Sunday, June 26, 2011

Notes From an Infrequent Flier

We ventured this past week where only the foolish or the brave dare
to tread. We took a cross-country flight on a commercial airliner.

Oh, sure, we’d read the stories about bumped passengers, lost
luggage, delays due to various volcanic eruptions and computer
glitches not to mention enhanced TSA pat-downs that looked like a
porn movie casting call.

But sometimes you just have to get up and go. So we did. Los
Angeles to Washington, D.C. Flying time, anywhere from four and a
half to five and a half hours, depending on how much the carrier
needed to lie to chalk up an on-time arrival.

Things went smoothly at LAX until we went through security. I have
a pair of knee replacements due to too many years of jogging,
football, basketball, racquetball and many other kinds of ball all
undertaken with great energy while carrying too much weight.

As a result, I set off the alarms at TSA security as if I was
carrying a flame thrower under my shirt. No big deal. A wand here,
a wand there. I’m use to it.

But the pat-down that ensured, conducted by a young man who tried
hard to be pleasant, was more like an autopsy. I felt like he was
poking and prodding my internal organs, looking for one that might be
prime for transplant to another human.

In the past, I believed the hue and cry over airport security was
overblown. The alternative was to turn our commercial airliners
into potential flying bombs. So I endured it with a smile.

I can deal with the new procedures, intrusive and time consuming as
they are. But they are frankly dehumanizing and embarrassing. The terrorists seem to have won this round.

Contrast the hands-on approach at LAX with the scanner at Dulles in
Washington. I know scanners have come under fire as well but after
the groping in Los Angeles it was a relief.

You walk in, put your hands behind your head, and they squeeze off a
picture. It takes about 10 seconds for you to be cleared. If
there’s some TSA agent in a dingy room somewhere salivating over my
image, I sincerely wish them a well-adjusted life.

In a choice between two evils, the scanner ranks lower on the
humiliation scale.

The United Airline plane we flew was showing its age, the upholstery
threadbare, the carpet worn. No headsets were provided for movie or
audio use. By contrast, the same flight back did provide
headphones. Go figure.

The airline magazines were dog-eared, with pages missing and
crossword puzzles filled out in ink by some previous passenger. I
guess I could have double checked his work. I passed and engrossed
myself in the latest Sky Mall offerings, including a security blanket
for dogs designed to ease separation anxiety. Does the owner get one

United is supposed to have passable airline food. I didn’t see
anyone ordering it. The guy next to me pulled out a 3 foot sub he
brought with him and devoured it like he was in a competitive eating

There seemed to be fewer tourists in Washington than I have seen in
the past. But the convention business appears to be alive and well.
The Biotechnology Industry, which says its goal is to feed and fuel
the world, presumably with differing products, was expected to draw
15,000 participants. The Lego Fan Festival is coming up not to
mention the U.S. Air Guitar Championships.

We took in the U.S. Open golf tournament at Congressional Country
Club, a favorite hangout of golfing presidents including the likes of
William Howard Taft and Calvin Coolidge. The course is the size of
Delaware and with a clubhouse that is bigger than the Rose Bowl.

I was glad to see the National Mall was in much better shape than we
saw two years ago when we were last in town. Then, most of the grass
was dead or dying. Reflecting pools were filled with putrid water.
Sidewalks are crumbling. Improvements have been made but there’s
still a long ways to go.

I guess I missed it when it was announced but a new presidential
memorial is being planned in Washington, this one dedicated to Dwight
Eisenhower. I did a quick mental rundown to determine if anyone
was more deserving.

There isn't. He led America to victory in Europe during
World War II and served two terms as president. I’ll forgive him his
choice of vice president. Remembering back, it seemed everyone liked

Monday, June 13, 2011

Some Strange Truths

Unless you've secluded yourself in a Trappist monastery recently, you've heard the sordid tale of Anthony Weiner, the bright young congressman from New York who got caught with his pants down, literally.

It seems Mr. Weiner was discovered sending suggestive pictures of himself via Twitter to a college-age woman in Seattle. The photographs were waist down and close up, sort of like a TSA pat-down.

At first he denied it, claiming instead his Twitter and Facebook accounts had been hacked and he was the victim of a vicious prank.

But, he added, "I can't say with certitude" that the picture is not of him.

Then, with the media snapping at his heels like a pack of pit bulls, Weiner admitted he has engaged in "several inappropriate" electronic relationships with six women over three years, and that he publicly lied about a photo of himself sent over Twitter to the Seattle woman.

"I take full responsibility for my actions," Weiner said. "The picture was of me, and I sent it."

OK, a bizarre story, right? But not unheard of. Earlier this year, Rep. Christopher Lee, R-N.Y., abruptly resigned from the House of Representatives after a report emerged that he had sent flirtatious e-mails, including one with a bare-chested photo of himself, to a woman he met on Craigslist. Lee is married and the father of a young child.

But the story of Anthony Weiner is more than the tale of a fallen politician. It's loaded with more truth-is-stranger-than fiction twists and turns then the road to Hana.


When Weiner became a young, single congressman, he dated a string of high-profile young women, according to published reports. Among others, he was romantically linked to television personality and "cybermodel" Alli Joseph.

About the same time, Weiner sponsored a bill to increase the number of visas available to models by 1,000. The representative's spokesman said it was just economics to bring jobs to New York City, but the New York Post was skeptical. "Seems Anthony Weiner is working hard to increase his dating pool," the tabloid quipped.

Eventually, love found Anthony Weiner and he married Huma Abedin, a longtime personal aide of Hillary Clinton, on July 10, 2010. Weiner is a Jew. Abedin is a practicing Muslim. Unusual, sure. But that's not the half of it.

Presiding at their wedding was none other than former President Bill Clinton. Which in retrospect might have been a bad omen.

After the scandal broke, Weiner reportedly called President Clinton to apologize for his transgressions, to which TV commentator Jon Stewart remarked, "Apologizing to Clinton for what, copyright infringement?"

As Weiner embarked on his sexting escapade, conservative bloggers were tracking his Twitter account so carefully that they sent warnings to women who were being followed online by Weiner to be wary of him, according to The New York Times.

Weiner was copied on the warnings.

Even so, knowing that he was being watched, he kept up his stream of lewd communications.

This information fell into the hands of Andrew Breitbart, a conservative commentator who had been largely discredited for selectively editing a videotape of an African-American official with the Department of Agriculture to make it appear she refused to help a white farmer. She was fired, then was offered her job back after Breitbart's methods were revealed.

Shortly after Breitbart disclosed Weiner's activities , he was suddenly being described as a "media force" in what could only be characterized as a major comeback.

In one of the strangest interviews in recent memory on CNN, the formerly discredited Breitbart was questioned by the formerly discredited Eliot Spitzer, who starred in his own sex scandal, about the currently discredited Congressman Weiner. Talk about strange bedfellows.

Weiner was a leading candidate to become mayor of New York City and had raised $3.9 million for a potential campaign in the 2013 mayoral election.

But with that run in jeopardy, the door has opened for a new candidate: Alec Baldwin.

Alec Baldwin? The guy who stars in "30 Rock" and has hosted "Saturday Night Live" several dozen times? Yup, the same.

An outspoken Democrat, Baldwin has apparently contemplated a political career for some time. Baldwin's rep, Matthew Hiltzik, told the Hollywood Reporter, "I wouldn't rule it out," when asked about the potential run for mayor.

If Baldwin is successful, he would join Al Franken as the second "Saturday Night Live" star to win political office. Franken is a U.S. senator from Minnesota.

You can't make this stuff up.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

An Earfull About Cell Phones

News and views:

News: A World Health Organization panel has concluded that cellphones
are “possibly carcinogenic,’’ putting them in the same category as
certain dry cleaning chemicals and pesticides, as a potential threat
to human health.

Views: While there’s some debate over the validity of this finding,
there’s no question that cell phones have done something to our

At the same time they provide the ability to communicate instantly
with anyone, anywhere, anytime, cell phones have also (1) accounted
for a sharp uptick in auto accidents caused by people who think they
can chat and text while piloting a two-ton vehicle through traffic
and (2)accounted for a sharp uptick in rude and boorish behavior by
social morons who converse loudly in restaurants, theaters, elevators
and, yes, even public restroom stalls.

I wonder if the study probes the dangers of second-hand phone

Not that the WHO findings will result in a massive life style change.
After all, we have been warned that any number of life’s little
pleasures from grilled meats to martinis to coffee to sunlight are
hazardous to our health, disclosures that often are met with a shrug
of the shoulders.

Living can lead to death, or so it seems.

Should you be concerned? To the amazement of no one, the cell phone
industry says don’t worry, be happy.

But Dr. Keith Black, chairman of neurology at Cedars-Sinai Medical
Center in Los Angeles, told CNN: “The type of radiation coming out of a cell phone is called non-ionizing. It is not like an X-ray, but more like a very
low-powered microwave oven.

"What microwave radiation does in most simplistic terms is similar to
what happens to food in microwaves, essentially cooking the brain,"
Black said.

"So in addition to leading to a development of cancer and tumors,
there could be a whole host of other effects like cognitive memory
function, since the memory temporal lobes are where we hold our cell

In other words, if the idea of sticking your head in a microwave and
hitting the start button causes you some discomfort, try holding your
cell phone at arm’s length. Better yet, try texting. It may save your brain and improve your hand/eye coordination.

News: A United Airlines passenger smacked a fellow flier over an
unwelcome seat recline this past weekend, according to a story in the
Washington Post. Fighter jets escorted Ghana-bound United Airlines Flight 990 back to
Washington Dulles International Airport after the fight broke out
Sunday night.

Views: There’s no question this happens with some frequency. What
elevated this particular incident to news status is that someone
decided to scramble the United States Air Force to resolve it.

I was on a flight to Denver several years ago, sitting in the last
row of seats, when I fell victim to Abrupt Recliner Syndrome.

A woman sitting in front of me thrust her seat as far back as it
would go but I couldn’t recline in self defense because last row
seats don’t adjust.

She was so close I could smell her toothpaste.

I eventually called the flight attendance because I couldn’t drop the
tray table in front of me to eat my lunch. No fisticuffs ensued.

It’s just another example of the complete disregard the airline
industry has for its customers’ comfort and well being.

As the amount of leg room has declined to near claustrophobic
proportions, reclining seats seem like a genuinely bad idea. Among
other things, it’s a good way to get your lap top buried in your
intestinal tract.

Of course, you can always turn your fresh air valve up to full blast
and aim it at the recliner’s head or loudly complain that your
tuberculosis is getting worse. But that might lead to the kind of bad
blood that results in a F-16 escort.

Besides, any day now, airlines will probably start charging extra for
reclining seats which could minimize the issue.

News: In a survey ranking the gross national happiness of each
nation, China came out first.

Views: And North Korea came out second. Rounding out the top five
were Cuba, Iran and Venezuela. The United States finished last.

And who, you might well ask, conducted this survey? Why, none other
than everybody’s favorite paradise on earth, the People’s Republic of
North Korea.

I, for one, actually believe North Korea is a happy place. Because
unhappy citizens don’t get to stick around long enough to take part
in surveys.

As for the Chinese, they’re No. 1 because they’re happy they’re not
North Korea.