Kill the TSA

We’re flying to Korea this weekend, and I have more than the usual amount of travel anxiety. It’s not because of the flight, or because I’ll be spending a week in a foreign country — it’s airport security that I dread. We’re hearing about 3 hour plus wait times to get through the pointless, stupid inspections, and our flight is at a terrible time, 9:30 in the morning. Subtract 3 hours from that. Subtract another hour or two because of Old Man syndrome. Then realize that if we don’t get on the plane in time, we lose lots of money that we can’t afford, perhaps suffer the stress of a chain of missed flights, and worst of all, risk missing the wedding we’re flying to.

This article about the futility of TSA isn’t helping, either. We’ve known for years that the security measures at airports are pure theater, that they’re inefficient and wasteful, and that they simply don’t work. So why do we keep doing something that makes the problems worse?

We all know why: fear. All it takes is one incident to set bureaucrats to scrambling to find something they can do to pretend that they’re reducing the threat. Take off your shoes! 3-1-1! Next thing you know, it’ll be patriotic loyalty oaths before boarding, or something ridiculously arbitrary. No zippered clothing allowed! Shave yourself bald before coming to the airport! Dance, monkey, dance!

Also, watch this.

The heart-warming Poon/Tang case

It’s actually called that. This is the case of a wedding photographer who was sued by the groom, who was a bad lawyer, and it was informative to me in a couple of ways. I did not know that the occupation of wedding photographer was so hazardous — apparently, some people are really demanding and finicky about the little details around their wedding (sometimes, it seems, more so than they are about the marriage), and they’ll go after the photographer if the pictures are not sufficiently flattering. I wouldn’t know about that; at our wedding, we had some people with polaroid cameras wandering around informally. The pictures aren’t so great, but the marriage has been wonderful.

The threatening letter from the lawyer has to be seen to be believed. Here are some excerpts:


I’ve received a few blustering extortion letters from attack-dog lawyers, but never anything as unprofessional and openly vicious as this thing — they usually try to keep the threats veiled and only vaguely unsettling. This jackhole just freely cranked it up to 11, to attempt to intimidate the photographer into settling.

But go read the whole thing. It has a happy ending with the lawyer having to go before the bar and defend himself. Some days, the bad guys lose.

Just another murder in Bangladesh

Another intellectual, a professor of English, Rezaul Karim Siddiquee, was hacked to death in Bangladesh for the crime of being an atheist. The twist here, though, is that he wasn’t an atheist at all.

But according to his daughter, Rizwana Hasin, 23, he was not an atheist.

Siddiquee participated in cultural activities and wanted to open a music school in nearby Bagmara.

“He loved music. A concept is growing in Bangladesh these days that those who are interested in music, culture, are not believers in religion,” she told CNN.

First they come for the atheists, an easy target. Then they go after the artists, the poets, the writers, the musicians, the poets because they love the world too much and are not sufficiently fanatical. Then the teachers and other educators. This is one way to change the culture to make everyone believe as you do: chop down everyone who isn’t as ignorant as you are.

The future Bangladesh of their dreams will contain only people who know how to pray and how to use a machete, nothing more.

Something in this poster reminded me of home

Except…the text is disturbing. It’s on the wrong side of the continent. Read this story of a common occurrence around Puget Sound.


Douglass Brown was 15 when he saw a giant tentacle emerge from Puget Sound.

He was in Tacoma, walking down the beach with a girl he liked. Then he looked out at the water.

“I see this arm come out of the water. It was 10, 15 feet in the air,” Brown says. “It looked like an octopus or something like that, and I just took off running.”

I can so imagine walking along the beach with my girl when I was that young, and enjoying the aquatic wildlife. Except that I can’t imagine running — that’s the part where you hold each other a little closer, and sigh romantically.

(Also, I think the “10, 15 feet” part is a gross exaggeration. “Inches,” maybe. But then, one does tend to inflate in those situations.)

Soon, I shall be rich and famous!

All I have to do is follow the formula. Julia Serano explains How to Write a “Political Correctness Run Amok” Article, and it’s very detailed. At last, I shall be published by the New York Times or some other establishment organ that loves those stories about how universities and their students have become too PC and need to sit down and shut up and respect noisy assholes with lots of money, no matter what they say.

At last, a sensible perspective on aging


The world is full of naive people who think we’re going to be immortal some day soon, in spite of all the evidence that says no (Kurzweil is a prominent example of such techno-optimism, as is Aubrey de Grey). It’s not just bad biology, it’s also bad physics, as Peter Hoffman explains. We’re all made of parts that are constantly being battered by thermal energy as an essential part of their operation, and damage accumulates until…we break down. This is unavoidable.

If this interpretation of the data is correct, then aging is a natural process that can be reduced to nanoscale thermal physics—and not a disease. Up until the 1950s the great strides made in increasing human life expectancy, were almost entirely due to the elimination of infectious diseases, a constant risk factor that is not particularly age dependent. As a result, life expectancy (median age at death) increased dramatically, but the maximum life span of humans did not change. An exponentially increasing risk eventually overwhelms any reduction in constant risk. Tinkering with constant risk is helpful, but only to a point: The constant risk is environmental (accidents, infectious disease), but much of the exponentially increasing risk is due to internal wear. Eliminating cancer or Alzheimer’s disease would improve lives, but it would not make us immortal, or even allow us to live significantly longer.

The article points out that we can accurately model mortality with only a few general parameters, and they’re rather fundamental and physics-dependent — we can tweak the biology as much as possible, but the underlying physical properties are going to be untouchable.

I would add, though, that while the mortality curves he shows are inevitable, biology can stretch and contract them, and we do have measurable variation in different species that shows that there is a kind of scaling factor to the curves in biological diversity — it’s not as if every species that lives at the same average temperature have identical life expectancies! Even within the human species, there are genetic variants that affect longevity, and clearly different life-style choices influence mortality, even though we’re every one of us ticking along at roughly the same 37°C. So please, yes, we can reduce the incidence of heart disease and cancer, and get a longer average lifespan…but even if we were to eradicate those major causes of mortality, we’re all going to get up around the century mark, and then we’re going to plummet off a cliff because of all the accumulated cellular damage and declining physiological efficiency.

By the way, one odd thing when I tried to find an illustration to accompany this post: I searched on “aging”. Almost all the photos on the web illustrate women by a huge margin. I am forced to conclude that only women suffer from the ravages of age; men simply get mature. But at least it’s one topic that women get to dominate!

Evangelical Christianity: a movement built on hypocrisy, by the worst people in the country

Samantha Bee gives a history lesson, and as always, evangelical Christianity has been on the wrong side of history, and for the worst reasons, and under the leadership of some of the most awful, terrible, horrible people. It’s also telling that they have so consistently rejected the people who espouse positive Christian values (like Carter) to support scum (like Reagan). At least nowadays they’re reduced to choosing between scum (Cruz) and scum (Trump), and they still favor the least Christian, and most bigoted choice.

I also have to note that two of the most scathing critics of modern American politics, Bee and Wilmore, are also the kind of people these conservative Christians would love to oppress.

Please don’t, Bill Maher

Here comes another misbegotten idea from an obnoxious atheist. Bill Maher wants to make another documentary about religion. He wants to call it The Kings of Atheism. Yes. That’s all we need. Another atheist praising an elitist, authoritarian mindset in support of the status quo.

He really doesn’t get it.

Et ses mains ourdiraient les entrailles du prêtre,
Au défaut d’un cordon pour étrangler les rois.

No gods, no masters.

The man is completely tone-deaf. I felt that way about his previous movie, Religulous, too. But he might have a popular formula there, since a lot of atheists seem to be looking for secular priests to lead them.

I should have warned John Horgan

He gave a talk at a skeptics’ conference, and he called them out on their screwy priorities. You do not question movement skeptics on the importance of fighting Bigfoot.

The references to “Bigfoot” in the headline above and text below were inspired by a conversation I had with conference Emcee Jamy Ian Swiss before I went on stage. He asked what I planned to say, and I told him, and he furiously defended his opposition to belief in Bigfoot.

I can picture this — I’ve seen Swiss in Indignant Fury mode.

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I’m already sick of politics

At least Charles Pierce is an oasis of sensible punditry. The violence this weekend in Nevada by Sanders supporters has me exasperated in the same way he is.

That being said, this whole mess was over four freaking delegates, and the Sanders people should know better than to conclude what has been a brilliant and important campaign by turning it into an extended temper tantrum.

I voted for Bernie Sanders. I even wrote about why I did here at this very shebeen. But if anybody thinks that, somehow, he is having the nomination “stolen” from him, they are idiots.

I understand what’s going on. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been a catastrophe: as Pierce puts it, she’s been trying to “grease the skids” for Clinton, a maneuver that was as unnecessary as it was divisive. Clinton has a solid lead, she’s 99.9% certain to get the nomination, and all Schultz has accomplished is to fuel a feeling that the electoral process is rigged. And now some Sanders supporters are rightfully outraged at the betrayal of the process, and becoming irrationally unhinged over a trivial number of nominees.

There are also people calling for Sanders to step out of the race. I don’t think he should; I want him pushing back every step of the way. But at the same time, he needs to slap down these idiots.

Also, if anyone needs to get out of this election, it’s Schultz. Don’t even talk about booting Bernie Sanders until Debbie Wasserman Schultz gets the heave-ho.