### On irrational security measures

I'm currently flying across the country (actually, laid over in Charlotte) having just slogged through LAX security this morning. As always, I had to remove my shoes, take out my laptop and throw away what remained of my coffee. I had to throw away my coffee not because the amount of liquid exceeded the arbitrary 3 oz. limit, but because the original cup once contained, or could potentially contain more than 3 oz. Into the box full of shampoos, deodorant and bottled water it went. I'm sure everyone felt a lot safer as a result.

It was similar to the time I had my beautifully gift-wrapped bottle of authentic Chinese Maotai ripped apart and taken from me by the Newark TSA staff because...well, because...I don't even know anymore. It doesn't matter that I could have gotten that liquor through the checkpoint if were frozen and packed into a box. Or poured into a dozen individual 3 oz bottles. It doesn't matter if those dozen 3 oz bottles contained napalm instead of liquor. I was forced to be a bit player in our ongoing airport security theater act. The underpaid TSA staff member did their dance, I stood there in my socks and watched, and after it was done I was able to board my flight.

So it was pretty good timing when I stumbled upon Patrick Smith's latest article on Salon, because it was that much less that I have to write and vent at the moment. In the article, Smith recounts having his safety scissors confiscated, and once again pleads with his audience to understand a simple fact
When it came right down to it, the success of the Sept. 11 attacks had nothing -- nothing -- to do with box cutters. The hijackers could have used anything. They were not exploiting a weakness in luggage screening, but rather a weakness in our mind-set -- our understanding and expectations of what a hijacking was and how it would unfold. The hijackers weren't relying on weapons, they were relying on the element of surprise.
Sadly, I think he's right when he concludes
There in [the airport] it hit me, in a moment of gloomy clarity: These rules are never going to change, are they?
Nope, they're not likely to change because when it comes down to it, these rules are what we want. When I say "we" I mean the American populous, myself included. We've evolved from individualists to a scared collective mess. We're more concerned with the winner of American Idol than we are about the basic rights daily stripped from us in the name of security. We'll suffer a little humiliation at a check point in order to feel better, which is something we desperately need after the perpetually-on CNN-tuned TV monitor in the waiting area yells at us about the latest stroller recall or the latest cancer study. Oh, and you need to buy acne medicine and better clothes. This just in!

The rules aren't likely to change because we won't demand it, and we won't demand it because we've been conditioned not to care anymore.

Dang, I didn't mean to end on such a downer. I fully intended to end with a joke about deplaning (when do we ever plane a plane?). But writing has made everything a bit clearer, if nothing else. I'm gonna go get a Jamba Juice.

blissful_e said…
Somehow I feel better about the humiliating and cumbersome American system than I do about the very hit-or-miss Egyptian system (I believe security personnel worked under the assumption that the terrorists would be on their side).
JohnJohn said…
Thanks, e, for the perspective :)

### On the Height of J.J. Barea

Dallas Mavericks point guard J.J. Barea standing between two very tall people (from: Picassa user photoasisphoto).

Congrats to the Dallas Mavericks, who beat the Miami Heat tonight in game six to win the NBA championship.

Okay, with that out of the way, just how tall is the busy-footed Maverick point guard J.J. Barea? He's listed as 6-foot on NBA.com, but no one, not even the sports casters, believes that he can possibly be that tall. He looks like a super-fast Hobbit out there. But could that just be relative scaling, with him standing next to a bunch of extremely tall people? People on Yahoo! Answers think so---I know because I've been Google searching "J.J. Barea Height" for the past 15 minutes.

So I decided to find a photo and settle the issue once and for all.

I then used the basketball as my metric. Wikipedia states that an NBA basketball is 29.5 inches in circumfe…

### The Force is strong with this one...

Last night we were reviewing multiplication tables with Owen. The family fired off doublets of numbers and Owen confidently multiplied away. In the middle of the review Owen stopped and said, "I noticed something. 2 times 2 is 4. If you subtract 1 it's 3. That's equal to taking 2 and adding 1, and then taking 2 and subtracting 1, and multiplying. So 1 times 3 is 2 times 2 minus 1."

I have to admit, that I didn't quite get it at first. I asked him to repeat with another number and he did with six: "6 times 6 is 36. 36 minus 1 is 35. That's the same as 6-1 times 6+1, which is 35."

Ummmmm....wait. Huh? Lemme see...oh. OH! WOW! Owen figured out

x^2 - 1 = (x - 1) (x +1)

So $6 \times 8 = 7 \times 7 - 1 = (7-1) (7+1) = 48$. That's actually pretty handy!

You can see it in the image above. Look at the elements perpendicular to the diagonal. There's 48 bracketing 49, 35 bracketing 36, etc... After a bit more thought we…

### The Long Con

Hiding in Plain Sight

ESPN has a series of sports documentaries called 30 For 30. One of my favorites is called Broke which is about how professional athletes often make tens of millions of dollars in their careers yet retire with nothing. One of the major "leaks" turns out to be con artists, who lure athletes into elaborate real estate schemes or business ventures. This naturally raises the question: In a tightly-knit social structure that is a sports team, how can con artists operate so effectively and extensively? The answer is quite simple: very few people taken in by con artists ever tell anyone what happened. Thus, con artists can operate out in the open with little fear of consequences because they are shielded by the collective silence of their victims.
I can empathize with this. I've lost money in two different con schemes. One was when I was in college, and I received a phone call that I had won an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas. All I needed to do was p…