For want of a nail, the horse was lost…

How many of you remember this poem?

For want of a nail, the horse was lost,

For want of the horse, the rider was lost.

For want of the rider, the battle was lost,

For want of the battle, the Kingdom was lost.

And all for want of a horseshoe nail.


Everytime searchers are looking for a downed/missing/crashed plane I think of that ditty. Because today’s black box technologies are so archaic and so pathetically inept, they remind me of that nail. And that because it was missing, the Kingdom was lost.

Black boxes, which aren’t even black but rather bright orange, are battery powered and record some 20 hours of data in a loop, thus erasing earlier data as the loop continues.  But in today’s world that system is way out of date. With internet equipped planes, and web enabled flights, the obvious solution would be some kind of streaming data with it being collected and stored on the ground. That would make for almost instantaneous retrieval of “black box” data: the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR), which in turn would greatly facilitate the work of the NTSB and those looking for the cause of the disaster. It would also greatly reduce the agony of those still waiting to learn what happened to their loved ones, on such ill-fated flights such as MH 370 which has now been missing for a month.

Considering the cost of data storage, the cost of streaming data, and the ability to access it instantly, the failure of the world’s collective aviation organizations to modernize the collection, storage, and retrieval of this data is nothing short of scandalous.

Scandal – Scandals – Scandalous

What a delicious way to start the month, I thought. Scandal. Steamy affairs, illicit liasons in five-star hotels where there’s more than just a chocolate on your pillow, naughty goings on between “nice” people.

Then I thought – no. Not that sort of scandal. How about this sort of scandal? When the government lies to its citizens about their privacy, when phone calls, tweets, blog posts – yes even blog posts – almost any and every utterance is recorded, monitored, filed and catalogued. Isn’t that a scandal?

Or is it the potential early release of a man who betrayed this country, selling our secrets to an ally, who in turn first used the illgotten intelligence to carry out its own missions and strikes, and then passed that intelligence onto the then Soviet Union. That to me is a scandal.

But then so is the hushing up of medical problems for many of our soldiers who served in Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield and whose exposure to chemical agents has rendered many of their children deformed, and/or with disfiguring birth defects. That’s also a scandal.

Dictionaries define scandal as:

1. a disgraceful action or event: his negligence was a scandal

2. censure or outrage arising from an action or event

3. a person whose conduct causes reproach or disgrace

4. malicious talk, esp gossip about the private lives of other people

5. scandal law – a libellous action or statement

I wish the word was used more selectively. Birth defects and deformities due to the wilful and wanton exposure of our troops to harmful chemicals – is a scandal (see definition 1) – Britney Spears’ underwear malfunction is not.

The indiscrimminate monitoring of our enail, phone calls, conversations and communications by government agencies both at home and overseas – without our agreement and without our knowledge – THAT is a scandal. When Lindsey Lohan’s credit cards are declined in New York, it’s not.

So having ascertained what is/is not a scandal – or even scandalous – let’s take a look at some real honest to goodness scandals – revisit some oldies but goodies, and maybe take a peek at some you may not have heard of yet.

April is the cruelest month, wrote T.S. Eliot in The Waste Land, and looking at scandal may be one reason why that’s still true.