Sunday, May 27, 2012

Giddyup! Er, Schnell! Schnell!

[Photo: Hitler henchman Hermann Goring, 300-pound Nazi equestrian, demonstrates the finer points of dressage riding to der boss in this historical photo]

An amusing story in today's Times concerns Ann Romney and her expensive hobby of dressage riding, and the various horse-tradings and associated equestrian pursuits, and legal disputes, by the Romneys.

Hey, I'm a horse guy. You won't find me carping about how much it costs to keep a horse. A horse costs dough. Nor would I ridicule high-quality dressage riding, which encompasses the most precise movements of horse and rider together and stems not from some prissy riding-circuit, but from the most exacting maneuvers of warhorse and cavalry in a very old tradition of superb ridership.

Still, it does not appear from the photo accompanying the story that Ann Romney has particularly good control of her horse, perhaps understandably because she's a relative novice as a rider, though a very well-heeled one (excuse the pun).

But I'm amazed by the Romneys' exorbitant horse expenses and their amusing relationship with a German horse-seller and dressage trainer, one of those familiar types barking away in the barns of the high-stakes, super-wealthy dressage world -- one Jan Ebeling, who is said to be a shrewd horse-trader and a very tough trainer/instructor.

Here's where I laughed out loud in the story: "Asked if she was ever unhappy with Mr. Ebeling’s instruction, Mrs. Romney said in a deposition in the lawsuit, “I think that is not a fair question because we all get upset at certain times with anybody that is — you know, especially a German.”

Several of the 1,000 or so readers who commented asked whether Ann Romney transported the horse on the roof of one of her Cadillacs, before the editors shut down the comments.

Me, I will resist the urge to elaborate on the somewhat colorful history of Mormons and disputes over horse-trading.


Saturday, May 26, 2012

New York Times Insults Arizona (Again); Javelinas Demand Apology

Tim Egan, who for my money is the best columnist writing in the New York Times, has once again insulted and ridiculed the state of Arizona. OK, he's right. The right-wing crackpots in Phoenix, who seem to have mounted a kind of coup d'lunatique, are in full moon-bay, embarrassing those of us in the sane southern part of the state, Tucson -- which we have taken to calling Baja Arizona to distinguish it from Phoenix, which we regard as Orange County, Calif., circa 1964, but without the ocean.

Here's a link to Egan's terrific column. The objection here is to the lede in the column:

"We interrupt reality to bring you Arizona, once known as the Grand Canyon state. So glorious, this home to sublime cacti and ugly javelina ..."

Two issues here right off the bat, Egan. One, and I don't care what some prissy copy-desk scold in a high-button collar says, the plural of cactus is cactuses. I ask you: Is the plural of circus "circi?" Case closed.

But more important, this insult to javelinas being ugly is unacceptable to those of us who know javelinas. (And a herd of them usually saunters in the front of our property every morning, snorting and grubbing).

Well, ok, they are pretty ugly, and they do stink. (The little javelina babies are so cute, though)

But really, Egan? In a state where the most famous elected official is the phony tough-guy Phoenix Sheriff Joe Arpaio, you're calling the javelinas ugly?

On behalf of javelinas, I demand an apology. The gnarliest javelina is better looking than Sheriff Joe.

Smells better, too.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Visit to the 9/11 Memorial in New York Where Silly Security Shows That the Terrorists Did In Fact Win

"Remove your belt!"

I'm passing through the crowded security checkpoint at the new 9/11 Memorial on the site of the World Trade Center ruins in lower Manhattan and I realize this goon in a blue shirt that says "SECURITY" is yelling at me.

He is also poking some kind of a wand into the tray holding my camera and cellphone, knocking them around a bit before they pass through the magnetometer.

"Be careful with that stick you're banging my camera with," I tell him.

"Remove your belt," he repeats loudly, in a tone that not even the rudest TSA screener would dare to use at an airport. He glares at me in a way that says, "If this was Guatemala, you'd be on the ground right now, pal."

Welcome to the 9/11 Memorial where, given the absurd degree of pointless security that abounds, the terrorists have clearly won.

There is not a sign, and barely a reminder, of the courage and fortitude shown by New Yorkers on that terrible day as those huge buildings crumbled and all of those people died at the hands of religious-fanatic murderers who were determined to bring this great city to its knees.

No, there is just the security, the fear that is so obviously on display, now that the actual threat is gone.

You need to go online and arrange a pass and a time to visit the memorial site, which is dominated by two giant sunken pools with waterfalls cascading into the pits where the Twin Towers each once stood.

I know that ground well, because I worked for years at the Wall Street Journal, pre-Murdoch, when Dow Jones was based at the World Financial Center across the street from the World Trade Center. When I go there today, I see not those holes in the ground, so tastefully designed to eradicate all memory of the offense of the horror, but the vast and unspeakable emptiness in the air. All of that mass, gone, and yet I still feel it there.

The security, I am deeply saddened to say, spoils any sense of reflection or reverence at the site. Instead, the fear is everywhere, in the humorless faces of all those rent-a-cops, all those real cops, all on guard. All that law-enforcement presence, and for what?

Against what?

I wanted to tell the hump who ordered me around at the metal detector, Listen, Skippy, you are aware, are you not, that this place has already been blown up? That there is nothing left to destroy? That the threat to American freedoms is from the likes of you in your quasi-military blue uniform and your Guatemala militia manners? The terrorists have moved on. There is no opportunity at this place now.

The New York City police commissioner, Ray Kelly, has given interviews about the security at this site and come up with little more than an expressed concern that some people might be so overwhelmed with grief that they might feel the impulse to jump into one of those reflecting pools. I am not kidding.

"People might commit suicide," Kelly said in one interview. "We're concerned about the possibility of somebody jumping in. This is what we're paid to think about."

It does not matter, because common sense has died, that anyone with a desire to end it all can merely cross the street, stroll a block west, and hop a low railing right into the churning Hudson River.

No, we have a memorial at the World Trade Center site, the site of such courage and resolve when the enemy was real, and the memorial is to fear. And to the growing security state. And in a very sad way, it is a pathetic tribute to the murderers who sought on 9/11 to make that hideous statement about the vulnerability of America.

I'd post a photo or two of the site that I took yesterday but I cannot. As I left the security area, I turned around to snap a picture, and one of the glowering rent-a-cops blocked my exit.

"You can't take a picture. You have to delete it," he ordered me.

I insisted that he call an actual police officer, and two responded. Yes, they agreed, I would have to delete the picture.

I wasn't sure how to do that, so the rent-a-cop took my camera and did it for me. Deleted all. And then dropped the camera, which no longer functioned properly.

This, of course, would be an illegal act in America. But not here, I guess. Not at this tasteful memorial to fear, where the security state rules.


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Bombs Away

The Sunday Times of London has a story today, though it's thinly and perhaps questionably sourced, saying that "Western intelligence agencies believe doctors working with Al-Qaeda in Yemen have been trained to plant explosives inside the bodies of suicide bombers."

Bombs can be implanted in the abdomens and breasts of suicide bombers, the story says. That would evade the vaunted "whole body scanners" in use at airports, which supposedly detect anomalous forms or mass on the body or in the clothing.

It's questionable whether the body imagers actually work, in the first place. If the London Times story is correct, it's irrelevant.

The London Times is owned by the odious Rupert Murdoch, but like the Wall Street Journal, another Murdoch property, it still does have a reputation for accuracy, though you can't depend on it.

From the Times account: "Experts say explosive compounds such as PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate) could be implanted into a would-be suicide bomber and the wounds allowed to heal." The device "can be detonated by injection," says the paper.

Note the conditionals, could and can.

And note the lack of attribution, which follows standards more like those of the Daily Mail or the New York Post than of the pre-Murdoch Times of London.

Still, it seems plausible. That doesn't make it true, and stories anchored by mere plausibility are among the lowest forms of journalism (right after lottery-fever stories and all articles by anything called the White House press corps, that is).

Still ...


Thursday, May 10, 2012

That New Underwear Bomb: III

This is from, by the security technology expert Bruce Schneier, on the media hyperbole about that latest supposed underwear-bomber/double agent:

"We don't know much, but here are my predictions:

  1. There's a lot more hyperbole to this story than reality.
  2. The explosive would have either 1) been caught by pre-9/11 security, or 2) not been caught by post-9/11 security.
  3. Nonetheless, it will be used to justify more invasive airport security."


Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Birds and the Bees

Ok, ok, for all of you who were horrified by my rant last week against Africanized killer bees in the Sonoran desert, Saguaro National Park Ranger Michelle Uhr forwards this stunningly beautiful video called "The Beauty of Pollination."

I still hate Africanized killer bees, but I'll drop that awful idea of getting a flamethrower.

Here's the video link (From YouTube):


New Underwear Terrorist Bomb II -- What About Those Body Scanners?

In further proof, as if we needed it, of Bill Moyer's axiom that "Reporters are people who are paid to explain things they don't understand," we have the following brilliant assertion in the Wall Street Journal today about the much-typed "new type" of non-metallic terrorist body-bomb that can be concealed in the underwear:

"Investigators are closely scrutinizing the construction of the bomb for clues that would lead to its makers and would also help aviation security experts improve and adjust airport detection systems. Investigators say the bomb contained no metal, meaning would have likely evaded detection by airport screeners."

Hang on there just a minute, Scoop! Ignore how that passage demonstrates the Journal's appalling decline in copy-editing standards under the regime of the odious Rupert Murdoch (you need an "it" after "meaning" in that sentence). Instead, consider: The TSA has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to install these new-fangled "strip search" machines to replace metal-detecting magnetometers at airport checkpoints. You know, the machines the TSA initially called "whole-body imagers," but then changed the name to "advanced imaging technology" when it became apparent that "whole-body" was an infelicitous, if nevertheless accurate, description of what the machines focus on.

The point of these machines, as the Wall Street Journal seems not to recall, is to remove dependence on metal detectors in favor of machines that see through clothing and, supposedly, detect any anomalous item on the body. The old metal detectors, of course, would not detect any non-metallic underwear bomb, which would likely be noticed only by an alert screener wondering why that terrorist-looking person has droopy pants like some baby with a load in its diaper.

So why, exactly, would these invasive whole-body imaging machines not detect whatever mass this latest model of the underwear bomb presented?

By the way, in the New York Post newspaper today there's a breathless headline over an even more half-assed story in which the reporter seems to think that the body-imagers would be thwarted because the they can't detect the chemical properties of a possible explosive. But that has never been the point of the body-imagers, whose sole function is to detect foreign objects on the body or in the clothes, which are shown as mass. The mass could be a stick of chewing gum or a wad of plastic explosives, the machine only knows shape, not chemical makeup.

That story also makes the ludicrous assertion that the only way to insure real security against chemical bombs is to use "bomb sniffing dogs." Absolutely no security expert in the world would depend on bomb-sniffing dogs -- which can be diverted by a ham sandwich (hey, they're dogs!) -- for anything other than an extra backup check on security. They are not a first-line of defense. The New York Post, of course, is another newspaper owned by the odious Mr. Murdoch.

Meanwhile, a little less fluttering around about the "double-agent" aspect of this strange story is required of all news media covering the story. How about a little more focus on the threat and the evident holes in the system posed by "whole body imaging" strip-search machines that seem not to be able to do what their well-paid manufacturers claim they can do?


Tuesday, May 08, 2012

New Terrorist Underwear Threat: Here We Go Again?

Uh,oh. Watch for the trusty security state to ramp up theatrical operations at the airport checkpoints, now that another underwear plot has been uncovered, so to speak.

I'm always wary of stories that claim the news is "worthy of Hollywood," and yup, here we are in the L.A. Times: "WASHINGTON -- The successful blocking of an ambitious Al Qaeda plot to bomb a U.S.-bound airliner was an international sting operation worthy of Hollywood, with spies tricking terrorists into showing their cards."

According to the news accounts today, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency, working closely the CIA, used an informant to pose as a would-be suicide bomber from the Al Qaeda franchise in Yemen. The scam was for him to get the Yemen terrorist branch to provide him with what is described as "a new kind of non-metallic bomb that the militants were designing to easily pass through airport security."

A couple of flags get hoisted in my head right off the bat.

One: Saudi Arabia. Uhhh.

Two: This the guy was an "informant." Uh-oh. We know how well these "informant" and other double-agent stings have been working out ... don't we, Mr. Holder?

Three: "... New kind of non-metallic explosive." Wait a minute: I thought these hundreds of strip-search machines -- the whole body imagers --- that the TSA has been busily installing in airports to replace the metal-detecting magnetometers had one main purpose. That is, to detect non-metallic explosives on bodies, including those tucked into someone's skivvies. The whole-body imagers are designed to detect mass on the body, not metal.

But the "new kind" of non-metal bomb foils the machines? Huh? How's that?

It'll take the credulous media a while to get around to asking, while they swoon like bobbysoxers over the story right out of Hollywood involving a double agent.

Meanwhile, get ready for more groping at the airport checkpoints as hysteria reigns, as it always does.

And incidentally, every security expert I know discounts the "one-off," that is the threat of a single terrorist managing to blow up a single airplane. Not enough impact, though there is great concern about multiple, simultaneous explosions.

Whatever. Let's get some answers while we grab all the grannies at the checkpoints once again.

What exactly are those invasive whole-body scanners supposed to do? I mean, exactly. And how, exactly, was this "new kind" of explosive, concealed on a body, supposed to get around that?

Could it be, as critics have said for years, that the whole-body imagers, designed to detect non-metallic explosives on any body, are in fact an expensive joke?


Saturday, May 05, 2012

'Packing' for the Airport

The chart is the latest from the TSA -- guns found in passengers' carry-on bags at checkpoints, for the week ended May 3.

That's 23 guns, 22 of them loaded.

The TSA is a little too wary, it seems to me, of making much of an issue about the fact that people routinely try to board airplanes carrying loaded guns.

Undoubtedly, few if any of these people have terrorist intent, but it seems to me that a good number of them have to be aware that they're packing. I simply don't buy the reasoning that somebody just plumb forgot he had a loaded Glock with a round in the chamber tucked next to his skivvies in his carry-on.

The TSA is wary about making much of an issue of this, I believe, because of the strong political influence being exerted on the federal government by the vocal "right to carry" segment of the gun lobby.

Instead, the TSA blog that publishes the weekly roundup of the sorts of prohibited items that are being routinely found in carry-on bags this week makes a somewhat big deal of the fact that a speargun was found in one passenger's bag.

From the TSA's Blogger Bob:

"Spearguns are Prohibited – I remember when I used to train TSOs. Theywould laugh when I mentioned Spearguns while going over prohibited items. Theycouldn’t believe that anybody would actually try to bring one on a plane.Well…in addition to all of the other ones we’ve found, the latest wasdiscovered at Raleigh-Durham (RDU)."

Well, Blogger Bob, I would guess that someone actually might well bring a speargun, inadvertently and perhaps stupidly, because they had a legitimate sports use for it on a vacation. Like for a diving vacation.

I'm a whole lot less amazed about a speargun (maybe you can hijack a pane with a speargun, but I doubt the rest of the passengers would let you) than I am about those loaded pistols you find every single day, and do not make much of an issue of.


Thursday, May 03, 2012

Phoenix-Area Massacre by Border Militia Nut: Could It Be ... Satan?

 Photos: Top: J.T. Ready, Patriot. Left: Dana Carvey's Church Lady knows what Satan has been up to ...

One of those border-patrol militia nuts who help make Arizona into a laughing stock is dead today after a shooting rampage in the Phoenix suburbs in which he massacred four people, including a 15-month-old baby. He then shot himself to death, thank God.

Here's that story from the Arizona Republic newspaper in Phoenix, which always has to walk a fine line between dealing with reality as well as the paranoid delusions of a significant percentage of its readership.

Meanwhile, Russell Pearce, the ousted former state senate president and author of Arizona's notorious SB 1070 anti-immigrant law, is blaming Satan for the massacre. (See below) 

Also, the lunatics who support this odious border militia movement in Arizona are floating a story that the militiaman who did the killings, a well-known neo-Nazi slob and borderline personality named J.T. Ready, was actually innocent of the crimes. Instead, the lunatics are claiming, ol' J.T. and the other dead, who were members of his extended family, were victims of some mysterious foreign drug kingpins seeking retribution for ol' J.T's patriotic stance against evil illegal immigrants.

For example, the following is posted today on the Facebook page for ol' J.T.'s candidacy for sheriff of Pinal County:

"Reports are unconfirmed that a cartel assassination squad murdered JT Ready and several of his friends and family this afternoon in Gilbert, Arizona. This page's admin will keep you updated of the situation as soon as possible."

Here's some background on ol J.T., white supremest, neo-Nazi, friend of right-wing pols in Phoenix, protector of our freedom and, I would guess, our precious bodily fluids.

Yes, J.T. Ready was running for sheriff in adjoining Pinal County, which is by the way a major drug smuggling and money-laundering route into Phoenix. The current Pinal County sheriff, one Paul Babeu, recently got into some difficulties when he turned up on gay Web sites in compromising photos trolling for sex. Babeu is also under federal investigation for corruption. Babeu remains on the ballot, of course.

Clinical insanity, which appears to have reached epidemic and psychotic proportions in recent years in the Phoenix area, also manifested itself in connection with this tragedy in the form of the disgraced former state senate president Russell Pearce, a supporter of the militia vigilante movement and a former friend of the killer's.

Here's a piece with a lot of damning detail about the close relationship between Pearce and ol' T.J. Ready.

Pearce, trying to regain his senate seat in the next election after having been tossed out in a recall election last November, insists in a statement he issued today that the murderer was not responsible for any crimes he might or might not be technically guilty of.
"Today, the Devil won," Pearce said. The Devil, alas, could not be reached for comment.

 No wonder Arizona is having a harder time attracting visitors, despite its magnificent landscapes and spectacular weather. Satan seems to be running the show -- although that might actually be a better proposition than the idiots and right-wing crackpots who are actually running it in Phoenix.