Friday, July 29, 2005

Security and Reality Part II

I participated in an interesting conversation with several co-workers concerning the bag inspection policy discussed in the previous entry.

Myself and the other participants are all journalists, ranging in age from late 20s to mid 50s. One of the fellows at the upper end of the age group was quite adamant that my theory that the police should inspect those that fit the profile of the average suicide bomber was akin to the racial typecasting done by Hitler's Nazi Party. His primary argument was that the Nazis used physical attributes to weed out Jewish people for extermination. This is abosolutely true. The Nazis developed a wide range of stereotypical jewish features that they applied to people to help decide whether or not they were Jewish and deserved to be sent to the camps.

The difference is the Nazis were carrying out a genocide and we are trying to find crimminals. The Nazis took every Jew they found and tried to kill that person. They did not let any go. Through the dire necessity of trying to maintain the safety of the populace, we would detain people that fit the suicide bomber profile, but those with no bomb would go on their way. In addition, a person's appearance is only one part of the puzzle. If a Arab man was walking through with no bag and nothing that looked bomb vest strapped to his body then he would not be stopped.

My colleague would rather take the chance that killer could beat the mathematical formula used to check bags, get onto the subway and kill dozens, instead of being picked out of crowd using prejudicial techniques. I quite honestly cannot comprehend that anyone would be willing to risk the death of others just to maintain a facade of political correctness.

If all suicide bombers wore yellow baseball caps, wouldn't the police be able to check all people wearing such hats? Or if they only drove Toyota Corollas for car bombing missions, wouldn't every Corolla be checked on sight? Yes, that is called good police work.

I realize this blog is unfair in that my colleague is not here to counter my argument.
The other two guys involved tended to side with the argument by age, although not to the extreme that my co-worker and I took. Interestingly, we all agreed that the inspections themselves are useless in their current state.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Security and Reality

After contemplating this for several days, I have decided that there is no way to discuss the recently implemented security measures in New York City without coming across as a politically incorrect or a borderline bigot.

Be that as it may I decided to go ahead and post my thoughts on the topic.

A little background. After the second wave of terror attacks in London NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg decided to implement a plan that has the various city police agencies randomly checking bags as people head into the mass transit system.

I have no problem with this, although I do question its usefullness. (More on this later)

What does bug me is the system in place pulls people out of line based on some type of mathmatical equation. Say everything tenth person is inspected. What is specifically not taken into consideration is the person. Bloomber and the Metropolitian Transportation Police chief publicly stated that nobody will be checked based on their sex, race or age. In fact, a list will be kept detailing these particulars on everyone being inspected to ensure no profiling takes place.

This is the most foolish policy imaginable. Only one type of person is perpatrating these attacks. Men from their late teens to mid 40s primarily from northern Africa, Mid East and South East Asia. There have been a few women suicide bombers in Israel as well, but for the most part the it has been the same demographic. No tall, blond Swedish women, no short, bald white men, no 75-year old grandmothers, etc.

This is a rare case in policing when the authorities have a very good idea who to guard against, and they are throwing that advantage out the window. Profiling is a dirty word in law enforcement these days, but it is also the best tool any cop has to solve or prevent a crime.

For example. If searching for a made member of the Gambino crime family it would make zero sense to start arresting and interrogating African-Americans or Asians. No, you go to Howard Beach, NY or Bay Ridge and start talking to Italian-Americans. If you are looking for a member of the Bloods, you don't start questioning white kids from Boston's suburbs.

If you want to find a Muslim terrorist you look for people from the aforementioned regions. If the bags of innocent people from these places must also be checked, then you do so in the nicest manner possible and say thanks for your time. If they take offense, well that is too bad. Better to upset someone then have 75 people blown up on a bus. To do anthing else is a waste of time and money.

By handling the situation in this manner the authorities only check people with the highest potential of being terrorists.

Is it intrusive, yes, is it profiling yes, but will it make the currently hollow system have at least some chance of catching a bad guy before the bomb goes off.

Now, as far as the entire bag inspection idea goes I think it is a complete waste of time. Even if my decidedly politically incorrect measures are taken. Why. There are hundreds of subway entrances and thousands of bus stops. All a terrorists needs is a little patience and he will find an opening. And if not there 100,000 other places in New York City to go and kill large numbers of people.

My suggestion is for Mayor Bloomber, NY Governor George Pataki and President Bush to go on TV and tell the state and nation that no matter what type of hands on local security we try, the bad guys are going to get through. So instead of spending billions trying to stop them at the subway we will take that money and triple the size of our foreign intelligence services. Once they are found overseas our military will go to that place and kill them. If a nation decides harboring terrorists is in their best interest, well then that nation's leader will be asked to leave or will be blown out of his presidential palace.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Final Transport

James Doohan, AKA Scotty of Star Trek fame, passed away today at the age of 85.

Doohan was famous for playing one character, but as this Fox story shows he was a pretty amazing person. A WWII veteran with the Canadian Army, he was shot six times on D-Day at Juno Beach while serving as forward observer for an artillery battery. Then he put up with all of William Shatner's scene stealing shennagins on the TV show and the subsequent movies.

What is most interesting, and is stated fully in the above linked article, is how comfortable he was being Scotty. So many actors become typecast then spend the rest of their careers angry over the fact that nobody will accept them in any other role. I always have a hard time feeling bad for these actors. Considering how many thousands of people slave away to become famous it is the ultimate smack in the face to these actors from the hordes who are embittered because you are too well known.

And let's face it, if you are a good enough actor you can break the typecast and do other work. Look at Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Clint Eastwood or Alan Alda. All are best know for certain roles, but fans accept them as other characters because they are talented enough to pull it off.

So these single dimension entertainers should, like Doohan, embrace their celebrity for what it is and make the most of it. Doohan was smart enough to attend Trekkie conventions, although I am sure that was almost as trying an experience as D-Day, did the movies and never complained about his lot in life. Well, at least to me.

So good bye Commander Montgomery Scott, to bad Star Fleet never promoted you.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Harry Potter Google Hit Generator

I would like to add the 197 millionth Harry Potter reference for Google to count.

I don't believe any entertainment related release has ever generated more buzz then Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. The book sold 6.9 million copies in 24 hours making more money then the top 3 Hollywood movies over the weekend.

But to top it off, the book is worth it. Unlike the hysteria preceeding the final Star Wars installment, JK Rowling comes through 100%.

I'm just half-way through the 650 page tome, and I will not give a bit of the plot way. But I will say it is quite a bit different from the Order of the Phoenix. The story is just as well written and it's great to hear what Harry, Ron and Hermione are up to, but the tone is not the same. At this point I cannot say it is darker, although that is what all the reviews are stating, just different.

It is so enjoyable to read that I don't even care who the Half Blood Prince is, just reading Rowling writing is enough to keep me happy.

Friday, July 15, 2005

A Great Weekend For Nerddom

Time for another patented Rear View Mirror switch to its favorite non-news driven topic, science fiction.

With War of the Worlds out of the way, I have refocused my energy toward tonights season premiere of Battlestar Galactica. I'm not sure why the producers ended the series in late spring just to restart it again in July, but I thank the lords of Kobol that I don't have to wait until September to see if Commander Adama manages to survive taking a couple of rounds to the stomach.

The only other TV scifi series that was ever done in such a serious vane was The Twilight Zone. The Star Trek franchise, which I dearly love, was never as darkly written as Galactica. Those working on Galactica seem to put so much effort into the production and it clearly shows. Plus the viewer has a hard time figuring out what will happen next. Trekkers always knew that the good guys would win in the end, that all of the regular characters were safe and that for the most part the show the following week would take the crew on an entirely new mission.

The soap opera-like story line of Galactica keeps the audience guessing. After all, who thought Grace Park's character(s) would pump a few rounds into Adama, or get pregnant or show up naked on the Cylon base station. Well, I'm sure that was a dream of a few out there in geekland.

Let's hope the next group that puts out a Star Trek series takes a good hard look at Galactica.

Almost as exciting is tomorrow's release of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Vent though this is fantasy, not science fiction, I have been waiting for this book. JK Rowling is simply the best author on the planet right now. Period. Can anyone remember when a book release forced book stores to open at midnight to satisfy hungry customers? Her books generate interest normally seen only among Star Wars fans. Pretty amazing stuff.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Dutch Van Gogh Trial

The terrorist, whom I refuse to site by name, told the world the other day exactly what type of enemy we are fighting.

"I acted out of conviction and not our of hate," Mr. Bouyeri told the court. "If I'm ever released, I'd do the same again. Exactly the same."

Then he said to Van Gogh's mother that he could not feel her pain at the loss of her son because she is a non-believer.

These statements should make clear to anyone in the world that the enemy with which we are dealing cannot be reasoned with. We are not dealing with a logical group of people when it comes to the Islamic terrorists, or even the average Muslim. The terrorists want to kill us. Not open a dialogue or try and correct suspected wrongs. They want to bring death to all who oppose their will. I am not sure if the upper echelons of the terrorist heirarchy are truly driven by religious fervor or a Hitler-like desire for world domination. I am leaning toward the latter, with the thought that they are using religion to convince other Muslims that they are doing God's will. Just like the Pope did before the Crusades.

War of the Worlds, The Reality

In response to the London terror attacks last week, Sadiq Khan, a member of parliament gave this statement as printed in the Guardian.

His primary theme is the Muslim community cannot solve the problem of rooting out potential terrorists on its own.

"The issues surrounding the attacks need to be in the mainstream, and so do the solutions. Muslim organisations and community leaders are doing a good job with limited resources, skills and infrastructure - but it is simply not possible for them to influence the sections of society in which the extremism that motivated the bombings is being harnessed."

I find his statement to be ludicrous. With far fewer skills, resources and infrastructure terror organizations are able to convince young men to kill themselves and innocent civilians. Surely this is a more difficult task then convincing people to stay alive and get along with others.

So how can al Queda recruit, train and unleash suicide bombers in London, yet the local religious community is incapable of controlling its members? The answer, in my opinion, is the local Muslim population is not trying very hard to stop hard liners from perverting their religion, thus allowing the creation of fanatics. If a respected Imam were to stand in front of his people and say what al Queda and its allies are doing is wrong and must be stopped, the I would imagine it would be difficult to find suicide volunteers.

Next Khan takes on another sore point with Muslims.

"The parts we cannot reach are the parts we have to worry about, and the Muslim community cannot solve this on its own. "

Khan's comment strikes me as being at odds with one of the primary problems the West has faced in dealing with the Middle East. That is that region's fragile ego. I have read accounts that many Iraqi's feel humiliated when they cannot take care of their own problems, such as getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Instead of realizing they need outside assistance they become bitter and resentful at their helpers.

With this in mind, I think the end game is centered on Muslims helping themselves. Their leaders, such as Khan, have to stand up in the media every day and vehemently denounce terrorists actions. Where are the fatwa's being issued to demand and end to suicide bombings that kill Iraqi children? They are few and far between and I think this speaks volumes about the true feelings of Muslims. Could it be that despite the claims by those like Khan that most Muslims are against terror attacks they are in fact on the side of the attackers? Not that they wish to see their fellow Muslims killed, but because they feel every terror attack is a defeat for the West?

I certainly hope not because if that is true then this war truly has no chance of ending anytime soon.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

War of the Worlds, The Review

It has been brought to my attention that I never followed up my earlier post with my thoughts on the Steven Spielberg film.
I know, how can their be plot spoilers when we all know how the movie will end, but in this case Spielberg manages to place several new elements into the movie, so please read on only at your own risk.
In one word, the movie was great, despite several plot flaws that, while glaring, did no serious damage to film enjoyment factor. As described in the earlier reviews, by other less esteemed reviewers, the action started pretty quick and basically never stopped. Tom Cruise did a commendable job coming off as a lunk-head, blue collar guy who happens to be a simply terrible father. This is no mean feat for such a pretty boy. Dakota Fanning as his daughter was very good and an excellent screamer, always an essential ingredient for scary flicks.
The aliens are kind of gruesome, not as slimy as in Aliens, but acceptable. Their walker/attack craft hark back to HG Wells original description with long spidery legs and not to the 1950s movie where the looked more like flying saucers. Another very brief scene showed Spielberg did his homework. While searching for Cruise and company in an old basement one of the aliens takes a drink of water, as we all know Wells' Martians attacked Earth because their planet was drying out. However, that is not the reason these guys came knocking.
It is never exactly explained why they came this time. (Actually their walkers were already in place and waiting for their crews to arrive.) I believe this is omitted on purpose. Spielberg limited the amount of information available about what was going on away from the central actors. An interesting idea that he pulled off. The entire frame of the movie is centered on Cruise and his family as they struggle through Connecticut up to Boston to find the Cruise's ex-wife.
The aliens do not waste any time getting down to business. They blast their way through Bayonne, NJ, blowing the humans into dust. Their bodies disappeared, leaving shredded clothing lying around. Later the aliens take to capturing people and using them as fertilizer, as far as I could tell, to feed some kind of gross red stuff that starts growing all over the place. I suppose the aliens were terraforming the planet to suit their needs.
Cruise manages to destroy one walker with a move he stole from Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back. After being caught, he is getting sucked into a machine and he throws a couple of grenades into the opening. Not to original, but effective.
Tim Robbins, a person I loathe for his ridiculous political views, plays a crazed survivor type to good effect in an extended scene that may or may not have really been needed. Overall, it did not bring much to the film other then several jump out and make you scream moments. I think the time could have been better spent filling in the big picture of what was going on outside. Then this would have conflicted with how the movie was presented. Who am I to tell Steven how to direct?
Cruise and his entourage find themselves continuously confronted by the aliens at every turn. We see what must have been a disastrous attack my several army units, although except for a few burning Hummers, we do not see any destruction. The Hummers have the odd ability to drive away from the fight while burning from top to bottom. One of the parts of the movie that just did not seem probable.
And that brings me to the end of the movie and its rather disjointed ending. Cruise and Dakota make it to the Boston suburbs, his son left during the army attack to check out the action running into what had to be a cauldron of Earthly/Alien weapons fire. At this point the common Earth germs start to have their impact on the Aliens. The icky red stuff growing all over the place starts to turn to dust and the shields that protected the alien walkers come down allowing the soldiers, from the famous 10th Mountain Division, to nail them with several Javelin anti-tank rockets.
We next see cruise walking up to where his wife is staying on a block totally untouched by the carnage that has visited every hamlet and town from NJ to Mass. The lights are on, the wife and her parents looked concerned, but not particularly terrified. Next, why are they there and not running for their lives like everyone else? Does their block have special dispensation from the aliens? Then, on top of it all, the son is waiting in the doorway too. No word on how he got through the aliens and walked the 100 or so miles to Boston.
For that matter how long did all this happen? It is impossible to judge time from the movie. It could have all taken place in two or three days or maybe two weeks. There is no time reference at all, which is somewhat annoying.
The entire end of the film truly seems tacked on, as if Spielberg said, "OK, we are out of money and time, let's end this thing now."
Despite this the movie is enjoyable. The special effects do not overwhelm the movie, unlike the new Star Wars, but instead take a back seat to the actors and the story. So if you haven't done so already check it out, it is well worth your time.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

On The Home Front Line

Law enforcement officials constantly remind New Yorkers to be vigilant, report suspicious people or packages and generally keep their eyes open in order to help stop a terrorist attack.

While this is a great idea in theory, it has little practical value. The reason is that the average person is probably pretty frightened to either call in a false alarm or mistakenly finger an innocent as a terrorist. I commute into NY city every day on the Long Island Railroad and every day I see something suspicious, but I never say anything. This is NY, you see everything imaginable all the time.

This is why the terrorists were able to succeed in London, and eventually will hit us again. Ten pounds of explosive can be hidden anywhere, it cannot be seen or sensed by anyone.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Cosmic Balance Ruined

This is by far the craziest lawsuit I've ever heard of, to bad the plaintiff will probably win. Makes the McDonald's hot coffee case appear perfectly sane.

NASA's mission that sent a space probe smashing into a comet raised more than cosmic dust — it also brought a lawsuit from a Russian astrologer.
Marina Bai has sued the U.S. space agency, claiming the Deep Impact probe that punched a crater into the comet Tempel 1 late Sunday "ruins the natural balance of forces in the universe," the newspaper Izvestia reported Tuesday. A Moscow court has postponed hearings on the case until late July, the paper said.
Scientists say the crash did not significantly alter the comet's orbit around the sun and said the experiment does not pose any danger to Earth.
The probe's comet crash sent up a cloud of debris that scientists hope to examine to learn how the solar system was formed.
Bai is seeking damages totaling $300 million — the approximate equivalent of the mission's cost — for her "moral sufferings," Izvestia said, citing her lawyer Alexander Molokhov. She earlier told the paper that the experiment would "deform her horoscope."
NASA representatives in Russia could not be reached for comment on the case.

What is even funnier is that this lady found a lawyer willing to represent her case. And to think lawyers get upset when people make fun of their profession.