Sunday, November 21, 2010


Oh how soon we forget about national or even personal security issues. Many seem to be in such a head long rush to “protect their privacy rights” or head off a “police state” to the extent that they are compromising our very existence. We have gone from a connected, dedicated and united populous immediately following 911 to one divided even on matters of national security where common sense should reign supreme. Our enemies are licking their chops at the heightened potential to do us harm given our most recent and divisive reaction to the new Transportation Safety Administration’s (TSA) security measures.

We appear to have forgotten all about Richard Colvin Reid, the infamous Muslim terrorist and confessed trained member of al-Qaeda who in December 2001 hid explosives inside the soles of his shoes before boarding American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami. There were 185 passengers plus the flight crew aboard that plane…

Reid actually made it on board his plane (he couldn’t today) where his plot was thwarted only by alert passengers and flight attendants who dispatched Reid as he tried to light the fuse of the explosives with a match. This guy has to be dumber than dirt – but he made it on board a passenger jet even with some strict security measures. Reid, by the way, was found guilty of terrorism charges and is now serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole at the supermax Federal penitentiary in Florence, Colorado.

How could we forget the 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot where terrorists intended to detonate liquid explosives carried on board at least 10 airliners travelling from the United Kingdom to the United States and Canada?. The plot was discovered and foiled by British police before the explosives could be delivered to the planes though we surely wonder whether security measures of the day would have been sufficient to detect the explosives in carry on or checked baggage before takeoff. Might of Right thinks not as the extraordinary restrictions on carrying liquids aboard passenger aircraft were installed shortly thereafter and remain in place to this day.

Then there was Northwest Airlines 2009 Christmas day flight 253 with 279 passengers, 8 flight attendants, and 3 pilots traveling from Amsterdam to Detroit when passenger and al-Qaeda operative Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate a bomb that had been concealed in his clothing. The plane was starting its descent into Detroit when Abdulmutallab set off the bomb which after some popping noises, malfunctioned then ignited a fire which again due to the intercession of several passengers and flight attendants did not spread further than the terrorist’s seat, part of the wall of the aircraft and Abdulmutallab himself causing first and second degree burns to his hands, second degree burns to his right inner thigh and, yes, his genitalia. Hold that thought… Yes, the plastic explosives were sewn into his underwear. I hope it really hurt… With current security measures in place Abdulmutallab would not have been able to board the plane.

Abdulmutallab has been charged on six criminal counts, including the attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) and the attempted murder of 289 people. He is awaiting trial and is being held in the Federal Correctional Institution, Milan, the federal prison in York Charter Township, Michigan.

We need note that Abdulmutallab’s Father met with two CIA officers at the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Nigeria where he reported his son as a possible security threat. British Intelligence also reported suspicious activity by Abdulmutallab prompting him in November, 2009 to be added to the all-encompassing Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), the United States Government's central database on known or suspected international terrorists.

Abdulmutallab, however, was not added to the FBI's Terrorist Screening Database, the U.S.'s No Fly List nor was his U.S. visa revoked. Apparently, despite all the warning signs Abdulmutallab was not considered a serious threat and he, thusly, was able to pursue his sinister plot. In essence, he really didn’t make anybody’s operative watch list.

While this last incident did not occur on an aircraft it surely has far ranging implications. Last August, 2009 Abdullah Hassan Tali al-Asiri, an al Qaeda terrorist and one of Saudi Arabia's most wanted men, attempted the assassination of Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef, head of Saudi Arabia's counter terrorism operations – in his own palace. Borrowing an old trick from the narcotics trade Asieri inserted a pound of high explosives, plus a detonator in his rectum. He avoided detection by airport security and the Prince’s palace security. Fortunately, he was unsuccessful in his attempt though aviation security folks are now on high alert for repeats of this technique. It would appear that even these new scans or pat downs may not detect explosives so placed. Maybe a more widespread use of explosive sniffing dogs will work…

Following each and every one of the aforementioned incidents, there was a great public outcry and furor where urgent demands were made to strengthen our security system so as to head off future attempts at terrorism. Well, here it is not one year after Northwest Airlines Flight 253 and we seem to have forgotten the horror of those moments as the political climate and mindset has seemingly dramatically changed.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the system was broke then and, frankly, it’s not a whole lot better today - even with the TSA’s new security measures. There are major flaws in our aviation security network and we do not appear willing to engage the necessary actions to address these very fluid issues. Al Qaeda is earnestly aware of our vulnerabilities and will not hesitate to exploit them. No shoe scans – then a shoe bomb, no comprehensive examination of fluids – voila, liquid explosives and no mandatory pat downs or extensive body scans and you have plastic explosives hidden in body cavities and other intimate dark places.

All the discussion about passenger’s rights and dignity and touching this and that - as my Grandfather Littlefield used to say is – pure malarkey. Where professional pat downs using the palms of agents' hands somehow are interpreted as intrusive and degrading groping by “goons” and when people organize flying boycotts to teach the airlines a lesson is ludicrous and totally counterproductive. I fervently agree that, “It is irresponsible for a group to suggest travelers opt out of the very screening that could prevent an attack.” It is mostly about deterrence.

Yes, it’s the right of any US citizen to decline a scan or pat down but it’s also the right of TSA to deny them access to any aircraft plus any potential legal ramifications which, no doubt, will be determined in our courts. You don’t want to fly – that’s OK. Flying is not an entitlement and if you don’t want to cooperate, then get ready to use another mode of transportation though we suspect that some of these measures will ultimately also involve public bus and rail. Most citizens want TSA and the airlines to adopt the most stringent security measures possible. Perhaps we should all look to El Al, Israel’s national airline and their very successful security practices.

Now we at Might of Right certainly get it when it comes to exempting pilots and flight attendants from the scans. Though we are assured that the scans are not dangerous, better safe than sorry when it comes to repeated, daily, long term exposures for these flight crew members. These mostly self-policing folks also have to pass other intense scrutiny making scans somewhat redundant.

Now the greatest conundrum - What are we to do when it comes to our children and grandchildren? I don’t have an answer for that but suspect the risk is minimal. We do note that al Qaeda and other radical Muslim groups have historically used children as human bombs (Young People of Paradise) and vividly remember Vietnam where the VC strapped IEDs and hand grenades to children who detonated them when near US soldiers. Yea, that happened

We don’t need private firms to manage the security process when we have a professional cadre of trained TSA employees ready to engage the task. Apparently it’s not OK to be “felt up” by a TSA employee but acceptable from an employee of a private security agency? As for the statements I have seen about being “groped by $8.00 per hour TSA goons” demonstrate a provocative ignorance of the TSA’s compensation system. Entry level TSA slots appear to be well above that ($11.00+ per hour) with the average annual TSA wage according to one TSA officer - in the $40’s range.

Our enemies know that they can take advantage of our incredibly short-sighted, sometimes puritan sensibilities and have designed systems such as malleable plastic explosives that can be contoured to the human body (no bumps or bulges to arouse suspicion) - all so that they can pursue their murderous agenda.

I’m no sheep though fully intend to cooperate with TSA and any legally constituted authority that requires an examination of my person or belongings/luggage. If I have to strip down to my birthday suit and prance around the security area in order to assure the safety of our planes and passengers, (however uncomfortable that is), I will do so. Though Friends, Family and onlookers will probably be absolutely horrified (or laugh), I really don’t care if anybody sees me naked or can see my body parts or touches me in a pat down. I am comfortable in my own skin.

We need to get our heads out of the sand and look at his issue in the light of day. It appears that the most vehement and sometimes obnoxious privacy advocates are not aware that Nineteen Eighty-Four has come and gone. The enemy knows how we think and they will most assuredly exploit these sensitivities and use them against us. We take away one avenue of attack and they will inevitably look elsewhere for another opportunity.

Let’s all get real and stop playing into the hands of those who would do us real harm. The war against terrorism is far from over and even appears to be expanding if we are to acknowledge the latest security revelation relating to bomb facsimiles as air cargo from Yemen bound for two synagogues in Chicago.

Yes, while the new TSA security measures are incredibly inconvenient, intrusive, uncomfortable and push our cultural / social norms, they are necessary. It’s not about Freedom, but about Life! We need to expand our vigilance, not constrain those who are trying to protect us. We need to think well outside the box with both planned and unscheduled/unpredictable security measures including the use of bomb sniffing dogs, expanded profiling and airport surveillance in order to remain one step ahead of the terrorists. I certainly understand the value of a healthy system of checks and balances but those that are so vehement in their protestations even to invoking our Founding Fathers who could never have envisioned this situation or the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution - are ultimately doing more harm than good. But, that is their right.

While we all have choices it would appear that this issue along with many other controversies seem to generate mostly divisive and visceral adversarial perspectives that dominate our society today and keeps folks of good faith from openly sharing and debating legitimate opposing viewpoints (we’re right – you’re wrong, period). We are still amazed with the lack of cordiality and respect for if we believe the sentiment expressed in recent articles, blogs and threads by those opposed to the scanning and “enhanced” pat downs – if you capitulate, you are a lemming, sheep, pervert or a less than patriotic American.

It would certainly appear that TSA security procedures are working hence the aforementioned terrorism originating in airports and venues outside the United States. No doubt we need to get everybody else on board at the same level and continue to reinvent and evaluate our security procedures. I am absolutely convinced that without the current deterrents we would have planes falling out of the sky…


Ned Buxton

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Friends and acquaintances are aware of my sometimes obsessive penchant (an anthropologist’s curse) for following and defining the origins of cultural celebrations, witness posts in recent years about Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter and others. I have long followed our current celebration of Halloween and its mostly Celtic origins [Samhain (sow-an)] and the wonderful Mexican Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) tradition where we break down the barrier of death and celebrate the lives and memories of our ancestors and departed Friends. Yes, Dia de los Muertos is a celebration of life…

Día de los Muertos (sometimes known as Flor de Muerto "Flower of the Dead") is a remembrance / memorial observed by many in Mexico and by many Americans and Canadians of Mexican descent. Scholars now believe that this custom can be traced back 2,500–3,000 years to the Aztecs.

With the advent of Christianity Halloween in all its myriad forms was adopted, morphed and absorbed by the Christian Church and now observed as All Saints' Day on November 1st and All Souls' Day on November 2nd. In the United States and Canada Halloween has evolved into a largely secular/commercial annual celebration observed on October 31.

As we all know Halloween in the US and Canada is celebrated where costumed/disguised participants attend parties, tell ghost stories and, of course, where the children (mostly) engage that now traditional activity, “Trick or Treating”. While this is a relatively new custom in the United States (1940’s), Souling (which dates back to medieval times) was a similar activity common in Great Britain and Ireland where the poor received food for their prayers for the dead.

Guising, the practice of costumed children going door to door requesting food or coins started in Scotland and Ireland in the 1800’s and continues to this day. It appears that this tradition was carried to Canada where scholars report similar activity in the early 1900’s. This is probably the origin of our current Halloween custom of Trick or Treating (TorT). The big difference between Europe and North America is that in Europe the children are expected to earn their treats via of a song, poem, joke, etc. (no performance – no treat). But, that’s all the subject of a future post as we are going to highlight an extraordinary and unique Halloween tradition right here in Dallas, Texas.

Seems that the historic old East Dallas neighborhood of Swiss Avenue, a 22-block neighborhood of 170 grand homes minutes from downtown Dallas had by 1985 according to some few “snobby bobby” residents (The Guild?) had tired of the visitation of thousands of Trick or Treaters on Halloween night. These kids were mostly Hispanic, African-American & Vietnamese children and young adults bussed in mostly from other nearby east Dallas neighborhoods.

This mind set apparently fed by the minutes of a published homeowner’s association meeting spawned a rumor which was fed further by a well-intended, enterprising reporter for the now deceased Dallas Times Herald (my Dad’s employer for 30 years) who was just trying to expose what he perceived as an elitist, snobbish attempt to drive off the annual throng of trick-or-treaters. The front page story the day before Halloween declared that Swiss Avenue was going to shut down Halloween – turn off their lights, close their doors and refuse to participate. That didn’t play well with the greater majority of the folks on Swiss Avenue. They cherished their hard fought designation as an historic neighborhood and felt it was an honor, yea, their civic duty and responsibility to throw open the doors of their neighborhood to all the children of the city.

Former Texas State Representative Harryette Ehrhardt still a resident of Swiss Avenue (SA) since 1970 eloquently expressed the sentiments of the greater majority of SA residents, "Halloween gives us an opportunity to serve the larger Dallas community. It's a part of our way of repaying Dallas for the privilege of living here and for the tremendous gift from the city for this historic district."

Neighborhood leaders contacted Hispanic and other minority organizations, schools, churches, radio & TV stations and other groups admonishing their detractors and assuring everybody that there was no Swiss Avenue closure and extended hands of Friendship along with a perpetual invitation to continue their Halloween visitations. Alas, that year saw a substantial drop in visitors to Swiss Avenue and all to the chagrin of its residents.

The 1985 controversy and ensuing Halloween Blackout reminded residents of their special place in the Dallas and North Texas community and prompted a rededication and renewed effort to extend their Halloween invitation. Committed Swiss Avenue residents ended up making this tradition better than ever which - now refreshed - saw a resurgence of All Hallows Eve visitors the following year – and every Halloween since. New Swiss Avenue residents are carefully counseled on their potential responsibilities though many don’t get it until they see it first-hand.

This year given the hospitality of good Friends who are residents of Swiss Avenue I was able for the first time in my 65+ years to experience a Swiss Avenue Halloween. Nothing could have prepared me for the continuous unbroken lines of thousands of children which coupled with vendors on most street corners hawking their food and trinkets including light sabers, glow necklaces and sugar skulls gave the whole neighborhood the festive atmosphere of Carnival, Mardi Gras and the Texas State Fair all rolled into one. I would not have believed this phenomenon had I not experienced it. Aye, it is probably the largest and safest neighborhood Halloween event in the country.

Many residents elaborately decorate their homes for the event with all the attendant high tech audio and video enhancements. From dusk to 9:00 pm and perhaps a little later residents don’t even bother the formality of opening and closing their doors. They stay open accompanied by a vanguard of equally coiffed and costumed revelers who give out the candy for three hours plus or until their supply gives out – whichever comes first at which time the lights go out. I was a ghoulish Monk turned dramatically to the dark side though after scaring several little girls - gave up the mask and adopted a more civil and priestly demeanor after which one of the girls thanked me. Besides that, I couldn’t eat or drink with the mask on. To further put things in perspective, I was accompanied by the very beautiful and always charming Static Cling…

During the evening and while on TorT Break some of us made a heroic attempt to watch Halloween Game Four of the World Series though the San Francisco Giants once again clobbered and humiliated the Texas Rangers at home, 4-0. San Francisco then lead the series 3-1 and went on to win all the marbles in game Five. Being the eternal optimists we always thought the Rangers might come back given all their incredible talent. But, it turns out that like the talent laden Dallas Cowboys, they weren't quite good enough. Too much candy corn and chocolate… Wait till next year...

Well, after all the candy was exhausted local accountants tabulated the visitor TorT Counter Machine and estimated that over 3,000 mostly very polite Halloween Trick or Treaters had come to our door! That figure is considered average (Sunday night) with the highest participation one year at over six thousand ToT! It was an extraordinary event and all without incident though we did notice a heightened presence of Dallas’ Finest. We also noted that if our hosts are an example, then Swiss Avenue is in fine hands and its future is assured. Thanks to stalwart neighborhood residents like Dick & Diane, Harryette Ehrhardt and Jim Schutze, the award winning author and columnist now the City Politics columnist for the Dallas Observer who keeps the light of day shining bright on Swiss Avenue.

The spirit of Friendship, Brotherhood and Harmony is alive and well in the very special Swiss Avenue Neighborhood and perhaps next year you need take your costumed and disguised self right on over there so you can experience this unique cultural celebration first hand. I will even tell you a horror story of Game Four of the 2010 World Series - the San Francisco Chain Saw Massacre - Shudder, Shudder


Ned Buxton

Saturday, November 6, 2010


The recent passing of Barbara Billingsley (Leave it to Beaver) and Tom Bosley (Happy Days surrogate TV father to "the Fonz") reminded me of the incredibly talented and lately sometimes controversial (whose judging?) TV personalities who have played the roles of Moms and Dads on our TV screens since the early 1950’s. Those first roles were fairly bland since they were rarely allowed to openly address any significant, real issues of the day for, after all, they were representing the perceived normalcy of the day. I am reminded of a Gay and closeted Robert Reed’s thoroughly straight and sometimes reluctant portrayal of Mike Brady in The Brady Bunch and that TV Mom Lucille Ball was always “expecting” with Desi, Jr. and never “pregnant”. Those issues were never (even remotely) addressed while those shows ran and as you might imagine with that kind of puritanical mindset most of this early programming was mostly gooey, naïve, sublime, domestic and exceedingly civil comedy/drama with the occasional wink and nod towards reality – surreptitiously and discreetly offered by the players.

Billingsley was often hailed as the perfect TV Mom and perhaps she was for her role in Leave It to Beaver. But she had a lot of competition that included my personal favorite – the always wise Harriet Hilliard Nelson (The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet) and other stalwarts like Jane Wyatt (Father Knows Best), Donna Reed (The Donna Reed Show), Florence Henderson (The Brady Bunch), Shirley Jones (The Partridge Family), Meredith Baxter (Family Ties), Phylicia Rashad (The Cosby Show), Joanna Kerns (Growing Pains) and Tom Bosley’s better TV Half - Marion Ross (Happy Days). We could go on and on but the numbers prevent that as family sitcoms have apparently been the most popular TV offering – ever – even invading the modern cartoon realm. I will also have to admit a certain deference to Murphy Brown as the always hot single Mom played by Candice Bergen and for no other reason than she was and still is…

Our original TV Moms including Barbara Billingsley and Harriet Nelson were post WWII reflections of America where the Woman of the House returned from her role as Rosie the Riveter to the idealistic and mostly compliant domestic engineer even in their high heels and pearls. Her place was in the home. That interpretation didn’t last long and within ten years our TV Moms, with or without domestic untranquility (single moms), blasted out of the home and back into the workplace.

Our TV Dads have mostly become iconic and they include my estimation of the more important actors including but not limited to Fred MacMurray of My Three Sons, Lorne Greene of Bonanza fame, Michael Landon of Little House On The Prairie, Ed O'Neill of the painfully funny and dysfunctional Married... with Children, Hugh Beaumont of Leave It to Beaver, Bill Cosby of The Cosby Show, Robert Young of Father Knows Best, Andy Griffith of The Andy Griffith Show, Red Foxx of Sanford and Son, fellow Sig Ep John Goodman of Roseanne and my personal favorite Dad Ozzie Nelson of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. No surprise that growing up I never missed an episode of Ozzie & Harriet.

No need to burden this post with the very interesting and motivating biography of Ozzie Nelson, but if you want to be inspired - pursue information on this man who so seemingly benign and befuddled on TV was in reality a tiger in a bottle and creative genius behind the scenes.

With the exception of Ozzie Nelson of Ozzie & Harriet and Hugh Beaumont of Leave It to Beaver, these fictional TV Fathers much like our TV Moms represented a wide variety of roles and interpretations of the modern Family. From the sublime innocence and seemingly never ending wisdom of Harriett to the sometimes grotesque passive/aggressive caricature of an always whining blue collar and overweight Roseanne who acts about as well as she sings, this genre survives and thrives. In their respective generations they have been a sociologist’s delight - a reflection of our times, our ever changing social mores and really the changing cultural footprint of our own nation.

Barbara Billingsley and Tom Bosley taught us a thing or two about life and while they never could replace our own parents they offered us entertainment and mostly sage advice/counsel becoming the models for the perfect American Mother and Father. Compare that with our current sophisticated Reality Mentality where we have apparently careened to the other side where we are showcasing Families that are mostly dysfunctional. Maybe they are doing us a great service by relating to the issues of the day though many viewers appear incapable of recognizing parody and emulating that example have been sidetracked into a soap opera mentality that deifies the likes of celebutante and always “tongue-in-chic” Paris Hilton and arrogant and always defiant Lindsay “Trainwreck” Lohan. It has been said that the likes of those two will probably make many wax nostalgic for the good old days of sex, drugs and rock and roll.


Ned Buxton

PS. If you want an incredibly well written and accurate analysis of Family sitcoms from the 1950’s to present please go to Lynn Spigel’s extraordinary Family on Television article at the Museum of Broadcast Communications (MBC) site at which includes the threads and raison d'être for that programming. Well done. NB