Is full-body scanning constitutional?

According to Jeffrey Rosen, no:

In a 2006 opinion for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, then-Judge Samuel Alito stressed that screening procedures must be both “minimally intrusive” and “effective” – in other words, they must be “well-tailored to protect personal privacy,” and they must deliver on their promise of discovering serious threats. Alito upheld the practices at an airport checkpoint where passengers were first screened with walk-through magnetometers and then, if they set off an alarm, with hand-held wands. He wrote that airport searches are reasonable if they escalate “in invasiveness only after a lower level of screening disclose[s] a reason to conduct a more probing search.”

As currently used in U.S. airports, the new full-body scanners fail all of Alito’s tests.

Rosen further goes on to note:

Rejecting the “backscatter” machines used in the United States, which produce revealing images of the body and have raised concerns about radiation, the Dutch use scanners known as ProVision ATD, which employ radio waves with far lower frequencies than those used in common hand-held devices. If the software detects contraband or suspicious material under a passenger’s clothing, it projects an outline of that area of the body onto a gender-neutral, blob-like human image, instead of generating a virtually naked image of the passenger. The passenger can then be taken aside for secondary screening.

The blobs are a result of a technology to which I was introduced at American Science & Engineering several years ago. The idea is simple: security personnel need not see human tissue, but rather plastics and metals. The article quotes TSA Chief Pistole as saying that, yeah, it would be great but the technology gives a lot of false positives. So what? False negatives, that’s a problem. False positives only get people out of line more often for secondary screening.

Look, the whole thing is idiocy. None of these tools will catch the anal bomber or the vaginal bomber or the cranial cavity bomber. But if we must do this, then at the very least do it in such a way that the basic dignity of the traveling public is maintained. O wait, that’s right, this is the TSA.

Dept. of The most wonderful time of the year

A father and son team to instill a sense of togetherness:

A sweet-faced 12-year-old boy beat down an 83-year-old man Sunday in a Target parking lot in Delray Beach, with his father joining in to help finish the job, police say…

The pair drove off, and despite allegedly changing the license tag on their vehicle “to conceal their identity,” police were able to track them down to a residence in the 200 block of Northeast Fifth Avenue.

So they got arrested. Apparently, this isn’t the first time Dad got into trouble for beating up strangers.

On women in Physics

According to this article in Slate, women can boost test scores in Physics merely by doing a few, short creative-writing exercises. Huh? Here’s the basis of the theory:

When it comes to math and science classes, women can be subtly hampered by negative stereotypes about their gender. This is the idea of stereotype threat, advanced by psychologists Joshua Aronson and Claude Steele, and now solidly established, as I’ve written in Slate before. Stereotype threat can roar into action when members of any stereotyped group are primed to think about belonging to it—in other words, when women focus on being female or African-Americans on being black. It causes performance problems, but stereotype threat can also be countered, often in simple ways. As the Colorado writing exercises show, getting women to focus on things they care about can buck them up. The lesson is that small doses of affirmation can do a lot of good.

I think makes sense. Anyone who is told that they belong to a group that sucks will, on average, suck. Performance in anything is very psychological.

Girls, at least of my generation and before, have been constantly told that the hard sciences and math are really something at which men are better wired. This untrue and damaging stereotype has altered the career paths of countless women. Worse, we still expect girls to participate and excel at these classes, which further damages self-esteem, etc. [I know this sounds PC and corny, but it is right.] I tire of seeing all-male theoretical physics groups at companies. Believe me, I have lived them.

So, while I have nothing to say about these new studies, I find them intriguing:

Now, the Colorado researchers have shown that writing exercises can also make a difference for female science students. In a double-blind study published last week in Science, the researchers worked with 399 undergrads in a calculus-based physics class. They randomly assigned some of them to write about two or three items from a list that included “learning and gaining knowledge,” “belonging to a social group,” “athletic ability,” “relationships with family and friends,” and “sense of humor.” They were then told to reflect on why these things mattered to them. (The other students received the same list of values, but were asked to choose the ones least important to them and write about why they might be important to other people.) Students completed these exercises early in the semester, at moments when they might be expected to feel uncertain about the class: the first week of school and then the week before the first midterm.

The benefits were dramatic. Most of the women who received C’s in the class were in the group that had written on values they cared about least. Most of the women who received B’s had written on what they cared about most. (There was no effect for women who were getting A’s, or for men in general.) Women who affirmed their own values also scored higher on a standardized exam of key physics concepts, taken at the end of the term. Strikingly, women who’d said they believed the stereotype that men are better at physics were the ones who benefited from the exercises the most.

The question is, if this really is beneficial, how does this alter the teaching of physics? Do we make kids write these essays at the beginning of class? Or are there nuggets of wisdom we can extract that will help us teach physics to girls a little bit differently?

Speaker DeLeo assumes we’re as stupid as his relatives

MA House Speaker Robert DeLeo thinks there is absolutely nothing wrong with his pushing his relatives onto the Probation Dept. payroll:

“We recommend folks, whether it’s for school or housing, whatever it may be,” he told reporters after emerging, with Senate President Therese Murray, from a meeting in the governor’s office in which the three leaders discussed the Probation Department’s problems.

“We make recommendations for people for jobs. It’s just that. It’s a recommendation,” DeLeo said. “What happens thereafter – whether they get the job or they don’t get the job – depends upon the folks making the decision. I can tell you I do not put any undue influence on anyone relative to the hiring or not hiring of the person.”

DeLeo sponsored 12 people for jobs in the department, seven of whom were hired, according to the report by Paul F. Ware Jr., a prosecutor who was appointed by the state’s highest court to investigate the agency following a series of reports by the Globe Spotlight Team. One of those hired was Brian Mirasolo, who at 28 is one of the youngest chief probation officers in Massachusetts history. DeLeo said Mirasolo achieved that title through his own merit.

“I wrote a letter of recommendation for him,” DeLeo said. “And that was the extent of my recommendation of Brian. Upon his getting the probation job, from there on, I had nothing to with his elevatuion from there. He must have proven it by his excellent work record.”

I have come to the conclusion that, yeah, DeLeo and his fellow lawmakers who think like this have really hit rock bottom ethically. I mean, these people control the purse strings for departments like the Probation Dept. What does he think, we’re as fucking stupid as his relatives who can’t find a frakin’ job on their own? How in G-d’s name does one not see a conflict of interest?!?

We need the Public Disclosure Law extended to cover these crooks, so that the newspapers and interested citizens can find out about correlations between department budgets and relatives who get nice state jobs. I hate to sound like Howie Carr on this issue, but I can see where a lot of his misplaced anger toward the average, hardworking state employee comes from.

TSA Outrage

Here’s a video of the TSA harassing a young mother because she has requested alternate [non-x-ray] screening for her son’s breast milk. Watching all 11 minutes of this, you can feel what it’s like to suffer arbitrary harassment at the hands of a government official that has chosen not to like you:

I honestly do not know how I would manage to keep my cool and thus avoid arrest and/or imprisonment.

Interesting factoid regarding Bush v. Gore

This from Jeffrey Toobin:

. In the first ten years after Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 decision that ended the doctrine of separate but equal in public education, the Justices cited the case more than twenty-five times. In the ten years after Roe v. Wade, the abortion-rights decision of 1973, there were more than sixty-five references to that landmark. This month marks ten years since the Court, by a vote of five-to-four, terminated the election of 2000 and delivered the Presidency to George W. Bush. Over that decade, the Justices have provided a verdict of sorts on Bush v. Gore by the number of times they have cited it: zero

Of course, we all know that the definition of judicial activism is a court decision which Sarah Palin dislikes.

The death penalty

Justice John Paul Stevens reviews a book on the matter in the New York Review of Books by David Garland. He posts a very strong argument against:

To be reasonable, legislative imposition of death eligibility must be rooted in benefits for at least one of the five classes of persons affected by capital offenses.

First, of course, are victims. By definition murder victims are no longer alive and so have no continuing interest.

Second are survivors—family and close friends of victims who often suffer enormous grief and tangible losses. The harm to this class is immeasurable; but punishment of the defendant cannot reverse or adequately compensate any survivor’s loss. An execution may provide revenge and therapeutic benefits. But important as that may be, it cannot alone justify death sentences. We do not, after all, execute drunken drivers who cause fatal accidents.

Third are participants in judicial processes that end in executions—detectives, prosecutors, witnesses, judges, jurors, defense counsel, investigators, clemency board members, and the medically trained personnel who carry out the execution process and whom Garland describes as being somewhat embarrassed by doing so. While support of the death penalty wins votes for some elected officials, all participants in the process must realize the monumental costs that capital cases impose on the judicial system. The financial costs (which Garland estimates are at least double those of noncapital murder cases) are obvious; seldom mentioned is the impact on the conscientious juror obliged to make a life-or-death decision despite residual doubts about a defendant’s guilt.

The fourth category consists of the general public. If Garland’s comprehensive analysis is accurate—that the primary public benefits of the death penalty are “political exchange and cultural consumption”—and as long as the remedy of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is available, those partisan and cultural considerations provide woefully inadequate justifications for putting anyone to death.

Fifth, of course, is the class of thousands of condemned inmates on death row who spend years in solitary confinement awaiting their executions. Many of them have repented and made positive contributions to society. The finality of an execution always ends that possibility. More importantly, that finality also includes the risk that the state may put an actually innocent person to death.

What is further interesting in this article is this observation:

What once was a frightening public spectacle now resembles painless administration of preoperative anesthesia in the presence of few witnesses. American officials do not enjoy executions; “they seem, in short, embarrassed, as if caught in a transgression.”

That is, the reason why the death penalty may have served as motivation was the guarantee of absolute terror. People may think twice about committing a capital crime when, if caught, they will be put to death in a horrific, public way. Our being a Western country much different than our terrorist-allied enemies, and that damned Constitution, won’t allow us to draw and quarter a convict anymore. So we satiate our lust for revenge with a medical injection witnessed by a few. And how does this deter anything? What really is the point?

I was always blindly against the death penalty as a Liberal In Good Standing until Tim McVeigh came around. Returning a mass-murdering terrorist to his maker makes sense and I believe served a major catharsis in a wounded nation. I was starting to understand why a death penalty was needed. That is, until…

…we moved to TX and I saw first-hand a death penalty machine completely out of control. Why in G-d’s name does TX feel the need to execute many times the inmates of the next most-active executioner state? And does this help TX in any way [e.g., less capital crime]? No, of course not. It does help TX politicians remain in office, however.

The Willingham case threw me over the edge. If you have not seen the Frontline video, please take the time and do it.

The death penalty is in all but a remote few cases unfair, extremely risky and the payoff is nonexistent. I am not in favor of an outright abolition, but its use should be limited to maybe 4 or 5 a century, at most, and the standards extremely high. Looking at TX, we really need to ask ourselves what has gone wrong.

Terrorizing ourselves

Bruce Schneier:

Total cost for the Yemeni printer cartridge bomb plot: $4200.
“Two Nokia mobiles, $150 each, two HP printers, $300 each, plus shipping, transportation and other miscellaneous expenses add up to a total bill of $4,200. That is all what Operation Hemorrhage cost us,” the magazine said.
Even if you add in costs for training, recruiting, logistics, and everything else, that’s still remarkably cheap. And think of how many times that we spent in security in the aftermath.
As it turns out, this is bin Ladin’s plan…
None of this would work if we don’t help them by terrorizing ourselves.

This is why I am against the approach of the TSA and DHS. They are showing that indeed the terrorists have won.

Wink tanks

Jason Zengerle has a brief history of Bill Kristol’s pseudo-intellectual service to the Republican party:

As the son of one of modern conservatism’s most prominent intellectuals, Irving Kristol, it’s possible he felt a career as a straight political operative—coordinating media buys, instructing field directors, and subsisting on a diet of jelly donuts in a campaign war room—was beneath him. Thanks to his think tankery, plus his editorship of The Weekly Standard—a conservative magazine that, unlike its counterpart National Review, is more partisan than ideological—Bill Kristol has been able to cultivate a professorial air. This has helped him secure platforms not just on Fox News, where he’s a paid contributor, but in more rarefied settings, too: Kristol is one of the few political hacks who’s been invited to serve as a lecturer in public policy at Harvard and to pen a column for The New York Times. His intellectual pretenses have served him well.

Zengerle, however, omits one of the latest of these partisan idiocies: the Emergency Committee for Israel. or the ECI. The ECI has shown itself to be partisan rather than ideological in supporting Republicans over demonstrated friends of Israel. The ECI was invented for the sole reason of using Israel as a level from which Democrats could be ejected from Congress. Did it work? Hard to say until Nate Silver finds the time to sort out the data. For example, the ECI obsessed over Toomey v. Sestak in PA. Toomey did beat Sestak, but voters there bought Toomey’s line about the economy. You don’t hear the average voter expressing worry over Sestak’s support and rejection of support from J-Street, the ECI’s enemy.

Then again, call me in 7 years and let’s see if anyone can even remember the existence of the ECI, or any of these ephemeral “think”-tanks from the pen of Bill Kristol.

Strange Bedfellows

The latest Wikileaks has been released and, as with Jeffrey Goldberg, one wonders if US military secrets are stored in a shoebox.

Speaking of which, Goldberg has some fascinating insight into these leaks, such as this:

Since we all know that only Israelis and their neocon supporters in America seek a military attack on Iran’s nuclear program, Bahrain must be under the control of neocons: “There was little surprising in Mr. Barak’s implicit threat that Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. As a pressure tactic, Israeli officials have been setting such deadlines, and extending them, for years. But six months later it was an Arab leader, the king of Bahrain, who provides the base for the American Fifth Fleet, telling the Americans that the Iranian nuclear program ‘must be stopped,’ according to another cable. ‘The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it,'” he said.

The Saudis, too, are neocons, apparently: The Bahraini king’s “plea was shared by many of America’s Arab allies, including the powerful King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who according to another cable repeatedly implored Washington to ‘cut off the head of the snake’ while there was still time.”

I won’t be posting any of the leaks here, but I urge you to read about them here and here. [In the latter link, Goldberg exposes Andrew Sullivan’s wrong-headedness on the issue. The Atlantic has become a one of my favorite places on the Web because Goldberg and Sullivan can argue like this and remain more than civil about it.]