Cheazoid DVDs and a funny T-shirt and thoughts on an old article and airline security

So while I was in Itaewon picking up shirts — short-sleeved shirts, I’m low on them, really, and it’s still warm enough for me to want some for work — I ended up dropping by the Halal food shop, actually one of them, because there are a few, and picked up some Bollywood DVDs. One of them, “Death Walks At Midnight/Aatma”, is totally worthless: it’s two CD-Rs with about 30 minutes of video on each. Krrish/Na Tum Jaano Na Hum are both cinema-rips and when I tried to play them in Totem, the subtitles were wonky — they started at the middle of the screen and wrapped around to the right side, so you had to read from the center to the right, then from the left to the center. It was very weird. Luckily, I spent some time earlier this month configuring MPlayer and it handled everything fine, so these two movies, and Viruddh/Waqt (which aren’t cinema rips) will also be watchable after all.

I may even get to use them in my class… in a couple of weeks, we’ll be doing Bollywood in the Popular cultures in English-speaking countries, and I thought India would be a good example of an English speaking country that isn’t straightforwardly, monolingually English speaking, but which has lot of English, and where the presence of English reflects colonial history, etc. I have some research to do this week, though.

So anyway, while in Itaewon I picked up a T-shirt on the street from this guy and his girlfriend who were selling them. There were several varieties of shirt, but the one I got says, “미국사람 아니?요” on the back, and “i’m not a migook” on the front… in other words, “I’m not an American.” (Which isn’t anti-Americanism, it’s just that lots of people assume any white person they meet is American. I had the idea for such a shirt a while back — I’m sure many people have done so — so I decided to pick one up. Unfortunately, they had only a large sized one, so I think I’ll have to stretch it out some, and never, ever put it into the dryer.

Finally, on the way home, this other guy was selling DVDs on the street at prices you never see anymore — two bucks each if you bought five. So I did, three of them Korean films and two Western ones. One of the Western ones was “Flight 93” which was exactly the kind of piece of crap I was expecting, but having seen it now I know it is crap. The Lord’s Prayer scene in the middle turned my stomach — but what should I have expected, knowing that Fox was in on this production? Cheap, trashy manipulative garbage. I especially liked how they had the Air Force scramble the planes and consider shooting United Flight 93 out of the sky, but they were too damned inefficient to manage it.

Got me thinking though, back to something I wrote in late 2001, October or November, a frontispiece that was published in Matrix #60 under the title “Gord Sellar Reflects on the Technoscape” regarding airline security and how I imagined things would go if people took it really seriously:

I had a dream the other night about this.

I was sitting in an airplane, about five years from now. There were no armed guards. There was a rather pretty Cantonese stewardess who kept helping the people in the seat in front of me; unfortunately, I got the portly Italian steward with flecks of mustard in his mustache instead. He kept offering me Diet Bubbletea. I was ready to tell him off and ask for a Bubbletea Deluxe with extra lipids, even though I knew I shouldn’t.

There was no door to the cockpit. There was a visiscreen on the wall where this door would have been, and it was blank from the moment I had gotten onto the plane. Before takeoff, the commsys protocols were explained to us: the visiscreen would not come on during the flight except by the pilot’s request. The plane was a Bombardier Securflite series 7-A, equipped with autonomous onboard navigation systems and pseudointelligent monitoring systems. At the first sign of reckless misadventure, a steward’s button would cause mild Sevex nerve gas to be released into the cabin to render us all unconscious. At any point in which flight paths deviated beyond maximum tolerances from the programmed flight path without acceptable pilot signaling, the same gas would be released and the PGP-encrypted autopilot systems would take over and fly us in using GPS quadrangulation. We would be arriving in New York in two hours, and were instructed to enjoy the flight.

I remember looking at the cute little flight hostess and wishing they’d just schlep us all onto the planes naked, like that stupid futurist guy predicted years back. I wished this until the moment portly came back with my Bubbletea Deluxe.

Yeah, yeah, the “extra lipids” thing was a shout-out to Bruce Sterling, something he had his character Mia/Maya order in Holy Fire. But focus on that paragraph starting, “There was no door to the cockpit,” and when you get to the end of it, yes, remember, this is romping silliness, a kind of joke, but… ask yourself why every plane you’ve been on since 2001 has still included a door between the cockpit and the cabin? I mean, seriously, ask yourself this. Ask yourself why people aren’t just given standard issue pyjamas to wear for their flights, and allowed one book and one MP3 player and one laptop, period. Ask yourself where there isn’t a mild, non-lethal knockout gas dispensation capacity in the cabin (since, after all, it wouldn’t be accessible to the airtight, self-contained cockpit). And ask yourself why planes, if they do happen to be hijacked, can’t just simply be circumvented and flown from the ground, their controls not responding unless rebooted with a very long security code issued to each pilot and copilot (and even that overrideable from the ground by an authority high enough)? Why aren’t flight crews issued dartguns with knockout poison in the tips of the darts, instead of having guns in the hands of Air Marshals — guns that could be wrestled away or bargained away?

And why, why in the name of all that’s reasoned, is it that bottles of hard liquor are allowed on planes when metal butterknives are beyond the pale? Because you can hurt someone a lot more with a bottle of Glenfiddich than you can with a butterknife. Especially if you happened to smuggle some matches on board, but even if you didn’t, it makes a fine club.

As someone recently commented during my last trip, airport security isn’t all the stuff you see. The stuff you see it theatrics, but all around there is stuff you don’t see. There’s one-way mirrors, there’s people sitting and watching all day… and I’m sorry, but I don’t trust people to actually sit and watch effectively all day long. It’s too boring, you get worn out. You stop paying quite so much attention, and you start to think what everyone else thinks — that the real threat will come in somewhere else, somewhere other than airplanes. The airplane thing has been done — that was the gist of that article I wrote in October 2001, and it’s still true today. Yes, there have been little attempts – pathetic, failed ones — over the last five years, but that’s to be expected. What’s not to be expected is what will getcha. After waxing apocalyptic on how sewage systems and the susceptible Internet and the duct-taped-together power grids for lots of modern cities could be used against us, and how we could not only redesign the technoscape to be green and clean, but also in such a way that money stopped flowing to those places where terrorists come from, at least in the current configuration, I suggested this:

If we can design our technoscape to protect us from terrorists seeking to intimidate our governments, we can also design it to protect us from our own governments… and, once we have sorted, we can also share them with other people; we can put our money where our mouths are.

If you want to know what I think the one biggest failing has been since 2001, it’s that it hasn’t transformed things at all. Americans often seem to think it changed the world, but it seems to me all that’s changed is that air travel is a much bigger pain in the ass, and being an Arab in America sucks more. The country, and the world, hasn’t yet made significant efforts to terrorist-proof its technoscape. When it comes to software, people are all to eager to let Trusted Computing (ie. Software Crippled Out of Distrust for the End User) through, but people haven’t even tried to physically hijack-proof airplanes, not even though planes have been hijacked since the 1980s. I don’t know, there’s something about this that rings false to me.

Someone tell me: why does there need to be a door between the cockpit and the cabin again? Is there any real reason?

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