Friday, November 21, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Airport Security

Airport security in America is a sham—“security theater” designed to make travelers feel better and catch stupid terrorists. Smart ones can get through security with fake boarding passes and all manner of prohibited items—as our correspondent did with ease.

by Jeffrey Goldberg

The Things He Carried

If I were a terrorist, and I’m not, but if I were a terrorist—a frosty, tough-like-Chuck-Norris terrorist, say a C-title jihadist with Hezbollah or, more likely, a donkey-work operative with the Judean People’s Front—I would not do what I did in the bathroom of the Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport, which was to place myself in front of a sink in open view of the male American flying public and ostentatiously rip up a sheaf of counterfeit boarding passes that had been created for me by a frenetic and acerbic security expert named Bruce Schnei­er. He had made these boarding passes in his sophisticated underground forgery works, which consists of a Sony Vaio laptop and an HP LaserJet printer, in order to prove that the Transportation Security Administration, which is meant to protect American aviation from al-Qaeda, represents an egregious waste of tax dollars, dollars that could otherwise be used to catch terrorists before they arrive at the Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport, by which time it is, generally speaking, too late.

I could have ripped up these counterfeit boarding passes in the privacy of a toilet stall, but I chose not to, partly because this was the renowned Senator Larry Craig Memorial Wide-Stance Bathroom, and since the commencement of the Global War on Terror this particular bathroom has been patrolled by security officials trying to protect it from gay sex, and partly because I wanted to see whether my fellow passengers would report me to the TSA for acting suspiciously in a public bathroom. No one did, thus thwarting, yet again, my plans to get arrested, or at least be the recipient of a thorough sweating by the FBI, for dubious behavior in a large American airport. Suspicious that the measures put in place after the attacks of September 11 to prevent further such attacks are almost entirely for show—security theater is the term of art—I have for some time now been testing, in modest ways, their effectiveness. Because the TSA’s security regimen seems to be mainly thing-based—most of its 44,500 airport officers are assigned to truffle through carry-on bags for things like guns, bombs, three-ounce tubes of anthrax, Crest toothpaste, nail clippers, Snapple, and so on—I focused my efforts on bringing bad things through security in many different airports, primarily my home airport, Washington’s Reagan National, the one situated approximately 17 feet from the Pentagon, but also in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Chicago, and at the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport (which is where I came closest to arousing at least a modest level of suspicion, receiving a symbolic pat-down—all frisks that avoid the sensitive regions are by definition symbolic—and one question about the presence of a Leatherman Multi-Tool in my pocket; said Leatherman was confiscated and is now, I hope, living with the loving family of a TSA employee). And because I have a fair amount of experience reporting on terrorists, and because terrorist groups produce large quantities of branded knickknacks, I’ve amassed an inspiring collection of al-Qaeda T-shirts, Islamic Jihad flags, Hezbollah videotapes, and inflatable Yasir Arafat dolls (really). All these things I’ve carried with me through airports across the country. I’ve also carried, at various times: pocketknives, matches from hotels in Beirut and Peshawar, dust masks, lengths of rope, cigarette lighters, nail clippers, eight-ounce tubes of toothpaste (in my front pocket), bottles of Fiji Water (which is foreign), and, of course, box cutters. I was selected for secondary screening four times—out of dozens of passages through security checkpoints—during this extended experiment. At one screening, I was relieved of a pair of nail clippers; during another, a can of shaving cream.

During one secondary inspection, at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, I was wearing under my shirt a spectacular, only-in-America device called a “Beerbelly,” a neoprene sling that holds a polyurethane bladder and drinking tube. The Beerbelly, designed originally to sneak alcohol—up to 80 ounces—into football games, can quite obviously be used to sneak up to 80 ounces of liquid through airport security. (The company that manufactures the Beerbelly also makes something called a “Winerack,” a bra that holds up to 25 ounces of booze and is recommended, according to the company’s Web site, for PTA meetings.) My Beerbelly, which fit comfortably over my beer belly, contained two cans’ worth of Bud Light at the time of the inspection. It went undetected. The eight-ounce bottle of water in my carry-on bag, however, was seized by the federal government.

On another occasion, at LaGuardia, in New York, the transportation-security officer in charge of my secondary screening emptied my carry-on bag of nearly everything it contained, including a yellow, three-foot-by-four-foot Hezbollah flag, purchased at a Hezbollah gift shop in south Lebanon. The flag features, as its charming main image, an upraised fist clutching an AK-47 automatic rifle. Atop the rifle is a line of Arabic writing that reads Then surely the party of God are they who will be triumphant. The officer took the flag and spread it out on the inspection table. She finished her inspection, gave me back my flag, and told me I could go. I said, “That’s a Hezbollah flag.” She said, “Uh-huh.” Not “Uh-huh, I’ve been trained to recognize the symbols of anti-American terror groups, but after careful inspection of your physical person, your behavior, and your last name, I’ve come to the conclusion that you are not a Bekaa Valley–trained threat to the United States commercial aviation system,” but “Uh-huh, I’m going on break, why are you talking to me?”

fake boarding pass
The author's forged boarding pass—complete with Platinum/Elite Plus status and magical TSA-approval squiggle—got him through security.

In Minneapolis, I littered my carry-on with many of my prohibited items, and also an Osama bin Laden, Hero of Islam T-shirt, which often gets a rise out of people who see it. This day, however, would feature a different sort of experiment, designed to prove not only that the TSA often cannot find anything on you or in your carry-on, but that it has no actual idea who you are, despite the government’s effort to build a comprehensive “no-fly” list. A no-fly list would be a good idea if it worked; Bruce Schnei­er’s homemade boarding passes were about to prove that it doesn’t. Schnei­er is the TSA’s most relentless, and effective, critic; the TSA director, Kip Hawley, told me he respects Schnei­er’s opinions, though Schnei­er quite clearly makes his life miserable.

“The whole system is designed to catch stupid terrorists,” Schnei­er told me. A smart terrorist, he says, won’t try to bring a knife aboard a plane, as I had been doing; he’ll make his own, in the airplane bathroom. Schnei­er told me the recipe: “Get some steel epoxy glue at a hardware store. It comes in two tubes, one with steel dust and then a hardener. You make the mold by folding a piece of cardboard in two, and then you mix the two tubes together. You can use a metal spoon for the handle. It hardens in 15 minutes.”

As we stood at an airport Starbucks, Schnei­er spread before me a batch of fabricated boarding passes for Northwest Airlines flight 1714, scheduled to depart at 2:20 p.m. and arrive at Reagan National at 5:47 p.m. He had taken the liberty of upgrading us to first class, and had even granted me “Platinum/Elite Plus” status, which was gracious of him. This status would allow us to skip the ranks of hoi-polloi flyers and join the expedited line, which is my preference, because those knotty, teeming security lines are the most dangerous places in airports: terrorists could paralyze U.S. aviation merely by detonating a bomb at any security checkpoint, all of which are, of course, entirely unsecured. (I once asked Michael Chertoff, the secretary of Homeland Security, about this. “We actually ultimately do have a vision of trying to move the security checkpoint away from the gate, deeper into the airport itself, but there’s always going to be some place that people congregate. So if you’re asking me, is there any way to protect against a person taking a bomb into a crowded location and blowing it up, the answer is no.”)

Schnei­er and I walked to the security checkpoint. “Counter­terrorism in the airport is a show designed to make people feel better,” he said. “Only two things have made flying safer: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.” This assumes, of course, that al-Qaeda will target airplanes for hijacking, or target aviation at all. “We defend against what the terrorists did last week,” Schnei­er said. He believes that the country would be just as safe as it is today if airport security were rolled back to pre-9/11 levels. “Spend the rest of your money on intelligence, investigations, and emergency response.”

Schnei­er and I joined the line with our ersatz boarding passes. “Technically we could get arrested for this,” he said, but we judged the risk to be acceptable. We handed our boarding passes and IDs to the security officer, who inspected our driver’s licenses through a loupe, one of those magnifying-glass devices jewelers use for minute examinations of fine detail. This was the moment of maximum peril, not because the boarding passes were flawed, but because the TSA now trains its officers in the science of behavior detection. The SPOT program—“Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques”—was based in part on the work of a psychologist who believes that involuntary facial-muscle movements, including the most fleeting “micro-expressions,” can betray lying or criminality. The training program for behavior-detection officers is one week long. Our facial muscles did not cooperate with the SPOT program, apparently, because the officer chicken-scratched onto our boarding passes what might have been his signature, or the number 4, or the letter y. We took our shoes off and placed our laptops in bins. Schnei­er took from his bag a 12-ounce container labeled “saline solution.”

“It’s allowed,” he said. Medical supplies, such as saline solution for contact-lens cleaning, don’t fall under the TSA’s three-ounce rule.

“What’s allowed?” I asked. “Saline solution, or bottles labeled saline solution?”

“Bottles labeled saline solution. They won’t check what’s in it, trust me.”

They did not check. As we gathered our belongings, Schnei­er held up the bottle and said to the nearest security officer, “This is okay, right?” “Yep,” the officer said. “Just have to put it in the tray.”

“Maybe if you lit it on fire, he’d pay attention,” I said, risking arrest for making a joke at airport security. (Later, Schnei­er would carry two bottles labeled saline solution—24 ounces in total—through security. An officer asked him why he needed two bottles. “Two eyes,” he said. He was allowed to keep the bottles.)

We were in the clear. But what did we prove?

“We proved that the ID triangle is hopeless,” Schneier said.

The ID triangle: before a passenger boards a commercial flight, he interacts with his airline or the government three times—when he purchases his ticket; when he passes through airport security; and finally at the gate, when he presents his boarding pass to an airline agent. It is at the first point of contact, when the ticket is purchased, that a passenger’s name is checked against the government’s no-fly list. It is not checked again, and for this reason, Schnei­er argued, the process is merely another form of security theater.

“The goal is to make sure that this ID triangle represents one person,” he explained. “Here’s how you get around it. Let’s assume you’re a terrorist and you believe your name is on the watch list.” It’s easy for a terrorist to check whether the government has cottoned on to his existence, Schnei­er said; he simply has to submit his name online to the new, privately run CLEAR program, which is meant to fast-pass approved travelers through security. If the terrorist is rejected, then he knows he’s on the watch list.

To slip through the only check against the no-fly list, the terrorist uses a stolen credit card to buy a ticket under a fake name. “Then you print a fake boarding pass with your real name on it and go to the airport. You give your real ID, and the fake boarding pass with your real name on it, to security. They’re checking the documents against each other. They’re not checking your name against the no-fly list—that was done on the airline’s computers. Once you’re through security, you rip up the fake boarding pass, and use the real boarding pass that has the name from the stolen credit card. Then you board the plane, because they’re not checking your name against your ID at boarding.”

What if you don’t know how to steal a credit card?

“Then you’re a stupid terrorist and the government will catch you,” he said.

What if you don’t know how to download a PDF of an actual boarding pass and alter it on a home computer?

“Then you’re a stupid terrorist and the government will catch you.”

I couldn’t believe that what Schneier was saying was true—in the national debate over the no-fly list, it is seldom, if ever, mentioned that the no-fly list doesn’t work. “It’s true,” he said. “The gap blows the whole system out of the water.”

This called for a visit to TSA headquarters. The headquarters is located in Pentagon City, just outside Washington. Kip Hawley, the man who runs the agency, is a bluff, amiable fellow who is capable of making a TSA joke. “Do you want three ounces of water?” he asked me.

I raised the subject of the ID triangle, hoping to get a cogent explanation. This is what Hawley said: “The TDC”—that’s “ticket document checker”—“will make a notation on your ticket and that’s something that will follow you all the way through” to the gate.

“But all they do is write a little squiggly mark on the boarding pass,” I said.

“You think you might be able to forge that?” he asked me.

“My handwriting is terrible, but don’t you think someone can forge it?” I asked.

“Well, uh, maybe. Maybe not,” he said.

Aha! I thought. He’s hiding something from me.

“Are you telling me that I don’t know about something that’s going on?” I asked.

“We’re well aware of the scenario you describe. Bruce has been talking about it for two years,” he said, referring to Schnei­er’s efforts to publicize the gaps in the ID triangle.

“Isn’t it a basic flaw, that you’re checking the no-fly list at the point of purchase, not at the airport?”

He leaned back in his chair.

“What do you do about vulnerabilities?” he asked, rhetorically. “All the time you hear reports and people saying, ‘There’s a vulnerability.’ Well, duh. There are vulnerabilities everywhere, in everything. The question is not ‘Is there a vulnerability?’ It’s ‘What are you doing about it?’”

Well, what are you doing about it?

“There are vulnerabilities where you have limited ways to address it directly. So you have to put other layers around it, other things that will catch them when that vulnerability is breached. This is a universal problem. Somebody will identify a very small thing and drill down and say, ‘I found a vulnerability.’”

In other words, the TSA has no immediate plans to check passengers against the no-fly list at the moment before they board their flight. (Hawley said that boarding passes will eventually be encrypted so the TSA can follow their progress from printer to gate.) Nor does it plan to screen airport employees when they show up for work each day. Pilots—or people dressed as pilots—are screened, as the public knows, but that’s because they enter the airport through the front door. The employees who drive fuel trucks, and make french fries at McDonald’s, and clean airplane bathrooms (to the extent that they’re cleaned anymore) do not pass through magnetometers when they enter the airport, and their possessions are not searched. To me this always seemed to be, well, another “vulnerability.”

“Do you know what you have on the inside of an airport?” Hawley asked me. “You have all the military traveling, you have guns, chemicals, jet fuel. So the idea that we would spend a whole lot of resources putting a perimeter around that, running every worker, 50,000 people, every day, through security—why in the heck would you do that? Because all they have to do is walk through clean and then have someone throw something over a fence.”

I asked about the depth of background screening for airport employees. He said, noncommittally, “It goes reasonably deep.”

So there are, in other words, two classes of people in airports: those whose shoes are inspected for explosives, and those whose aren’t. How, I asked, do you explain that to the public in a way that makes sense?

“Social networks,” he answered. “It’s a very tuned-in workforce. You’re never alone when you’re on or around a plane. ‘What is that guy spending all that time in the cockpit for?’ All airport employees know what normal is.” Hawley did say that TSA employees conduct random ID checks and magnetometer screenings, but he did not say how frequently.

I suppose I’ve seen too many movies, but, really? Social networks? Behavior detection? The TSA budget is almost $7 billion. That money would be better spent on the penetration of al-Qaeda social networks.

As I stood in the bathroom, ripping up boarding passes, waiting for the social network of male bathroom users to report my suspicious behavior, I decided to make myself as nervous as possible. I would try to pass through security with no ID, a fake boarding pass, and an Osama bin Laden T-shirt under my coat. I splashed water on my face to mimic sweat, put on a coat (it was a summer day), hid my driver’s license, and approached security with a bogus boarding pass that Schnei­er had made for me. I told the document checker at security that I had lost my identification but was hoping I would still be able to make my flight. He said I’d have to speak to a supervisor. The supervisor arrived; he looked smart, unfortunately. I was starting to get genuinely nervous, which I hoped would generate incriminating micro-expressions. “I can’t find my driver’s license,” I said. I showed him my fake boarding pass. “I need to get to Washington quickly,” I added. He asked me if I had any other identification. I showed him a credit card with my name on it, a library card, and a health-insurance card. “Nothing else?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

“You should really travel with a second picture ID, you know.”

“Yes, sir,” I said.

“All right, you can go,” he said, pointing me to the X-ray line. “But let this be a lesson for you.”


Last week, in response to my article about the idiocy of airport security, the head of the Transportation Security Administration, Kip Hawley, essentially conceded the main argument of my article, which was that America's aviation security system is not designed to catch smart terrorists, but stupid terrorists. Here's what Hawley wrote last week:

"Clever terrorists can use innovative ways to exploit vulnerabilities. But don't forget that most bombers are not, in fact, clever. Living bomb-makers are usually clever, but the person agreeing to carry it may not be super smart. Even if "all" we do is stop dumb terrorists, we are reducing risk."
Not quite believable. And yet he really said it.

Friday, October 17, 2008

One good, one bad

Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona was a disappointment. I consider myself a huge Allen fan, and I divide his films between Excellent and Masterpiece. This one, however, was kind of a joke. Despite the good performances by Javier, Scarlett and Penélope (and the gorgeous Rebecca Hall) the whole thing felt like a badly written, shot-in-three-days promotional film on Barcelona and Oviedo. To be avoided.
Burn After Reading
, is, on the other hand, brilliantly cast and scripted. Even if it's not their best film, it's definitely one of their best comedies, and has some true genious moments. The impressive cast performs wonderfully, even if all roles are not exactly flattering. "Intelligence is Relative", the film's tagline, can be applied to everyone in the movie, and especially to CIA spooks. Don't miss it!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Jump, you fuckers!

Demonstrators protest the proposed 700 billion USD Wall Street bail-out in front of the New York Stock Exchange in the Financial District in New York on September 25, 2008. In response to the global financial crisis, protesters, from a variety of activist groups, denounced the capitalist system, Wall Street and the administration of US President George W, Bush. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas ROBERTS

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


I'm spending a few days in Sofia, Bulgaria, and I love it. Understanding the menu at the restaurant is another matter...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

time travel

Last saturday I saw My Bloody Valentine live in Madrid. One of my favourite bands ever, they notoriously lazy and unproductive: their last record was out in 1991, and the rumours that they are preparing a comeback haven't ceased ever since. (They took so much time recording their excellent Loveless that they almost bankrupted their label, Creation Records).
The concert was amazing, like being into a cloud of noise, the music I knew by heart only barely recognizable. The feeling was like being transported to England in the early nineties, to that Glastonbury festival I never went to. The light effects were very, very 1992, and the only thing missing were seeing people shoegazing...after all, the crowd was old, but maybe not enough.
This is what made Virginia run away from the went on for 10 minutes

Even though I would have happily paid the ticket price just to see them, I could also enjoy seeing Morrissey for the first time, and he didn't disappoint. Hot Chip were surprisingly good, one of these bands that give 250% of themselves on stage, and Mika, which was like being in a party: confetti, puppets, a circus background, and everybody dancing, jumping and having a good time.

Este va dedicado a tí, Pablo. Sorry man, I missed your birthday...

Thursday, April 03, 2008


I just spent four days in Lisbon with my rubita. It's been great: amazing food, a relaxed atmosphere and a city that has become one of the most beautiful in Europe. Every historic building has been restored and cleaned, and you just feel great walking up and down its clobbered streets in Alfama or Graça, watch the sunset from a miradouro, have a beer or browse the ultra-cool Barrio Alto shops...and of course, the seafood. That alone justifies a visit. And the delicious pastéis de Belém. And Os Jerónimos, of course. And the Elevador de Santa Justa. And...

Friday, January 25, 2008

Checking in

During 2007 I've been to the UK (twice), France, Vietnam, the US, Belgium, Switzerland and Morocco: I'm quite happy. I've been lucky to have some of these trips paid for by my bosses, even though in some cases the leisure part of the trip didn't come out as expected. I experienced again a transatlantic trip in Business Class and again lived in a hotel for longer than I would have chosen.
Where do I want to go in 2008: a long holiday in Mexico and Japan, a long weekend in Rome,the compusolry yearly visit to Paris, London and Brussels and (provided we still have time and money) Brazil to kiss the year goodbye.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Sorry for the crappy photo. It's late and I took it with my mobile phone. Yes, I am that lazy.
Pablo, this one is for you, I think you'll like it: All thhe applications you saw on the iPhone (Google maps, a decent e-mail client, Weather and about a hundred more you have never seen) all in your iPod Touch. Now I really love this little thing.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

We had to be family

From the opening sequence of Bender's Big Score, Futurama's feature film

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Lake Leman

I´m in Switzerland again, this time in a town called Morges, for a two-day training seminar. It´s an incredibly quiet place, and the view from my room is amazing:
The seminar itself has so far being useful and interesting. Nice colleagues and good speakers, including people at very high level (I´ve just had dinner with three people just below the CEO). The best of all is the confirmation that there is a rigurous appraisal process, something I have never had for some reason or other, which means that if everuthing goes well, I only depend on the quality of my work to move up in this organization. I like that.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


iPod Touch and jealous cat

People who know me a little bit know I'm crazy about electronics. I love having the latest technology, especially if it mixes good design with new ideas. I'vve never wrote anything about my shiny new toys, even tough I often though about it, especially whan I bought my digital SLR, later when I replaced my old SonyEricsson T610 with the excellent W810 (and missed, I lost it a mere six months later, and the one that replaced it in my pocket, despite being skinnier than a model on a diet, is not à la hauteur) and finally, when I finally persuaded my girlfriend to accept a new TV at home. But now I just can't resist it anymore. (Don't panic, I'm not going to review it, for that you can read better blogs than this one)

The Touch is a true Apple product: beautiful, easy to use and with features that every other Personal Media Player (MP3 player is so yesterday) will have in the near future. This one has a gorgeous 3.5" screesn that is good enough to watch movies, an amazin interface that lets you flick through your albums as if you were in a record store looking for that vinyl, a full-featured web browser that turns mobile internet into something that is actually useful and wi-fi capabilities tha let you donwload your misuc directly from iTunes without having your computer next to you. Now, if it also had a camera and a mobile phone it would be perfect, the fulfilment of my dream of integrating all the gadgets I use into a single one. But that would be the iPhone, which is not available yet here. Ok, I know I could get hold of one in the US, but for that one I think I'll wait until an updated version is lauched.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Regrets only

A collection of apologies, read here.

I want to make it clear that everything you've heard and read is true.(1) I can also no longer deny to myself that there are issues I obviously need to examine within my own soul, and I've asked for help.(2) So if you're so thin-skinned that you took offense to a slip of the tongue that I had, then I offer my apology. I am, am sorry that you were offended.(3)

We admit that several members of our organization allowed an internal power struggle to cloud good judgment.(4) We should have done better.(5) I sincerely apologize and hope people realize that conversations can be easily manipulated in print.(6) And I don't care that he's black or green or purple or whatever.(7)

I failed.(8) I acknowledge that mistakes were made here.(9) I'm not a bad person. I'm a good person, but I said a bad thing.(10) I am not a bigot.(11) I never want to be portrayed as a guy who loses his cool.(12) That was a very intemperate remark made in the heat of the day yesterday in a very misguided attempt to defend my boss.(13) When I called him "Pruneface," it was campaign rhetoric.(14) I certainly would never intend to use the offensive word in its technical sense, and I would not and could not under any circumstances question the parentage of your son, our current governor.(15) Our trust has been broken, and only love can rebuild it.(16)

I probably should have waited a while before I scratch myself and spit.(17) I apologize, but I don't think I had the gay vote, anyway.(18) I certainly hope that no one was harmed or died.(19)

It is a shame that the metaphor I used was taken so radically out of context and slung about irresponsibly by the media.(20) I regret if my comment was misconstrued.(21) He didn't deserve to be whacked around like that, and I'll be the first to apologize to him for that. But he doesn't deserve to be a folk hero either.(22) If there were occasions when my grape turned into a raisin and my joy bell lost its resonance, please forgive me.(23) Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling.(24) It is with a heavy heart that I apologize this morning to Aunt Jemima.(25)

I did not view it as racial.(26) It's not an ethnic slur. You don't make an ethnic slur before several hundred people.(27) I grew up side by side with black people. Many are my dear friends.(28) As a Latino, I myself am offended.(29)

I can flap my lips all I want. Talk is cheap.(30) If we are deemed responsible for the accidents, that is another matter. However, there are maybe outside causes that had caused the accidents.(31)

There were a lot of human factors.(32) I grew up in a different era, and people said things then that are not acceptable today.(33) I suffered from an illness and I was sick.(34) I wanted to win so bad for my kids and my family, and I apologize to anyone who was inconvenienced.(35) I've lived in a state of constant fear and anxiety.(36) Dealing with being gay, while continuing to meet my public obligations, created tremendous internal pressures.(37) My days are incredible, you know: work, politics, troubles, moving around, public exams that never end, a life under constant pressure.(38) I have become so numb to the horrific things that happen in this world that I sometimes forget that there are still people who feel.(39) I shouldn't have labeled Mike as a "gay prostitute" or "male prostitute."(40)

We're sorry if this joke, which got a lot of laughs, offended anyone.(41) We have listened.(42) As you all know, I'm a satirical person.(43) In the course of the show, split-second judgment is made over ad libs.(44) Unfortunately, the need to babble as often as I do sometimes leads to unintended and unfortunate results.(45) It's three in the morning and the caffeine gets to us.(46) We've never had any type of complaint.(47)

I apologize to whoever I need to apologize to.(48) I apologize that some people don't have a sense of humor like I do.(49) I was trying to be the bigger man, but he was acting childish.(50) I said I'm sorry. What else can I say? I've lied and I admitted it. Life goes on.(51) I'm sure that I'm supposed to act all sorry or sad or guilty now that I've accepted that I've done something wrong. But you see, I'm just not built that way.(52) What do you want me to do? Go over and kiss the camera? What do you want me to do?(53)


1. Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco re his affair with the wife of his former campaign manager, 2007.

2. Isaiah Washington, a star of "Grey's Anatomy," re an anti-gay slur about his co-star T.R. Knight 2007.

3. Scott James, a Fox News Radio 600 KCOL host, re his on-air remarks equating homosexuals with child molesters, 2007.

4. The president of the Fayetteville (N.C.) Woman's Club re its rejection of a woman who would have been its first black member, 2007.

5. David Neeleman, the chief executive and founder of Jet Blue re the hundreds of passengers stranded at Kennedy Airport during an ice storm, 2007.

6. The actress Sienna Miller re anti-Pittsburgh remarks she made in Rolling Stone, 2006.

7. Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, re accusing Barry Bonds of using steroids and cheating on his wife and taxes, 2007.

8. Major General George W. Weightman re the uncleanliness of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, 2007.

9. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales re the dismissal of United States attorneys, 2007.

10. Don Imus re racist comments he made about the Rutgers women's basketball team, 2007.

11. Mel Gibson re his anti-Semitic remarks to a law enforcement officer, 2007.

12. Cleveland Cavaliers guard Damon Jones re an outburst during a game, 2006.

13. Representative Daniel Crane's press secretary, William Mencarow, re saying, "If they required the resignation of all congressmen who have slept with young ladies, you wouldn't have a Congress," 1983.

14. Mayor Coleman Young of Detroit re Ronald Reagan, 1980.

15. Justin Dart, a Republican Party donor, to Pat Brown, the former California governor and father of Gov. Jerry Brown, 1982.

16. The president of Wikia re a Wikipedia editor who lied about his credentials, 2007.

17. Roseanne Barr, after singing the national anthem at a San Diego Padres game, 1990.

18. Louie Welch, a Houston mayoral candidate, re saying that one way to stop AIDS is to "shoot all the queers," 1985.

19. Mary Ann Thode, the president of Kaiser's Northern California region, re patients' complaints about Kaiser's kidney transplant program, 2006.

20. Johnny Depp re saying in Stern magazine that America is "a dumb puppy that has big teeth that can bite and hurt you," 2003.

21. Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., the White House budget director, re inflammatory remarks made about Sept. 11 victim compensation, 2002.

22. Daryl Gates, the Los Angeles police chief, re the beating of Rodney King, 1991.

23. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, to the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, re comments about Jews, 1984.

24. Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, admitting to having used escort services, 2007.

25. John Sylvester, a radio host in Madison, Wisconsin, re his comparing of Condoleezza Rice to Aunt Jemima, 2004.

26. Mary Horning, an Atglen, Pennsylvania, teacher, re having the two black students in her first-grade class portray slaves on an auction block, 1993.

27. Governor Guy Hunt of Alabama re saying he'd "never tried to Jew" a peach farmer, 1987.

28. Bob Crumpler, a Newport News, Virginia, car dealer, re being videotaped calling a black worker a "nigger," 1996.

29. Peter Dolara, an American Airlines senior vice president, re the airline's insensitive pilot training guide for Latin America, 1997.

30. Neeleman of Jet Blue.

31. Masatoshi Ono, Bridgestone/Firestone chief executive, re accidents attributed to his company's faulty automobile tires, 2000.

32. Former Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall re his $326 million worth of financial misdeeds, 1997.

33. Dan Peavy, a Dallas school board member, re his repeated use of racial epithets, 1995.

34. Francis X. Vitale, a former executive of the Englehard Corp., re-embezzling $12.5 million from his company, 1998.

35. Elecia Battle of Cleveland re claiming to have lost her $162 million winning lottery ticket, 2004.

36. Andrew Speaker, an Atlanta lawyer, re traveling on a plane when he knew he was tubercular, 2007.

37. Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, re Stephen L. Gobie, who ran a prostitution business out of Frank's Washington apartment, 1989.

38. Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy to his wife re his flirtations with other women, 2007.

39. Marconi, a radio host in Portland, Oregon, re playing a tape of a beheading in Iraq and laughing about it, 2004.

40. Karen Booth, a leader of the Transforming Congregations ministry, re Mike Jones, who outed Ted Haggard, 2007.

41. David Young, the re-election campaign manager for Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky, re the senator's comment that his competitor "looks like one of Saddam Hussein's sons," 2004.

42. Mars re using animal whey instead of vegetable whey in its candy bars, 2007.

43. Howard Stern re making jokes about the singer Selena, 1995.

44. Doug Tracht, a Washington radio host, re a joke he made on air about James Byrd Jr., who was dragged behind a car in Texas, 1999.

45. The Chicago Tribune's Mike Royko re a column on the unusual names of some black children, 1996.

46. Ryan Owens, an anchor for ABC's "World News Now" re his and his colleagues' laughter being overheard during the announcement of the actor Owen Wilson's suicide attempt, 2007.

47. The maker of the video Madden NFL '07 after a 14-year-old found pornography on his copy, 2007.

48. Herbert Miller, the vice president of sales for Merit Industries, re a plaque to be presented to James Earl Jones, but inscribed to James Earl Ray, 2002.

49. Shaquille O'Neal re having said, "Tell Yao Ming, 'Ching-chong-yang-wah-ah-soh,"' 2003.

50. Tommy Lee for having gotten into a fight with a fellow musician, Kid Rock, during Alicia Keys' performance during the Video Music Awards, 2007.

51. The Olympic runner Ben Johnson re having falsely denied taking steroids, 1990.

52. Pete Rose re his betting on baseball, 2004.

53. Bill O'Reilly, who'd said that if no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, "I will apologize to the nation and I will not trust the Bush administration again," 2004.


I just love this painting by Chinese artist Yue Minjun, whose styled is defined as " cynical realism". Execution was inspired by the 1989 protests in Tiannanmen Square,and was sold a couple of weeks ago in Sotheby's for a cool £2.9m, a record for a Chinese artist.

Monday, October 15, 2007


Forget "making available" some songs on a P2P network—in the UK, blaring your radio too loud might make you a target for a multi-hundred-thousand-pound lawsuit for copyright infringement. The UK-based Performing Rights Society—a group that collects royalties for publishers, songwriters, and composers—has accused a car repair chain named Kwik-Fit of copyright infringement because mechanics were regularly found to play their radios loud enough for others to overhear the music
The PRS claims that it has logged over 250 incidents of Kwik-Fit employees audibly playing music since 2005. "The key point to note, it was said, was that the findings on each occasion were the same with music audibly 'blaring' from employee's radios in such circumstances that the defenders' [Kwik-Fit] local and central management could not have failed to be aware of what was going on," the judge in the case, Lord Emslie, told the BBC. "The allegations are of a widespread and consistent picture emerging over many years whereby routine copyright infringement in the workplace was, or inferentially must have been, known to and 'authorised' or 'permitted' by local and central management."

The PRS insists that the fact that the music can be heard by others amounts to a "performance" of the music in public—something that is not allowed unless the business has the proper licenses to do so. Such a license would cost Kwik-Fit roughly £30,000 per year, the PRS told The Scotsman in June. When multiplied by the number of years that the business has allegedly been violating copyrights, the PRS says that £200,000 would make a reasonable sum.

In the UK, any business that broadcasts music—even if it's commercial, publicly-accessible radio—must obtain a license to do so, according to the MCPS-PRS web site. Of course, customers who accidentally overhear the radio being played by a Kwik-Fit mechanic could just as easily go home and turn on the same radio station within the bounds of British copyright laws. Conversely, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers allows businesses to play publicly-accessible radio or TV as long as the transmission is being received by a single unit (and not broadcast from room-to-room) and there is no admission charge to enter the establishment. In other words, the mechanics' actions would be permissible in the US, but not in the UK.

But what's at stake is not just Kwik-Fit's official policy on broadcasting music (in fact, the company says that it has a 10-year policy outlawing radios at the workplace), but whether employees at any company can play music aloud. What about office employees that play music in a shared office or a cubicle farm? Even at relatively low volumes, someone is inevitably going to hear what is being played in a close working environment. At what point is it no longer acceptable for an individual to play music out loud, with the fear that someone else might hear it in passing?

Kwik-Fit asked the court to dismiss the suit at a procedural hearing last week, citing its official, anti-radio policy. The judge refused to dismiss the £200,000 claim, however, saying that there was at least enough evidence such that the case should be heard. He made clear, however, that his allowance of the suit did not necessarily mean that he felt the PRS would succeed.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Caótico Médem

Yesterday I went to the cinema. Julio Médem is probably my favourite Spanish director, and I had been waiting to see his latest movie, Caótica Ana, for a long time. The only thing I knew about it is that part of it had been shot in NYC and that it was in some way a homage to his sister Ana, who had recently died in a car crash.

This is what the director had said about his film:
Chaotic Ana is the story-journey of Ana over four years of her life, from 18 to 22. A countdown from 10 to 0, as in hypnosis, through which Ana comes to see that she doesn’t alone. Her existence seems to be the continuation of the lives of other young women who died tragically, all of them at 22, and who live in the abyss of her unconscious memory. That is her chaos. In words of the director and scriptwriter of the movie: Ana is the princess and the monster of this fable feminist against the tyranny of the white man.

OMFG. The film, though beautifully shot and well-acted, was a real mess: a very loosely-knit story about the suffering of women through the ages, in which hypnosis, an artists' commune, people living in a cave, the plight of the Sahrawi people and even a Donald Rumsfeld lookalike all play an important part.

All of these issues are interesting, well worth being filmed and publicised. A fiction film - and a Medem one the least of all- is not the place to raise awareness. That role is reserved to documentaries.

I miss Julio Médem. He's gone through a terrible time after the release of La Pelota Vasca and his sister's death, and I hope he gets its act together and starts making brilliant movies again. Unfortunately this is not one of them.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

New Job

After all these years, I finally have my own cubicle.