More in confusion than in sorrow

National Opt-Out Day has come and gone. I am saddened I was not in a position to participate in the festivities. The consensus seems to be forming that, as a mechanism for civil disobedience, the protest didn’t work — delays were minimal everywhere, and the TSA triumphantly announced that passengers were happy with the scans and searches (this one is especially precious).

I’m not tremendously surprised: if you knew your actions were going to be carefully scrutinized over the course of one particular day, don’t you think you’d be on good behavior, too? I’m more interested to see what happens next week — Opt-Out Week, or something like that. Granted, this was the single best opportunity to reach folks who don’t fly much… and it didn’t seem to go anywhere. Having said that: Air traffic was apparently very light; virtually every article written about the lack of a fuss on NOOD notes that lines moved quickly and that there were very few delays. You have to wonder whether it was NOOD, the threat of the scans, or the economy that drove most of that. (Also, I note the flying weather was reasonably good through most of the United States yesterday, which probably helped a lot.)

The uprising against the TSA is refreshing: this is the first time in a very long time (you could say since before 9/11, but I think it goes back even further than that) where a segment of the American Public has decided, en masse, that they’ve had enough intrusion into the personal space in the name of safety, security — or law and order, come to that. As with everything else these days, however, there is inevitably push-back against the push-back; the hacks are writing columns that suggest it’s everyone’s patriotic duty to get into the box and be irradiated, and even ordinarily good pundit-type folks (Kevin Drum comes readily to mind here) are arguing that the whole thing is a manufactured controversy that’s designed to hurt Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.

I can’t speak for absolutely everyone behind NOOD or, but at least in the places where I hang out (like, say, FlyerTalk), we’ve been complaining about this kind of thing basically forever. A lot of us have been talking about the absurdity of airport security — well, pretty much since 9/11. Bruce Schneier has pointed out, repeatedly, that the major change to prevent future 9/11-style attacks was more or less implemented by 09:57 EDT 11 September 2001. Everything else became theater to make people feel safer. Patrick Smith has similarly been making the argument that the true long-term threat to commercial aviation is, and always has been, explosives. To that end, the Nude-o-Scope is at least sort of understandable: Bozo J. Terrorist decides to smuggle explosives aboard an airplane by hiding them under his clothes, so perhaps we should see what we can do to find that stuff. But in that case, why not close the other holes, too? Why not make sure that everyone going air-side, and having unescorted access to aircraft, be screened to make sure they don’t smuggle something aboard? And what’s the evidence that the Nude-o-Scope actually works, anyway? We have no independent way to know whether the trade off — radiation exposure and strip searches — is worth it. We’re asked to take the TSA at its word: the scanners are safe, the images aren’t saved, you can’t see anything interesting.

Hopefully, I’ll be forgiven if I don’t fully buy into those assurances.

Glenn Greenwald has written a magnificent piece about the pushback to the pushback, using a smear job on John Tyner (Mr. “Touch My Junk And I’ll Have You Arrested”) as the framing device, and managed to hammer home a number of important points. Among them: “[T]herein lies the most odious premise in this smear piece: anyone who doesn’t quietly, meekly and immediately submit to Government orders and invasions — or anyone who stands up to government power and challenges it — is inherently suspect.”

How did this happen? I blame TV. Hold on, I can support this. How many police procedurals — think “Law and Order” — have you seen where the cops do something they’re clearly constitutionally constrained from doing, only to have the fruits of their labor tossed out of court on a “technicality”? The heroes of the show, thwarted! “And we would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for that pesky Constitution!” is the message we get. This is propaganda of the highest order; it induces this incredibly naive sense that only the true criminals need to rely on these loopholes to get away with their heinous acts. The applicability of constitutional protections to ordinary, law-abiding folks is lost under these circumstances. It never ceases to amaze me how many people are totally OK with this stuff, how many times I hear “if you have nothing to hide…” as the preamble to a blithe dismissal of one’s rights.

I don’t really care how people came to this conclusion. I don’t care whether they’re being Astroturfed into existence, or whether they’ve had their privilege shaken (by dint of being treated the way visible minorities are all over the place), or whether they just find strangers touching them icky. All are perfectly valid realizations. I care, a bit, about whether protesters want more profiling (it doesn’t work the way they think it does, but that’s an argument for another day). Mostly I’m just glad to see people waking up to the realization that the government doesn’t necessarily know what it’s doing, that it doesn’t always know best, and that it is proper, and even responsible, to question its pronouncements. One might, unreasonably I admit, hope that the new enlightenment spills over into other areas (e.g., Drug War). A guy can dream.


Now, I’m going to set that backpack on fire. What do you wanna take out of it? Photos? Photos are for people who can’t remember.
Drink some ginkgo and let the photos burn. In fact let it all burn… and imagine waking up tomorrow with nothing.

It’s kinda exhilarating, isn’t it?
–Ryan Bingham, Up In The Air

Sometime in the last 96 hours, the database that holds this site together disappeared. It was as though someone had gone through and said “DROP TABLE” on everything, then erased all evidence that the database itself had ever existed. Damn strange. My first thought is “crims!” but upon reflection the odds of anyone taking an interest in vandalizing this poxy Web site are basically non-existent. (I changed all my passwords just in case.)

There’s this weird sense of exhilaration that sweeps over you when you discover your data is gone. There’s the initial sadness — all the hard work you put into it, the strange impulses that led you to hang on to various bits of cruft. If it’s stuff you created, it can be heartbreaking: all the writing, all the photos, all that creative energy gone in a random stream of bits, never to return. The loss of a blog isn’t exactly that gut-wrenching (at least, not for me); it is, however, irritating. But once the initial shock wears off you realize that maybe it isn’t the end of the world after all — maybe something good can come of it! In my case I spent a bit of time thinking about what I wanted a re-invented blog to look like, and even asked myself whether I wanted to resurrect Under a Blackened Sky. (Then I realized that Under a Blackened Sky was a product of a very specific time and place, one that probably doesn’t exist anymore, and written in a voice I don’t think I have anymore.)

I don’t know that I came to any profound conclusions about what Lost in Transliteration is, or what it should look like, or who I’m writing it for, or why I even bother. But I do know that I’m happy with what I’ve done so far, that I’m pleased I managed to recover some of the posts from the past (hooray for backups!), and that things will continue as they have been for the foreseeable future.

That’s one hell of a terminal change

I’m in the process of hunting for a cheap way to get 2,080 miles on some combination of Star Alliance carriers before the end of the year, having fallen short of the magical requalification threshold by that much. (This is much worse than last year, where I was 84 miles shy, which required a one-way flight from Vancouver to fix.) It’s just enough miles that a quick trip to Alberta isn’t really feasable without some creative routings, and if I’m going to do something creative I might as well have some fun with it. Also, I’d like to keep the number of days on the road down as much as possible, which means doing a same-day turn if I can pull it off.

Also, we’re doing this in November or December. And I’ve had quite enough fun being stuck somewhere because of environmental problems this year, thank you very much. So: western and midwestern spots affected by snow are a bad idea. East coast spots affected by hurricaines and storms are also a bad idea. Practically speaking, for Star’s hub route structure across North America, this means: no Toronto, no Montreal, no Chicago, no Philadelphia, no Denver, no Newark (well, Newark should never be on that list anyway). This refusal to accept the major eastern hubs pretty much deletes the southeast as a potential mileage run destination. I’m not in the mood to do a trans-Pacific, and as I say, I only need 2,080 miles, so there isn’t much point in spending more time than absolutely necessary to accomplish my goal(s).

Considering the limitations, it pretty much comes down to Texas, Nevada, California, and Arizona. Enter the ITA Matrix. They have a new version of the tool (you can find it on the right), but I much prefer the older, less-slick interface. If you dig around a bit, you eventually discover the route query language, which — when combined with the month-long view — makes for one hell of a useful method of finding the right combination of cheap destinations when you don’t actually care where you end up.

I’ve learned a few interesting things using ITA this past week. One very interesting thing is that getting to San Diego from Victoria is unreasonably difficult, even if you’re willing to expand to non-Star Alliance carriers. Another is that, despite direct service from Vancouver to Houston (on Continental) and Dallas (on American), getting to Texas isn’t cheap. (Though having said that, if I needed to be in, say, East Texas and didn’t care about alliances or miles, I could fly through Seattle and go direct to Austin on AS. This… does not help me.)

A third thing is that you need to be very careful when agreeing to change terminals, because ITA has a very loose definition of what a terminal change means. It’s one thing to be willing to fly into, for instance, MCO and out of TPA — they’re theoretically in the same city (for varying definitions of the concept of “city”). It’s quite surprising, on the other hand, to look at a proposed itinerary and discover that your change of terminal involves going to a different state — fly into LAS, leave from LAX.

I bet if you weren’t really paying close attention, that might seem quite reasonable.

As for what I’m going to do? Probably YYJ-YVR-LAS and return, or something like that, on a same-day turn. If I can find it for cheap on the weekend (hah!), K. and I might make a quick trip out of it (I am still getting silly offers from the Wynn, and I’m told rooms in Las Vegas are wicked cheap right now) — just so this isn’t a pointless expenditure of money solely for the sake of flying around. But I’m also considering YYJ-YVR-SFO, with enough time in San Francisco to get down to the waterfront, have a Manhattan and the hangtown fry at Tadich, and back out to the airport again. That’s a good reason to get on a plane, right?