Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Short Takes

Senate confirms Eric Fanning, first openly gay Secretary of the Army.

TSA apologizes, promises hundreds of new staffers at O’Hare.

Senate passes bill to allow 9/11 families to sue Saudi Arabia.

Human error, high speed blamed for deadly train wreck in Philadelphia last year.

Better late than never: Court orders Mississippi school district to desegregate.

Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau introduces bill to protect transgender rights.

The Tigers beat the Twins 7-2.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Terrorized By Al-Gebra

We have gotten to the point here in America where math is equated with terrorism.

On Thursday evening, a 40-year-old man — with dark, curly hair, olive skin and an exotic foreign accent — boarded a plane. It was a regional jet making a short, uneventful hop from Philadelphia to nearby Syracuse.

Or so dozens of unsuspecting passengers thought.

The curly-haired man tried to keep to himself, intently if inscrutably scribbling on a notepad he’d brought aboard. His seatmate, a blond-haired, 30-something woman sporting flip-flops and a red tote bag, looked him over. He was wearing navy Diesel jeans and a red Lacoste sweater – a look he would later describe as “simple elegance” – but something about him didn’t seem right to her.

She decided to try out some small talk.

Is Syracuse home? She asked.

No, he replied curtly.

He similarly deflected further questions. He appeared laser-focused — perhaps too laser-focused — on the task at hand, those strange scribblings.

Rebuffed, the woman began reading her book. Or pretending to read, anyway. Shortly after boarding had finished, she flagged down a flight attendant and handed that crew-member a note of her own.

The note informed the crew that she was afraid that her seatmate was scribbling was some Arabic terrorist code.

The woman and the man were escorted off the plane and quizzed by security.

What do you know about your seatmate? The agent asked the foreign-sounding man.

Well, she acted a bit funny, he replied, but she didn’t seem visibly ill. Maybe, he thought, they wanted his help in piecing together what was wrong with her.

And then the big reveal: The woman wasn’t really sick at all! Instead this quick-thinking traveler had Seen Something, and so she had Said Something.

That Something she’d seen had been her seatmate’s cryptic notes, scrawled in a script she didn’t recognize. Maybe it was code, or some foreign lettering, possibly the details of a plot to destroy the dozens of innocent lives aboard American Airlines Flight 3950. She may have felt it her duty to alert the authorities just to be safe. The curly-haired man was, the agent informed him politely, suspected of terrorism.

The curly-haired man laughed.

He laughed because those scribbles weren’t Arabic, or another foreign language, or even some special secret terrorist code. They were math.

Yes, math. A differential equation, to be exact.

Had the crew or security members perhaps quickly googled this good-natured, bespectacled passenger before waylaying everyone for several hours, they might have learned that he — Guido Menzio — is a young but decorated Ivy League economist. And that he’s best known for his relatively technical work on search theory, which helped earn him a tenured associate professorship at the University of Pennsylvania as well as stints at Princeton and Stanford’s Hoover Institution.

And the woman is an idiot.

Well, to be fair, I do know that a lot of people — myself included — who were at one point terrorized by math, especially algebra.  (Which, by the way, was invented by the Arabs.  Ah ha!)  But it also says something sad about the state of mind of people — not to mention the state of our educational system — that we get to the point where we think that differential equations are the same thing as a ransom note from ISIS.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Monday, April 18, 2016

They’ve Already Won

If America is supposed to be the beacon of freedom and human rights in the world, Americans have a very strange and dangerous way of showing it.

On April 6, UC Berkeley senior Khairuldeen Makhzoomi was supposed to fly from Los Angeles to Oakland, get to campus and go to class. Instead, Makhzoomi was removed from Southwest Airlines flight 4260, detained by security officers, questioned by the FBI and refused service from Southwest after speaking Arabic before his flight took off.

Makhzoomi, a 26-year-old Iraqi refugee, left Iraq in 2002 after his father, an Iraqi diplomat, was killed under Saddam Hussein’s regime. His family fled to Jordan, where they lived until the United States granted his family asylum. Today, Makhzoomi helps his mother care for his younger brother, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome.

One day prior to the incident, Makhzoomi attended a dinner at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council with Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon.

On his way back to Berkeley, Makhzoomi, a loyal Southwest premier rewards member, boarded his flight to Oakland and called his uncle in Baghdad to tell him about Ki-moon’s event. At the end of the phone call, conducted in Arabic, Makhzoomi said goodbye to his uncle with the phrase “inshallah,” which translates to “if God is willing.”

When Makhzoomi hung up, he noticed a female passenger looking at him. Once he made eye contact with her, she got up and left her seat.

“She kept staring at me and I didn’t know what was wrong,” he said. “Then I realized what was happening and I just was thinking ‘I hope she’s not reporting me.’”

Minutes later, an airport employee arrived to remove Makhzoomi from the airplane. Makhzoomi was escorted onto the passenger boarding bridge where he was met by three security officers.

He learned that the passenger thought she had heard the word “Shahid,” meaning martyr, which is associated with jihad and has been associated with terrorists.

The conversation between Makhzoomi and the employee became complicated and political. The employee informed Makhzoomi that he was not allowed to return to the plane.

Then Makhzoomi heard one of the security officers radio for the FBI.

We have gotten so freaking paranoid about anything that might be “furrin” or different that something as simple as a standard hang-up phrase in another language on the phone is a threat.

I blame the butch tough-guy talk from the wingnuts who are so full of false bravado but won’t let us move the last remaining corpses from Gitmo to the same supermax prison that’s holding the rest of the September 11 perps because they might look funny at someone.  They’ll talk about carpet bombing and then trash their shorts if the ghost of Osama bin Laden says boogedy-boogedy.

Forget about dirty bombs and shooting up nightclubs.  I truly believe that if ISIS really wants to conquer America, all they have to do is get a bunch of people to recite “Jabberwocky” in Arabic on the subway and the nation would grind to a halt.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Short Takes

Belgian prosecutors: France was actually the intended target.

CIA Chief Brennan: The CIA won’t waterboard again even if ordered to.

Cruz wins Colorado caucuses; Trump throws tantrum.

Danny Willet won the Masters after Jordan Spieth folded like a lawn chair on the back nine.

Ah, springtime: dangerous storms hit the South while cold hits the Northeast.

R.I.P. William Hamilton, 79, cartoonist for The New Yorker.

The Tigers and the Yankees were rained out.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Short Takes

British PM Cameron admits to being involved in offshore banking.

The man in the hat did something terrible, according to Brussels police.

Mexico shuffles diplomats in retaliation for Trump’s bloviation.

Michigan faces a ton of lawsuits over the Flint water crisis.

At least four people say they were abused by former Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Short Takes

Capitol Hill shooting — One police officer slightly wounded, gunman in custody.

Prosecutors in Belgium released the one suspect in custody in the bombing last week for lack of evidence.

California goes for the $15 an hour minimum wage.

Idaho allows those 21 and older carry a concealed gun without a permit within city limits.

Now we have “induced earthquakes.”  I wonder what the frack is causing them.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Friday, March 18, 2016

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Short Takes

Merrick Garland is President Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court.

American ISIS fighter is a “gold mine” for U.S. intelligence.

U.S. hits North Korea with new sanctions for nuclear tests.

Denmark regains its standing as the “happiest nation.”

What if Fox had a debate and nobody came?

R.I.P. Frank Sinatra, Jr., 72.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Monday, March 14, 2016

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Short Takes

The Pentagon reports that a major ISIS figure was killed in an air strike in Syria.

Mini-Tuesday primary results.

VP Biden is visiting Israel at a tense time.

A Baltimore police officer has been ordered to testify in the case of the death of Freddie Gray.

Missouri state senate Democrats are filibustering an anti-gay bill.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Short Takes

Reformists make gains in Iranian elections.

Seriously, Donald Trump doesn’t know who David Duke is?

Suspect in Virginia cop killing is identified as a Pentagon sergeant.

Air strike targets suspected ISIS convoy in Libya.

SpaceX scrubs third launch attempt this week.

And the Oscars went to…

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Short Takes

Car bomb hits military convoy in Turkey, killing 28.

President Obama will not attend Scalia’s funeral.

Apple fights court order to unlock San Bernardino suspect’s phone.

Nike drops boxer Manny Pacquiano as spokesperson after anti-gay remarks.

Not Me: Florida winners of huge Powerball win come forward.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Short Takes

President Obama: “We are hitting ISIL harder than ever.”

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, held captive for five years by the Taliban, faces court martial for desertion.

Congress works to avoid a government shutdown.

The Fed looks to raise interest rates, but not by much.

No Dice: Pete Rose kept on the permanent ban list of major league baseball.

Monday, December 7, 2015

No Magic Words

I watched the president’s speech last night from the Oval Office.  It was strong and delivered the right message: freaking out about ISIS is what ISIS wants, and we’re not going to beat them by demonizing an entire religion based on the extremism of a few who claim to adhere to it.

For some strange reason, this does not sit well with the Republican candidates for president.  Apparently they would rather run in circles, scream, and chant “radical Islamic terrorism” as if that would ward off the evil-doers.  They might as well sing “Bibbity-Bobbity-Boo” and get a nice outfit for the ball in bargain.

I don’t envy the President’s task of trying to calm a nation that is rightfully frightened by the events of the last few months.  It’s a lot more prudent to talk about how to deal with the threat of ISIS in real terms of strangling them in Syria and Iraq, but when it becomes a domestic issue and then gun control gets thrown in — another trigger point, so to speak, that sets the right-wing noise machine into overload — it becomes exponentially harder to deal with both issues.