It was a bad week for the travel industry.
First, Captain Francesco Schettino steered his massive cruise ship, Costa Concordia, on to the rocks just off the Italian coast, creating a near Titanic-like disaster. As of this writing, 11 people have died and 21 are still missing.
To make matters worse, the Captain was one of the first to abandon ship, ahead of most of the 4,000 passengers and crew, defying maritime tradition that the master is the last to leave.
He later explained he “tripped” and fell into a lifeboat.
With that, Capt. Schettino instantly did three things: He did for cruises what “Jaws” did for summers at the beach; he came up with the worst excuse since “the dog ate my homework;” he perpetuated the myth of Italian cowardice that was had its roots in World War II (“Did you hear about the new Italian tank? It has six gears: one forward and five reverse.”)
On points one and two, there is no debate. As to the last point, one vain and spineless idiot does not represent an entire country and its people. For every Capt. Schettino, there were hundreds of brave and dedicated rescue workers who risked their lives to save passengers.
Most historians agree that in World War II, the Italians lacked weapons, leadership and a desire to die for Benito Mussolini, an inept egomaniac who made Hitler look brilliant. So they surrendered.
You want to talk Italians and military prowess? Make sure you make the Roman legions
part of the discussion.
In the meantime, the crew of a British Airlines passenger jet flying 35,000 feet over the Atlantic accidently played a recording over the intercom announcing the plane was about to make a crash landing in the ocean.
Then, according to one passenger, “”About 30 seconds later, one of the cabin crew told us to ignore the announcement. … Imagining yourself plunging towards a cold, watery grave in the middle of the Atlantic is a pretty horrific thought, but they seemed very blas about it.”
One wonders if the announcement was preceded by, “This is Captain Schettino speaking ”
One also wonders what other recordings they have cued up on the flight deck. “Due to a mechanical problem, we will return to the gate where you will sit on the tarmac for seven hours. Thank you for your patience.” “Your luggage is mistakenly on its way to New Zealand.” “We will be charging an exit fee for you to depart the airplane.” “Please remain calm .we forgot to fill the plane’s liquor cabinet.”
Better yet, how about a recording accompanied by cheery music that says, “Please disregard the previous recording that said we are all about to die.”
The airline has apologized for the miscue. One hopes they passed out clean underwear for the passengers upon landing.
It’s also been a bad week for Republicans. The South Carolina Republican primary has morphed from a frank but cordial exchange of views into biker bar brawl. This isn’t a campaign; it’s hand-to-hand combat.
There’s already been one fatality. Rick Perry has announced he is saddling up and riding back to Texas after performing so bad in the debates, he must have been channeling former Perot running mate Admiral Stockdale.
Then, 16 days after the fact, Rick Santorum was declared the winner of the Iowa caucuses, beating Mitt Romney by 34 votes.
This would normally not be a game changer. As one observer said of the archaic way Iowa votes, “It should be a Swiss watch. Instead it’s a sundial.”
But for Romney, loosing to Santorum anywhere at anything can’t be a good thing.
While this was going on, Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife said in an interview he was giving speeches on family values at the same time he was advocating an “open marriage” for the couple.
Finally, a Pew Research Center poll found that 53 percent of those surveyed Dec. 7-11 said Republicans were more extreme than Democrats and 51 percent said Democrats were more willing to compromise.
Here’s to competent captains, less pre-recorded messages and an absence of mud in Republican politics.
Robert Rector is a former editor with the Pasadena Star-News and Los Angeles Times.