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665. Corners of the mouth (X)

Yesterday, I noted that Richard “Sky King” Russell told air traffic control that “people’s lives are on the line” when he hijacked an aircraft—and that this was to do with some narcissistic game he played with himself where he imagined he was in a mid-ranked disaster movie where people say such things with a straight face, and that it covered up what he really wanted to say (partially that he was somewhat embarrassed to be in this peculiar social circumstance that he had created; indeed, so narcissistic was Russell that I suspect he crashed the plane not because he was unable to land but because he was afraid he would crash land if he tried—even if he could survive a crash landing, it was less painful to contemplate death by his own hand in a deliberate crash than the embarrassing failure from an attempted landing).

As with a lot of people—possibly most people—Russell took seriously the public messaging about what professionals, particularly people like policemen and air traffic controllers, are there for. The public propaganda line, per mid-ranked disasters movies, is similar to the line Russell repeated: “We’re here because people’s lives are on the line, and they’re counting on us to save them.” I could almost see George Clooney deliver that line as an ER doctor—and doubtless there is a flavour of the month who delivers similar lines on Netflix today.

For a time, I worked in a role where I met people who served in what in Britain is called “Gold Command” and “Silver Command”—the situational command structure for the emergency services on the scene of, as we say in Britain, “an incident” (usually something like a farmer whose hand has been caught in the combi-harvester and shredded to bloody flagella “Clive’s had…an incident today.”).

I met someone who dealt with the aftermath of the Litvinenko assassination, when Polonium was slipped into an ex-Russian spy’s tea and he slowly died from radiation poisoning. It was an insight into how things really work, so that the assassins did not know what the poison was and, in consequence, spread radioactive material all over football stadium benches they sat on and even on aircraft upholstery (“What you don’t know, won’t hurt you”). The seats had been stripped out for a deep clean, as airlines do, and shuttled off to Wales, so that the radioactive material had spread even further afield. In a globalised techno-industrial economy, you would be surprised how much stuff you handle every day is routinely dismantled and shot off halfway round the world. This stuff gets everywhere.

Post-assassination, the material went down the u-bend in a hotel toilet—where it got stuck, so that the toilet became a radiation hazard; as had, in consequence, the whole floor of the hotel, although the police guards left there were not told and so blithely wandered round the radiation zone. The state does not really care. Well, it does—it cares about the City of London; hence, for a “major incident”, there are effectively spreadsheets that cost-benefit analyse “acceptable casualties” versus economic impact for the incident, until we hit the magic number we keep everything running—even if people are dying. The degree to which the public is protected is subordinate to the economy, particularly, in London, the City of London.

In British terms, the infrastructure they worry most about is the tube because basically the British economy is London; if you can paralyse the tube you can effectively shut down the national economy—and that is why the RMT union is so powerful and why tube drivers are paid so much for a job that could have been computerised forty years ago. Anyway, the important thing to remember is the spreadsheet and that, propaganda notwithstanding, the “emergency services” are not there to save your life or property and are really more or less zombies for whatever objective the state sets them—and that includes a seat on the radioactive loo.

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