A matter of standards and morality

We were excited as we walked along the corridor towards the aircraft last Saturday: there it was, the gleaming brand new Le Morne Brabant! — Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

We were excited as we walked along the corridor towards the aircraft last Saturday: there it was, the gleaming brand new Le Morne Brabant! What luck, we thought aloud, we were getting the opportunity to fly the latest addition to the fleet of our national airline, and were looking forward to enjoy the experience. The turbulences that had shaken the board of Air Mauritius and the pilots and painted a rather negative image of the airline in recent times were far removed from our minds. At least, so we surmised, what awaited us as we took to the air would surely restore our pride in one of the most successful ventures of paradise island that saw its birth not too long after the country got its independence.

Unfortunately, our legitimate, simple expectations were not to match the high standards to which the aircraft were no doubt made. The newness was visible in the aisles, the overhead luggage racks, the seats, later the food trolleys and so on. Mercifully, the leg space in the economy class was adequate, compared to the cramped one that we had known in the older aircrafts: we just pray that Le Morne Brabant will not at some future date punish its passengers’ legs… anew!

So far so good, and then came the disappointments. It started with the announcement as we took off, in the appalling English that has been the trademark of Air Mauritius, and that has never changed from the beginning. Not much better with French either. We say we are number one on many indicators in the African continent. Whether they are from earlier French, English or Portuguese colonies, Africans speak much better English and French than Mauritians, despite their accent. We have a misplaced pride.

The service was not much to be proud of either. Fair enough, the specific meals were handed out first. In the window row adjoining mine, the passenger in the middle seat was served hers, and much afterwards all the other passengers were duly served. Again, so far so good. But then, the passengers seated next to the one in the middle were simply forgotten! And had to be reminded twice before they were given their trays; by then everybody had already finished their meals!

And I witnessed an unfortunate incident involving the lady who was seated at the other aisle end of my row. She was about to settle down for the night when the air hostess and another steward who were collecting the trays and awkwardly balancing a set of them in the hands caused a splash of water to hit the lady, on her head, and on her clothes. As she tried to cope with this sudden jet on her, there was only a cursory ‘sorry’ – not even ‘sorry madam’ – from the hostess. I was the victim of a similar situation several years ago on a Lutfhansa flight. Immediately the hostess and a steward helped me with a profusion of tissues to dry my shirt, offering profound apologies a number of times, and within minutes coming up with an offer of 50 USD to buy myself a shirt when I got down (in Harare).

Talk of standards…

* * *

Sinking ships of state

In case we thought we were the only ones battling scandals, we can rest assured that we are not short of company. As I picked up the 10-16 November 2017 issue of the New Statesman from a service area off the M1 motorway a few miles away from London, what struck my eyes was the headline – ‘The Tory sinking ship’ – with a picture of the British Prime Minister Mrs May standing at the floating end of the ship ‘HMS SLEAZE’, half of it already in the water, with discredited members of her government hanging for dear life from the hull. To complete the picture, a rat is also shown leaving the ship!

The contents of the editorial have a resonance with events back home. In the UK, they ‘have destabilized the government, drained Mrs May of confidence, and shattered her authority.’ We may not have reached this extreme yet, but are edging perilously close, and have every reason to do the urgent course corrections that are needed. Many years ago, a friend lent me book written about France titled ‘Ces grandes gueules qui nous gouvernent’. To say that we have our share of grandes gueules would be to put it mildly…

As if this was not enough, there is a tsunami of sexual harassment accusations that is sweeping the great powers. It started a few weeks ago with revelations involving a movie magnate of Hollywood: Harvey Weinstein. ‘#MeToo’ was set up as a social media platform to record the sexual predations suffered by aspiring actresses who are today famous, and have dared to come out in public to protect their kind. However, as the skeletons came tumbling out of the cupboards, it was soon apparent that a whole host of sectors and industries were concerned: fashion, the corporate world including Silicon Valley, business, media, the world of finance to name the more prominent ones. But it seems that the practice is really very widespread, and victims often bear and suffer in silence for fear of losing their jobs, or prospects of promotion, etc.

And even No. 10 Downing Street is under scrutiny: a lady who had gone there to discuss the recording of a TV programme years ago was sexually harassed by the aide at Downing Street that she was interacting with. And of course the most notorious episode that made the headlines was the Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton affair that took place during the latter’s presidency of the US, and he did admit to ‘inappropriate’ conduct.

We may not have seen the end of the dark series on a number of fronts.

* * *

But thank goodness…

…all is not lost: so I reflected when I picked up a copy of a special issue of New Scientist, the third in its series The Collection titled ‘Essential Knowledge: Everything you need to know to make sense of the 21st century’. As the editor notes, ‘Science can be exhilarating and awe-inspiring… but it can often feel abstract and remote from everyday concerns… The good news is that there is another side to science, one that can help you make sense of our rapidly changing world.’ This is what this issue is about, ‘the stuff that you need to know to understand – and negotiate – in the 21st century.’

To this end, it covers several areas, amongst which: artificial intelligence, migration, air pollution, fake news, your irrational brain, energy, climate change, the algorithms that run your life, the future of work.

If we are prepared to keep learning, we will be in a position to examine our lives and better it. But it’s up to us to make the first step, and out there there’s the good and bad. The choice is ours to make.


*  Published in print edition on 17 November 2017

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