believe them. I don’t see any benefit to Iran in shooting down a passenger plane. By contrast, the missile attack on U.S. military bases in Iraq, just hours before, was measured and deliberate. With no lives lost.

            The same cannot be said of the destruction of Ukrainian Flight 752.

            In a crash like this one, the media seem to focus on three things.

·      Political implications. How will this crash affect relations between America and Iran? Will it hurt Trump’s popularity?

·      Engineering analysis. Was there a software glitch? A mechanical fault? A flock of birds sucked into an engine?

·      Human interest. Friends and relatives choking their tears. Grieving strangers laying flowers at an impromptu memorial. Politicians offering “thoughts and prayers.”


Terrifying events

            There’s little on what the victims might have experienced.

            That’s natural, when there are no survivors to tell the story. Barring someone’s cellphone video somehow surviving the impact, there is no way that anyone who wasn’t on that plane can know what it was like.

            But there have been many such victims.

            Imagine being a passenger on Air India Flight 182, having your pressurized fuselage disintegrate over the North Atlantic as you neared Ireland in 1985. Or on Pan Am Flight 103 blown up over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988. Or on Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, hit by a missile over Ukraine in 2014.

            If you survive the blast itself, before you pass out from cold, shock, and oxygen deprivation, you might look down and see the earth, seven miles below you. And know that nothing, not even a miracle, can save you.

            What would you be thinking? Or feeling?

            You’d have more time for self-analysis on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 out of Addis Ababa, in March 2019. Or on Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia in October 2018. Or Lufthansa’s Germanwings Flight  9525 deliberately flown into a peak in the Alps in 2015.

            You’d have the most time on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared in March 2014 while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, apparently diverted over the Indian Ocean until it ran out of fuel.


If it happened to me…

            The popular assumption is that the cabin would be filled with screaming, panicking passengers.

            I’m not so sure. Twice, perhaps three times, I’ve been in situations where I expected to die within seconds. I didn’t, obviously. But I don’t recall panic. What I remember is, if you’ll pardon the pun, a deathly calm.

            A couple of friends -- one riding a plane abruptly recalled for a bomb threat, one who had a near-death medical experience -- confirm that feeling.

            When there’s nothing you can do, whatever happens is okay. Not welcome, but okay.

            Maybe it’s wishful thinking. Maybe I just don’t want to think of my own final moments being a long-drawn-out scream.

            I like to think that if it happened to me, I could go out thinking it’s been a good life, thank you.


Copyright © 2020 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

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It was pure coincidence that I should write about U.S. interference in other  governments just before the extra-judicial murder of General Qassem Suleimani in Iraq. 

            Cliff Boldt didn’t overlook it, though. “And when you have a president ordering the assassination of a person whose values and objectives ae quite different from his?” he wrote. “We live in scary time.  Thanks for raising this issue.”


Sharon Adams felt helpless: “I wish it weren’t so, but unfortunately the shoe fits. Each time [the U.S. gets involved] the people of the region are impacted negatively, just as our own country is in various ways from our ties with the juggernaut. Our military personnel will undoubtedly be impacted by this latest move.

            “Prayers arising, as I have no clue what else to do to effect any change at that level.”


Vera Gottlieb summarized my theme in very few words: “Wherever the US goes, shit is sure to follow. It hasn’t failed yet…”


“A thought-provoking column!” Tom Watson wrote. “Your statement ‘I’m not blaming ordinary Americans. Nor any political party in America,’ seems right. But, what is it then that keeps successive political regimes believing they have a right to meddle in the affairs of other nations who happen to be a thorn in the Imperial vulture's foot at the moment? The anonymous author of A Warming wrestles with the essential question: Is Donald Trump an aberration or does he, in fact, reflect the people whom he governs? It reminds me of an old Pogo cartoon saying: ‘We have met the enemy and he is us.’”


Gary Kenny got at the core of the matter:  “For me, what lies beneath the dynamics of empire you have outlined is what some call ‘American exceptionalism’ -- the innate belief that the United States is truly exceptional on the global stage -- democratically, morally, ethically and in just about every way. Not only is this sense of exceptionalism operative at the level of the state and many of its institutions, it's also persists in the minds and actions of individual Americans including many on the political left who one would think would know better. So many times, I've listened to liberal American politicians, analysts, activists, even friends and colleagues of mine critique the state much as you have only then to utter something that flies the flag of American exceptionalism. Until Americans are able to deconstruct this phenomenon and identify why and how it evolved culturally, religiously, politically, and so on, and somehow exorcise it, I don't see much hope for positive change at least on a large scale.

            “Of course we Canadians can probably lay claim to a sense of ‘exceptionalism’ also -- we tend to smugly arrogate unto ourselves a moral superiority to the US -- but it evolved much differently than American exceptionalism and has fewer negative consequences at home and abroad.”


Steve Roney agreed “with the general thrust of your latest column, but I’m not sure the point of writing it. There is no need to connect any dots in most of the examples you cite. It is no secret to anyone that the US government has sought to change the regimes of many countries, and seeks to influence their politics as a matter of course.”


Like Steve, Bob Rollwagen thought my message should be obvious to all: “There are so many dots on the global canvas that they are beginning to connect themselves.  The industrialization of society has its origins in military dominance and this appeared to be the best way to global dominance for the wealthy few because they believed in the endless supply of cheap resources and cheap labour. Both of these are showing stress. The only unknown is “time”. Is there enough time.

            “The standard delay approach has been to create conflict which profits industry which benefit few and creates feelings of stability in democratic regions during electoral periods. The pattern of dots appears to support that military production is the backbone of the world’s leading economies and military action diverts focus from social issues while those in power adjust their financial support and security structure to meet what they feel is the next revolution in the human condition on earth.

            “As you state, we do not need to identify these families or where they live. For the past 200 years or so, one country and its citizens have had the benefit of global issues. It is not about winning or losing a war, it’s about power and control.”


Jean  McCord offered personal experience about U.S. involvement in regime change in Ecuador, where she now lives. And David Gilchrist added some documentation about U.S. involvement in Nicaragua. 

            If you want to pursue the justification behind these actions, you might look up the Monroe Doctrine. 






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                       You can now access current columns and seven years of archives at http://quixotic.ca

                       I write a second column each Wednesday, called Soft Edges, which deals somewhat more gently with issues of life and faith. To sign up for Soft Edges, write to me directly at the address above, or send a blank e-mail to softedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

                       And for those of you who like poetry, you might check my webpage https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetry. Recently I posted a handful of haiku, something I was experimenting with. If you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at jimt@quixotic.ca, or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blank email (no message) to poetry-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca (If it doesn’t work, please let me know.)






To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think some of these links are spam.)

                       Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.

                       I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures. Her Thanksgiving presentation on the old hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, Is, well, beautiful -- https://www.traditionaliconoclast.com/2019/10/13/for/

                       Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



                       The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns.


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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Sharp Edges

Tags: Iran, Ukrainian Airlines, missile



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