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Wednesday 30 January 2002

FBI Misconduct to be Investigated After All

Despite efforts by the Administration to ignore the matter, some 30-year-old FBI misconduct will be investigated after all, albeit by Dan Burton.

(See this entry for some background.)

From the Boston Herald:

The chairman of a congressional committee investigating FBI misconduct that led to the jailing of a Boston man for a murder he didn’t commit will move forward with the probe over the objections of President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft. Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) said on CBS’ “60 Minutes” last night that the case involving Joseph Salvati is one the biggest miscarriages of justice he has ever seen. He said he wants former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s name removed from the agency’s headquarters because of evidence Hoover knew Salvati was innocent.
Posted by tino at 12:00 30.01.02
Tuesday 29 January 2002

Pundit Finance Reform

You can hardly read anything these days without hearing how some TV or print commentator has been taking large amounts of money from Enron over the past few years.

The assumption, like with similar bribes — let’s be honest here, for a moment, campaign contribution and the like are bribes — to politicians, is that the commentators will favor Enron in their opinions, and fail to note problems with the company as they otherwise would. Having bought off all criticism, the company can more or less do whatever it likes, the rest of the world be damned.

This appears to be what Enron did; but the rest of the world is chugging along quite nicely, while Enron is in its death throes.

That’s not my point, though. My point is this. The management of Enron fucked up, in a big way. That particular part of the story has been, to put it mildly, well-covered. We’re never going to find out the true story, though, because of fear on the part of journalists and politicians. I doubt that the management of Enron got together, one day, and decided to run the company into the ground; instead, they made decisions to take certain business risks, and to exploit certain hidden opportunities (“loopholes”) in U.S. corporate law in order to make the company (and themselves) stronger and richer. And they failed. Their risks did not pay off. This happens some times.

And we — by that I mean American culture, and particularly American business culture — can learn from that. This set of risks, this strategy in this situation by Enron has been proven to not work as spectacularly well as the architects of that strategy (presumably) hoped it would. So for God’s sake, let’s not try that particular approach in those particular circumstances, ever again.

We’re never going to learn that, though; instead, both the government and the press are going to throw the book at the Enronites. You can’t write a thoughtful column or hold a thoughtful hearing on what actually happened, because it would immediately be assumed that you were in Enron’s secret employ.

And that’s today’s Lesson In Bribery, boys and girls: after it becomes known that you’ve paid people off, you won’t be able to get a fair shake from anyone, whether you’ve bribed them or not, because support of or neutrality toward you will be universally suspect.

Posted by tino at 10:53 29.01.02

You Know… For Kids!

At some point, someone in the U.S. government decided that the government had to be “accessible” to children online. Nearly every government agency has some kind of web presence for the under-13 set.

In some cases, this makes sense; I’m sure that the Smithsonian’s kid-targeted information is greedily snapped up by fingers sticky with jam and ennui. The CIA and NSA both have surprisingly interesting kids’ web pages, focusing on disguises and codebreaking.

A lot of thse pages, of course, manage to weave some kind of anti-drug message into their overt message; but the majority are simply about the thrills of, say, the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, or the Treasury Department’s Bond Calculator for Kids, or the U.S. Fire Administration, or the Simplified Tax and Wage Reporting System for Kids (on whose site you can run a virtual lemonade stand; the main activity is — I am not kidding — filling out tax forms. They do not seem to intend any irony at all.

Taking the cake for ineptitude and general puzzlement, however, is probably The National Agricultural Statistics Service For Kids website is worth a look, complete with little cartoon Stanley Statistician, and “Pam Pie-Chart”.

(There’s also NASS para los niños, con Estadistico Stanley. Ay caramba!)

Both the English and Spanish versions seem to be entirely content-free. After reading the sites, I still had no idea what the National Agricultural Statistics Service did. Something to go with agriculture and statistics, I’d wager.

(Update 14 May 2002: Sadly, the Simplified Tax and Wage Reporting System for Kids page seems to have gone away. It was truly a thing to behold; but now you’ll have to settle for the Wayback Machine version, which is missing some of the images. I cannot emphasize enough how jaw-droppingly funny this site was; if you were an anti-tax activist and wanted to underscore how government interference hobbles small businesses, you could not have put together a web site that illustrated your poitn any better.)

Posted by tino at 10:35 29.01.02
Monday 28 January 2002

Help Wanted: HR with a clue

An article in today’s Washington Post business section addresses the problem of corporate human resources departments without a clue. One technical job-seeker is quoted as saying “At my level, trying to get past human resources is a real difficulty.”

So what good are human resources departments, at least as far as hiring people goes? I’ve never got a job by applying through the normal channels for one, and I’ve only very rarely seen a new hire who came through the HR system actually turn out to know anything.

Posted by tino at 17:25 28.01.02

Just What Is Cheney Up To?

According to this Washington Post article, the White House is going to persist in refusing to hand over documents relating to Dick Cheney’s energy policy task force.

This in itself is interesting, but what’s more interesting is the differing treatment this story gets in various papers, and the daily shifts in spin coming from Cheney’s office. Together, these tidbits make one wonder what “energy policy” really means in this case.

The Washington Post, a liberal paper, headlines its article “Cheney Refuses Records’ Release / Energy Showdown With GAO Looms”. The conservative Washington Times, on the other hand, headlines their story “Cheney backs Bush on Enron documents”.

Enron documents? Who said anything about Enron? I thought that the controversy was over the Administration holding meetings with energy-industry leaders specifically for the purpose of formulating the government’s policy toward that industry, and then refusing to tell the public so much as who attended these meetings.

The New York Times sees it as an Enron story, too. Its headline reads “Cheney Is Set to Battle Congress to Keep His Enron Papers Secret”.

The Wall Street Journal’s headline is “White House Resists Detailing

Cheney, Enron Discussions” (that link probably won’t work unless you subscribe to the WSJ online).

All the articles report the same news; they all use Cheney quotes from Sunday-morning talk shows. The Washington Post, though, mentions Enron only in words attributed to Cheney.

Erm, didn’t Congress start asking for this information nine months ago, when Enron was trading at $60 and was, as far as the public was aware, healthy?

So why is Cheney all of a sudden eager to link this to Enron? It seems to me that if the public thinks that Enron bigwigs were trying to get favors from the government in those meetings, they’ll be less tolerant of the information being withheld. It seems that the White House should be doing everything it can at the moment to deflect accusations of Enron cronyism; Cheney seems to be inviting them.

He would be better off using his explanation from last week (he’s been changing tune literally by the day recently), which is that if information about who was part of the task force were made public, people would be less likely to participate in similar things in the future.

However, had he done that, all the sidebar links on all the news websites would be to other stories about the energy task force issue. As is is, they’re to other Enron stories.

If the links were to other energy task force stories, it’d be easier to figure out that what Congress is seeking (at least at the moment) is not a complete transcript of the meetings, but just a list of who was at the meetings (see this story from just last week).

My guess is that those meetings dealt with something that’s potentially much, much more damaging than any temporary seeming-Enron-affiliation could possibly be — and something that’s worth the risk. We’re so used to U.S. government ‘policy’ consisting of little more than platitudes, subsidies, and favoritism toward campaign contributors that it’s easy to ignore the possibility that there’s actual work afoot here.

My suspicion is that the policy decided on by this Policy Task Force was the destruction of OPEC. This, and I think this alone, adequately explains Cheney’s actions and statments. The purpose of such a group could probably be divined from the still-secret guest list, since it would include not just CEOs of American energy companies but also officials and businessmen from other countries. And it would be of paramount importance to keep that quiet, lest OPEC discover what’s going on before it’s too late.

Posted by tino at 12:55 28.01.02
Friday 25 January 2002

RIP Pete Parisi

Pete Parisi, St. Louis public-access television icon, has died. And the world is poorer for it.

Posted by tino at 20:21 25.01.02

Wham! Pow! Crash! Zot!

they fight, and bite, and fight and bite and fightThough the trend seems to have abated somewhat of late, we still hear on a regular basis about the dangers of cartoon violence, and how children cannot possibly understand that while Wile E. Coyote can fall off a cliff and not be seriously injured (aside from being temporarily turned into a concertina), they, being neither coyotes nor cartoon characters, cannot. (Watching those same cartoons when I was a wee tot never gave me the notion that I could jump off cliffs, but then I’m not the child of Boomers, either.)

Anyway, last week we were watching Die Hard for the umpteenth time, and it occurred to us that a far larger problem is violence on the screen enacted by humans: not that there’s too much of it, but that so much of it is so damned unrealistic.

These examples aren’t drawn from any film in particular, but most if not all of them do occur in Die Hard. Most of the following things happen in most action movies:

  1. Man with a short-barrelled pistol accurately shoots targets at long range
  2. Combatants with machine guns fire hundreds and hundreds of rounds at one another in an enclosed space; no-one is injured.
  3. In hand-to-hand combat, people are kicked repeatedly in the head; when this happens, they just “shake it off” and re-enter the fray.

All of these things are entirely unrealistic, and I’d suggest that they result in far more problems in real life than anything than happens to Homer Simpson.

People see actual human beings on the screen shooting at someone 200 feet away with a handgun held with one hand; this leads to random bystanders getting shot in real life.

People see these machine-gun battles on the screen, and fail to properly appreciate what will happen when you try this in real life. First of all, you’re not even going to be able to see your targets after the first dozen shots or so, because of all the smoke and dust. And at least one of your posse will be injured with that much lead flying around. Conversely, if you are approached by several men with machine guns, you have pretty much lost the fight already, unless you have a fragmentation grenade hidden in your pocket, or a sniper hidden in the rafters.

The biggest problems, though, come not from the guns but from the fighting. Most people don’t have guns, and people who do have guns usually have some experience with what the gun will and will not do. And when they don’t know, they usually assume that the gun is incredibly powerful, will shoot locks off, cause things to explode, etc., the strange thing with the machine-guns notwithstanding.

Everybody’s got fists and feet, though, and most people haven’t been in a fight since high school, if ever. What they know of fighting they’ve learned from watching highly-trained athletes duke it out in the boxing ring, and from movies.

In the boxing ring, even these highly-trained athletes are often staggering around after a few rounds of batting at each other with padded gloves. In movies, you see these ordinary guys getting repeatedly kicked in the head and/or hit with big sticks, only to bounce right back. (Though, strangely enough, in movies being hit on the head (or neck, or just about anywhere) with the butt of a pictol knocks you right out for the rest of the scene.)

The useful crusade against violence in media would be against unrealistic fighting. The trouble is that realistic fighting isn’t all that picturesque (or of long duration). If filmmakers were required to portray fights as something like physiologically accurate, they’d soon either write the fights out of the scripts because they’re boring, or they’d move toward a more Jackie-Chan-esque ballet with occasional groin kicks.

Or, more likely, they’d just hand everyone a machine gun.

Posted by tino at 12:36 25.01.02
Thursday 24 January 2002

Life Continues to Imitate The Simpsons

First, there are people actually trying to sue the Coca-Cola Company in (unwitting) imitation of Marge’s over-the-top ban on sugar as a threat to Springfieldians; now, a school bus driver named Otto has taken a busload of kids on a joy ride.

It turns out that the kids helped Otto plan the route and played games while he drove. One of the kids said, “We were having fun. We were having cars honk their horns.” Otto even bought the kids lunch at Burger King.

The parents, on the other hand, were Concerned and Alarmed, as the SOP manual says they should be. One parent called his six-hour ‘ordeal’ “the most horrible thing I’ve ever experienced.” He does not connect this to the fact that he is a Pessimist.

Posted by tino at 23:11 24.01.02
Wednesday 23 January 2002

Excitement in Reston

According to The Washington Post, John Walker was flown into Dulles Airport tonight before being helicoptered to the jail in Alexandria, Virginia.

Reston is only a few miles from Dulles, and the main road from the airport into Washington runs right through the middle of town. When I went to pick up Nicole from work, I noticed a whole lot of cars with very unofficial-looking laser-printed signs reading “Official Traffic Survey” posted in their windows parked up on the grass near the airport road and at all nearby intersections; there was even one in front of AOL. This isn’t unheard of, but actual Fairfax County traffic surveys tend to be conducted by a single guy in a single old truck — I mean, we all know the traffic is awful without conducting a “survey” at all — not young guys in suits occupying a dozen late-model Crown Victorias bristling with antennas. The (marked) police were also out in force, and there was at least one van with D.C. plates and a TV camera on a tall pole watching the airport road.

Possibly this was part of the backup plan in case the helicopter broke down.

Posted by tino at 21:58 23.01.02

“Minorities” and Language

A recent article in The Boston Globe (which has, of course, since been removed because the Boston Globe website is like that) touches on a number of subjects I’ve been complaining about recently, so I’d like to dissect it here.

It’s headlined “For some, a word weighs heavily: ‘Minority’ label gets a second look”. It’s about an apparent injustice done to members of, well, minority demographic groups by calling them “minorities”. The article says that opponents of the ‘minority’ “say it’s demeaning because it has come to mean individuals who are lesser people.” However:

As Boston steps into the forefront of a growing debate over whether the word has the outdated ring of ”Negro,” ”Oriental,” ”Spanish,” and ”Eskimo,” there’s discord over which replacement term to use.

The Boston City Council, which voted unanimously last month to delete the term from official documents (Mayor Thomas M. Menino later vetoed the move) favors ”people of color.” But many argue that this leaves out light-skinned people.

In San Diego, the only US city that has banned the word ”minority” from official use, they use the terms ”people of color,” ”underserved,” and ”underrepresented.” The contract compliance office uses ”DBE,” the acronym for Disadvantaged Business Enterprise.

So, let me get this straight: it’s demeaning to refer to groups of people as “minorities” just because their numbers are such that they are a mathematical minority of the population as a whole. And in order not to be demeaned, these people need to be referred to as “disadvantaged” based solely on their skin color? Or to define them based on their skin color, as the term “people of color” does? I’d like to point out that the terms colored and nigger — totally socially unacceptable because they’re so demeaning — do precisely the same thing.

But wait, it’s not just skin color:

Pedro Pirez says that if you change the term from ”minority” to ”people of color,” he would be left out.

”I am a minority but I am not a person of color,” said Pirez, owner of Tara Construction, a company listed with the state as a minority-owned business. ”If I say that I am, I’d be lying. I have white skin and blue eyes.”

Pirez, 42, is a Cuban who came to the United States in the 1980 Mariel Boat Lift. He arrived with little and worked hard to build his business. […]

Pirez said he prefers the term ”minority” because it defines a people who are at the bottom of the political, social, and economic ladder.

Mr. Pirez’s company has, since he founded it in 1988, grown to the point where it’s currently working on a $15 million contract to build an apartment complex in Boston. (Information here. Warning: PDF!)

That’s right: someone who came to the United States as a refugee and can, in fourteen years build a business from nothing to single jobs worth $15 million is disadvantaged. He is, in his own words, “at the bottom of the social, political, and economic ladder.”

Social ladder? Here is an aerial photograph of the neighborhood in North Andover, MA, where Mr. Pirez seems to live.

Here is the PRIZM report for his zip code. It’s solidly middle-class; and judging from the distance between houses in the photograph, it appears that Mr. Pirez lives in the nicer part of his zip code.

Political ladder? He’s interviewed by the Boston Globe for his opinions on the activities of the Boston city council.

And economically? Well, see the PRIZM data linked above. While Mr. Pirez is obviously a good businessman and is re-investing a lot of his company’s profits in its continued growth, he does own a corporation with millions of dollars of annual revenue. I very seriously doubt that his children are wearing hand-me-downs.

I don’t mean to pick on Mr. Pirez; rather, I applaud him. He’s the living embodiment of the American Dream. And besides, there are other interesting things in that Globe article.

The Executive Director of the Boston Lawyers Group, an organization that helps recruit attorneys of color — a phrase they actually use — says that the term “people of color” actually doesn’t refer to skin color, but rather to underrepresented groups.

This is not a new idea. In the Old South, you didn’t have to have dark skin to be “colored”. Homer Plessy, the famous petitioner in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, was, to all appearances, white: only one of his great-grandparents had been black. This was enough, though, under Louisiana state law, to require him to sit in the coach reserved for such persons. I am certain that the architects of the Jim Crow south would be proud to find that people in the city of Boston are today engaged in a debate over how much of a certain type of blood makes a person colored.

And at Boston College — it really pains me to see Jesuits screwing around with all this — they avoid the whole sticky mess entirely by using the “ethnic-sounding” acronym AHANA, which stands for “African, Hispanic, Asian, Native American”.

”The word helps form a coalition of students of color,” said Donald Brown, director of the Office of AHANA Student Programs, which focuses on retention and graduation. ”I emphasize that it doesn’t take away from them. I tell them that the sum is greater than all their parts.”

But he seems not to notice that AHANA is just a euphemism, and that euphemisms always lose their ability to shield understanding from reality when the underlying circumstances don’t change.

Black people in America used to be commonly referred to as ‘niggers’, without any pejorative sense other than that which was then generally attached to black skin. ‘Nigger’ was seen as demeaning, so ‘colored’ or ‘negro’ began to be used by polite people. Over time, ‘colored’ was itself, well, colored by social prejudice, and ‘black’ replaced it. In the last ten years, ‘black’ has fallen somewhat out of favor, with ‘African-American’ replacing it. The fact that all these euphemisms — ‘colored’, ‘negro’, ‘black’ — have been used by leaders and organizations in the, er, black community should clearly show that when these terms were devised, there was no opprobrium attached to them. And yet all of them have eventually become, if not hateful terms, certainly ones that you won’t see too often in the New York Times. ‘People of color’, ‘disadvantaged’, ‘AHANA’ and the rest are simply new euphemisms that have not yet had any (much?) cultural baggage attached to them. In the long run, they will fare no better than the old euphemisms did.

Some of these new euphemsms are actually much worse than the old ones. Our friend Mr. Pirez used to be ‘Hispanic’, or ‘an immigrant’. Now, though, he’s ‘disadvantaged’, which is far worse. ‘Hispanic’ describes his ethnicity (though not very well); ‘disadvantaged’ describes his condition, a circumstance that he’s in because of his ethnicity, and a circumstance that he can, therefore, never, ever hope to change.

As I said, the Jim Crow-ists must be smiling.

Posted by tino at 12:08 23.01.02
Tuesday 22 January 2002


Tino will offer free Tinotopia merchandise to anyone who can point him to an account, in the legitimate commercial media, of anyone being injured, deliberately or accidentally, by a nail file of the sort that’s considered to dangerous these days.

Nail Clippers

This is the sort of thing I’m talking about. The nail file on these clippers is about two inches long — if that — and incredibly flimsy. Yet it seems that it’s also a terribly dangerous weapon when carried on board an aircraft or into a school.

My hypothesis is that “the authorities” are not just being overcautious, but that they’ve gone entirely over the edge and that these things are not at all dangerous.

Tell me where I can find a news account of this kind of nail file causing at least moderately-serious injury (i.e. scratches don’t count) to a human being — either accidentally on or purpose, and you’ll get a Tinotopia promotional item of your choice absolutely free.

Posted by tino at 14:19 22.01.02

Zero Tolerance for Kids with Cancer

Here’s a column about a seventh-grader with Hodgkin’s lymphoma who was excluded from school in Montgomery County, Maryland because the school system was afraid that his chemo pack might jeopardize “the health and welfare of Jonathan and his fellow students”. Never mind that the NIH said that there was no such danger, of course.

He’s back in school now; his family hired a lawyer, which seems to only way to get anything done in this country any more.

The column has some more interesting things to say about zero-tolerance the the recent idiocy of school systems, though.

Posted by tino at 13:52 22.01.02
Monday 21 January 2002

Terrorism, America, and Community

An article in The Times describes an anti-terrorism training class in Miami:

When Trevor Sealy decides to sacrifice his 18-month-old daughter’s life in the hope of saving everyone else on board a hijacked plane, he is greeted with wild applause.

“That’s right, God bless,” says Nelson Ricardo, aiming to soothe the 31-year-old private investigator. It was Ricardo who had egged him into his fateful decision, knowing that the infant was Sealy’s only child, but urging simply: “You have to.”

Sealy knows that with the lives of hundreds of others at stake, he has no option. Painful though it is, he has to make his move on the terrorist holding a knife to his little girl’s throat.


Moments earlier a stewardess who had a knife held to her jugular by a man in a balaclava was sentenced to die by her fellow passengers. “Will you be willing to sacrifice her life?” Ricardo asked. “You would? That’s great.”

I think that this is hopeful, not necessarily on the anti-terrorism front, but in a broader sense.

The United States holds individualism above all else. This has generally served us well, but in the absence of a national ethnic identity, we seem to drift toward an every-man-for-himself attitude.

Posted by tino at 23:28 21.01.02

American TV and Prudery

On Sunday, I turned on the TV to find that TiVo had, at 2:00 that morning, recorded a showing of Flirting with Disaster for me. It’s a funny movie, so I decided to watch it.

Since it was on the USA Network — “basic” cable TV with commercials and all — I expected some bowdlerization, but what I got was incredibly foul.

Not only had entire scenes been cut (for time as well as content, I have to assume), but a lot of the scenes that were not cut were, well, altered.

In this scene, Mel (played by Ben Stiller) fondles his wife’s clothed breast:

This is apparently too steamy for American TV — even at 2:00 a.m. on Sunday — so it must be blurred.

This — shown three minutes later — is acceptable, however, presumably because it’s an advertisement:

Now, I have no problem with this kind of ad being aired — especially at 2:00 a.m. on Sunday — but I don’t really understand what we’re being protected from in the film if the network is actually selling sex in the commercial breaks. (This frame isn’t really representative of the sex ads that were on; but most of the shots in them were of such extreme close-ups (of forbidden body parts) that they aren’t particularly identifiable when not in motion.)

In this scene, Mel’s wife performs fellatio on him. I’ll admit that this is a bit risqué, but I am puzzled at the blurring:

I’m puzzled because, when the movie was made, the producers were careful to keep all the action, as it were, off the screen. Her head is almost entirely below the bottom of the frame, and what isn’t out-of-frame entirely is hidden by a cleverly-placed stuffed animal. It is this stuffed animal that is blurred in the still frame. The scene was left in, so the idea must be acceptable; it’s the sight that would destroy our innocence. Why the stuffed animal needs to be blurred, I don’t know.

This scene, where Mel gets it on with a Psychologist Not His Wife, can be left totally unaltered:

But this one of Mel changing his son’s diaper has to be blurred because it shows the baby’s wang:

So, if I understand this correctly: Sex as a concept is okay. Philandering is acceptable for television, as is fellatio. None of these ideas are potentially harmful to viewers, as long as they don’t see certain dirty, hateful parts of the human body. Yeeees, well, that’s a healthy attitude.

Posted by tino at 22:52 21.01.02

Racism in America

In the Miami Herald, Leonard Pitts, Jr. writes:

Hey, when you find a black bigot, feel free to censure and ostracize him or her as the circumstance warrants. I don’t care. Just don’t pretend the transgression is what it is not. Don’t claim it represents a significant threat to the quality of life of white Americans at large.

I’d define racism differently from Mr. Pitts. In a recent column, he defined “racism” as “th[e] practice of demeaning and denying based on the darkness of skin.” (In this column, he seems to back down from that.) And I’d say that racism is a threat to everyone’s quality of life.

I think that a much better definition of racism is: “the belief that the color of a person’s skin, or his genetic makeup, determines what he is in any socially significant way”.

So the KKK is a racist organization, because they believe that black people are somehow inherently inferior. People who complain about Jewish control of finance and media are racist because they believe that this control has something to do with people’s being Jewish (which doesn’t constitute being a member of a “race” anyway). And Marion Berry’s firm belief that the lack of respect he got while he was mayor of Washington, D.C. was because he was black — and not because he was an idiot — is also racist.

Race, by and large, doesn’t matter in most of America these days. There are relatively few black CEOs of large corporations, but then there are very, very few black people of appropriate age (most of these guys are pretty old) who have the skills and experience necessary to run a Fortune 500 company. When the white CEOs of today were going to business school and starting their careers, those careers weren’t open to black people — or women, for that matter. That was real discrimination, and we’re still seeing the effects of that today.

Nevertheless, it’s possible to be black and be Secretary of State, or National Security Advisor, or to be black and be CEO of AOL Time Warner, of of Maytag, or of Avis, or of American Express, or Symantec, or Covad. You can be black and president (but not CEO) of Merrill-Lynch, and of thousands of other large companies.

One thing that I’m sure of, though, is that few if any of the highly-placed people — of any color — in America today believed, growing up, that they were marked for failure because of some innate characteristic. All of them believed in themselves, got good educations, and, most importantly, understood what they really had to do to get ahead.

The real racist tragedy in America today is that we’re telling millions of young people that the challenge they have is the color of their skin — something they can’t do anything about — when the challenge they face is in fact one of class.

Class — and, more specifically, the unconscious understanding of the culture and the society that comes with a middle-class or higher outlook — is the key. You can’t be CEO unless you follow the right career path; you can’t follow the right career path unless you get the right kind of education, and at the right university; you can’t get into the right university unless you’ve not just completed high school, but completed it in the right way. You can’t complete high school in the right way unless you are at least moderately intelligent and unless you — this is the important part — know what “the right way” means.

The kid growing up in the ghetto likely grows up knowing none of this. He probably knows that “going to college” is a requirement for success, but he probably doesn’t know what he kinds of things he should study in college, or where he should do it. That kind of information has to be sought out — you have to know where to look. And you have to know that you have to know where to look.

And if he (or his family) knows where to look, he or they have to know how to apply: for admission, for scholarships, for financial aid, for grants, for loans, and all the rest. This information isn’t secret, and it isn’t doled out only to white families with straight teeth. It’s not straightforward, either, and it’s not done exactly according to the written policies.

In the second season of The Sopranos, there’s a series of events surrounding Meadow’s — the family’s daughter’s — college applications. Carmella, her mother, is consumed with the need to get a letter of recommendation to Georgetown from an acquaintance who is president of the local Georgetown alumni association. The acquaintance doesn’t want to write one, because the Sopranos are a mob family, after all, but eventually does after persistent and blunt requests from Carmella. Carmella has the social knowledge that families in the ghetto do not. She knows how the game is played.

If our hypothetical ghetto resident believes that he’s not being admitted to Georgetown not because he has no knowledge of how the game is played — knowledge that can be gained — but because of the color of his skin — which can’t be changed and that his children are likely to share — there’s not much hope.

Posted by tino at 21:30 21.01.02

Get Robbed, Get Suspended From School

If these two kids are so dangerous that they need to be suspended for a year, why is their school district looking into “open enrollment into a different district”?

Oh, but wait. They’re not dangerous. The superintendent of their school district says that there was never any “physical harm or threat” to the school or other students. And he goes on to say that the students were not “trouble makers”. So why, then, are they being suspended?

It’s because of a gun; one student had been hunting over the weekend and forgot it in his car in the school parking lot the following Monday. It was stolen from his car; he reported this to the police; the student who had stolen it brought it back the next day; they’re both being suspended for a year.

This is especially good; we want to do everything we can to discourage people from reporting crimes to the police. Far better if they fear that they will themselves be punished for their trouble, and instead take the law into their own hands.

Posted by tino at 17:52 21.01.02

8-year-old suspended from school for nail file

According to this column in the Washington Post, Dustin Rogers, 8, was suspended from school last month — and the machinery to expel him from school was set into motion — because he brought to school nail clippers on a keychain. I’m assuming these were the folding type, because the school was particularly concerned about the “dangerous” 2-inch “blade” (i.e. nail file) attached.

Those nail files seem to be seen as a risk nearly everywhere these days. I wonder if there has ever been a documented case of someone being injured with one.

Posted by tino at 17:44 21.01.02

More Goldberg

I don’t usually post two things from the same source twice in a row, but Jonah Goldberg is on a roll. He echoes some things I said a while back, but in better language:

Whether or not you buy that, the fact remains that calling folks “people of color” is at least no better than calling them “colored.” Indeed, the practice is just one small sign of how completely the racialist Left has abandoned the moral juggernaut that was Martin Luther King’s original argument: that everyone should be judged by the content of their character rather than by the color of their skin.
Posted by tino at 17:02 21.01.02

Factual Correctness

Jonah Goldberg is by turns asinine and brilliant. One of his recent columns, on the whole New York firefighter statue issue, falls well on the “brilliant” side of the line. He says, in part:

Remember that black fireman’s declaration: “I think the artistic expression of diversity would supersede any concern over factual correctness.” “Factual correctness”! I just think that’s brilliant, even if it was by accident. We think the politically correct are silly because they elevate “inclusiveness” over all other criteria. The handicapped are “physically challenged,” failures are “non-traditional successes,” ex-convicts are members of the “ex-offender community” […], and so on.

The entire column must really be read, though.

Posted by tino at 16:58 21.01.02


I am not sure that this article is not entirely satirical.

On its face, it’s a bitingly satirical article about a “Men’s History Month” allegedly held at a high school in Vallejo, CA. One of the students quoted as criticizing it, though, is named “Samantha Ofeira-Tuitamaiaumailuantin Fatiula”.

Interesting concept, though. If we’re going to have a month in which we feature women’s achievements as such (as opposed to simply human achievement), we might also benefit from a men’s month, when the great achievements of men throughout the ages could be studied and celebrated.

The chief benefit of that, of course, is that the absurdity of the whole thing would become readily apparent and we could do away with all the various “My Special Group Months” that currently litter the calendar.

Posted by tino at 16:47 21.01.02
Sunday 20 January 2002

President Bush and the Sanctity of Life

Today is “National Sactity of Human Life Day” according to this White House proclamation.

The real point, of course, is a predictable GOP anti-abortion message. The proclamation specifically mentions the “moral dut[y]” of “caring for children — born and unborn.”

But the proclamation goes on to say that

we should join together in pursuit of a more compassionate society, rejecting the notion that some lives are less worthy of protection than others, whether because of age or illness, social circumstance or economic condition.

It seems to me that having been convicted of murder, or of certain drug offenses which also carry the death penalty, is certainly a “social circumstance”. Yet I don’t think that Bush is going to become any less execution-happy in the wake of this.

Posted by tino at 15:09 20.01.02

One Man’s Terrorist Is Another Man’s Freedom Fighter

A story in the Washington Times complains about a 1998 U.S. Army training video that dealt, in part, with terrorism. The Times story says, in part:

The Army video also puts forth the notion that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, pointing out that French resistance fighters in World War II were terrorists because they blew up bridges during Nazi occupation. The analogy is upsetting because the U.S. Army provided assistance to the French fighters, and bridges are legitimate military targets in military operations.

Of course, the Times and other conservative news outlets are up in arms about this: about the whole terrorist-vs.-freedom-fighter idea, and about the fact that this video was produced during the Clinton administration (which most of these organizations are still bitter about).

I don’t understand this. One man’s terrorist is another’s “freedom fighter”. The Boston Tea Party, for example, is easily a terrorist act, if you owned the tea. If the American Revolution had failed, Jefferson et al. would have been hanged and remembered as traitors and terrorists, not unlike Guy Fawkes.

The difference between terrorism and “freedom fighting” is one of perspective. When the actions are in my interest, it’s insurgency; against me, it’s terrorism.

I think that the conservative war against these words is a struggle — “freedom fight”, if you will — against moral relativism. Trouble is, the crucial difference is in the motivation and the purpose of the movement behind the terrorism/insurgency, not the actions. People who are fighting in certain ways for bad causes are terrorists; for good causes, guerillas or what-have-you.

The error that people and organizations like Reuters and the BBC have been making recently — the error that’s so infuriating — is to either be too stupid or too intent on appearing “cosmopolitan” to know what is in their own interest (or that they have an interest in the matter at hand at all). Accepting that other people have different opinions is a requirement of being an adult, and is nothing that the Army (or Clinton) should be ashamed of. Believing that other people’s incorrect opinions are valid is the error to avoid.

Posted by tino at 14:58 20.01.02
Friday 18 January 2002

Legislators Getting Rid of Enron-Related Donations

This article mentions numerous lawmakers who are returning or donating campaign contributions from Enron, Enron employees, Andersen, etc., because they don’t want to be seen as being in Enron’s pocket.

But they’re still in the pockets of the rest of the Fortune 500, right? Not to mention foreign governments and corporations.

Posted by tino at 19:24 18.01.02

The Maggot Eating Jack Valenti’s Brain Soldiers Bravely On

In this article in the New York Times, Jack Valenti is quoted as saying, on behalf of the MPAA, that “We’re fighting our own terrorist war” against people who would pirate movies online.

So, copying movies is morally equivalent to, say, crashing airplanes into buildings and killing thousands of people. If Jack Valenti really believes this, then he should also believe that the MPAA would be justified in sending hit squads out to kill people who would pirate movies. Pirates are terrorists, right? Then really no remedy should be out of the question. Perhaps the MPAA needs its own nuclear arsenal.

Mr. Valenti either needs to tone down his rhetoric, or he needs to be locked up because he has now gone completely insane and presents a threat to the safety of others.

(The article also quotes Valenti as saying “The great moat that protects us, and it is only temporary, is lack of broadband access.” This is interesting, as it seems to confirm something Lawrence Lessig said in an article I wrote about last week. At the time, I thought that Lessig was exaggerating or at least barking up the wrong tree. Valenti’s comments make me wonder whether that’s true.)

Posted by tino at 19:06 18.01.02

“Drug” War Gone Entirely Insane

One might say that the Drug War couldn’t get any worse, but it appears that it has. The Washington Post reported last Sunday that the DEA is ordering all foods containing any hemp products to be pulled from store shelves by early next month. Cosmetics and such can still be sold, provided that none of the hemp products in them can be absorbed by the body.

In the United States, any product containing any THC at all — THC is the main drug in dope — is considered to be a controlled substance. In the Post article, the DEA spokesman says of this, “The fact of the matter is we are here to enforce the laws of the U.S. Yes, there are other matters going on in the rest of the world, but the American public expects us to continue our duties.”

And apparently their duties involve keeping things like Hemp Plus Granola off the shelves, even though the DEA itself admits that you can’t get high from the stuff and that it’s not dangerous.

It turns out, the Post goes on to say, that The Family Research Council has been pestering the DEA to enforce this idiotic law.

The Family Research Council, whose motto is “Defending family, faith, and freedom,” usually concerns itself with anti-abortion lobbying, anti-gay-rights lobbying, and attacking TV networks for not producing enough “family” shows. Somehow, “family research” also involves making sure that people don’t eat foods made from certain plants. Robert L. Maginnis, the FRC’s VP of Policy, says that “hemp has become a stalking horse for the drug legalization movement.”

I see now. Just like marijuana is a “gateway drug”, leading almost unavoidably toward an early junkie’s death from a overdose of horse, so products containing hemp are “gateway products”, themselves leading to use of that gateway, the Demon Weed, in the first place. Yes. Of course. That makes sense.

Particularly galling is the fact that idiots like the FRC like to call themselves “conservatives” and argue for “less” goverment “intrusion” into our lives. Until it comes to a life-or-death matter like whether a product that’s acknowledged to be safe and that isn’t a drug can be used in food products in the U.S., that is.

Posted by tino at 18:57 18.01.02

Some more FDNY idiocy

The New York Times reports:

Lt. Paul Washington, president of the Vulcan Society, which represents black firefighters, said his organization was not upset by the decision [to scuttle the firefighter memorial statue with faux racial diversity added]. But he said whatever monument or monuments are now planned should recognize that 12 black firefighters were among the 343 killed on Sept. 11.

Yes, because just recognizing them as firefighters and Americans who died would obviously not be enough. (Incidentally, I don’t see anyone complaining about the fact that white people, both in the WTC and in the fire and police departments, were seriously overrepresented among the dead on September 11. You can bet your sweet bippy that if any other ethnic group had been overrepresented, there’d have been a hue and cry about how the Downtrodden Minorities had been made to bear more than their “fair share” even of the burden of terrorism. But I digress.)

Perhaps what Lt. Washington wants is a Vietnam-Veteran’s-Memorial-style listing of the dead, with an asterisk next to each black firefighter’s name. This strikes me as something you might have seen in a war memorial in Alabama in 1950, though: “*-Negro”. I have said before that the worldviews of the forces of “multiculturalism” and the KKK seem to be edging closer and closer together. Here’s another example.

Posted by tino at 15:38 18.01.02

Enron, the Government, Corporate Bribes, and You

The Washington Post today carries a story headlined Enron’s Influence Reached Deep Into Administration. I think the Post is “reaching”, personally.

A lot of Enron’s “reach” comes from nothing more than the fact that the President is a Texan who was involved in the oil industry, and that Enron is a Texan pipeline company. When he looks in his Rolodex to find people to work for him in the White House, he’s naturally going to come up with a lot of people who’ve worked for Enron at some point.

What I’m interested in is John Ashcroft’s recusal of himself from the Enron investigation because he’d taken about $57,000 in campaign contributions from them while he was a senator. I think that Ashcroft did the right thing; I don’t think it would be fair to expect the man to be impartial in investigating a company that had been his benefactor like that. The Attorney General apparently understands that.

However, the fact that Ashcroft feels the need to step back from the Enron investigation because of their generosity in supporting his campaigns forces me to question the validity of his votes in the Senate on energy matters. If Enron’s gifts in 1999 and 2000 — actually, they were gifts from Enron executives, but that ultimately means the same thing — were enough to taint Ashcroft’s judgement now, then what were they doing in 1999 and 2000? What are Enron’s contributions to every other member of the Senate doing in that body today?

I’m sure that Ashcroft, if questioned on the matter, would say that he’d recused himself merely to eliminate the possibility of any “appearance of impropriety”. If it’s just a matter of appearances, though, doesn’t Ashcroft owe it to the American people — his employers — to do his job and to thoroughly explain how what he’s doing is not improper, in light of those campaign contributions?

I don’t mean to pick on Ashcroft here; he’s not alone in this, and so far he appears to be treading carefully in an attempt to do a conscientious job. But if taking large campaign contributions from corporate donors like Enron renders you unable to fully perform the job you’ve been hired (appointed, elected) to do, perhaps accepting those donations is cause to disqualify you from holding the position. That seems to be the Attorney General’s opinion, at least with regard to himself in this case.

Posted by tino at 15:13 18.01.02

Idiocy on the wane at FDNY — maybe


It appears that, after much outcry, the the New York Fire Department is reconsidering its insane plan to diversify the statue to be made of the three (white) firefighters raising the flag at the World Trade Center.

However, if you read the Washington Post article carefully, you’ll note that the fire department does not say that they’re looking in the direction of making a statue that’s actually representative of the event:

Late this afternoon, the fire department bowed to that pressure. After a day of meetings with Bruce Ratner, the statue’s benefactor, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta announced he “will consider new options” for a memorial.

It seems that we either get a racially-diverse flag-raising, or something else entirely.

Question: If three African-American firefighters, or three Hispanic firefighters, had raised that flag, how likely is it that the fire department would insist on inserting a white guy into their midst? I’d be just as pissed off if that happened, but somehow I don’t think it would.

Posted by tino at 12:44 18.01.02

Notification List

If you wish to be notified when the Tino Log is updated, send mail to Tino and he’ll add you to the list.

This may be particularly useful when the log isn’t being updated all that often (e.g. this week).

Posted by tino at 12:20 18.01.02

Philips and Copy-Protected CDs

This article at The Register looks at Philips’ current position on copy-protected CDs. (Philips owns the “Compact Disc” standard, and licenses the use of the term and logo for products that comply with it.) It concludes rightly that Philips is not necessarily fighting on the side of piracy against the Evil Recording-Industry Megalith, but rather just balking at the incredibly flaky ‘copy-protection’ schemes being essaied these days by the record companies.

The interesting thing is that people are shocked — shocked! — and surprised to see a large company actually coming out on the side of its ultimate customers (i.e. you and me). The fact that it’s surprising that they see the interests of the people who consume their product — as opposed to coming up with a knee-jerk reaction that favors their own corporate short-term interests, or there middlemen’s, or their executives’ — is alarming. The customer isn’t always right, it’s true. Lately, though, most large companies (in all industries) seem to have decided that the customer is never right.

Posted by tino at 12:17 18.01.02

‘Racial’ Profiling and Airline Security

Nearly everywhere I look these days, I find another person arguing in favor of ‘profiling’ people for airline security purposes, i.e. searching young Arab-looking men extra thoroughly.

A lot of these people — most of them fairly intelligent otherwise — seem to be arguing this position just to show how P.C. they aren’t.

They never address the question of what to do when terrorists realize that this is going on. What happens when the threat comes from non-young, non-Arab-looking men who also happen to be Arabs and terrorists? What if, for example, this guy had shaved and cut his hair:


He doesn’t look very Arab, does he? Yet he tried to blow up an airplane using his shoe. If you focus on guns, the bad guys will use Stanley knives. If you focus on Arabs, the Arabs will find people who don’t trip your radar. I’ve got no problem with profiling, racial or otherwise, if it works. But I don’t think it will. Keep in mind that most if not all of the September 11 terrorists fit the then-current profile — one-way tickets paid for with cash, etc. — but were not spotted.

There is a Malcolm Gladwell article from October 2001, already referred to elsewhere on this site, that talks about some of these issues.

Posted by tino at 10:00 18.01.02
Thursday 17 January 2002

‘Justice’ Follies & The Death Penalty

This tale explains pretty well why I am strongly opposed to capital punishment in nearly all cases. The New York Times reports that the Supreme Court overturned a death sentence in South Carolina recently because the defendant was not allowed to inform the jurors that there was no chance that he would ever be released if sentenced to life in prison. The jurors, having listened to the prosecution’s tales of how dangerous the defendant was, and thinking that “life” in prison actually meant about ten years until parole, sentenced the man to death.

The problem here revolves around the judge’s and prosecution’s refusal to allow the jury to hear information that might have influenced their decision, because it might have caused them to reject the death penalty.

This isn’t a matter of the judge just omitting to tell the jury the meaning of “life imprisonment” in South Carolina. The judge could be excused for expecting the jury to figure it out for itself, or to ask. In this case, though, the defendant’s attorneys specifically asked the judge to inform the jury, and he refused, on the grounds that it was not required.

And that is the attitude that makes capital punishment in the United States such a deangerous thing. Our criminal “justice” system is not at all concerned with actual justice, but rather with procedure and with having the appearance of being “tough” on “crime”. You’ve got to have procedure, of course, but the purpose of that procedure should be to find the truth, not to arrive at as many convictions and death sentences as possible.

The jury, not the judge or the prosecutor, is charged with making decisions about guilt and sentencing. A system that truly sought justice would not withhold information from the jury because it might influence their decision. The very purpose of information is to influence their decision.

No system that deliberately withholds facts from decision-makers should be in a position of making life-and-death decisions. Hell, the way things are now, I don’t think this system should even be sending people to prison or levying fines.

This pattern isn’t limited to South Carolina, or to death-penalty cases. Hardly a week goes by these days without news of someone in prison for thirty years or so being released now because DNA analysis of the evidence shows that he could not possibly have been guilty. And more often than not in these cases, re-examination of the evidence with techniques that were available 30 years ago — like checking out alibis — show that it was clear even then that the defendant was not guilty. All of this because the system is interested in convictions — which can be counted and measured — and not in justice, which is harder to quantify.

I don’t see this changing any time soon. For an entire generation now — and particularly since the advent of the War on Some Drugs — the justice apparatus has been moving toward a position where they see the general population as their opposition.

The best recent illustration I’ve seen of this is a case in 1997 where a woman was arrested for not wearing her seat belt.

In that case, the Supreme Court upheld the police officer’s actions. When you’re pulled over by a cop for a traffic offense, you’re technically under arrest. The only reason you don’t spent a night in jail for going 57 mph on the freeway is that it’s inconvenient for the police.

I don’t think that whether the officer did or did not have the right to take the woman to jail isn’t the real issue, though. The real — and generally unexplored — question is: what was going on in that cop’s head, when he made the decision to arrest this woman (in front of her two children) and haul her to jail for an offense that carried a $50 fine? There was no indication that she was doing anything else wrong, and the $50 fine, not jail time, is the punishment that the legislature saw as fit for the crime.

Until that kind of thinking is eradicated from the justice system, I’m afraid that we’re going to drift more and more toward living in a police state. Until it is clearly understood by everyone in it that the system exists to serve ordinary society, not convenience and promotions for police, prosecutors, and judges, we won’t see a change from these patterns.

Until that happens, I will not be able to trust the justice system, and I will not be able to support capital punishment.

Posted by tino at 19:03 17.01.02
Monday 14 January 2002

DOI Web Services Still MIA

If you go to the main U.S. National Park Service website at http://www.nps.gov, you’ll find a notice to the effect that the website is shut down until further notice. If you go to the main Department of the Interior website — the Park Service is part of the DOI — you’ll find a little more information, including a link to a DOI memo about the court order that has resulted in this idiotic state of affairs.

It’s hard to untangle exactly what’s going on, but it appears that the DOI had, either through software bugs or lack of attention to what they were doing, put Indian trust information online in such a way that made it accessible to everyone.

The relevant part of the court order reads as follows:

… ORDERED that defendants shall immediately disconnect from the Internet all information technology systems that house or provide access to individual Indian trust data; and it is FURTHER ORDERED that defendants shall immediately disconnect from the Internet all computers within the custody and control of the Department of the Interior, its employees and contractors, that have access to individual Indian trust data

Okay, that makes sense. The court has found that information that should be private is accessible; it therefore orders the DOI to make this stuff inaccessible while the case drags on.

The DOI’s response, though, is utterly insane. They’ve disconnected everything they have from the Internet. They even disconnected the U.S. Geological Survey initially; that was at least re-connected after a while when they realized that the USGS’s information could, in some cases, mean the difference between life and death.

Still the NPS and other websites — and all DOI e-mail — are offline, though. Gives one great confidence in government.

Posted by tino at 19:25 14.01.02
Thursday 10 January 2002

My Tino The Car


Boo-yah. The Nissan Tino has been out for a while and is linked elsewhere on this site, but when I came across this photo I just couldn’t resist.

Posted by tino at 14:12 10.01.02

Employment practices as a cause of sprawl

This point came up in conversation the other night. Modern employment practices — where companies shed employees as their primary cost-cutting move — are a major cause of suburban sprawl in the United States.

A large part of the problem with our communities is that everyone owns a car, and everyone drives everywhere. Wouldn’t it be better, the traditional neighborhood design people ask, if it were possible to walk to the grocery store and work? You could save your car for things like going to Home Depot and for buying big loads of groceries for Thanksgiving dinner and such.

Problem is, these days it’s not really possible to do this unless you move every few years. Companies fire their employees when it suits them, and re-hire people later, when they realize that there’s nobody left to do the work. Because of this, where you work isn’t really important when you pick a place to live. Chances are, you’ll be working somewhere else in a few years anyway.

Just another one of the hidden costs of knee-jerk management by idiots.

Posted by tino at 14:06 10.01.02

Tinotopia Log moves to Movable Type

I am going to try doing this with Movable Type, rather than Blogger. Blogger is — for me at least — more difficult to customize than Movable Type, and I don’t like not having total control of my information (Blogger runs on Blogger’s server anf FTPs the files to my web server; Movable Type lives on Tinotopia).

Expect the look of this page to change a bit over the next few days. I am currently using one of the default Movable Type templates, and plan to change it to something more in the Tinotopia idiom soon.

An added benefit is that Movable Type has a built-in comment system, so you can respond to my rants right here. We’ll see how well that works.

Posted by tino at 13:35 10.01.02
Tuesday 08 January 2002

Broadband and corporate politics

There’s an excellent article by Lawrence Lessig in The Washington Post on factors holding back broadband network access for the masses in the United States. His take — and I am not sure I agree — is that it’s a matter of corporate fear, basically. Anyway, he makes some good points, including:

[…]piracy is not the most important reason copyright holders have been slow to embrace the net. A bigger reason is the threat the Internet presents to their relatively comfortable ways of doing business. “Major copyright holders” have enjoyed the benefits of a relatively concentrated industry. […]

Online music is the best example of this potential. Five years ago the market saw online music as the next great Internet application. A dozen companies competed to find new and innovative ways to deliver and produce music using the technologies of the Internet. […]

These experiments in innovation are now over. They have been stopped by lawyers working for the recording industry. Every form of innovation that they disapproved of they sued. And every suit they brought, they won. Innovation outside the control of the “majors” has stopped.

Whether or not these courts were right as a matter of substantive copyright law, what is important is the consequence of this regulation: innovation and growth in broadband have been stifled as courts have given control over the future to the creators of the past. The only architecture for distribution that these creators will allow is one that preserves their power within a highly concentrated market.

Posted by tino at 23:43 8.01.02
Monday 07 January 2002

Flight 587 Information

The New York Post reports that a number of eyewitnesses to the flight 587 crash in Queens in November are demanding to be called to testify at an NTSB hearing.

Many of the eyewitnesses report seeing flames explode from the plane before any parts fell off; these reports contradict the current official opinion, which maintains that unknown forces caused the plane to break apart, which in turn caused the explosion.

The article says, in part:

The witnesses said they were surprised NTSB Chairwoman Marion Blakey was able to say, only hours after the crash, that all indications pointed to an accident, rather than a terrorist attack.

“How could that statement be made while the flight-data recorder had not been recovered, the crash-investigation team had not yet showed up and initial eyewitness reports included many accounts of one or two explosions in flight?” [witness and retired firefighter Tom] Lynch said.

Posted by tino at 14:00 7.01.02
Friday 04 January 2002

Witnesses say Secret Service Agent was not abusive to AA staff

According to this article at CNN, Secret Service agent Walied Shater was not angry or disruptive as he was thrown off an American Airline flight last week. This contradicts the statements of the American Airlines pilot (here and the operations manager here. I would not be surprised if in the next few days, we hear of more independent witnesses who dispute the airline’s version of the story. Certainly my almost unalloyed experience of the last few years has been that the airlines see customers as their enemy, and treat them as such.

The real issue here, as I see it, is not one of possible discrimination against people of Middle-Eastern descent (as was the Secret Service agent). The issue is that the airlines seem to not see themselves as bound by the ordinary constraints of the market. Let’s assume, just for a moment, that American Airlines’ version of the story is 100% true. Here’s what happened:

  1. The agent filled out the paperwork for carrying a weapon on the flight.

  2. The agent was bumped from one flight to another, and changed the flight number on the form.

  3. The AA pilot asked the agent for his credentials five separate times — despite telling the AA operations manager that he didn’t trust the credentials anyway, since, in his own words to the operations manager now, mind you, “you work for the airline, you know how easy it would be to get fake I.D.”

  4. The operations manager suggested that the pilot, local agents, etc. get the police at BWI to verify that the passenger was, indeed, a Secret Service agent.

  5. Before this was done, apparently, the operations manager got a call from the pilot, who said that the passenger had been “verbally abusive” when asked for his ID for the umpteenth time. The publically available information does not specify what, precisely, this means.

  6. The operations manager says that “Based on this, I then decided to end boarding to this passenger on future AA flights.”

So. Because, during an American Airlines customer-service clusterfuck, a customer deigned to point out that the American Airlines personnel might be incompetent, AA decides to never take his money again.

Does this sound like a company (or industry, because AA isn’t alone in this kind of behavior) that deserves government subsidies? I don’t think so.

If it eventually turns out that the agent’s “verbal abuse” consisted of something like “You know, the reason that you guys are losing money isn’t because of terrorism, it’s because you all appear to be incompetent,” it’ll be all the more damning. If it turns out that he wasn’t anything that can reasonably be called “abusive” at all, all the AA people involved in the incident should be fired and not allowed to work in aviation again. The airlines are given enormous powers to impose their will on the traveling public because of “safety” and “security” concerns. If a passenger who gets frustrated at bad customer service is so dangerous that he cannot ever be allowed on a company plane again, then it seems very reasonable to conclude that airline employees who tell lies in the course of business are too untrustworthy to fly.

Posted by tino at 13:17 4.01.02
Thursday 03 January 2002

Book Publishing Update

Virginia Postrel has written a column in the New York Times that discusses the same issues with the book publishing industry that I wrote about recently.

Posted by tino at 10:23 3.01.02

The Continuing Infantilization of America

From an article in The Washington Post:

The Society for Adolescent Medicine, a physicians’ organization, now says on its Web site that it cares for persons “10 to 26 years” of age. A National Academy of Sciences committee, surveying programs for adolescents, discussed extending its review to age 30. (To which one committee member and mother of three gasped, “Oh my God, I hope not.”) The MacArthur Foundation has funded a $3.4 million project called Transitions to Adulthood, which pegs the end of that transition at 34.

Soon, everyone but Ronald Reagan and Bob Hope will be determined to actually be a child. I don’t think I have anything else to say about that right now.

Posted by tino at 02:24 3.01.02