Airline behavior

What parts of “discontinue the use of personal electronic items and cellular phones” and “return your tray tables and seat backs to their upright and locked position” are hard to understand? I just want to know why most airline travelers seem unable to comprehend these simple instructions. Or is the problem that people just think these instructions don’t apply to them?

Well, I don’t much care about seat backs and tray tables, but the cell phone thing is a real sticking point for me. Those things really do interfere with aircraft instruments, which puts everyone on the plane potentially in danger. Just because you, the compulsive cell-phone yammerer, are too stupid to live, does not mean you have the right to endanger or delay the rest of us. I’d like the maximum chance of getting there on time and alive, thank you.

Next airline beef: One of the reasons it takes so long to load airplanes is people in the aisle loading luggage, which half the time doesn’t really fit, into overhead bins while people are trying to get by. This is why they start loading from the back of the plane. This is not a difficult concept. Why, then, do so many rocket scientists insist on going up there before their row numbers are called? For an extra couple of minutes of that lovely cabin air? The luxurious seats? What? Again, all this behavior does is inconvenience other people. Wait for your damn row.

(original date: 1999.09.17)


I came home from playing cards on a Tuesday night, having missed the news, to discover that there had been another shooting in a school. Lots of people are dead, maybe as many as 25. Wow.

And somewhere out there, thousands, perhaps millions, of folks, including lawmakers, think that more restrictive gun control is bad. For all you folks, go ask some of the parents of the innocent children who got mowed down for no apparent reason what they think. According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, not exactly a mouthpiece for the left, a gun in the home for protection is 43 times more likely to kill a family member than an assailant. Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that the study is way off. Not 20% off, not even a more outrageous 35% off, but a radical 50% off. Gee, then a gun is only twenty times more likely to kill a family member. Lovely. Accoriding to a recent piece in Time magazine, the number of youths murdered by firearms went up 153% from 1985 to 1995.

Even given the legality of guns, fully automatic machine guns and anti-tank rockets aren’t legal for ordinary citizens. Even the NRA doesn’t push this stuff (at least, I don’t think so), so there’s some evidence that this is a reasonable policy. Presumably, because these things are really dangerous–so they should be banned. Of course, a typical deer rifle is also pretty dangerous. So where to draw the line? So here’s a radical suggestion: If an object has no purpose other than simply killing people, it should be banned. The deer rifle should be legal, and so should duck hunting shotguns, because they have more or less legitimate sporting uses beyond killing people (I won’t get started on the whole hunting thing). However, handguns are out. People don’t hunt deer with handguns. The only thing a handgun is useful for is killing another person. Handguns are small machines designed to end people’s lives–killing machines. (Sure, target pistols can be excepted.) If the sole use for an object is killing people, it shouldn’t be allowed. Period.

OK, maybe that’s simplistic. How about this: For every firearm sold to the public, a ballistics workup (e.g. firing pin signature) is done and stored in a nationwide database. When the firearm is sold, the buyer and the ballistics workup are linked. Then, if the gun is fired in the commission of a crime, then ballistics can trace the person responsible for the firearm. That person should be charged with that crime, even if they didn’t commit it–because they were a part of the crime by enabling the bearer of the firearm. For instance, in these school shootings, whoever’s guns those actually were should be charged, along with the kids, for the murders. After all, the murders wouldn’t have happened if the kids didn’t have access to the guns, now would they? This is vaguely like a CAP law, but much higher octane.

Why wouldn’t this be reasonable? This should never come into play for law-abiding gun owners, which is who the NRA claims they’re trying to protect. (Why these law-abiding citizens have needed things like teflon-coated stainless steel bullets, which can pierce Kevlar, is still a mystery.) Of course, the NRA would probably argue that innocent gun owners would be penalized if their guns were stolen. Wrong–this is overly simplistic. They would be charged. The gun owners would have the rights to a trial just like any other suspected criminal. If they can prove in a court of law that they took every reasonable measure to ensure that the gun was not used in commission of a crime (leaving a loaded gun in an unlocked drawer, for instance, wouldn’t cut it), then they’d be innocent. If you really feel the need to own a deadly weapon, you’d have to take responsibility for it. Conservatives are always going on about personal responsibility, so why shouldn’t people be personally responsible for what happens as a result of their need to own killing machines?

On a related ironic note, the Colorado legislature just passed a bill attempting to head off lawsuits against gun manufacturers by cities (according to the NRA’s website, dated April 16, 1999). Perhaps the governor, in light of current events, can see his way through not signing this into law.

(original date: 1999.04.21)

Language Nazi for Today

You know, normally I’m not all that opposed to using nouns as verbs, but it really can get annoying when the appropriate verb already exists. The currently grating example is the word “defense,” which in my dictionary is a noun. This word need not be used as a verb, because there already is a corresponding verb (that would be “defend” for all you idiot football announcers out there who have obviously never heard this word before).

(original date: 1997.10.22)

Journalistic Competence

OK, it’s really been a while now but I’ve had this rant smoldering for quite some time, so I’ll vent it now: journalists. Why is that every time I read a piece of journalism that covers topics in which I’m reasonably knowledgeable (I’ll limit that claim to computers and cognitive psychology, since I have graduate degrees in both), I find the article riddled with misconceptions and inaccuracies? It’s unconscionable! But I think I’ve discovered the answer. If these people actually knew anything about computers or psychology, they’d be in the computer industry or a research psychologist, not a journalist–actual domain experts have work to do in their fields and don’t write for newspapers or TV. So now I’ve come to expect incompetence from journalists, rather than being surprised and annoyed by it. (Well, OK, I try not to be annoyed, anyway.)

(original date: 1997.08.05)

TV Morality

A rant I’ve had brewing for many years: television and morality. Why is it that in the U.S., it’s OK for people to be dismembered on prime-time television, but it’s completely taboo to show a <gasp> bare breast? In Europe, it’s quite the other way around: minor nudity is no big deal, but violence is hard to find on television (other than football–err, soccer–spectators). Is it any wonder the U.S. is so far ahead in violent crime and so Medieval about the human body, when this is what we’re fed over the tube? I think the Europeans have this one way ahead of us here in the States.

(original date: 1997.05.07)

March Madness rant

March Madness rant. Look, will all of you complaining about the RPI just cut it out? Obviously, the RPI doesn’t rule the NCAA Selection committee. Proof? How about TCU? 21-12 record, RPI of 32, which puts them ahead of ELEVEN other at-large bids in RPI rank–so go ahead, tell Tubby Smith (TCU’s coach) about how the NCAA is tied to the RPI. And all the Georgetown and USC fans better be *really* quiet about the RPI, since there were NINE teams ahead of USC in the RPI that didn’t get bids and TEN teams ahead of Georgetown (including a team from the Big East with an identical 19-9 record, West Virginia). So yeah, sure, bitch about selection, but don’t bitch about the use of the RPI–a team’s RPI is clearly not as important as everyone seems to think.

(original date: 1997.03.10)

Sports Gods

Yet another sports rant. No, it’s not about Dennis Rodman kicking a photographer, lots of other folks have said more than enough about how stupid that whole scene is. No, today’s rant is about all the god-freak athletes out there. Look, gang, if the god you believe in is willing to not intervene and let innocent children get slaughtered in civil wars in the Balkans and in Africa, but is willing to intervene to affect the individual performances in sporting contests, well, then it’s a god the rest of us can do without–so shut up about it already.

(original date: 1997.01.21)

WebTV commercials

OK, advertising pet peeve: the new Phillips/Magnavox “Web TV” commercials, where they say “What’s missing? That’s right, the computer.” Hel-lo, but what the hell is in that little box on top of the TV, little green men? Could it be… a computer? Morons…

(original date: 1996.12.16)

Lou Holtz

Another sports rant, this time Lou Holtz. Why is everybody making such a big deal over it? He’s a classless whiner and the faster he gets out of the spotlight the better off we’ll all be. Here’s a good illustration of the classlessness: In his final home game against Rutgers, he was up five touchdowns against a clearly overmatched team. Did he put in the subs and just try to run out the clock? Nope, there was starter Ron Powlus in, throwing deep, so that Notre Dame could run it up 62-0. Totally, totally vulgar.

(original date: 1996.11.26)

Atlanta Olympics

OK, the Olympic and dissertation break from ranting is over, and I’m gonna rant about the Olympics. I had a blast. Every single person I talked to (and believe me, on those MARTA trains and in the stands, I saw a lot of folks) had a blast, just a totally terrific time. But, of course, the out-of-town media and the IOC had lots of bad things to say. Um, hello? I hate to break it to you, but the Olympics are not for the media or even the IOC. They’re for the athletes and the fans. We were happy, so the media and the IOC can just piss off, thank you very much. The Atlanta Olympics were awesome, no matter what these pampered whiners said.

(original date: 1996.08.08)