Flight MH370 and the bullshit it shows up

Saturday 22 March 2014, 1.24am HKT

MAS Flight MH370 via Flightradar24.com

(via Flightradar24.com on Facebook — click image for full size)

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Originally written on 15–17 March 2014

AFTER fully a week of Flight MH370, I just couldn’t take the brown stuff anymore. It’s just too rich for me, thankyouverymuch.

The day Al Jazeera broke the news about Malaysian Airlines (MAS:MK) Flight MH370, I was telling everyone there are some incredulous aspects about it. I wished I had blogged something much sooner, even if it were for bragging rights and nothing else.

This post is one of those rare instances in my entire writing career (paid or unpaid) that I wanted to have legal oversight. I had to call in a lot of favours for this post, so I was very disappointed to have to delete and redact large tracts of it to obviate litigation.

I highly welcome your feedback. Please use the comment box at the end of this post. It will give me the opportunity to reference certain issues that may or may not have been deleted or redacted from the original version of this post.

* * *

Putting ‘my’ context into context

I am in some position to claim I am officially in over my head in writing this post.

In one of my few bragging rights in life, I once worked for an aviation-related trade magazine counter-intuitively named “Asian Hotel and Catering Times” and did a two-inch floater about some airline’s postponed catering ground operations. The floater turned out to be a veritable newbreaker about the unready state of the then-new Hong Kong airport when it opened in 1997. The newswires picked up on it and got the glory instead. So I am not as ignorant as I look (aviation-wise) but a suitably objective basis for me to claim out-of-depthness here.

My formative years were at a time of real, boots-on-ground, all-out terrorism.

The news in the Seventies and Eighties were pretty constant about terror. The PLO was commandeering flights to Third World countries to be blown up for media value. The IRA was making bombing runs every bloody Thursday (the P.A.Y.E. payday) throughout Britain (but disappointingly never bombed the Inland Revenue so we could’ve avoided paying deranged sky-high taxes). The Mideast militias were abducting virtually everybody for political blackmail, but misjudged how little the governments cared for their nationals. All in all, my generation is pretty good at recognising terrorism. So when news came of MH370 switched flight paths, what else but a hijacking?

* * *


The B.S. not in any particular order below.

nothing small

Our brave new world of live monitoring (a.k.a. electronic mass surveillance) means squat in real life for ensuring basic-level safety and security.

The thing that confuses us most about MH370 is how a modern aircraft bristling to the gills with modern comms and control equipment could just blip out from the grid.

The world also wants to know how a rogue Boeing 777 can fly at will over Malaysia without military jets being scrambled (via Time Magazine).

Live monitoring isn’t what we presume it to be for. It won’t prevent injury or death in an actual incident (but most probably will provide lessons for the future). Colour me cynical, but if live monitoring has any meaningful value, it just provides slightly quicker information for slightly different ways of informing the interested parties in the aftermath. Bottom line, it’s meant for limiting the principal’s legal liability — MAS’s in this case.

If that’s a galling picture, then ask ████████████████████████████████████ ████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████ ████████████████████████████████████████████████ ? Ask █████ ███████████████████████████████████████████████████████ ? (hat tip to ██████████ )

Is it worth the cost more to upgrade live monitoring for anything or spend the cash on improving safety in the first place? What makes anyone think that any kind of electronic monitoring is meaningful in anything else?

Bear in mind before answering back that London’s hive-like numbers of CCTVs did little to help quell the riots and looting there in 2010 and 2011.

(image above via momentslater)

October 2013 wallpaper via c4c

Nothing in the world of aviation occurs suddenly. If something does, it’s nearly always man-made.

We need to unblock our heads about ‘sudden.’ Even combat aircraft struck in a hail of anti-aircraft fire isn’t considered sudden — though for the crew it’s much too abrupt. That rules out 99% of commercial (and non-combat military) aviation.

In aviation, anything occurring suddenly is either human error or done on purpose. Human error doesn’t manifest in sudden outcomes, however. Hardware failure doesn’t occur either; aviation doesn’t design things that way. A sudden outcome invariably comes from a deliberate act.

So when Al Jazeera broke the news about MH370, my first thought was that someone had messed with it.

(image above via m4f)


Plane crashes aren’t a new thing. So where’s the coordination?

More details about MH370 could have been available (or in a more timely fashion). Regardless, our understanding still depends on having an effective and effectual establishment on the ground to piece the picture together and carry out search operations in a disciplined fashion.

What pains many people I’ve spoken to is that, in every crash incident, the coordination and recovery efforts are still like reinventing the wheel every time.

In the 91 years from 1918 to 2009, there’s been a grand total of 20,882 non-military, non-combat air crashes (via B3A/ACRO). That’s roughly 229½ civilian air crashes annually, or one crash every 1½ days.

(B3A, a.k.a. Air Crashes Record Office (ACRO) is the Geneva-based NGO formed in 1990 to compile worldwide aviation accident statistics involving aircraft designed for six or more passengers, excluding helicopters, balloons and military aircraft.)

There’s a distinct lack of purely procedural coordination in how to issue disaster information, how to process press queries, how to handle grieving families, and other elementary things like that. That in turn forces us to wonder what goes on in technicalities like coordinating sorties, ATOs (air tasking orders) for which unit to handle hardware recovery and which for human rescue, and so on.

Twenty thousand air crashes and 91 years are ample lessons to learn from. You’d think there’s some kind of set protocol for crash-related ops by now.

The authorities anywhere will no doubt disagree. But draw your own conclusions from the confused and contradictory (and garbled!) information coming out of the various arms of the Malaysian government through the lips of semi-speaking generals in a No. 2 or No. 3 Service Dress tunic.

For stat monkeys, check out more stats at PlaneCrashInfo.com and AirDisaster.com.

(image above via EZ Harmonica/EZ Strummer)

police notice bradford-leeds airport 2010

Passport control is about security, but ‘security’ is not what we think it means.

The press worked up the terrorism template chiefly because of the mildly interesting but scarcely unusual existence of rogue passports on board MH370. (Yawn…)

There’s a widespread misconception about the basic role of passport control. The main rationale of passport-checking is to frustrate illegal immigration, not intercept terrorism, according to ███████████████████████████████████.

Fact:— Every voyage by land, sea or air has at least one dodgy passport user.

In EVERY flight I’ve been on, I could spot at least one passenger using questionable travel documents. And I’ve done that without paying special attention. Indeed, in my last trip to █████ on ██████████ Flight █████, there was this guy literally next to me who had a dozen different passports in his bag. The few I spotted had the same picture but different names. He wasn’t flashing them around but, like, gave zero f@#ks that I saw them. Had I reported him? What kind of guy d’you think would use an ‘irregular’ passport? Are YOU going to mess with someone who uses a fake passport? Now grow up and I’ll talk to you.

Excitable kids yelling their lungs out

INTERPOL headquarters in France runs a database (called SLTD) of some 40 million lost or stolen identity documents in active circulation. That’s about the population size of Argentina, or two-thirds of the UK’s. The SLTD (which sounds like a venereal disease classification) is little used, however.

“The bad news is that, despite being incredibly cost-effective and deployable to virtually anywhere in the world, only a handful of countries are systematically using SLTD to screen travellers. The result is a major gap in our global security apparatus that is left vulnerable to exploitation by criminals and terrorists.”

INTERPOL Secretary-General Ronald Noble (Big News Network, 08 MAR 2014)

It’s interesting but immaterial that Kuala Lumpur airport failed miscued in SLTD cross-checking. Most ports worldwide don’t either. There’s just far too many irate travellers with excitable kids yelling their lungs out to get out of the queue.

“… agencies [at airports and border points worldwide] just pick out a representative sample [of passengers] according to some profiling protocol marketed by one of the major security enforcement consultant companies used by every government around the world and get the screening done ASAP. The personnel, too, aren’t exactly educated well enough to always see how the profiling should be done.”

— via “Inspector Fidget,” a ████████ officer with the ██████████ authorities who has ██ years’ experience in ███████████████ matters specially contacted for this post

Anything else, apparently, the insurance with Lloyd’s of London will cover it.

Something else for your consideration. The only people who need to use a dodgy passport are those who need to pull off some stunt the next time, observes ‘Inspector Fidget.’

That rules in master criminals (generally) and terrorist masterminds (less generally), who must remain alive and at large to hatch the next comic-book criminal escapade or the next fundamentalist frat-boy attack. Ramzi Yusuf (1993 WTC bombing) and Samantha Lewthwaite (2005?) come to mind. That rules out suicide bombers and similar types. While crazy enough (or homoerotic enough) to die for some bloke in one grand terminal blowjob, they’re smart enough to use their own real passports to clear immigration and not draw undue attention to themselves until Terminal Life Support Time. Insanity isn’t stupidity…

‘Fibreglass narrative’

The press neglects this repeat-a-stunt aspect of fake passport usage as it dogpiles onto MH370. Journos latched on to rogue passports being mentioned and spent days concocting various Absurdistan narratives of terrorism to surround the disaster. And manoeuvre experts into making soundbites for this confirmation bias.

Any terrorism narrative is seductive because of its 9/11 insinuations. But it’s what POSSIBLY could happen, not what PROBABLY has happened. Al Qaeda could’ve crashed the plane, but so could the druglords. Absent the flight recorders, we’re just prancing pimps. So far, zero evidence for passports-for-terrorism on MH370.

The terrorism template is convenient too. It’s what I dubbed “fibreglass narrative” — artificial material, machine-extruded at high pressure, no human intervention, smooth enough to use anywhere.

The greater anomaly

Meanwhile the press continues to bypass inconvenient facts or more realistic scenarios. Borderpoint security has ostensibly stiffened since 9/11. How’s it that dodgy passports users are still able to clear stronger airport checks and travel at will? Which is the greater anomaly, THAT or the fake documents?

I’ve been told the two main reason for the anomaly are ████████████████████████ ████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████ ████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████ ████████████████████ and ██████████████████████████████████ ████████████████████████████████████████. These reasons are known, acknowledged and accepted as part of life by the authorities among personnel above a certain paygrade and security clearance level. Some countries (notably ██████████ and ██████████ ) classify that acknowledgement as a state/official secret because of the potential for extreme embarrassment on public exposure. YOU are getting value for money reading this here. (Hat tip to ██████████ )

The most realistic scenario coming out of this unfolding drama about fake passports is that the authorities will probably use it to put in even stricter travel controls for the rest of us.

(image above via iflyblog)

cartoon airline safety equipment via autothrottle.com

The Boeing 777 is one of the safest airliners in the world. As are all other aircraft.

ANY aircraft (including unmanned drones) has a safety record any automaker would kill for. (Sorry for the indelicate phraseology.)

Planes do not blip out. Get with that. An aircraft like the Boeing 777 has millions of finely designed parts fitted together by highly trained experts (the technicians all have engineering PhD’s) to work perfectly for millions of flight miles. Each component has gone through five to 10 years of severe regulatory compliance testing for test-flight worthiness alone, and a few more years of flight trials. To achieve high reliability of future components, many commercial airliners transmit certain types of in-flight performance data live and direct to the manufacturers via satellite uplink (Rolls-Royce in the case of 777’s engines). It’s not a miracle for a plane to make a successful flight — it’s meant to be that as the aeronautical scientists and engineers have designed it (“nominal” in aviationspeak). If it doesn’t, the fault is not with these fine people and fine hardware but something else.

Redundant systems kick into operation the moment some other system konks out. A downed plane that’s apparently radio-silent still beams out signals because of those redundant systems. MH370 is beaming out nothing, ergo, the problem is deliberate.

And it’s not just hardware safety/reliability. All aircraft have human-safety assurance assets. So good are they that one software engineer references aircraft safety to his own field:—

“As programmers, it is our responsibility to ensure that when something goes horribly wrong with our software, the user has a reasonable escape plan. It’s an issue of fundamental safety in software error handling that I liken to those ubiquitous airline safety cards.”

— Jeff Atwood, “Crash Responsibly” (Coding Horror, 18 May 2008)

In other words, it is a REVELATION that an aircraft DIDN’T make a successful flight.

How can you tell if an international carrier is safe?

The authoritative method is ████████████████████████████████████████ ████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████ ████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████ ████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████ ████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████ ████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████ ████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████ ████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████ ████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████ ████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████ █████. [251 words deleted] (hat tip to ██████████ )

(As a replacement for the above redaction, read this short and sweet article at Travel and Leisure.)

Meanwhile, it’s transpired that MH370 was still in flight and transmitting engine performance data live for four hours after its last confirmed position, and that fact is throwing up more questions than answers for the investigators. This is an interesting area the press seems to have ignored. See The Wall Street Journal story about this.

(image above via autothrottle.com)

flight black box via wikimedia

The plane is self-contained, so everything on board will be just as hard to recover as your dead corpse.

The onboard avionics, blackboxes, etc, look great on paper but they’re also lashed to the rest of the plane and passengers. In short, those data-rich instruments will be part of the wreck. Unless the instruments are recovered, it’s impossible to know what factually took place. Which is why there is this urgency to fish the hardware out of the water.

The blackbox (above) is actually TWO machines — FDR and CVR (Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder). Together, they store the full flight data. They’re not actually coloured black, as you can see.

The blackbox is kept IN the aircraft for good reason. It’s a matter of cost and hardware reliability. Hardware reliability is the overriding factor. Keeping flight data inside the aircraft is more reliable than beaming data constantly to someplace else. Wireless transmission is subject to interference, jamming or spoofing. The blackbox continues to track flight data even when comms are out because it’s inside the aircraft. That’s the main idea.

It’s like when you transfer files via BlueTooth or WiFi vs. USB cable. Which works better in most cases? USB is less convenient but invariably more reliable. Same difference with the blackbox.

So we cannot have phantasmagorical ideas like a blackbox that self-ejects in midair should the plane abnormally loses altitude from 30,000 feet because it might just recover at 5,000 feet — the everyone’s in a jam because there’d be nothing data-wise. (Such a contraption did exist once and was in service with █████████████████████████ █████████████████████████ but were soon decommissioned for the very reason explained and also interception by hostile units.) (hat tip to ██████████ )

The fact that an aircraft has to be essentially self-contained (just like the refrigerator or a submarine has to be) throws up some interesting issues about data transmission. I hope to post another piece soon on it while this topic is still alive.

(image above by Mrsocial99mfine via Wikimedia Commons)

active and inactive satellites tracked

Real-time satellite tracking is too damn expensive, so it’s cheaper just to pretend instead.

Sorry, that’s SRSLY biased and defamatory. But I’ll explain.

████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████ ████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████ █████. ███████████████████████████████████. ███████████████ ████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████ █████████████████████████████████████████████. ███████████████ ████████████████████████████████████████████████████████████. ███████████████████████████████████████████████████ (hat tip to ██████████ ). My contact was unable to confirm or deny this “alleged fact,” which may or may not apply to the whole commercial airline industry or just some airline companies. As an investment banker who arranges █████████████████████████████, my contact expressly stated the foregoing is categorically not in reference to MAS or MH370.

In a similar vein, a couple of magazines appear to be insinuating that some airlines are not utilising satellite tracking to the full. It’s been explained that a flight system constantly beaming out live data (and the amount of data involved) to ground station will cost the airline company hundreds of millions of dollars in satellite bandwidth fees. Even with newer technology, the constant data-streaming is still going to be expensive. (via ██████████, █████, ██████████████████████ and █████ )

It’s like, if ███████ (a cloud storage service) were free but your ISP charges you $1 per megabyte of data, would you still use it?

Or try another innuendo:— What year is this? Spacecraft sent up 40 years ago are still transmitting back to us from the edge of the Solar System using 40-year-old technology. We’re now in the era of high-speed 4G broadband networks. Is it still technologically unfeasible to transmit data in real time instead of sending rescue teams to the ocean floor to retrieve data? (via ████████, ████████████ and ██████ )

Sure, the █████████ space probe sent to planet ████████ in ███ had an undisclosed 70% failure rate in data transmission/reception because of general instrumentation error over vast distances and continuous movements of the probe and planet Earth. Ergo, satellites on geostationary orbits. (hat tip to ███████, ████████████████████ and ████ )

They’re fair points, if put in those ways. But I call them bullshit too.

How expensive could it be to transmit heading, altitude, position, speed and vertical speed once every minute or couple of seconds via VHF or satellite uplink?

Aviation law and SOPs require a number of aspects of a flight to be satellite-tracked anyway. For MH370, some of those aspects became satellite UNTRACKABLE midway into flight, so that throws up more questions for the investigators.

I’ve read a lot of people out there with piloting experience point out it’s unnecessary to send the full stack of flight data every time. Data is sent in compressed format too, so each transmission burst should be quite short in duration. As long as the last known coordinates are available, the plane is quite findable — easier to know where to start looking.

For example, a 10-hour flight at 1 ping per minute (60 pings an hour) should require 600 pings for the whole flight. From ground control’s perspective, assume 25 flights within radar range each at 600 pings per whole flight. Ground control therefore need only receive 14,000 pings from 25 planes over 10 hours. Very doable. And those 600-ping data sets could be deleted once the planes land safely. (Hat tip to Ratta for contacting her ex-customer for this)

That’s a fine picture on land, some say. But when you’re 200 miles or more out to sea, the cost of transmitting and receiving data becomes expensive. It’s relatively cheap to dot the land with beacons. It’s difficult and expensive to build and maintain sea beacons.

But most flight routes stick close to land precisely for that reason. Most land beacons do have a range wide enough out to sea to tally with those flight routes. Planes also fly close to land for the sensible reason that it’s easier to find a crash on land — just follow the smoke. The only argument here perhaps is why not improve the hell out of those beacons?

New Scientist magazine has learnt that MH370 had been sending out automatic data packets before vanishing.

In Hong Kong, we have the Octopus card, a debit smartcard that you top up with cash. Many retail outlets use Octopus for payment. You just flash or touch the card over the Octopus detector device and you’ve paid. Most Octopus detectors handle a helluva lot more than 14,000 beeps or pings daily. So it’s not a matter of technology, really. (The Octopus card was launched in 1997 and lead to the development of Oyster Card in London.)

(image above via Universe Today)

fail stairs egypt 8063

Conspiracy theory in the popularly recognised sense is just wild-ass guessing that doesn’t relate to anything in life, but the press loves it because it’s fibreglass narrative and it’s profitable.

The purpose of a journalist is to report a story, not ‘make a story’ and not make one up.

The trouble with network/syndicated news is that it’s in bed with the financial ‘suits’ for the money and in bed with the conspiracy nutcases for story content. In between the two beds, so to speak, it does the ambulance-chasing thing in a race to produce the most ‘diff’rent’ take to set themselves apart from ‘the lads.’ In other words, they’re trying to stand out by keeping up with the Joneses. In short, journalism’s version of jailbait camwhoring.

During any kind of disaster like MH370, the general run of histrionic hypothesizing is just wild, farkin’ speculation by spaced-out nutjobs with one testicle smoking Astroturf weed.

The well-oiled nut behind the conspiracy wheel defends (and depends on) his position with semi-religious intensity. He uses views (technical or otherwise) drawn from his own or other armchair observers’ ignorance (wilful or otherwise). His position shifts continually as new facts emerge. Vague yet simultaneously over-detailed to create an aura of authoritativeness. (Rather like this overlong post, really.)

And many of the mainstream media storylines aren’t that remarkably different from those wildgrass conspiracy theories either.

Just three ideas that I’ve read in the mainstream press:—

Black ops because no flotsam sighted or blackbox recovered for so long.
Contrast this melodramatic view with the more realistic one that it’s a tremendously hard job to locate little bits of aircraft and the tiny blackbox in a bloody huge featureless ocean the size of farkin’ NORTH AMERICA
. (via ████████ )

MH370 is a distraction for the tit-for-tat sanctions between USA and Russia over the Ukraine furore.
In that moron’s convoluted theory, voila! stories about Ukraine (or Venezuela) got pushed aside. Well, f@#k me aunt fanny, did not think of that one... (via ██████ )

Some mysterious dark force had pulled MH370 down into the sea when its systems spazzed out.
I like to call that force GRAVITY, which is neither new nor mysterious, and works remarkably well on objects in the sky when said objects suffer from profound absence of lift and propulsion. (Honestly, I was flabbergasted to read this.) (via ██████████ )

How’s it come to this state?

One reason is we don’t properly understand the basic workings of most things in life anymore.

We don’t understand risk — our brains don’t get it. We don’t get the idea of redundant systems, or of self-contained structures like the refrigerator (never mind the submarine). We’ve even forgotten the idea behind CB radios from the 1970s, for chris’ sakes. I read somewhere a few weeks ago that today’s generations couldn’t identify many plants or animals whereas oldtimers could identify with ease. We don’t get it about things anymore because education is delinked from practicality now. Witness the fact that Bachelor of Commerce degrees no longer teach how to do shipping waybills and promissory notes.

We seem to have no trouble grasping the idea of transponders, GPS, etc, in movies. But come the same thing in real life, we suspend thinking if not memory altogether.

For instance, freefall is a widely misunderstood word and concept — unless you have the basic physics of it embedded in your mind. If you have, you’re good to go and suss out the prattle about MH370 free-falling when engine power was cut — because there’d still be inertial velocity for it to hurtle into the sea with the force of 9,000 suns like in anime pr0n, resulting in little bits of close-to-nothing to find.

No offence to our American cousins, but the USA is the biggest purveyor of junk science and substandard conspiracy theories. It used to be their biggest DEBUNKER, certainly so in my day. Not many American’s are sophisticated readers or listeners; most will consume any redunkulous explanation like any consumable commodity, preferably via TV. Being the world is flooded with U.S. infotainment, the state of mind carries over.

Another reason is the media generally aren’t interested in news — only profit.

To paraphrase Pontius Pilate, a grown man knows the truth of the world. If something isn’t interesting enough for the news companies, it isn’t considered news. News must be mysterious or alarming — but above all, entertaining. News must fit the demographic, even if that demographic happens to be brain-damaged. So the exploded house in New York City a few days ago made front page on BBC, but the poor sod at SXSW dying at the hands of a drunk driver got measly floater mention in a youth music page.

Serious news services such as the BBC or The Washington Post, etc, try to provide a more balanced (or less sensationalist) package. Unfortunately, that means nutters sometimes get past the floodgates and spout nonsense on serious newstime.

Anything slightly more complex than opening a tin of condense soup with a tin opener — it’s relegated as conspiracy theory.

Again, it relates back to our modern-day educationally induced ignorance lack of understanding of the basics of things.

Finally, we don’t even understand what ‘conspiracy’ means.

To those of you who like to operate on ‘George’ (the nickname for autopilot) and insist on dismissing things as conspiracy theory, have you checked the law lately? Conspiracy to defraud, conspiracy to distribute, to evade, to murder, to commit (name your favourite offence). Nixon’s Wateronthebraingate was a conspiracy, wasn’t it? As a lawyer myself by background, conspiracy is a real enough concept that can put you behind bars and earn me fees at US$250 an hour plus costs, my friend.

Joking aside, conspiracy theorists ARE getting better, getting more experience, getting more realistic-sounding in their game that’s the real danger, because we can’t tell crap from reality anymore and this bunch is worming its way into mainstream news.

(image above via c4c)

* * *


North Sentinel Island in the Andaman Islands, Bay of Bengal, via Wikipedia

The plane is somewhere in the ocean, pure and simple.

My prediction:— I reckon MH370 crashed on North Sentinel Island (above) in the Andamans. No particular reason. It’s close enough to the rogue part of the flight path.

The sea is big and featureless. People forget that. There’s also so much rubbish floating in it that we landlubbers sifting through gigabytes of hi-res satellite data will take forever to discover anything useful. Cooperate and get the job done finding the bleedin’ plane. Recriminations can come later; they always do. It’s not politics or conspiracy theory yet.

(image above via Wikipedia)

Dysfunction Junction via FedUpUSA.com

Dysfunctional Malaysian elites, pants down.

(This entire part rewritten on legal advice.)

Top brass shows up on TV. Ribbons on chest. Rescue details given out. But I couldn’t understand one blimmin’ word said, which was supposedly English. I grew up all over the place and I’m pretty good with accents.

“It’s bad enough for a wide-body jet to go missing with 239 people on board, but then for the responsible country’s government and aviation agencies to handle the associated information with total incompetence is unforgivable. China, which may have lost more of its nationals on board than any other single country, certainly thinks so. […] Meanwhile the failure to provide timely information when simple facts have been established shows a total lack of consideration for the families of those who are missing.”

David Learmount | See more at Flightgobal.com

Every conventional reform movement in history everywhere dreams of ridding the system of its dysfunctional features whilst preserving the status quo. What the reformists don’t realise is the status quo itself is dysfunctional — not because of bad policies or a few reprobate officials but mangled from the ground up.

Face-saving grace comes from doing the right thing, not holding out.

With MH370, Malaysia’s often-written-about paternalistic political/administrative culture is facing a rare and rather public dissection. To a smaller degree, so are China and Vietnam. Malaysia is finding to its chagrin that its usual ways of getting things done don’t gel with today’s ravenous, dog-eat-dog press corps:—

  • Display a military top brass in No. 2 or 3 Service Dress festooned with medals
  • Use him as an authority figure to brush off all and sundry
  • Keep everyone waiting hand and foot
  • Repeat like a parrot that things are okay, don’t worry, etc
  • Agencies making contradictory or self-contradictory statements on air
  • Deploy police commandos in full riot gear to manhandle grief-stricken families
  • Snow yourself in with that Oriental thing called ‘face’ (instead of acting like normal, breathing human beings handling a difficult situation)

And some of these countries wonder why they have dissidents…

As the groundside fiasco in MH370 cranks up by the hour for Malaysia, the sight of officialdom spouting bullshit in an already tense time for families is just super insensitive and bloodyminded. Kuala Lumpur airport authority caused terror for the families when it was claiming and then disclaiming the MH370 had been found. See the YouTube video (in Bahasa). (Hat tip to AJ)

Don’t worry, man, many Malaysians are painfully aware of their own government’s general dysfunctionalism in dealing with anything slightly urgent. Witness their employing a ‘bomoh’ (Malaysian language for a shaman wielding coconuts and bamboo binoculars) to search for MH370. See the embarrassing story on BBC News. (Hat tip to Ashcan)

Stop being so anxious. It makes you look like a clown.

Scriptwriters have long learnt to inject comic relief into a situation by using an uptight character who is anxious about respect and recognition (‘face’). Take a leaf from them.

When you have an emergency on your hands, and victims’ families and the media from different countries clawing at your face for information, get a brisk man of business to do the job.

Take a leaf from the Falklands War (1982) — not the best example, but better than most that comes to mind:—

  • One official spokesman to give out official statements for all agencies involved
  • Issue communiqués at fixed times, e.g. the noon session gives out a statement, then the 3pm session updates the noon session, and so on
  • If no updates, say there are no updates, and preferably explain why there are none
  • Take no questions; communiqué sessions are only for issuing official statements
  • Another spokesman to receive and/or answer media queries
  • Funnel the more difficult queries into answers for the next communiqué sessions

IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE. Lawyers do this for clients on a daily basis. Ask a lawyer to show how to do it, come bloody on.

Actually, probably better to learn from film directors. They’re pretty awesome in organisational abilities, considering they’re used to working ‘on spec,’ to budget, and with swell-heads.

And by the way, this thing called ‘face’ self-implodes in an institutional setting. It’s only operable person to person. Learn sociocultural dynamics better, or starve.

(image above from FedUpUSA.com)

Vietnam People's Air Force regiments map (Wikipedia)

Vietnamese air force? Air FART more like.

Did you know that the majority of Vietnamese military/paramilitary pilots today are in their 60s — Vietnam War vintage?

That was the revelation from a business contact of mine, a client, who’s been doing business for years with the absolute highest echelons of the Vietnamese state apparatus.

“The Vietnamese,” as one relative of a passenger said of the authorities there on Al Jazeera, “are not very capable.”

I have no wish to create misunderstanding or fear and loathing between nations. I’m here in Hong Kong, not down there in Southeast Asia. But if horse manure 1,000 miles away is coming through tragically loud and clear to me, I have to draw certain conclusions.

The Vietnamese air/sea rescue is blameless. Respectz. Their ageing pilots are doing a first-rate job under trying conditions looking for tiny bits of aircraft in the middle of a gigantic ocean lumbered by vintage instrumentation, outdated aircraft, no budget, under an almost fictional organisation. How the hell are we supposed to expect old farts to carry out air/sea rescue? We’re bound to get less-than-minimal results.

When you’ve got capitalist planes with fee-paying passengers from various countries flying across your socialist airspace, it’s a good idea to rethink how you operate your airspace properly especially when your neighbours are habitually dysfunctionalised in emergencies.

We should be truly thankful for having the inestimable experience of vintage Vietnamese pilots to make up for the shortfall in Vietnamese flying hardware and to be on first scramble.

That brings me to another topic (below).

(Image above via Wikipedia)

MH370 last ping corridors

Scramble your jets and fan them out. It’s national defence as much as a rescue.

(Image above shows the last ping corridors of MH370 where an Inmarsat satellite is calculated to have received the last ACARS signal. Courtesy of the Office of the Prime Minister of Malaysia, 15 MAR 2014, via Wikipedia.)

While we sit idly by and watch (essentially civilian) air/sea rescue do its job to locate MH370, nearly all of the military units of the nations in the general vicinity are doing jack-shite.

Our air force is for the heroic defence of our glorious mother/father-land, not for this hide-and-seek recovery of some civilian plane with a couple of passengers who don’t matter in the general scheme of things.

Pretty shortsighted way of looking at things, dontcha say?

To its credit, the Vietnamese air force was the first to scramble and look for MH370. Then the Royal Malaysian Air Force came to, followed by the Royal Thai Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, and then the rest of them lot. So far, no less than 21 nations fielding 37 aircraft, 36 sea vessels, two satellites and one submarine are dedicated to the task. Good guy Norway sent out the Höegh St. Petersburg, a merchant ship.

It SHOULD be common sense to scramble your air force regardless of the kind of air incident. If it’s a disaster, your fanned-out squadrons will maximise the recovery coefficient. If it turns out to be some sort of surprise attack (by terrorists or by nations), then your squadrons already fanned out is protecting you right there. Did your mother never teach you statistics in Organisations & Methods studies?

Because of conflicts and territorial claims in Asia, there are trust issues (to say nothing about perception issues) affecting cooperation and sharing of intelligence among the nations involved in the search, and these are apparently hampering overall efficiency (via AFP/Google News and The Guardian). Ahmahgerd, that’s just so typically bloody Asian.

Personally speaking, scrambling jets now isn’t going to do much to find MH370. With so many days have passed already, it’s just too little, too late.

(image above via Wikipedia)

Map of former bases in Subic and Clark

Where’s your god nao without Subic Bay?

Vietnam brings to mind something that’s in that general vicinity.

Remember the days when there was U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay in the Philippines? And Clark Air Base in Angeles City there?

Well, Subic Bay (or ‘Pubic Bay’ as the wags dubbed it) and Clark (the largest U.S. military facility overseas) were at least within range of the current search zones. In the old days we could count on some U.S. rescue presence as a backup. We don’t have that anymore U.S. forces vacated both bases in 1991–92.

The Philippines agreed in 2012 to reopen parts of Clark AB back to U.S. forces under pressure of Chinese territorial claims to their seas. Fat lot that’ll do…

(image above via Bayanihan Foundation Worldwide)

Titan Uranus - Tighten Your Anus

Coordination is for show, not for blow. Your attitude stinks.

At the end of the day, everything comes down to people. For all the faith we put in technology and surveillance, it’s human capability that will get MH370 found. It’ll be human ineptitude that prevents it from being found.

It’s a question of attitude too.

Why bother when it involves such a small number of people compared to greater numbers of deaths from other causes?

That offensive line isn’t too far removed from the line for 9/11. Why fuss over 3,000 killed when more are dying from (name your favourite brand of affliction)?

I guess someone has to churn out some bullshit so there’s something to say.

True, a plane crash doesn’t happen every day. But that odd logic is tired  and insane. So we should care less because the numbers are lower, is that what the memo says?

It’s like, why kick up a fuss if your mother dies? She’s just ONE person compared with SO MANY others dying. Right? Riiight.

Because if we don’t find out what has happened to MH370, and if it really turns out to be a technical fault, lots more disasters like it are going to happen in future. Because if MH370 turns out to be a hijacking or sabotage or some kind of human security loophole, lots more disasters like it are going to happen in future. Because if you don’t find out what your mother died from, you might die just like her too.

Get the memo?

(image above via Imgur)

* * *


Everything comes down to money. Cash has always been king. Look at the stock charts and you’ll get the picture.

MAS stock one month via Bloomberg Businessweek

Malaysian Airline System Bhd. (MAS:MK)

(Three-month movement up to 15 March 2014 via Bloomberg Businessweek)

Feedback welcomed. If you have any concerns or disagree with any of the foregoing, leave a comment and I’ll take up the issue raised in a separate post.


Grateful thanks to the good offices of Anthony Wai, Esq., for lawyering this article.



© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2014. (B14093) Total wordcount (all elements) 6,467.

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