Thursday, March 27, 2008

You can give a mouse a cookie…but that doesn’t make him a baker

From today’s

Pilot shoots hole in cockpit - trust is not transitive
Posted by Cory Doctorow, March 27, 2008 5:34 AM

Remember when they gave pilots guns to increase airplane security? On Saturday, a US Airways pilot accidentally fired his gun in the cockpit while trying to stow it, blowing a hole in the plane. Security expert Peter Biddle uses this as an object lesson to explain why "trust isn't transitive."

Let’s look at this quote from the article in question, attributed to Mike Boyd: “if somebody who has the ability to fly a 747 across the Pacific wants a gun, you give it to them.” This is a horribly flawed assumption, because it assumes that trust is transitive, when clearly it isn’t.

The reason trust isn’t transitive is because trust is most often based on data regarding the past which allows us to make assumptions about specific competence, quality of performance, and behaviors in the future.

We can assume that a trained pilot, when facing piloty thingies, will act like a trained pilot. WE CANNOT ASSUME THAT A TRAINED PILOT WILL ACT LIKE A TRAINED LION-TAMER WHEN FACING A WILD LION.

Skills from one domain cannot simply be moved from that domain to another. Saliently, the pilot in question must have thousands of hours of flight time, has done the pre-flight check hundreds or even thousands of times, has been steeped in pilot-ness and thus pilot-safety, probably since he was a late teen. He’s very likely an extraordinarily safe pilot. We can assume that every experienced 747 pilot has a keen awareness of the potential lethality of full loaded 747. In the past we can assume that they at least had a deep appreciation of the potential for harm to their own passengers, and post 9/11 we can assume that they appreciate the harm their plane can be to thousands of additional people.

The argument that Biddle makes goes directly to the heart of the larger issue of guns and self-defense. Pro-gun advocates have long claimed that people with training in how to shoot and handle a gun are qualified enough to own a gun for self-defense.

I have always had problems with that line of reasoning, but Biddle nails it in his explanation: We cannot assume that a trained pilot will act like a trained lion-tamer when facing a wild lion. I would add: You cannot assume that a mechanic or accountant or store clerk will act like a trained police officer when facing a criminal.

Showing someone how to shoot a gun is not the equivalent of attending a police academy and coming face to face with criminals on a daily basis. Police officers are trained over many months in how to act in stressful, life or death situations and, once on the job, they face those kinds of situations frequently.

As a writer, I simply do not encounter life or death situations where I have to decide whether to pull a trigger or not. How can I predict how I would act if I had a gun in my back pocket and I felt threatened? Yeah, I know how to aim and shoot the weapon, but my hand will be shaking, my mind racing, my adrenaline pumping. Will I make the right decision? Will I hurt or kill an innocent bystander? Is it a burglar rummaging around downstairs or my oldest son making a surprise visit home from college?

Giving a person a gun and showing him how to use it is not the same thing as training him about when, where and why to use it. Skills from one domain cannot simply be moved from that domain to another.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Dim Bulb Bachmann Does it Again

The United States is beginning its sixth year of war in Iraq with no end in sight. Our military war dead now top 4,000, with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis either dead or displaced. America is on the brink of an economic recession if not already in one. Our standing in the world is at an all-time low. The president and vice president dismiss the will of the people and thumb their noses at the democratic process.

And Minnesota representative Michele Bachmann wants to talk about light bulbs.

The intellectually vapid Bachmann has found yet another way to embarrasses her home state in front of the world. In a move that can only be seen as ideological grand standing, Bachman has introduced something called the “Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act” in the house. Yes, you read that right.

According to the Star-Tribune, Bachmann “…is challenging the nation's embrace of energy-efficient compact fluorescent lights, saying the government has no business telling consumers what kind of light bulbs they can buy.”

Global warming as a result of human activity is a hoax, according to Bachmann, thus her courageous pro-choice light bulb stance.

Poor Michele is forever in the dark, substituting rote conservative dogma for actual thinking. I guess that makes her the ideal candidate for a position in the Bush administration in its remaining months. A long black robe, perhaps?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bush’s “Before-I-Leave-Office-To-Do-List” Leaked to Press

A reporter from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune was mistakenly e-mailed President Bush’s personal “to-do” list for his remaining time in office. The list is now being quickly circulated around the Internet.

Boink Senator Bachmann

Finish “My Pet Goat”

Start a war with Iran

Find Paraguay on the map

Look into this ‘Internet’ thing

Find out where in the hell Cheney goes to hide

Waterboard Keith Olbermann

Drop a nuke somewhere

Take a ride on that UFO stashed in New Mexico


Super-glue all the drawers shut

Put cellophane under the toilet seats

Take soap, towels, ashtrays, shampoo

Blame the Democrats

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Creepy Argentinean Gnome to Appear on Dancing With The Stars

The YouTube phenom “Creepy Gnome” has signed a deal for an undisclosed six-figure amount to appear on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. The half-pint hoofer caused an international buzz when he was captured on video emerging from some brush to drop a loopy sidestep in the middle of la calle. The Argentinean teenagers who witnessed the gnome’s signature soft-shoe were not amused and ran from the scene shrieking in fear. The gnome says it was all a misunderstanding.

“I’ll admit I was off my game that night. There was a party in my neighborhood and the Sangria was flowing…. Honestly, I didn’t mean to scare the kids, but I can understand why they ran. As you can see from the video, my timing was awful, frightening, you might say. I’d have run off, too.”

Creepy will be teamed up with Monica Seles for a show to air sometime in the fall. Seles put on a brave face for the media, but it was apparent a gnome was not her first choice as a partner.

“He’s so tiny I may have to dance on my knees. Honestly, just the thought of touching it makes my skin crawl, but a contract is a contract.”

ABC’s publicity department has the diminutive dancer on a grueling promotional blitz that will cover major cities in the United States throughout the summer.

“Everything I knew up to this point I learned from Michael Jackson videos,” admitted Creepy. “But now I’m working with some pros and the salsa is coming along nicely, thank you very much. I’m excited about the show.”

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Working Class Hero?

I was intrigued this morning by some examples of work I came across by a professional photographer. Shot for an annual report, the beautiful black and white photos captured employees of a power company carrying out their daily duties as linemen, equipment operators, plant managers, etc. One striking photo frames a group of three linemen with the vast plains of western Colorado as their background. One square-jawed guy has a droopy moustache, and another is clearly Native American. Exchange the hard hats and tool belts for Stetsons and chaps and you have an archetypal image of the 19th-century cowboy.

Compare these shots of weatherworn American laborers with the photo taken of the company’s president. The images could not be starker in contrast. In this instance, the black and white Polaroid transfer technique works against its subject. In his tailored black suit and sporting the standard-issue executive haircut with expertly situated wisps of grey, the president sits leaning forward, his hands loosely clasped together in what was surely intended to convey a thoughtful, engaged mood. Dark eyes open just an uneasy fraction too wide stare from behind frameless glasses. All of this plus the sepia tone give the photo an eerie mid-twentieth century feel when captains of capitalism were building financial empires on the backs of the working-class here and abroad, busting unions, and plotting the overthrow of our government.

Unfortunately, from Prescott Bush to George W. H. Bush, things haven’t changed all that much, and in some ways have gotten worse. The visual contrast between the photos on my desk is just as easily a metaphor for our current era out-of-control capitalism, where the average CEO earns 369 times as much as the average worker, unions are dwindling, and companies have severed ties to national interests. John Lennon released “Working Class Hero” in 1970. I couldn’t remember a lot of the words, so I googled the lyrics and found it was as absolutely dead-on today as it was 38 years ago.

Working Class Hero
by John Lennon

As soon as you're born they make you feel small
By giving you no time instead of it all
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

They hurt you at home and they hit you at school
They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool
Till you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

When they've tortured and scared you for twenty odd years
Then they expect you to pick a career
When you can't really function you're so full of fear
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV
And you think you're so clever and class less and free
But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be

There's room at the top they are telling you still
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
If you want to be like the folks on the hill
A working class hero is something to be
A working class hero is something to be
If you want to be a hero well just follow me
If you want to be a hero well just follow me

Monday, March 03, 2008

A Sneak Peak at the Bush Presidential “Library”

Washington, D.C. - A general organizational outline of the proposed George H. Bush Presidential Library was leaked to the press today. The library, which will be housed at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, will contain a highly selective collection of unclassified documents, notes and memorabilia from Bush’s eight years as president. Sources say that President Bush himself has been very involved in selecting materials for the library, and that the following list reflects his preferences. The library will be organized by the following topics under which will be found several representative examples:

Favorite Fart Jokes
Naughty Doodles Made During Meetings
Photo collection of the president’s favorite body builders
The President Wrestles and Kills a Grizzly with his Bare Hands (Diorama)

“Why the Caged Bird Sings” and other relevant readings
Cute Clothes I’ve Worn: A Historical Retrospective
What’s on Laura’s Mind? (interactive)

Countries I Would Have Bombed Given the Chance
President Bush’s Contributions to Middle East Peace
Game Arcade: Find Osama bin Laden. Nuke ‘em All. Support the Right Dictator.

“Let’s Nuke San Francisco.” The Collected Wit and Wisdom of Bush’s Inner Circle
Me and Condi
The Cheney Weapons Collection and Fear Factory
The Cake Walk
The President’s Enemies List. (allow a full day)

“I spied on you because I loved you.” The President Reminiscences About Domestic Spying
Why Giving the Wealthiest Americans More Money is Good. (PowerPoint presentation)
The Hall of Signing Statements (allow a full day)