Tony Lankester
Tony Lankester

President Mbeki explained … by the US Congress

I don’t know if you saw this recently — but it’s an actual screen capture of President Mbeki’s diary, as published on government’s own website. I wish I was making it up, but I’m not:

Thabo Mbeki’s diary

No, you nerd, the important thing here is not that he only scored a Google pagerank of 4/10 for importance (relative to Jacob Zuma whose Wikipedia page scores 6/10, making him 20% more important). It’s the fact that his official diary is telling us what we’ve all known for years. He’s not doing anything.

This got me to thinking about politicians who have too much time on their hands and the trouble they can cause. The US Congress is a good example (they have, after all, an unpopular lame-duck president from a different party presiding over them, and everyone is more interested in the Obama-Clinton race than in actually getting something done). So the “Joint Economic Committee” had a choice. Either finish off that game of strip poker they began during the Clinton impeachment campaign a few years back (the honourable representative for Wisconsin still regrets how Edna failed to point out the hole in his jockeys before he left for work that morning); or analyse 10-million flight records supplied by their pals over at the Department of Transportation. OK, let’s be honest. Those humourless jobsworths over at DOT didn’t actually send the data over. Someone just found the pages turned upside down in the photocopy machine while they were trying to make copies of the lunch menus.

In any event, data, or so the saying goes, is only data if it is read and a press release is issued. So it had to be analysed. Or at the very least the most junior member of the committee could be persuaded to stop playing Grand Theft Auto on his laptop, and told to cut and paste everything into Excel to see if anything interesting came up. He was, and it did.

Apparently, the committee found, US airlines are responsible for the biggest economic tragedy since, well, Ronald Reagan.

Last year, in America alone, 320 million hours were lost due to flight delays. That, dear voters of Puerto Rico (who everyone now seems to give a damn about), is unacceptable.

Let’s do the sums.

320 000 000 hours = 13 333 333,33 days = 1 904 761,90 weeks = 36 630,04 years

Now the average life expectancy of Americans is 77,9 years.

So the number of lifetimes lost a year through flight delays = 470,22

Or, consider this. What if the amount of time spent waiting around airports or circling overhead was instead focused on a more noble pursuit? The good members of the Joint Economic Committee can think of nothing nobler than the Nobel prize for Economics. (In fact many of them are hoping to be awarded it in a year or two). The average age that people are awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics is 67. And so, without airline delays, we could have found 546,72 more prizewinners.

Or maybe movies are your thing. While waiting for their plane, Americans could watch the new Indiana Jones film 154 838 709 times. I’ve seen it once, and regretted it. Imagine the mass depression the nation would face if every second person had to endure it? (There are 304-million people in America).

You get the picture? Now you know why the committee was so stunned. One of them mentioned it to a mate on the “Committee for the Environment” while they stood next to each other at the congressional urinals during a lunch break (staring fixedly at the wall in front of them, ignoring the foot tapping from Larry Craig in the stall behind them), who rushed off to tell Al Gore. Gore crunched some numbers, projected them onto the cinema-sized computer screen behind his desk, checked his hair and then clambered aboard his forklift ladder to take a closer look. He was amazed. And so, breathlessly, after checking his hair again, he had to tell us just how amazed he was. As a result of flights being delayed, an extra seven million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide was being released into the air. That’s more than the annual emissions of Namibia, Iceland, Fiji, Swaziland, the Falkland Islands and Samoa combined.

And — let us not forget — this data considers only flights from US airlines. Imagine if Nationwide, Aeroflot and Kulula were added to the mix. Al Gore would do himself an injury trying to show how high those graphs go. The study also fails to count hours spent searching for lost luggage (which, as I’ve already demonstrated, logically leads to more lost Nobel Prize winners). British Airways and Terminal 5 have a lot to answer for.

So what does all this have to do with President Mbeki?

Well the answer is fairly obvious. He’s been accused of late of being an absentee president — jetting around the world while his country burns. His diary, meanwhile, appears empty which means he’s either lying next to his pool sipping cocktails, or he’s stuck at an airport somewhere. Based on what the US Congress is telling us, I reckon the latter is more likely. But don’t worry. He’ll be back with us in 470 lifetimes. And not a moment too soon.

  • Monde Nkasawe

    By the way, what does ‘lame duck’ mean?

  • Nick

    Witty. Thanks. There was an interesting discussion on SABC3 ‘In the Public Interest’ with The Times editor, Ray Hartley. I felt the person interviewing Mr. Hartley was somewhat biased towards Mr. Mbeki. Everyone seems to know Mbeki isn’t doing the best he can, except…for a few people…and I guess the SABC. If it is so obvious the man isn’t doing a good job, why are there people defending him?

  • Daniel

    I think maybe he might also be stuck in a home affairs office somewhere, or maybe applying for a learner licence test.

  • Motho


  • esvl

    President? What president?

  • Mandrake

    didn’t they steal the tyres of his private jet? The dude is stuck at OR Tambo waiting for a new set of jet tyres, blogging on his laptop as user Consulting Engineer while sipping at an 18yr old Caolile and smoking some good pipe tobacco.

    You can’t expect a president to update his own diary!!! His secretary must be affected by that Third Force disease going around and forgot to do her job. Distressing and absolutely incompetent!!



  • Afrikaner

    Just a small correction: if one person’s ranking is 6/10, and another’s 4/10, then the former is 50% more important, not only 20%

  • XNM

    Those who have other agendas are hopeful that Mbeki is supported by only a few people. Go on and dream. You are still going to have a shock of your lives after elections when people stay away in protest. Maybe you are one of those who want to kill the ANC. God knows what next!

  • Phillip

    I am crying for our President, in my heart I knows that he is a good man.

    Maybe he is on a secret mission assisting his brother with a presidential election in Zimbabwe.

  • Daemos1

    @ Monde

    Main Entry: lame duck
    Function: noun
    Date: 1761
    1: one that is weak or that falls behind in ability or achievement; especially chiefly British : an ailing company
    2: an elected official or group continuing to hold political office during the period between the election and the inauguration of a successor
    3: one whose position or term of office will soon end.

    4: Thabo Mbeki/George Bush

  • thabiso mothibedi

    i tried checking the website
    and found that from the president to the director General (frank chikane) all the diaries are blank, this simply means that the site is not frequently updated, it was very myopic of you to justify your ahhh! article.

  • Joshuoa

    Interesting comments…funny…just that!

  • http://failingpresidency Oom Koos

    then if the website is not updated, why have it? Seems a bit like our country. Lots of empty spaces in all the Government’s diaries. Whole lot of CO2 though…

  • Monde Nkasawe

    Wow! Thanks Daemos1. But I still don’t understand how this applies to Mbeki. There isn’t anything he is unable to do. There is no decision he is suddenly unable (as opposed to unwilling) to take. All the powers he has under the Constitution have not changed.

  • Pingback: indiana airports()

  • BenzoL

    In defence of our President and other public officers: if somebody is doing nothing, he/she cannot do any harm either. But: then we do not need them and should not pay them either. So many other people doing nothing, do not get paid either. It is called unemployment.

  • Katie

    As an American I can only say one thing…brilliant.

  • http://xxx Bekker

    …this author doesn’t know much about US politics! What an idiot!

  • Mandrake

    Monde, i respect T-Bone but over the past few months he’s taken a Kalashnikov to his foot and done some target practice. I’d be suprised if he still has one to stand on.

    The man is like a canoeist without oars my dear man and he’s fast losing respect. if you think otherwise please share your facts

  • Marius Redelinghuys

    You are comparing apples with pears. Compare Thabo Mbeki’s Wikipedia page with that of Jacob Zuma and you’ll find that they both have a page rank of 6/10. You can’t compare a government Website with a (very popular) free on-line encyclopaedia.

  • Allen Baranov

    @Marius, @Monde, @thabiso

    You are obviously taking this article too seriously. Google PageRank is very much not a scientific way to prove anything, even Google admits so, let alone the importance of a politician.

    The fact that some online calendar shows that the President is not busy does not mean that he isn’t.

    So, appreciate the humour or move along…

    Lame Duck in terms of a President is usually used when the president is near the end of his term and Congress/Parliament has different views to him. What generally happens is that the President decides what the Country’s “big picture” should be and instructs Parliament to make laws that reflect this. When he is close to the end of his term and Parliament is against his views Parliament can basically delay the processes long enough to make him as effective as a duck with one working leg (swims in circles and goes nowhere, not from lack of trying). When the new President comes in then he makes up his own direction.

  • Marius Redelinghuys

    Whatever the scientific validity thereof, the point is that you tried to make a point that was fundamentally flawed. Whether it was said in jest or not, it remains comparing apples with pears – or seeking evidence for something you wanted to – albeit humorously – justify.

    And PageRank may not be scientifically valid, but that’s only because the patented process as used by Google is subject to manipulation and is therefore not a valid reflection of the real popularity or relative importance of a specific page. The process is at least of some mathematical value.