Saturday, December 31, 2011

Onward to 2012: "We're all in this together, kid!"

Very well, I'll say it: Terry Gilliam's Brazil is simply my favorite movie of all time. I'll often say things like "Brazil is in my top five favorite films", just to give myself a little wiggle room, because I also adore Gilliam's 12 Monkeys. And a number of other cinematic masterpieces by a number of other brilliant, visionary men and women. Okay, so maybe there are more than five on my list of favorite movies--let's say ten.

Still: Brazil. Good Lord, what an amazing and crystalline metaphor it is, from start to finish; what a chillingly prescient story; what a visually stunning, emotionally affective, and politically damning work of art.

Every time I watch this film, I come away with more to think about. Have you ever seen an actual terrorist?

I absolutely love the scene in the above clip, as it gives face and form (with no small amount of dark humor) to my hope for the coming months and years: that we can join together--and tackle and overcome in ways that are truly fitting and just--the monster that is any society so riven with fear and controlled by bureaucracy, its very fibers and ducts and veins and brains threaten to deliver it to its own doom.

So perhaps I am a dreamer. But I'm not, as Lennon said, the only one.

Never give in, never give in, never give in. Me, I'm not giving in to this fascistic shit, and I'm not going down without a fight. Are you? Didn't think so.

Long may we fight, and dream, together.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The TSA's little child pornography and predator problem: A Twisted, Sick Abomination

You don't have to be a parent to feel utterly nauseated upon reading stories like this one, the details of which were just posted at The Smoking Gun (charges--two counts of felony child porn--were filed last month in a Maryland circuit court):

As cops raided his Maryland home, a Transportation Security Administration screener confessed to downloading child pornography, acknowledged that it was “not right in a legal and moral sense,” and stated that he has a “problem.”

The admissions by Scott Wilson, 41, came as Baltimore investigators recently searched his home after an undercover agent downloaded child porn from his computer via a file sharing program.

And you don't have to be a Nervous Nellie to make the logical leap to asking the obvious questions:

Is this a serious systemic problem, and are these government employees--who are tasked with screening American travelers by looking at their nude images, physically groping their sex organs, or both--themselves being screened?

Or could this simply be a case where, as in any large organization, one or two bad apples will turn up, and sometimes they'll display an ultra-high degree of rot?

Allow me to settle that for you right now (and I apologize that the truth of the matter is so disturbing): There are far more than a few "bad apples" floating around the TSA barrel. Even as we, the traveling public, are expected to allow strangers to aggressively touch us--and, until recently, our babies and children--on any and every body part (and many parents report being barked at to "stand back", or move to a different location, while this happens), we are clearly not being afforded the kind of protection from child molesters, rapists, and other sexual predators that one would expect. Certainly one would not expect an organization whose job it is to "keep us safe" to be hiring child porn enthusiasts, child molesters, and child rapists.

In Boston:

Andrew W. Cheever, 33, appeared before on a complaint charging him with possession of child pornography. Last December, State Police executed a state search warrant of Cheever's former residence in Lowell. The initial search identified approximately 2,000 images of child pornography and several uniform items bearing the TSA logo.

In Spring Creek, Idaho:

The Elko County Sheriff’s Office was notified in July of possible sexual contact between David Ralph Anderson, 61, and a girl younger than 14.

According to Elko Justice Court records, the victim told investigators that on seven to 10 occasions between 2010 and this year, Anderson allegedly taught the victim about various sexual acts and had sexual contact in the form of touching each other’s genitals. [...] Anderson, who is a TSA employee according to Elko County Jail records, is being held on $250,000 bail.

In Orlando:

Suspects include then-Transportation Security Administration agent Paul David Rains, 62, of Orlando, who no longer works for the agency.

He and the other suspects face charges ranging from child pornography and sex battery to lewd and lascivious assault and sexual performance by a child.

In Philadelphia:

A passenger screener at Philadelphia International Airport is facing charges that he distributed more than 100 images of child pornography via Facebook, records show.

Federal agents also allege that Transportation Safety Administration Officer Thomas Gordon Jr. of Philadelphia, who routinely searched airline passengers, uploaded explicit pictures of young girls to an Internet site on which he also posted a photograph of himself in his TSA uniform.

In Nashville:

A TSA agent has been arrested in Rutherford County on charges of statutory rape.

Clifton Lyles was arrested by U.S. Marshals Tuesday night, following a grand jury indictment.

In Londonderry, New Hampshire:

A TSA employee who worked at Manchester Boston Regional Airport has been arrested on five counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault, according to police.

Police arrested Dwayne Valerio, 44, at his 192 Rockingham Road home on Friday, March 18, according to Lt. Robert Michaud. Police released few details on what led to his arrest, citing the alleged victim's age.

"The victim is a juvenile," he said.

Again in Orlando:

A TSA agent has been arrested and charged with lewd and lascivious molestation of a minor after police say he tried to keep a girl as a sex slave. Police arrested 57-year-old Charles Bennett of Winter Garden on Friday. A 15-year-old girl was the one who reported him to police.

According to reports from the Orange County Sheriff's Office and the Orange County Jail, the 15-year-old victim confided in her caregivers that Bennett had touched her inappropriately three years ago when she was 12. She says he also asked the young girl to be his "sex slave," an accusation investigators say Bennett admitted to in a written statement to police.

And again in Boston:

A Transportation Security Administration worker at Logan International Airport is accused of assaulting a 14-year-old girl.

Sean Shanahan, 45, of Winthrop is being held on $50,000 cash bail following his arraignment in East Boston District Court. He is charged with statutory rape, enticement of a child and indecent assault and battery on a person 14 or older.


And these are just the 2011 incidents! It must be further noted: the vast majority of sex crimes--like enticement, molestation, and rape--are not reported (for example, only about one in six incidents of rape are reported). This is due to a complicated array of cultural and legal factors that includes misplaced shame (where victims, especially young ones, blame themselves), fear of having to relive a horrific incident in a courtroom setting, fear of retribution, fear of the perpetrator himself, and more. Thus, we can fairly conclude that there were even more such crimes committed by TSA employees than those in the hardly-brief list above.

For its part, the TSA repeatedly claims to have thoroughly screened all applicants:

"TSA cannot comment on an ongoing police investigation, however, we can assure travelers every TSA employee is subject to a significant background check, including criminal history, before they are offered a job. Unfortunately, these checks do not predict future behavior. This individual is not working at the airport at the present time."

Translation: Hey, these guys don't work for us any more--what are you worried about? Don't blame us! We aren't fortune-tellers and you can't expect us to be able to tell if someone is going to commit a crime in the future...oh, wait...

(H/T Bill Fisher for the 2011 links)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Steve Martin's Christmas Wish

I couldn't resist posting this classic SNL Christmas clip. I first experienced Steve Martin's unique wit when I attended a concert of his at the University of Florida, waaaaay back in the day (late 1970's). It was during his arrow-on-the-head period. I remember his hilarious "my cat is a criminal" bit, wherein he confessed to buying cat-cuffs to keep his feline from shoplifting. (You had to be there.)

This SNL spot may or may not be the first of a few classic Christmas clips I post; it all depends on the traffic out there this afternoon!

Anyway, allow me to take this opportunity to wish my readers a truly fabulous holiday. Let's all wish for PEACE in the New Year.

With love and thanks for your friendship,


Thursday, December 22, 2011

"Will you walk into my parlour?" said the Homeland Security guy...

The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the TSA, and other agencies working within the Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) model, want to implement mobile mind-reading units everywhere. And by everywhere, I mean not just at airports (emphasis mine):

The FAST program has now completed its first round of field tests on the public. According to DHS, one of the program’s primary goals is to bring security to “open” areas–such as Metro, Amtrak and mass transit systems other than aviation–where threats could go undetected. The Mobile Module, according to DHS, “could be used at security checkpoints such as border crossings or at large public events such as sporting events or conventions.”

In the field tests, DHS tested the Mobile Module in at least one location in the Northeast. “It is not an airport,” Verrico told Nature magazine, “but it is a large venue that is a suitable substitute for an operational setting.” Whether these subjects knew they were participating in a FAST study is unclear.

EPIC claims that DHS documents reveal efforts to “collect, process, or retain information on” members of the public who likely did not give their consent. “We do think this is a program with great privacy risks,” says John Verdi, director of EPIC’s Open Government Project. Back in 2008, the DHS conducted a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA), but when FAST moved into its public testing phase, Verdi says, “Our requests have revealed that the agency did not perform a PIA. In our view that is against the federal law.”

"...Large public events such as sporting events or conventions.”

Never mind the Fourth Amendment.

Never mind the fact that some people, i.e. sociopaths (the very people who can commit violent crimes like terrorism without experiencing guilt beforehand or remorse afterwards), don't always present with psychological indicators--with physical or biochemical "tells"--when they deceive, thus rendering these expensive, intrusive, James-Bond-wannabe mind-reading units as good as useless.

Let's be clear-eyed here: this is about three things, and three things alone.

(1) Money. Not for you or me, silly. Money for the security contractor(s) who are selling these ridiculous apparatuses to the DHS (and as flush with tax dollars as that agency is, they are an attractive mark) and, of course, money for the campaign coffers of the various politicians enabling this unconstitutional rubbish. Oh, and for any stray former government official who has the new job title of "consultant".

(2) Fearmongering, because when people are afraid, they will more likely believe what the authorities tell them, and they will (apparently) put up with almost anything.

(3) Conditioning. Fifteen years ago, if you'd told me that law-abiding Americans wanting to fly somewhere in their own country would in the near future be lining up like cattle at the slaughter; taking off their shoes; allowing themselves to be irradiated while someone viewed their unclothed bodies on a screen; allowing themselves to be aggressively groped--and their children to be touched, by someone who is not a parent or doctor, on the parts of their bodies they are otherwise taught are private and personal--I'd have said you were making things up.

It may have taken a little time, but the DHS and TSA have succeeded in conditioning most of the traveling public. They've largely got the media on their side, too--"It's just to keep us safe!"--and they've been slowing ramping up the intrusiveness in the past couple of years, happily allotting billions of our tax dollars to buy all these whiz-bang machines and enrich their well-connected manufacturers, reacting with horror--and even lawsuits--when the occasional civil libertarian cries out after having a stranger grope and penetrate her at the airport: "How dare you call our agents rapists! Even though they raped you!"

(And only Pravda--yes, that Pravda--would publish her account.)

It needs to be repeated, and often: The TSA has not thwarted a SINGLE terrorism attempt. Not a one. The attempts were thwarted by good investigative work on the ground, long before anyone with terrorism in mind got near an airport, and alert, motivated passengers.

Whither our civil liberties?

Also at TSA News

Monday, December 19, 2011

To those who muse about "Spreading Democracy", revisited (Kim Jong-il version)

During an acute famine in the 1990's, starving North Korean refugees--often accompanied by human traffickers--attempted to cross the Tumen River into China; death by freezing was commonplace

And who, while decrying the dictatorial splinter in the collective cornea of yet another palm-tree-lined nation* doing us no harm, all the while ignoring the beam lodged in their own myopic eye; and who, to this day, and despite mounting evidence to the contrary, tell the citizenry that promoting freedom is what they've been doing all this time, even as the blood and treasure belonging to their own people continue to spill unabated while those occupied but not yet dead face an uncertain (but certainly violent) present and future; and who persist, inexplicably and without remorse or fear of reproof, in sanctioning further curtailment of that selfsame freedom with the suspension of habeas corpus and with every presidentially-approved, unconstitutional wiretap and illegal invasion of citizens' privacy, I offer the words of another notable Latin American:


By Pablo Neruda

An odor has remained among the sugarcane:
a mixture of blood and body, a penetrating
petal that brings nausea.
Between the coconut palms the graves are full
of ruined bones, of speechless death-rattles.
The delicate dictator is talking
with top hats, gold braid, and collars.
The tiny palace gleams like a watch
and the rapid laughs with gloves on
cross the corridors at times
and join the dead voices
and the blue mouths freshly buried.
The weeping cannot be seen, like a plant
whose seeds fall endlessly on the earth,
whose large blind leaves grow even without light.
Hatred has grown scale on scale,
blow on blow, in the ghastly water of the swamp,
with a snout full of ooze and silence.

[* Upon learning that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il had died, my thoughts returned to Pablo Neruda's poem, to its vital and crystalline truths and how they live on. I had a similar reaction to the one shared above when Cuban dictator Fidel Castro stepped down in 2008. Plus ça change...]

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Frank: Zappa in Czechoslovakia with Václav Havel, 1990

This is some wonderful footage of Frank Zappa in 1990, when he visited the late Václav Havel in then- Czechoslovakia shortly after it became autonomous. This is Part Three of Four in the collection posted on YouTube (thank you, reldditmot). (Here are the others, which are very much worth watching: Part One, Part Two, Part Four.) It's an interview Zappa did with Czech press, covering various political topics, including what Zappa saw as a sort of institutional stupidity that had taken hold in the States over the past decade or so.

This stupidity condition, Zappa said, has largely been imposed on the citizenry by popular culture and religion, then aided and abetted in its contagion by a leadership with its own nefarious reasons for keeping everything and everyone dumbed-down.

Do watch it. Zappa was, undeniably, a curmudgeon. His opinions can rub liberals the wrong way (I certainly don't agree with everything he ever said, but then, about whom can any of us say that?). But as you'll see, he was right about the consequences of not funding education properly; of allowing the shortages of teachers, especially in critical subjects, to continue; of spreading teachers too thinly and having them teach subjects other than the ones they've trained in. (Zappa points to geography as one overlooked, underfunded subject, and expresses his dismay that many American kids can't identify their own country, much less foreign ones, on a world map). And he points to a dangerous problem--one that has only worsened in the years since--namely, the control of textbooks and their content. Textbooks should of course contain only facts, but instead acquire an overtly theist framing--and thus bias--due to their having to pass muster with Christianist censors (and be edited accordingly) before the public school system can buy and use them.

And finally, oh dear, was Frank Zappa not scarily prescient about what happens when a national complacency pandemic takes hold--usually during strong economies--and people are comfortable and not paying attention to the the goings-on within government, meanwhile politicians begin stealing and pulling tricks that benefit a tiny minority?

RIP Václav Havel
RIP Frank Zappa