The TSA Wins

Since 2012 I have been a semi-frequent flyer making about five cross continental round trip flights a year, plus several shorter flights within the Pacific coast. Between now and then I would make it a point to ‘opt out’ of the standard TSA procedure and receive the pat down. I did it for a variety of reasons. For one, don’t like being exposed to radiation and don’t trust the government on the issue.

More than that though, I wanted to resist and encourage my fellow citizens to resist, however small, the security theater the government has us go through in exchange for our freedom to travel. I would not encourage people to resist the police or any armed agent of the state, but by opting out I was taking a stand against government and hoped others would join me.

In five plus years, no one did. The only people I ever had join me in the opt out process was ‘randomly selected’ individals, often Muslims or mis-identified Sikhs. I never saw someone else voluntarily opt out. In retrospect, I suspect noone else saw my actions as a form of protest.

When I took a flight earlier today I went through the standard procedure.* My will to resist, at least in this form, has gone away. In the coming year the TSA rules will become stricter as real ID is finally implemented. I like to think this will lead to popular opposition, but I wouldn’t wager on it. As a nation we’ve given up on asserting our freedom to travel with minimal intrusion.

When I arrived at my final destination I found the below containers blocking me from the entrance. To leave the airport I had to get checked one last time. They don’t seem to be scanners, but when you enter them you are held up for ten or so seconds before being let free. Are they just trying to see what we will put up with before unveiling the next wave of security theater antics?

Thoughts? Have a story about your flying experience(s) to share? Post in the comments below.

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*Funnily enough I ended up being “randomly” choosen to have my luggage physically inspected anyway.

The Politics of the Incredibles (minimal spoilers)

I saw an early release of the Incredibles 2 last night. I wasn’t expecting too much given Pixar’s history with sequel. Finding Dorothy, Monsters University and the Cars sequels were okay, but below average for Pixar. I am happy to report that the Incredibles 2 was a pleasant exception. Not only did the film re-capture the magic of the original, it made a point that many readers and fellow Notewriters should appreciate: legality doesn’t equal right.

The film starts off directly after the events of the first film. The titular Incredibles family fights off the Underminer, a mining themed super villain. Instead of getting praised for their actions though, they get arrested. Superheroes are still illegal. The events of the past film haven’t changed that. One of the characters wisely remarks, “Politicians don’t understand why someone would do the right thing for its own sake. They’re scared of the idea.”

The family is let go, but they’re at a low point. Their home has been destroyed. They’re unemployed and broke. They’re gifted with super powers, but they live in a world where they can’t legally use them. That’s when a businessman approaches them and asks – why not use their super powers? The businessman proposes that the family continue to use their powers illegally, and convince the government to change the law after the public has been shown how useful superheroes are. This leads to a funny exchange where the characters argue about how they’re being asked to be illegal in order to become legal.

I won’t spoil the remainder of the film, but I love the businessman character’s early scenes. It’s refreshing to see a corporate character, and his disregard for legislated morality, portrayed in a positive light. Tony Stark/Iron Man starts off this way in the early MCU films, but makes a u-turn by Captain America: Civil War. This new character, for better or worse, stands by his beliefs.

The tension between legislation and morality isn’t a new theme for Pixar. The idea of breaking the rules to do what’s right was a central feature of Monsters University as well. It’s a lesson I think many children, and their parents, could benefit to learn. Legislation isn’t morality.

I give the film a solid 9/10. It’s around Wall-E or Up levels of quality. It’s easily one of the funniest Pixar films in a while. The animated short before the film is, as standard for Pixar, a tear jerker. Bring some tissues.

Thoughts? Opinions? Post in the comments.

A note on the three Californias and arbitrary borders

As many of you may know, there is a proposal to split up California into three parts: north, south and ‘ye olde’ California. This proposal is idiotic on several fronts. For starters the best university in LA, the University of Southern California, would find itself in ye olde California. Meanwhile my university, UC Riverside, would overnight become USC Riverside. Now, I wouldn’t be against the Trojan football team relocating to Riverside, especially since Riverside doesn’t have a team of it’s own. However the proposed split would cut off the Inland Empire and Orange County from Los Angeles county.

This despite the fact that the greater LA area is composed of LA-Ventura-Riverside-San Bernardino-Orange counties. These counties are deeply interwoven with one another, and dividing them is bizarre. Imagine the poor “Los Angeles Angels at Anaheim”. What horrendous name will they have to take on next? The “San Diego Angeles at Anaheim”?

Beyond it’s idiocy the proposal makes a larger point: government borders are, for the most part, arbitrary and plain stupid. The proposal to split up California ignores the regions socio-cultural ties to one another, but there are countless other examples of senseless borders.

For example, who was the bright guy that decided to split up Kansas City between Missouri and Kansas? And let’s not even get started on the absurd borders of the old world.

Thoughts? Disagreements? Post in the comments.

On the Race Question 

As in, in regards to the US Census Race question. The one that asks whether you identify as white, black, Asian, or Native American. Heritage has just published a blog post on the issue. There’s lots of things I disagree with in the post. The author is correct that the current race classification system is relatively recent, but the race question itself isn’t. I disagree with the author that we should let anthropologists decide what races to include. Anthropologists should stick to what they’re good at: managing websites.

I do agree however with the general point that the current race question is really weird. I am very skeptical that race as a biological concept has any meaning. Race is, I think, more about culture. Someone in my book is a “Hispanic” not because their skin is a certain tone, but because they can make a good taco. In so far that race is about culture, do we really think that a “white” American from the south shares much in culture with their counterparts in New England? Likewise it’s unclear to me South Asians share much of a culture with their Central or West Asian cousins.

Given the chance I would replace the unidimensional race question with a battery asking about the crucial cultural elements that distinguish us. Who is your favorite football team? (war eagle!) What is the best burger chain? (In N Out) What is the best scifi series? Star Wars or Star Trek? (Trick question: Dune)

What do you all think? If you were in charge of the US census how would you modify the race question? Would you remove it altogether? #microblogging #IDontGetHashTags

Let’s talk about Star Wars

Unless you’re living in a compound somewhere in Colorado, you have no doubt realized that the latest installment in the Star Wars series has come out. You’ve no doubt read countless commentaries on the series by now too. I suspect that at this rate Disney will be pumping out SW films every Christmas until my death and beyond. So get used to it.

I’ve decided to just share my rankings of the films and quick commentary.

  • Revenge of the Sith
  • Empire Strikes Back
  • A New Hope
  • The Last Jedi
  • Return of the Jedi
  • The Force Awakens
  • The Clone Wars
  • The Phantom Menace

My rankings are based on rewatch value. Revenge of the Sith dominates in this dimension. The cheesy dialogue is just fun in a way the other films can’t match it. And you know what? I like the space politics, even just as a concept.

Return of the Jedi spends too much time with the teddy bears and if I want to see the Death Star blown up I’ll just rewatch A New Hope. I only list the main series here, but Rogue One would fit somewhere near the top. It’s self contained and made me care about its characters in a way few others in the series did.

Do you disagree with my rankings? What is your ranking of the SW films?

#microblogging #IJustLikeHashTags

(Unofficial) IHS Graduate Student Facebook Group

I’ve created an (unofficial) facebook group for graduate students who are part of the IHS crowd so that we can organize appropriate conference meet ups, look for potential hotel sharing buddies, and other hijinks. Several NoL writers and readers have gone through IHS so I figured I’d share the link.

I may or may not be using the group as a way to find future NoL writers.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1958211444500599/

#mini-microblog

How to fix the journal model? 

Disclaimer: I am not (yet!) published in any peer reviewed journals.

A companion recently posed an interesting proposal to improve the academic journal model: have referees publish their reviews after X period of time. I am sympathetic to the idea as I have always found secrecy to be a strange thing in decision making. What’s the point of ‘blind’ reviews anyway? From conversing with those with more experience in the field, it is rarely a ‘double blind’ process but a de facto one way ‘blind’ process. This seems to be the case more so outside the major journals.

My counter is: why not just get rid of journals altogether? Why not just publish via SSRN and similar websites? Journals seem to have maintained their existence in the digital age as a means of quality insurance, but there’s still lots of junk in the top journals. Surely we can come up with better ways than relying on a few referees? Even relying on citation count would be a better measure of a paper’s value I think.

#microblogging