Forget the quart-sized Ziplocs for gels, just give me a brain scan.

A recent article took a look at the ‘future’ of airport security – behavioral screening, rather than baggage checks.  It will keep lines at airports short, as the combination of sensors, imagers, and subliminal prompts only takes about 30 seconds to process each individual.  Emotional strain, which is a ‘terrorism marker’, will be quickly detected and is a better determinant than traditional security profiling which discriminates based on race and religion.

Of course, there will be problems with the system.  Once someone with emotional strain is identified, they will be taken aside for further questioning,.  So what happens when a passenger is under emotional strain but not a terrorist?  Let’s say you just found out your significant other was cheating on you as he/she dropped you off at the airport.  You’re angry and upset, but holding things together.  Then airport security accosts you with some very personal and invasive questions.  Not going to make you any happier or calmer, is it?  What happens when the nervous flier gets questioned and the sociopath walks onto a plane with guns?

It’s true there can be no complete prevention, that such security is a balance between personal rights and group security.  I’m just not sure that this new type of screening is really that much more effective than the lousy systems we already have in place.

It Belongs in a Museum!

The UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage is designed to help protect shipwrecks and other underwater sites from looting.  The wording of the convention is largely disposed towards maintaining such heritage in situ at best or at least using the means available to preserve the disturbed and removed artifacts, usually in a museum.

At times however, competing interests don’t allow for any sort of preservation.  Salvage rights, the freedom of international waters, and varying degrees of legal freedom between countries can blur the lines between what is right, what is valuable, and what is reasonable.  Take the ‘Black Swan’ project by Odyssey Marine Exploration.  While it remains unclear which wreck (or if multiple wrecks) boasted the uncovered treasure, Spain is pursuing litigation against the company for infringement of their rights and the destruction of underwater war graves.  While OME contends that there were no human remains at the coin’s site, it remains unclear how thorough the site inspection was if they have no idea which sunken ship they were actually exploring.  Peru’s potential claim on the coins also confuses the issue further.  If the treasure was taken forcibly from teh New World, who really has claim to it now, both for history or wealth, and who should?

There are inevitable moral questions tied up with death.  Is it moral to perform an autopsy on someone who was the victim of a violent death, in hopes of catching a criminal, even when such a visceral activity disturbs the faith and belief of living relatives?  Is it moral to uncover the grave sites of those who can no longer speak for themselves in the hopes of discovering some profound truth about our past?  Is it moral to support the claims of rightful bounty by invading conquerors, despite the elapse of hundreds of years?

Ultimately, Odyssey Marine Exploration is a for-profit company aimed at turning a profit with the best possible salvage available.  They do care about the provenance of the artifacts they uncover, but largely as a piece of the final worth of those objects.  However, it is doubtful to my mind that they can afford to be as meticulous as a non-profit or public company working archaeologically in the same area would be.  At the same time, I don’t think that the Spanish claim to the uncovered artifacts is necessarily any better at this point.  Since the coins have already been removed and cannot be displayed the option of preservation in situ is gone.  Spain can only hope to preserve the coins, possibly displaying a choice few out of thousands at museums.  And despite Indiana Jones’ archaeological plea, artifacts (especially those from grave sites) do not belong in museums.  They belong where they were originally placed for spiritual significance, or if the result of accident or violence, belong with their descendants.

Can we say, study visa?

Sometimes the world hits you, and there’s no real way to hit back.  That’s what’s happened to 17 year old Arthur Mkoyan, who planned to go to college in California this coming fall.  He’s Armenian and has been living in the US since he was two while legal proceedings were underway to determine if he and his family would be allowed to stay in the US.  Now, after 15 years of waiting and becoming the valedictorian of his high school, he’s going to be deported.

It sucks.  He doesn’t speak Armenian and doesn’t remember the country at all.  He probably thought his achievements in school would give him at least a little security in the country.  But legally, he has no right to be here.  Legally, he could be allowed to stay if a private bill is passed, but that seems unlikely at this point.  Legally he’s Armenian, even if he doesn’t know how to act like one.

For his parents it would be easier.  They know the language, they lived and worked in Armenia before, they could do so again.  But how would it be for the younger brother who is a US citizen?  Would he be allowed to stay in the US without his parents?  Would he be allowed into Armenia?  What kind of mish-mash of an education would he get now by transferring between the countries?

To my mind, the solution has to come from the university Arthur was planning to enroll in.  They could easily get him a visa as an international student.  Since he’s already been accepted to the school, there shouldn’t be any problem other than paperwork.  Even if it means Arthur living in Armenia with his parents for a few months, it’s a solution.  After college, who knows?  Possibly a work visa and eventually a green card.  He’s obviously smart enough to be a valuable resource here.  And once he turns 18, he could also potentially have legal responsibility for his younger brother.

Bleak as the system may seem for this boy, there are still perfectly legal means and options for him that would secure what he wants from life.  It’s going to be hard, especially on the family, but it is possible.

The Rights of the Dead.

When someone says ‘dead body’ the resultant thought image could be gristly.  But death is the inevitable fate we all share.  While some types of death are perhaps more unfortunate than others, the end result is the same.  In considering this result, people all over the world have had different responses.  While some of them, such as the ancient Egyptian belief that the soul or ka returns to its bodily housing each night, regard the body as a necessary part of the afterlife, others count the husk immaterial after death.  Those beliefs should be given equal respect, despite the needs of those still living.

Take for example an untimely and suspicious death.  Autopsies are required, investigations must proceed, and the corpse or the soul of the departed might be materially harmed by such invasions according to some belief.  Should the needs of society in this case outweigh the individual’s need?  And what of disagreements on how a person should be buried, even within the remaining family?  Or what of the famous dead?  I doubt Mao wanted to be preserved and stared at for decades, or that Shakespeare wanted people to come stare at the spot in the floor where he was once placed.  But who can speak for the dead but living descendants or the public, and who knows that wishes are being fulfilled?

And yet there are people who seek to reclaim what they can from loss, not only for those left behind, but for the rights of the dead themselves.  Take the work of forensic anthropologists in Peru recently.  A massacre site that may (or may not) contain bodies of Shining Path rebels was uncovered that certainly has bodies of children.  DNA testing is being used to identify which bodies might be from families who escaped complete slaughter.  Those remaining will then have time to grieve, knowing for certain the fate of their lost ones.  But what is most telling for me in this article is fear that they will not be able to identify those whose entire families were killed in the slaughter.  To me, that says these people have rights, even in death: a right to justice, and to have the crimes perpetrated against them known.

It reminds me of Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje.  There is a way that people become enveloped in the past that the book illuminates, both against their will and better judgment and as a matter or curiosity or morals or any of the other forces that spurs us to action.  Still, within this work as well there is a sense among several characters of the right of loss, the right of those dead who have no one else to speak for themselves.  It’s haunting, in a way, this ultimate fairness we can’t seem to extend to the people we live next to.

Swindle them blind.

There’s a nefarious evil pervading our culture that I was unaware of until today.  It’s worse than the dryer monster that steals one sock from a matched pair.  It’s worse than the Fuzzo Makers who stuff lint into the pockets of innocent passers-by.  It’s even worse than coins that feel like dimes in your pockets, but somehow turn themselves into virtually useless pennies on the way out.  The Evil?  The U.S. Treasury, a last stanchion against the rights of blind people everywhere U.S. currency is held.

While I personally have no problem with our current bills, even if they are in pastel tints, I can see the problems they might cause for someone who can’t see.  Checking the change you receive (and let’s face it, everyone makes mistakes, even cashiers) becomes a problem.  A simple comment of ‘You only gave me ten” could lead to self-doubt and possible self-esteem issues.  In addition, it makes people easier to cheat, leading those people perhaps into bitter, sheltered lives.  And nobody likes that, except for swindlers.

Honestly, it surprises me that the question hasn’t come up earlier.  Sure, the current suit started in 2002, but with all the access ramps for wheelchairs and other equalizing activities going on in the 1990s, you’d think someone would’ve spoken up.  What really irks is that the Treasury hasn’t actually just insituted something new that addresses this problem.  I mean, you’ve had 6 years.  You knew you were going to lose.  It could even be a way to save some of the loads of money you’re losing on minting new coins, if you planned it out right.  So get to it!

That makes me think – there should definitely be a movie (or spoof?) about a blind man who breaks a money laundering/counterfeiting ring.  Kinda like that blind swordsman Asian movie, with less blood and more spy.  I definitely see the blind guy doing the slide across the hood of his car at least once, possibly missing it or falling off the edge if he does it more than once.  Oh yeah.

Back around, around again.

When it comes to the things we want, it seems we move in endless circles.  There’s always something – a promotion, a better place to live, higher achievements – worth striving for, that seems just out of reach.  Even our causes seem to move in general historical trends.  We all want freedom.  We all want to right to choose our own lives.  We all want the ability to support and give good things to our children. We see these same desires around the world: in Ireland, the Middle east, Eastern Europe, Burma, and elsewhere.  We see them reflected in the eyes of others, perhaps even those we do not share language or understanding with otherwise.

If you’re an oldie ( I will not comment on the potential ‘goodie’ aspect of your nature), or if you just like old movies, you may have seen one called Donovan’s Reef, starring the Duke.  I don’t really remember much of it, since I saw it under the coercion of superior parental force when I was young.  What I do remember most vividly is the haunting beauty of the Hawaiian children of Doc Dedham.  I can see them laying flowers in front of the Dedham house where their half-sister, Amelia (from Boston, where I am.  Freaky), is staying.  I can see the procession in which the eldest daughter sits regally, as daughter to an island princess.  I can see the windswept headland where the fate of the island’s royalty is described by a small plaque.  True, the movie is a romantic comedy in the true form of its time, but these are the moments that have stuck in my memory.  I am doubly unsure how much of this movie can be linked to fact.  Gasp-Hollywood portraying social issues realistically?  In the 60s?

That half-regret, half-beauty still exists in Hawaii.  What could have been in Hawaii, without the US?  What are we to do, besides apologizing for the past as Clinton and Congress did in 1993?  Do native Hawaiians still have some right to their own monarchy?  Some of them feel they do.  They want that freedom, that they feel has been stolen from them.  But what of those who feel most comfortable as a State of the United States?  What of their voices?  And would such a break, at this point, even be possible?  Perhaps this is a case of no right – or even good – answers.  But there is a sense of striving, of longing, that remains, perhaps more poignant for its impossibility.