Saturday, January 31, 2009

We Have So Much to Teach the World

It's true: an Egyptian delegation is visiting the U.S. Mexico border to learn more about stopping smuggling and illegal immigration. The idea is that they'll take what they've learned here and apply it to the tunnels between Gaza and the Sinai that Hamas uses to smuggle weapons.

This should go well.

Later in the month China will be sending economists to the U.S. to learn about managing national financial markets.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

If You Want a Job at Fox News...

I imagine they're looking for a new sexpert. If they're not, they should be.

Tip: if you really want to shine, just master the vocabulary of your subject.

Let's Say You've Been Evicted....

...and no, you didn't get a subprime mortgage. You aren't somebody with sterling credit who lost their job. You are a group of leftists squatting in a building in the German city of Erfurt. What do you do?

You kidnap a clinically depressed loaf of bread, of course.

Yes, they kidnapped Bernd das Brot (Bernd the Bread) the star of three programs on the German children's tv channel KI.KA.

Bernd initially made statements on behalf of his captors that were released on YouTube, which were pulled down after protests from German public broadcaster MDR--which owns the rights to Bernd.

According to witnesses who saw the videos, Bernd said things like, “The squat must absolutely stay! I’m prepared to show myself in public again, but I can’t at the expense of my conscience.”

Clearly this is some kind of base hoax. This doesn't sound like Bernd at all. He's a sort of combination of Oscar the Grouch and Eyore with a German flavor. The general tenor of Bernd's conversation is summed up by his frequent exclamation "Mein Leben ist die Hölle" (my life is Hell) or his admonition "Geh nach Hause" (Go Home!) which he yells at his audience from time to time.

I tried contacting KI.KA to via email to see if I could communicate with Bernd and verify that he had not been kidnapped. I got back a one-word, unsigned message: "Mist."

That's German for "crap." And it's one of Bernd's favorite expressions. I think we can assume he is safely miserable at KI.KA studios instead of miserable in captivity.

Whether the squatters succeed or not, they deserve some plaudits for this relatively shrewd maneuver, because they've definitely attracted attention. Bernd has a huge, adoring public--and they're not all children. Bernd is actually quite popular with German adults, as you can see from this music video Tanzt das Brot (Do the Bread Dance).

You can get a feel for Bernd's shows in this brief YouTube clip. Don't worry if you don't know German--the tone of voice says it all. Just watch the first two minutes or so. Oh--and those two other creatures with him? Those are his constant companions, Chili das Schaf (Chili the Sheep) and Briegel der Busch (Briegel the Bush).

Monday, January 19, 2009

Protecting America's Children from...Books?

In February, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act goes into effect, which places stringent limits on the amounts of lead and pthalates that can be in products that will be used by children 12 and under. Makes sense, right?

But the authors of the bill apparently didn't give much thought to libraries. A lot of children's books probably contain trace amounts of lead thanks to the ink. According to some reports, the government wants children's books in libraries tested for lead. All of them.

That could run anywhere from $300 to $600 per book. I'm guessing my library has at least 10,000 children's books. Do the math.

Considering the state cut funding for Massachusetts libraries by almost $400,000 in October, I find it difficult to believe that anyone is suddenly going to find $3 million to test children's books in one library.

I'm as in favor of keeping chemical contaminants away from children as anyone. But I had a number of health problems as a kid, and I doubt any of them were caused by The House at Pooh Corner.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Flying the Surreal Skies

I was reading a report from KVITV (Boise) on how to have the best, cheapest flying experience possible. The author suggests paying extra for a different security screening:

At some airports, you can pay a yearly fee to go through a special security screening by non-TSA personnel who then escort you quickly through special TSA lines. You must provide a lot of personal information to the TSA, including counterfeit-proof identification such as an eye scan. Ted Krohn, an international consultant in Arlington, Va., said he and his wife find the security experience to be much better with this system.

So essentially, there are people allowed to do security screenings at airports who aren't the TSA. And they seem to be better at it than the TSA, who do 99% of the security screening, because once you pass muster with these guys, you can just go through special lines.

And to the author of this report the most important part of this non-TSA screening is that you have to provide a lot of information to the TSA (who, remember, aren't the ones screening you) and submit to an infallible ID-check.

1) I would be interested to learn what kind of personal information you have to provide to the TSA (and the people who aren't TSA), since it's pretty clear that they already do a very good job of collecting information about us.

2) I certainly understand that verifying passengers' identities can help security catch some of the bad guys. But remember 9-11? The incident that started all this? In spite of Mohammed Atta using a couple of aliases during his life, when the 9-11 hijackers boarded their planes we pretty much already knew who these guys were, eye scan or no eye scan.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

I'm back

Apologies to all five (or is it three?) of N&C's devoted readers for my month-long hiatus. One of my New Year's resolutions is to blog more often. So without further ado, the latest news of 2009 from those devoted public servants who keep us safe.

First off: well, let's just say it was inevitable. There's a new reality TV show about--yes, you guessed it--the Transportation Security Administration.* You can watch a few of the gag-inducing ads here, as well as a clip showing a TSA screener doing his duty--protecting an innocent nation from belly dancers.

I've never blogged about my own experiences with the intrepid protectors of the American public. They've generally been uneventful (if annoying), but I do think they're falling down on the job. At least in Jackson, Mississippi: I was actually allowed to check in without showing ID. Seems reckless to me: after all, considering the plane was a US Airways puddle jumper, it had enough fuel to do some serious damage. You think destroying the World Trade Center was a blow to the American psyche? I could have hijacked that puppy, flown straight north and taken out Graceland--or maybe headed East and destroyed the Coca-Cola Museum in Atlanta.

Either one would have been striking directly at the nation's soul.

But fear not: if Euro-looking guys can still board planes in the Bible Belt without so much a cursory show of ID, it appears flying while brown (or at least brown and head-scarved) still makes the TSA sit up and take notice.

On January 2, Atir Irfan and his family (including females wearing hijabs) boarded a TransAir flight at Reagan National. Inayet Sahin, Irfan's sister-in-law, began wondering aloud which seats on the plane were safest in conversation with another family member. They were put off the plane, questioned by the TSA and denied the chance to re-book. For good measure, another passenger seen talking to Irfan's family was thrown off the flight as well.

A family group wondering out loud about the safest place to sit on a plane? Yeah. Hijackers. Gotta be.

But I have to give the TSA some slack: it's probably been a little harder for them to think clearly in recent weeks: their new uniforms give them skin rashes and bloody noses.

*I spelled it out to avoid confusion with that other TSA, the Textile Services Administration.

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