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10/02/2003 Archived Entry: "Back blogging"

Back from my travels and ready to blog...

By now everyone knows that the NY-based airline JetBlue allowed the US Army and a Defense Department contractor to use millions of its customer records to test a Total Information Awareness style program, despite its publicly-stated privacy policy. Predictably, a group of passengers has sued JetBlue Airways for passing along their personal information. The class-action lawsuit, filed in Utah's 3rd District Court, alleges fraudulent misrepresentation, breach of contract and invasion of privacy. According to reports, JetBlue passengers feel particularly violated because the airline advertised itself as especially "customer-friendly." For example, "in the first quarter of this year, while more than 10,000 people were bumped off major airline flights because of overbooking, no JetBlue passengers suffered the same fate." Nevertheless, they were bumped over to the Feds...information-wise, that is. Now that airlines are feeling the repercussions of acting like a government agency and not a business -- that is, they want to back away from violating customers' trust -- the Transportation Security Administration Chief Administrator James Loy has announced...if no airlines will "voluntarily provide data for a 180-day testing period of the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II) scheduled for later this year, he will issue a security directive mandating the airlines provide the information." Why should passengers care? Well, apart from privacy, fear of a total state, and a desire for human dignity...the lists are already being used as a political weapon against dissenters. (See the ACLU lawsuit already underway on behalf of two anti-war activists who have been barred from flying.") As Alan Cabal observes, "CAPPS II is a police-state mechanism, a purely Soviet device. It requires airlines to collect passengers’ full legal name, actual residence address, home phone number and date of birth prior to booking a reservation. This information would be turned over to the government, whose contractors would then match the data to third-party information databases, such as credit reporting agencies, and government databases, including property ownership, tax records and law enforcement. The customer would then be profiled and assigned a color code, which would determine the level of screening the customer would be subjected to prior to boarding the flight, if indeed the customer is permitted to fly at all." The CAPPII system would function as the equivalent of an internal passport in the US, allowing only "the government-approved" to avail themselves of what is sometimes the only feasible transportation to conferences and events scattered across the continent. Cabal continues, "As part of their ongoing plan to loot and destroy America, the apparatchiks of the Bush regime have...hired Gen. Yevgeny Primakov, former Prime Minister, to consult with our own Office of Information Awareness on the details of this effort. These creatures believe that your constitutionally mandated 'inalienable rights' are nothing more than privileges granted by the state, to be revoked at whim."

Meanwhile, from the Adding Insult to Injury Department, security fees may be returning to US airfares. According to CNN, "U.S. airlines have had a four-month reprieve from collecting security fees on behalf of the U.S. government, but the hiatus ends Wednesday [yesterday] and passengers could see higher airfares."

There can be only one self-respecting response: Boycott!

On a personal note, to keep friends and family informed:

Brad and I have ridden a whirlwind for the past several days. Last Wednesday, we motored down to Niagara-on-the-Lake to get our "fix" of live theatre beginning with "The Royal Family" by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. (Kaufman is like Noel Coward: a guaranteed "good time"...or, at least, I believed so.) The play was well acted with Goldie Semple, one of our favorite actresses in the Shaw repetoire, cast in the lead as Julie Cavendish. But, after a delightful romping First Act, the play fell apart. It disintegrated toward an abrupt, unsatisfying ending in a manner that suggested the authors just didn't know where the h*ll to go next. I have experienced this phenomenon in my own fiction writing. Indeed, Brad sometimes refers to me as "bloodbath McElroy" because, when I get stuck on what a character should do, I tend to kill him or her off abruptly and in a manner that reflects my irritation. There was one story in which -- by the time I wrote the concluding word -- not a character was left standing. Equally, in "The Royal Family," a character gets killed off and the curtain suddenly falls with nary another syllable spoken. The death is neither surprising nor touching...just convenient for the authors. We dined at the Epicurean, one of our favorite spots, and wandered the main street of Niagara-on-the-Lake until it was time for our evening performance of "Widowers' Houses" by Shaw, which we enjoyed it tremendously. It is a non-preachy play -- preachiness being Shaw's major flaw, IMO -- which manages to raise provocative moral questions as well as to shift your sympathies to and from characters from scene to scene. The play presents no clear answers to difficult social problems and doesn't take a "socialist" approach as many of Shaw's plays do. The last Act provided non-stop conversation all the way to Niagara proper (location of the Falls) where we stayed in order to be nearer Marineland on Thursday morning.

Marineland was perfect for our mood tho' I would not generally recommend it because of how "modest" it is -- for want of a better word. We arrived at the park's opening and meandered, keeping the pace slow in order to shed the extreme work pressure we'd both been under for weeks. The first place we visited was the deer preserve: a large area of bare ground surrounded by trees and some walkways upon which people can wander, allowing them to go approach the free-ranging deer to pet and feed them. There must have been 200 deer lying the center part, crowded up against each other as tho' for warmth. They were unafraid of us and almost indifferent to being touched...indifferent because the food kiosk didn't open for a few hours and people=food is what gets their attention. When we returned later, most of the deer had been taken to another compound with only a few dozen left to roam about...most of which were clustered around the womaned food kiosk. We bought two ice-cream cones full of pellets. (All food at the park -- except for the fish we fed a killer whale -- was sold in cones that can be fed to the animals thus eliminating trash. Brad directed traffic while I held out handfuls of pellets to the deer that swamred...and we were doing quite nicely until I felt teeth chomping down (not painfully) on my buttocks. An aggressive deer decided to announce its presence with authority. The scene became chaos at that point. As we exited, Brad wanted to know if I thought the deer had been male. When I asked "why on earth would it matter?", he replied that, then, I could say, "I was bit on the butt by a buck." Next we fed the fish, watched the elk and bison, then proceeded to the large bear habitat -- with hills and caves, a large pond, trees and places to lie in the shade out of view. There where we bought two cones full of sugar pops...the *really* sweet kiddie cereal. The woman in the kiosk told us the sugar pops appealled to the bears' sweet tooth. The bears ringed underneath our cement "balcony"; some sat contentedly in the water to be nearer; one kept his mouth wide open so we could drop the pops directly into it; another leisurely ate the pops off the back of his pawwhich he raised up under the treats that floated by; about five others stood a bit farther back on the edge of the rocky habitat, just waiting. It was great fun. We also went on rides but, frankly, the extravaganzas of Disneyworld, Busch Gardens, Universal Studios, etc. has left us a bit too sophistocated (or jaded?) to be impressed by the ones at Marineland. By now, of course, everyone must be wondering why -- except for that brief mention of a killer whale -- is the place called Marineland. Actually, that's a good question. At least, half of the park is devoted to non-marine wildlife and activities. The marine aspect: three live shows; a viewing tank of Beluga whales...what beautiful exotic creatures!; a viewing tank for killer whales and a chance to pet/feed one (Brad particularly enjoyed this as other Marinelands have been too crowded with children for him to "get a turn"); a few rather modest displays of fish, including a dolphin tank. Except for the persistence of hornets that seemed to have invaded all of the Niagara area, from the theatre district and its restaurants to the parks, we had a restful day with bright sun, warm breezes, and wonderful companionship. This takes me up to Thursday afternoon...

Tomorrow I'll continue the saga.
Best to all,

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