Daily Meme: The Conspiracy Theorist Inside All of Us

  • In 2014 we are used to stories that have neatly-defined, if contradicting narratives, and which resolve themselves relatively quickly, fading into the ether. Which is what makes the story of the Malaysia Airlines flight that has been missing for a week such an engrossing one. The narratives are muddled, the experts all seem to be at a loss, and no one's quite sure what the exact facts of the case are.
  • Recent developments have thrown things even more into doubt, and into a place of speculation about possible dark motivations behind the plane's disappearance.
  • According to a report from the Wall Street Journal citing unnamed sources "briefed on the matter," Flight 370 flew for five hours at a normal crusing altitude and was in touch with satellites after it lost contact with civilian radar. "The satellites also received speed and altitude information about the plane from its intermittent 'pings,' the people said. The final ping was sent from over water, at what one of these people called a normal cruising altitude. They added that it was unclear why the pings stopped. One of the people, an industry official, said it was possible that the system sending them had been disabled by someone on board."
  • Reuters cited a senior Malaysian police official who was fairly explicit, saying, "What we can say is we are looking at sabotage, with hijack still on the cards." 
  • The search has widened Westard, into the Indian Ocean, with suspicions from some that the plane was on a course towards the remote Andaman Islands. The islands, a territory of India viewed as strategically important for monitoring of China and shipping lanes, are populated by indigenous tribes in areas, and as the Washington Post reports, "parts of the islands are off-limits to foreigners, and even Indians need a special permit to visit."
  • So, who would want to hijack a plane and make it disappear? Jeff Wise over at Slate talks to aviation experts who have some theories. Turns out big airplanes spell big money on the black market: "There’s an active market for used 777s. 'They’re worth big money,' says David Rose, who owns the plane-trading website Barnstormers.com. A 1994 model is currently for sale for $37.5 million; another from 2001 has a price tag of $54 million. Or you could play chop shop and break it up for parts. 'There’s a big market for second-hand airliner parts,' says Rose. The only problem: All those parts have serial numbers on them, and pretty soon those are going to be the most famous serial numbers in the world."
  • Regardless of whether or not foul play or terrorism is involvedAmy Davidson writes at the New Yorker that every international plane crash turns political: "Every flight in the air is guided by regulations and administrative bodies, covenants and international treaties, on paths that reflects trade-offs in security and free movement, and when something goes wrong those choices are scrutinized."
  • Amidst all the conflicting information, one thing we do know for certain is that the crash is tapping into some deep existential fears. Farhad Manjoo writing at the New York Times says it best: 
  • "In addition to the familiar horror and sadness over a catastrophe of modern aviation, the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 comes freighted with an unusual terror—the surprise that in our digitally monitored era, people and objects can still somehow vanish. The disappearance stands in stark contrast to the hallmark sensation of our time, the certainty that we’re all being constantly tracked and that, for better or worse, we’re strapped to the grid, never out of touch."

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