Blacknell.net

Politics, technology, and society. And the seasonal incursion of pro cycling.

Month: June 2007 (Page 1 of 3)

We’re trading our Constitution in for protection from *these* idiots?

I'm told that there's been breathless coverage of the failed bombing attempts in London over the past 24 hours, and I can see that it's going to exponentially ratchet up with the mostly-failed attempt in Glasgow today. A few cars, cans of gasoline, and a whole lot of stupidity. Now, I'm not complaining about that bit - in fact, I quite prefer my terrorists to be rather stupid. Makes us all safer, really. But to hear the US government, security industry, and news networks over the past six years, you'd think we were facing Dr. Evil with frickin' sharks with frickin' lasers on their heads everywhere we turned. But we're not. And they're idiots. So why can't we treat them like idiots? (Update: Apparently Atrios & Larry Johnson were thinking this, too.)

In Appreciation of Airports

This recent article in Salon, which reviewed the readers' favorite (and least) airports, got me thinking about my own relationship with airports. JFK Light Relationship? What? Look, I should lay it out now: I love airports. Yes, the same places that inspire government stupidity, passenger rage, and supernatural wrath. Whatever they are to other people, airports are - to me - comfortable and easy places that hold the reliable promise of something good. That good is might come in the form of the excitement of a new destination, an interesting lounge conversation, or simply the comfort of the familiar. But it's almost always good. So, with that in mind, here is the Mark Blacknell Review of Select Airports, International and Domestic: First, we visit my reliable favorites. These are the places that, over the years, have come to be my regularly transited crossroads, and do a decent job of it. So that start us off with . . . DCA National Airport is just about everything an airport should be - convenient to access, easy to move through, and gets you where you want to go. It's not just a sub-10 minute cab from my house, but you can get from Terminal B to K St. in 20 minutes or less, most days. It's very well laid out, with minimal door to terminal time (unless you're unfortunate enough to book one of the budget airlines that flies out of Terminal A). The building itself is beautiful - the giant glass main hall (for terminals B and C) is perfect for an airport, giving lots of space and raising your eyes to the sky. DCA In addition to great design, DCA has that rarest of rares: competent and (almost always) decent TSA agents. Perhaps its because they run the daily risk of pissing off someone who could end their careers, but they seem to be uniformly polite and reliable applicators of a standard set of rules. How many airports can you say that about? The only things I could realistically ask for, as far as improvements go, is free wi-fi and taxi line managers that aren't confused by the concept of a line (my most shameful public outburst was provoked by one of these guys . . . ). In short, I couldn't ask for a better home airport. It lacks only one thing - international flights (sorry, Canada, you don't count). Which is why the next two airports are often on my list. JFK JFK is everything DCA isn't. It's crowded, dirty, and a nightmare to navigate. JFK I think there's a desperate competition between it and LaGuardia to see which can produce more bitterness in its staff. But even with all of that, I've come to develop a grudging appreciation for it. It gives a sense of being a crossroads for the planet, something that, say, Atlanta never achieves (though it may have a better technical claim). And it's as a crossroads that I always use it (from DC, the train is generally the less troublesome (and quicker) way to get to where you're going in NYC). I've marked many a milestone there, and expect to mark many more. I suppose I should come up with a couple of positive things about JFK, lest the reader think that this is the start of a descent into complaints. First, if you fly through JFK next year, you should make your way (if you can) over what remains of Terminal 5. Worth the flight Designed by the Eero Saarinen (who also gave us the only good thing about Dulles - the inspired main terminal building), it used to form the hub of TWA's glory years operations. And then there's the views. Few views can match that which you get on an eastern approach, and you certainly won't be getting them from an Acela seat . . . ATL Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson is the airport people love to hate. I don't understand that, really. It's big, to be sure, but it's quite logically laid out, and I challenge you to need something that you can't get at the airport.  Good food?  Check.  Replacement electronics?  Check.  A tie to replace the one you forgot?  Check.  Peace and quiet?  Well, okay, it's not perfect.  But there are direct flights from ATL to pretty much every city of any size on the planet. What more could you ask for from an airport? Well, I suppose you could ask for an end to the construction. Waiting Or security guards that at least *pretend* to pay attention. And while I'm at it, I'd like Chapter 11 to reopen the 24 hour bookstore they used to have there. But that's all frosting, really. ATL is functional, and I appreciate it for what it is. It was my home airport for years and years, from which I learned many a lesson. I waited outside of its international arrivals for my grandparents there as a child. I tried my hand at petty theft there as a teenager. And I've stretched out in the Crown Room, martini in hand and waiting for my flight home as an adult. It'll always be home to me. So those are my functional and sentimental favorites. On to the other airports. BOS Logan only arrived on my radar in the past few years. When I started flying there (via US Airways or a Delta Shuttle), I usually disembarked to some pretty appalling conditions. The decrepit gates were the sort that you'd usually think were reserved for the once a day flight to MacArthur or some other unfortunate destination. BOS And getting a taxi turned out to be such an exercise in exasperation that Logan can claim credit for turning a car service from an occasional luxury into a reasonable option. So it's not like we started off on the best foot. But, I'm happy to say, things have changed. The new Delta Terminal A is wonderful - brightly lit and spacious (perhaps too spacious, but that's Delta's problem to fix). The food options, which were well below average, have improved (to average. But hey, it's progress). It's not a preferred airport for me, but it's one that doesn't bother me when I see it on an itinerary. SFO Despite its greatly inconvenient distance from San Francisco, I quite like SFO. Unlike most other airports, I've never seen it dirty or in need of repair. I can't recall any unreasonable waits for security. The terminals are easy to navigate, and the food is good. One other thing that I've always enjoyed about SFO: great museum and art displays in the walkways. Seriously, most airport public art is safe and not at all interesting (how many Mrs. Cooper's Fourth Grade class drawings can you really take?), but I've always found something worth stopping for on the way to the terminal. Deep sea oddities. Miniature models. Russian dolls.  Between that and a generally quiet and chill atmosphere, this is one airport for which I don't mind an early arrival. LAS Now we're talking about airports I can't stand. Las Vegas' McCarran tops my list. Why I Hate McCarran To call it my own personal hell isn't too much of an overstatement. Perpetually overcrowded by clueless travelers who book bottom dollar tickets, thus promoting bottom dollar service. It actually pales in comparison to my general dislike of Las Vegas itself, but it has all the same ingredients - design where function is sacrificed on the altar of garishness, service that can't even manage the illusion of cleanliness, and did I mention the teeming masses? IAD Dulles *should* be my second favorite airport. It's the closest international airport, and certainly has a good number of flights. But I do my damnedest to avoid it. Why? For starters, it's a pain in the ass to get to. Sure, you can bypass most of the Dulles Toll Road to get there, but first you have to get to the bypass. And for me, that means sitting in slow moving traffic on I-66. So take the Metro there, right? Bzzt. Wrong. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there is no train link between the city and the primary international airport for Washington, DC. Not only is there no train link, there's no public transportation link. At present, the best public transport solution is something of a hybrid - take the Metro to West Falls Church, and then wait around for one of the private shuttles to get going. And that's just getting there. Once you're there, you are almost certain to spend a ridiculous amount of time in the security lines. I've spent two hours in a security line at Dulles, and that's not an unusual experience. Hopefully this has changed, as the airport finally got around to opening up a second security checkpoint section to funnel passengers through. Of course, a cynic might note that this will just provide double the space in which the Worst TSA Agents Ever can practice being unreasonable, obtuse, and overzealous. Anyway, don't worry - the fun doesn't stop here. What?  The photo looks old and crappy and poorly executed? Once you're through security, you get to experience the revenge of some embittered bureaucrat from the 1960s - the Dulles Moon Buggies. Maybe the designer's cousin owned the company that provided them, or perhaps it was a joke played on an unwitting airport authority by engineers who wanted to see how ridiculous they could be before getting called on it. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn't common sense or good design that saddled IAD with the worst interterminal transport system in the United States. What? The photo looks old and crappy and poorly executed? Then yes, I've captured the Dulles people movers perfectly. By the time that you get to the terminals, it doesn't matter that it's luck of the draw on food, and that some of them look like they've not seen a good coat of paint since the late 80s. Given a choice between a direct flight out of Dulles and something out of National that requires a stop? National, almost every time. Other US Domestic Airports Many airports leave little to no impression - I've been through Newark, Phoenix, and Cincinnati a number of times, but I couldn't tell you anything about them. Many would consider that a success, thinking of airports as mere conduits through which people should pass with a minimum of drag. That's a shame. While I agree that an airport should make it easy to pass through quickly, I think it should work to be a symbol of its region, giving visitors a flavor of the place they're about to see (or are just passing through). The Twin Cities' MSP does a serviceable job of that, if only because the Hubert H. Humphrey Terminal signs always have me humming this song when I pass through. Vancouver's YVR does an excellent job of conveying that you're in the Northwest, and I'll explore that in the next installment. In the meantime, some airports may not leave much of an impression, but do yield great pictures, such as this one from DFW: Intersection Next: Beyond US Airports

Dismantling Brown v. Board of Education: A Start in Understanding It

If you're interested in understanding what actually happened in today's Supreme Court decisions on school desegregation, I highly recommend reading this discussion at Slate.  It's a conversation between three people.  First, there is Dahlia Lithwick, a reporter who regularly covers the Supreme Court.  I've grown from a detractor into a fan, over the years.  I think she does a good job of translating the language of the Court into something that is meaningful to the public at large.  Her regular partner in these discussions is Walter Dellinger, an actively practicing appellate lawyer with a resume that would make a Chief Justice blush.  I've always been terribly impressed with his explanations of Supreme Court decisions, and Slate is lucky to have such insightful analysis on its pages.  Finally, in the interests of balance, they've brought in Stuart Taylor, a conservative writer who generally concurred with the Court's actions.  I think some of his analysis is a bit simplistic, but it's an honest contribution to the conversation.  Do check it out.

More Like This

Through sheer accident, Hardball was just on my television.  And, for the past 15 minutes, we've seen a (relatively) intelligent and  uninterrupted debate on the existence of God between Al Sharpton and Christopher Hitchens.  It was something of a rehash of their original debate, but still far more intelligent than anything I've seen on a cable news show in a very long time.

Immigration: C’mon, swing again!

So the immigration bill has once again gone down in flames.  Fine by me.  I'd certainly like to see some improvements and changes to US immigration laws, but I've zero faith in this Congress getting it right and I don't view it as some pressing emergency.  This isn't to say I've not enjoyed the show, though.   GOP xenophobes versus GOP marketphobes?   What's not to like about that?  I'm just disappointed that it ended so quickly.  C'mon, George, you can't back down now!

If they can’t refine petroleum . . .

Perhaps I'm being a bit flippant, but if Iran can't figure out how to refine petroleum - and is paying for it with riots - I'm not sure I can bring myself to worrying about its ability to enrich uranium.

Whither China

Still in ChinaThere's a great discussion going on over at TPMCafe on the new book, Charm Offensive: How China's Soft Power Is Transforming the World. Andrew Cleary summarizes the discussion for those who haven't been following it. I don't see China as the second (third? fourth?) wave of the Red Scare, but I do think that it's very much worth paying attention to. In my view, it embodies capitalism (as practised) at its most brutal, and that those of us who think capitalism provides a good path forward need to consider many of the tough issues raised in doing business with China. If IP standards are important enough to be internationally observed, why not labor standards? Why is China making so much progress in Africa? Did China's bid to control the Panama Canal threaten the US? Check out the book and jump in, if you like. Picture taken from the Bund, on my 2004 trip to Shanghai. More photos from that trip here.

“Pillow talk matters.”

That's what John Aravosis says on his post noting Elizabeth Edward's support of gay marriage. While I'm not sure I entirely agree with his predictions, I think Aravosis makes some excellent points when he says:
I want my civil rights, I don't want to be on the receiving end of constant triangulation. Mrs. Edwards will be a force for good, at least as it concerns the civil and human rights of gay and lesbian Americans. As much as I like the man, I can't say the same about Mr. Clinton. He's going to be advising Hillary to throw us under the bus. That doesn't mean Hillary will, but her top two advisers have a history of legislative gay-bashing for political gain. That's of legitimate concern.
For a number of reasons, I don't think Bill Clinton would urge repeating his appalling DOMA behavior. That said, I like Elizabeth Edwards more than any of the 2008 spouses (and many of the candidates themselves).

An EFF Victory: Broadcast Treaty in Tatters

On the right, under "Act", you'll see a link to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.  Why?  They're working their asses off protecting freedoms and ideas you didn't even know were important.  For example, they just achieved a significant measure of victory in getting rid of the ridiculous Broadcast Treaty.  What's that? As Cory Doctorow puts it:
The broadcast treaty creates a copyright-like "broadcast right," for the entities that make works available. So while copyright goes to the people who create things, broadcast rights go to people who have no creative contribution at all. Here's how it would work: say you recorded some TV to use in your classroom. Copyright lets you do this -- copyright is limited by fair use. But the broadcast right would stop you -- you'd need to navigate a different and disjointed set of exceptions to broadcast rights, or the broadcaster could sue you.
That's right.  No show-and-discuss newscasts in the classroom.  No playing of CC-licensed symphonies taped from the radio.  And what did the EFF and its allies do?
When we started going to the World Intellectual Property Organization, we had no idea how we would manage it. There is no constitution to appeal to there. They control the venue and call the shots. But we went in and blogged the negotiations (the first ever look inside the sausage factory of a UN treaty negotiation), bringing unparalleled transparency to the negotiations. We rallied dozens of other organizations to come to Geneva. We argued. We posted guards over our position papers when someone started to throw them in the bathrooms and hide them behind the plants (first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you -- then you win!). We slashdotted them. We wrote them letters. We went all over the world and talked to librarians, activists, and hackers. We proposed a better treaty that would limit copyright around the world and give rights to archivists, educators and disabled people to use and preserve creative works. We kicked ass. And we won. (For now.)
Generations ahead are better off for this.  They're fighting the good fight.  Even if next to no one understands that.

Another Fine Legislative Achievement in Virginia

The wake-me-up-quicker-than-coffee moment this morning came courtesy of Del. Dave Albo, who gave rise to this gem of a law, which will become effective July 1st:
Driving as little as 15 MPH over the limit on an interstate highway now brings six license demerit points, a fine of up to $2500, up to one year in jail, and a new mandatory $1050 tax. The law also imposes an additional annual fee of up to $100 if a prior conviction leaves the motorist with a balance of eight demerit points, plus $75 for each additional point (up to $700 a year). The conviction in this example remains on the record for five years.
Ever driven 80mph on I-66 or 95? If so, you're looking at not just a reckless driving conviction, but also $3550 in fines and taxes. It's the sort of thing that makes you worried enough to get a lawyer to see if you can get that ticket knocked down a bit. And guess who'll be there to help?
Albo, a senior partner in the Albo & Oblon, LLP traffic law firm, can expect to see a significant increase in business as motorists seek to protect their wallet from traffic tickets that come with assessments of up to $3000 in addition to an annual point tax that tops out at $700 a year for as long as the points remain.
WTF? Yes, Albo the legislator ginned up business for Albo the traffic lawyer. I guess we should be thankful he's not a firefighter. (Found this story via NLS, but it looks like Albo Must Go has been on the story a while. I'm sorry I didn't notice it earlier.) Update: The Washington Post has the story.

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