Tuesday, April 30, 2013

. . . Freedom to Choose to be Patted Down?

In the Land of the Free
Freedom is a word that has significant value to those who do not possess it, though it seems that it has taken on a distinct lack of emotional value for those who are so used to possessing it as a right that the only time they can be bothered to think about it - and what it means to them - is when some minor inconvenience like clearing TSA checkpoints at the airport causes them to feel as if their possession of that valuable right has somehow been threatened or denied.

Far from being a genuine denial of freedom, I suspect that those largely ineffective and often pointless rules the TSA is charged with enforcing are, for lack of an easier and more convenient defining gesture, the best that the government can manage while appearing as if they are doing something to prevent another event like 9/11 from happening again.
Laughter is the best lubricant!
If disallowing passengers possession of a pair of nail clippers or a nail file, scissors, knitting needles, or a miniature souvenir Red Sox wooden mini-bat  - or for that matter carrying more than an ounce of any liquid out of fear that the liquid might constitute part of a binary explosive - if these blanket denials will prevent the plane from being forcibly diverted from its programmed route (or worse) well then it has to be said: That is OK by me!

Considering that we live in a society in which many not only willingly tolerate the often insulting antics of celebrities like Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton as they hold up lines at boarding gates, shopping malls, and restaurants, or occupy jail cells that should be housing a genuine criminal - tolerate to the extent that members of our society actually pay real money to subscribe to magazines, TV shows, and web sites whose main reason for existing is to cover those insane antics in great detail, well. . .

That being so, it really is rather difficult to generate a legitimate measure of outrage over the inconveniences that we suffer in the name of security.

The fact that we, as a culture and society, appear to be willing to write off those odd actions and reactions as just the sort of behavior that one must expect and accept from the rich and famous, why then the anger and concern that the public shows when their elected representatives in Congress and the Senate act out in equally insane ways simply confuses us.

It seems like there is some sort of double-standard in play here.  

After all, these elected representatives are simply allowing the combination of their personal fear and skewed sense of reality to lead them into approving and even calling for "security protocols and policies" that appear to make as much sense as Charlies Tiger Blood diet, well...

Let me put it this way: If a TSA agent feeling you up at an airport security checkpoint is a necessary step in assuring the safe flight of the plane you will be a passenger on, then grope away!  Winning!

If you think about it even just a little, the only sensible conclusion you can draw is that being groped or having your naughty bits prodded or rubbed by a stranger with a badge and a gun is a small price to pay in order to avoid stepping into the porno-vision security scanners now ubiquitous at those checkpoints - and really, who knows where those images of you in see-through clothing really do end up?

It has been alleged that by simply inverting a TSA airport security scanner image using the image program Photoshop, the scammed images convert modesty into to a measure of realistic tint and detail that is exactly what the TSA and the government said it couldn't reveal. 
According to a story on the website The Drudge Report as well as other claims made both online and in print, the normal scanner output that resembles the sort of images you are used to seeing in hospital X-Ray film (such as the one in the above image left) can, with a simple filter and the click of a mouse button, also be viewed in glowing fleshy detail (such as the one in the above image right).  

The image above has been widely used to allegedly prove this, and to disprove it; it has been called a smoking gun, and it has also been called a putrid scam.  But if you think about it even for a moment, in this case truth simply does not matter.

Once an image like this gets wide play online, whether it is real or fabricated, the end result is simple to predict and it seems that trends in choosing between being porno-scanned and being groped lean heavily in favor of the latter rather than the former to the point that rumor has it that some TSA Checkpoints are not allowing the traveler a choice.  

Able bodied travelers are being directed into the scanners, while the infirm, disabled, and travelers who pitch a fuss sufficient to cause the TSA agents to give up are being sent through the grope lines.

Where is the Fun in That?

It occurs to us that unless you happen to number among the rich and famous, or you are a member of that minority of the human race considered to be genuinely handsome/attractive/too sexy for your cat, chances are pretty high that the official gropers at TSA do not actually enjoy their jobs as much as we would like to believe that they do when we make them grope us...

It is too bad that the TSA chose not to hire me as a paid consultant, because I could have cleared all of this fuss up for them in under 15-minutes, and that includes the time it took to fabricate the  illustration embedded below that serves as a proof-in-concept sample!

An easy solution to getting groped that will keep everyone happy: restrict pat-downs to the genetically superior clones of (from left to right) Alastair Mackenzie, Angela Lansbury (circa 1956), Charlize Theron (from pretty much any year, mmmm), and David Tennant, offering grope-ees their selection of grope-ers that really are too sexy for my cat, what you think about that?
TSA missed a golden opportunity to head-off traveler frustration by failing to implement my new  policy effectively restricting agents who fill the role as the designated feeler-uppers of female travelers to only those who have the good looks and charming personality of Alastair Mackenzie (Monarch of the Glen) and David Tennant (Dr. Who). 

For the official feeler-uppers of male passengers only agents with the attractive qualities of  Charlize Theron (Sweet November) or the lovable and mysterious Angela Lansbury (as the slightly creepy but oh-so-sexy Princess Gwendolyn from 1956's The Court Jester)...

There you go!  Mischief Managed!

TSA, that'll be a dollar-two-ninety-eight please. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

. . . the Boston Marathon Bombings

This post was revised and edited on 11 May 2013 for reasons that will be made clear in its revised and edited body...

The starting lineup for the 1971 Boston Marathon.  As the race progresses large clouds of runners form up in what race regulars refer to as "Herds" - patterns and groupings that duplicates along the route but generally in smaller clouds of runners  Current speculation suggests that this was the formation that the bombers were hoping to have present in the approach to the finish line when they set off their improvised explosive devices.
Post Summary: Why you should try not to post long and complicated broadsides that argue moral points when you are still angry about the subject you are writing about;  How in a shocking surprise I find myself willing to entertain the notion that the world just might reap significant benefits when people who perpetrate horrific acts of violence are summarily executed. 

Speaking of the Boston Marathon Bombings
by CM Boots-Faubert

CAPE COD - Shortly after the events of 15 April 2013  I found myself digging into the background of the only surviving member of the criminal pair who set off improvised explosive devices near the Boston Marathon finish line, not in the interests of journalism, but rather in the interest of finding something particularly nasty that would justify my confused feelings that perhaps a public and immediate execution without the expense and wasted time of a trial was really actually a pretty good idea...  

Not one of my proudest moments, I confess, but once I decided to seriously make use of the information I have already obtained, the idea of continuing to cover this story, and perhaps by doing so make sense of the conflicting emotions I am feeling towards it - and them - and maybe even obtain a useful and healthy result, well that holds a strong attraction for me.

The process of beginning this series required me to approach the subject from a very different direction than I usually do as a result of the personal nature of how I ended up on this "assignment" in the first place, the end result of that being that I have briefly become part of its story, at least with respect to how I ended up choosing to cover it, and that is something I am not at all happy with.

That being the case I intend to quickly and completely move past that portion, but before I can do that I have to exercise some of the demons therein, so you will have to bear with me for that boring bit and you will need to consider that, far from burying the lede here, this slow start to the subject is a reflection of my need to explain all this, and so it feels quite necessary to me.

As we begin that journey we have to start somewhere, and logically that somewhere should begin with the subject of capital punishment...

18 U.S.C. 2332a/18 U.S.C. 844(d),(f),(i)

The death penalty is an issue that I struggle with, and my willingness to see it applied in this case and quickly - I confess that at the time that I wrote the original article I was feeling very positive about it being applied in this case; and it certainly will be applied against the surviving Tsarnaev brother under the anticipated Federal charges, of that I had (and have) little doubt.

The only way that Tsarnaev might get out from under that noose is to come to some sort of a plea agreement with the Federal Prosecutor that they and the courts will accept, but at this point that hardly seems likely, since it seems very important to the nation to fully understand what motivated this attack and the only way that is likely to be achieved is for a full trial with a rigorous defense to be mounted.

This seems very likely, particularly if the rumor is true that the defendant in this case intends to offer an affirmative defense.  But that is a subject that will be covered, and in some detail, later in the trial stage of this dog-and-poor-Russian-bear-show.

The issue of capital punishment is actually pretty simple when it comes to terms of setting it out on paper, in black and white, it being a legal process whereby a person is put to death by the state as a punishment for a crime, and the finality of that sentence and its execution is a form of punishment that denies any possibility of reform.  

That is a problem for people who believe that prison is all about reform, and providing convicted inmates with the opportunity to turn their life around while they serve out the sentence that the state (or in this case the Federal government) has deemed necessary to best serve the public interest and society.

Intellectually I know sometimes it is simply necessary to save society from the very real threat posed by truly evil humans.  I know that reason dictates that there are some criminals who are, for any number of reasons, simply beyond redemption; that given the opportunity to do so and the freedom to act, there is no question or doubt that they will re-offend, and likely re-offend by committing the very same crime for which they were sentenced to death. though I am not sure how that could be made to apply in this case, if the older brother was playing the role that he is widely being portrayed as having played.

I suspect that emotionally at least, a major element of the conflict in my personal feelings and moral opposition to the death penalty has a lot to do with my having been raised as an Irish-Catholic, having been educated in Catholic schools, and having successfully survived the indoctrination experience provided by very enthusiastic Agents of Action known far and wide informally (but never to their face) as "The Penguin Mafia" - a group of kind, caring, sincere, and brutal women who, in their role as educators have proven that their efforts - which I should probably point out were included as a value-added service  provided free-of-charge to entire generations of Catholic schoolboys - generally have had glowing results.

In God We Trust?
Thanks to the sisters I have always felt that, save for very exceptional cases, the right to take a life as a form of punishment has pretty much been at the moral discretion of one single authority -  which is God -  and I have to admit that emotionally I still see that as being His power alone.

There is a mental condition that the experts call cognitive dissonance that is said to be experienced as an intensely discomforting and disturbing feeling that can include mental and emotional pain as well as physical discomfort, because when the human mind finds itself simultaneously holding two or more conflicting ideas, beliefs, or values, chances are pretty good that it will somehow manage to communicate how unpleasant it finds that experience. 

I suspect that it was cognitive dissonance that I was experiencing when I wrote the original article that I have now revised with this one, and following a lengthy and uncomfortable reconsideration that was provoked by a combination of negative feelings, and that was also helped along by a number of email-based  conversations in which people who know me pretty well - and people who don't know me at all - made some disturbingly similar observations about what I had written and what it might have meant, both in the arena of the literal and perhaps more significantly for me, in areas of psychology and mental health, of which I claim total ignorance - that is my story and I am sticking to it... 

It seems that from the outside looking in I appeared to be very conflicted.  I certainly felt very conflicted, and besides that, just who do I think I am to question the judgement of learned individuals anyway?!  

Seriously, several of these genuinely concerned individuals with whom I found myself corresponding have the letters M.D., M.P.H., M.S.W., Ph.D., and ABPN, following their names, so I decided it was better to err on the side of caution and hear them out, and I am glad that I did.  

Besides it turns out (I actually looked it up) that the process for becoming a certified head-shrink is very long and involved one that also happens to be wicked expensive, and for the most part includes as follows and generally speaking in this order:
  • Bachelor's in Psychology (4-years) AKA: B.S. (or possibly a B.A. depending)
  • Doctorate in Medicine (another 4-years) AKA: M.D.
  • Psychiatric Residency (yet another 4-years)
  • Become Licensed in your State (it turns out they don't just trust you, you have to take a test)
  • American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (You get Certified) AKA:  ABPN
Since none of them sent me a bill for services rendered I decided to take advantage of the help and hey, it helped.  In the end result it turns out that I was that I seemed to be very conflicted about the entire matter, I hope I have found a middle ground.

Equally I suspect that this strong inner conflict explains how and why I doggedly put the very considerable skills that I have acquired from nearly six years of getting people to talk to me and tell me things that they shouldn't to the task of peeling back the public and private facades that are the life and personalities of the boy by seeking out the people in his life who apparently knew him best: his mates with whom he not only attended classes at UMASS Dartmouth, but was also socially active with including playing Xbox. 

As they revealed the person that was their friend to me, I came to appreciate a lesson that you tend to learn early on in the process of acquiring skills in the art of the interview - and specifically the practice of allowing periods of silence to follow the answers you receive to the questions that you ask, as silence in that sort of environment often finds itself being filled by answers or discussion on a surprising variety of topics.

save for very exceptional cases, 
the right to take a life as a form 
of punishment has pretty much 
been at the discretion of one 
authority -  God

As I walked the cat back to its source I discovered indications that suggested that there was a fundamentally flawed personality at war with itself, and along that path I learned that in addition to a deeply ingrained love (and I use that word authoritatively here) for marijuana, as well as a fascination for the television series Weeds, from Showtime, of which he was a major fan and from which he found great inspiration there were some additional anomalies present that were worth noting.

In addition to those revelations - which it should be emphasized do not easily fit in very well with your typical world view for a dedicated and sincere Muslim - it was suggested that a rather enthusiastic and strong set of feelings that casual sex was a far more satisfying pursuit than might be obtained from traditional marriage - it was alleged that Dzhokhar had professed the sentiment upon more than one occasion in which he suggested that his ideal "relationship" would have to include bisexual girlfriends (plural) so that they could love each other as well as him.

According to close friends like his flatmate and regular gaming partners the well-developed entrepreneurial ambitions of Tsarnaev, including plans to develop his own custom hybrid strain of medical marijuana and plans to open a theme-based boutique-style chain of Medical Marijuana Pharmacy starting in Massachusetts and eventually expanding to other states.   

For a number of reasons these two stood out... Later examination of security video showed them planting the bombs.
Those rather lofty goals and Tsarnaev's celebration in March of forward momentum on the part of the Commonwealth Health Department in moving forward with plans to finalize the requirements for Medical Marijuana Pharmacy license requirements were offered as reasons by friends as a good reason for their difficulty in accepting that their mate could have had anything to do with the bombings, which they believe entirely out of character for him.

 Unreserved Communication

For a few days following the revelation that Tsarnaev was wanted in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing his friends were willingly and openly discussing him with pretty much any reporters from the world media clever enough to track them down or figure out hot to reach them, and in fact they were eager to be interviewed in order to explain why the allegations had to be a mistake.

In what turned out to be just a brief few days in which I was able to talk openly with the people who knew him, and access their candid and unguarded replies to most questions, adding silence to the backside of each question often resulted in revelations both related and unrelated, as these friends tried to fill that silence with sound.

Most of what I consider the crucial character-related information obtained as a result of this approach arrived in carefully created moments of silence in which for the friends it seemed as if they found it necessary to continue taking any opportunity to convince me; for them to take the conversations we were having in the direction that they subconsciously desired, which naturally evolved into a process of defending their memory of their relationships with this man/boy/monster that in the beginning it was clear they honestly believed they knew.

As we talked though, that situation gradually changed, and as it did so I observed each of them slowly developing a different impression as they came to suspect that the reality was that while there was this person that they knew, there was also a person that clearly they did not know, and that dawning comprehension had a decidedly negative impact on both what they wanted to talk about and increasingly served to narrow the path of what they were willing to voluntarily share.  

Towards the end of that time the path narrowed considerably to a point at which they were no longer sharing spontaneous personal observations, emotions, or insights into the personality of their friend, nor were they allowing themselves to follow the side-trails that the different subjects previously caused them to wander down.

It became increasingly obvious, at least to me, that they were struggling to come to terms with why they were talking with me at all, or why they had shared much of the information that they had already revealed.

I am not usually able to follow the subtlety of this sort of winding and conflicted path unless I am physically in the same room with the person I am interviewing, so that I can see their expressions and the important clues to be found in their eyes, though in this case it became evident that at least part of the advantage that I had in the phone conversations turned out to be my inability to sense when we were wandering off the established path and into the minefields, which resulted in my asking questions - and obtaining answers - that I am certain I would not have tried had I been physically present with them.

Because of this, when they finally began to close me out in earnest, I experienced it as a palpable shift; an almost physical change in tone and frequency that was as evident as written words that were immediately followed by a blank page. 

As they began to shut me out I realized that what was happening here was both obvious and simple; it seemed obvious in that as they each began to grasp different aspects of the enormity of the charges surrounding the many crimes for which Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will soon be called upon to explain and defend, and for which he will very likely be harshly judged. 

The observations that they freely offered during the interviews provided a unique view into the fallout of a deceptive double life which, only days before seemed like a reasonable issue about which to discuss, and was suddenly one of many issues that now felt anything but innocent or natural, evidently taking on a very sinister overtone.  

It was as if they were awakening for the first time to the fact that they had shared highly personal observation recollections of events with someone who could potentially hurt their friend by simply repeating what they said. 

What they thought of as the "real" person who it was obvious they believed that they knew was now instantly at odds with the image of that person being thrust upon them via the media, and while they were ideally placed to spot the outright fabrications and mistakes, it was very clear that they did not like what they were seeing; some of them even said as much.

A sudden reluctance to continue the interviews seemed to manifest itself like a plunge into ice water, as just before they stopped accepting calls or calling me, they began backtracking through the previous conversations, asking me what we had previously discussed, as if the collage of  subjects was not clear to them if it ever had been, and the shockingly open and candid story that began to unfold, far from being parts of a reassuring conversation that only days or hours before seemed like a good idea now took their thoughts in a decidedly different direction.

I certainly had not anticipated where those conversations would take us.

Trapped at the Beginning

When I assembled my own take on the muddled collection of characters that must naturally contribute to the private personal identity that we each of us hold of and for ourselves, I am willing to bet that at the moment the current mental address for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is not a very pleasant place to dwell for the average 16 waking hours of each day, or for that matter during the eight hours of what must be a welcome oblivion of sleep - and I am not alluding to the cell-like room in the jail ward of the hospital in which his physical form is locked.

On the one hand there is are the several seemingly fractured images that I imagine must be conjured up both by the identity that he presented to each of his friends, and which I discovered during the interviews, each version of this person called Jahar being subtly different from the next.  

During uninterrupted weekdays spent either at school or at the flats of his friends, we have firsthand accounts that those promiscuous and hedonistic versions were allowed to run free, only to find themselves reigned in and safely locked away during the weekends which were spent in the company of older brother Tamerlan, to whom it seems that Dzhokhar presented if not a sober and sincere religious face than at least a repentant one.

On the other hand there is - according to his family - this innocent, highly religious and conservative little boy who loves sports and whose name is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  

What they present as a known quantity who according to a reliable source can only count upon a dead brother he talks to at night in his hospital bed, and a mother who is half the world away and in full denial, who is in no way shy about sharing her convictions that both of her sons have been set up by the US government as the newest pawns - or scapegoats - in the ongoing war on terrorism.

It seems likely that these two distinct private versions that we know about are really a collection of fractured variations on a theme whose title page might read "Who Am I?" while the two public versions must naturally be total strangers to each other when they chance to meet in the early morning hours on either side of  the mirror.