I love this candid photo currently appearing on The Times website, taken during tonight’s third and final debate between the three leaders of the parties contesting the British elections next week. That’s David Cameron of the Conservative Party on the left, Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats in the middle, and current Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the Labour Party on the right.

For those who may not be following this story:

This year marked the first series of televised debates between potential prime ministers in British history. One of the unanticipated results has been the meteoric rise in support for the hitherto perpetual third-place Liberal Democrats. Odds are now good that they will come in a strong second (up to twice their pre-debate support) and Labour will garner it’s lowest vote percentage (perhaps only 25%)  in over 80 years. Despite this, Labour will probably end up with at least two times as many seats in the new Parliament as the Lib Dems. Prior to the debates, it was widely assumed that the Conservatives would win an absolute majority, but that is far from assured now.

Poverty is Like Gravity.

After the CNAs (certified nurse assistants) from hospice bathe and dress J and get him up, I like to hang out with them and have coffee before they go on to the next patient or (since we’re often their last stop) to their family caregiving duties at home.  Most of them are black (in all the multifarious shades of golden, freckled, ruddy and brown that word so flatly fails to suggest), and single motherhood is the norm in their community; the men have long since left or been kicked out, and those who’ve stayed are often described as not much help or not worth the trouble.  (By contrast, the South American woman who stays with J when I go away is married, and her husband helps with their three boys — all of whom were born with congenital vision problems and/or cleft palate, possibly because of occupational chemical exposure of one or both parents.  To paint these trends as monolithic would be stereotypical, but to say they are representative is, sadly, just statistical.)  On the plus side, mothers/grandmothers are always there to be relied on and to take care of babies and little children while daughter-mothers go to work and to school, struggling doggedly for education and certification and advancement.  In return, they take care of their aging mothers who struggle with arthritis, diabetes, heart failure.  It’s a hard life and takes a heavy toll on health.

Talk about the working class, these women work harder than anyone I’ve ever seen in the most palpable sense of “work.”  They are extremely conscientious.  They need physical strength and endurance, bottomless patience, basic medical knowledge, a strong stomach, a sense of humor, and a kind heart to do what they do.  And they get paid, and sometimes treated, very poorly.  Home health agencies charge the client $20 an hour and pay the woman or man who does all the work $9.  Hospice, I hope, pays more than that, but probably not a lot more.  Hospice patients, they say, are mostly grateful and respectful, but home health patients — those just out of the hospital convalescing from something acute and temporary — often treat them high-handedly like servants, expecting them, for instance, to clean house.

As I was thinking about what they’ve achieved against the odds and what it takes out of them, it struck me that poverty is like gravity.  The lower in economic altitude you start, the stronger a force you must overcome to rise.  Against that down-dragging force, to get an education, to have a career, to raise children and get them into college, you must ignite a solid rocket booster of will and determination over and over again.

It always takes effort and perseverance to achieve anything.  Inertia and dissipation are universal drags on our dreams.  But those of us who were launched into orbit by the circumstances of our birth — that is, by the struggles of our ancestors — will never know what it takes, and takes out of you, just to get off the ground.

Ash Cloud, My Ash??

The UK’s Mail reports something AbFlab (no!  not flabby abs — absolutely flabbergasting):

Britain’s airspace was closed under false pretences, with satellite images revealing there was no doomsday volcanic ash cloud over the entire country. […]

The satellite images will be used by airlines in their battle to win tens of millions of pounds in compensation from governments for their losses.

If you’re thinking this is Climate Change Redux, I’m seeing it a bit differently.  The key passage for me is the one that comes next:

The National Air Traffic Control Service decision to ban flights was based on Met Office computer models [emphasis added] which painted a picture of a cloud of ash being blown south from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano.

These models should have been tested by the Met Office’s main research plane, a BAE 146 jet, but it was in a hangar to be repainted and could not be sent up until last Tuesday  –  the last day of the ban.

Evidence has emerged that the maximum density of the ash was only about one 20th of the limit that scientists, the Government, and aircraft and engine manufacturers have now decided is safe.

Based on computer models. Huh!

Have you ever noticed how the very same trends play themselves out in miniature in our personal lives and writ large on a national and even global scale?

Debt, for instance:  household debt and national debt mushroomed in tandem, manifesting the exact same Scarlett O’Hara, “I’ll think about it tomorrow” mindset individually and collectively.

When I think of a whole country’s airline system shut down on the basis of computer models, what I see is all of us hunched over, faces pallidly lit, scrying our computer screens instead of looking out the window . . . or walking out the door.

(Thanks to reader_iam for the tip.)