Security vs. theater: the importance of understanding the difference

CNN recently published a commentary by Bruce Schneier that calls into question many of the “security” measures being put into place, in the name of stopping terrorism.

This quote sets the tone for the entire piece, and I think it is something that a lot of people tend to forget, quickly:

Terrorism is rare, far rarer than many people think. It’s rare because very few people want to commit acts of terrorism, and executing a terrorist plot is much harder than television makes it appear.

I have to wonder if we just have too much of this kind of fantasy crime and terrorism on TV and if we’re at the point where it is distorting people’s perception of reality. To put another big wrinkle into things, there’s a whole genre called “reality television” which to be honest, is badly named, and I would even say deceptively misnamed given some of the things that are tagged with that label.

Anyway, Bruce goes on to discuss “movie-plot threats” and “security theater” at length. I won’t quote most of it (don’t want to step outside the boundaries of “fair use”). But he does decry the photo ID checks, the stationing of National Guard troops after the September 11th attacks, and yes, even harassment of photographers as “security theater.”

Particularly the last of these is the most egregious example of “security theater” as the last thing a potential terrorist would do is draw attention to oneself by sporting a DSLR, particularly with, say, a 70-300mm zoom lens. A point-and-shoot of the type commonly available in the US for under $150 is a more likely choice for a terrorist wanting to do clandestine reconnaissance, as a tourist is much more likely to carry this type of camera. Not that it should even matter, of course.

Bruce touches on a great point here:

If we spend billions defending our rail systems, and the terrorists bomb a shopping mall instead, we’ve wasted our money. If we concentrate airport security on screening shoes and confiscating liquids, and the terrorists hide explosives in their brassieres and use solids, we’ve wasted our money. Terrorists don’t care what they blow up and it shouldn’t be our goal merely to force the terrorists to make a minor change in their tactics or targets.

While understandable just to quash the fear of the masses, I have to wonder just what, in the end, the post-September 11th security measures really accomplished. The terrorists are unlikely to attack civilian air travel twice in such a fashion.

Bruce doesn’t go into detail on this, so I’ll say it here: the goal of terrorism is fear and the disruption of normal everyday life. The terrorists, strictly speaking, don’t even have to blow something up to accomplish that, sometimes an obviously planted hoax bomb will do the trick as well: throw some wires together with a cheap timer (or alarm clock) and something that looks like it might be some kind of explosive, and put it in an obvious location that’s still somewhat concealed.

Most damning is Bruce’s blistering attack on the military tribunals:

We should treat terrorists like common criminals and give them all the benefits of true and open justice — not merely because it demonstrates our indomitability, but because it makes us all safer.

Once a society starts circumventing its own laws, the risks to its future stability are much greater than terrorism.

And this is something we should do today. We, as a society, should stick to our own laws, and give those charged with a crime the same rights, whether accused of “terrorism” or petty theft: the right to an attorney, the right not to incriminate oneself, etc.

Finally, this last quote from Bruce echoes my thoughts on the matter almost word for word:

Despite fearful rhetoric to the contrary, terrorism is not a transcendent threat. A terrorist attack cannot possibly destroy a country’s way of life; it’s only our reaction to that attack that can do that kind of damage. The more we undermine our own laws, the more we convert our buildings into fortresses, the more we reduce the freedoms and liberties at the foundation of our societies, the more we’re doing the terrorists’ job for them.

The anti-terrorism measures are more disruptive to our daily lives than any terrorist attack ever have been. It’s time we start lowering the curtain on “security theater” once and for all.

Maybe we need “rated P for pot”

I’m kidding, of course, but it’s tempting to suggest just that.

The New York Times reports on what many see as an unfortunate move by the MPAA Ratings Board regarding the rating of the movie “It’s Complicated.” The film is rated R, not for violence, sex, or one too many of the nastier swear words. No, it’s rated R for a scene involving marijuana use.

Quoting the story:

This is an absurd ruling rooted in old cultural thinking,” said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Universal and Mr. Martin unsuccessfully appealed, seeking a PG-13 rating.

A PG-13 rating is not out of line, especially if history is any guide:

Figuring prominently in the brouhaha are other depictions of marijuana in cinema, particularly the scene in the 1980 comedy “9 to 5” showing Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin getting high and raiding the refrigerator. Its rating was PG.

Everyone about my age remembers at least hearing about “9 to 5.” I will admit I’ve never seen it all the way through. If a movie with pot use was only worth a PG in 1980, why would should a movie get branded with an R rating for the same reason here in 2009?

(Note that there was no PG-13 rating yet at the time of release of “9 to 5.” That was added in the summer of 1984. Under today’s MPAA rating system, “9 to 5” would most likely get a PG-13 instead of a PG, all other things being equal.)

The MPAA needs to get real and be consistent. We are much closer to the legalization of marijuana today than we ever were in 1980. Branding a movie with an R rating needs to be taken seriously, and not done as a purely political move, which is what appears to be the case here. These ratings decisions effectively decide box office returns, whether the MPAA intended this to ever be the case or not.

If you don’t believe me, remember “Kids?” That had to be released unrated, because most theaters would not show an NC-17 film. It turned a profit, but probably would not have were it released with its original NC-17 rating. Even then, Disney’s policy (the corporate parent of Miramax, which bought the distribution rights) was to forbid the release of NC-17 rated movies, forcing the creation of a one-off company to get the film distributed.

While technically optional, there is only one realistic alternative to the MPAA’s rating system, that being the Film Advisory Board, and that one is of dubious utility outside of direct-to-video releases. So in effect, the MPAA’s rating system is a de facto monopoly. The MPAA has the power to brand a movie with an R or NC-17 rating and cost the producers seven- to eight-figure sums. This is almost as bad as the Hays Code (Motion Picture Production Code), in essence. In effect, since most cinema owners and movie rental shops and technically even the likes of Redbox enforce the MPAA ratings, in effect the ratings system is a slightly watered-down version of the Hays Code, where instead of “unapproved” we have “NC-17.”

How not to promote events (long rant)

I’ve mentioned Quinn’s Big City (QBC) a couple of times here (“here” being this blog, if not this blog in its current location), mostly in passing. I try to keep most of my long drawn-out ranting here; the longer pieces on QBC I have referred to as “verbiage pieces” and I try to keep my usual no-holds-barred rant style out of them.

For those of you not familiar with it, the centerpiece of QBC is a feature called the LOVIEE (Listing of Very Interesting/Exciting Events), a “best of Houston” events list with weekly, monthly, and holiday special editions. (Well, usually they are holidays, I’ve had one that was not for a specific holiday; it’s a long story.)

Anyway, so during the week when I’m not doing either paid work, out and about having a good time (at an event I posted to QBC or otherwise), Twittering, checking Facebook, writing a piece for this or Iced Tea and Ramen, or otherwise keeping myself entertained at home, I’m updating one of the upcoming LOVIEEs. It is probably easiest to show the process in a video, at some point I will post a video, probably to YouTube but possibly elsewhere as well, showing what goes into QBC (and possibly even my other blogs as well, but QBC is probably the most interesting one to make a video about).

Anyway, since I haven’t made a video yet, I’ll try to describe it. I have an e-mail box where people can send me stuff they want me to consider (and I have posted a few events this way) but the majority come from the cyberspace equivalent of a wild goose chase involving several local events calendars and myriad venue-, artist-, and organization-specific calendars. Some of these are better than others. I’m not going to name names (yet) but I am going to list just a few examples of the problems I’ve run into:

  1. Omitted details such as the starting time of a music act, or just one time without it being clear if that’s the time the doors open or the actual show time. I run across these a lot. Unless the act is really good or I’m running out of things to post, these are in danger of being skipped outright. Sometimes, such as for the New Year’s Eve LOVIEE, I have made exceptions, figuring it’s obvious most parties will not start until at least 8pm or so and most music acts will probably go on at about 9pm. If I do post anyway, it usually winds up being “no time given” which has the potential to come back and look bad on me when the venue decides to amend the listing later. Really, the time a show or event starts is basic information and there are very few excuses for not including it.

  2. No clear indication either way as to whether or not there’s a cover charge and if so how much it is. I try to avoid saying “no cover” or “free admission” unless it’s specifically stated. If it’s likely there’s no actual admission fee, sometimes I just make no mention of it. If I have the least bit of doubt, again, it’s like the time, “cover charge not stated.” The farther out from downtown the venue is, the less likely I am to attend your event if I’m not even sure the cover charge is within my budget at the moment. Nothing kills a night like being told the $10 budgeted for drinks or food would be needed just to get in the door, without advance notice of same.

  3. Venue/artist/organization Web sites that don’t provide a direct link to the calendar, or change it every month and make it part of a frameset. Very annoying, I should be able to bookmark your event calendar and be done with it, and come back in a month, three months, six months, a year and have the same URL work. Framesets are so 1996, and should never have made it into an HTML standard, but I’ll rant about that some other day.

  4. Event calendars so far out of date as to be useless. If we’re in December and I’m looking at a venue’s event calendar that is still showing October, September, or even January or last December, it’s so tempting to fire off an e-mail saying “look guys, you may as well take the damn thing down, it’s not doing anyone any good.”

  5. Venues, artists, or organizations that serve a Flash movie over HTTP as their primary online presence, instead of a Web site. (When I refer to a “Web site,” I mean something in HTML and CSS, preferably with only optional Javascript. I do not use the term “site” and especially not “Web site” for Flash movies.) Serving up only a Flash movie is gambling that my Flash plugin will both be present and will play the Flash movie. More frequently, that Flash plugin will be Gnash, not the Adobe official Flash player, so the latter is not necessarily guaranteed. I’m in a hurry rather often; rather than wait for Iceweasel/Firefox to load, I may well load up your calendar in Lynx. If I see “[EMBED]” and an offer to download something “application/x-swf,” you lose. Thankfully, this is a relatively rare problem.

That covers most of them. I’m sure I could probably come up with a few more. If you have others, either as an event list maintainer/blogger or just someone who goes out a lot, please comment.

The beginnings of The Big Move

A little change in plans for The Big Move: the new design for what is now Rant Roulette isn’t ready yet. But, I finally got tired of waiting for myself to get in a designing mood, and moved it anyway.

The redesign will probably launch soon. I am shooting for, at the absolute latest, sometime in 2010 January. It’s a question of when I’m ready to get into a designing mood and put something together with one of the logos I’ve already made. I will probably be working on the new first, however; right now that entire domain just redirects over here. That will change, soon, to just the old URLs redirecting here, and the main page going through to the still-under-construction portal based on Drupal 6. I already have working RSS pullers for all three blogs and a cron job running on my PC here to work around the lack of cron on my Web host (an annoyance that should be resolved soon).

You’ll see a few more posts here now that this blog is its own entity, and not the nominal flagship of my personal brand (yes, it did make certain types of posts a bit more awkward than I’d prefer). I’ll go into detail about what the future brings as we get closer to the end of 2009 (it will probably be a scheduled post for New Year’s Eve around noon that will be written out ahead of time).

About the only thing that I have not successfully taken care of is the URL on NetworkedBlogs and other similar sites. I need a few people to vouch for the fact that someone’s not playing shenanigans on me, that yes, the move is legitimate. I’m going around to all the other sites, one by one, as time allows to see exactly what I need to do. It’s not that much different than when someone goes from a or address to their own domain, with the exception being I already had my own domain that needed to be repurposed.