A thousand apologies for missing columns last week, but for your $6,200 business class seat on Air France you do not get an outlet for your laptop. (I hasten to add this was not my $6,200, and that by using the American Express platinum card we got a second seat, for Charles, thrown in for free. That’s the main perk of the platinum card – a free companion ticket when you fly first or business class abroad. To which I hasten to add, further, that I didn’t pay for the platinum card either. The group flying us over asked me to get a platinum card at their $395 expense so they could pay $6,200-plus-$395 rather than $12,400.)

You do get an entertainment system in your Air France business class armrest, and a little shaving kit with socks and a shoe horn. You get to see your altitude, speed, position, and the outside temperature. (Bundle up!) You get an extra shoulder-height flexible reading light and an extendable power foot rest and, if you’re sitting upstairs, wonderful window-seat storage bins that double, when shut, as side tables. (Upstairs? That hump in a 747 is home to 10 rows of business class seats, two lavatories, and, at the very front, the cockpit.) But in case – being in business class – you had a little actual work to do on your ten-hour flight (like writing a column or two), you’d better bring a lot of batteries.

The irony (and what are the French if not ironic) is that there is laptop power in the seats in first class, or so someone told me. The one class in which, of course, no one does have any work to do.

So it was not the dog that ate my homework, it was Air France. Charles and I, meanwhile, ate very nicely ourselves, both on the plane (where you get stainless steel forks but plastic knives, for reasons so completely stupid, when you think about it, one barely knows where to begin) and in Florence, which is where we were.

There are two things to note about Florence. Well, maybe two hundred, but start with these:

  1. It is a very beautiful, wonderful little city.
  2. None of the hotels that advertise broadband Internet connections actually has them.

So, again, it was not the dog that ate my homework last week, but a conspiracy of bandwidth in league with AOL, which insists I must upgrade from Version 5.0 in order to reach the Web, but that I can’t upgrade from Version 5.0, because I have too many addresses. This after three years of high-level contacts, all of whom agree there must be a million other users like me (out of their 30-odd million) who would gladly pay an extra $25 a month for ‘power’ status – an extra $25 million a month for AOL – if only they would allow us more than 1500 addresses.

Feel free to write to me about Florence (we got to dine in a palazzo with a marchesa! we had a medieval feast in a castle with monks, jugglers, and seven knights in actual shining armor smashing each other with actual broadswords! we saw Galileo’s actual scientific instruments, Michelangelo’s restored David [who is about 15 feet tall, so Goliath must have been 25 feet tall], and magnificent views of the river Arno and its bridges, with cedar trees silhouetted against the jumbled clouds on the hills in the far background), but please don’t write me about AOL and all the simple solutions to my problem.

Having no power at my seat, I spent much of the flight home reading Samantha Power’s powerful Pulitzer-prize-winning ‘A Problem From Hell’: America and the Age of Genocide. It seems that for all our goodness and can-do spirit . . . and for all our willingness, over the past century, to dabble in international affairs (think CIA) . . . the United States has ‘never in its history intervened to stop genocide and [has] in fact rarely even made a point of condemning it as it occurred.’

Take Iraq. In 1987-88, Saddam killed close to 100,000 mostly unarmed Kurds, many of them women and children. We had been giving Iraq $500 million a year in Commodity Credit Corporation credits to buy U.S. farm products. ‘After the September 1988 attack, Senator Claiborne Pell introduced a sanctions package,’ Powers writes, ‘[arguing] that not even a U.S. ally could get away with gassing its own people. But the Bush administration, instead of suspending the CCC program or any of the other perks extended to the Iraqi regime, in 1989, a year after Hussein’s savage gassing attacks and deportations had been documented, doubled its commitment to Iraq, hiking annual CCC credits above $1 billion.’

(So the urgency to topple Saddam precisely when we did, with debate timed for the 2002 U.S. mid-term election, may not have stemmed in any really important way from concern for his atrocities, of which the Bush team, including Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, who served in both administrations, had been long aware.)

And then there’s Rwanda. It suffers the double plague of genocide and HIV-AIDS. In 1994, Samantha Power tells us, an average of 8,000 Tutsi a day were slaughtered for 100 days, in a country whose population was 8 million. (Imagine if, on September 11 and the days following, we had lost 28 million people instead of 4,000.) ‘Romeo Dallaire, a Canadian major general who commanded UN peacekeeping forces in Rwanda in 1994, appealed for permission to disarm militias and to prevent the extermination of Rwanda’s Tutsi three months before the genocide began. Denied this by his political masters at the United Nations, he watched corpses pile up around him as Washington led a successful effort to remove most of the peacekeepers under his command and then aggressively worked to block authorization of UN reinforcements.’

And today, according to Laurie Garrett – another brilliant author whom we got to meet in Florence (The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance and Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health) – today Rwanda is simply collapsing under the weight of the HIV-AIDS plague. So, too, much of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. And the Caribbean. With China and Russia and many others facing enormous problems as well.

In Florence, in the 14th Century, four out of five inhabitants died of the plague. And yet, somehow, the city survived and went on to flourish. To make sure today’s story has an equally happy ending, it could be useful to read Power’s and Garrett’s books and try to think through what we might be doing better.

 

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