TSA: Live Fish no, Dead Guy in Plane, yes

So does the TSA do anything besides harass people for bringing fish, which are legal according to TSA’s own website?

Well, they certainly don’t inspect planes coming in from out of the country for contraband in wheel wells.

It took a pilot doing a flight inspection to find out that his aircraft had a dead guy in the wheel well for nearly a week. Sure, the airline doesn’t get high marks for having inspections that poor, but then again, it looks like a good way to smuggle WMD into the country to me.

Thanks, TSA, I feel SO much more secure, knowing you’re on the job.

You incompetent assholes.

Political Identity

If, like me, you find the concept of political identity–where you are on what sort of political spectrum there might be–fascinating, this article by Jonathan Delacour will be a good read.

It inspired two thoughts in me:

1) Quoth Jonathan:

while putting "libertarian" at the opposite end of the spectrum as "authoritarian" is something libertarians like to do, i think it’s ridiculous. "authoritarian" is not the opposite of "libertarian".

"Libertarian", in the political sense, can indeed be the opposite of "authoritarian". In the strict senses of the terms, there is nothing incompatible about authoritarianism and universal health care, for example. There is a distinction between cultural and economic realms of control, and universal health care, with the exception of individualism, is a culturally-neutral institution. You could have communist, socialist, fascist, or nazi universal health care. Likewise, for various reasons, both “left” and “right” governments have banned smoking. A left-liberal government would be very unlikely to establish a state religion, however, and in that sense it’s far more culturally libertarian than a right-conservative government.

That doesn’t mean that Jonathan is a “libertarian,” but it does mean he is slightly more culturally and slightly less economically libertarian than the theoretical middle point.

2) Quoth Jonathan:

* Everything has a cost.
* Our gains rarely, if ever, outweigh our losses.
* The past is precious.
* Progress is an illusion.

Taking a constrained view of human nature doesn’t mean believing progress is impossible; it just means you have to be realistic about how much improvement you can expect and aware that there will be downsides or tradeoffs, but it doesn’t mean those tradeoffs will be equal to the gains in every case. Color me an incomplete constrainer, but I think that over long periods of time, societies can move one direction or another and that shared culture can affect what sorts of tradeoffs can be made…for example, once nobody’s fighting for basic (Maslow’s heirarchy) material wants, as they are in Europe and European North America, the rules can move beyond certain assumptions that people are likely to starve or indulge in warlordism at the drop of a hat.

But then I’m a firm believer in technology being the prime mover of societal change in the short run (in the long run, it’s evolution, whether driven by natural selection, self-directed, or in some fuzzy middle ground), and you can be a better and more magnanimous person if you have an easy time getting water, food, clothing, and shelter.

Oh, and then there’s the question of whether altruism is truly a moral ideal when compared to enlightened self-interest, but I’ll let Ayn Rand take on that one. 😉 I’ll just note that a lot more altruism was necessary in a tribal setting–but it wasn’t universalist. So sacrificing for the tribe was fine, sacrificing for another tribe was out of the question. Now you’re not required to sacrifice as much because the consequences are lower–if you hoard your beans, your neighbor will still have plenty. Beauty of the market–the price mechanism handles it much more efficiently than altruism.

TSA Helps Terrorists

By indulging in petty little empire-building absolutist cruelty, the TSA is removing what respect anyone had for their mission. In the linked story (chapeau tip: Jason Lefkowitz), a woman is ordered by the TSA to flush her pet fish because she attempted to bring it through security. She very rightly evades them, at risk to the fish. One Polish woman I talked to last year said she’d had her grandmother’s gold-plated toenail clippers confiscated by the London equivalent–she didn’t even have the option to give it to anyone else, or rent a locker, or anything.

That means that when we spot someone doing something they shouldn’t–we probably won’t alert authorities because we’ll logically assume they’re getting around some stupid rigid asshole with a gun. Yes kids, they have guns and they can shoot you–you’re willingly walking into a firing range with people who in most cases can’t be prosecuted for murder if they kill you, every time you fly.

I can see the scenario now: “Sorry, Laguardia Control, we’re going to let her fly the plane into the Empire State Building because if she’d got the right angle, she could give me a nasty half inch cut in loose tissue with those toenail clippers.”

Tom Ridge–I am not going to allow anybody on a flight I’m on to fly my plane into anything. And if they attempt a normal hijacking I’m goiing to assume they mean to fly the plane into something and act accordingly. Even, as is likely, if they get past your pathetic keystone kops with real guns or knives. By removing what respect we had for airport screeners, you’re making it easier for such people to stage just such a diversion and get people through security.

Remember, they hated us for our freedoms. I strongly suspect they hate us quite a bit less now.

Do What is Right, Not Popular

…and in this case I don’t mean Right politically, though there was a time when the political Right would agree with me on this issue, but “right” as in “morally correct.”

Patriot II was passed. What? You didn’t know this? OK, not all of it, but some key parts of it were slipped into an unrelated bill in an odius practice of amendment-making that I believe ought to be banned or at least severely curtailed, perhaps requiring a roll-call vote on every amendment. But I digress.

Most Democrats voted against the bill in toto, which is not surprising given the current atmosphere and the fact that it was primarily an intelligence bill, for which they don’t have a great constituency. What was heartening was that 15 Republicans balked even in the face of a much more defense-friendly constituency and a Republican leadership that doth not brook dissent.

So my ex-colleague Jason Lefkowitz has decided to take his Netroots strategy and put it to practice to encourage this sort of independent thinking: $15 for 15 proposes that if a lot of people give $15 dollars, $1 per Republican who actually cares about less intrusive government, this can add up to a lot and help make up for whatever funding the GOP machine tries to take away.

Normally I’d link to all sorts of things to explain this, but Jason’s done it for me. As a programmer, I like to maximize reuse. Which is a polite way of saying I’m lazy. Which is a rude way of saying I like to maximize orthogonality.

Give The Iraqis the First Shot

So I experience a sudden bout of sleeplessness, and decide to get my morning browsing out of the way. On my aggregator, Salon’s entries are up. I usually cruise them, if nothing else to see what reverse-Dr.-Laura advice their “relationship” counselor has.

I don’t frequently read Joe Conason, as he seems to be the Left equivalent of Rush Limbaugh: better-read, but not as funny. Maybe it’s the lack of Oxy-Contin. However, he had what potentially could be an interesting tagline, “Why an international tribunal may be the only place to try Saddam“.

Intrigued, I read further. I was disappointed. He plays the usual Washington Partisan Pundit game: pick an action you know the other side will never do for some pre-existing ideological ground, of which you pretend to know nothing or at best mention in passing. In this case, it’s recognizing the International Criminal Court. Then invent some justification, possibly tissue-thin, for Why the Fate of the World Hangs On This Very Important Issue. In this case, trying Saddam before the ICC. Play your viola, you’ve got an instant Talking Point.

In this piece, the tissue-thin justification, that the ICC would be inherently more “transparent” than any conceivable Iraqi tribunal, strikes me as more than a tad racist and condescending. Could it be that Side-Gunner Joe doesn’t think that brown people can really do anything fairly, but “international” people [read: white Europeans] can? Not consciously, I would assume, being a good liberal, but unconsciously? His primary argument isn’t that the White House is incapable of conceiving of a fair trial for Saddam, but that it chooses the Iraqi solution because it will inherently be the least transparent and provide the least embarrassing revelations.

Joe, isn’t the majority of the opposition to the war predicated on the premise that Saddam was a greater threat to his own people than to his neighbors or, indeed, us? So if the Iraqi people are the ones victimized by him, and they are, for better or worse, his peers, shouldn’t they in the name of Justice be the ones who most deserve to try him? You wouldn’t try someone for murder in a Federal court if they committed murders within a single state. At most you would move it to a neighboring state, or a part of the state less affected (theoretically in Iraq’s case, this could be the so-called “Sunni Triangle”).

To suggest otherwise means that you care more about scoring a couple of easy points against the Reagan administration than you do about justice for a mass-murderer. Parenthetically, it also ignores the fact that the U.S. is hardly the only or even the most recent country with skeletons in its closet vis-a-vis Iraq (*cough* TotalFinaElf *cough*). I suspect we may not see as correspondingly huge a hue and cry from the war opponents as we do from Conason.

Reagan, for all intents and purposes, is dead. Let it go. Let’s track this issue on its merits–if the time comes and the process by which Saddam will be tried looks insufficiently transparent, I will heartily join you in criticizing it. But until then, let’s stop assuming that people less white than ourselves are incapable of justice, and let his own people have a say. That may not be the argument you intended, but it comes across that way. After years of oppression, the Iraqi people at least deserve the opportunity to fail.

Battlestar Galactica: The Reminder

Just a reminder, if you didn’t see the miniseries before, it is being aired Sunday (today likely by the time you read this) in its entirety at 7PM Eastern on the Sci Fi channel.

If nothing else, watch for the pow pow and the fechew fechew. Bright lights and shiny things do hold the interest of mammals.

U.S. Postal Service Broken, part 2,659

Ever since Lysander “Sandy” Spooner pointed out some legal and practical problems with the Postal Service monopoly, people have been pointing out that even full-bore Communist countries do a better job with the mails, and even if Socialism works over there, clearly USPS has failed and needs to go away. Among these have been collecting anecdotes of just how much the U.S. mail service sucks.

I present to you merely the latest in one of the Poster Children for Why, If Government Is the Answer, It Must Be a Stupid Question.

My December issue of Reason just arrived. Great, you say, it’s December. No problem. Except that, like most magazines, it ships the month before, and it arrived SEVEN (7) FRIGGING DAYS AFTER the January issue.

The idea that it was Reason that got this treatment is deliciously ironic, as it is the current bastion of libertarian ideals.

Really, can’t we just let UPS and Fed Ex compete for our first-class letters? They do a much better job. If you really feel like people in trailers squatting on federal property in some waterless, God-remebered piece of crap land in the Southwest need first class mail service, donate to a freaking charity, alright?

At Least I Didn’t Think “Truck”

I have a nasty habit of assuming that anything like a bang or rumble that I feel is a truck. A truck backing into something, a truck going by, a truck changing gears…doesn’t matter. I have mistaken a plane flying into the Pentagon 1.5 miles away and a bomb in Budapest only a block away as varying forms of truck noise. It’s only afterwards that I figure out what it is.

OK, so this time, I assumed it was people moving furniture or doing something else weird, but, unusual for these parts, there was a magnitude 4.5 earthquake 45 miles up the James River from Richmond, VA.

A friend IMed me a half-hour later and clued me in to what it was.

At least I didn’t think it was a truck.

Battlestar Galactica – Surprise, it doesn’t suck

OK, it’s just the first installment, but color me very pleasantly surprised by the Sci-Fi channel‘s mini-series remake of Battlestar Galactica. I highly recommend it.

This show was near and dear to me in the Great Cultural and In Particular Science Fiction Drought of the Late Seventies. Jimmy Carter was flailing about in the White House, the Soviets were prepping to and then invading Afghanistan, Iran was forbidding dancing to the Beatles’ “Revolution” but about to take the title to heart, Al Gore was beginning to think about getting into politics and wondering how right-wing a wife he could get away with, ELP released “Love Beach,” and people thought Burt Reynolds was a sex symbol.

Farrah Fawcett notwithstanding, it was a very dark time. Oh, and the heavy metal was decent.

So, along with some serious hype, comes the special effects wizards behind the original (and at that point only) Star Wars movie with the determination to bring those effects to TV to tell a good story.

The thing is, especially in the first season, he succeeded. The look was far beyond anything seen on TV previously, and the story touched deeply into different religious and cultural roots, and there was a really cool introduction by Patrick McNee and kickass theme music. Oh, and I’m sorry, but compared to the gelled bedhead look, the hair ruled. This is an incontravertable fact. So just deal with the reality, OK?

It was Wagon Train to the Stars, basically. And had hot chicks in skin-tight suits.

For some reason, this appealed to a 9 to 11-year-old (my ages during the series’ original run).

So now the Sci-Fi channel has brought it lumbering back to life, to basically do it as it was originally intended–a miniseries. They retell the story, but update it.

In the first series, the Cylons were created by an organic race called the Cylons, and the Cylons (the chrome toaster guys with the cool lights) wiped out their masters and began to establish a machine-dominated order. This time, they are created by the humans, rebelled, and were fought to a standstill, and agreed to go off. Now they’re back, and at this point, the two stories are more similar. They pull a devastating sneak attack, aided once again by a snivelling vainglorious Baltar, and the Galactica is left alone to guide a “rag-tag, fugitive fleet.”

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