Let's start with airport security, since it's hitting the news hard right now. Let's make it clear: I haven't been on a plane in over 10 years. My last plane trip was to San Diego Comicon 2000, and was fairly pleasant. But I get sick on planes, violently sick. Although I've managed to never throw up on a plane, there have been a number of close calls and at least one mad dash through a terminal to the nearest bathroom. So even if I could afford plane trips and had somewhere to go, I would avoid planes if possible. But in addition to my airsickness, there's now the choice between getting x-rayed or groped to contend with.
Pat-downs were a necessary evil, so we thought. But the enhanced pat-downs they are now conducting are sexual assault and should be made illegal. An article about a guy threatened with fines for leaving the airport after refusing to be abused is currently making the rounds, and while a few people feel it's no big deal and he should have given in, many others are overly aware of the dangers of allowing security personnel to physically abuse travelers who haven't done anything wrong. And if you think x-ray scans aren't a big deal, you aren't a pilot who travels constantly and is forced to endure way higher than reasonable amounts of radiation.
But what's the alternative? How about common sense? There are ways to protect the public that don't involve sexual assault or physically damaging x-ray scans. In fact, the current TSA security theater probably does less to protect the public than the old ways. I think the TSA should be charged with making intelligent changes to the system, banning stupid theatrics and useless gadgets, and until then I don't think anyone should fly if they can at all help it. But then, what do I know?
Another big Internet story is the tale of Plagiarism in college. Apparently a guy (or gal) in the business of writing custom papers for college students has written a tell-all article about the profession and what it means for the world. In short, it appears that an awful lot of people who can't write to save their lives are passing because they or their parents have enough money to pay someone else to write for them. The big argument is whether this is a flaw in the education system itself, in the expectations for the education system, or something else. But it does explain how some complete morons have been able to get through school when they should have flunked out of any writing-intensive course they took.
When I was in college, I helped a few classmates with papers. It wasn't me writing the paper. They would write a draft and I would go over it correcting spelling, grammar, and sometimes helping them to clarify a poorly expressed thought. The original work was theirs and the final work was theirs, but I helped the process along. I never got paid in cash and I never considered it anything but being helpful, and a way to practice my own writing skills. When I make an effort (unlike on this blog, which is pretty much all rough draft) I can write like a professional. In college I also worked in the writing center and did pretty much the same job, only I was expected to teach a bit as well. Even now I have a... let's say friend... taking university classes who sends me papers to correct. I like doing it. For me, it's a great deal of fun. I enjoy writing and editing. But the thought of writing someone else's paper for them makes me sick.
Reading the original article makes me feel like some sort of sucker for doing all my own work in college. I never once plagiarized, even though there was one incident in which it might have earned me a passing grade (I still hate Clarissa). I never cheated, because I was paying a whole lot of money for an education, and cheating doesn't result in brains. But perhaps it results in success. To be honest, I feel bitter about it and angry that students get away with cheating. I'm particularly horrified to read comments from teachers who can't flunk students who cheat because they get sued by those same rich families that paid for the bogus papers.
I guess the only way to avoid cheating is to force students to do all their writing in class, which will take away from time to teach. But I gather that the costs to universities of failing students who ought to be failing is too high, so my own degree is becoming increasingly worthless as more and more certifiable morons are graduated from schools only because they are rich enough to afford to cheat.
Monday, November 15, 2010