Newsletter — Titanic: a story of love and loss

Greetings!

In 1907, two men met to discuss an endeavour that would change the course of maritime history.

The first man was Joseph Bruce Ismay, an English industrialist with a big chip on his shoulder. He was the heir to the White Star Line, a shipping company that had been founded by his late father.

The second man was Lord William Pirrie, an Irish aristocrat with an engineering background. He was the chairman of Harland and Wolff, a firm that specialised in shipbuilding.

What both men shared was an obsession with the romance of the sea, and in equal measure, they both had something to prove.

Joseph Bruce had only been running the White Star Line for eight years, and in that time, he had struggled with the long shadow cast by his legendary father. His old man, after all, was the brains behind the RMS Oceanic, a revolutionary cruise ship that had shattered records in 1899. More than anything, Joseph Bruce wanted to carve out his own legacy; perhaps even supersede his father.

Lord William had personal issues of his own. He had been born into a prominent family that boasted many politicians. This gave him wealth and connections, but ironically, it also made it difficult for him to stand out. In 1896, he had been elected Lord Mayor of Belfast, thereby allowing him to carve up his own sphere of provincial influence. But that simply wasn’t enough. More than anything, Lord William ached to make his mark on the international arena; to distinguish himself from the rest of his high-flying kin.

It was against this backdrop that these two dreamers met to discuss a passionate undertaking.

They wanted to deliver an unparalleled transatlantic experience — a new class of ocean-going vessel that would be bigger, better and faster than anything that had come before it.

This new ship would be nothing short of an awe-inspiring colossus. Its design would require an enormous sum of money, divine engineering skills and a whole lot of reckless gumption, but Joseph Bruce and Lord William felt the task was doable.

This was, after all, the dawn of the 20th century. It was the age of optimism. Science and technology could overcome any problem. And, yes, if you could dream it, you could build it.

It would take another five painstaking years for their vision to see reality. There would be setbacks, delays and red herrings. But Joseph Bruce and Lord William pushed on with their endeavour nonetheless.

Finally, in 1912, the new ship was launched. It was christened the RMS Titanic, a nod to the Greek gods of old.

It was an instant sensation.

The media frenzy was wild.

Shipbuilder Magazine published an article that said, ‘With Titanic’s transverse bulkheads and watertight doors, it renders this vessel practically unsinkable.’

On the 10th of April, the Titanic departed Southampton on its maiden voyage to New York.

There were millionaires and socialites travelling in luxurious First Class, as well as poor migrants in meagre Third Class, looking to make a fresh start for themselves in America.

Also on board was very proud Joseph Bruce himself. The Titanic was his baby, and he had no desire to miss this trip for anything in the world.

Lord William had intended to join him, but he was prevented due to illness. In retrospect, it was a fortuitous twist of fate.

On the 14th of April, just before midnight, the starboard side of the Titanic slammed against an iceberg in the Atlantic.

No one was prepared for such a catastrophe.

There were many fatal mistakes.

First of all, the Titanic had never been tested before its maiden voyage. For this reason, the helmsman made a steering error that made the collision all but inevitable.

Secondly, the crew was not trained in emergency procedures such as using the Marconi wireless radio. They weren’t even prepared with binoculars or flashlights.

Finally, there were no safety regulations in place. There were only sixteen lifeboats, enough for roughly one-third of the passengers.

By 2.20am in the morning, a little over two and a half hours after the collision with the iceberg, the Titanic had snapped into two and sunk. Over 1500 people perished, most of them poor migrants.

Joseph Bruce, by virtue of his lofty position, was one of the lucky few who managed to secure a place on one of the lifeboats.

He survived this tragedy, but his reputation never recovered. He was savaged by the American and British press. Forced into seclusion, he never attempted to build another ship ever again.

Lord William, for his part, got off scot-free because he wasn’t present during the disaster. The illness that had prevented him from joining the ill-fated voyage was indeed fortuitous.

The sinking of the Titanic is arguably the greatest example of human hubris and miscalculation. It would foreshadow two more calamities to follow in the 20th century — World War I and World War II.

We’ve come a long way since then, but perhaps there’s still a thing or two we can learn from the Titanic tragedy.

Well, that’s it for this edition of the newsletter.

Do you have questions? Comments? Perhaps you have a real-life story of your own to share? I’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch with me by visiting my website.

Also, if you have missed previous editions of my newsletter, don’t worry. There are recaps available, and you can catch up on reading them by visiting my blog.

Until next time, stay aware and stay safe!

Best Wishes
John Ling

Newsletter — Kitty Genovese and the bystander effect

Here’s my latest newsletter:

Greetings!

Have you ever heard of Kitty Genovese?

If you haven’t, you should.

Kitty Genovese was a 28-year-old woman who lived in Queens, New York. On March 13th 1964, she had just finished her shift as a bar manager. She drove home, and it was three in the morning by the time she arrived at her apartment building.

A psychopath named Winston Moseley was loitering in the area, and he spotted Kitty exiting her car in the parking lot. Deciding that she was an easy target, he swooped in and attacked her with a knife. Bleeding, Kitty struggled with her assailant and screamed for help.

No one responded to her desperate cries. No one bothered to call the police. This was despite the fact that as many as 40 neighbours had heard or seen the violence.

So the assault continued.

Eventually, though, a neighbour did react, but in a cursory fashion. He stuck his head out his window and shouted at Winston to leave Kitty alone. Winston ceased the attack and ran away, while an injured Kitty staggered to the back of her apartment building and collapsed.

Sadly, this lull in the violence was only a temporary one.

Ten minutes later, Winston returned. He searched for Kitty and followed her blood trail. He found her lying in a hallway, semi-conscious, and he resumed stabbing her once more. He finished up by raping Kitty before robbing her of $49. He then fled the scene of the crime for good.

The attack had lasted a full thirty minutes.

Shortly after, Kitty was found by a neighbour who finally ventured out to see what had happened. It was too little, too late.

In the aftermath of this murder, the American press went into a moral panic. Pundits called it a sign of an increasingly cold and selfish society. No one cared about their neighbours anymore. It seemed like the bedrock of civilisation itself was disintegrating.

Sociologists began studying this case, and what they unearthed was a chilling truth about human nature. They dubbed it the bystander effect – as the number of people witnessing a crime increases, the less likely it will be that any of them will actually intervene.

Here are several common excuses:

‘Someone else will help.’

‘It’s not my problem.’

‘I don’t want to get caught up in the hassle of a police investigation.’

Sobering? Absolutely. But more than forty years after Kitty Genovese’s death, the lessons are more pertinent than ever. It’s worth thinking about.

Do you have questions? Comments? Perhaps you have a real-life story of your own to share? I’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch with me by visiting my website.

Also, if you have missed previous editions of my newsletter, don’t worry. There are recaps available, and you can catch up on reading them by visiting my blog.

Until next time, stay aware and stay safe!

Best Wishes
John Ling

Newsletter — Understanding the law of the jungle

My latest newsletter below:

Kia ora!

In my previous newsletter, I talked about how criminals select their targets based on subconscious cues such as posture and fear.

The response to it was overwhelmingly positive. Most of you appreciated this brief insight into criminology and asked me to write more on the subject.

There was one notable exception, though.

I received an email from a friend, and she disagreed entirely with the research that I had shared. She believes that victims of assault and robbery are in no way responsible for what predators do or don’t do. Suggesting otherwise amounts to victim-blaming.

She is adamant that it’s the criminals themselves who need to be taught how to respect boundaries and appreciate the value of consent. It’s society’s role to carry out more education and awareness to make this possible.

I respect my friend’s political stance. I appreciate that she’s so passionate about activism. However, I find it difficult to see how her idealism would hold up in the real world.

First of all, our law enforcement, judiciary and corrections system is largely reactive, not pre-emptive. The pattern goes like this. A violent offender commits a crime. We arrest and prosecute him. We lock him up. The cycle repeats.

In an era of budget cuts and constrained priorities, there is little room to do much else. No one wants to pay higher taxes, and few citizens actually want to see their hard-earned money go towards lengthy and expensive programmes to rehabilitate violent offenders.

Given a choice between sending an offender to university or sending him to prison, society usually opts for prison. In the short-term, at least, it’s cheaper.

This dovetails neatly into my second point: criminals are apex predators. They are defined by social and institutional failures that have been present for generations.

This has instilled within them a culture of hardened selfishness; a culture that’s highly resistant to reform. Rather than evolving into civilised behaviour like the rest of us, they have, in fact, devolved. They only understand the primal language of claws and fangs.

To get a better perspective on this, all you have to do is watch any BBC documentary about the relationship between predator and prey.

Here’s an example: a wolf doesn’t ask a deer for consent before it attacks. It attacks because it senses an opportunity.

Maybe the deer happens to be a juvenile that’s small in size. Maybe the deer has been separated from the rest of its herd. Maybe the deer is limping because of an injured hind leg.

Whatever the reason, the wolf senses an easy meal, and so it makes the decision to attack.

By observing these dynamics, I am not engaging in victim-blaming. Nor am I approving of predatory aggression. I am simply adopting a neutral stance and allowing the law of the jungle to speak for itself.

Transplant this law to the rough streets of any metropolitan city and you will see the same dynamics at work.

So if I advise a man against walking around downtown at 3am in the morning with $10,000 in his pocket, I’m not engaging in victim-blaming. I’m simply imploring him to use his common sense.

Ideally, all of us would want to live in a egalitarian utopia where citizens respect each other and practise mutual love. But that world doesn’t exist. In fact, the world we do live in now is an increasingly selfish and violent one.

A concrete jungle, frankly speaking, is no different than a tropical jungle. Predators are waiting to pounce. They are skilled at using camouflage and cunning. We need to recognise that harsh reality, not deny it.

Do you have questions? Comments? Perhaps you have a real-life story of your own to share? I’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch with me by visiting my website.

 

Also, if you have missed previous editions of my newsletter, don’t worry. There are recaps available, and you can catch up on reading them by visiting my blog.

 

Until next time, stay aware and stay safe!

Best Wishes
John Ling

Newsletter – How psychopaths choose their victims

The latest edition of my newsletter below.

 

Greetings!

Being victimised by a criminal psychopath is an unpleasant thought. No one consciously wishes for it to happen. And yet some people are singled out for a violent attack more than others.

Why?

A recent study in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence suggests that psychopaths choose their victims based on the way they walk.

As an experiment, researchers filmed several civilians walking along the street. They then visited a prison and showed the footage to a group of inmates, asking them which individual would make a good victim.

Remarkably, the inmates kept selecting the same individuals over and over. These were civilians who had adopted timid postures and moved in a timid way. This made them easy targets.

As the study progressed, an even more chilling pattern began to emerge — these civilians, as it turned out, had previously been assaulted and robbed in the past.

In other words, if an individual has been a victim before, then this individual will have a higher chance of becoming a victim again. And again. And again.

A criminal psychopath may make the decision to attack based on outward appearance. However, this is by no means the only factor. There are other primal forces at work as well.

In another study, the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency examined the possibility that human beings can smell fear.

Researchers collected sweat from a group of volunteers who were performing tandem jumps as part of skydiving training. They also collected sweat as these volunteers performed a more mundane exercise such as running on a treadmill.

The two separate samples of sweat were given to another group of volunteers to smell. They were asked to identify which sample had ‘fear’ on it.

Consciously, the volunteers couldn’t detect any difference. However, when a neuroimaging scan was carried out on their brains, the amygdala and hypothalamus — the neural regions associated with fear — lit up every time they smelled the ‘fear’ sample.

Subconsciously, at least, it’s possible for humans to detect fear. It happens when pheromones are secreted through our sweat.

How the smell of fear drives psychopaths to choose their victims is not entirely understood. However, on an evolutionary level at least, it may explain why some attackers choose to wolf-whistle and whoop before they carry out a violent assault.

By making threatening noises, a psychopath is getting his potential victim to sweat, thereby allowing him to determine how much fear is circulating.

Far-fetched? Maybe. Maybe not. In the years to come, I have no doubt that more research will clarify these matters. In the meantime, though, knowledge and preparation is your best weapon against assault and robbery.

Don’t be a victim. Be a survivor instead.

Do you have questions? Comments? Perhaps you have a real-life story of your own to share? I’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch with me by visiting my website.

Also, if you have missed previous editions of my newsletter, don’t worry. There are recaps available, and you can catch up on reading them by visiting my blog.

Until next time, stay aware and stay safe!

Best Wishes
John Ling

Q&A with Ellen Whyte

Storm Chase

Ellen Whyte is a Scottish-Dutch author based in Malaysia. As a columnist and feature writer, her work has appeared in publications such as Cleo, Woman’s Day and National Enquirer. All in all, she has sold over 3000 articles in over 12 countries. Prolific indeed!

The Bonus by AJAdams The Degas Girl cover

Ellen also writes romantic suspense under the pen names Storm Chase and AJ Adams. Her books The Bonus and The Degas Girl have both hit #1 on the Amazon Kindle Organised Crime lists in the UK and the USA.

Ellen’s been kind enough to touch base with me and answer some questions, and she does it with great humour and insight.

Now, on with the show!

 

 

 

 

Tell us a bit about your family.

Mum’s Dutch, Dad’s Scots, I’m married to a Yankee and my brother is married to a girl from the Sudan. Our family home is in Spain, my brother lives in Saudi and I live in Malaysia. As you can see, we’re a bit mixed up.

 

What scares you the most?

Swimming in the ocean. I know that Jaws isn’t there, and most creatures are too sensible to take a bite out of strange food that may taste nasty – but I can hear the Jaws tune running in the back of my mind as I swim faster, and faster and faster!

 

Target and Guido

 

What makes you happiest?

Watching a murder mystery with Tom (the aforementioned Yankee) with Guido sitting between us and Target on my lap. Target and Guido are the cats who live with us. They are kuching kampung, Malaysian rescue cats with characteristic twisty tails. Guido’s is short and Target’s is long and has three kinks.  

 

Why do you write?

Writing’s a disease, a compulsion. I write full-time for newspapers and magazines and the fiction stories are my own special project. If I don’t write, I get very twitchy.

 

What writing are you most proud of?

The Katz Tales and Dog Stories that I write for The Star, the Malaysian national daily. I write them to entertain but I also aim to educate new pet lovers. When someone writes in to say that they’ve stopped keeping their cat in a cage, or that they now understand their dog better, it makes me feel good all week long. To see what’s online, drop Ellen Whyte site:thestar.com.my into Google.

 

What is hardest – getting published, writing or marketing?

I’ve been very, very lucky. I sold the very first article I ever sent to a newspaper and was given a column a month later. That was Lim Chong at The New Straits Times. He was a very kind man who was always happy to nurture new writers. My first book proposal was knocked back but the publisher suggested a different book at the same time. That was Eric Forbes from MPH, one of the best-read people I’ve ever met, and very kind to authors too.

The books I write now, romance and crime as Storm Chase and AJ Adams, don’t have enough market in Malaysia so I’m going it alone. I miss the support from the pros very much! Book cover design, editing, marketing — I find it all a challenge because I have so much to learn!

 

What marketing works for you?

I wish I knew. Seriously, I don’t have a clue. I do the usual discount promotions, excerpt campaigns, blog tours, begging for reviews, and so on, and some weeks I make great sales and some weeks I don’t. The thing is that someone may see a promo or review in March and buy in May, so you never really know what works best. My solution is to spend a few hours every week on marketing, and to hope for the best.

 

 Wildcat In Moscow by Storm Chase Blackmail Bride by Storm Chase

 

Is your family supportive?

As AJ Adams writes violent mob and cartel stories with some rather explicit sex, I have banned Tom and my mum from reading those. My brother Ian reads them though and he’s great at giving feedback.

Storm Chase is more sedate and mum’s been complaining that she never gets to read anything I write, so I’ve been thinking I’ll let her read Wildcat in Moscow, Murder in Moscow and Blackmail Bride. They are mainstream and she now has her Galaxy Tab (when she hit 68 she finally caved!) so she can access them.

But we’re not discussing the adult bits. That would be too weird.

 

Do you plan to publish more books?

Yes. Songbird by AJ Adams is being edited as we speak. And I’m currently writing the next story. It is the tale of Mac, an undercover ex-SAS man, who is gifted with Pepper, a trafficking victim who was a slave. It’s not what you think: she’s not the submissive type!

 

What else do you do to make money, other than write? It is rare today for writers to be full time.

You’re quite right, most people can’t make it, especially with all the free stuff available online, but my income comes entirely from writing. As I said, I’m lucky to have the work. I am taking my Masters in Counseling though. This may sound an odd move but I’ve a degree in Psychology. I didn’t take it up as a career when I was younger as I thought I wasn’t ready. Now I’m older and much more callous, I’m going back to my first love. I start my practicum in September, which I’m very excited about. I graduate a year from now and I hope to write 3 days a week and counsel 2 days a week. Counselling is very intensive emotionally, so the writing will keep me balanced and strong for my clients.

 

If you could study any subject at university what would you pick?

Philosophy is my next choice. I wouldn’t mind taking another Masters in a year or three from now, just to round things out. And having said that, I’m also interested in gender studies. There’s a very interesting group of ladies in Malaysia doing some fascinating work in the field (I’m thinking of Dr Sharon Bong at Monash and Prof Shanthi A/P Thambiah at University Malaya) and it’s an area I’d love to learn more about.

 

Every writer has their own idea of what a successful career in writing is, what does success in writing look like to you?

People buying my books, paying money for them, and then wanting to buy more. I know, very materialistic. But if you’re willing to pay for something, it means you love it. Also, I’m not a Virginia Woolf or James Joyce. I write to entertain.

 

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Tell us about your new book? What’s it about and why did you write it?

Songbird! Okay, if you’ve read The Bonus, you’ll have met Arturo Vazquez, the head of the Zetas Cartel in Nuevo Laredo in Mexico. The Bonus was all about Kyle and Chloe, so you didn’t see a lot of Arturo. Songbird is his story.

Arturo is having a bad year. First his girlfriend Gina tries to rat him out to the DEA and then José Escamilla, the man he’s put in charge of his business in England, tries to cut Arturo out and go it alone.

Arturo goes over to London, settles the would-be revolt by killing everyone involved – except for Solitaire, Escamilla’s very unwilling mistress.

Solitaire is intelligent, tough, and not an unknown figure in the underworld. She also shares Arturo’s interest in BDSM. Arturo falls head over heels in love for the first time in his life. The kicker is: someone is leaking information and all the evidence points at Solitaire.

You’ll have to read the book to see what happens next.

Songbird is a complete, standalone novel of about 110,000 words. Price $3.99. Available on Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords, B&N and other quality online retailers first week of October 2014.

 

 

 

 

Find a list of Storm Chase novels and short stories with buy links at

http://stormchasenovels.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html

 

Find a list of AJ Adams novels with buy links at

http://stormchasenovels.blogspot.com/p/aj-adams-novels.html

 

Stalking links
Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ewhyte
Twitter https://twitter.com/KatzTalesTweets
Pinterest http://www.pinterest.com/ellenwhyte/

What The Honourable Woman can teach us about Israel and Palestine

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Subversive. Provocative. Uncompromising. The Honourable Woman is a miniseries that’s shaping up to be the most important event on television this season. A joint production between the BBC and SundanceTV, the show was conceived and developed well before the current Gaza crisis. But now, in a stroke of eerie prescience, it’s debuting on screens all around the world, inadvertently setting itself up as the perfect vehicle to explore the tragic state of affairs in the Middle East.

 

Nessa Stein (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a British Jew with a big chip on her shoulder. Her father, Eli, was a Zionist who became wealthy by supplying weapons to Israel. Much Palestinian blood was shed in the process, and eventually, Eli himself was assassinated by a PLO agent.

 

Twenty-nine years later, an orphaned Nessa has taken over the reins of the family business. Consumed with guilt over her father’s legacy, she seeks to atone by taking the company in a radically different direction. She now invests in education and infrastructure for the Palestinian territories. With such philanthropy, she hopes to break the cycle of violence and promote peace.

 

Nessa’s latest venture is a high-speed broadband network in Gaza. Much to the disgust of many Israelis, she decides to award the phase-three contract to a Palestinian businessman named Samir Meshal. This is her way of taking the moral high ground. Nessa’s good intentions, though, are soon derailed when Samir turns up dead, apparently the result of a suicide.

 

Hugh Hayden-Hoyle (played by Stephen Rea) is the MI6 spymaster brought in to investigate Samir’s demise. Cynical and on the verge of retirement, he isn’t convinced that this is a case of simple suicide. In fact, he has a damning theory – the Israeli Mossad are responsible for assassinating Samir. But why? To what end?

 

Caught in the middle of this puzzle is Atika Halibi (played by Lubna Azabal). A Palestinian refugee from Gaza, she now works for the Stein family. She presents a cool and calm image, but underneath it all, she’s hiding a heartbreaking secret; one that threatens to be exposed as the tension mounts.

 

Over eight episodes, The Honourable Woman lays a cunning trail of breadcrumbs for us to follow. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who’s innocent? Who’s guilty? The geopolitics is nothing short of incendiary, and as a tangled web of deceit and betrayal unspools, it becomes obvious that this show isn’t afraid of confronting its subject matter head on. The storyline is bleak. Merciless. Never stopping to mollycoddle viewers.

 

Are you a right-wing conservative who thinks that the Israelis are good and the Palestinians are bad? Well, this may not be the show for you. In a notable scene, a Zionist protester confronts the Stein family at a fundraiser. He splatters them in animal blood and screams, ‘Israel belongs to the Jews! The Shomron belongs to the Jews!’ Yes, ultranationalism is portrayed for what it is here – extremism that borders on horror.

 

Perhaps you’re left-wing liberal who thinks that the Israelis are bad and the Palestinians are good? Again, this may not be the show for you. In another notable scene, a Palestinian operative shows a Muslim boy his pistol. He suggests that violence is not only acceptable but desirable. The boy, enthralled by his elder’s words, later plays with the weapon, only to shoot himself by mistake. Yes, militancy is portrayed for what it is here – extremism that borders on horror.

 

Over and over again, we are reminded that this is not Homeland. This is not 24. In fact, this is nothing at all like the glossy and sanitised thrillers that we’re used to seeing. The Honourable Woman, by comparison, is stark and gritty. It allows its suspense to unfold at a slow burn. Conversations are delivered in elusive doublespeak. Relationships are framed to be morally opaque. And the violence is shocking rather than glamorous.

 

Clearly, writer-director Hugo Blick has no interest in adopting a conservative or liberal tone here. He has no use for such artificial labels. In fact, the only posture he does adopt is one of moral outrage, and he uses his creative licence to slam all sides fairly and equally.

 

So far as the narrative goes, the Israelis are not interested in peace. Neither are the Palestinians. Nor the British. Certainly not the Americans. Everyone, it would seem, is complicit in murder, corruption and lies. Their only shared interest is to undercut each other. Perpetuate imaginary status quos.

 

In Episode One itself, Nessa Stein is asked: ‘When it comes to the history of the Middle East, it never ends well for idealists, does it?’

 

Indeed, that’s the bitter truth. For all the players in the political arena, entrenched as they are in the pseudo-religious myth of victimhood and revenge, there can be no happy ending. Only a never-ending cycle of blood and tears; poisoning the hearts and minds of generation after generation.

 

Ultimately, The Honourable Woman is a show that will challenge your ideology and leave you with a sour aftertaste in your mouth. It’s densely layered and emotionally draining, asking difficult questions but providing you with no easy answers. And for that reason alone, it may well be the most courageous drama of the year. Its unsentimental portrayal of Israel and Palestine is, in equal turns, ugly, messy and complicated. It’s not easy viewing, but then again, it’s not meant to be.

In defence of political satire

http://johnlingblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/baf8c-cf1.jpg?w=460&h=276

 

I have received an avalanche of hate mail these past few days.

The insults were colourful and varied, but a running theme was this: ‘How dare you suggest that America shot down the plane? Where’s your evidence? You’re obviously sick in the head.’

Whoa, let’s hit the brakes for a moment, folks. I understand your pro-American sentiments. I understand where you’re coming from. However, have you actually read my article in full? Have you read it with care?

Well, let me be clear — the article is meant to act as political satire. It was written on the suggestion of Malaysiakini, and I took aim squarely at the far-right Malaysians who were blaming America for the tragic shoot-down.

In the article itself, I explain why it’s *impossible* and *unthinkable* for America to have shot down MH17. I use irony. I use sarcasm. I use derision.

Unfortunately, it seems that most of you have only skimmed through the article. If so, you may have drawn premature conclusions and missed the inherent message of the article itself.

Don’t believe me?

Go back and read it again.

Believe me, you’d be surprised what you missed the first time around.

Newsletter — What the MH17 tragedy can teach us about awareness

My latest newsletter:

Greetings!

Have you ever encountered a lemming? Chances are, you wouldn’t have, unless you live in the Arctic region.

 

A lemming is a type of rodent that reproduces very quickly. So quickly, in fact, that entire colonies often embark on mass migrations in order to find new territory.

 

In popular folklore, this is commonly portrayed as thousands of lemmings leaping off a cliff, committing group suicide because they obey herd instinct.

 

In light of the latest tragedy that’s hit Malaysia Airlines this past week, many people have questioned why Flight MH17 was allowed to fly into hostile airspace to begin with.

 

Why didn’t the management choose to deviate to a safer route? Why were no warnings issued? Did corporate profiteering eclipse passenger safety?

 

Malaysia Airlines has defended its decision. The management pointed to the fact that the International Civil Aviation Organisation had cleared Ukrainian airspace for use by commercial traffic. No red flags had been issued.

 

In addition, other notable carriers such as Singapore Airlines and Aeroloft were also using that exact same flight path. Some even did so with a higher level of frequency than Malaysia Airlines.

 

So does this absolve the powers-that-be of responsibility? In my opinion, only partially.

 

In the months leading up to the tragic shoot-down, several carriers such as Qantas Airways and Korean Air had, in fact, made the decision to deviate from that flight path. They did so as early as March.

 

This was in response to several notices issued by the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the Federal Aviation Administration. For the most part, these were yellow flags urging caution, as opposed to red flags urging avoidance.

 

Still, it appeared that the management of these carriers exercised their own judgement. They chose to treat the yellow flags as red flags.

 

What prompted their vigilant decision? Well, for one thing, the tempo of the fighting in Eastern Ukraine had grown increasingly fierce in recent months.

 

This has led to several military aircraft being shot down over the conflict zone. Most notably, on 16th July, mere days before the MH17 tragedy, a Ukrainian fighter jet had been brought down by enemy fire.

 

At the time, it was widely believed that the most immediate threat came from shoulder-fired missiles, which posed a danger to aircraft flying below 30,000 feet.

 

Not many people, it seemed, stopped to consider the possibility that vehicle-fired missiles with a range beyond 30,000 feet might also pose an additional danger.

 

In Malaysian corporate culture, there is a mythic attitude known as ‘Tidak apa’. Loosely translated, it means ‘It doesn’t matter.’

 

Right now, it’s impossible to determine how much of a factor that mindset may have played in the decision-making process. Until a full and independent inquiry is carried out, we won’t know very much at all.

 

Nonetheless, in the grand scheme of things, the ‘tidak apa’ attitude isn’t confined to Malaysia Airlines alone. Singapore Airlines is just as guilty of the attitude. So is Aeroloft. So is Lufthansa. So is every carrier that made the negligent decision to fly over Eastern Ukraine.

 

Unfortunately, through a combination of bad luck and hubris, it was the innocent passengers aboard Flight MH17 that paid the ultimate price.

 

If you’re a frequent flyer, chances are, you will select a carrier based on price, convenience and quality of service.

 

But how often does security awareness factor into your choice? Do you actually know why your plane is taking a particular flight path? Do you even care? Take a moment to process all of that.

 

People often say lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice. But, as any meteorologist will tell you, probability is not the same as possibility. We shouldn’t make false assumptions that will only put us in peril.

 

In short, don’t act like a lemming.

 

Do you have questions? Comments? Perhaps you have a real-life story of your own to share? I’d love to hear from you. You can get in touch with me by visiting my website.

 

Also, if you have missed previous editions of my newsletter, don’t worry. There are recaps available, and you can catch up on reading them by visiting my blog.

 

Until next time, stay aware and stay safe!

Best Wishes
John Ling

Open Letter — Did The Americans Shoot Down MH17?

There’s a sordid conspiracy theory going around that it was the Americans who shot down MH17.

This is my take on why that’s highly unlikely:

 

Let me paint a provocative scenario for you – it was the Americans who shot down Flight MH17. This was a false-flag operation authorised by President Barack Obama. He did so through a clandestine order, and he kept all knowledge of it hidden from Congress. In Washington itself, fewer than 10 people knew about this plan, and all these individuals were firmly ensconced inside Obama’s inner circle. There would be no whistle-blowers; no leaks; no mistakes.

The timing for this false-flag op couldn’t be better. Obama had just visited Malaysia a couple of months back, and he had created a lot of positive buzz in the country. Who would ever suspect his true intentions? Certainly not the Malaysians who had lapped up his ‘hope and change’ rhetoric like eager beavers.

President Obama also had another good thing going – American legislation meant that the Central Intelligence Agency was answerable directly to him. This gave him the authority to bypass all the usual channels, and he could launch this op under the pretext of plausible deniability. Very good.

The paramilitary unit that Obama decided to turn to is known as the CIA’s Ground Branch. They are a subsection of Special Activities Division. This is the very same outfit that tracked Osama bin Laden down in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Highly trained and highly motivated, they would do their president’s bidding without question. A handpicked team was dispatched to Ukraine without preamble.

Obama suffered sleepless nights in the lead-up to the op. What if it was discovered? What would his legacy be? Might he be labelled a war criminal?

As it turned out, all that anxiety was premature. On that fateful Thursday, carrying out the actual op itself proved to be surprisingly easy. Ground Branch operators fluent in Russian commandeered a BUK missile launcher from the Ukrainians. They also dressed themselves in pro-Putin uniforms, complete with the requisite insignia. Then they casually drove their way into Russian-controlled territory, smoothly talking their way through checkpoint after checkpoint. False paperwork with false signatures were provided.

More than once, the Americans encountered GRU operatives. These were elite Russian spooks that had been sent by Moscow to support the separatists in Eastern Ukraine. They were trained in the black arts of counterintelligence. However, for some reason, the GRU operatives were off their game that day. Their operatives failed to see through the Americans’ conceit. Nor did they question why a BUK launcher was being driven into rebel-controlled territory from the loyalist side.

But no matter. The Americans praised God for this stroke of good luck and carried on with the operation. Soon enough, they took up position in an open field just as Flight MH17 was flying overhead. Through an encrypted wireless transmission, Obama got in touch with the leader of the Ground Branch team. After a moment’s hesitation, the president personally gave the order to execute. A single missile was launched. Flight MH17 was blown clear out of the sky, and as bodies and fragments rained down across the landscape, the Americans quickly disengaged and drove off.

Somehow, amidst the chaos and confusion, the separatists and their GRU handlers failed to detect that a BUK launcher was now threading its way back into loyalist territory. Despite the presence of numerous checkpoints, once again, the GRU – so famed for their iron discipline and superhuman powers of perception – missed the opportunity to intercept the American perpetrators. Yes, they were really, really off their game that day.

Later that day, with the BUK launcher firmly back on friendly territory, the Ground Branch began dismantling and destroying the hardware. They would be no proof. No blowback. All the world would know from this point on was that it was the Russians who had committed the atrocity. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Well, how likely is this scenario?

I asked a fellow author who had once served as a case officer with the CIA’s National Clandestine Service. His response was to throw his head back and laugh. He had very few good things to say about his former employer. The Agency, he observed, was a bumbling and incompetent organisation that got lucky from time to time. The tracking down and killing of Osama bin Laden was a prime example of this. For the most part, though, the Agency is hampered by human frailty and bureaucratic stupidity.

Like any office, Agency employees love to gossip about the most petty of things. Whisper that a colleague is a transsexual, and before long, the whole office knows about it. Give it a bit more time and even family and friends on the outside will come to hear about the rumour. For that reason, it’s next to impossible to maintain a secret. A leak will happen, sooner or later.

Operationally, my friend also gave me a very public example of how the CIA has failed to live up to its image. In 2010, despite all the rumblings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the eruption of the Arab Spring caught their case officers and analysts by total surprise. They were genuinely blindsided by the event, and when American-backed dictators were toppled one after the other, the Agency was left scrambling to salvage the situation. Certainly not a good look for intelligence organisation that enjoys billions of dollars in funding.

The myth of CIA omnipotence and supremacy, it would seem, is just that – a myth. For many in the developing world, the CIA has become the convenient bogeyman for everything they hate about America. The torture that was undertaken at CIA black sites under the Bush administration solidified this perception. And, now, the CIA drone-strike programme under the Obama administration has only served to perpetuate it.

America, just like any other superpower, is guilty of misusing its authority and shedding innocent blood. But, frankly, whether you believe MH17 was a false-flag operation or not depends largely on whether you also believe that 9/11 was an inside job. Common sense would dictate that some things just don’t add up.

Open Letter — The Complexities of the Russian Soul

 My article written from the Russian perspective:

 

There is a Russian proverb that goes like this: ‘With lies, you may go forward in the world, but you may never go back.’ This saying has always held a special appeal for me, mainly because it serves to illustrate the complexities of the Russian soul – it is defined, in equal terms, by melancholy, fatalism and a tragic sense of humour.

 

For the average Russian, being misunderstood by the outside world is all but inevitable. So they embrace it as their destiny, and with a nonchalant shrug, they march forward and pursue their goals anyway. They see little point in stopping to offer detailed explanations. They know no one will listen.

 

Nowhere was this development more clear than in 1946. This was when American diplomat George Kennan sent his famous Long Telegram from the US embassy in Moscow. He had observed, up close, what he believed to be a policy of aggressive Soviet expansionism. Russia had come to see itself at war with capitalism, and it was seeking to replace it with communism. This was why Russia had refused to support America in creating the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. A clash of cultures was underway.

 

In 1947, Keenan examined the issue more formally in what became known as X Article. In it, he defined Russia as impervious to the logic of reason but highly sensitive to the logic of force. His recommendation to Washington was a strategy of containment in order to roll back Russian influence around the globe. The Truman administration, alarmed by Kennan’s views, began to adopt a militaristic stance towards Russia. This was a posture that would come to define the entirety of the Cold War.

 

The Russians, for their part, did not see themselves as aggressive. Nor did they perceive their foreign policy as unreasonable. After all, in their opinion, it was not the American-led forces that had won the Second World War. Rather, it was Mother Russia. In the battle against the Nazi juggernaut, the Russians had suffered more casualties than any other nation – over 20 million dead. The Americans, by comparison, had only suffered 400,000 deaths, which the Russians viewed as miniscule by comparison.

 

The Russians also believed that it wasn’t the dropping of the atomic bomb that had forced the Empire of Japan to surrender to the Allies. Rather, it was the actions of their Red Army, which had already swept through Manchuria and was poised to invade the Japanese homeland itself.

 

Anecdotal evidence appears to support this view. In 1918, the Russians had no qualms about executing their own royal family. In 1945, was it possible that they might do the same to the Japanese royals? It was a frightening thought for the Imperial household, and it was for this reason that the Japanese chose to surrender to the Americans instead. American occupation, while humiliating, would at least ensure the survival of the Chrysanthemum Throne and a continuation of the royal lineage.

 

In Russia’s eyes, they believed they had more than earned the right to be given a leading role in the post-war world. That meant being treated as an equal to America and being accorded a certain degree of prestige and respect.

 

Unfortunately, that hope did not come to fruition. From the beginning, simplistic stereotypes and racial prejudice poisoned relations between the two superpowers. In the eyes of many Western observers, Russia was and always would be a semi-Oriental nation of barbarians. Devious in character. Antagonistic in posture. Not to be trusted at all.

 

Now, with the fall of Communism and the breakup of the old Soviet Empire, many things have changed on the surface. In 1989, there were no millionaires in Russia. Today, thanks to the liberalisation of oil and gas, there are not only millionaires but billionaires. Flush with cash and self-confidence, Russian oligarchs are on the ascendency. They are now buying luxury mansions in far-off places like New Zealand. In a stunning role reversal, they have now become masters of the Western art of capitalism.

 

However, for all the glitz and glamour of modern capitalistic Russia, one thing has not changed. The Russians have never forgiven the West for not giving them ‘face’ when they craved it the most. In their heart of hearts, they rage against the perception that they have been bullied, belittled and sabotaged at every turn. This is the resentment they bear to this day, and this is why they have turned to Putin. Ultranationalism, for all its faults, has given them a sense of renewed pride. What we perceive as ruthless, they perceive as decisive. What we perceive as thuggish, they perceive as masculine.

 

Often, you don’t need to look far to witness this perspective in action. Just yesterday, on an online forum, I had a conversation with self-proclaimed Russian nationalist. He was angry at my suggestion that Putin had placed geopolitical interest ahead of human life. He said, ‘Why are you Malaysians complaining about the loss of 298 lives? We lost 20 million in the Great Patriotic War. 20 million! Try wrapping your mind around that. And yet, after all that sacrifice, we barely shed a tear. The fact that you Malaysians are kicking up such a fuss over it just shows that you are weaklings and slaves to the West.’

 

Blunt? Crass? Perhaps. But that sums up the Russian perspective today – a nostalgia for the dignity and respect that the old Soviet Empire once gave them. Yes, being misunderstood is inevitable. But given the choice between being a bad guy and being a nobody, modern Russia will choose to be the bad guy. At the very least, it gives them ‘face’ and offers them a platform in today’s world. Russia has sworn that it will not be treated as a child ever again. And if that means sacrificing 298 civilians in the name of a more muscular and assertive nation, then so be it.

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