December 31, 2009

“We put the jerk in knee-jerk with the way we respond to threats”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 20:22

Tom Kelley sent me a link to this Miles O’Brien article:

[. . .] my family and I will face long lines, lots of questions, pat down searches and an hour of lockdown time in our seats before landing. It is as if my ruler-brandishing first-grade teacher Sister Grace took over Delta Air Lines. “Books away — feet on the floor — hands on your desk — eyes straight ahead . . . ”

It is brilliant thinking like the new seat arrest rule that should tell you a lot about our ill-conceived approach to thwarting terrorists who continue to find plane loads full of innocent Americans to be tempting targets. I don’t suppose future terrorists might try to light some portion of their clothing 61 minutes before landing do you?

What about the baby who needs a bottle or a passy on descent and is crying his lungs out? God help him, his mother and the rest of us . . .

We put the jerk in knee-jerk with the way we respond to threats.

Our Homeland Security Czarina Janet Napolitano tried to spin the whole thing into a triumph of our security apparatus. At least she didn’t get a “Nappy, you’re doin’ a heckuva a job!” from our Commander-in-Chief

Government moves quickly on TSA . . . to silence critics

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Law, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 13:11

In a bold move in the wake of the latest terrorist bomb attempt, the government has pounced . . . on the bloggers who reported on the TSA’s response:

As the government reviews how an alleged terrorist was able to bring a bomb onto a U.S.-bound plane and try to blow it up on Christmas Day, the Transportation Security Administration is going after bloggers who wrote about a directive to increase security after the incident.

TSA special agents served subpoenas to travel bloggers Steve Frischling and Chris Elliott, demanding that they reveal who leaked the security directive to them. The government says the directive was not supposed to be disclosed to the public.

Frischling said he met with two TSA special agents Tuesday night at his Connecticut home for about three hours and again on Wednesday morning when he was forced to hand over his lap top computer. Frischling said the agents threatened to interfere with his contract to write a blog for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines if he didn’t cooperate and provide the name of the person who leaked the memo.

Gerard van der Leun was right

Filed under: Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:17

Back in 2005, I grabbed this as a quote of the day, and it’s on the verge of becoming true today:

On my first flight to Europe, everyone dressed for success. Now everyone dresses for Gold’s Gym. And I’m sure the next step in TOTAL SECURITY will be to require everyone who is not of Arab descent to arrive with a note from their doctor attesting that they had a high colonic an hour before the airport to make the body cavity searches a bit more pleasant for the staff. Then there’s the added coach thrill of a blood clot developing in the legs that stops your heart at 50,000 feet. Plus . . . no peanuts! After all, think of the allergic children! Add to that the new innovation, no pillows! I don’t see why the airlines don’t simply install hooks and, working in concert with government’s laughable security cops, require everyone to hang from said hooks naked. It will come to that. You know it will.

Tweet of the day: Ohio

Filed under: Randomness, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:45

Radley Balko is in transit across Ohio. He’s finding it less than entertaining:

radleybalko: driving thru ohio. motto: nothing much to look at, but you’re gonna be here awhile.

radleybalko: ohio. new motto: yep. you’re still here.

I haven’t driven in every state, although I’ve managed to visit most of ’em east of the Mississippi, and Ohio is always the state I hate driving through:

. . . Ohio must be located in a time warp, because the drive from Cincinnati to Toledo seemed to take weeks, not the three or so hours it should have done . . .

In either direction:

The drive south along the I-75 went relatively smoothly, at least once we got out of the rutted road section between the bridge and the Ohio state line. I don’t know if Michigan deliberately leaves that stretch of road in poor condition to discourage locals from escaping or if it’s a full employment scheme for alignment shops at the exits. Either way, it’s almost the worst stretch of road we encountered during the entire trip.

As mentioned before, the I-75 between Toledo and Cincinnati seems to exist in a universe where time has no meaning. Entire geological epochs seemed to pass as we endlessly drove towards the intermediate towns. I’m certain that the continents re-arranged themselves twice in the time it seemed to take between Lima and Dayton.

Driving through Cincinnati at 6:00 p.m. on a Saturday is rather like a combination of riding the Wild Mouse, taking a speed-reading test, and riding through a buffalo stampede. The very worst drivers, of course, had Ontario license plates.

Of course, not having driven in any state to the left of the Mississippi River (aside from California), I’m sure that some of those square-ish territories could challenge Ohio for the title. You know, those places that only ever appear in the “Odd News” section, like Missouransas, Oklarado, Wyotana, South Iobraska, and Nevazona.

Obama’s popularity continues to slide

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:24

It must be a significant drop in approval ratings, as even The Economist is discussing it:


Barack Obama’s approval rating at the end of 2009 marks an all-time low for him in the Economist/YouGov poll, and it is the first time more Americans disapprove than approve of the way he is handling his job. Mr Obama began his term with a 61% approval rating, while only 17% of Americans disapproved. As 2009 ends, only 45% approve of the way Mr Obama is handling his job, while 47% now disapprove.

The president has suffered a drop in approval from just about all groups, demographic and political. But perhaps most striking has been his loss of support from independents. In January’s poll, 64% of independents approved of how he handled the start of his presidency (and the days leading up to it). Now just 43% do.

December 30, 2009

If the terrorists don’t kill off the airlines, the TSA will

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:54

Radley Balko joins the chorus of protests about the latest set of how-stupid-can-you-get “security” rules from the TSA:

Seems to me that what this, Flight 93, and the Richard Reid incident have shown us is that the best line of defense against airplane-based terrorism is us. Alert, aware, informed passengers.

TSA, on the other hand, equates hassle with safety. For all the crap they put us through, this guy still got some sort of explosive material on the plane from Amsterdam. He was stopped by law-abiding passengers. So TSA responds to all of this by . . . announcing plans to hassle law-abiding U.S. passengers even more.

If you’re really cynical, you could make a good argument that they’re really only interested in the appearance of safety. They’ve simply concluded that the more difficult they make your flight, the safer you’ll feel. Never mind if any of the theatrics actually work.

After my last business flight (the day of the Shoe Bomber’s transatlantic aircraft attempt), I’ve actively avoided commercial air travel. This latest set of Security Theatre set dressings merely extends the range I’ll be willing to drive rather than putting up with the flight — actually, the flight preparation, rather than the flight itself.

Update: Don’t know why I thought it was the Shoe Bomber . . . it was the would-be liquid bomb conspiracy that happened while I was in transit through Atlanta.

Eight Vikings to represent NFC in Pro Bowl

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:44

The voting for the Pro Bowl tends to trail actual performance by a year or more, as evidenced by the inclusion of Bryant McKinnie with the Viking players selected:

The Vikings lead all NFL teams this year by getting eight — yes eight — players named to this year’s NFC Pro Bowl roster. The next closest were the Indianapolis Colts, Dallas Cowboys, and Philadelphia Eagles with six nods.

First, there are the usual suspects: Adrian Peterson and Steve Hutchinson got the starting nod at running back and guard respectively, which shouldn’t shock too many people. Kevin Williams and Jared Allen will once again start along the defensive line. Even Señor Schism himself, Brett Favre, made the team for the eleventh time. He’ll back up starter Drew Brees at QB.

Then there are a couple pleasant surprises. Wide receiver Sidney Rice made his first Pro Bowl, a very worthy selection in my slightly biased opinion. Heath Farwell was the NFC selection for Special Teamer. Besides last night’s debacle, Farwell has been the main reason for the vastly improved special teams unit this year.

A big difference from Pro Bowls in the past is that this game will be played before the Super Bowl, in an attempt to capture a larger viewing audience than the Pro Bowl traditionally garners. It also means that the Pro Bowl players named from teams going to the Super Bowl won’t be playing in the Pro Bowl.


Filed under: Randomness — Tags: — Nicholas @ 08:07

We got home from watching Sherlock Holmes around 11 last night, to discover that our house was suspiciously cold. Almost Dickensian, actually. Half an hour of fiddling with the furnace and we were no further ahead (and no warmer). It’s funny how you can take the ordinary comforts for granted until they’re not available . . .

December 29, 2009

Worst. Decade. Ever.

Filed under: Government, Humour, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 18:30

Air security gone insane

Filed under: Bureaucracy, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:58

Hard to disagree with Gulliver on this one:

In the wake of Friday’s attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, the people who run America’s airport security apparatus appear to have gone insane. Despite statements from several officials, including Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, that there is “no indication” of any broader plot against American airliners, some truly absurd security “precautions” are being implemented on US-bound flights worldwide.

The most ridiculous new rule prohibits passengers on US-bound international flights from leaving their seats or having anything on their laps—even a laptop or a pillow—during the final hour of flight. You’re probably thinking “Wait, what?” Indeed. The New York Times elaborates:

In effect, the restrictions mean that passengers on flights of 90 minutes or less would most likely not be able to leave their seats at all, since airlines do not allow passengers to walk around the cabin while a plane is climbing to its cruising altitude.

Gulliver looks forward to the barrage of lawsuits from the first people who are forced to use the bathroom in their airplane seats. This is the absolute worst sort of security theatre: inconvenient, absurd, and, crucially, ineffective.

Vikings fumble away chance for a first-round bye

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:34

If all you watched of last night’s game was the second half, you’d think the Vikings were unstoppable. Unfortunately, there was the first half and then the overtime period which showed Minnesota in their more traditional guise (for the last few games anyway). The first half was the worst 30 minutes of football the team has played all season. In overtime, Adrian Peterson’s fumbling issues came back with a vengeance.

At the end of the first half, the Bears were up by 16 points, and the Vikings were lucky the margin wasn’t worse. The offensive line was again unable to open lanes for the running game and Brett Favre was under steady pressure, throwing for only 36 yards up to halftime.

Minnesota’s special teams looked like a throwback to last year’s line-up, giving up two long returns, setting up Chicago with a short field. A bad hold on an extra point allowed Chicago to deflect the ball away from the uprights. That point might have been useful at the end of the game. Chicago felt comfortable enough with their kick coverage team to allow Percy Harvin a chance to receive the kickoffs. None of Harvin’s six returns were as long as his season average (his best was 27 yards, but his season average was over 28). Even Harvin can’t run where there are no running lanes.

The beat writers at the Minneapolis Star Tribune both picked Chicago to win this game. Here’s Judd Zulgad:

I know a few of you thought Chip and I were crazy for picking the Chicago Bears to beat the Vikings on Monday night. My reasoning for the pick was based on the fact that not only had the Vikings put on awful performances in their recent prime-time losses at Arizona and Carolina but this also seemed to me to be a team that had lost its confidence.

Even as the Vikings rallied from a 17-point deficit against the Bears on Monday to force overtime — they eventually lost 36-30 — I never had the definite feeling that the Vikings were going to pull this one out. That, of course, should have been the feeling. The Vikings appeared to be a superior team to the Bears on Nov. 29 when they crushed them 36-10 at the Metrodome and considering Chicago was 5-9 entering Monday it appeared the Bears had little reason for which to play.

The Vikings (11-4) had every reason to play hard and try to put away the Bears early based on the fact that Minnesota was still alive in the race for the top seed in the NFC — the Saints have now clinched that spot — and are fighting for at least the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs. But the Vikings came out flat and as a result right now the Eagles own the second seed because they have the tie-breaker over the Vikings.

And here’s Mark Craig:

One more thought: In trying to decide who is better, the A, Vikings or B, Saints, I’ve decided my answer is:
C, The Eagles.

December 26, 2009

QotD: Soccer

Filed under: Britain, Quotations, Soccer — Nicholas @ 00:10

Over the years I have argued that football is a stupid game in which 22 overpaid nancy boys with idiotic hair run around a field attempting to kick an inflated sheep’s pancreas into some netting while an audience of several thousand van drivers beat one another over the head with bottles and chairs.

Nor could I understand how someone from Tooting could possibly support, say, Manchester United, a team sponsored by those hateful bastards at AIG and made up of players from Portugal, France, Holland and, in the case of Wayne Rooney, Walt Disney. Where’s the connection? What’s the point?

I have also suggested that it’s preposterous to have football stadiums in the middle of cities. Why should anyone be delayed by match traffic just so a handful of thugs can watch a Brazilian man falling over?

And as for those people who can’t cope if their team loses. Give me strength. If you get all teary-eyed just because someone from Latvia, playing in a town you’ve never been to, for an Arab you’ve never met, against some Italians you hate for no reason, has missed a penalty, how are you going to manage when you are diagnosed with cancer?

Jeremy Clarkson, “You’re a bunch of overpaid nancies – and I love you: Why should anyone be held up by match traffic just so some thugs can watch a Brazilian man falling over?”, Times Online, 2009-03-22

December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas, everyone

Filed under: Administrivia — Tags: — Nicholas @ 15:04

Normal-ish blogging will resume in a day or two . . . in the meantime, what are you doing reading blogs? Go enjoy yourself!

December 24, 2009

Jonathan Kay in praise of Paul Martin

Filed under: Cancon, Middle East, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:52

In a column ostensibly about the triumph of Canada’s conservatives, Jonathan Kay makes a pitch for both Paul Martin and former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson as unsung political heroes:

Paul Martin will forever be known primarily as the guy who fumbled Jean Chrétien’s dynasty away to Stephen Harper. But if there were more justice in the world — or at least among pundits — he would get his due for making the single most momentous prime ministerial decision of the decade: sending a Canadian combat mission to Kandahar in 2005.

At the time, it hardly seemed epic: Most Canadians didn’t know Kandahar from Kunduz. But the military wonks immediately could tell this was a game-changer. Putting our troops in Kandahar, at the ideological and political center of Taliban territory, meant the Liberals were shedding decades of peacekeeper posturing, and were putting the country on a very real war footing.

[. . .]

Martin didn’t throw a dart at a map of Afghanistan. He fought for Kandahar in the face of U.S. skepticism — even though he knew it would mean body bags, and even though he probably could have landed the Canadian Forces a relatively cushy Euro-style sentry-duty assignment in the northern part of the country.

Our deployment set the stage for many of the other, seemingly unrelated, changes in Canadian policy and politics that followed in the latter part of the decade. A nation at war doesn’t think about itself in the same way as a nation at peace. We got more respect in foreign capitals. We began to take care of our military. We even started to treat our country’s identity and history more seriously.

And equally surprising, the praise for Adrienne Clarkson:

Nor should we ignore the contribution of Adrienne Clarkson. Whatever her elitist, media pedigree, the Canadian Forces had no better friend than the former Governor General. She was a constant presence at Remembrance Day events at home, as well as WWII anniversary ceremonies in Europe. She spent New Year’s with CF members in Afghanistan — twice; and even celebrated Christmas with our naval forces in the Persian Gulf.

That she was a woman, a former CBC staffer, and a visible minority, only increased the symbolic importance of her outreach. It showed Canada that our military is fighting for all us, not just white guys with brush cuts in Shilo and Petawawa.

Geeky girls do more gaming than the guys

Filed under: Gaming, Gaming — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:44

Scientific American says some surprising things about women in online games:

Picture a gamer, someone who spends countless hours immersed in one of those online role-playing alternate realities. And what do you see? Is it a physically fit female closer to 40 than 14? If not, you may need to rethink your assumptions about geekdom. Because a study in the Journal of Communication shows that when it comes to dominating the virtual world, women are actually more hardcore than men.

Scientists conducted a survey of some 7,000 players who were logged on to a game called EverQuest II. And they discovered some interesting things. First off, the average age of the gamers surveyed was 31. And that playing time tended to increase with age. Which is also where the sex differences come in. The female gamers actually logged more time online: an average of 29 hours a week, versus 25 for the males, with the top players putting in 57 hours a week on the girl’s side, and 51 for the guys. What’s more, it looks like women are more likely to lie about how much they really play. The researchers found that the gals tended to lowball how long they spend glued to the screen.

Of course, for the real story on things like this, you can’t beat the commentators at Slashdot:

Have you ever been in a store with a girl? It’s like raiding, grinding and looting all at the same time. And some innocent low leveler always get killed.

And when the correct time comes, they stab your back and run away with your epic drop.

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