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.