Random Play by Graham Reid


Step away from the lipstick, ma’am

It used to be that getting behind a group of mainland Chinese at the check-in meant lengthy delays at an airport because of language and passport problems. Now the new problem-people are women with babies. And maybe women in general.

Yes, we flew back from Australia the other day, just after the new regulations about what you can and can’t carry on came into effect.

You know the thing: have all your toothpaste, liquids (limited amounts) and so on in a plastic bag -- and ladies, that means all your cosmetics such as lipstick, moisturiser, skin care products and whatever.

Unlike 22-year olds and sports folk I’ve never thought I was going to dehydrate if I didn’t sip water every 90 seconds so carrying water anywhere, let alone onto a plane (where they serve stuff which is much better for you), was never an issue for me -- but at Melbourne they were collecting bottle after bottle.

In a city undergoing a serious water crisis -- and believe me when you drive to the perimeter the “fields” are rust-coloured and they are harvesting dust -- I asked if all the expensive water they collected was being recycled.

But the young woman was too busy insisting that Megan empty out the contents of her make-up purse into the plastic bag provided. Women with babies were undergoing frustratingly long delays as they scoured deep bags for offending bottles of formula and the like.

When we got to the scanner Megan’s bag had to be put through three times, on each pass a new offending item like lipstick forgotten in the side-pocket being removed.

Now as with any intelligent person travelling by air I approve of all and any sensible measures to ensure safety, and I guess if terrorists can mix two common ingredients and ensure I don’t get back home to pick up Zippy from the cattery then I’m all for it.

So I am just warning you that the new regime has seriously kicked in. With sinking heart however we learned on landing in Auckland that they would no longer be providing the plastic bags -- so factor in a zip-lock if you are intending to fly the friendly skies.

Although I suspect the rise in passenger numbers on cruises might be an indicator that many aren’t. And here’s another reason.

We had one of those godawful dawn flights last week -- up at 5am, at the airport at 6am for that two hour-before-boarding thing. People looked like they had come straight from the set of The Zombie Walks.

There were only three check-in counters open and, I am not kidding, maybe 350 passengers waiting: it looked like about four aircraft were leaving within the next hour and so the queue -- woven around what I call the Disneyland snake -- stretched right back into the concourse and out to the doors.

People were really, really pissed off.

I guess it didn’t help that the baggage belt wasn’t working either. And no one’s mood on our flight improved when we were told there was a delay in finding some passengers, then a delay because the luggage being transferred from another flight hadn’t arrived, or when the pilot informed us that the “tug” seemed to have broken down and we couldn’t get onto the runway . . .

On the way home we were only delayed an hour.

But with these new regulations regarding liquids kicking in, I am guessing there will be even greater delays. AND they aren't going to be providing the plastic bags.

You have been warned. (And maybe some entrepreneur will see an opportunity here?)

News in Melbourne these past few days revolved around two guys: swimmer Thorpe and David Hicks.

The consensus regarding The Thorpedo being a drug cheat was “no way, mate” although one guy said to me he’d be surprised if he had abnormally high levels of testosterone. “Oestrogen more like it, you ever seen him? Gay, mate. Totally.”

Newspapers essayed on the need for heroes and, surprisingly, the loss of innocence regarding sports people -- only now? -- and how Thorpe’s legacy had been tarnished just by the allegation.

True. Regardless of the outcome.

David Hicks -- the Aussie Taliban -- is more problematic. He confessed guilt -- and got nine months -- although many feel that was simply to get out of Guantanamo Bay. (And wouldn’t you?).

But the deal struck is full of caveats: he can’t speak to media for a year and cannot say he pleaded guilty to win his freedom. He cannot say he was “illegally treated” while in detention. If he does that he’ll have perjured himself and the Americans will demand he serve something like 20 years.

Previously when he’d tried to get British citizenship and out of Guantanamo he’d asserted he’d been repeatedly beaten, sodomized and forced into painful positions during interrogations.

Robert Richter, a well-known criminal lawyer in Australia, wrote persuasively in The Age last weekend that this first Guantanamo trial was a sham which utterly discredited the war-crimes process set up by the Pentagon and the Bush administration.

"The charade that took place at Guantanamo Bay would have done Stalin's show trials proud," he said. "First there was indefinite detention without charge. Then there was the torture, however the Bush lawyers, including his attorney general, might choose to describe it. Then there was the extorted confession of guilt."

Hicks, by most accounts is no hero and in the words of a few people I spoke to is “a loser”. And let us be in no doubt he was a dangerous guy. He was also misguided, foolish and so on. But a five year detention without trial is the issue.

The prosecutor Marine Lt. Col. Kevin Chenail, said right to the end -- as I guess he was obliged to do and no doubt believed -- that Hicks was a genuine menace to Western society.

"Today in this courtroom,” he said, “we are on the front line of the war on terrorism, face to face with the enemy" and said Hicks had been trained in terror so could call up those skills at any time in the future.

But if that’s the case, said Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union, "why was he given a sentence more appropriate for a drunk-driving offence?"

In a word: politics.

The deal -- if that is what you can call it -- keeps Hicks effectively mute until after the Australian election which is expected in December.


And was it a coincidence that the Thorpe allegations, first made on a website for the French newspaper L’Equipe should break as the 2007 World Championships were underway?

The world is an increasingly complicated place, right? Accusations, allegations, fallen heroes, back-room deals -- and baby formula is now a suspicious material.

** Finally something in a lighter vein: the best album of the year so far (in my opinion) has been released, and I have posted a track from it at Elsewhere. And if you want to hear Elvis singing Joy Division it too, among many other delights, is in the Music from Elsewhere page here.

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