Joel Johnson to Obama: FIRE THE TSA

And he makes a strong case:

…TSA’s response to Abdulmutalib’s attempt makes one thing clear: We must stop pretending the TSA is making us safer. [...]

So what has the TSA done in response to the attempted attack? They’ve told airlines to make passengers stay in their seats during the last hour of flight. They’ve made it verboten for passengers to hold anything in their laps, again only during the last hour of flight. Perhaps most hilariously telling, they’ve forbidden pilots from announcing when a plane is flying over certain cities and landmarks.

There is no other way to interpret it: The TSA is saying clearly that they can’t prevent terrorists from getting explosives on airplanes, but by god, they’ll make sure those planes explode only when the TSA says it’s okay.

I want our government to prevent terrorism and to make flights safer. But we are spending billions of dollars and man-hours to fight a threat that is less likely to kill a traveler than being struck by lightning. In the last decade, according to statistician Nate Silver, there has been “one terrorist incident per 11,569,297,667 miles flown [the] equivalent to 1,459,664 trips around the diameter of the Earth, 24,218 round trips to the Moon, or two round trips to Neptune.” (Sadly, this does mean that in the future we can expect one out of every two round-trip flights to Neptune to be hijacked.)

The TSA isn’t saving lives. We, the passengers, are saving our own. [...]

I don’t want to die on an airplane… But I also don’t expect the government to protect from the literally endless possibilities and threats that could occur at any point to end my life or the life of the few I love. It’s been nearly a decade since terrorists used airplanes to attack our country, and last week’s attempt makes it clear that the lack of terrorist attacks have nothing to do with the increasing gauntlet of whirring machines, friskings, and arbitrary bureaucratic provisions, but simply that for the most part, there just aren’t that many terrorists trying to blow up planes. Because god knows if there were, the TSA isn’t capable of stopping them. We’re just one bad burrito away from the TSA forcing passengers to choke back an Imodium and a Xanax before being hogtied to our seats.

President Obama, don’t let this attack—this one attack that was thankfully stopped by smart, fearless passengers and airline staff—take us further in the wrong direction. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. Americans of all stripes and affiliation standing up to say, “This isn’t working. We gave you our money. You’re not making us safer.” We appreciate the attempt to make us safer and acknowledge that it came from an honest attempt to protect American (and the rest of the world’s) lives.

But it’s a failure. It’s wrongheaded. It’s a farce. Tear it down. Put the money towards the sort of actions at which our government excels, like intelligence. The failure of the TSA leaves us no choice, but it’s okay. The American people are ready to take back the responsibility for our own safety. Really, we already have.

Numbers

Last year, according to my year-end statements from various airlines and hotels, I spent about 81 nights in hotels (68 of them in one Hyatt in Kansas (plus 2 more in other Hyatts); 5 more in other KC hotels; 3 at a Sheraton on Phoenix; and another 3 or so at random hotels for family events), and took about 65 flights — which was enough to secure both Elite status at Continental and A-list membership with Southwest.

No wonder I’m tired.

Bruce on the Christmas Plot

As usual, he’s completely right. A key quote:

For years I’ve been saying this:

Only two things have made flying safer [since 9/11]: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.

This week, the second one worked over Detroit. Security succeeded.

True.

Here comes more TSA idiocy

So a numbskull would-be terrorist tried to set himself on fire aboard a US-bound Northwest jet yesterday, as you may have heard. My favorite part of the NYT story:

As investigators from around the world worked to determine how the suspect managed to get his explosives past security on a flight that had departed from Amsterdam with passengers who had originated in Nigeria, airports were consulting with the Transportation Safety Administration to impose stricter screening measures.

They need an investigator for this? Nothing the TSA does to your average traveler would catch the materials this guy brought on board unless he was unlucky enough to be singled out for individual screening — PLUS he boarded the plane either in Europe or Africa, not the US. There’s no big mystery.

Rest assured, though, that the TSA will use this as an opportunity to add even MORE useless security theater steps to the airport process with precisely zero increase in actual security.

Update: The new idiocy is here, and it makes zero fucking sense. JeffreyP has more:

This is a profoundly stupid rule, even dumber than the rule that prevents passengers from carrying an unlimited number of three ounce containers of liquid aboard airplanes. The rule is not intended to protect passengers; it’s intended to protect politicians, to inoculate them from criticism the next time a bad terrorism incident occurs in the future. There are rules in place to prevent this kind of thing, right?

But it’s utterly absurd to think that these airport security rules will never prevent a single act of terrorism. (What’s to prevent the bad guy from doing his thing one hour and one minute before the plane lands?) What these rules will do, though, is to eternally memorialize every half-cocked would-be terrorist who manages to stick something flammable into his shoe or into his pants. And that is precisely the terrorists’ objective.

David Simon Speaks Truth

Viceland is running a long interview with the God of the Wire. Go read the whole thing. Some choice bits:

This seems to play into what you mentioned earlier, that you were writing Greek tragedy, which certainly had comedic elements.

Yes. Before finishing the first season I’d reread most of Euripides, Sophocles, and Aeschylus, those three guys. I’d read some of it in college, but I hadn’t read it systematically. That stuff is incredibly relevant today. As drama, the actual plays are a little bit stilted, but the message within the plays and the dramatic impulses are profound for our time. We don’t really realize it. I don’t think we sense the power in there because we’re really more in the Shakespearean construct of—

Yes, the individualism kind of thing.

The individual and the interior struggle for self. Macbeth and Hamlet and Lear and Othello. These are the great tragedies—the dramatic branch that leads to O’Neill and our modern theater. But I saw a version of Aeschylus’s The Persians done on the stage in Washington, and it made my jaw drop. They put it on during the height of the insurgency in Iraq—after that misadventure in Iraq had made itself apparent. If you read that play and if you saw this production of it, it was so dead-on. I don’t know if you know the play.

I’ve never read it, but I know what it’s about.

It’s basically the people back in the Persian capital wondering what’s happened to their army and, of course, bad things have happened to their army. And the young emperor who wants to be compared to his father—it’s Darius the Great, I think—he wants to win the victory that was denied his father over the Greeks.

Sounds familiar.

Yeah. And of course they performed it in Republican ties and suits. It was a Washington audience. I was watching it and I was looking around, and some of these lines were landing, some of the dialogue was landing. I was looking around like, “Did everyone just catch that? Did they really just say that?” It was so ripe in its critique of Bush and Cheney and all those guys.

It seems to me that people want to be sort of special, unique snowflakes, and the Shakespearean thing addresses that more.

Right! Let’s celebrate me and the wonder that is me. It’s not about society. The Greeks, especially the Athenians, were consumed with questions about man and state. They gave Socrates hemlock because his ideas were antithetical to their notions of state.

Listen, that’s totalitarianism in any sense, but for him, he was cynical about democracy and he was an iconoclast about the democratic principles. That went to the heart of Greek thinking. It was like, “Don’t fuck with that.” Now, the thing that has been exalted and the thing that American entertainment is consumed with is the individual being bigger than the institution. How many frickin’ times are we gonna watch a story where somebody—

Rises up against the odds?

“You can’t do that.” “Yes, I can.” “No, you can’t.” “I’ll show you, see?” And in the end he’s recognized as just a goodhearted rebel with right on his side, and eventually the town realizes that dancing’s not so bad. I can make up a million of ’em. That’s the story we want to be told over and over again. And you know why? Because in our heart of hearts what we know about the 21st century is that every day we’re going to be worth less and less, not more and more.

Worth less and less as people, you mean?

As human beings. Some of us are going to get more money and be worth more. There are some people who are destined for celebrity or wealth or power, but by and large, the average American, the average person in the world on planet earth, is worth less and less. That’s the triumph of capital, and that is the problem. You look at that, and you think that’s what we’ve come to and that’s where we’re going and it’s like, “Can you tell me another bedtime story about how people are special and every one of us matters? Can you tell me that shit?”

And, later, on the supposed divide between literary fiction, crime writing, and how the Wire relates thereto:

Everybody should write the stories that matter to them and then we’ll figure it out once everything exists.

Word. God Save David Simon.

Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.

Microsoft never met any problem they couldn’t make more complicated. You can see this in nearly everything they do, from relatively simple things like the Zune — way, way, way more fiddly than the iPod — to their mess of a mobile platform (really? a “Start” menu on my phone? Are you high?) to how they manage server settings for tools like IIS and SQL Server to, well, even Word and Excel these days. Trapped my increasing commoditization, they keep shoveling more and more features into tools into which almost no one dives deep — my bet is that 95% of all Word users have no idea what 95% of the features do. And yet they add and add and add, and Word gets slower and slower and slower.

Complication is sin in computing. Simple tools are better. This is a bit of a religious position, but my 20+ years in computing has left me with the strong opinion that a whole bunch of flexible, small, generalized tools is a way better solution that an proliferating patchwork of giant, inflexible programs dedicated to single tasks.

My current proof of this is Team Foundation Server, MSFT’s current offering in the source-control-and-work/bug-tracking world. It is, of course, the path of least resistance for the MSFT developing hordes (while the rest of the dev world uses tools like Subversion). I’m not writing code on this project, so I can’t speak to that side of the tool, but as a product manager I do know something about the bug-and-issue-tracking side of the thing. And it’s a friggin’ joke. Everything takes ninety more steps than it ought to. The only way to interact with it, really, is to install and use VISUAL STUDIO — there is a web client, but it sucks balls even from IE8. If you’ve used more lightweight, flexible tools like Bugzilla, working with backlog of items in TFS feels like assembling a ship in a bottle with a broken pair of tweezers.

Of course, TFS does come with a rich set of templating features, and is skinnable and has workflow features and is all kinds of customizable. It’ll talk to Excel for bulk entry, even!

And yet, here’s the rub: none of that shit really matters for 99% of the people who need an issue tracker. It’s a pretty simple use case, which is why so many of the popular tools are simple web apps with little in the way of system requirements: Management uses the list to figure out what needs doing; they set priorities, and assign items to developers. Developers use the list of things assigned to them to know what to work on, and in what order. Dialog ensues on each work item as required. Everything should be simple and straightforward. Nothing gets lost in the shuffle, because the universe of items is fairly simple and easy to see.

Not in the land of TFS, though. You’ve got a boatload of work item types to sort out (bug? enhancement? product backlog item? sprint backlog item? task? there’s MORE!), and there’s no way to change the type post-creation, which is an EXCELLENT way to ensure some double-entry and/or the loss of an item because it’s in the wrong type. It’s thick-client dependent, but even that interface looks like something from the Land that UX Forget (constant scrolling, e.g.). It just took me 10 minutes to find the “jump to item #” feature, for crying out loud.

Who comes UP with this shit? Are they fired yet? Christ.

Today’s Most Interesting Headling

Calif. School Team’s Success Linked to Snoop Dogg.

Apparently, Snoopp (real name: Calvin Broadus) has created a youth football league in urban LA. And it’s a success.

Broadus, 38, launched the league in 2005 with $1 million of his own money after noticing that much of urban Los Angeles had no football for boys ages 5 to 13. He’s since invested about $300,000, Wadood said. The league now has 2,500 kids enrolled.

Dept. of Overwhelming Notificiations

For various reasons, today I have my calendar up on:

  • My Mac’s iCal
  • Outlook inside VMWare
  • OWA on my client laptop
  • Outlook on my corporate laptop
  • My iPhone

Just now, all 5 of them began noisily alerting me to my first meeting today.

The Onion Scores Again

Christ Turns Down 3-Year, Multimillion Dollar Deal To Coach Notre Dame:

SOUTH BEND, IN—Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Savior of All Mankind, and current defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee State, said Monday that He would not accept Notre Dame’s 3-year, $5.6 million offer to coach the Fighting Irish. “I love Notre Dame and respect their football legacy, but no matter what you’ve accomplished before coaching there, once you’re a Golden Domer, the expectations, frankly, are unrealistic,” said Christ, whose family has been involved with the university since its founding. “I’ve had people turn on Me before, and it really put Me through hell. But even more importantly, I’ve made a commitment to stay with the Blue Raiders through 2015.” Christ denied asking Notre Dame to remove His likeness from the building overlooking their stadium, saying He liked a good joke as much as anybody.

Dept. of GAAAAAA

250px-Krampus.pngIn parts of Europe, Santa is accompanied by [Krampus](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krampus](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krampus), which is deeply, deeply fucked up if you ask me.

It’s like they know right where I live

Space: 1970: “This blog is dedicated to the science fiction films and television series of the 1970s – and very early 80s – including such nostalgic favorites as Star Wars, Space: 1999, UFO, Space Academy, the original Battlestar Galactica, Jason of Star Command, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Logan’s Run and many others.”

His coverage of Ark II is particularly fine. I hadn’t realized that the jetpack they used was an actual, working Bell prototype.

Oh, Microsoft. Do you EVER stop failing?

I had a little free time tonight, so I thought I’d (finally) download the expansion to Fallout 3 (which, by the way, isn’t available any other way). Turns out, I don’t have enough Microsoft magic script to do so, I I tried to buy more, both on the XBox itself and on the XBox Live web site.

Cryptic error messages ensued, followed by a frustrating call with idiot tech support people with a tenuous at best grasp of English. The links are true. It’s some goofball, poorly implemented halfwit “fraud prevention” thing. What’s absurd, btw, is that you can only get this information from Google; the web site gave no error message at all (“try again later”), and the XBox itself gave only a bit more data: “Can’t retrieve information from Xbox LIVE. Please try again later. Status code: 80169d94.”

That opaque message is the money shot. Apparently, my account is locked now because the info on my XBox live account itself — entered long ago on a free trial — did not match the information provided on my credit card (which was accurate and complete). That’s all well and good (though, I note, they had no difficulty automatically renewing my membership back in October); calling them ought to make this right.

Oh no. No, no, no.

As the Google search told me, they’re not actually able to fix this on the phone. They have a “process” and require “escalation.” Someone will call me within 72 hours, and after that it’ll take 5 to 10 business days to process the unlock.

Whatever, boneheads. I think I’ll watch something on my AppleTV instead. 100% FAIL.

Birthers? 9/11 Truthers? Positively sane compared to…

Middle Ages Denialists. I shit you not:

The Phantom time hypothesis is a conspiracy theory developed by Heribert Illig (born 1947 in Vohenstrauß) in 1991. It proposes that there has been a systematic effort to make it appear that periods of history, specifically that of Europe during Early Middle Ages (AD 614–911) exist, when they do not. Illig believed that this was achieved through the alteration, misrepresentation and forgery of documentary and physical evidence.

Wow. (Via Nix over on Facebook.)

Exits

I’m surprised it’s taken them this long, but Charlie Weis has been fired at Notre Dame. Contrary to ESPN’s Forde, though, I don’t think they’re one good coaching hire away from national relevance again. Their clear inability to recognize what’s working (n.b. that it was the fired Willingham’s recruits that buoyed Weis’ early years; when they graduated, Weis tanked) will lead them to many more years in the wilderness, and probably more expensive buyouts.

I watched this happen with Alabama in the pre-Saban, post-Stallings era, and it wasn’t pretty; I think it’s likely to get uglier in South Bend given their perhaps even more unrealistic expectations. And, from the Alabama perspective, I’m sorry they’re firing him. He’s clearly not head coach material, but keeping him around would ensure the Irish continue to spiral the drain in perpetuity. Oh well.

In other news, there are also sources saying that Bobby Bowden is reitiring at FSU, which is a long time coming, but there are conflicting reports on other sites. This is something he should’ve done a while ago, but it creates another hot-seat job opening that is probably far, far more appealing than the Notre Dame job. Whups.

Well, how about dat.

The Saints are now 11-0 after Brees and the rest put thirty freakin’ eight points on New England tonight with a dominant, blowout performance on either side of the ball. Final score: 38 to 17.

Bonus: In the process, Brees posted a perfect passer rating of 158.3; doing so puts him in the company of such gridiron luminaries as Doug Flutie, Kurt Warner, the Manning brothers, Ben Roethlisberger, and his opponent tonight, Tom Brady.