Art of the Day

Artemisia Gentileschi, Jael and Sisera.

Jael and Sisera

Spare a Thought for Nancy Pelosi

She is only the House minority leader, and the former speaker of the House. And she was speaker when Obamacare was passed. How could she possibly have known that there would be implementation failures? I mean, it’s not as though she was, or is a powerful political official with access to information, or anything.

Recall as well that Pelosi famously told us that we had to pass Obamacare in order to find out what is in it. Well, we did, and I suppose that she is in the process of learning the contents of the legislation. So, let’s give her time. I am sure that she will come to grips with all of the implementation problems associated with the Affordable [sic] Care Act approximately ten years after the Chicago Cubs win the World Series.

Quote of the Day

We knew the full-body scanners didn’t work before they were even installed. Not long after the Underwear Bomber incident, all TSA officers at O’Hare were informed that training for the Rapiscan Systems full-body scanners would soon begin. The machines cost about $150,000 a pop.

Our instructor was a balding middle-aged man who shrugged his shoulders after everything he said, as though in apology. At the conclusion of our crash course, one of the officers in our class asked him to tell us, off the record, what he really thought about the machines.

“They’re [EXPLETIVE DELETED–ed.],” he said, shrugging. He said we wouldn’t be able to distinguish plastic explosives from body fat and that guns were practically invisible if they were turned sideways in a pocket.

We quickly found out the trainer was not kidding: Officers discovered that the machines were good at detecting just about everything besides cleverly hidden explosives and guns. The only thing more absurd than how poorly the full-body scanners performed was the incredible amount of time the machines wasted for everyone.

It worked like this: The passengers stood between two enormous radiation sensors—each of the machines twice the size of a refrigerator—and assumed the position for seven seconds, feet spread shoulder-width apart, hands above the head, making Mickey Mouse ears. The policy was to have three officers on the checkpoint floor to coach passengers into position for the machine and administer pat-downs when necessary. The images were analyzed for threats in what was called the I.O. room, short for Image Operator, which locked from the inside.

I.O. room duty quickly devolved into an unofficial break. It was the one place in the airport free of surveillance cameras, since the TSA had assured the public that no nude images of passengers would be stored on any recording device, closed circuit cameras included.

The I.O. room at O’Hare had a bank of monitors, each with a disabled keyboard—which perfectly summed up my relationship with the TSA. I spent several hours each day looking at nude images of airline passengers with a keyboard that didn’t work, wishing I could be doing what I loved: writing. To pass the time, I phantom-typed passages on the dumb keys: Shakespeare and Nabokov and Baudelaire.

The scans were grotesque, ghostly looking black-and-white images parading across our screens. I found comedy even in the I.O. room’s name. I had been brushing up on my Greek mythology for a writing project at the time, and couldn’t help but relate the I.O. room to the myth of Io and Zeus: Zeus shrouded the world with cloud cover to hide his relations with the beautiful Io from his jealous wife, Hera. But Hera suspected something was going on, and brought the affair to an end.

Most of my co-workers found humor in the I.O. room on a cruder level. Just as the long-suffering American public waiting on those security lines suspected, jokes about the passengers ran rampant among my TSA colleagues: Many of the images we gawked at were of overweight people, their every fold and dimple on full awful display. Piercings of every kind were visible. Women who’d had mastectomies were easy to discern—their chests showed up on our screens as dull, pixelated regions. Hernias appeared as bulging, blistery growths in the crotch area. Passengers were often caught off-guard by the X-Ray scan and so materialized on-screen in ridiculous, blurred poses—mouths agape, à la Edvard Munch. One of us in the I.O. room would occasionally identify a passenger as female, only to have the officers out on the checkpoint floor radio back that it was actually a man. All the old, crass stereotypes about race and genitalia size thrived on our secure government radio channels.

There were other types of bad behavior in the I.O. room—I personally witnessed quite a bit of fooling around, in every sense of the phrase. Officers who were dating often conspired to get assigned to the I.O. room at the same time, where they analyzed the nude images with one eye apiece, at best. Every now and then, a passenger would throw up two middle fingers during his or her scan, as though somehow aware of the transgressions going on.

But the only people who hated the body-scanners more than the public were TSA employees themselves. Many of my co-workers felt uncomfortable even standing next to the radiation-emitting machines we were forcing members of the public to stand inside. Several told me they submitted formal requests for dosimeters, to measure their exposure to radiation. The agency’s stance was that dosimeters were not necessary—the radiation doses from the machines were perfectly acceptable, they told us. We would just have to take their word for it. When concerned passengers—usually pregnant women—asked how much radiation the machines emitted and whether they were safe, we were instructed by our superiors to assure them everything was fine.

We were also ordered to tell the public that the machines were 100 percent effective, security-wise, in the event that any citizens caught wind of rumors to the contrary.

Then, in March 2012, a blogger named Jonathan Corbett published a video on YouTube, titled “How to Get Anything Past the Full Body Scanners.” In it, Corbett revealed one of the greatest weaknesses of the scanners, known to everyone I talked to within the agency: A metal object hidden on the side of the body was invisible to an image operator. Corbett showed how a passenger could bring a pistol to the airport and get it past the full-body scanners and onto a plane.

Jason Harrington. It’s official; the TSA is a joke.

MSNBC: The Shock-Jock Network

MSNBC sees it as its mission in life to rile conservatives and outrage people. We have seen this tendency play itself out in Martin Bashir’s comments about Sarah Palin, in Melissa Harris-Perry’s–and friends’–comments about one of Mitt Romney’s grandchildren, and now we see it anew in a tweet that all but outright states that all right-wingers are racists. As such, MSNBC is–and should be viewed as–a network of trolls, by trolls, for trolls.

And we know the standard rule when it comes to trolls: Don’t feed them.

But of course, MSNBC is not your run-of-the-mill troll. It is a vast news network, capable of shaping public opinion and public debate, which means that in this case, the standard rule ought to be dispensed with. Instead of just making sure that we don’t feed trolls, we ought to embarrass a network that believes it is right and proper to make entirely unsubstantiated allegations about people with whom they don’t agree politically. That includes fighting back against smears that are spread by MSNBC, demanding greater accountability from the leadership of the network, demanding that people who outrage and offend–instead of informing and enlightening–get fired, and telling advertisers that they ought to think twice about putting their ads on a network that keeps finding itself apologizing for dumb comments made by its employees. Employees who are given the power and the privilege of being public faces of MSNBC.

I don’t expect the people who work at MSNBC to agree with me politically, and it ought to go without saying that it is perfectly fine for them not to agree with me politically. But as news reporters and newsmakers, they ought to be responsible adults. And if they fail to be responsible adults, there ought to be negative consequences for that failure.

Incidentally, if you made a giant fuss about the Duck Dynasty kerfuffle, but think that there is nothing wrong with MSNBC stating that the “rightwing” has a problem with biracial families, you might want to consider the possibility that you are being a hypocrite.

Obamacare Is Supposed to Help the Uninsured . . .

So, I guess that it is interesting to note that the uninsured don’t seem to like it all that much. I recognize that it is fashionable for port-side pundits to tell us that the problems with Obamacare have come to an end, and that it is smooth sailing from here on out when it comes to registration and getting coverage, but maybe the problems associated with the programs implementation–problems that are continuing–have turned a number of people off, and maybe there will be a political price to be paid by supporters of Obamacare as a consequence.

And maybe none of this should really surprise anyone at all.

“Is the New York Times Biased?”

Yes. Next question?

Still More on the American Studies Association and Its Boycott of Israeli Universities

A fine statement against the boycott by UCLA chancellor Gene Block. And all hail Stephen Harper. (I presume that there will now be claims that AIPAC is exercising its well-known insidious influence on Canadian prime ministers.)

Incidentally, the universities engaged in the boycott may be violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I would not be surprised if they were, and a lawsuit regarding this issue would be downright hilarious.

Magnus Carlsen v. Bill Gates

It wasn’t even a contest.

Quote of the Day

Other things being equal, income equality is better than inequality. But other things are NOT equal. The easiest way to make incomes more equal in the short run is to have a recession.

Much has been made of growing income inequality since 1979, but very little attention has been paid to which of the four presidental administrations preceding Barack Obama increased income equality and which ones reduced it. In short, the two presidents whose terms involved improving income equality were the two George Bushes and the two whose terms were associated with worsening after-tax income equality were Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. It is probably not an accident that the two presidents in whose administrations the GDP grew the most were the two presidents whose time in office coincided with worsening income equality.

The president under whom the poorest quintile enjoyed the largest increase in after-tax household income was George W. Bush. And the two administrations under whom the richest quintile and richest 1 percent fared the worst were the two Presidents Bush. Among Barack Obama’s four immediate predecessors, the two biggest income equalizers were George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

Just to be clear, I am not pining for the good old days of the economy of George W. Bush.

But George W. Bush was the most successful of our recent past presidents in achieving very substantial increases in incomes for the poorest quintile (+18.4%), while keeping gains for the richest quintile and richest 1 percent at modest levels. For example, under Bush the Younger, the incomes of the richest 1 percent rose only 6.5 percent in eight years, compared to a staggering 84 percent under Clinton and 91 percent under Reagan.

If you would rather have Bill Clinton’s economy than George W. Bush’s economy – and I definitely would – then as a practical matter you probably don’t care overmuch about income equality.

Jim Lindgren.

You Haven’t Been Misled by the New York Times, You Are Being Given the Opportunity to Explore an Alternative Reality

Have I mentioned recently that the state of journalism is nothing short of awful?

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