Robbery Amongst the Clouds

Robbery Amongst the Clouds

I want to tell you the story of a daring robbery that took place in the skies above Oregon and Washington. This is the story of the only unsolved case of air piracy in US history, a case that was only suspended in July of this year. This is the story of Dan ‘D.B.’ Cooper.

It’s Thanksgiving Eve, 1971. Portland International Airport is relatively busy, filled with people trying to get home for the holiday. One of these passengers to be is a Caucasian man in his mid-fourties, around 5″11, wearing a dark suit, raincoat, loafers and a mother of pearl tie pin. He is carrying an unassuming attaché case with him. Identifying himself as Dan Cooper, he purchases a one-way ticket to Seattle on Northwest Orient flight 305, hands over $20 and heads for the departure gate.

The plane isn’t very full, maybe one-third of the seats are occupied, but Flight 305 takes off according to schedule at 2:50pm. Soon after takeoff, Dan Cooper orders a bourbon and soda, lights a cigarette and passes a folded up note to a nearby flight attendant. She largely ignores the action, thinking this to be the opening gambit of the man’s ‘game’. That is until the man leans over and says softly: “Miss, you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb.” Suddenly, this quiet midafternoon flight over the Pacific Northwest is now the backdrop to a hijacking.

After briefly showing the bomb to the flight attendant, Florence Schaffner, Cooper makes his demands known: $200,000 in “negotiable American currency”; four parachutes and finally, a refuelling truck waiting at Seattle-Tacoma airport. Schaffner conveys these demands to the cockpit. The pilot gets SeaTac on the line and soon enough, the FBI has been informed that there is a domestic hijacking in progress. The plane circled above Puget Sound for two hours as law enforcement assembled the demands. As chaos was barely contained on the ground, Cooper calmly ordered another drink, paid his tab in full and requests that meals for the flight crew be waiting on the ground in Seattle.

The plane makes landfall at 5:39pm and the local representative of the airline hands over the demands. At this point, Cooper releases all passengers as well as all but one of the cabin crew. As the plane is refueled, he gives the pilot’s very specific flight parameters and sets his destination as Mexico City. As the plane is not designed for the nearly 3,000 mile journey, Reno is chosen as a second one refuelling stop.

The plane takes off once more at 7:40pm, this time with a covert accompaniment of two F-106 fighter jets. Remaining cabin crew member Tina Mucklow is ordered into the cockpit and at 8:00pm, the flight crew begin to receive indications that the aft airstairs has been deployed. This meant that Cooper had just opened the rear entrance to the plane. Requests to assist him are refused. There is a sudden upwards movement at 8:13pm, requiring the pilots to level the plane, but then it is a smooth ride to Nevada. The plane continues onto Reno, landing with the aft airstairs still open, and is met by a bevy of law enforcement officials. However, Cooper and his $200,000 are nowhere to be found. The only things left that could be tied to Cooper were two of the parachutes and his tie plus tie clip.

And that is the story of how a man hijacked an aircraft to steal $1.2 million when his take is adjusted for inflation.

D.B. Cooper was never found. Many believe that he died soon after jumping, as the most logical jump time of 8:13pm would have had him landed in a heavy rainstorm in and around the Lewis River. However, there are those who believe that Cooper survived and lived on, maybe even to this day.

As a psychologist, I love the Cooper case. Not only is it impossible to say why he did what he did, we can’t even assemble a psychological profile of the man. The cabin crew who interacted with him described him as polite and caring; calm and compassionate. Recent work by a number of amateur sleuths have turned up a few interesting facts- pure titanium dust was found on the tie he left behind. Now in 1971, titanium was rare and almost exclusively used in the construction of aircraft, suggesting that Cooper may have been an aviation engineer. There is also a Canadian comic book about a man named Dan Cooper, who pulls off a stunt almost identical to the heist of the real-life Cooper. Apart from that, as well as the very generic composite sketch created in the wake of the incident, there is very little else we know about Cooper. He goes down as one of those great unsolved American mysteries. It is unlikely that we shall ever know what happened to Cooper but that doesn’t mean our imaginations can’t fill in the gaps.

What do you think happened to Cooper?

Donald Trump is not a Nazi

Donald Trump is not a Nazi

Campaign 2016 Clinton Sanders

With Senator Sanders endorsing Hilary Clinton in the past few days, the 2016 Presidential election will be contested by former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and businessman Donald Trump.

Now, if you are familiar with my blog, you will know that I have written a lot on the electoral process so far. However, I have been careful to avoid some of Trump’s more controversial remarks and beliefs. However, as Trump’s position has become increasingly official, I have heard one word in particular used to describe him- Nazi.

I have no love or respect for Donald Trump and I do not want for this piece to be interpreted as any kind of defence for Trump’s words or actions, but Donald Trump is not a Nazi.

White Supremacy

First, let’s breakdown the hierarchy of vocabulary associated with racial hatred and racial superiority. At the base, the most widely-appliable term is ‘white supremacy’. White supremacy is the belief that people of Caucasian heritage are the superior race on Earth and should be afforded liberties and privileges afforded with said superiority. They also believe that those who are not part of this superior race should have to willing submit to their white masters.

Fascism

Then you have ‘fascism’, the political ideology that liberal democracy is an obselete concept and that a totalitarian one-party state is the only viable form of government. In practice, this gives way to fierce nationalist beliefs and often white supremacist control of the nation, especially as fascism has only largely been seen in practice in European nations.

Nazi

Finally we have the most specific term- Nazi. Nazi is a colloquial term for the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and describes the governing political party of Germany between 1933 and 1945. The word can also be used to describe members of this party.The Nazis are the ‘best known’ for starting the Second World War and instigating ‘The Final Solution’ in 1942, which would led to the death of six million Jews, as well as hundreds of thousands of Romani, political prisoners, homosexuals and other groups deemed unfit to live by the Nazis.

Now, let’s start grouping things together. Groups like the KKK, the American Freedom Party, the National Party of Europe, the British National Party, Blood and Honour and individuals like Tom Metzger are what can be described as white supremacists or at the very least, white nationalists. They believe that whites should be given priority treatment as they are the superior race. At the more moderate end of the spectrum, they want to protect their historically white nations from the ‘threat’ of immigrants and ‘inferior’ races.

Then there’s fascism this is a lot less prevalent since the fall of the fascist regimes of the 1940s and later, the collapse of General Franco’s Spanish regime. ‘Neo-facism’ is often applied to groups, especially political organisations, who carry some of the core beliefs of fascism or have expressed admiration for Hitler, the Nazis, previous fascist regimes etc. This has been across the world, with movements such as military coup that took control of Bolivia in 1980; the PFI and their ideas of Indonesia Mulia, a concept similar to Hitler’s ‘Greater Germany’ vision and the previously mentioned British National Party, whose white nationalism is based on a platform of fascist ideology.

Finally, we have the specific term ‘Nazi’. Many nations around the world have legislation in place to make it a crime to identify as a Nazi, which is why we see a rise in neo-fascism rather than neo-Nazism. While some nations have groups that call themselves the -Insert country name here- Nazi Party, there is a much bigger debate to be had about whether a Nazi Party can truly exist today or whether Nazi should only refer to the party that exist in 1930s.

If I was forced to pick one term to describe Donald Trump, it would be white nationalist. While some of what he has said is racist, such as his comment that the people coming over the US border from Mexico were “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” but overall, a lot of what Trump says and does indicates a white nationalist platform more than anything else- remove illegal immigrants the country, a majority of whom are Latin American; ban Muslims regardless of nationality from the entering the United States; ban refugees from entering the United States. Those are policies that would ‘protect’ the white majority in America.

But why is it so bad to mislabel Trump as a ‘Nazi’? Well, a while back I wrote a piece about how Nazis, among other groups of people, had been turned into a trope through overuse within popular culture. Throughout the late 90s and early 2000s, it was ‘gay’ that was used as the throwaway insult but beneath that, Nazi has also been that insult we always keep in our arsenal to describe something we think it overly oppressive or tyrannical. Continual labelling of things as being like the Nazis or being like Nazi Germany trivalises the Nazis because you would be hard-pressed to find something truly worthy of being compared to a political and military regime that systematically murder six million civilians.

Trump is a horrible human being with some truly terrible ideas about what to do to America if he wins the Presidency but he is not a Nazi. You will not find proof that he is the member of any Nazi, or neo-fascist organisation and there are better, more effective ways to show what sort of man Trump is than labelling himself as something he is not.

The age of TV cynicism (Part One)

The age of TV cynicism (Part One)

Millennials get a bad rap in the media- they are labelled as lazy, lacklustre members of society whose collective vanity and obsessive with the self ruins anything they come into contact with for everyone else (Case in point- AMC considering allowing phone usage in thier cinemas to get young people to start coming to the cinema). However, while most of the Millennials stereotype is either untrue or exaggerated, there is one worrying element of the stereotype that is perpetuated over and over- the notion that the young generations are a generation fuelled by cynicism and mean-spiritedness.

Sitcoms are one of the most popular genres of television with dozens of new shows coming out each year. However, since the late 1990s there has been a marked change in the demeanour of the characters we are expected to tune in to watch. It all started with Seinfeld and FRIENDS, with one being about Woody Allen’s wet dream of four truly horrible neurotics trying to survive in New York while the other is about six friends who appear nice at first but then you realise how goddamn awful they are. That began a downward spiral which has led to two character archtypes you will see in shows aimed at the 90s kids and Millennials (the 16-24 market). This blog will cover the first trope- the unlikable ensemble.

The unlikable ensemble

The much wider and easier to spot archtype is the ‘unlikable ensemble’- a group of core characters so vile that you’re not even sure why you watch the show, except for the sweet release of schadenfreude.

FRIENDS is a prime example of this, with the core group of six comprised of Ross the  whiny neurotic serial divorcee, who basically stalks one of his best friends because he thinks they belong together; Monica, Ross’ sociopathic sister who revels in manipulating her friends and family (Case in point: At one point she takes on the job of delivering a speech at her parent’s wedding anniversary for the sole purpose of making everyone cry like her brother’s speeches do); Chandler, Ross’ best friend from who is a serial misogynist (he complains about his lack of luck with women when, at various points in the show, he breaks up with a woman by leaving her half naked and handcuffed in her office); Joey, the dim-witted nymphomaniac who routinely forgets the names of the women he sleeps with and he conducts himself from day to day in a selfish, almost child-like manner; Rachel, the brainless daddy’s girl and the most self-absorbed of the group, and finally, Phoebe, a former mugger and current psychopath who: leaves her fiancée handcuffed to a drain pipe somewhere in New York City; gives her wedding money to a children’s charity and then steals it back and bases how much she likes her friends based on their salaries. Together, they make one of the most popular sitcoms of all time but you can’t look too closely or else you’ll uncover the horrible horrible people the protagonists actually. Oh and FYI, that table they always sit at? They reserve it. If nothing else, they are horrible people because they reserve a table in a coffee.

How I Met Your Mother is a FRIENDS clone if the characters were at Seinfeld levels of horrible. You have Lily, a kindergarten teacher with a heart of darkness who is rude to the children she works with, skips out on her boyfriend of a decade a few months before their wedding to pursue an art program and routinely uses sex as a way to manipulate her husband; then there’s central character Ted, who tells his children the entire story of he met their mother, all in order to see if they approve of him marrying his friend Robyn since his wife has passed; there’s Barney, who is both better and worse than Joey from FRIENDS (While is aghast when he is led to believe that he cannot remember one of his sexual partners, he also keeps a scrapbook of all his sexual encounters and implies that he may have sold one of his partners while abroad). And then there’s Robyn, a sexually manipulative, violent Canadian constantly torn between her disdain of romance and her apparent addiction to being in relationships. There is also Lily’s husband Marshall but he better fits my other archtype. However, over the course of nine seasons we see the gang not only conduct themselves in a self-absorbed and selfish manner, we also see them commit a number of legitimate felonies including: theft, grand larceny, assault and providing alcohol to a minor. There’s even an episode where they spend the whole time trying to list 50 reasons that you might have sex.As previously stated, the characters of How I Met Your Mother are darker version of the ones we saw on FRIENDS.

Finally, we have The Leaguean FX sitcom about a group of Chicago-based friends and their fantasy football league. The extent to which these characters fit the ‘unlikable ensemble’ trope is so great that they have little character development beyond the core ensemble. These people should not be friends and take every opportunity to punish, humiliate or one-up each other, be it sending a friend to a fancy restaurant in order to shoot a porno in his house as ‘punishment’ for coming last in the previous season’s fantasy league or causing the new boyfriend of one group member’s ex-wife to suffer a heart attack. At an individual level, one member of the group uses his Jewish heritage to try to get his son into a Jewish pre-school, mere days after wantonly spray-painting a swastika onto a pothole outside his house while another member of the group, who is a plastic surgeon, breaks his doctor-patient confidentiality after possible opportunity he gets. The characters of The League are so horrible, the show is near unwatchable at times and anything vaguely redeeming feels hollow or forced.

Come back tomorrow for part two- the Innocence is Bliss trope. In the meantime, check out my other work and leave some of your major examples of the unlikable ensemble in the comments below!

The US election: What to expect

The US election: What to expect

Next month, barring divine intervention, Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton will be named the Republican and Democratic Presidential nominees respectively. From August till November,  the American people will be caught in the full metal jacket of election season. Here’s what they, and the rest of curious, confused world can expect:

Trump

1. Smear campaigns: You think Trump was bad when he was running against Ted Cruz and John Kasich? That was pee-wee tag football compared to the NFL-level of professional smear that Trump will be aiming at the Clinton campaign. He will be careful of course, mentioning Whitewater would leave him vulnerable to that odd trend of Trump investing in real estate that suddenly goes bust. Meanwhile Benghazi, emails and even the Lewinsky Scandal will be all in Trump’s sights. In the Democratic camp, Hilary will try to maintain the high ground by only attacking Trump’s speeches, policies and anti-Presidential qualities (lack of experience, abrasive and undiplomatic demeanour). However, that could quickly change, especially if the polls stay  close. This could quickly devolve into a shit-slinging contest as opposed to a Presidential election.

Hilary- I could taste the victory

2. ‘The most unpopular election in history’: Trump and Clinton are not popular candidates- Trump has middle America in the palm of his hand but is facing an uphill battle within the party (latest update: the GOP is considering allowing convention delegates to declare a conscientious objection in place of a vote at the convention) while Hilary has the backing of the DNC but is struggling to raise support amongst voters, especially the die-hard core of the Sanders campaign, 15% of whom may actually go to back Trump after the convention.This will be an election of “who is lesser evil” and not “who is going to serve this country the best”. While both Hilary and Trump are unpopular, America feels that they either need to vote for Trump or Hilary or just not vote, because there isn’t a viable third option.

Midwest

3. The battle for the Midwest: While most regions of America have a historical political leaning, such as the southern Republican stronghold. The same can’t be said for the Midwest, a collection of states that stretches from Ohio to the Dakotas. It has swung back and forth between Democrats and Republicans but while it has been increasingly blue since 2000, Bernie won the Midwest 7 states to 5 during the primaries, which could potentially open up for a Republican spearhead, especially as a majority of the state-level governments are already Republican controlled. Both parties know this and so the Midwest will become a fierce battleground as it could be the key to an election victory.

What do you think America can expect before November? Let me know in the comments below!

My highlights from E3 2016

My highlights from E3 2016

Annual gaming industry expo E3 is coming to close and as usual, it has been a mix of disappointments, exciting upcoming games. However, I do have some personal highlights:

1. Dishonored 2

Dishonored 2

Dishonored was a fantastic 2012 action-stealth game in which you play as Corvo Attano, a former royal bodyguard seeking to clear his name after being framed for the murder of his employer, the Empress of fictional Dunwall. What made Dishonored so good was the way it allowed the player to progress through the game in their own style and accommodated for this with a number of different endings. Bethseda announced Dishonored 2 at E3 2015 but then largely went silent on the matter. However, this year came with a whole heap of new information and gameplay. Dishonored 2 will take place 15 years after the events of the first game and you will be able to play as both Corvo and Emily Kauldwin, the young heir of Dunwall you rescue partway through the first game and who is more than likely Corvo’s daughter with the Empress. Gone are the tightly packed streets of Dunwall and instead, the game looks to be largely set in the more mediterranean styled city of Karnaca. The option to kill or not to kill returns as well as a third option, in which you reject the signature supernatural powers of the game and play the game with a vanilla character, surviving on your stealth and skills alone. Speaking of supernatural powers- Emily will have her own powers that appear to be variations of Corvo’s powers from the first and Dishonored 2 will see a larger, branching skill tree, as opposed to simply making your supernatural powers better over the course of the game.

The game promises to be a more varied and more challenging experience and has a release date on all platforms of November 11th, 2016.

2. The Journey-FIFA 17

FIFA 17

I have not been a true FIFA fan for a long time, sure I’ll play a few matches when I visit my football loving friends but I’ve felt that the games have become a lot more serious as the series as progressed. However, I was intrigued by the introduction of ‘The Journey’, which will premiere on FIFA 17. The Journey will be the game’s story mode, following the journey of young Clapham born Alex Hunter as he tries to make it in the Premier League. The whole thing will be fully voiced and you will control Alex’s actions and choices on and off the field. While it is a FIFA game, I think it’s nice to see them trying something new with a series that has been repeatedly criticized for making the exact same game, just with updated kits and squads. FIFA 17 will also utilize the Frostbite Engine, one of the latest game engines and to be honest, the game does look visually stunning. EA have also said that they have consulted with Bioware, makers of Dragon Age and Mass Effect on how to create branching dialogue and choice driven action.

Football fan or not, it is refreshing to see a series as long-running as FIFA to be trying something new. If it’s your sort of game, FIFA 17 has a worldwide release of September 29th 2016.

3. Mass Effect: Andromeda

MAss Effect

If you haven’t played Bioware’s space opera trilogy, then you are sorely missing out. The original Mass Effect trilogy followed the trials and tribulations of The Normandy under the command of the player characeter- Commander Shepard. You were tasked with saving the universe from the biomechanical Reapers, who mainly just wanted to kill everything.

Set centuries after the original trilogy, Andromeda will follow the trials and tribulations of Captain Ryder and their ship, The Tempest, as they fulfill their role as a Pathfinder and try to seek out a new world for humanity to inhabit. A lot of details are still being kept secret but we do know that many fan-favourite races such as Krogan, Asari and Salarian will be returning, as will Bioware’s branching narrative, tell your own story format. While it may not be the originals, a strong showing by Andromeda could lead to a brand new ME trilogy

Another game running on the Frostbite Engine, Mass Effect: Andromeda hits the major platforms some time in the first quarter of 2017.

 

So those are my highlights. Personally, I was a little disappointed by E3 2016 but I also know that we are yet to see a lot of upcoming indie games and there is always Gamescon in August. What were some of your highlights of E3? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Benjy’s summer reads

Benjy’s summer reads

So summer is technically upon us and, as a bibliophile, that means that I hopefully get some time to read something that isn’t a textbook or journal article. But what do I recommend for fellow book lovers in search for a summer read? Well, I’m glad you asked:

1. Snow Falling on Cedars- David Guterson

Snow Falling on Cedars

This first recommendation is for those who enjoy a slow-burn murder mystery. The book is set on San Piedro Island, a fictional island off the coast of Washington State, in 1954 and revolves around the death of a local fisherman. An investigation gets underway and suspicions soon turn towards the island’s small Japanese-American community.

Guterson’s book is beautifully paced and detailed, with character’s slowly revealed through exposition and flashbacks. The book reflects on the relations between Americans of European descent and Japanese-Americans in the wake of the Second World War without becoming a sermon on racial tolerance and the dangers of judging a book by its cover. The descriptions are nothing short of lush and, as an American with fond memories of Washington State, it feels me with a warm sense of home as I read the descriptions of the temperature forests of San Piedro.

Snow Falling on Cedars is a modern classic that not only delivers an engaging mystery, but presents a quiet reflection of what it means to be human and how something as small as someone’s race can greatly affect our perception of them.

2. Friday Night Lights: A town, a team and a dream- HG Bissinger

Friday Night Lights 2.jpg

For those who enjoy something a little more grounded in reality, my next recommendation is right up reality avenue. In 1988,  journalist Buzz Bissinger travelled to Odessa, Texas to follow the Permian High School Panthers during their football season. His intention was to write a book in the spirit of Hoosiers– the story of how one high school football team can bring a town together. However, as the books reveals chapter by chapter, the town is little more than jaded and arrogant Texans put their hopes, dreams and expectations on the shoulders of high-schoolers.

For those of you who switched off when I mentioned sports, the book is so much more than that as it explores the lives of these young sportsmen on and off the field. In short, Friday Night Lights is a brutally honest take on America’s most hallowed sport (don’t even start baseball fans, I will end you) with a refreshingly negative take on the game from a genuine fan.

3. Lake Wobegon Days- Garrison Kellior

Lake Wobegon

In 1974, American author Garrison Kellior began a weekly two-hour radio show called A Prairie Home Companion, it was a tongue in cheek live variety show that blended satire and folk music. However, the stand-out highlight of every show was Kellior’s storytelling segment, ‘News from Lake Wobegon’, in which he would talk about the fictional Minnesotan town on Lake Wobegon, his fictional childhood home, and he would tell stories about his youth and what all the residents were up to week by week.

In 1985, Kellior published Lake Wobegon Days, a collection of stories and tales from Lake Wobegon. If you are a fan of things like the Archers, Lake Wobegon is right up your alley as you make your way through an easy-going book which is filled with stories that could very much have happened in a small rural town in the middle of Minnesota.

There is no real plot, except watching the town get older. It is very easily something you could stretch out to help fill out a whole summer. But it isn’t just fluff as you see the theme of relationships and community playing central roles in many of the stories.Another piece of casual Americana which is well worth your time.

 

What do you recommend? Let me know in the comments below!

Curtain Call

Curtain Call

There may still be one last Democratic primary but it’s little more than an encore after last night’s final ‘Super Tuesday’. Supporters still feeling the Bern were hoping for some sort of voting miracle in order to overturn Hilary’s comfortable cushion of superdelegates but as you’ll soon see, it was less of a miracle and more of a sermon on accepting reality.

Six states went to the polls over the course of Tuesday with the biggest prize being the 475 delegates available in California. Across the other five states (The Dakotas, Montana, New Jersey and New Mexico), Hilary was carrying predicted leads in every where apart from Montana, which projected a narrow Bernie victory, and the Dakotas, which were too close to call. Opinion was divided over with California, with the polls shifting back and forth.

However, as precincts from Trenton to Santa Barbara began to declare, it was clear that there was only going to be one winner. Despite being close in the polls, California (as of writing, 6% of precincts are yet to declare) swung for the former first lady and she carries the state with a 12.9% lead and 257 delegates to Bernie’s 188. Things were unsurprisingly worse for Bernie in New Jersey, where Hilary beat him by 26.6%. The rest of the night’s results were closer- Hilary won New Mexico by 3% while Bernie took North Dakota and Montana. South Dakota proved to be the closest battleground of the night with Hilary taking the state by 2% but the 20 delegates being split 50-50. Overall, the night was just what Hilary needed- a way to cement her already comfortable lead.

But what does this mean for the Democrat’s race? Well nothing can be confirmed until the Philadelphia convention in July but at this point, it seems like game, set and match. Bernie’s only hope lies with the superdelegates but unfortunately for the Vermont senator, they are either already backing Hilary or unlikely to back a candidate who is trailing so badly. However, Hilary must now think long and hard about to deal with her party’s sizeable split- while 55% of Bernie supporters have said they would vote for Hilary at the general election, 15% have also said that they would go across the aisle and support Trump. If Hilary doesn’t find a way to appease Bernie’s supporters, she may have lost this race.

Over on the Republican front, Trump continues to use the remainder of the primary season to try to convince the Republicans for back him. While he has made headway, with party higher-ups such as Paul Ryan now backing him, but his largest problem is how he has no coherent campaign- even now he is the presumptive nominee, it is still all vague promises, general policy ideas and superlatives.

So buckle up kids, once the conventions are over, the whole process starts again and it won’t be pretty. From Trump you can expect sexism, intern jokes, property development jokes and general jackassery. Meanwhile, Hilary is going to hammer home Trump’s lack of experience and his general jackassery, all the while fighting to keep her party unified.

I have a feeling 2016 will be an election to remember.