Until December 6th, I am in Orlando for an international bridge tournament. Since I am playing bridge for hours on end, taking photographs, writing stories AND attempting to do some real estate here and there - blogging becomes slim pickins'.
I'm 37,000 feet up in the air, heading toward Orlando for a North American Bridge Championship. If I log onto Delta, I can see where my flight is. And, of course, I am using wi-fi from my teensy little coach seat!
The inventions of technology continue to astound me.
As I've mentioned many times before, I have a number of so-called "liberal" tendencies. To those who say, "We should go through intensive screening for the safety of many" - I have sympathy. Am I willing to have a screener see my body naked in a scanner to prevent a plane being blown up? Sure. Is it OK if someone pats my previously private privates to save the lives of 350 people? You bet.
What we must examine, however, is whether or not these current practices really are "keeping us safe." If you think that they are, then let me introduce you to Jeffrey Golberg at The Atlantic, and what he has learned from terrorism experts.
Our country has not yet experienced the terror of a cavity bomb -- a bomb inserted into the rectum or vagina of a suicide terrorist -- but this is what experts, in and out of government, fear is coming. We've already seen the technique used in the Middle East: Colleagues of an Islamist terrorist named Abdullah Asiri detonated a bomb inserted up his rectum last year by cell phone in an unsuccessful attempt to kill a top Saudi counter-terrorism official.
Three experts I spoke to this weekend -- two of whom are currently serving in government in counter-terrorism capacities -- believe it is only a matter of time before the technique is tried here. "We have nothing in our arsenal that would detect these bombs," one told me. "There is no taboo that we can see against this technique. Suicide is suicide, it doesn't matter how gross it is." I asked one of these experts if the body of the terrorist would actually mitigate the power of the blast, as had apparently happened in Saudi Arabia. "My assumption is that a bomb carried onto an airplane in the anus could be removed in the bathroom and detonated clear of the body," this expert said. "You're dealing with a thin-skinned airplane, so even a detonation of a pound of explosives in the anus could punch a hole."
Did this make your pre-Thanksgiving holiday a little cheerier? Well, sorry. You might, however, consider these wise words.
Yet, how realistic is it to think that we can have blue skies all the time - with no rain, no tornadoes, no icy rain (hello Minneapolis today!) and the like?
James Hagerty, a Wall Street reporter, issues the verdict as he reviews Alex Pollock's new book, Boom and Bust.
As long as human nature is with us, periodic financial busts should be expected. Within the past decade or so, the U.S. has had two of them: the first involving the crash of dot-com stocks and the second, much worse, occasioned by the sudden realization that not everyone in America could afford a McMansion. Two financial crises in 10 years may seem like carelessness, but Mr. Pollock says that it is close to the norm: "The economic historian Charles Kindleberger, surveying three centuries of financial history, concluded that there has been a crisis about every 10 years." These busts, Mr. Pollock writes, "arise from the intrinsic nature of human financial behavior."
Booms and busts are a necessary part of an economy that thrives on innovation. Progress tends to make us giddy. We "overbuild, overborrow and otherwise make mistakes," Mr. Pollock says. "There is no way to fix this problem, because the future is unknowable. There is no way for government or any other authority to decide in advance which innovations will succeed and which not." Eventually the marketplace "arrives at the correct answer," but that takes time—and sometimes a bust.
If we continue to simply react to the last breach of airport security, we will always lag behind terrorists' innovations. This will be costly and wasteful in lives, resources and security. A serious strategic review should examine all options, select the best strategy, then monitor, analyze and reassess it regularly. There should also be a quadrennial Homeland Security Department review.
In haystack searches, the first crucial step is to reduce the size of the haystack, so that we are searching all the hay that might contain needles without having to search the whole stack at the airport. In this case, the haystack is all the passengers traveling by air. The needles are terrorists and their weapons. Haystack reduction depends critically on identifying where we should look for the needles. We are not doing that. But there are ways of accomplishing that end while at the same time increasing security and reducing cost. Here are two ideas.
The first is to recognize that the vast majority of passengers are not terrorists. We need to deal with as many of the non-terrorists as possible before they arrive at airport checkpoints. A national, voluntary "trusted passenger" program would do that by advance background checks and biometric identity documents, which could be reviewed, renewed or revoked at any time. Privacy and civil liberties could be protected by strong privacy legislation and oversight by an independent board. Costs could be shared by passengers, airports, airlines and governments.
A retired special education teacher on his way to a wedding in Orlando, Fla., said he was left humiliated, crying and covered with his own urine after an enhanced pat-down by TSA officers recently at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
Sawyer is a bladder cancer survivor who now wears a urostomy bag, which collects his urine from a stoma, or opening in his stomach. “I have to wear special clothes and in order to mount the bag I have to seal a wafer to my stomach and then attach the bag. If the seal is broken, urine can leak all over my body and clothes.”
“One agent watched as the other used his flat hand to go slowly down my chest. I tried to warn him that he would hit the bag and break the seal on my bag, but he ignored me. Sure enough, the seal was broken and urine started dribbling down my shirt and my leg and into my pants.”
The security officer finished the pat-down, tested the gloves for any trace of explosives and then, Sawyer said, “He told me I could go. They never apologized. They never offered to help. They acted like they hadn’t seen what happened. But I know they saw it because I had a wet mark.”
Humiliated, upset and wet, Sawyer said he had to walk through the airport soaked in urine, board his plane and wait until after takeoff before he could clean up.
Recently, researchers in Finland made the discovery that some people’s bodies do not respond as expected to weight training, others don’t respond to endurance exercise and, in some lamentable cases, some don’t respond to either. In other words, there are those who just do not become fitter or stronger, no matter what exercise they undertake. To reach this conclusion, the researchers enrolled 175 sedentary adults in a 21-week exercise program. Some lifted weights twice a week. Others jogged or walked. Some did both. Before and after the program, the volunteers’ fitness and muscular strength were assessed. At the end of the 21 weeks, the results, published earlier this year in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, were mixed. In the combined strength-and-endurance-exercise program, the volunteers’ physiological improvement ranged from a negative 8 percent (meaning they became 8 percent less fit) to a positive 42 percent. The results were similar in the groups that undertook only strength or only endurance training. Some improved their strength enormously, some not at all. Others became aerobically fitter but not stronger, while still others showed no improvements in either area. Only a fortunate few became both fitter and more buff. As the researchers from the University of Jyvaskyla wrote with some understatement, “large individual differences” exist “in the responses to both endurance and strength training.”
Now - if they can just figure out why this is so. Then next - is there anything we can do about it?
In the meantime, I feel less guilty about lounging rather than lunging!
Rising foreclosures and unemployment. Gigantic deficits. Dysfunctional schools, terrorism, political schizms and war. Should we all throw our hands up in the air and despair?
That may seem the only course at times. Yet, despite a multitude of grave issues facing us, some still view the future positively. May I introduce Mr. Bernard Baruch.
When I was a younger man, I believed that progress was inevitable—that the world would be better tomorrow and better still the day after. The thunder of war, the stench of concentration camps, the mushroom cloud of the atomic bomb are, however, not conducive to optimism. All our tomorrows for years to come will be clouded by the threat of a terrible holocaust.
Yet my faith in the future, though somewhat shaken, is not destroyed. I still believe in it. If I sometimes doubt that man will achieve his mortal potentialities, I never doubt that he can.
I believe, above all else, in reason—in the power of the human mind to cope with the problems of life.
If we don't give up, if we believe in the power of individuals to overcome - then, even today, we can imagine and achieve a brighter future.
Anti-racism has become the central theme of today's political culture, yet the obsessive concern for racial sensitivities rarely seems to be applied to the white working class. This is the one ethnic group that it is perfectly acceptable to insult and ignore.
Once regarded as the backbone of Britain, the people who saved our country in two world wars, the indigenous, less affluent, sector of the population is now treated with contempt by liberal elitists, who sneer at the supposed idleness, vulgarity, xenophobia and ignorance of so-called "chavs" or "white trash".
This kind of repellent snobbery and prejudice was captured in an extraordinary outburst from newspaper columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. Condemning white working-class Britons as "either too lazy or too expensive to compete" in the new era of multi-racialism, she wrote that "tax-paying immigrants past and present keep indolent British scroungers on their couches drinking beer and watching TV".
Such comments are not only offensive, but also factually incorrect, since levels of unemployment and welfare dependency are actually much higher in certain immigrant communities. According to the Office of National Statistics, 35 per cent of Muslim households have no adult in employment, more than twice the national average, though no liberal columnist would dream of ever writing about "Muslim scroungers".
On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill that would give the Attorney General the right to shut down websites with a court order if copyright infringement is deemed “central to the activity” of the site — regardless if the website has actually committed a crime. The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) is among the most draconian laws ever considered to combat digital piracy, and contains what some have called the “nuclear option,” which would essentially allow the Attorney General to turn suspected websites “off.”
In short, COICA would allow the federal government to censor the internet without due process.
Scholars, lawyers, technologists, human rights groups and public interest groups have denounced the bill. Forty-nine prominent law professors called it “dangerous.” (pdf.) The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch warned the bill could have “grave repercussions for global human rights.” (pdf.) Several dozen of the most prominent internet engineers in the country — many of whom were instrumental in the creation of the internet — said the bill will “create an environment of tremendous fear and uncertainty for technological innovation.” (pdf.) Several prominent conservative bloggers, including representatives from RedState.com, HotAir.com, The Next Right and Publius Forum, issued a call to help stop this “serious threat to the Internet.”
And Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the world wide web, said, “Neither governments nor corporations should be allowed to use disconnection from the internet as a way of arbitrarily furthering their own aims.” He added: “In the spirit going back to Magna Carta, we require a principle that no person or organization shall be deprived of their ability to connect to others at will without due process of law, with the presumption of innocence until found guilty.”
Aren't you tired of our government passing laws that remove our Constitutional rights? I surely am.
In almost any other election year, Rep. Charlie Rangel's ethics problems would have been a major campaign issue, in much the way that Republicans' myriad ethics and corruption scandals framed the 2006 election. The only reason Democrats got a "pass" on Rangel before the election is that so much else was going wrong for them and dominating the headlines. Rangel's conviction by a House panel today on 12 ethics violations should change that, but only to a degree. The consequences of the conviction are laughable: Rangel can expect a sternly worded letter of reprimand or, worst case, a censure. As the Times' write-up notes, the committee has the power to expel, but no one thinks that's going to happen.
In the comments, you will note that some wondered about the "wisdom" of voters who returned Rangel to the House. Yes, shame on them, too.
And - conservatives shouldn't get too puffed up with pride. They have their moments, also.
In any case, whether funding is critical or not, or whether NPR is a national jewel or a just another liberal outlet is not the issue. No station in the 21st century should be getting funding from our government, be it liberal or conservative, libertarian or socialist. With literally hundreds of available resources for news and opinion, all entities should either rise or fall according to the marketplace. If NPR is as worthwhile as many believe, surely it can survive with a combination of donations, membership and advertising. Most others do; why should it be exempt?
A majority of the small businesses that belong to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) pay their federal taxes at individual income tax rates—and the top rate is scheduled to rise to 39.6% from 35% on Jan. 1.
The threat of higher taxes in 2011 has created a profound sense of economic uncertainty among our smaller member companies, inhibiting investment and hiring. In a March RSM McGladrey survey of the NAM's smaller member companies, 82% said they were concerned by the expiring tax rates; 62% were "very concerned."
For them, allowing the 2001 and 2003 tax rates to expire represents a tax hike—one that will hit their businesses as the pace of the manufacturing recovery is slowing and the housing market is still struggling to recover. Facing the possibility of higher taxes and less revenue, these small businesses will be forced to make difficult decisions about what to cut: jobs? salaries? benefits? capital expenditures?
When manufacturers and home builders are forced into making these decisions, the economic recovery will suffer. Since 2007, small and medium-sized manufacturers—which still employ more than nine million workers—already have lost more than 850,000 jobs.
From the beginning, the Times's reporting on the Tea Party has been inaccurate, unfair, and irresponsible. The paper's approach to covering news has long since departed from the standard once exemplified by Abe Rosenthal, its former executive editor. Rosenthal warned that reporters and editors had to be on guard against their own prejudices, and that it was the editor's job to keep a heavy "right" hand on the tiller lest the newsroom tack left, as was its natural wont. Had the Times been more dedicated to seeking out facts in an agnostic manner, rather than expressing its own ideological values, it might have understood that it was independent swing voters-like many in the Tea Party-that had put Obama in office in the first place.
It does no favors, either, to a president who never hears what he needs to hear about our country from what is still our nation's - or at least its liberal elite's - "point of contact with reality," as Dwight MacDonald once put it. More than any other institution, it was the Times that put Icarus's wings of wax on President Obama's back. And as long as it marches in lockstep with the Democratic Party's liberal wing, the Times will also, perversely, serve as one of the GOP's best organizing tools.
Painful as it may be, cover-ups of the truth being successful are extremely rare. As one can see, cheerleading for this administration did not help it to soar. Instead, it aided in its crash to the earth.
Bob Herbert of the New York Times is not one of my favorite columnists. Today, however, I find much here to recommend.
We know that more than a third of black children live in poverty; that more than 70 percent are born to unwed mothers; that by the time they reach their mid-30s, a majority of black men without a high school diploma has spent time in prison. We know all this, but no one seems to know how to turn things around. No one has been able to stop this steady plunge of young black Americans into a socioeconomic abyss.
Now comes a report from the Council of the Great City Schools that ought to grab the attention of anyone who cares about black youngsters, starting with those parents who have shortchanged their children on a scale so monstrous that it is difficult to fully grasp.
The first and most important step would be a major effort to begin knitting the black family back together. There is no way to overstate the myriad risks faced by children whose parents have effectively abandoned them. It’s the family that protects the child against ignorance and physical harm, that offers emotional security and the foundation for a strong sense of self, that enables a child to believe — truly — that wonderful things are possible.
Somehow finding a way back to two parent households and caring parents is key. I really do not know the path - only that achieving this would help greatly.
No matter your color, this tragedy affects us all.