Saturday, August 12, 2006

Airport Security

The recently foiled terror plot apparently instructs the paranoid that anything can be a bomb. Of course we already knew this, but it seemed like a good time to pile on some more unnecessary airport security procedures.

Americans can now no longer carry-on any liquids, which means that toiletries such as toothpaste, contact lens solution, and makeup must go into checked baggage. This isn't that big a deal for vacationers, who lug big suitcases that they have to check anyway, but student and business travelers often pack lite, into a carry-on bag.

The benefits of carrying your luggage on are numerous. First, there's no risk of the airline losing your stuff. Second, you don't have to wait in line to check your bag at the airport; you can print your boarding pass at home and go straight to the security line.

Waiting in the baggage check line sucks. I usually fly an airline that is currently financially distressed. That means that they're cutting personnel, and that means fewer people handling the baggage check. Since the security line is run by the government, they can usually staff it sufficiently. At LaGuardia, on the airline I use, a ten-minute security line usually corresponds to a half-hour to 45-minute wait to check a bag. Plus, you have to wait for them to unload on the other end.

But it could be worse; in Britain, all carry-on luggage is banned. That means international travelers have to suffer through transatlantic flights with not even the comforts of an iPod a Game Boy, or even a magazine, and laptop computers and briefcases that, in the case of business travelers, could contain sensitive information or documents, must be entrusted to the airlines, and their employees, who, if you peek through the window, you might see kicking your bags around the tarmac like soccer balls.

This can't be good for the already-distressed airlines. The change in security policy has turned first-class service from a white-glove treatment to a rubber-glove treatment, and many of the well-heeled passengers who the airlines relied upon to buy high price tickets are now paying high premiums to not have to put up with this shit.

And does it make us any safer? Well, I live in New York City. I've seen the hole that terrorism ripped into downtown Manhattan.

But at the same time, I think that adding two hours to every trip home to visit my family, to prevent the highly unlikely possibility of someone disguising nitroglycerine as contact lens solution and then assembling an explosive on the airplane is pretty fucking stupid, when any jackass can carry a pipe bomb onto the subway in a backpack. Or, hell, if a guy can hide nitroglycerine in a toothpaste tube, he can get it onto the plane by strapping it to his body, if they ban it in carry-ons.

There's a bunch of shit out there that can kill me, and this is creating a significant inconvenience in exchange for creating no significant increase in security. Given the choice, I'll risk the perils that might be concealed within the toothpaste tubes of my fellow passengers to preserve the convenience of flying unmolested. I take bigger risks than that every single time I walk out of my home.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

There was no rape at Duke.

An apparently comprehensive review of the prosecutor's evidentiary disclosures, released by defense attorneys in the Duke Lacrosse rape case makes it extremely difficult to accept at this point that there is any substantial likelihood that the accuser was raped or had sex with any of the lacrosse players, and makes it absolutely impossible for any reasonable jury to convict these young men.

The article explains in detail the shifting story of the accuser, who at first numbered the second stripper among her assailants, recounted a horrific attack that was absolutely not indicated by any of her injuries, and gave descriptions of men which did not match the players she later identified as her assailants.

Meanwhile, the DA and investigators used biased and possibly unconstitutional photo lineups that included no nonsuspects, fabricated widely reported facts, saying that the players had used false names to cover for the accuser's inability to match her alleged assailants' names to photos of those players, and claiming, falsely, that the gang rape charges were supported by medical evidence.

Exhaustive testing for DNA of everything available found semen in the bathroom belonging to an uncharged player who lived in the house, and on a bath towel belonging to one of the accused players, proving that Duke students do, in fact, masturbate. However, no DNA from the players was found on or in the accuser, even though she was examined by a rape trauma nurse only a couple of hours after the alleged rape, and none of the accuser's DNA was recovered from the bathroom where the rape supposedly took place, even though the incident she tells of in her account of the evening's events would suggest that every kind of bodily fluid should have been smeared all over that bathroom.

The article details a process where the accuser made up her story as she went along, and the District Attorney trumped up charges he must have known were spurious to froth up racial tensions in Durham and help him secure his re-election as a champion of the black community. This case began as a story about alleged white privilege and entitlement, and about frat boys and athletes running wild at elite schools, but it's now become an example of how not even the wealthy and powerful are safe from fabricated charges, pressed, in bad faith, by politically motivated actors.

From the facts that are widely available, I can't see how Nifong can justifiably continue to pursue this case, but it may go to trial, destroying, in the process, any credibility the purported "rule of law" had left.

Friday, August 04, 2006

You should never hit women.

I recently found out about a website called Superman Is A Dick that collects images from the last 80 or so years of DC comics, in which Superman tortures his friends, kills innocent people and generally uses his superpowers to be a dick.

This image was a real standout.

I have no words, but there is a wikipedia entry that says what needs to be said.

In addition to being a domestic abuser, Supes probably also runs afoul of Greenpeace.


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

We Got Wood. Deadwood.

Because of bar exam related stuff, it's been a couple of weeks since I've blogged on my favorite HBO show. Actually, that's not the only reason. I've sort of lost all semblance of knowing what was going on. I think Season 3 has been, on the whole, much weaker than season 2.

A couple of thoughts: First, the development over season 3 and dispensation this week of Steve the Drunk is just as annoying as the similar plot arc with Vito that ran through the recently ended season of "The Sopranos." The actor did a fine job of nurturing the faintest flickering of a sympathetic character in a role that primarily required staggering around drunkenly and spewing racist invective. Nonetheless, it was a commendable effort to a meaningless end. In a show quickly approaching its network-mandated conclusion, time spent with Steve was dead air. That's even more true now that it appears that the payoff of that entire protracted plot thread was to put Fields in charge of the livery. I mean, as nailbiting as the ultimate dispensation of the livery might be, there's bigger shit afoot...

Like Langrishe, who also paid off a plotline of sorts when the sick old guy who he carted into the camp a couple of weeks ago finally kicked the bucket. He seemed like a nice enough old fellow, and I'm sure it was very sad for all involved. But I didn't need to see that guy dying for 20 minutes last night. And what else happened? He gave Hearst a backrub for some reason, and suggests that this can be of use to Swearengen in saving the camp. I don't know how this works, but if an assasination attempt upon Hearst by Langrishe is in the cards, I don't think Hearst has too much to worry about. I vaguely understood some subtext last night about Langrishe being both a comic and tragic character, but this show has always had Calamity Jane for that, so Langrishe is more a study in redundancy than in duality.

And speaking of Jane, she's been exploring her sexuality with Joanie. That's terrific. I can't imagine what this could be leading towards, unless it's a kinky sandwich where Jane and Joanie are the bread and Moses Manuel is the meat in the middle. Don't miss the season finale.

Oh, and Wyatt Earp showed up for some reason, to no great effect.

Seriously, I think this season has been all over the place. The basic idea is there, and there's a powerful thematic, almost iconic image that's been repeating, of Swearengen and Hearst staring each other down across the thoroughfare. Hearst is plotting the destruction of the entire camp, Swearengen is plotting revenge. There's plenty at stake; Alma has put herself in a precarious situation, and the camp as well, with her fall back into addiction. Hearst wants her gold, and so do those Eastern relatives.

And Tolliver is as interesting as he's ever been; a perfect front for Wolcott in season two, he was a natural ally for Hearst. The two share a propensity for brutality, and Tolliver could be reliably controlled by his greed. Instead, Hearst horribly mishandled Tolliver. Now Tolliver's response, for the first time in a while, may be unpredictable. His instinct for greed and survival will counsel him to stick with Hearst, who seems the stronger dog in the fight, but his anger may send him into alliance with his old enemies against his new master.

And Earp could have been exciting if he wasn't for all the extraneous Steve/Langrishe/Aunt Lou/Odell stuff that's been gumming the works. It seems each episode spends maybe ten minutes moving the main story arcs forward, and the rest of the time with tertiary characters. It seems like we've seen more of Steve the drunk than Swearengen the last few weeks.

The Sopranos adopted a structure last season of building up, and building up and building up, towards some kind of impending climax to the series, but the payoff was deferred to the coming run of shows. Everyone was let down. Deadwood has, unfortunately, adopted the same model this season, and it's been a real letdown. The early promise of the first couple of episodes has drawn out into an exercise in digression. Instead of building tension, it seems the producers have let the show go a bit slack, and the great Deadwood moments, like Dority's vicious fight with Captain Turner in the muck of the thoroughfare, have been too few, and too suffused in the surrounding inanity to carry the plot the way they should.

This could all tie up in an interesting way in the remaining episodes, but it's time for things to hurry up and start happening, and I'm afraid that, instead, we'll get an episode centered around Richardson or something. The side characters are important to give the camp a sense of verisimilitude, and prevent it from seeming like a set, but I hope the creators have some narrative purpose they're pursuing here, and are not just tailoring the plot in accord with their affection towards actors or characters.

But, with Steve the drunk finally out of the way, Earp in the camp, and Hearst's "bricks" arriving this week, things might start to pick up steam beginning next Sunday. Here's hoping.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Night Falls

Since "Lady in the Water" comes out this week, I thought a little reflection on director and reported egomaniac M. Night Shyamalan was in order.

First of all, early word on "Lady" is very bad. I think the early consensus is "Dead in the Water." Since Night broke with Disney on this film, if it opens weak, the Disney chiefs will be seen as freakin' genius svengalis between their success in shooting Superman out of the sky last week and their smarts in dropping this bomb.

If the $75 million "Lady" doesn't bring in audiences, the folks at Warner Brothers will feel about the same as the folks in Beirut on Monday; Warners' expensive "Poseidon" sank in May, and "Seoperman" couldn't get off the ground. "Lady" is the last summer tentpole they have.

But, as everybody writes the epitaph for Night, I am going to recommend that you go out this weekend and rent or buy the charming and vastly underrated "Unbreakable," a wonderful interpretation of the superhero origin story as a mythological thumbnail sketch and a study in humanity. And Philly has never looked more hauntingly beautiful.

As bad as Night is when his ego gets away with him (and "The Village" was offensively bad), when he's good, the man is possessed of a brilliance. He may be in a rough patch on his way to becoming his generation's Spielberg, but whether he ever recovers, the guy was good once.

And speaking of being good again, Kevin Smith returns to the Quick Stop with a sequel to Clerks. I remember the first time I saw this movie. It was before Chasing Amy came out, but after Mall Rats, and one of my friends rented it and made a bunch of us watch it.

I was maybe 14 at the time. After the pervert clown View Askew title card, and the realization that the film was going to be in black and white, I was ready to go upside my friend's head, but by the time Caitlin Bree had sex with the corpse in the third act, I was totally with the movie.

I was disappointed with the early demise of the short-lived television show a few years back, and I enjoyed the cameos in the otherwise weak "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back." So I'm looking forward to this and the early word sounds good. Apparently, a woman has sex with a donkey.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


Our hero takes some time off from his multistate practice questions to discuss sports with some feminists. Enjoy.

Give 'em Hell!

Slate says Israelis are really pissed off. I think they're justified.

In spite of the perpetuation of the notion, dearly held by campus progressives and peace advocates, that Israel is a Western-Imperialist Junta built upon second class subjugation of the brownish locals, Israel has been a somewhat unwilling occupier, aspiring to benevolence and final status against fanatical enemies who kill civilians intentionally.

In spite of the vast-right-wing-conspiracy theorists who rank the "Jewish Lobby" ahead of the NRA, Pat Robertson and oil companies in influence, even Israel's right-wing parties haven't been that hawkish. Likud hero Menachem Begin did, after all, give up Sinai for peace with Egypt. And it's duly noted that, subsequent to that historic peace accord, one of those "activists" from Islamic Jihad shot Anwar Sadat over it.

Israel, far from the territorial expansionist imperial power, had attempted to demilitarize Gaza and Southern Lebanon by unilaterally withdrawing troops behind its borders. This has clearly only encouraged the terrorists. (And, yes, I will refer to Hamas and Hezbollah and members of both groups, including the purportedly political members, as terrorists. If you disagree, my comments are unmoderated.)

Israel's key dilemma in the territories and in Lebanon is the same problem the United States is having in Iraq, While the terrorists' war is absolute, Israel isn't at war with the civilians, doesn't consider them enemies, and would prefer not to make enemies of them. That means that Israel has to wage war on terrorists while minimizing civilian casualties, which is probably why it has rarely unleashed its fighter jets against the heavily populated areas in Gaza where Hamas terrorists congregate. Terrorists are not similarly principled. They blow up civilian restaurants and buses, and launch rockets carelessly at cities. They aspire to kill as many civilians as possible, and if Israel responded in kind, the results would be terrible to behold. Lebanon and Gaza would look like Chechnya. Russia has, incidentally, condemned Israel's actions.

This time, though, it's too far, because these attacks have taken place in the wake of Israel's affirmative steps toward withdrawal on all fronts. Hamas and Hezbollah have now manifested unambiguously that their war will not end, despite any withdrawal, the end of any occupation, the withdrawal behind the green line or any line. It's time for Hamas and Hezbollah to be removed from existence, as political movements or militant groups. It's time for their leaders to be killed or imprisoned and their acolytes killed or dispersed. These groups and their backers in Tehran and Damascus, have made their play, and the time for restraint is over.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Israel Attacks Lebanon

In response to attacks by Hezbollah guerillas, Israel is scorching the earth in Lebanon as well as the Gaza Strip.

Personally, I think that Olmert is taking the necessary steps. These raids and abductions of soldiers at border crossings cannot be condoned, especially not by Hamas, which is ostensibly a political organization now.

I don't believe Israel will take up any long term reoccupation of the Gaza Strip, though the current campaign may sufficiently decimate Hamas to the point where it can no longer put itself forth as a viable entity in Palestinian politics, let alone a governing party. Israel's governing coalition doesn't want Gaza and doesn't want to occupy the Palestinian people. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his predecessor, Ariel Sharon departed the Likud party over its steadfast insistence on hanging onto the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Their Kadima party was formed around the objective of unilaterally ending the occupation of the Palestinian people by withdrawing troops and settlements, and unilaterally drawing a final-status border that involves annexation by Israel of some highly contested territories, including the whole of Jerusalem. The Palestinians get a state, but it will be on much less favorable terms than Ehud Barak offerred to Yasser Arafat prior to the breakouts of the current intifada.

It's a shame that the suffering of the Palestinian people will continue for probably decades to come, but at the same time, it is good for the security of Americans, Europeans and Israelis that the tactics of the Palestinian intifada ultimately worsened rather than improved their bargaining position. I don't think it would set a good precedent to respond to suicide bombings with concessions.

That's certainly the rationale behind the scorched-earth response to this morning's Hezbollah raid; you can't let terrorism be seen as a way to obtain concessions, or else you give terrorists an incentive to kill and kidnap your people.

The Hezbollah raid also suggests some collaboration between the two organizations, which will damage the ability of Hamas to gaine acceptance as a negotiator on behalf of the Palestinians.

What the current conflict will probably do is end the hopes of the Palestinians for a future viable state, and end the hopes of the Israelis for a two-state solution that comes with a lasting and meaningful peace.

The Racist Sheriff

Via Feministe:

The Sheriff of St. Tammany Parish in Louisiana (a parish is like a county) caused a bit of an uproar when he said that men with dreadlocks could expect to be getting a visit from sheriff's deputies.

This has been

widely blogged about.

an LA Times article mentions that the reason the deputies will be visiting men with dreadlocks is because a murder suspect who is at large in the parish fits that description. This is a key bit of information that other bloggers seemed to have missed, because the legitimate pursuit of a murder suspect is a reason to go asking questions to a small group of possible suspects.

I pulled up the 2000 U.S. Census data for St. Tammany Parish The Census also provides data broken down by race. I can't seem to make the link work, but you can click the link to "fact sheet for a race, ethnic or ancestry group" at the top right of the general fact sheet to navigate to this.

This says there are 12786 black people in the parish, minus 1408 who are 65 and over, and if you divide that by half, because the number includes women, you see that there are fewer than 6000 black men in the Parish between the ages of 18 and 65. Although I don't know the local tastes of St. Tammany, I know that dreadlocks aren't generally a particularly common hairstyle, and some men with dreadlocks could possibly be eliminated from suspicion on other factors like height, weight or age.

It's very possible that the number of black men with dreadlocks in St. Tammany Parish is probably not more than a few dozen, rather than the hundreds or thousands, and if that's the case, it might not be unreasonable to ask them some questions in the course of a murder investigation. Dreadlocks are a fairly distinctive characteristic, and while they are racially indicative, the number of men with dreadlocks is going to be a very small portion of the number of black men generally, and that descriptive factor might be enough to make the pool of suspects very narrow.

So is the sheriff a racist asshole? Maybe. I have no idea whether he's harassing blacks in his Parish. But it looks like his statement about what might be a legitimate investigation was mischaracterized to make it look like he's harassing black men because he doesn't like their hair.

So, like, don't believe everything you read on Blogs. Especially this one.

EDIT: The suspect they are pursuing has killed four people.