Archive for March, 2015


Black Box

Unfortunately, we don’t have a black box inside a person’s head, and it’s therefore impossible to know exactly what was going through the mind of the German co-pilot who apparently deliberately crashed Lufthansa’s Germanwings airplane, killing 149 people plus himself. I personally don’t believe this was an act of terrorism–we certainly don’t have all the facts yet–but you have to wonder, “Exactly how depressed do you have to be to commit this kind of atrocity?” Was the co-pilot showing signs of distress in the days leading up to the accident, and why is it that many airlines don’t do routine psychological testing?

The CEO of Lufthansa has said the co-pilot was 100% fit to fly, yet this seems obviously to contradict the facts, and I wish the CEO were less concerned with covering his company in terms of liability and more concerned with the extreme loss of life whereby 150 people died in a matter of minutes.

Although we certainly don’t have all the facts, and may never know exactly what Andreas Lubitz was thinking, I’m saddened at the apparent legacy of destruction he has left behind, sad that his family must live with the knowledge that this was in all likelihood a mass killing that he orchestrated when he seized the opportunity to lock the pilot out of the cockpit and send the plane on its path to destruction. How desperate and depressed do you have to be to take the life of 149 strangers? How could this possibly have been prevented?

The vast majority of airline flights are perfectly safe, yet it seems so random and horrific that these individuals get on a flight, fully anticipating that they will arrive without incident, and then their lives end in the French Alps, all because the co-pilot was obviously not fit to fly.

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Micro-Aggressions

On my way to the north woods of Wisconsin for a much needed spring break, I heard a new term on the radio: micro-aggressions. The term refers to the many little ways that people, in particular white people, most often privileged white men, continue the legacy of racism with snide side comments and little asides thrown out carelessly, denigrating African-Americans and their accomplishments. It’s almost as though these insecure people seek to cement a privileged position and are afraid, on some level, that giving another race equal treatment under the law will somehow take away from their rights.

There’s that famous cigarette ad saying from Virginia Slims: “You’ve come a long way, baby,” and when it comes to civil rights we have indeed come a long way in the last fifty years, but that doesn’t mean we still don’t have much work to do. Racism is no longer socially acceptable so I find people making derogatory remarks under their breath, usually among peers who don’t dare confront them or disagree.

At the same time, we have the dilemma of the well-meaning heterosexual white man who has inherited a position of privilege, and may indeed feel guilty about having certain birth rights, but doesn’t know how to start or continue a conversation about race and racism. I’m thinking in particular about a friend named James, Gentle James of a previous post, who doesn’t feel comfortable making much of any comment on race and racism for fear of speaking out of turn, or God forbid, not being forward-thinking enough.

Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, recently tried something radical in having his baristas, also known as partners, write on random coffee cups the term, “Race together.” I think theoretically it’s a great idea to try and start a national conversation on race relations, and indeed the coffee community would seem like a great place to start, but I’m not certain that the average Starbucks customer wants to have any kind of meaningful interaction at 7am while waiting for that first cup of coffee. Perhaps if Starbucks had framed the conversation, saying that on Sunday afternoons, baristas will be approaching people to talk about racism, the whole project might have had better parameters. The way it played out, as I was driving out of town, one of the Starbucks employees who is a casual friend of mine named Dominique, waved at me through the drive-thru and asked about my weekend plans, while another employee, a black man named Marquise who I really don’t know all that well, rushed to the window, seemingly in the effort to raise the profile of the African-American community. Is it really fair to put the onus on all the minority employees to insure that they are noticed and appreciated? How does Howard Schultz contend that his employees respond to someone who might very well react in a racist fashion? Is it enough to say, “We don’t need the business of close-minded people?” So I guess my point is, I give Starbucks an A for effort in its attempt to redress the wrongs of recent racist flare-ups, but only a B minus for the way the company has executed its “race together” campaign.