Mass Effect 3 Review

March 17, 2012 at 7:25 pm (Uncategorized)

*This is a SPOILER-FREE review for Mass Effect 3.  I will not discuss any reveals or important plot-points in the game, nor will I speak to the controversial ending that has so polarized Mass Effect fans.*

OVERVIEW

Mass Effect 3 is the last chapter in BioWare’s sprawling science-fiction epic.  You once again take the reins of Commander Shepard, Earth last and best hope against the galaxy’s ongoing threat, the Reapers.  They’ve come to Earth, and they will stop at nothing to destroy all organic life, starting with humanity.  To defeat this threat once and for all, Shepard must unite the other races, convince them to commit military and scientific resources, and make a decisive stand against this synthetic scourge.  To accomplish this difficult task, he must navigate the complex political relationships between the races, make peace in the face of centuries of war, and race against the machinations of the Illusive Man and his Cerberus forces.

In typical BioWare fashion, Mass Effect 3 is all about story and decision-making.  From the beginning, you customize your own Commander Shepard.  Gender, class, physical features…the choice is yours and goes a long way toward personalizing the experience.  Indeed you can import your character from Mass Effect 2 (which might have been imported from the first Mass Effect), providing an impressive story through-line.  BioWare ambitiously promised character continuity throughout the trilogy, and they’ve absolutely delivered on that pledge.

 

 

GAMEPLAY

Mass Effect 3 will be very familiar to veterans of the series.  The controls and gameplay are pleasantly unchanged.  You will still encounter a wealth of characters and gather allies to join you on the Normandy.  The conversation wheel is back, providing you with dialog options that may or may not increase your reputation, or paragon and renegade statuses.   It’s all extremely well executed with uniformly strong voice-acting and a dramatic soundtrack.

The graphics are noticeably improved, adding a welcome level of detail throughout.  While graphics have never been the cornerstone of the Mass Effect series, the added realism only serves to deepen the narrative.  The same is true for the combat.  Shepard is more mobile, able to move from cover to cover smoothly.  Sprinting into a dive and landing behind a barrier is supremely satisfying.  Mass Effect 3 may not be the best example of a third-person cover-based shooter, but they borrowed enough genre leaders to make it very functional.

Enemy AI has been improved as well.  Your target will use cover effectively, plant turrets, and even lay down smokescreens to obscure your vision.  There are a variety of enemy types, weapons, special abilities, and tactical decisions to make.  All of this makes for a more visceral combat experience, even if your squad-mates require a bit of handholding.

Fans of the series will be pleased to note that class-based weapon restrictions have been removed.  Instead, there’s a weight encumbrance mechanic that slows down the recharge rate of your special abilities depending on the number/weight of the weapons you carry.  So while my Adept could carry a sniper rifle, shotgun, and assault rifle in addition to his pistol and SMG, doing so would slow biotic ability cooldowns by 200%.  Not a good choice for an Adept or an Engineer, but perfectly reasonable for a Soldier that depends less on special abilities.  For a game that is all about choices and tradeoffs, this was an elegant solution in balancing and differentiating the classes.

The big new feature is, of course, multiplayer.  Many fans decried the decision to add multiplayer to a game so rooted in a single-player experience, but rest assured that BioWare intended to include multiplayer from the beginning.  It was simply too difficult and costly to implement for the first two games.  It’s also completely optional in Mass Effect 3, and doesn’t impact the single player experience in any way.  It was intended to be a fun, game-extending diversion, and it is just that.

 

 

WRAP-UP

Mass Effect 3 sets a new bar for video game storytelling.  From the very beginning, you are emotionally invested in Earth’s plight and the seemingly impossible mission Shepard embarks upon.  Especially if you’ve imported a character from the previous games, you are treated to appearances from many familiar faces and see the consequences of your previous decisions.  Thanks to improved graphics and combat, the mechanics of the game are now nearly on par with the narrative.

That is not to say that the experience is perfect.  There are occasional collision detection and texture pop-in issues.  Some of the new characters are downright unpleasant, especially meathead James Vega voiced by Freddie Prinze Junior).  Instead of completely doing away with the much maligned planet scanning mini-game from Mass Effect 2, they transformed it into a hunt for “War Assets”.  You scan systems instead, trying to find hidden resources.  It’s streamlined, sure, but you’re still firing probes onto planets and still buying fuel to travel between systems.

Despite these questionable elements, the game absolutely shines.  BioWare is a master of their craft, and Mass Effect 3 is their greatest achievement to date.

SCORE: A

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A Lesson on Russian Social Obligation, Part 4

February 2, 2011 at 12:00 pm (Uncategorized)

Russian immigrants have a singular vision of what a wedding should be.  It’s a formal affair consisting of black tie clichés and rose red stereotypes.  It’s the kind of wedding you see in terrible movies, and is as far from the wedding Abby and I envision as humanly possible.

 

This disappoints my parents in a myriad of ways.  Let’s break it down…

 

THE VENUE

Our venue is wrong because it doesn’t allow hard liquor, only wine, champagne, and beer.  It’s an amazing location that is both beautiful and affordable, but how can Russians possibly gather for a celebration without vodka?

 

 

THE FOOD

We opted for a buffet style dinner because we hate the small flavorless portions you get at most weddings.  It’s an amazing caterer, and the price reflects the quality, but my parents consider buffets to be low class.

 

 

THE SUIT

I bought a beautiful black suit last year just for the wedding.  It’s a Ben Sherman design, double-vented, and slim cut.  It’s also not a full tuxedo with bow tie, so it isn’t good enough.

 

 

 

THE TRANSPORTATION

We live about 20 minutes from the venue, so we thought renting a limo would be a waste of money, not to mention really tacky.  In Russian culture, however, tackiness is unto godliness.

 

 

THE MUSIC

We intend our wedding to be fairly casual, so we’ve asked a good friend to DJ for us (i.e. manage some iTunes playlists that we create ahead of time).  We don’t want the formality of a live band, and we want to avoid the cheesiness of a for-rent DJ, and my parents couldn’t be less happy with that decision.

 

 

 

THE GUEST LIST

Social obligation teaches us that anyone my parents have even a vaguely friend-like relationship with must be invited to their children’s wedding.  I’ve rejected this notion for several reasons.  For one, I don’t want anyone at my wedding that isn’t important to Abby or I.  Second, Abby has a large Catholic family on her father’s side.  Our venue’s seating capacity is 120 people, so we have to accommodate them before any of my parents’ social obligations.

 

Both my parents and Abby’s parents are assisting us financially with the wedding.  We’re extremely thankful for their generous contributions, but the unforeseen consequences have been taxing.  While Abby’s parents are hands-off and only interested in our happiness, my parents have been trying to mold our wedding into their vision almost from the beginning.  It boiled over when I refused to send save-the-dates to some of their suggested guests, especially my second cousin’s in-laws who are as meaningless to me as they are quintessentially Russian.

Fearing the embarrassment and shame of these people not getting invited, my parents guilted me for days resulting in our first major fight in years.  After several days of the cold shoulder, my parents and I are communicating again, but we’re still struggling with the social obligation issue.  It may not make sense to me, but it’s of vital importance to them.  They this couple will embarrass and speak ill of them, but at the same time, the only way to break with idiotic tradition is to draw a line in the sand.  More importantly, we won’t be manipulated into making decisions about our wedding by anyone, not even our parents.

Look for the exciting conclusion in Part 5 sometime in the future!

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A Lesson on Russian Social Obligation, Part 3

February 1, 2011 at 12:00 pm (Uncategorized)

As I discussed previously, my parents pioneered what turned into a full migration of my family from the Ukraine to Minnesota.  By the age of 16, a large majority of my extended family had arrived ushering in their own regrettable social obligations.  Although I didn’t know or have anything in common with many of these adult relatives, I was still expected to accompany my parents to all of their events.  I despised these seemingly constant family functions, partly because my Russian language skills are very week, but also because the venues for these events are probably my least favorite places in the world.

Truly a unique business model, the Russian restaurant/night club is a tacky combination of cramped eatery, pathetic bar, and cheesy entertainment trapped in a Cold War era Russian time bubble.  These restaurants were common in New York and other cities with dense Russian populations, but hadn’t made the transition to the Twin Cities until 15 or so years ago.  Without fail, Russian restaurants are decorated in 70s chic: fake leather seating, gaudy thick carpeting, wood paneling, and mirror ball decked dance floors.  Often the food is quite good, but it is served in six-to-seven courses over a period of hours.  Between courses, the same two 40-something musicians sing the same dozen songs they learned before leaving Russia.  When I say “musicians”, I mean a mediocre keyboardist and a shrill-voiced lady singer sporting the kind of haircut that could only excite KD Lang.

The attendees dance to this awfulness, eat, drink, dance, eat, drink, and so on for three-to-four hours.  I couldn’t even tell you how many times I had to endure these evenings, but my temperament and impatience as an adult means I will never set foot in a Russian restaurant/night club again.  This has little to do with my wedding planning and the family drama it has caused, but I thought it was an interesting aside and a cautionary tale for the uninitiated.

It isn’t that all Russians enjoy these kinds of events, they are just socially obligated to attend, and then are further obligated to return the favor by inviting them to their evening in these Russian hellscapes.  Not only must they piss away hours cramped and uncomfortable, but they must pay for the pleasure.  Big events in restaurants require a bigger gift than standard.

In Part 4, love is in the air!

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A Lesson on Russian Social Obligation, Part 2

January 31, 2011 at 12:00 pm (Uncategorized)

In Part 1, I illuminated the strange arithmetic that defines even the shallowest and disinterested of Russian social relationships.  In true Hollywood fashion, I left that blog with a cliffhanger: the woes of wedding planning under a Russianist regime.  Before I talk vows and cake, we have another awkward and sometimes-moist topic to discuss: shame.

Any soul-crushing discussion about social obligation must include the consequences of duty dereliction.  Russians do many things well.  They excel at fighting with tanks, they can nest wooden dolls like no one’s business, and they can consume noxious spirits without cowardly mixers or additions (the only time vodka is mixed is when the drinker has thrown up in it).

They are also experts in gossip and judgment.  We’re aware of social standing and reputation in America, but it’s an obsession in Eastern Europe and infects the DNA of even its most distant countrymen.  Oleg invites Igor to his 25th wedding anniversary, but Igor secretly dislikes Oleg’s wife.  Maybe she’s a close-talker and has bad breath.  Maybe she cooks like a one-armed leper and thinks fish bones are better consumed than discarded.  Whatever the case might be, Igor has no interest in attending this event.

Igor cannot decline Oleg’s invitation without inviting shame.  Such an affront would be interpreted as an insult.  Surely Igor must be trying to offend Oleg, or he’s too cheap to bring a gift of standard value (see Part 1).  Even if Igor’s excuse was a previously planned engagement, he would still be violating his social obligations.  Only family tragedy or sickness could get Igor out of this situation, and even then he must be very careful to express his apology and regret to Oleg.  The truly galling part of this unfair interaction is that the same would be true if Igor and Oleg were cousins.  Blood relatives are just as likely to judge and malign your character as an acquaintance.

Say Igor was a 30 year-old man and Oleg’s invitation came via Igor’s parents.  If Igor declines the invitation, it is Igor’s parents’ duty to begin a campaign of guilt to persuade him otherwise.  What is their stake in their son’s attendance?  Igor’s decision in the negative reflects poorly on his parents; it brings shame and judgment on them as his representatives.  To protect their own social standing, Igor’s parents might even threaten to abstain from one of Igor’s events as punishment.  This is often an empty threat, but it’s emotional blackmail nonetheless.  If you’ve ever wondered whether something could simultaneously warm and deaden one’s heart, now you know.

In Part 3, put your hooker heels on, we’re painting the town red!

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A Lesson on Russian Social Obligation, Part 1

January 28, 2011 at 2:07 pm (Uncategorized)

As some of my good friends have pointed out, I’ve allowed my blog to become stale.  I have my excuses and my distractions, but I’m coming back with a vengeance.  Expect a good bit of blogging in the near future, ranging from politics to my newest gaming time-wasters.  Today, however, I’m going to start my comeback by getting a little personal.

I’m the first American-born child in my family.  My parent immigrated to the United States in 1979, escaping both the poverty and religious persecution they experienced in the Soviet Union.  Leaving their home in Kiev meant parting with family, culture, language, and some measure of certainty.  They had grown up with anti-American propaganda and knew almost no English.  It was a risk, and their journey was long and arduous.  I’ll tell that story in a future blog.

So why am I relating this background?  Although my parents have acculturated over the past 30-plus years, they do maintain some distinctly Eastern European cultural perspectives that are further buoyed by the Russian community with which they socialize.  I could speak to their superstition, conservative American patriotism, belief in the food as an expression of love, and countless other Russian/Jewish cultural stereotypes, but one cultural perspective has been a source of tremendous conflict over the last few weeks: social obligation.

Eastern Europeans keep score when it comes to friendship and acquaintance.  If Igor invites Oleg to dinner, Oleg must return that invitation with an event of equal or greater value.  If Oleg comes to dinner, he must bring Igor a gift of at least a bottle of booze.  Igor must return that gesture at his first opportunity, and the gift should be of equal or greater value.  The first time this exchange occurs, Igor and Oleg have entered a relationship that invites several other obligatory gestures.  Igor must always invite Oleg to important events…a 40th birthday party, a child’s bar mitzvah, an anniversary celebration, and of course a child’s wedding.  Oleg is bound by these same rules, and as a guest, must bring a gift of cash or check.  No other gift will do, and the value of said gift must be $50 or higher.  Oleg is essentially paying for his participation in Igor’s event, so if Oleg brings his wife Olga, he should double the value of his gift.

If you’re rolling your eyes as you parse the calculus of a Russian friendship, you are not alone.  Although I’ve grown up with this madness, it never truly affected me until I became an adult.  As a child, I attended countless events with my parents that, looking back, were nothing more than money-gathering operation.  I remember one of their good friends using their daughter’s break from college as an excuse to throw a party.  My parents attended like good Russians, and brought a check-stuffed greeting card like the socially obligated drones they are.

I didn’t understand the emptiness of this arrangement as a child, but now that my time (and pocket book) are challenged by this cultural ballet, I’m facing the full depth of my parents’ social obligations.  In Part 2, I’ll discuss the consequences of unfulfilled obligations, and later, how this cultural phenomenon has turned my wedding planning into a spiraling nightmare of guilt and blackmail.

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A Very Foodie Christmas, Part 2

January 6, 2011 at 11:00 am (Uncategorized)

I came home from Florida to find a stack of gifts for me from Abby’s parents and her brother.  She clued them in on some of the stuff I was interested in for the kitchen, and boy did they deliver.  Without further ado, on to the hardware…

 

LODGE LOGIC CAST IRON DUTCH OVEN

http://www.amazon.com/Lodge-L8DOL3-Pre-Seasoned-5-Quart-Handles/dp/B00063RWYI

For some reason, I just never wanted to part with the funds to purchase my own dutch oven.  They’re eminently useful, and I borrow my parent’s overpriced Le Creuset several times a year, but I’ve never wanted to sacrifice my meager kitchen space for my own dutch oven.  That’s shortsighted thinking, and I’m very happy with this five quart beauty.  I think I’ll get rid of my electric deep fryer.  I never use it, and a dutch oven plus a candy thermometer definitely gets the job done.

 

SUNBEAM HERITAGE SERIES HAND MIXER

http://www.amazon.com/Sunbeam-Heritage-Speed-250-Watt-Mixer/dp/B000IL9GU6

This isn’t exactly the Cadillac of hand mixers, but it serves my light baking needs very well.  I like the design and the fact that it all fits into a space-saving stand.  I’ve been meaning to pick one of these up for years and save myself from manual mixing.  Wooden spoons are great, but sometimes you need a bit more muscle, speed, and consistency.

 

AROMA SENSOR LOGIC RICE COOKER

http://www.amazon.com/Aroma-ARC-856-Sensor-Cooker-Steamer/dp/B0002OKDUG

I’ve been using a $15 rice cooker for years, and always with less-than-ideal results.   It seems like you can never get the water level just right with cheap rice cookers, and they tend to make a starchy mess unless you rinse the rice very thoroughly.  Upgrading to a higher quality rice cooker was a no-brainer, and thanks to a well-timed gift card, this bad-boy is on the way.  Zojirushi is the gold standard for fuzzy logic rice cookers, but I’ve always found them price prohibitive.  This Aroma model features the same computer managed temperature and moisture control at a significantly lower price.  Sold.

 

OSTER STAINLESS STEEL ELECTRIC WATER KETTLE

http://www.amazon.com/Oster-Stainless-Steel-2-Liter-Electric-Kettle/dp/B0012S1V2A

Even worse than my $15 rice cooker, is my $10 electric kettle.  It’s small, made of plastic, and has the heating element inside the kettle.  I was disappointed with it almost immediately, and I should have gotten rid of it years ago.  Luckily, I now have a superior replacement with an external heating element, metal construction, and even a filter.  It heats a whole bunch of water in very little time, so I no longer have to wait for my frustratingly slow electric range to do the job.

 

All-in-all, that’s one epic foodie Christmas.  I’m know I’m difficult to shop for because I generally buy the stuff I really need.  I bargain hunt like crazy, and take advantage of used deals on Craigslist and especially Amazon.com Marketplace.  When it comes to specialty kitchen gadgets though, I tend to be cheap and so I’m always thankful when my friends and family come through.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to give presents and my wallet is definitely lighter as a result, but receiving is just as fun as giving, especially when the gifts are so great.

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A Very Foodie Christmas, Part 1

January 5, 2011 at 12:41 pm (Uncategorized)

I take an annual trip to Florida for Christmas.  Not only does this give me a week away from the frozen gray doldrums of Minnesota in December, but I get to spend some time with my dear friend, Adam.  In every possible way but blood, he and his mom and step-dad are family.  Christmas is very special to me, like going home again.

While I was recharging my batteries in Florida, my fiancé was back home in Wisconsin celebrating Christmas with her family.  It always impresses me how committed she is to her family.  Although her parents’ house is more than five hours away, she drove home for Thanksgiving and again for Christmas, despite snow storms and icy roads.

Christmas is a secular affair for both our families.  It’s just a good excuse to come together, enjoy each other’s company, and most importantly, exchange gifts!  Between Abby’s family and Adam’s very generous parents, I was inundated with kitchen stuff.  I couldn’t be happier.  I love gadgets, I love Alton Brown, and I love to cook.  Some of my new toys are in transit, and I figure I’ll be doing some amateur reviews once I’ve had the chance to play, but I thought I’d share my excitement and do a little preview.

 

GOOD EATS 2: THE MIDDLE YEARS

http://www.amazon.com/Good-Eats-2-Middle-Years/dp/1584798572/

I’m going to start with some literature.  Alton Brown is the host of my favorite cooking show, Good Eats.  Unlike standard Food Network programming, Alton goes into the science of how cooking works and includes comedy sketches to keep things light.  I have all of Alton’s cookbooks and even a Good Eats apron that I wear when I chef it up.  In 2009, Alton published GOOD EATS: THE EARLY YEARS, a reflection on the first few seasons of Good Eats complete with recipes, behind-the-scenes information, and reflections on his experiences making the show.  I got that book for Christmas last year, and the follow-up this year.  Great stuff, and I’m sure more volumes are on the way from kitchen hero.

 

ADAGIO TEA POT GIFT SET

http://www.adagio.com/gifts/holiday_ingenuiTEA.html?SID=93afdfbdbec801091c2948caf1e55df2

And now, on to the hardware.  I’ve been getting more interested in tea, especially because I can’t stand coffee.  A nice warm caffeinated beverage on a cold Minnesota morning is a wonderful thing.  Adagio’s IngenuiTEA pot is basically a large mug with a filter.  You put loose tea in, cover with hot water, and leave it to steep as long as the tea needs.  Placing the pot on top of your favorite mug triggers a latch that dumps the tea into the mug, leaving the leaves in the pot on top of the filter.  Adagio is a very clever company, and they sell a huge variety of top quality loose tea.  My gift set came with five different kinds of black tea, which was supplemented with a variety pack of green teas.  I can’t wait to brew!

 

CALPHALON NO PEEK BELGIAN WAFFLE MAKER

http://www.amazon.com/Calphalon-HE400WM-Belgian-Waffle-Maker/dp/B001CHL3Q0/

As a devoted student of Alton Brown, I don’t believe in unitaskers in the kitchen.  I wouldn’t be caught dead with an apple peeler when a good knife will do the job.  People are constantly suckered by this junk, and I think it’s a complete waste of money.  It can be argued that a waffle maker is a unitasker, but it serves a function that can’t be replicated, and you can use it to create a myriad of breakfast goodies.  After much research, I came upon this Calphalon beauty.  Just the right depth, shape, and quality without an outrageous price tag.  Still, it’s a pricey device and I’m very appreciative.

 

This is just some of the great stuff I received over Christmas in Florida.  Adam and his family even stuffed my stocking with a giant can of Stonewall Kitchen Pancake and Waffle Mix (http://www.amazon.com/Stonewall-Kitchen-Farmhouse-Pancake-33-Ounce/dp/B001E5E29A/) to use with my fancy new waffle maker.  In Part 2, I’ll talk about the equally ridiculous generosity of my family-in-law and preview some more hardware.

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Touched by the TSA

January 4, 2011 at 2:30 pm (Uncategorized)

My begloved suitor didn’t mention his name, but then in these sorts of short-lived liaisons, names are never necessary.  I saw him out of the corner of my eye, nearly hidden by the giant spinning scanner I was determined to avoid.  Meeting this man-in-uniform would take some convincing.  He had a partner, a diminutive female cohort who wouldn’t let just anyone through.  I broke the ice.

“I’d like to opt out of the scan, please.” I tried to be pleasant, but my anticipation must have been palpable.  I knew that this gatekeeper was the only thing standing between me and those dexterous hands.

“Really?”  My request must have piqued her suspicions.  Was this a potential threat to airport security, or just some public-radio-liberal out to make a point?

“Yes, I’d like to opt out of the scan and do the manual search instead.”  She kept her gaze locked for a beat, trying to gauge my intentions.  Clearly annoyed by the interruption, she gripped the walkie clipped to her shoulder.

“One opt out.”  Those were the magic words, the opening my suitor needed to emerge from his post and make my acquaintance.

“I’ll handle it.  Right this way sir.”

He motioned to a metal chair situated in the middle of a roped off octagon.  I knew the eyes of other travelers were on me as I took my position, and when he offered to give me a private search, I knew it had to be public.  I wanted this moment to be shared…I like an audience.

“I must explain to you that a manual search requires that I touch all surfaces of your body, including your inner thighs and waistline.  Is that okay?”  His words were like honey.  Is that okay? It was better than okay.

“I understand.”  I’m not one to be fondled and tell, but suffice to say that I wasn’t disappointed.  It was over almost before it began, ending with me seated in that cold metal chair, legs in the air as he finished his work on my feet.

As I sat enjoying my afterglow, longing for a cigarette, my gentleman caller finished depositing his gloves and told me I was okay to leave.  I knew going into this that it wouldn’t last, but as I put my belt back on, I wondered if I’d ever experience that kind of intimacy again.  In my long walk to the gate, I understood how true it is that the brightest candles burn fastest.

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Don’t Get Mad, Get Rad!

December 15, 2010 at 11:07 am (Uncategorized)

What happened to the word “rad”?  In my almost 30 years of life, I’ve lived through zubas, MC Hammer, a time when MTV played music videos, and even the rampant use of “cowabunga” (thanks, TMNT)…with the exception of MTV’s heyday, I don’t miss any of these cultural phenomena.  What is it about the word “cool” that has such staying power?  It’s the grand-daddy of affirmations, even outlasting such modern hits as “tight”.

I genuinely miss rad.  It’s an efficient turn of phrase…easy to say, simple to spell, a breeze to text, and doesn’t really have confusing double-meanings.  It’s a light affirmation too.  You can think something is rad without seeming like a devoted fanboy.  So many advantages, and yet rad has gone the way of “tubular”, and that’s just sad.

So I encourage all of your to rise up and help me bring rad back into circulation.  Much like the resurrection of “douchebag”, you’ll wonder how you even expressed yourself before rad came back.  Get in on the ground floor of this not-really-important social movement!

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Airport Scanners…or How the Terrorists Won

November 18, 2010 at 4:07 pm (Uncategorized)

As you’ve undoubtedly read, or already experienced, airports across the country have adopted (voluntarily) new security measures designed to identify potentially dangerous items or substances hidden on our persons.  Included in this two-prong approach are new full-body scanners that use essentially chest x-ray technology to uncover suspicious items that might be hidden under our clothes.  The second is a thorough pat-down from a TSA agent that includes genital contact.

I remember when discussions about implementing full-body scanners fired up shortly after the Underwear Bomber’s attempted attack was thwarted.  The corporation responsible for these devices, Rapiscan, assured us that the images generated by these scans wouldn’t present our bodies in any real detail.  There would be just enough contrast to highlight anything suspicious like a knife or weapon.  We even saw digital renderings of sample images, and the detail resembled something like a melty Ken doll, not identifiable body parts.

Cut to today and the reality is quite a bit different.  If you search for “full-body scanner pictures” online, you’ll find some truly outrageously detailed images.  Sure they may be black-and-white, but genitalia is absolutely identifiable.  In fact news networks use their mosaic blurs over key regions of the body when they show these images on television.  This is not the technology we were promised.

Not only do these scanners violate our privacy, but they’re actually quite dangerous.  They cannot, for example, pick up objects hidden in orifices, and it’s unclear whether the explosive compounds that the Underwear Bomber tried to use would even show in this kind of scan.  These machines also generate significant radiation.  That might not be an issue for you or I, but if you’re a pilot or airline employee, you pass through these scanners multiple times a day.  If you’re a TSA worker standing next to these scanners for 40 hours a week, you might be in real danger.

You can choose to opt-out of the scanning process, and instead submit yourself to what amounts to sexual assault.  TSA agents are instructed to conduct very thorough manual searches, touching every part of the body including the inner thigh until they encounter resistance.  That’s a fancy way of saying “stop when you hit balls”.  If you’ve decided to travel in comfort, for example sweatpants, get ready for the TSA to conduct this search from within your waistband.

In our irrational fear of terrorism, we’ve submitted ourselves to a significant violation of our rights.  Your choices are a hazardous and intrusive body scan, an even more intrusive almost criminal frisking, or getting kicked out of the airport entirely.  Refusing both procedures is punishable by a $10,000 fine.  Just this morning, a story broke about an Orlando airport (Sanford) that fired its TSA staff for complaining about these new procedures.  The airport simply replaced these concerned employees with a private security firm and continued unabated.

What is the goal of terrorism?  The hint is in the name.  What better indication that we are a nation in terror than our willingness to accept these draconian security procedures?  The Patriot Act, warrant-less wire-taps, detainees held indefinitely without due process…these are all indications that on 9/11, our nobility and morality was supplanted by fear and hatred.  We’ve become suspicious and disrespectful, we’ve given up our own liberty for just the slightest indication that doing so will make us safer.  It’s still far more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than will be killed in a terrorist attack.

We defeat terrorism only when we hold steadfast and refuse to cower.  It’s no different than a grade-school bully who will only harass you as long as he continues to get a reaction.  He loses his resolve when that reaction stops.  Now I understand that this is a simplistic comparison, and that lives are at stake when some crazed fundamentalist tries to take down a plane.  But our cowardice and willingness to give up our freedom only encourages more of that behavior, and we risk losing ourselves entirely.

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