The Boy Who Fell Out Of The Sky
August 24, 2009 10:01 AM   Subscribe

Pan Am Flight 103 saw the death of David Dornstein (click for video as there's no direct link) - 25 years old, aspiring writer - and the manuscript to his unpublished novel scattered across the countryside and sea. His brother Ken set out to write the story of his life and death.

This is one of the most fascinating books I've read in the past few years and the current talk of Lockerbie has reminded me of this story of one of the victims.
posted by mippy (23 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Damn not being able to edit posts
posted by mippy at 10:05 AM on August 24, 2009

I work with Ken. I'll send him a link to the thread if no one shits in it immediately.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:16 AM on August 24, 2009

Thank god for computer backups. I can't imagine doing something like writing a novel on paper without having any copies safe on other media. Of course, I suppose paper is a lot more dependable then floppy disks and hard drives.
posted by delmoi at 10:39 AM on August 24, 2009

Here is the print version for those of you who do not care to be distracted by Helena Bonham Carter's flabby ass on the right.

Thanks for this link. Great read.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:48 AM on August 24, 2009

Is there a print version for those of us who do not care to be distracted by KevinSkomsvold's casual misogyny?
posted by applemeat at 11:00 AM on August 24, 2009 [11 favorites]

It's an interesting, thoughtful book, and it must have been very hard for Ken Dornstein to write it. I definitely recommend it, but it's not a light beachread.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:19 AM on August 24, 2009

This story touches me personally... albeit I was fortunate enough to have the six months of time with my brother while he tried his damndest to recover in intensive care... Ken has already walked a path that I may take... in my own time...

... Considering all that has been banging around in my head, lately.

Bravo, Ken. Bravo. I will have to pick up a copy.

As and aside...

You know, I will never understand why people want to see, nay, DEMAND to see pictures of celebrities... even if those images happen to be less than flattering. I mean really... What? Frakking? Gives?

It's like hunters.... with Kalashnikovs. Pathetic.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 11:24 AM on August 24, 2009

I wonder if Ken Dornstein appreciates the compassion shown on his behalf to Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi by the Scottish government...
posted by chasing at 11:37 AM on August 24, 2009

applemeat: "Is there a print version for those of us who do not care to be distracted by KevinSkomsvold's casual misogyny?"

Really? Had it been a guys flabby ass, I'd have called that too, probably even more so. Wow...
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:39 AM on August 24, 2009

I suspect you calling a guy Helena Bonham Carter might have actually made things worse.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:05 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have to say, I didn't catch any misogyny from KevinSkomsvold's comment, just a dislike of big distracting arses next to text.

Seriously, we can make a negative comment about any member of the female sex without it generalising to all females, or representing a misgynist or sexist bias.
posted by Dysk at 12:20 PM on August 24, 2009

Yeah, I'm totally not sending him a link to this.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:36 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

There's now a metatalk thread on the general subject of the Helana stuff, so please take that part of the conversation over there and let's stick to the ostensible topic of the post here, okay?
posted by cortex at 1:04 PM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm just finishing the book. David was clearly a very smart and frustrating person, but Ken really brings him to life on the page. Before I read this book, I would have run a mile from a stinky guy parading around New York, holding aloft his favorite books and looking for people to talk to and write stories back and forth in his journal.

I was fascinated by David's nonstop notebook writing, as well as the fact that he predicted his own death in the journals (admittedly as part of creating his own mythology, but still a bit spooky nonetheless).
posted by vickyverky at 1:13 PM on August 24, 2009

*edited to add

I *would* have run a mile ... now I'd probably stop and talk and learn more about someone like that.
posted by vickyverky at 1:14 PM on August 24, 2009

Let#s get this back on track, then.

I wonder if Ken Dornstein appreciates the compassion shown on his behalf to Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi by the Scottish government...

You know, as Lockerbie is only a fuzzy memory of an evening news broadcast, this is what I thought of when the story broke.

A Scot I follow on Livejournal, posting as loveandgarbage, has family in Lockerbie. He writes about it here and here, and I wonder whether 'Ella' was Ella Ramsden.
posted by mippy at 1:20 PM on August 24, 2009

"Not long after the disaster the town was visited by Prince Andrew. When he was there, preening himself in a devastated town, he said, "Of course, it was much worse for the Americans."

This seems to be the attitude in what I've heard in the US media this week.
posted by mippy at 1:22 PM on August 24, 2009

“I wonder if Ken Dornstein appreciates the compassion shown on his behalf to Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi by the Scottish government...”

In many ways I think it’s moot given the personal context of the work in the FPP. I think the closer the proximity the greater sensitivity one has to have and the less regard one has to have for other kinds of “usual” affairs.

For instance: the Pan Am folks from the piece – just doing their jobs really, and it’s a chaotic situation for them. But calling someone up and saying, in essence, 'hey, maybe a family member of yours died, we don’t know, hold for a minute while we check.'

No, you should already have your business done and the priority should not be on clearing the matter from your desk, but on handling each case with accuracy beforehand, so you don’t put someone in a place where they’re in this limbo not knowing for sure someone close to them is dead – but maybe. Not even for a minute.

So too – justice has to be that kind of exceptional. I have a number of feelings regarding terrorist acts. And I suspect there are some things I could say in the case. But whatever the case ultimately may be - external affairs should be settled beforehand in order to avoid further trauma not only from uncertainty – but from inconsistency of application.

More simply put – the question of whether to release the Lockerbie bomber is, and should be, secondary to whether it should be made a question. It shouldn’t be.
If it’s Scotland’s policy to do this. If they’ve done it in the past. If it’s consistent with their law and treatment regarding other prisoners then the case should be made for or against before anything goes public and the matter should be settled. It should be as final as an execution - in fact, for me that’s the only real selling point for the death penalty, there’s no appeal, no public mess or bickering that can further damage the victims, families, etc.

This, it’s a shame it has to come up again as something that’s debatable in the first place. And it’s a shame people feel they can exert pressure one way or another on the matter such that it becomes yet more politicized and instead of respecting the pain of the victims (as is espoused) only exploits it. Whether the victims themselves are willing participants or otherwise.

We don’t allow vigilantism to affect rulings (or, ideally, we don’t) and the law and that respects – even as it restricts – the rights of the victims, it shouldn’t be affected by someone because of their stature in government or influence or proximity to the case either. Everyone should be equal under the law.

That, at least, assuages the uncertainty relatives and so forth might feel. As to whether they’re raw about it, or agree with it, opinions vary and I don’t think anything anyone can say or anything they do – whether through vengeance or compassion - can replace their loss.
Best we can do, apart from making sure something like this doesn’t happen in the first place, is to protect them from this kind of emotional media/political circus. And we’ve failed.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:38 PM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

should be as final as an execution - in fact, for me that’s the only real selling point for the death penalty

In our local commuter paper (about a different case) a letter writer suggested that the death penalty be brought back for cases where there is 'no shadow of doubt' and 'perhaps people could vote online as to the outcome'.
posted by mippy at 1:41 PM on August 24, 2009

It is strangely beautiful, the thought of the pages of this lost manuscript floating gently down to the ocean. It sounds like it could be the beginning of a Calvino story.
posted by Mister_A at 2:12 PM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

Re: the death penalty for cases with 'no shadow of doubt', there's a big shadow of doubt over whether al Megrahi was guilty or not. For one thing, the UK government has been hiding evidence from his defence using public interest immunity certificates. With regard to Scots Law and why the justice secretary ruled as he did this piece by Iain McWhirter might be helpful.
posted by Flitcraft at 2:31 PM on August 24, 2009

I wonder if Ken Dornstein appreciates the compassion shown on his behalf to Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi by the Scottish government...

I don't know, but several other family members of Lockerbie victims have spoken in favor of the Scottish government's decision, just as other family members have spoken against it. There's no one monolithic position here.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:58 PM on August 24, 2009

I'm not pro-death penalty, so, moot point, for me.
If anything, the intimacy of Dornstein's work only reinforces that for me. It's polite to say "I'm sorry" after someone dies, but there really aren't enough words and there won't really be any right ones either. And I don't think one can, or should, convey that "we" - we being 'we' the government, 'we' Pan Am, 'we' the guys down the street, care or are sorry, or whatever.

Because it's such a personal thing that I think those institutions sort of break down in the face of it.
What does one say to someone after discovering their brother, who was killed in an act of terrorism, was sexually abused by a family friend?
I don't think there's a greeting card that's going to cover it. And, sort of sitting with the guy, maybe making him some dinners he's bound to miss - all the human compassion and caring heavy lifting that needs to be done - Pan Am isn't going to pull that off no matter how great their service is.
Someone might be pro-death penalty, or not. And various families might be for cutting this guy loose, or not.
But not only is any of that not going to bring back their loved one(s), it's not even going to get them through a bad night.
I don't know anyone who's consoled by causing someone else pain.
Not that there's not catharsis there surely. And that can be powerfully felt. But even if that need assuages some of that for a while, the work of getting through it is always personal.

No one could have done this for Dornstein. And even if they did, it would have been extremely intrusive.
Some paths you have to walk yourself. Sometimes folks go with you. But it's always personal, and those institutions, companies, etc. are helpful or utter car wrecks to various degrees, but they're only made up of people, they're not people.
I don't know al Megrahi is guilty or innocent. He was convicted.
Doesn't change what happened.

Thing about terrorism, one of the reasons its illegitimate is that it's transgressive in nature. That is, you're ostensibly targeting a state (Israel, say), an idea (religion), an action, but you're attacking people who may be completely innocent of participation in those frameworks. So it is, in many ways, a personal act. And often terrorists claim some personal grievance as justification for executing a terrorist agenda, or participating, etc.

This action by the Scots - it too seems transgressive. That is, my first reaction was negative (they shouldn't let him go). But, on further consideration, the manner in which it is transgressive is precisely opposite that of terrorism.
Instead of an individual or non-state actor(s) randomly targeting and destroying faceless innocents out of callousness and hate, this is specific and judged and is an act from a state which stems from compassion (again, whether one agrees that it's appropriate or not, that's where it appears to come from).

Right? Wrong? Efficacious? Futile? I don't know. I do know there have been times when I've been closer to an enemy than some of my friends. You breathe their air, have their blood on you, yours on them, the intensity of the engagement impressed on both of you and each of you on the other.
This guys (alleged - to acknowledge the existence of a debate I don't seek to engage in) actions had a profound effect on Dornstein's life.
Better he has the chance to acknowledge that maybe. Dunno. I know the dead can't speak or hear though.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:17 PM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]

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