Conceived above a saloon, delivered into this world by a masked man identified by his heavily sedated mother as Captain Video, raised by a kindly West Virginian woman, a mild-mannered former reporter with modest delusions of grandeur and no tolerance of idiots and the intellectually dishonest.

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Friday, January 09, 2004

Accurate earthquake prediction

This is a fascinating development, but it's almost reminiscent of the film Earthquake.

Let's assume this new approach works, and they predict the inevitable "big one" in six to nine months in Los Angeles. What will happen? You can't evacutate an urban center with a day's warning, but you can with six months. The implications stagger the imagination. Real estate values plummet, general economic collapse... whoo. It's almost better not knowing.

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Oh, yeah. I'm hyped.

Under normal circumstances I'd be thrilled at the establishment of a permanent colony on the moon. But since it's being proposed by the GOP, I suspect the purpose is to create the ultimate outsourcing/terrorist internment location.

And regarding outsourcing, there's this comment by Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who says "There is no job that is America's God-given right any more. We have to compete for jobs as a nation."

Since some CEOs make up to 200 times the earnings of the typical line employee, it would seem that companies could really lower their expenses by keeping the call center and manufacturing jobs here and outsourcing the executive positions.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2004

A cause worth supporting

First the dodo, then the passenger pigeon, then the snail darter... will the Pacific Northwest tree octopus be next? (The page takes a while to load. Be patient.)

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Tuesday, January 06, 2004

KGB's excellent air adventure from Pittsburgh to Chicago, told in excruciating detail.

Sunday, January 4:

11 a.m. I've been watching the Weather Channel all morning; they're claiming there are significant delays into Chicago because of the snow. I go to the United web site, and all the flights from Pittsburgh to Chicago are listed as on time. Hmm.

Noon. United cancels a 1:15 p.m. flight, but a 3:15 p.m. flight and my 5:30 flight are still listed as being on time. Hmmm.

1 p.m. I go to the FAA's air traffic control system command center web site. They say the average delay into O'Hare is five hours, with delays as long as nine hours possible. Back to the United web site. The 3:15 and 5:30 flights to O'Hare are still listed as being on time. This is like asking Ann Colter and Michael Moore their opinions of the Bush administration. The truth is probably in the middle somewhere, but it's really irritating that they're so far apart.

2 p.m. A quick check of the web sites; the FAA and United are apparently in parallel dimensions. The FAA delay is creeping toward six hours. United says they're still on time.

2:30 p.m. My cell phone rings. It's United's automated flight reminder system, assuring me that Flight 1475 to Chicago O'Hare will depart on time at 5:30 p.m. from Gate C53. I finish packing and exchange correspondence with my e-mail and phone pal, the legendary Stan Kelly-Bootle. Stan, bless him, is the first non-family member to order Eff the Ineffable, Scrute the Inscrutable online, even without me telling him that several of his pithy observations are in the book. What a guy.

3:00 p.m. Small disasters. I can't find the lottery tickets I bought yesterday. Also missing is my favorite Christmas gift, a baseball cap from my son with the embroidered message:

City Name
Sports Team Name

a perfect gift when one must live in Pittsburgh and work in Chicago and spend considerable amounts of time in both cities at airport bars lousy with rabid sports fans. Oh well. Like everything else, it will turn up somewhere, once all the Christmas debris is finally cleared away. And if I find the lottery tickets when I get to the apartment in Chicago and discover I won, I'll just charter a Citation back to Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh? I just won ten million and I'm planning to go to Pittsburgh in January?? God, do I lead a dull existence.

3:10 p.m. Tired of the FAA's apocalyptic ranting, I go back to United's web site. Aha. The 3:15 flight has been moved back to 4:45 p.m., which means my 5 p.m. flight will probably not push back from the gate until 6:30 or 7. But I'm not going to take that chance. On several occasions I've had on-time flights that were bracketed by other flights with monumental delays. So, a final goodbye to Beanie and out the door.

4:10 p.m. Since we're at a Code Orange alert, there are even more lane restrictions getting into the airport. Precisely how this increases security escapes me. There are several county police cars parked in the blocked lanes- staging areas for their random vehicle searches. But since it's pouring down rain, the cops stay in their cars assuming, one guesses, that the high humidity will put the fritz on any incendiary devices being smuggled into the airport.

4:15 p.m. I go through my normal routine, removing my watch and rings, emptying my pockets and stuffing the contents into my handy Scott eVest. I extract my drivers license and my boarding pass, which I printed out on my wife's inkjet printer before leaving home. (It would be trivial to forge one of these little beauties, and since the security people who check ids and boarding passes have no access to the airline reservation systems, they have no way of verifying the validity of the pass. But I digress.)

4:17 p.m. A quick look at the flight display shows my 5:30 flight is delayed. Surprise, surprise. I head down to security.

4:20 p.m. The x-ray lines are moderate but quick-moving. The non-TSA civilian security guy glances at the id and boarding pass and waves me through. At Chicago O'Hare, these quasi-security people are attired in really snappy suits and ties. The guy here in Pittsburgh is dressed like Mister Rogers... which, if you think about it, is comfortingly appropriate.

4:23 p.m. It never fails. I'm stuck behind a moron sporting more ornamental metal than a 56 Buick Roadmaster. And he has the audacity to look surprised when the magnetometer screams at him. It takes him two minutes to strip off all the frippery. Fortunately, the TSA guy tells him he doesn't have to de-install the piercings.

4:26 p.m. On the other side of security, I collect my things. A TSA guy compliments me on my metal-free suspenders. I compliment him on the professional behavior and friendly demeanor of the TSA staff in Pittsburgh. And I'm sincere. There are some TSA cretins at other airports who make Barney Fife look like a Green Beret.

4:32 p.m. I arrive at the gate to check on my flight's status. The 3:15 flight, which was supposed to leave from an adjoining gate at 4:30, is just starting to board. Their new departure time is 5 p.m. The monitor for my flight still lists 5:30 p.m. departure. I ask the gate agent if the display is accurate. Nope. And she has no idea of the new departure time and tells me to check back later.

4:34 p.m. Thank heavens I spend half of my time at Greater Pitt. It has a shopping mall with strictly enforced anti-price-gouging regulations, and the bars and restaurants still have smoking areas. On my way to The Original Oyster House in the A concourse, I hear United paging the first officer of the 3:15 (now 5 p.m.) flight, pleading that he return to the gate immediately.

4:40 p.m. I've been flying too much. The nice lady behind the bar remembers what I drink and has it ready before I get my coat off. Wow. It's either my scintillating personality or the fact that with my black wardrobe I look like The Matrix's Neo with a bad thyroid problem, admittedly a memorable sight.

5:00 p.m. My cell phone rings. It's the automated United guy, telling me my flight will leave at 6 p.m. I cash out, wander through a few book stores, hit the men's room and head back to my gate.

5:22 p.m. I arrive at the gate, where the departure time on the monitor is... 7 p.m. Maybe the United guy was on central time.

5:31 p.m. I fire up the laptop and start typing this log.

6:02 p.m. Various announcements, none concerning me. A nice guitar interpretation of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah plays over the PA system. Why are they still playing Christmas music?

6:14 p.m. Some lady throws a hissy fit at the check-in because she's going to miss her connecting flight in O'Hare.

6:21 p.m. I overhear a fellow passenger who says that despite the 7 p.m. departure time posted on the monitor, the gate agent "has no idea" when the flight will actually leave. "It might not be until ten, if it leaves at all," she says. In the meantime, there's a line as travelers from other canceled flights trying to get on this one.

6:25 p.m. The monitor, which briefly displayed the departure time as 8 p.m., has now switched back to 7 p.m.

6:30 p.m. Make friends with Max, a delightful 16 month old with red hair like my granddaughter. I show him Leanna's picture on my laptop, and he babbles approvingly. Yep. She's gonna be a real heartbreaker when she gets older.

6:40 p.m. They announce that a delayed flight from Milwaukee should arrive by 7:20. Swell. The monitor still claims a 7 p.m. departure. If that were so, we would have begun boarding by now. I look out at the dark 737 sitting at the end of the jetway. No announcement is forthcoming.

6:44 p.m. They begin boarding a Washington-Dulles flight at the adjoining gate. The monitor still says 7  for my flight. No announcement.

6:45 p.m. They announce a delayed flight from Toronto will arrive at 7:50. No information on our flight.

6:51 p.m. No announcement, but we overhear a gate agent telling someone who's going to get something to eat to return by 7:20 p.m.

6:52 p.m. There should be a federal law prohibiting the playing of Christmas carols after January 1. And don't give me that Orthodox crap. The rest of the world uses the Roman Catholic Pope's calendar. Get over it.

6:59 p.m. No general announcement, but they've rolled the monitor departure time back to 8 p.m.

7:02 p.m. Finally. The gate agent says they still don't have clearance into O'Hare and they'll get another update at 8. They suggest now would be a good time to get something to eat or go shopping, and advise us to be back in the gate area for the next delay -er- status update. "Worst case, we're looking at an 8:45  departure," the agent says.

7:03 p.m. Max's mom and dad ask if I'd mind watching their things while they grab something to eat. They left the Dominican Republic early this morning and were supposed to fly directly to Chicago, but their flight was canceled. They ended up in Philly, then Pittsburgh, and were hoping to get on this flight. I tell them to enjoy themselves. Oh, and the Milwaukee flight will be here in 20 minutes. Woo hoo.

7:06 p.m. The gate agent opens the jetway for a pilot-looking type fella.

7:10 p.m. ATA announces its flight to Chicago Midway has been canceled. I usually fly ATA between Pittsburgh and Chicago, but for some reason United's fares were lower for this trip, so I went with UA. Because of my business travel for my employer, I'm one of their "Premier" customers, which means I still fly economy, but it's some kind of mutant business economy, so I don't have to tuck my knees under my chin. On my last ATA flight, I was jammed into a row with a sumo wrestler with influenza and an opera singer with post-nasal drip. The ever-cheerful ATA attendant asked how I liked the leather seats, "an ATA exclusive!" "Great," I said. "It's like being inside a friggin' cow."

7:19 p.m. Still no lights in the cockpit, both figuratively and literally.

7:20 p.m. The gate agent announces that ATC has tentatively given us a 9 p.m. takeoff time, but that things are improving and we might get an earlier clearance. The agent admonishes us not to wander off to TGI Friday's, but rather to go to O'Brien's Pub where it's easier to hear the gate announcements. She says to check back at 8 p.m. I'm watching Max's faux leopard-skin covered car seat, a responsibility I take seriously, so I'm not going anywhere.

7:22 p.m. The Milwaukee flight has arrived, and the gate area is awash with grumpy cheeseheads.

7:25 p.m. I call my wife and tell her the flight will leave at 9 p.m. So, naturally, as soon as I hang up...

7:26 p.m. The gate agent announces they are going to board at 8 p.m. Hope the people who went to O'Brien's Pub at 7:20 p.m. heard that.

7:34 p.m. Max and his folks return. I tell them about the current schedule and the ATA Midway cancellation. Max's dad says he heard there's a power failure at Midway. That's going to make things interesting.

7:35 p.m. Max and his entourage again disappear into the Airmall.

7:38 p.m. Another member of the flight crew heads down the jetway. And it looks like the first officer's in the cockpit.

7:50 p.m. The monitor now says the flight will depart at 8:15 p.m., which means they may start boarding prior to 8. Or not. Max and his folks are still off Airmalling.

7:53 p.m. Max, et al., return.

7:58 p.m. The "boarding process" begins.

8:03 p.m. I stow my stuff and settle into seat 5A, which is even with the intake of the left engine. One reason I like flying United is they allow you to listen to the flight deck radio; but the sound system isn't on. Meanwhile, the rain is coming down in sheets.

8:08 p.m. The official welcome and admonishments, which includes one I don't remember ever hearing before: don't put your laptop in the seatback pocket.

8:10 p.m. I tell a passing flight attendant the sound system isn't on. She says she'll check on it.

8:10:31 p.m. Wow. The audio's on, and the attendant returns to confirm that I can hear the flight deck channel. I wonder if it's because I'm scribbling times and notes in my journal.

8:15 p.m. The seat belt lights come on, and the one bell signal chimes. There's a sound on the flight deck channel that resembles windshield wipers. The plane's only about 3/4 full, and it looks like I have the entire row to myself. I wave to Max in the back of the plane. He's a good kid, and is quiet for the rest of the flight.

8:17 p.m. They close the hatch and tell us to turn off our electronic devices.

8:18 p.m. We must have disconnected from the jetway umbilical and are running on batteries. The cabin air is off.

8:19 p.m. Doors are armed for departure, and we get the safety lecture.

8:20:47 p.m. Pushback starts. It's still pouring.

8:21:42 p.m. The pusher disconnects.

8:22:02 p.m. The captain says things seem to be improving at O'Hare.

8:23:11 p.m. The cabin lights dim. I turn on the overhead.

8:23:40 p.m. The right engine starts.

8:25:46 p.m. Cabin air is back on, now that the right engine is generating power. Left engine startup. It's still pouring.

8:26:23 p.m. We begin to taxi.

8:28:04 p.m. The pilot tells the ground controller we're ready to go. He tells us to head for runway 10 Center, a hair south of due east. I remember my flying lessons from three decades ago; if you're heading east, it's either raining or it's gonna rain. Or snow.

8:30:26 p.m. Well, that was fun. We're too early. Ground tells us to pull over and shut down the engines at the captain's discretion and monitor the tower frequency.

8:32:40 p.m. The captain kills the running lights.

8:34:20 p.m. The engines are shut down. Cabin ventilation goes as well. At least the rain is letting up a bit.

8:35:22 p.m. The pilot tells us the ATC Command Center in D.C. has given us a 9 p.m. release to O'Hare, but that the local controllers have some leeway and might be able to get us out a few minutes earlier. He says there are three to nine inches of snow on the ground in Chicago, and that they're plowing the runways. The wind is from the northeast at 20 knots (23 mph), visibility's one mile, and it's still snowing. He turns off the seat belt sign, tells us we can use our cell phones.

8:40:01 p.m. Music from the adjoining channel bleeds through the tower chatter: Michael McDonald singing "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." Old white men should not sing Motown. I speak from experience.

7:42:11 p.m. Temporal displacement. I set my watch to central standard time.

7:49:01 p.m. My left sinus clogs. I fish through my backpack and pull out some nasal spray. Oops. No tissues. The uppity lady who acted like she was the only one inconvenienced by the delays is sitting directly in front of me, and she has a long scarf that she's tossed over the back of the center seat. An ethical evaluation begins.

7:50:00 p.m. Ten minutes before our scheduled departure. The right engine spins up.

7:51:03 p.m. One bell, the cabin air returns, and the left engine starts.

7:52:50 p.m. Time to turn off the cell phone, saith the pilot.

7:53:30 p.m. Pre-takeoff announcements.

7:53:55 p.m. The pilot tells the tower we're ready to go. "Six minutes, sir," is the terse replay. Oooh. They're strict.

7:56:30 p.m. The tower tells us to taxi into position on 10 Center and hold, the pilots tell the attendants to prepare for takeoff.

7:57:47 p.m. We're cleared to go, and told to remain on the runway heading after takeoff, which means we're going to fly directly away from Chicago. We start rolling immediately.

7:58:30 p.m. Wheels up.

7:59:27 p.m. The tower tells us to turn left to 360 degrees and contact Pittsburgh departure control. Then the stewardess starts blathering about the marvelous beverage service.

8:00:54 p.m. We turn left and head due west, 270 degrees.

8:02:47 p.m. Pittsburgh departure hands us off to Cleveland Center. The ride's a bit bumpy, and it looks like it's really snowing hard out there.

8:03:32 p.m. The pilot tells Cleveland we're at 11,000 climbing to 14,000. Cleveland tells us to climb to 23,000.

8:04:55 p.m. Cleveland asks for a speed check. We're tooling along at 300 knots (about 345 mph).

8:06:20 p.m. Pretty choppy, and we're still in the clouds.

8:07:52 p.m. Cleveland tells us to turn to 280 and we're cleared to the Briggs VOR.

8:09:08 p.m. We're handed off to another Cleveland controller on 119.87.

8:09:33 p.m. We're at 24,200 climbing to 28,000. Still snowing or something out there. This is one thick cloud deck.

8:10:20 p.m. My ears pop.

8:11:05 p.m. Looks like just your basic clouds out there now. The seat belt sign goes off.

8:11:48 p.m. We're at 28,000 and it's still choppy.

8:12:46 p.m. More chop. The seat belt light is back on. The pilot says we should be through it in ten minutes or so. He also says they're plowing the runways at O'Hare and our touchdown will be at 9:15 or 9:20.

8:14:08 p.m. We're told to change frequency a couple times. The pilot eventually answers. This is encouraging.

8:14:57 p.m. A Continental pilot asks Cleveland if they know the Sugar Bowl score. Someone else asks for the score of the Colts/Broncos game. The controller says he'll check. Glad these guys are focused. I mean, I'm in a pressurized metal tube loaded with thousands of gallons of explosive liquid, hurtling through the upper troposphere at 400 miles per hour, in the dark, in the clouds, and they're worried about football.

8:15:26 p.m. We're directed to climb to 31,000. Improvement in chop expected in 60 miles.

8:16:15 p.m. The Sugar Bowl score is broadcast.

8:16:20 p.m. The controller reports the score of the Indianapolis/Denver game, and calls it a debacle. A moan from another pilot. Here's hoping a) he didn't bet the house on the game and b) if he did, his medication is properly adjusted.

8:16:52 p.m. Woohoo! An entire can of ginger ale for my very own, along with some trail mix.

8:19:50 p.m. Finally above the clouds. Things smooth out, and the seat belt light is off again.

8:23:12 p.m. Uh oh. Calamity. A peanut is stuck in the hole of a lower left molar, where a filling dropped out in 2000. I search my pockets and backpack for one of those handy combination dental pick/floss hickies. I can't find them.

8:27:40 p.m. Cleveland asks how we're doing. "on top and smooth," replies the pilot. Sure. You don't have a peanut inextricably lodged in your skull.

8:29:50 p.m. We're handed off to Chicago Center, and we report in at 31,000. The search for a dental tool continues.

8:31:56 p.m. Coffee? Nah, I'll be up all night. Wait a minute... my eyes are drawn to the plastic stirrers on the coffee tray. Why, yes, I'd love some coffee.

8:34:25 p.m. They pick up the empty ginger ale can and plastic cup as I conduct major excavations in my oral cavity.

8:38:43 p.m. Ah. Got the peanut out with the stirrer, blew my nose with the napkin that accompanied the coffee. Just call me MacGuyver.

8:41:23 p.m. Chicago tells us to descend to 25,000. I glance out the window... the deck seems much lower here and the full moon illuminates the clouds. Sorta resembles an arctic landscape.

8:46:31 p.m. We switch frequencies and check in; we're at 28,500 heading for 25,000, still 300 knots.

8:47:27 p.m. It's getting a bit bumpy. Chicago's altimeter (barometric pressure) is 29.94, which is kinda high for a storm.

8:48:59 p.m. Chicago gives us a heading of 260.

8:51:20 p.m. More vectors into O'Hare.

8:54:30 p.m. More vectors, Victor.

8:55:25 p.m. Landing lights on.

8:56:45 p.m. We're told to slow to 250 knots, turn left to 280.

8:58:40 p.m. We're handed over to Chicago approach control.

8:59:10 p.m. Ah, vector this, pally.

9:00:23 p.m. For the next two minutes, the flight attendant announces connecting flight and gate information. She apologizes because the information is an hour old and is obviously wrong, and says those going on to other flights will have to check the displays in the terminal. Since she apparently likes the sound of her voice, she reads off seven connecting flights and one flight that has been canceled. As an afterthought, she mentions that all of these flights were scheduled to depart O'Hare before our incipient arrival. Thanks for the update, babe.

9:02:34 p.m. We throttle back a bit. Must have received an order to continue our descent while the useless connection litany was being performed.

9:04:45 p.m. We're directed to descend and maintain 8,000 feet. Our pilot notes that the frequency is awfully quiet; you'd expect a lot more radio traffic on the approach to the nation's busiest airport. "Uh, I'm the feeder kind of guy," the controller says, and promises things will get more active on our final approach.

9:05:30 p.m. Switch frequency to 128.45.

9:06:31 p.m. Descend from 8,000 to 5,000.

9:07:20 p.m. Some other planes are talking about icing. Ack.

9:07:27 p.m. We throttle up. Must be at 5,000 now.

9:08:10 p.m. We're cleared for a simultaneous IRS approach, which means we're still in the clouds and someone else is going to be landing at the same time on a parallel runway. Well, it is O'Hare, you know.

9:09:10 p.m. We're given a heading of 270. I think we're going to land on one of the 27 runways, which seems odd. Low pressure rotates counterclockwise, so we should be landing to the east.

9:10:30 p.m. Approach tells us to stay at 5,000 but slow down to 180 knots.

9:11:28 p.m. Field conditions: wind 040 at 17 gusting to 22, 27 degrees in light snow. Wind 040? We're heading for a 9 runway. 9 is short for 090 degrees, the direction of takeoff. If we were to take off to the west, it would be on runway 27 (270 degrees). Same strip of concrete, just different numbers painted on either end.

9:11:53 p.m. Laptops off, we're goin' in.

9:12:46 p.m. Flight attendants prepare for landing. Yep, it's snowing out there.

9:14:50 p.m. Turn left to 280.

9:16:35 p.m. Turn right to 350.

9:17:42 p.m. Turn right to 060 to intercept Runway 9 Right. We're still in the clouds.

9:18:30 p.m. Maintaining 180 knots.

9:19:12 p.m. 170 to DEANA (a nondirectional radio beacon), monitor and tell them when we get there. Still in the clouds, and it's snowing.

9:20:50 p.m. The altimeter is up .01, to 29.95. The front must be moving out.

9:21:15 p.m. Flaps and airbrakes. Yep, this must be Chicago.

9:22:50 p.m. We're in and out of the clouds; the ground's visible.

9:23:40 p.m. We're beneath the deck now.

9:23:57 p.m. We're cleared to land on Runway 9 Right.

9:24:41 p.m. Gear down. The main roads look wet; secondary roads are snow covered. Doesn't look like that much snow, though.

9:25:40 p.m. Tower says runway braking is fair to poor. Swell.

9:26:21 p.m. Over the threshold.

9:26:24 p.m. Touchdown, and the crowd goes wild. Total flight time, 1 hour, 27 minutes, 54 seconds.

9:26:29 p.m. The thrust reversers kick in.

9:26:31 p.m. The pilot pumps the brakes. We slip a little, but decelerate nicely. Straight as an arrow.

9:26:56 p.m. We turn left off the runway onto the taxiway.

9:27:15 p.m. The flight attendant lapses into airline English. She'd like to welcome us to Chicago, but never really does.

9:28:08 p.m. No new information for those with connecting flights. The attendant requests Chicago passengers to permit connecting customers to deplane first, which seems silly, since all the connecting flights are probably halfway to their destinations.

9:28:54 to 9:45:10 p.m. We're cleared to Gate C7, normally a rather short trip. But this is Chicago in a snowstorm. Due to delays and cancellations, there are more jets than available gates. The "penalty box," a parking area used by planes awaiting open gates, is filled. All the deicing pads are in use, too. For over 15 minutes I listen to a remarkably calm, professional ground controller move more than a dozen planes around the taxiways, since there's no place else to put them.

9:45:15 p.m. We arrive at C7, but have to wait for the guide person to wave us in.

9:46:00 p.m. The cabin lights come on.

9:46:48 p.m. We're in.

9:48:12 p.m. Of course, the C concourse at Terminal 1 is as far as you can get from the train, and I'm in no mood to run. I duck out for a smoke (Irony: there are enclosed, heated smoking shelters at O'Hare. Non-smokers can enjoy the refreshing feeling of sub-freezing air and feel superior at their leisure.) Back inside, a quick stop at the men's room, and now the long underground walk to the CTA station.

10:10:06 p.m. Onto the Blue Line, which has lots of available seats.

10:51:32 p.m. 17 stops later I get off at Washington and State, take the tunnel over to Dearborn to transfer to the Red Line.

10:54:15 p.m. Arrive at the Red Line stop.

10:57:20 p.m. The 95/Dan Ryan arrives. More crowded than the Blue Line, but I still get a seat.

11:30:14 p.m. 16 stops, and down to Granville Avenue. Ah, Granville Food and Liquor is still open. I pick up vital supplies: a pint of milk, a two liter bottle of Diet Dr Pepper, and a box of Frosted Flakes.

11:35:11 p.m. Out of the store, heading 358 to my apartment building. 358? Better make sure my gear is down, too. It's been a long day.

11:37:44 p.m. In the lobby, check for mail, and the elevator trip to the 10th floor is uneventful.

11:40:55 p.m. And I'm in my apartment. Unpacked, showered, connected to the net, checked e-mail, added some quotes to the quotations database, read some web sites, watched the last half hour of True Lies, packed the backpack for the trip into work later this morning, had a bowl of Frosted Flakes, medicated myself.

January 5, 3:20 a.m. Into bed. I have to get up in three hours.

Sometime before 6:30 a.m. I dream I decide not to fly back and forth any more. I leave the apartment, flag a passing 737, and we taxi all the way to Pittsburgh. At least I remembered my dental floss.

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Monday, January 05, 2004

Torture by proxy?

(From the San Francisco Chronicle.)

On Sept. 26, 2002, U.S. immigration officials seized a Syrian-born Canadian at Kennedy International Airport, because his name had come up on an international watch list for possible terrorists. What happened next is chilling.

Maher Arar was about to change planes on his way home to Canada after visiting his wife's family in Tunisia when he was pulled aside for questioning. He was not a terrorist. He had no terrorist connections, but his name was on the list, so he was detained for questioning. Not ordinary, polite questioning, but abusive, insulting, degrading questioning by the immigration service, the FBI and the New York City Police Department.

He asked for a lawyer and was told he could not have one. He asked to call his family, but phone calls were not permitted. Instead, he was clapped into shackles and, for several days, made to "disappear." His family was frantic.

Finally, he was allowed to make a call. His government expected that Arar's right of safe passage under its passport would be respected. But it wasn't. Arar denied any connection to terrorists. He was not accused of any crimes, but U.S. agents wanted him questioned further by someone whose methods might be more persuasive than theirs.

So, they put Arar on a private plane and flew him to Washington, D.C. There, a new team, presumably from the CIA, took over and delivered him, by way of Jordan, to Syrian interrogators. This covert operation was legal, our Justice Department later claimed, because Arar is also a citizen of Syria by birth. The fact that he was a Canadian traveling on a Canadian passport, with a wife, two children and job in Canada, and had not lived in Syria for 16 years, was ignored. The Justice Department wanted him to be questioned by Syrian military intelligence, whose interrogation methods our government has repeatedly condemned.

The Syrians locked Arar in an underground cell the size of a grave: 3 feet wide, 6 feet long, 7 feet high. Then they questioned him, under torture, repeatedly, for 10 months. Finally, when it was obvious that their prisoner had no terrorist ties, they let him go, 40 pounds lighter, with a pronounced limp and chronic nightmares.

Why was Arar on our government's watch list? Because "multiple international intelligence agencies" had linked him to terrorist groups. How many agencies? Two. What had they reported? Not much.

The Syrians believed that Arar might be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Why? Because a cousin of his mother's had been, nine years earlier, long after Arar moved to Canada. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police reported that the lease on Arar's apartment had been witnessed by a Syrian- born Canadian who was believed to know an Egyptian Canadian whose brother was allegedly mentioned in an al Qaeda document.

That's it. That's all they had: guilt by the most remote of computer- generated associations. But, according to Attorney General John Ashcroft, that was more than enough to justify Arar's delivery to Syria's torturers.

Besides, Ashcroft added, the torturers had expressly promised that they would not torture him.

Our intelligence agencies have a name for this torture-by-proxy. They call it "extraordinary rendition." As one intelligence official explained: "We don't kick the s--- out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the s--- out of them."

This secret program for torturing suspects has been authorized, if that is the right word for it, by a secret presidential finding. Where the president gets the authority to have anyone tortured has never been explained.

It is time someone asked. What our government did to Maher Arar is worse than anything the British did to our Colonial forefathers. It was worse than anything J. Edgar Hoover did to alleged Communists, civil rights workers and anti-war activists during his long program of dirty tricks.

According to the Bush administration, we are at "war" with al Qaeda. If so, then delivering a suspect to torturers is a war crime and should be prosecuted as such. But first, we need to know who was responsible, and that will not be easy- unless there is a firestorm of protest.

Isn't it time to condemn torture by proxy and demand prosecution of the persons responsible? Isn't it time to question how these watch lists are assembled and used, before more of us fall victim to secret detentions and brutal interrogations based on guilt by computerized associations?

Christopher Pyle teaches constitutional law and civil liberties at Mount Holyoke College.

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Sunday, January 04, 2004

Eff the Ineffable, Scrute the Inscrutable...

...a 440 page paperback containing over 11,000 quotations from the KGB Quotations Database, is finally available here.

The cover shot really doesn't do justice to the quality of the book's typesetting. Look here to see a sample of the real McCoy.

Back to Chicago tonight... maybe. It's supposed to cloud up and crap over there today, and getting into O'Hare on a Sunday night can be difficult even when the weather is good. But my flight leaves relatively early (5:30 pm), so even a substantial delay will still get me into town in time to make it to work.

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Copyright © 1987-2024 by Kevin G. Barkes
All rights reserved.
Violators will be prosecuted.
So there.  
The e-mail address is now something other than saga. used to be until December, 2007 when the domain name broker Trout Zimmer made an offer I couldn't refuse. Giving up and adopting created a significant problem, however. I had acquired the domain name in 1993, and had since that time used as my sole e-mail address. How to let people know that was no longer but rather which is longer than and more letters to type than and somehow less aesthetically pleasing than but actually just as functional as I sent e-mails from the address to just about everybody I knew who had used in the past decade and a half but noticed that some people just didn't seem to get the word about the change. So it occurred to me that if I were generate some literate, valid text in which was repeated numerous times and posted it on a bunch of different pages- say, a blog indexed by Google- that someone looking for would notice this paragraph repeated in hundreds of locations, would read it, and figure out that no longer is the they thought it was. That's the theory, anyway. Ok, I'm done. Move along. Nothing to see here...


Crystal Methodist

Laugh while you can, monkey-boy

I am a professional. Do not try this at home.

I canna change the laws of physics

As a matter of fact, I *am* the boss of you.
(as a matter of fact, i AM the boss of you.)

Truly great madness cannot be achieved without signficant intelligence

I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Left wing liberal nut job

Flies spread disease. Keep yours zipped.

Eff the ineffable, scrute the inscrutable.

If my answers frighten you then you should cease asking scary questions.

If evolution is just a theory, why am I surrounded by monkeys?

Nutrition makes me puke

Feral Geek

eat wisely

Dyslexics have more fnu!

It's here!

Eff and Scrute

440 pages, over 11,000 quotations!

Eff the Ineffable, Scrute the Inscrutable

get kgb krap!

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