Saturday, August 19, 2006

traveling via airport or bus terminal

I’ve been on a business trip for a week now and I’ve noticed something. Security at airports and bus stations are a joke. Depending on where you live there may be more or less security than I will mention. I think that if it’s like what I encountered you will agree that it isn’t very good. Especially if you are traveling out of NYC.

I should mention that I don’t feel mentioning any of this information is a bad thing. I feel the information is blatantly obvious. I feel that all the terrorists are aware of this, and in part why they have generally entered the country from Canada. It is also part of the reason why NYC is a target of attacks. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see what I have observed, nor is it a benefit to anyone to turn a blind eye to false security. Perhaps in mentioning this we can get one step closer to real peace of mind.

I needed to go into New York City for part of my trip. I generally enjoy going back home. I decided to take the bus in on this trip. There was 0 security checks when I got on the bus. To my knowledge there have not been any security checks on the bus from Binghamton to NYC, nor Syracuse or any other place into the city. There may be some checks if you are coming from Canada, I am not aware if there are.

If you are LEAVING New York City to go to Binghamton by bus, there is a security check. It’s not nearly as invasive as the airport but I will get to that. The check goes through carry on items, and I assume there might be some baggage that is also checked, but I doubt it. More important is the fact that there is an assumption that terrorist/bad guy X wants to go from a city of 20 million people to a town of 200,000 and injure them. That sounds completely counter to the manifesto and actions that people of this mindset tend to act on. They want large crowds and dense populations. They target high profile places. Binghamton doesn’t register under any of these criteria. Most native New Yorkers barely have heard of the place, and are generally clueless about where it actually is. I doubt terrorists know more about it than someone from this state.

If you are going on a plane OUT of NYC, you will encounter a similar situation. In traveling to Ft. Lauderdale I had the joy of waiting on a line for 40 minutes, before going thru a moderately invasive security check. That was at roughly 4am for a 6am flight. I shudder to think what the lines were like for later in the day flights. I am unsure how much worse the recent plan to attack 10 planes in mid-flight has made the process, beyond severely limiting the carry-on items that has been well publicized. The flight INTO NYC took 3 minutes in the line and security check. For a late afternoon flight back there was no crowd.

Again it seems that the protection is skewed. NYC is a massive target. Attacks on this city are being thwarted more times than we are told, I am sure. But I don’t see how the billions spent on enhanced security is worth it. I would imagine that similar actions are happening at L.A. and the other major cities. There is more concern of those leaving the area than coming to it. What real use is that?

Realistically, if someone was going to cause harm is the airport, the plane or a smaller lesser town the best target? Has there been even one time that someone was suspected of anything while leaving a major U.S. city? Port Authority alone has more people in it than any section of Binghamton I can think of. And if they did find someone with say a bomb, do you believe they would just give up because they were prevented from getting to the smaller target, or would they just attack right there in the high density, high profile location?

I don’t mean to scare anyone. The facts are obvious though, and hiding from the truth does not protect anyone. I’m no safer because of checks done for those exiting major cities. And I feel my money/taxes are better spent doing something useful. It may be a pain in the ass, but how about we check what is coming INTO these places. That is far more of a deterrent that what is in place now. And if small-town USA is stuck on a line as well, so be it. At least people will be safe rather than the false security they feel now. Of course the cost will be astronomical once all the useless policies are added onto this idea. And the feasibility study, and the study to figure out why the old plan isn’t effective.

Well this is what I think about it. Who else has been traveling lately? What is it like into and out of other cities. I’d love to here other experiences.

Ask for ad rates

Thoughts on FEMA

I’ve been meaning to discuss FEMA and its actions for a while now. Recently there was severe flooding around the Binghamton area. Several towns were decimated and homes in many communities are unlivable. FEMA has come to ‘help’ in this crisis. I have lived through one disaster in which FEMA was involved. We all have heard about the fiasco that was the agency’s actions in New Orleans.

My own experience came from the Northridge earthquake in California. I lived at the time in Woodland Hills, which is close to Northridge. When the earthquake hit, it felt as if a freight train going 100 was passing by my face. I wasn’t unnerved, the experience left me in shock for a couple of days. Like all my neighbors and others in the surrounding area, any large thumping sound, like a car door being slammed, was all I needed to have my heart racing and my eyes wide in fear. Those who know me well are familiar on how extreme a reaction that was for me. For some it was far worse, and I do recall entire families sleeping in tents outside their homes a month after the quake.

FEMA came into town and provided finances to help people get essentials, and replace damaged/destroyed items. I was renting a house at the time, and had some damage, neighbors in the area owned their homes and had similar damage. FEMA basically gave out vouchers to anyone who asked for one. The vouchers were to allow you to stay in a hotel for a time. Claims made by everyone were approved, I know of no one who was denied anything they mentioned was destroyed or damaged. I am personally unfamiliar with FEMA having done anything else besides handing out checks and temporary hotel stays. And for those that don’t recall the quake was disputedly a 7.2 RICHTER intensity (some data at the time stated that it could have been as high as 7.8 or more but was held back by the government as any area hit with a quake of that magnitude would not pay taxes - Northridge and the surrounding area is L.A. suburbs.

No real help in getting thru the situation, but very good at dispersing money. That’s what I’d say about FEMA, from my own experience. And it’s not that far off from what we saw in New Orleans. Though far more disorganized, FEMA did get some people into hotels and cruise line ships (at 3-5x the normal cruise rates). Of course the overwhelming numbers were without food or shelter. The failures of the agency have been noted very well so I won’t dwell on the facts. Suffice to say even less help than I had recalled in my experiences.

And the latest event in Broome County NY. Again the main thing has been monies to help out those in need. Except few have gotten the funds they need. I am familiar with families that have homes which are unlivable, and FEMA only provided them $500 for help. I have heard of denials to put people into hotels and other facilities, while they have no other place to turn to. And there is a constant stream of people that claim FEMA is pinching pennies everywhere.

I’ve mentioned all this to say a few things. In over a decade FEMA seems to have done less for people in each disaster that occurs. That isn’t about race, at least not directly, but it is about bad policy in the government. Several Presidents have picked under-qualified individuals for this position, the result of which has been damaged lives. Funding seems to be the next issue. From extremes of turning no one down, to wasting funds on needed housing at ludicrous prices, to now cutting corners on what is essential and what value is right. What is it they are doing? How hard is it for a government agency, whose purpose is to help those struck by natural disasters, to fulfill its mission?

Is politics so important that doing their job is a secondary concern? And I don’t mean the men and women on the ground trying to assist people. I mean the bosses that allocate funds and set the tone of what will be done or what is acceptable. I hardly think its too much to ask for a qualified group of people actual do their jobs when so many lives are at stake.

Perhaps I’m not seeing the whole picture. Who else has had direct, or second-hand experience with FEMA? I don’t see this as racial, at least not in the past as the quake area had people of all types there. While the flooding affected a far less racially diverse population it has been a mess, though not to the levels of New Orleans. Or was it that my first-hand experience was lucky enough to have happened in a economically strong area? If so it is very sad. I’d love to hear feedback.

Ask for ad rates

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Israel and Hezbollah 2006 part 3

continued from Israel - Hezbollah part 2

But I digress. This conflict is a fore-shadowing of what will come. Civilian casualties are significant. I especially find attacks on Red Cross/Crescent vehicles to be deplorable. But alleged use of metal-ball bearing warheads, incendiaries, and deplete-uranium weapons are equally deplorable. Each of these weapons, missiles targeted on non-military targets in general, and suicide attacks are no better. The outcome is only further fighting.

I agree that every nation has a right to defend itself. Aggressive defense is an option. Pursuing that defense is a sovereign right. There is a fine line though, proportionality is a key point. No nation has a right to drop a nuke to defend against a car bomb. No nation or group has a right to attack innocents. Military and military targets are legitimate, but sending a text message or dropping a leaflet before striking civilians or a civilian site is not.

The fact that this entire conflict started from the kidnapping of 2 soldiers and the death of 8 others is amazing. It shows, to me, how the underlying problems have never been resolved. So many generations have lost loved ones and fueled hatred that any incident is provocation for violence on a large scale. Both sides need to stop and talk. This may not end the cycle, but it can abate the senseless murder of civilians.

I do not profess to know the answer to this situation. I do not claim to understand the nuances. But to support either side blindly, based on prejudice or misinformation is a costly mistake. To assume either side is justified completely in its actions is to obscure the truth.

This is what I think, what do you think?

For part 1

For part 2

Ask for ad rates

Israel - Hezbollah part 2

continued from Israel - Hezbollah part 1

This is by no means a complete or absolutely accurate account of the past. But it is a point of reference for those that would seek to understand the roots of the situation. It is these facts, as I understand them, that lead to the PLO, and various other groups – many now designated as terrorists. These facts are the root of the situation, a group of people that have created a home and other groups that are opposed to those homes. Both groups are diametrically opposed to the other, on religious and political levels.

Given this self-acknowledged simplistic understanding of the situation, looking at the current conflict leads me to several conclusions. The first is that no matter how this unfolds it will not be the last problem. Also it seems inevitable that future conflicts will grow to include other nations and groups. Eventually large-scale war seems unavoidable. Considering the development of non-Geneva weapons, and their disputed use, mass deaths of civilians on both sides will occur – in levels far surpassing those currently seen.

The reason I believe that this process will continue, is that for all intents and purposes this is a vortex. Each action on either side provides impetus for an action from the other side, each side escalates and the situation worsens. The children, especially, having lost family, friends and innocence grow up with anger against the side that hurt them. They grow up with this anger and turn into passive or active opponents in a future conflict. Thus in each fight the next generation of fighters is created.
This is similar to my thoughts on the current U.S. ‘war on terror’. Fighting ideologies is impossible. The more you fight, the more that die the more that you create another generation of fighters. The only 2 ways to remove that cycle is to either commit genocide, or empire building. Genocide is not an option. It is despicable in any form, for any reason. Any nation or group that would be as fanatical as to presume that it is an answer should be isolated from the rest of the world. Empire building is unpopular, but the only realistic option. Absorbing the loser and integrating them into the winners culture creates a more stable future, given 2 or so generations. This has been the way of the world since the Egyptian, Sumerian, Greek times. I do not mean the removal of the losers culture, no great empire removes the past of its various people. Like during the rule of Alexander the Great the various people are integrated into the winner’s culture without complete loss of their heritage.

Of course enacting such a complete absorption today is something that is feared by many nations. One empire leads to others and eventually they all compete to be number one. While little different than the race to be the world superpower, as the U.S. is today, the differences terrify many nations. Once religion and differences on that basis are added the stakes are raised even higher. Thus every nation fears taking actions that would create such an active empire, as retaliation from the rest of the world would be swift.

continued in part 3

Ask for ad rates

Israel - Hezbollah conflict part 1

I’ve been thinking for several days about the current fighting between Israel and Hezbollah. I’ve considered not saying something for various reasons, that range from being called sympathetic to one side or another to being told (possibly correctly to a degree) that I have no idea of what I am speaking about. Having weighed these thoughts and the possible outcomes I think that I must make comment. I feel there is something to be said, from an outside view.

I feel neither side is correct. Both have committed atrocities, inflicting harm to civilians both by accident and intentionally. Both are driven by causes that are fundamental to their way of life, and flawed in its base assumptions. Neither will be able to achieve their ultimate goals, no matter what the final outcome. The vortex created by this current conflict has intentionally involved outside nations and groups, and continues to do so. All outside groups are picking sides without having any direct involvement and knowledge.

To understand this current conflict in any way I think a step back must be taken. The origin of these problems starts with the creation of Israel. [Some would claim that the conflict started with David and Ishmael, sons of Abraham – if I recall correctly – but that is a religious question that I will not address] Some 60 years ago the UN gave land to displaced Jews. The lands also contained Palestinians, who were also displaced, but not a defined nation at the time. The neighboring nations, predominantly Arab and Muslim, were incensed by this action which in part led to the 6-day war and other conflicts. As Israel has grown, perceived and actual persecution to the Palestinian people within its borders has grown. None of the nations surrounding Israel have forgotten the losses in various wars and battles. Many nations and groups have taken the side of the Palestinians as time passed as well.

Hezbollah was created somewhere around 1982-85. It is a recognized political group (by several nations including Lebanon where it is part of the government) and has military wings. It promotes several humanitarian initiatives, including schools, hospitals, and women’s rights. It generates roughly $100 million a year. It also receives, allegedly $100 million in funds from Iran. Its manifesto is directly linked to Iran and is believed to be in contact with Iran on many of its actions. Thousands of its missiles are believed to come from Iran, and its troops (estimated around 5-15,000) are highly trained. Links to Hamas are believed to exist as well.

Israel is a democratic nation, which allows virtually any individual of Jewish faith citizenship though others are also citizens. The state was created by UN mandate in 1948. There are currently 7 million citizens. Military service is compulsory at 18, for roughly 3 years, and all men are considered reservists until ~40. There are 24 nations that do not allow travel with an Israeli passport or stamp in a passport. Roughly half the debt of Israel is owed to the United States (mostly to individuals), who is an ally of the state politically. GDP is ranked at 42nd in the world with 8% unemployment and average monthly income of about $1600 dollars. The military is considered one of the best in the world, and best funded.

Continued in part 2

Ask for ad rates

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Joker, Blacks in movies and Mel Gibson

Now here is some news that I’m seriously looking forward to. Mr. Christian Bale did a phenomenal job as the early Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins. Where Mr. Michael Keaton hinted at the darker aspects of the dark knight Mr. Bale really brought it to the foreground. Of course Mr. Bale was working on the script inspired by the Dark Knight series of comic books. I, like many, have looked forward to the next movie (an inevitable event considering how much money was made, and the current fad to bring the comic book heroes to the silver screen) and what may take place.

Happily I can say that the Joker will be in the movie. While Mr. Jack Nicholson did a fairly good job of the character, it was not the more gleefully evil character I grew up with. The manic joke of the Joker is the fact that he and Batman are 2 sides of the same twisted person. Driven with passion and determination that could be seen as unhealthy for either of them. This is why they pair off so well. There is an understanding of commonality between them, which is why Batman is desperate to cure the Joker rather than kill him (and no the Joker did not kill Batman’s parents).

This aspect between the character is critical. As is the joke that is the means of the Joker’s killing sprees. So which actor is going to be given this opportunity? Mr. Heath Ledger. Would I have picked him, probably not. And I not sure who I would have picked. But then again I wasn’t sure that Mr. Bale was up to the imposing figure that is Batman. Hopefully the script will be as strong or better than the first movie. And if the writer’s ever get to read this, don’t go killing off the bad guys just because the movie ends. Especially the Joker, he is an arch-nemesis for a reason. [As a side note, if they get around to it, as I recall 2-Face a.k.a. Harvey Dent is a Black African American. Sometimes reading the source material is a good thing for little details like that. Now watch someone correct me, that in the 40's-50's his character was originally white. But I don’t think so]

And it makes me thing of something else. A conversation I was having yesterday. Essentially I asked a question during my conversation that went like this ‘How many Black African American actors/actresses lead major films a year?’ My personal estimate is about 5. I do not count the 5-10 million dollar rapper-wants-to-be-an-actor films. [I find them to be exploitation films, little different than the blaxploitation films of the 70's. Actually the ones in the 70's were better in acting and script.] I mean films starring Mr. Denzel Washington, Mr. Morgan Freeman, Ms. Angela Bassett, Ms. Halle Berry et al. I believe the number in any one year is around 5, but those I was speaking with thought the number to be around 50% or more. I am not joking. When I asked them to name more than 5 films in one year I was told actors names, not movie titles. And even with that several of the actors were in support roles for several of the movies that were thought of. (IE. Mr. Danny Glover was a co-lead in the later Lethal Weapon series, but more support to Mr. Mel Gibson in the first. Or Mr. Samuel Jackson is often placed in a supporting role. While I am happy they are working, and getting good roles, they are not leading) Now I thought about this afterwards and to be fair, any actor in more than 2 major films in a year is rare. But the question remains, if it were 5 years, how many out of how many total films in that time period?

Why did this come up? We were discussing the inequality of Hollywood. How stereotypes still exist and how movie studios still consciously shift movies to exclude minorities even when its unnecessary. And that still today stereotypes are pushed by the mainstream. I mean many Black African American actors are cast as the muscle, and less intelligent characters. African American actresses are routinely cast as sexual objects. And in films of all sorts minorities simply don’t exist. [Maybe I like sci-fi a bit more because there tends to be more of a mix of peoples in this genre more than any other, with the exception of slasher films which require the ‘stupid black kid that gets killed in the early part of the movie’ and the ‘black girl that doesn’t run from an obviously bad situation and dies’.] Well if anyone does know what the percentage is, do let me know.

I did mention Mr. Mel Gibson above, and I want to go back to him for a moment. I notice that there is virtually nothing being said about his crime. It seems completely forgotten as many are lost in his drunken comments. Now he has admitted making the comments, and it is insulting. It is not surprising though. Mr. Gibson has never hidden his ultra-conservative religious beliefs. While I had no idea how deep his convictions went, it does not change his ability. And anyone who is upset, and not believing his recent apology, should simply not see any movies he produces or stars in. The message will get thru if enough feel the same.

While I find the comments to portray a smaller-minded man than I would have expected, the more important thing I’d like to see is his punishment for his crime. I do not want to see the media create a furor that will blow past his actions, giving the courts an opportunity to cast aside his penalty because of pity on his public thrashing. He needs to be educated, and really look at the world. I think some time in jail for verbal assault on the officers, drunk and disorderly, and DUI should be the perfect opportunity to re-think his positions. If it were me in the same situation, or any actor of lesser stature (I think), those are at the least the charges I’d get. They might have added a classification of the verbal assault as a hate crime considering the comments. But somehow I don’t see Mr. Gibson being given those charges. But that’s all I’ll say on that subject.

This is what I think, what do you think?

Ask for ad rates
Ask for ad rates