Above Siberia, 9:34 JST
I actually can see Russia from my window:
Over Great Bear Lake, N.W.T., 16:20 MDT
Note the first: A westbound 13-hour flight seems a lot shorter than a 9-hour flight the other direction. We left Chicago a little more than four hours ago, which equals the flying time from Chicago to San Francisco, the farthest place you can go within the Lower 48. It doesn’t feel that far. The sun confounds perceptions of time: we took off at 1pm and we land at 3:30, chasing the sun across the Canadian permafrost most of the way. I get to Shanghai at 7pm. My clock at home will say 6am. My brain will not have a clue.
Note the second: It turns out that flight attendants covet the Chicago-Tokyo route. Our cabin crew includes a husband-and-wife team, both of whom have worked for American longer than 30 years. The husband told me that the Chicago-Beijing route starting at the end of this month has become the most-sought trip for flight attendants; he expects he’ll be able to bid for it in a couple of years. Let me repeat that: when he has 40 years with the airline he might get on the Chicago-Beijing route.
First, a housekeeping note. This is the one of three entries posted after the fact. Almost always, a post time you see on The Daily Parker accurately records when I first posted the blog entry. At this writing I’m on an airplane over Canada’s Northwest Territories, so the post time shows when I took notes about the entry that follows. This all may seem, as my dearest friend might say, “a bit Asperger’s-y.” Perhaps. Another very close friend blogs retrospectively, because she wants her entries to correspond in time to when the experiences happened. I think either is fine as long as it’s consistent. Otherwise, it’s almost like lying to yourself.
(We now rejoin the blog already in progress.)
If you have to fly out of O’Hare, you really can’t beat mid-morning on Tuesday. It took me 11 minutes from the time my cousin dropped me at Terminal 3 to check two bags through to Shanghai and get through security. Eleven minutes. Yes, I have Platinum status, but there weren’t any lines I could see at anywhere else. Always do things when no one else is doing them, someone once told me. Good advice.
In a moment of stupidity I forgot they would feed me on the plane, so I got lunch. The stupidity compounded itself by suggesting that, since I was heading to China, maybe I should skip the usual Terminal 3 two-item combo from Manchu Wok and get something impossible to get in Shanghai, like, say, a Quarter Pounder. Understand, the last time I ate at McDonald’s, ridiculous comparatives hadn’t been invented yet, so all we could say was “it was a long time ago.” I think I last had a Quarter Pounder during the Daley administration. The first one.
I think they’ve changed the recipe. The Quarter Pounder and small fries I had didn’t taste anything like I remembered. What happened to the salt? Where was the grease? What kind of cardboard bun was this? (At least they still make cardboard buns.) What a disappointment. I wanted my last meal in the United States for two weeks to be something quintessentially American, and obviously fattening and hypertensive. Instead I got what tasted like...well, it didn’t taste like anything, actually. Then American Airlines added to my culinary confusion by serving me a quite tasty beef filet in garlic ginger sake sauce with wild mushrooms paired with a decent Australian cabernet.
What is America coming to, when airline food is better than McDonald’s?
As reported earlier, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens do not like the Pope's actions in dealing with child abuse. Dawkins has clarified his remarks:
Needless to say, I did NOT say "I will arrest Pope Benedict XVI" or anything so personally grandiloquent. You have to remember that The Sunday Times is a Murdoch newspaper, and that all newspapers follow the odd custom of entrusting headlines to a sub-editor, not the author of the article itself.
What I DID say to Marc Horne when he telephoned me out of the blue, and I repeat it here, is that I am whole-heartedly behind the initiative by Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens to mount a legal challenge to the Pope's proposed visit to Britain. Beyond that, I declined to comment to Marc Horme, other than to refer him to my 'Ratzinger is the Perfect Pope' article here: http://richarddawkins.net/articles/5341.
I thought it sounded unusually acerbic, even for Dawkins.
I discovered this joke from the head of Duke's CCMBA IT department:
An accountant is having a hard time sleeping and goes to see his doctor. "Doctor, I just can't get to sleep at night."
"Have you tried counting sheep?"
"That's the problem - I make a mistake and then spend three hours trying to find it."
And 24 hours from now, I'll be somewhere over Minnesota on my way to Shanghai...
Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, whose work I have followed for years, want to arrest the Pope when he visits the U.K. in September:
Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, the atheist author, have asked human rights lawyers to produce a case for charging Pope Benedict XVI over his alleged cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic church.
The pair believe they can exploit the same legal principle used to arrest Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, when he visited Britain in 1998.
Dawkins and Hitchens believe the Pope would be unable to claim diplomatic immunity from arrest because, although his tour is categorised as a state visit, he is not the head of a state recognised by the United Nations.
I think the Pope's conduct in the child-abuse cover-up completely destroys any credibility and moral authority Ratzinger claims to have through his office. Still, despite the history of the U.K. vis a vis the Catholic Church, I caution Dawkins that perhaps this isn't the best way to make his case.
I think Dawkins was correct last month when he suggested the Pope "should remain in charge of the whole rotten edifice - the whole profiteering, woman-fearing, guilt-gorging, truth-hating, child-raping institution - while it tumbles," which creates dramatic irony, rather than trying to arrest him, which makes Ratzinger a victim. I just hope more children aren't tied up and raped before it happens.
Darwin's Tears is now available in printed form. (It's been available for Kindle for a couple of weeks.)
Before continuing yesterday's list of Star Wars lines that only a 14-year-old could love, I need to tip my hat to reader AS who found this sparkling diamond of a list. Change one word in a Star Wars quote to "pants" and you get, for example, "I find your lack of pants disturbing," or, "In his pants you will find a new definition of pain and suffering." Fascinating that the list includes lines from all six movies, and yet only lines from the first three made it into the top 20.
Here's a clue. Here are the top 10 lines from The Empire Strikes Back:
- "And I thought they smelled bad...on the OUTSIDE!"
- "Possible he came in through the south entrance."
- "I must've hit it pretty close to the mark to get her all riled up like that, huh, kid?"
- "Hurry up, golden rod..."
- "That's OK, I'd like to keep it on manual control for a while."
- "But now we must eat. Come, good food, come..."
- "Control, control! You must learn control."
- "There's an awful lot of moisture in here."
- "Size matters not. Judge me by my size, do you?"
- "I thought that hairy beast would be the end of me!"
And from Return Of The Jedi:
- "I need more men."
- "Our instructions are to give it only to Jabba himself."
- "Thanks for coming after me."
- "Rise, my friend."
- "I can't do it, R2."
- "Look, I want you to take her."
- "I'm endangering the mission. I shouldn't have come."
- "General Solo, somebody's coming."
- "I have felt him, my master." "Strange that I have not."
- "Back door. Good Idea!"
Further evidence that Lucas lost his art when he did the first three.
Did you ever wonder about these lines from the original Star Wars?
- "She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid."
- "Curse my metal body, I wasn't fast enough!"
- "Look at the size of that thing!"
- "Sorry about the mess..."
- "You came in that thing? You're braver than I thought."
- "Aren't you a little short for a storm trooper?"
- "You've got something jammed in here real good."
- "Put that thing away before you get us all killed!"
- "Luke, at that speed, do you think you'll be able to pull out in time?"
- "Get in there, you big furry oaf, I don't care what you smell!"
Looked at a certain way—i.e., like a 14-year-old would—they're kind of funny.
Bonus 11th line, from reader SSH: "Take care of yourself, Han. I guess that's what you're best at, isn't it?"
Truly stunning news from Russia this morning, with devastating repercussions for Poland:
A plane carrying the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, and dozens of the country’s top political and military leaders crashed in a heavy fog in western Russia on Saturday morning, killing everyone aboard.
... Among those on board, according to the Web site of the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, were [President Lech] Kaczynski; his wife, Maria; former Polish president-in-exile Ryszard Kaczorowski; the deputy speaker of Poland’s parliament, Jerzy Szmajdzinski; the head of the president’s chancellery, Wladyslaw Stasiak; the head of the National Security Bureau, Aleksander Szczyglo; the deputy minister of foreign affairs, Andrzej Kremer; the chief of the general staff of the Polish army, Franciszek Gagor; the president of Poland’s national bank, Slawomir Skrzypek; the commissioner for civil rights protection, Janusz Kochanowski; the heads of all of Poland’s armed forces; and dozens of members of parliament.
The crash fits the strict definition of tragedy, as have so many air crashes involving VIPs:
A press secretary for ... the governor of Smolensk, said the landing took place under very bad visibility, and Russian air traffic controllers advised the crew to land in Minsk, but the crew decided to land anyway. The Polish news channel TVN24 reported that moments before the crash, air traffic controllers had refused a Russian military aircraft permission to land, but that they could not refuse permission to the Polish plane.
And unbelievable irony:
[Kaczynski] had been due in western Russia to commemorate the anniversary of the murder of thousands of Polish officers by the Soviet Union at the beginning of World War II. The ceremonies were to be held at a site in the Katyn forest close to Smolensk, where 70 years ago members of the Soviet secret police executed more than 20,000 Polish officers captured after the Soviet Army invaded Poland in 1939.
The crash quite literally decimated the Polish government. Poland has some difficult days ahead.
Update: Author and pilot James Fallows explains why this is a tragedy in the literal, Greek-dramatic sense I meant above.