Happy No EOY Recap Here

If you were looking for an end-of-2009 recap, here it is. "2009: 365 days of the world being better than it was in 2008."

There will be no recap of this blog's 2009 posts or to recap what has happened to me personally in 2009. The truth is that doing those things smacks of being egregiously self-centered and self-absorbed. Plus, I don't see any demand for it from my 1.5 readers.

Go spend your internutz minutes on something more useful.

The truth about airline security

Lots of people, especially frequent fliers, are upset about the new flight restrictions in the wake of the almost bombing of that Xmas day flight to Detroit.

Yes, the restrictions seem unrelated to the particulars of the incident (restricting carry-on baggage, when the bomb was in the guy's underwear?). Most restrictions have a low probability of doing anything other than making any attempt so cumulatively difficult that terrorists give up. So TSA throws a bunch of smelly crap deterrents at the wall and hope enough sticks that the terrorists stumble away from the stench. Obviously, this is not working well, and I bet it is backfiring. I suspect we are giving the engineers and scientists, who seem to make up 90% of the terrorists, fascinating security-beating puzzles to solve. Wonderful.

Yes, some of these restrictions are probably driven by the airline industry with little actual connection to security. We have a carry-on epidemic in this country, and telling you that 'security' is the reason why you can't bring a metric shit ton of personal belongings into the cabin is probably the only way to handle it. For security reasons, check your bag, or better yet, FedEx your personal baggage train to your destination ahead of time. The plane, see, is a passenger plane, not a flying storage shed.

Yes, airline passengers will be punished for the gaps in the no-fly list and the lack of scanning equipment at airports. Because those gaps are considered a given and serious attempts to close them were abandoned long ago due to cost or other reasons. TSA is operating under the assumption that terrorists will board planes, so they figure the best they can do is to make sure the terrorists can't destroy the planes they board.

Yes, there are security people who thrive on laying down more restrictions. TSA probably has groups of restrictions that get activated based on the incident. This latest round is what we get for a near miss: for a hit, they would probably ban all carry-on luggage and make passengers wear nothing but hospital gowns. And security people who dream this stuff up probably think the notion of balancing freedom and security is some kind of sick joke. It's all security concerns all the time with them. That's how security people are: that's their job.

Yes, the terror attempts are becoming increasingly inept. Three fourths of the 2001 simultaneous hijackings worked, but the whole concept was a one-shot deal. The shoe bombing failed. Now the 'pants on fire' approach has also failed. The Acme Corp. rectally-stored dynamite stick can't be too far off in our collective future.

Yes, it would be much better for everyone involved (other than terrorists) if the security people took a smarter approach to security. Like maybe putting the burden of proof on passengers, like is done for renting a car, buying a gun, getting a mortgage (post 2007) or obtaining a passport. Give everyone a safety score, like a credit score, and have security requirements scale inversely with the score. Airline travel is a privilege, not a right. Don't like that idea? Well, there's tons of others that are similarly outside of the box we are currently in. Like wearing airline-provided flight suits, for an extra charge, and in exchange skipping the metal detector. It will feel like being an astronaut: a new, fun airline experience!

Yes, those of us who don't fly often are snickering at your outrage. Some of you folks fly too damn much; something like 50% of all domestic flights are for less than 500 miles, a flight of little over an hour. Take a train, use a phone, drive a car, send an email. We should ban flights that aren't long enough for drink service. The helicopter and railroad industries probably need the boost.

What would you like to do instead? Because I think that a lot of the bellyaching about the new restrictions is coming from the same folks who want the TSA to go to any length to keep them safe, so long as they are not trying to catch a flight themselves. The truth is that you can't have it both ways, even if TSA was pumping out the most brilliant security procedures ever.

The Rewrite of the Jedi

There is a part of Return of the Jedi that bugs me. No, it's not the Ewoks. There is one part in the final act, the most important act of the entire trilogy, that is just flat out wrong. You ever watch, read or hear a story and realize that it has completely gone off the rails? Jumping the shark is just a subset of this phenomenon.

My problem is with the final confrontation in the Death Star when Vader suggests that Leia may turn to the Dark Side if Luke doesn't, and in response, Luke yells 'Never!' The setup for this wrong moment is Vader and Luke have already tried to turn one another unsuccessfully on Endor. Luke attacked the Emperor, Vader intercedes, they battle. Luke hides and Vader goads him to fight by realizing that Luke is protective of Leia. He realizes he's hit a soft spot and uses it to anger Luke to the point of attacking him.

1st moment that plays wrong: Vader uses knowledge of Leia to goad Luke, nothing more. Think about this: Vader just learned that Luke has a sister, meaning he has a daughter, Leia Organa. Vader is calm, using the Force, able to think clearly. A daughter that is very similar to her mother, a daughter whose planet he blew up and who he oversaw the torture of. And his only reaction is to use it to make Luke angry enough to attack him by threatening to turn her to the Dark Side.

2nd moment that plays wrong: Luke falls for it and attacks him, yelling that horrible "Never!" Why? Is there any reason at all to think that Leia would turn to the Dark Side? She is the only hero who never wavers in her beliefs, even when her world is threatened. Why would he be worried about that? And it upsets him so that he figures its better to fall to the Dark Side now to stop it? My first clue that something was wrong with the end of Jedi was when Luke yells "Never!" and charges Vader.

3rd moment that plays wrong: two minutes later, Vader turns to the good side and saves Luke. Why? Apparently because the Emperor is about to kill Luke and pleads for Vader to save him. So after 20 years at the Emperor's side, killing Jedi children, killing Padme, including apparently ready to destroy both his children by turning them to the Dark Side, Vader pulls the biggest turnaround since the Grinch's heart grew in size. And the Emperor, who doesn't trust Vader at all since this whole Luke business came up, who can read his thoughts, he doesn't see it coming at all. This is just weak.

I agree with George Lucas on the major theme to be tied up here: the son resists the Dark Side, and ultimately redeems the father, Rebellion wins. Good ending, fits the mythical themes and motifs. Got it. But the execution doesn't work. It could have been so much better:

A stronger dramatic moment would be for Vader to turn when he learns about Leia. Luke had him on the fence down on Endor. Luke can feel his father's conflict, remember? The Leia surprise should do it. From the end of Empire we know he wants Luke to join him to overthrow the Emperor. Now he knows he has a son and a daughter who are on the right side, and how can he not be proud of Leia, who must remind him of Padme? There would be a ton of emotions going on behind the mask, none to the advantage of the Emperor.

A stronger action scene after the lull when Luke refuses to fight would be a 2 on 1 of Vader and Luke versus Palpatine. We now know that the Emperor has some awesome combat skills with the Force lightning and the unorthodox lightsaber work from Revenge of the Sith.

On top of an awesome fight scene, you have father and son trying to protect each other, because they have found each other anew and are desperately afraid they will lose the other. But in the end, Vader sacrifices himself, killing the Emperor in the process, to save Luke. Because he figures that Luke deserves to live more than he does.

A big finish. It works. I know because I rewrote that part of the Jedi script. If you want to see it, drop a comment here.