Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Always the Middle of the Night

In my last post I mentioned Christopher Soghoian, who deliberately called attention to one of the multitudinous flaws in airport security by putting up a website that printed fake boarding passes. Not that printing a boarding pass, fake or real, is any great accomplishment; people with computers and Internet access have been doing this for years. I’ve printed out my own (legitimate) boarding passes at home before, and printing another copy with an altered name would have been easy.

Still, the government doesn’t like people who point that out. So on Friday the FBI paid Soghoian a visit and told him to take the site down. Which he did. Spooked by his experience, he spent the night at a friend’s house. Here’s what he says happened the next day:
I came back today, to find the glass on the front door smashed.

Inside, is a rather ransacked home, a search warrant taped to my kitchen table, a total absence of computers - and various other important things. I have no idea what time they actually performed the search, but the warrant was approved at 2AM. I'm sincerely glad I wasn't in bed when they raided the house. That would have been even more scary.

The link also leads to the photocopies Soghoian posted of the arrest warrant.

What exactly does the FBI hope to learn by taking his computers? Nothing: they don’t need to look for evidence proving Soghoian’s responsible for the site, since he admitted this to the mainstream media. And I doubt they expect to learn he’s a member of a terrorist cell. No, this is purely an attempt to scare him, nothing more. I don’t know how well it’s working, but Soghoian’s set up a Paypal account and snail-mail address seeking donations for his legal expenses.

It would probably be unwise, at this point, for me to link to the post where I explained how I smuggled six ounces past airport security. If I were fond of clichés perhaps I could say “the emperor doesn’t like it when you notice he has no clothes.” Except that doesn’t fit, does it? Remember what happened in the original story: when the little boy said the emperor had no clothes the emperor pretended not to hear him, and kept on marching.

But that only happens in fairy tales. In real life, when little boys cry that the emperor has no clothes the emperor’s guards show him why it’s dangerous to notice things.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

So easy, even grownups can use it!

Which is worse: having a crush on a probable computer geek you’ve never even seen, or knowing that he's not only a geek, but too young for you? Both indignities corroded my soul, just a little, when I first read about Christopher Soghoian, a 24-year-old doctoral student who set up a website to shine a light through another gaping hole in what passes for airport security:
A computer security student says terrorists would have no trouble getting around the government’s no-fly list, and to prove it he set up a Web site that prints fake boarding passes.

The passenger name on the fake boarding pass is “Bin Laden/Osama,” although travelers can put in their own name — or a fake one — and change the flight information, too. . . . before that savvy computer users could modify an airline Web page to print fake boarding passes, but Soghoian took it a step further and automated it.

“Before, any 12-year-old could have done it,” Soghoian said on Friday. “Now any 30- or 40-year-old could do it as well.”

A Website giving middle-aged people the competence of twelve-year-olds? I don’t feel too frightened, though a TSA spokesman assures us this Website threatens us all:

“The Web site really has the potential to promote illegal activity,” he said. “Showing fraudulent documents to get through security is against the law.”

Soghoian said the fake boarding pass couldn’t get anyone onto a flight — as long as the airline’s computers were working — because the bar code wouldn’t match the other information on the pass. . . . Soghoian said taking nail clippers and liquids away from travelers is just giving them a false sense of security, and that he’s trying to show where the real threats are.

“When they say ’For security reasons,’ everyone shuts up, everyone follows the rules, and no one questions authority. And I don’t think that’s right,” he said.

I keep hoping that sooner or later America will have another rebellious youth generation like back in the 60s, only without the unwashed-hippie Communist overtones. Hope — an odd emotion that has almost druglike effects on the brain of a misanthropic cynic, thus making her uncharacteristically starry-eyed and lovey-dovey until she got to the very end of the story:

He said no one from the government had complained to him about the site, yet.

“If I get a letter from the government telling me to take it down, then I’ll take it down straightaway,” Soghoian said.

So much for the rebellious-hacker-Neo-Matrix fantasy idea. Did I say I had a crush? I must have been delirious. Forget I even brought it up.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Zeus Just Told Me You’re A Loser

There’s a debate going on concerning whether or not it’s appropriate to teach the Bible in public school. And if so, then in what context should you teach it: a sacred glimpse into the mind of God? A collection of mythology; an important piece of literary history; an important piece of history history? Or maybe literal, word-for-word description of what God expects people to do.

I used to teach literature in a public school myself, so my advice for all teachers is to stay as far away from the Bible as you can unless you’re in a school district filled with people who expect you to talk about the Bible, in which case you need to stay far away from that whole area. Anything you could possibly say about the Bible is offensive to either an atheist, a religious non-Christian, a religious Christian who views the Genesis story as a metaphor, or a religious Christian who thinks Genesis describes the literal beginnings of our 6,000-year-old world. Say anything Biblical you wish: among those four groups, at least one will contain people offended by your statement.

That’s not to say that teachers should avoid mentioning religion at all. No, school teachers — especially when they cover literature or reading — are perfectly free to discuss the mythologies of ancient Greece and Rome. And ancient Egyptian gods like Osiris and Ra, if they ever come up in the course of a lesson. Odin and Thor from the Viking days are safe, too. (On second thought, maybe not. Some neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups use Norse mythology in their ravings, so the wise teacher avoids Vikings and their gods whenever possible.)

Basically, the rule is: never say anything remotely about or connected to any religious belief unless its followers have been dead for a minimum of 1,600 years. Once a religion reaches that happy milestone you can say anything you want.

Suppose there were still a number of Americans who believed the Greek myths? Then you'd have geography teachers getting in trouble after devout Zeusian parents complained: how dare you show our children photographs of Mount Olympus topped by ice and snow rather than the palaces of the gods! Your talk of “science” is no excuse for contradicting the deeply cherished tenets of our beliefs.

Other Zeusians will be furious because Zeus is a good, decent god who would never disguise himself as a swan just to have sex with a human woman, and how dare you pay attention to those parts of our religious texts which suggest he’s ever done this? And of course religious and non-religious non-Zeusians alike will be furious that Zeus was ever mentioned at all.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Another Airport Safety Rule

I just joined the team of bloggers over at Jon Henke’s site Inactivist, and for my first post discovered that the TSA has the power to levy “behavior fines” without even informing the person who’s being fined:
Passengers can be fined for their actions, as well. For example, "interference with screening" that includes physical contact could cost a traveler between $1,500 and $5,000, and "nonphysical contact" between $500 and $1,500. . . . People usually don't know they've been fined until a letter arrives at their homes. In reviewing incident reports, TSA officials consider factors like whether the passenger tried to conceal the item or the "attitude of the violator."
Ms. McCauley said fliers can fight fines through an informal conversation or a formal hearing. Those who contest the penalties may eventually have to travel to the airport where TSA issued the fine.

Once a law-enforcement body starts turning into a money-collection organization, you know that hard-core corruption can’t be too far away. Anyway, there’s a lot more about this in my post at Inactivist, so come on by and find another reason to feel depressed about the future of American freedom.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

At Least They Didn’t Mention Sex

I read on the BBC that Energy Australia, one of the continent’s major power suppliers, released a report stating that the average Australian spends an average of seven minutes in the shower each day. I spend more time than that just getting the tangles out of my hair after I wash it, so I figured this factoid was either the start of an editorial about how Australians all have offensive body odor, or a style piece saying they’ve all got crew cuts.

But no. Energy Australia thinks Aussies are spending too much time in the shower. Specifically, the company says, they sing too much:
Energy Australia wants customers to choose shorter songs. Long showers are also soaking up electricity like a sponge, the company says.

Other shower time activities are also being frowned upon - shaving, brushing one's teeth, playing with toys, even day-dreaming. The emphatic message from Energy Australia is: "Don't use the shower, use the sink."

The odd thing about this little story is that it’s not water the shorter showers are supposed to save, but electricity. Don’t Australians have computers? Of course they do; I’ve exchanged e-mails with people down there. And they have televisions, refrigerators, lamps and even air-conditioning, the same electrical gadgets as any other Western industrialized nation.

So how is it that if they’re using too much electricity, the electric company concludes that customers need to reduce their shower time?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

G.O.Peshizzle In Da House Toot Sweet, Yo

Deep in my heart of hearts I hope this website I’m going to tell you about is a joke (it's real): Vote our Values, sponsored by “America’s PAC,” which has a collection of 24 ads currently running on urban radio stations in an attempt to win black votes for the Republicans. If nothing else, it’s a fascinating sociological study into what kind of music rich old white guys think modern urban blacks listen to.

Vote our Values is one of those damnable Flash sites, so I can’t link directly to the page with the radio ads on it. Click on “Listen to the Ads,” and you’ll find them on the left side of the page, while the “Advertisment (sic) Script” appears on the right.

My favorite ad, “Hazardous Dukes,” compares Iraq War opponents to the KKK:
. . . I enlisted in the all-volunteer army to fight the war against terror. Last summer, David Duke visited Damascus, Syria, where he praised the government that’s been smuggling bombs to the terrorists in Iraq. A couple months later, my unit was in Baghdad, where we protected first-time Iraqi voters.

Now, I can understand why a Ku Klux Klan cracker makes nice with the terrorists. They fight voting rights in Iraq, just like he does at home. But what I want to know is why so many of the Democrat politicians I helped elect are on the same side of the Iraq war as David Duke.
Meanwhile, underneath the voiceover is strange downtone violin music with a banjo playing beneath that. The “Wire Taps” piece, by contrast, features the cheery faux hip-hop music you hear on Nickelodeon shows teaching children the alphabet. Meanwhile, the wise man in the voiceover tells us that it’s stupid to oppose warrantless wiretapping because

Did you know that Presidents Kennedy and Johnson wiretapped Martin Luther King? Those Democrats treated the leader of our civil rights movement as a subversive . . . unlike the Al Qaeda butchers Bush is wiretapping, Martin was fighting to promote voting rights. He wasn’t plotting mass murder.
You’ll also want to check out “Don’t Go There,” and wonder why the writers didn’t take their own advice. A wise black man — war veteran, hard worker, and devoted father — is explaining to an irresponsible white man why the white guy shouldn’t vote Republican, since he’s just an unemployed loser who cheats on his wife and would never fight to defend his country. Also:
WISE BLACK GUY: and if you make a little mistake with one of your hos, you’ll want to dispose of the problem toot sweet, no questions asked, right?

WHITE SCUMBAG: Naw, that’s too cold. I don’t snuff my own seed.

WISE BLACK GUY: Huh. Really? (Pause) Well, maybe you do have a reason to vote Republican.

Yes, even a loser should vote Republican so that if he knock up one of his hos she won’t be allowed to snuff out his seed. The loser won’t be able to support his seed, of course, but the important thing is that the ho can’t snuff it out.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Staid Republican Eyebrow Piercing

One winter back in college I went on a couple of dates with a man I’d met through a mutual friend. Nice guy, nice looking . . . definite sparks that kindled when we met.

Now let me think — since I’ve mentioned sparks and kindling what’s a good metaphor to describe the beginning of our fourth and final date? Something involving huge amounts of water, a stockpile of non-flammable materials and a complete lack of anything combustible. Perhaps I’ll think of the right analogy later. Meanwhile, let me tell you why I stopped dating that guy: winter ended. Temperatures rose so much that he switched from a wool sweater on date three to a short-sleeved shirt on date four. That’s when I learned he had tattoos covering every square inch of his arm above his wrist.

I've never cared for tattoos. I’ve overlooked one or two in boyfriends past, but a man whose entire arm sports every color in a Crayola box definitely falls into the let’s-be-friends category.

Lucky for both of us that we met near the end of winter. Suppose we’d met at the beginning instead! If temperatures had remained low for a few dates more, my spark-drenching first glimpse of his bare forearms could’ve come in a considerably more awkward context.

Of course, my dislike of tattoos is merely a matter of taste. And my taste is out of date, according to this MSNBC article about corporate dress codes, which are changing these days in response to the growing numbers of people who have tattoos and body art.
Colleen Harris doesn’t fit the stereotype of the buttoned-up librarian. Her arms are covered with a pirate queen motif and black scrolling designs, which extend down the side of her body to her ankle. A black rose and the words “Dangerous Magic” adorn the back of her left hand, and the words “Anam Cara” (old Gaelic for “soul friend”) letter her knuckles. . . . The face of the young American worker is changing, and it’s increasingly decorated with ink and metal. About half of people in their 20s have either a tattoo or a body piercing other than traditional earrings, according to a study published in June in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. That figure, which is higher than the national average, is growing.
To summarize the rest of the article: some companies are willing to hire employees with visible tattoos and piercings. Others aren’t. The number of the former is growing along with the number of pierced, tattooed people.

Are piercings and tattoos merely a fad, or a permanent change in style? A hundred years ago a woman couldn’t wear lipstick or eye makeup without causing a scandal, but nowadays you’ll find cosmetics even on the churchgoing wives of family-values politicians. My mother used to tell me stories about her own school days, when girls’ skirts had to touch the ground when they knelt; last month I read a dress-for-business-success article advising women to keep their skirts at a modest length of no more than two or three inches above the knee.

A century from now maybe nose rings will be as conservative as small pearl stud earrings are today. Tattoos will have as much counterculture flair as navy blue business suits. First Ladies will wear tube tops and Daisy Dukes on photo ops with elementary-school children. And my photograph will be as outdated as a Victorian woman in corsets and a bustle.

Damn. I’m too young to feel that old.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Mystique: I Marry Who He Wants Me To Marry

BBC reports the growth of a new cultural phenomenon in Saudi Arabia:
There's not just an oil boom in Saudi Arabia - there's a blogging boom too. "It really took off last year," says Saudi journalist Rasheed Abou-Alsamh. There are now between 500 and 600 Saudi blogs - in English as well as Arabic - and the bloggers are women as well as men.

This is good news, though it’s a little heartbreaking to think that in a country of roughly 25 million people, a mere five or six hundred should qualify as a “boom.” Here’s the blog of Mystique, a young woman from the city of Jeddah who’s only made a few posts since she started last March. One of them was a poem, titled Rantings of An Arabian Woman:

I am born
A man chooses my name

I am taught
To appreciate
That he did not bury me alive

I learn
What he wants me to know

I live
What he wants me to live

I marry
Who he wants me to marry

I eat
What he wants me to eat

If he dies
Another man controls my life

A Father
A Brother
A Husband
A Son
A Man


They tell me when I die
I am going to be judged on my man-made life.

Mystique also contributes to a group blog called Good Morning Jeddah, where she discusses topics as diverse as Wikipedia (one day she couldn’t access the English-language version and feared the Saudi sensors banned it, though later she posted a joyful update: it is BACK!! I guess Ahmed was right, they just clicked the wrong button I hope), bowling (one of the princes ordered a bowling alley shut down after learning that men and women were allowed to bowl there together), and peak oil:
Other economies like the US are diversified while Saudi Arabia’s is not. All of Saudi Arabia’s economic reform efforts and development plans to date centre around the fact that its economy is essentially oil driven. . . . The Saudi dependence on oil revenue is of great concern to many economists. Saudi Arabia’s oil production is expected to peak in the early 21st century and decline thereafter as the reserves are depleted. In addition, the population of Saudi Arabia is increasing rapidly which means that the revenues from oil production are divided among an increasing population.
This is just like the blogs where I hang out online: a combination of political musings and social reflections. Except Mystique has far more to lose than any blogger I know, should her real-world acquaintances discover her online identity.

I was tempted to post admiring comments in a few of the threads — Allah knows, I like seeing lots of responses to my own posts — but ultimately decided not to. Those comment boards are one of the few places, perhaps the only place, where young unrelated Saudis have to meet and mingle, and I worry it would be rude to intrude on that just to satisfy my American curiosity about everyday life for a woman in contemporary Arabia.

I’ll be a lurker instead.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Never A Disaster That Our Leaders Can’t Make Worse

I’m sure you already know about the big earthquake that shook Hawaii this morning. No fatalities (lucky that) but the state’s in miserable condition, with widespread power outages and major roads destroyed, or blocked by landslides.

Quite the popular tourist spot, Hawaii. There must be thousands of visitors there this second who’d love nothing more than to cut their vacations short and go home right now. The tourists have it especially rough because they are, of course, far less likely than locals to have any sort of emergency supplies on hand:
In Waikiki, one of the state's primary tourism areas, worried visitors began lining up outside convenience stores to purchase food, water and other supplies. Managers were letting tourists into the darkened stores one at a time.

Karie and Bryan Croes waited an hour to buy bottles of water, chips and bread. "It's quite a honeymoon story," said Karie as she and her husband sat in lounge chairs surrounded by their grocery bags beside a pool at ResortQuest Waikiki Beach Hotel.

Yes, tourists and Hawaiians both would all be better off if the visitors could get out of there until the emergency’s over. But the tourists aren’t allowed to leave just yet:

Airports were functioning despite the power outages, though travel was difficult and some flights were being canceled, officials said. Rod Haraga, director of the state Transportation Department, told KSSK said that inbound flights were being allowed to land, but outgoing flights were not taking off because the TSA doesn't have enough power to screen passengers.

Got that? The runways and planes are all just fine but people are stuck on an island thousands of miles away from the nearest major landmass because TSA doesn’t have enough electricity to determine whether or not the bottle of shampoo in a passenger’s carry-on bag is big enough to exceed the anti-terrorist safety size limit.

Or perhaps I should rephrase that: though TSA knows it simply must have electricity to play its extremely vital role in keeping America safe, none of the organization’s wise and brilliant leaders, like Kip Hawley, ever once thought “since terrorist attacks and natural disasters are both wont to cause power failures maybe we should have a few goddamned generators lying around in case there’s an emergency.”

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Watch How We Used To Fill The Empty Spaces

Over at Inactivist, Alex has found the Washington Post’s heartbreaking story of Abdul Rahim, one of our prisoners at Gitmo. Rahim was captured and tortured by the Taliban, and to stop the torture he made a video denouncing the West:

Rahim left his family home in the United Arab Emirates after a quarrel with his strict father and was captured by Taliban fighters as he crossed into Afghanistan. They took him to an al-Qaeda training camp, and when he tried to flee, soldiers put him in prison and tortured him, the records say.

While in a cell in Kandahar, Rahim said, he gave his captors what they wanted to hear: He falsely confessed on videotape that he was a spy for the United States and promised to renounce the West and wage jihad. Among the people who tortured him, he said, was one of America's most notorious enemies: al-Qaeda operative Muhammad Atef, who was killed in 2001.

Rahim's account of being imprisoned and tortured by the Taliban is supported by newspaper accounts about Rahim and fellow prisoners whom the Taliban abandoned when U.S. forces began bombing Afghanistan in the fall of 2001. It is also supported by documents from impartial agencies that had contact with Rahim, notably the International Committee of the Red Cross.

I wonder if it's also supported by, say, a lack of any U.S. records showing that Rahim was one of our spies? If he never spied for us, that would lend more credence to his story; if he did spy for us, shouldn't we assume that his statements were uttered to stop the torture, rather than evidence of a sincere change of heart? Apparently our government chooses not to view Rahim's case in that light. I wonder why?

And then I think of this: there’s a guy named Patrick McManus who writes humor columns for various hunting and fishing magazines. I’ve read several of his books and found them mildly amusing; I’m sure I’d enjoy them far more if I were an outdoorswoman myself.

Anyway, he once wrote a piece about what a big deal it is for a young outdoorsy boy to finally receive his first very-own tackle box. When this happens, said McManus, the first thing the boy does is go to the discount store and buy several cards of extremely cheap, gaudy fish-lures in shapes and colors not found in nature. According to McManus, no fish has ever been enticed by one of these lures, and no fish ever will. So why buy them? Because the lures serve a very important purpose: to fill the spaces in a young boy’s tackle box so he can open it and see a boxful of lures rather than a boxful of emptiness.

More and more it looks like a lot of the guys we’re arresting in the war on terror fill the same purpose: not to help catch anyone who needs to be caught, but only to fill the empty spaces. “Lookit all the lures in my tackle box! And all the terrorists in my prison!”

Friday, October 13, 2006

Free Speech Or Treason? Another Damned Moral Dilemma

Cough cough cough (hack) cough cough cough (spit) cough cough cough (gag) – oh, sorry, I didn’t realize you were here. I’m in the final phase of cold/flu recovery: the cleansing out of the system (cough). Definitely the ickiest of the phases, and with the greatest potential to make a mess.

Now let me attempt a clumsy segue from that to another type of clean-out with great mess-making potential: America’s first treason indictment since World War Two has been handed down to Adam Gadahn, a 28-year-old Californian who converted to Islam eleven years ago and wove himself into the lunatic fringe soon thereafter. For the past several years he’s been somewhere in Pakistan making propaganda videos for al-Qaeda:

Gadahn has appeared in several al Qaeda messages speaking English and appealing to Americans. In his latest video appearance, Gadahn called for the world to convert to Islam and praised the hijackers who carried out the September 11, 2001, attacks as "dedicated, strong-willed, highly motivated individuals with a burning concern for Islam and Muslims."

That video, issued days before the fifth anniversary of 9/11, featured both Gadahn and Osama bin Laden's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri. In a September 2005 video, Gadahn referred to the 9/11 attacks as "the blessed raids on New York and Washington."

According to the indictment, Gadahn, referring to prior attacks in Europe, said, "Yesterday, London and Madrid. Tomorrow, Los Angeles and Melbourne, Allah willing. And this time, don't count on us demonstrating restraint or compassion."

Somehow, that “restraint and compassion” line strikes me as more offensive than the conversion-or-death comments preceding it. But I also know that the more something offends me, the more careful I must be to make sure emotions and feelings don’t overpower my judgment. So I’ll ignore Gadahn’s comments for now and read what the U.S. Deputy Attorney General, Paul McNulty, has to say about the case:

"A charge of treason is exceptionally severe, and it is not one we bring lightly," McNulty said at a news conference in Washington. "But this is the right case for this charge." If apprehended and convicted, Gadahn could face the death penalty.

Nicknamed "Azzam the American," Gadahn is not in U.S. custody and is believed to be living in Pakistan, McNulty said. McNulty said he believes that Gadahn has been involved in issuing propaganda but not in carrying out any terrorist attacks.

So the treason charge wasn’t for carrying out terrorist attacks, but merely issuing propaganda? The guy’s facing charges of treason for being a pundit. Take out the buzzwords like “Islam” and “al-Qaeda” and what you’ve got is someone saying “The whole world should convert to my religion, the bad things that happened are exactly what you deserve, and I hope in the future you suffer worse.”

Yes, I think these sentiments are evil. But are they treason? Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Fred Phelps have all said such things before. Remember how Katrina and September 11 were God’s judgments on America? Hell, Phelps leads protests at soldiers’ funerals where people carry placards thanking God for IEDs and September 11. The substance of such statements is no different from that of Gadahn’s.

I profoundly wish guys like Phelps would drop dead, but that’s very different from saying I think they should be executed. Not for simply expressing opinions. Yet in Gadahn’s specific case, making videos for Bin Laden’s group, saying he’s merely “expressing an opinion” doesn’t really fit, does it? It’s like describing your favorite book as merely “sheets of paper with words printed on them.” That’s true in the most literal sense but a false description all the same. And while I don’t think Gadahn’s exactly committing treason, somehow I can’t bring myself to say there should be no criminal penalties for what he’s doing.

I’m not sure if that’s emotion or reason speaking. I’m too busy coughing to figure it out.

We’ve got two extremes here: on one end of the spectrum, have the government give Gadahn the death penalty or life in prison for expressing his opinions; and at the other end have the government leave him strictly alone because he’s merely expressing his opinions. I don’t like either one of those choices, but I haven’t figured out yet just where in the middle I stand.

Is there a point where free speech becomes “aid and comfort to the enemy,” and what’s the slippery-slope potential in setting one?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Not My Brother’s Keeper, Or Citibank’s Either

I’ve been fighting the flu for a few days, and I’m at the stage now where I have to make trumpet noises into a handful of tissue paper every thirty seconds. Miserable, yes, but not likely to have any long-term consequences. And yet, as I sit here people thousands of miles away, whom I don’t even know, might be working to financially ruin me.

It’s not just fever-induced paranoia making me say that. Six years ago I became an identity-theft statistic when someone applied for and received a VISA gold card in my name. I learned of this months later, and though I didn’t have to pay anything toward the maxed-out card it took dozens of hours to straighten out the mess. Filing police reports, calling the company, sitting on hold, getting disconnected and calling back to sit on hold again — considering what my hourly wage averaged out to back then, I spent nearly a thousand dollars’ worth of my time.

I bring this up because the Washington Post has a consumer-advocacy article warning against another danger from identity theft: many companies sell protection against it, and damned if a lot of those companies aren’t fraudulent themselves.

But here’s something about identity-fraud protection I’ve never understood: why should it even be necessary? I’ve heard people argue that you should protect yourself from identity theft for the same reason you put locks on the door of your house and car. That analogy doesn’t work, though: I use locks to protect my personal property. In the case of the VISA gold card in my name, from whom did the thief actually steal? The credit-card company.

So how did it become my responsibility to protect the assets of a company I’ve never done a lick of business with? If a multibillion-dollar company is fool enough to loan money to a liar pretending to be me, why should this be my problem?

Bear in mind: when I say “a liar pretending to be me” I’m not talking about a talented actor and master of disguise who dresses as a short, pale redhead and mimics my voice and mannerisms so well even my One True Love would be fooled. No — I’m talking about a guy who sifts through my garbage and pulls out a pre-approved credit-card offer I never asked for in the first place, or breaks into a database somewhere and racks up huge debts with my social security number.

When I suffered from identity theft I merely lost a couple weeks of free time. But some people I’m too lazy to Google now (be nice to me; I’m sick) have had it far worse: turned down for mortgages or even denied jobs because of bad debts they never incurred.

Why are the credit-card companies not held liable for damages in such cases? I suspect it’s because wealthy corporations have far too much influence in the halls of government, but I don’t think libertarians are allowed to say such things without being accused of being anti-free market. So I’ll blame my inability to answer this question on my powerful NyQuil buzz. Do any of you healthy people have insights to share?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Fevers That Won’t Break

Last week I committed a Federal crime and then wrote a blog post explaining what it was and how I did it. Today I’ve got a mild case of the flu. There’s no connection between the two incidents, except right now I’m in that feverish state where you can’t tell if time is passing slowly or quickly, and that unknown quantity of time fills with strange thoughts. Like this: is it courageous or reckless of me, to admit online that I carried four ounces of shampoo and eight ounces of conditioner onto a plane in violation of the TSA’s three-ounce dictates?

The rules are there to protect us from terrorism, and I don’t want there to be any more terrorist attacks but I had conditioner in my carry-on bag anyway. What the hell has happened to my country, where that last statement now makes any sort of sense? In the past week I’ve written three separate posts about my damned hair and how I wash it (four if you count this one), and these posts aren’t some vapid beauty-salon chitchat but actual discussions of government regulations supposedly helping us fight the war on terror.

Granted, I’m writing this in a fever dream. But after the fever breaks this still will reflect reality.

Meanwhile, Ryan Bird has channeled his disgust for the TSA in a more productive direction: starting a website encouraging Americans who fly to write “Kip Hawley Is An Idiot” on their Ziploc baggies of approved toiletries. Unfortunately, I lacked the courage to do any such thing when I flew last week, because I didn’t want to draw unwelcome government attention to the illicit amounts of conditioner and shampoo in my anti-terrorist Ziploc bag. There’s another sentence which has no damned business making any sense after my fever breaks, but I’m afraid it will.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

How I Smuggled Six Ounces Through Airport Security

In literature, folklore and daily life, the number three has powerful symbolic qualities. Three wishes granted by the genie in the bottle. Three cigarettes lit on a match. Third time’s the charm. “Rules of three” exist for presentations and writing, in Wicca and in visual architecture, and now for airport security, too. Check it out: the TSA has rescinded its blanket ban on liquids and gels; once again Americans can carry shampoo and liquid soap when they fly.

But only if they follow the rule of three. Here’s a few lines from the TSA’s “Permitted and Prohibited” chart for carry-on luggage, which lists the substances you're allowed to carry as well as the safe and proper amount of each item:

Aerosol spray bottles and cans Yes - Less than 3 oz.
All creams and lotions including Neosporin or first-aid creams and ointments, topical or rash creams and ointments, suntan lotions, moisturizers, etc. Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Bubble bath balls, bath oils or moisturizers Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Bug and mosquito sprays and repellents Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Deodorants made of gel or aerosol Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Hair styling gels and spray of all kinds including aerosol Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Hair Straightener or Detangler Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Lip gels such as Carmex or Blistex Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Liquid lip glosses or other liquids for lips Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Liquid bubble bath including gel or liquid filled Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Liquid foundations Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Liquid, gel or spray perfumes and colognes Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Liquid sanitizers Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Liquid soaps Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Liquid mascara Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Make up removers or facial cleansers Yes - Less than 3 oz.
Mouthwash Yes - Less than 3 oz.
...and so on, in alphabetical order.

The rule of three is very important because it keeps us safe from terrorists. Nonetheless, last week when I flew out of state I carried four ounces of shampoo and eight ounces of conditioner onto the plane with me. That’s right: I made it through with twelve ounces of hair-cleaning materiel where regulation only allowed for six. In my last post before leaving last week, I mentioned my plan to smuggle extra hair-cleansing supplies and promised to share the details when I returned.

A decent and responsible person who loved America would never keep such a promise. What if there’s a terrorist somewhere who plans to blow up an airplane but needs eight ounces of conditioner to do it? And since TSA will only let him have three he’s all flummoxed and sad and about to abandon his plan, but one day he does a Google search for “how to smuggle conditioner through airport security” and finds this essay here.

A lot of people could die if I share my evil-genius smuggling brilliance with the world. That would be a heavy burden to bear on my conscience, except I don't have one. Are you surprised to learn this? You shouldn't be: if I'm sociopathic enough to bring more than three ounces of shampoo onto an airplane, it naturally follows that I'm callous enough to throw millions of lives away if I think I can get a blog post out of it. So here's the secret:

the way to carry eight ounces of conditioner onto an airplane in defiance of TSA’s three-ounce restrictions is to decant it into multiple small bottles of less than three ounces each.

And I did. TSA regulations state that any liquids or gels must be kept in a clear one-quart Ziploc bag. You can easily fit well over twenty ounces in such a bag if the bottles are the right size and shape, so long as no one bottle is more than three ounces.

TSA’s very strict about the rule of three-ounce bottles; an agent last week asked the woman in front of me if any of her bottles held more than three ounces. But that agent said nothing to me, since the dozen or so bottles in my Ziploc were all miniature enough to avoid suspicion. (I played it extra-safe: not only did I use a collection of one- and two-ounce bottles, but every bottle looked different so no agents would get suspicious to see three or four bottles of the same substance.)

To reiterate, here’s America’s latest anti-terrorism rule of thumb:
Eight ounces of conditioner in one bottle: potentially dangerous. TSA will confiscate it.
Eight ounces of conditioner in four bottles: guaranteed safe. TSA will let it through.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Out To Lunch

I’m heading out of state for a few days, and if I have any computer access at all it’ll be on an ancient machine with an actual dial-up connection. So I probably won’t be posting again until next week. I still have to pack my bags, but I think I’ve figured out a way around the TSA’s restrictions against shampoo and soap in carry-on luggage. I’m pretty confident about this, actually, since I already have a history of successful tweezer and nail-clipper smuggling.

I’ll tell you how the plan worked when I get back.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Only Terrorists Have Good Hair

Random facts: the average redhead has 90,000 strands of hair on her scalp. My hair, with the curls and kinks straightened out of it, is about two feet long. Ninety thousand strands of hair times twenty-four inches per strand equals 180,000 feet of hair, which is just over 34 miles.

Washing 34 miles of hair requires a metric assload of shampoo. Detangling 34 miles of hair after washing it requires two metric assloads of conditioner. And a metric assload, though smaller than an imperial assload, is still a sizeable amount.

Why the hell am I writing about my hair-care regimen? Because it’s so goddamned important our government now regulates it lest the terrorists kill us all. You see, there’s been a death in my family, and in order to make the funeral on time I’ll have to fly, which puts me under the legal authority of the TSA, high-school graduates with complete legal authority to poke through my underwear, confiscate anything I have on a whim, and then tell me it’s a matter of national security. Of course, as an American citizen I have the right to challenge this, but if I do that they can make me miss my flight (and not get my ticket money refunded), and since I wouldn’t be there in the first place if I didn’t need to make the flight then for all practical purposes I have no rights where TSA is concerned.

Anyway, I have to pack my suitcase for the flight. To protect us from terrorism, TSA has decreed you can’t bring more than three ounces of shampoo and conditioner onto a plane. (By comparison, those little trial-size bottles you find in bins at drugstores are usually two-ounce bottles.) From the way the site’s written, I’m not sure if that’s three ounces each or three ounces combined.

I figure I’ll bring separate two-ounce bottles of shampoo and conditioner, and if TSA says those four ounces are over the limit I’ll keep the conditioner and sacrifice the shampoo. My significant other will have to pack his supplies separately because together, we’ll exceed the anti-terrorist shampoo safety limit.

I’m also bringing a new bar of soap, but I have to unwrap it first. Otherwise, a guard might read the label, notice that it’s “glycerine” soap and think “Holy Christ, if she adds nitro it’ll be a bomb!” I hope the soap’s translucency doesn’t make anyone suspicious.

No hair mousse for me, this trip. There’s probably a hair-mousse company somewhere selling their product in containers small enough to protect us from the jihadist hordes, but damned if I can find any for sale. I have an almost-empty can with maybe half an ounce left, but TSA would confiscate it anyway since it says “5 oz.” on the label.

You know something? Ten years ago I never would have written an essay about what toiletries I’m taking on a trip, because ten years ago such an essay would have been completely pointless narcissism rather than a sincere, straightforward description of government regulations affecting ordinary harmless citizens like me.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

I Guess This Means God Is Crying

The first gay civil unions in Connecticut turned one year old today. The sky hasn't fallen or anything, but we are having one hell of a rainstorm throughout the state. Potential for flooding, too. Coincidence? Not likely.
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