Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A short course in deductive observation

From the 14 thumbprint-sized purple bruises on the right inner thigh, we deduce that this windsurfer climbed back on her sailboard no fewer than 14 times on the port side.

Just above the inner left knee, a mottled purple circle some 3-1/2" to 4" in diameter suggests she got back on the board at least as many times from the starboard side. The greater concentration of bruises suggests greater dexterity in regaining the board; thus we deduce that she is right-handed.

Eyewitnesses report that shore wind direction varied from north to east and wind speed from calm to gusts of 20 mph. Frequent 180-degree shifts were observed in sail activity of wind-driven vessels at the center of the lake. The boat ramp, sole access to the lake, is situated on the east-northeast shore; i.e. upwind.

That the sole bruise in the upper chest area is on the left suggests, together with the wind direction, that at least half the falls occurred on a downwind or beam reach when the sailboard was traveling away from the boat launch. Witnesses report that the windsurfer fell head first at least twice while traveling downwind, but failed both times to make contact with the point of the sailboard.

The board itself was made in West Germany. Hence we deduce that is no less than 18 years old. In addition, the mast foot travels freely in the mast track.

Witnesses further report that the sailboard and rigging were abandoned for approximately 1/2 hour on the east bank of the lake. Witnesses also report that the user later transported sailboard and gear back to the boat launch using a plastic paddle.

Scratches 5" and 6" inches above the left and right knees respectively, taken together with the approx. 45-degree slope of the embankment above the lake shore, suggest that brambles between the lake and the county highway were no less than 2-1/2 feet high.

Whether she was having fun yet will be ascertained when she wakes up, which could be as early as tomorrow afternoon.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Aha! Lookit! I Was Right!

New York's police commissioner, Ray Kelly, has just told us the signs that an American is turning into a homegrown terrorist:1

*He stops wearing baseball caps.
*He grows a beard.
*He starts surfing radical Islamic websites.

You know what this means, folks?

The New York City police care whether you wear a baseball cap! They want to know when you stop.

It's not just your girlfriend, your mom, and your buddies who notice your facial hair. The police notice too!

You thought only Google and nefarious marketeers tracked where you park your eyeballs on the web, but noooo--reading a radical Islamic web site puts you on a police watch list!

What did I tell ya on August 11? Huh? What did I tell ya?

And about that bridge collapse in Minnesota: What did I tell ya on July 22? Huh? Huh?

If I may quote the late guitarman Les Paul:2

Come to FididdlyDaily and you will know the truth.

1"NYPD Warns of Homegrown Terrorist Threat," Tom Hays (Associated Press Writer) August 15, 2007, Associated Press, 7:22 PM EDT
2"Come on in and you will know the truth" was the slogan Les Paul used in his later years at Fat Tuesday--the club where he performed on (cough) Mondays.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Giuliani: Better from a Distance

Trivial matters do affect our lives, and for that reason I'd like to comment on Rudy Giuliani.

The leader-hero of 9/11, Giuliani was the model for the hot-dogging district attorney of Bonfire of the Vanities,1 and he still makes a better comic character than a leader in a democracy. Does anyone else think it's funny that the mayor with the foresight to develop a crisis command center--perfect for the disaster of 9/11--located it in the World Trade Center?

Okay, so it's not funny. But neither is Giuliani, whose shining moment occurred when the disaster gave him a near-dictator's powers.

That's no surprise: Giuliani loves giving orders, getting limelight, and using force. He's the politician who ran the ball on the "broken-window policy" of crime, which holds that if you crack down on small crimes you prevent bigger ones. He also pushed for CompStat, the computerized crime tracking system, which led to far more effective law enforcement.2 It is no doubt thanks to Giuliani's prior spadework that New York now has one of the best counterterrorist intelligence systems in the world--or so says The New Yorker.3

We can be glad about this. I like being able to walk the dog at midnight. But it's worrisome if you care about civil liberties--the chief political issue of our day.

Since the Bush administration turned the Constitution into a paper airplane and sent it out the window, CompStat is looking a lot scarier. How far away is a system that adds cameras to the mix, like the one China is implementing now?7 I bet it sounds great to Giuliani.

Look at Rudy's mayorship. The city had a brand-new civilian complaint review board when Giuliani was elected, and Giuliani fought it. Of the eight policemen fired for brutality between April 2006 and October 2007, most had been convicted of actual crimes. State law required their dismissal. Only one was fired based on review-board actions.4

Then came election year. The police started monitoring "problem" officers. Turns out there were 225 who'd had six or more complaints against them.5 Six or more!

Also smack in the middle of the Giuliani years6: The death of Amadou Diallo--an unarmed man, dark-skinned in a dark place, who was killed by some 41 police bullets--and the unspeakable Abner Louima crime, in which a gang of white policemen rammed a broom handle up a black man's rear end in a police-station bathroom.

Diallo's death involved mixed signals and automatic weapons, but it's hard to imagine its taking place in a tonier neighborhood than the South Bronx. As for Louima's torture, there are no mitigating arguments. Where do thugs in uniform get the idea they can get away with brutality? From attitudes filtering down from the top, that's how.

In short, Giuliani is like a high-school athlete with bad acne: Better seen from a distance.

When Rudy was in action as the city's quarterback after 9/11, he was a marvel--or so I'm told; I didn't see it personally. But Giuliani is profoundly a local star. In his first shot at the big leagues, he recommended Bernard Kerik (New York's police commissioner during 9/11) as Homeland Security head. Kerik's star fizzled on account of a few mere peccadilloes from his past. Kerik pled guilty to two: bribery and failure to report a "personal loan" as a potential conflict of interest.8

But hey, Kerik was a policeman.

As for ugliness, let's not forget how Giuliani told his wife (and children) that he was separating from her: He said so at a press conference. This followed a number of public events to which Giuliani brought his girlfriend. 9 Lest anyone doubt Giuliani loves the limelight, he was once fond of taking the stage in drag at charity events.

When voters get a close look at Rudy, they'll recoil. That makes his glory-hound run for the White House merely annoying, like Mitt Romney. At least Rudy's wasting right-wing campaign cash.

In one way, though, Giuliani differs from our hypothetical high-school athlete: There's a cure for acne.

1Tom Wolfe's 1987 novel.
2One policeman's description of CompStat: http://www.nycop.com/Oct_99/Comstat_at_One_Police_Plaza/body_comstat_at_one_police_plaza.html
3"The Terrorism Beat," William Finnegan, July 25, 2005, The New Yorker
4"Safir Has Dismissed 106 Officers, 8 for Brutality," October 6, 1997, New York Times
5Police Dept. Begins a Monitoring Program for 225 Problem Officers," New York Times, 9/17/1997.
61997 and 1999, respectively. A BBC News report from July 8, 1999, describes some of the issues of police treatment of minorities: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/388758.stm. BTW, the city's answer to complaints of police racism was Gee, we need to get more minority police officers. If a minority policeman is the thug, nobody can call the police racist. This is simple reasoning. More accurately, it's stupid.
7Wrote former parks commissioner Henry Stern, “Officials have gotten into trouble for sexual misconduct, abusing their authority, personal bankruptcy, failure to file documents, waste of public funds, receiving substantial unrecorded gifts, an association with organized crime figures. It is rare for anyone to be under fire for all seven of the above issues." --quoted in "Busted," by Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker, January 10, 2005. Mead's article is a stitch and a half. See also: "High Infidelity," by Steve Benen, in The Washington Monthly, 7-8/2006.My info on what Kerik pled guilty to came from (blush) Wikipedia.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Afraid of Sharks? Ha Ha!

I tried windsurfing a long time ago, when I lived on the California coast near San Francisco. Back then, the occasional shark attack on a surfer, not to mention the movie Jaws, was enough to keep everyone I knew out of salt water.

I can't say that I've gotten over my fear of sharks. Stats don't help: You're more likely to be struck by lightning than be bitten by a shark, especially if you stay on shore; however, there's always an exception. Just because you can't think of one doesn't mean a shark won't.

Learning about sharks doesn't help either. For instance, if you think you're safe in fresh water, you've never heard of a bull shark--or a porbeagle. Porbeagles have nothing to do with dogs. I hear they're a problem mostly in Venezuela, but there's no guarantee they won't vacation in the Hudson someday.

Fortunately, irrational fears that are deaf to reason are tuned to ridicule. I owe a great debt to the silly 2005 TV series Invasion. You'll recall that fluorescent orange swimming aliens were snatching people off Florida boats and riverbanks, sticking their tentacle-tipped legs into the victims' torsos, and taking over their bodies. It didn't scare me because I couldn't stop snickering. A few times when my husband wouldn't put down his newspaper, I tried out the moves on him. It didn't scare him either.

Now I snicker about Day-Glo aliens when I'm at the beach. Still, I've been learning to windsurf only on lakes so far. Bull sharks can only get you if there's a direct link to the ocean; even so, I like to think that a sensible respect for offshore currents is what keeps me inland.

The only scary thing I've seen on the lakes here was a water snake. Sure, I ran to shore like one of those web-footed tropical lizards, but that was only out of respect for lake ecology. I could've grabbed it with my bare hands. Really.