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Education Math Government

Airline Delays Flight Over Passenger's Suspicious Math Equations (usnews.com) 512

Earthquake Retrofit shares this article from the Associated Press: "An Ivy League professor said his flight was delayed because a fellow passenger thought the math equations he was writing might be a sign he was a terrorist... He said the woman sitting next to him passed a note to a flight attendant and the plane headed back to the gate. Guido Menzio, who is Italian and has curly, dark hair, said the pilot then asked for a word and he was questioned by an official... "They tell me that the woman was concerned that I was a terrorist because I was writing strange things on a pad of paper..." He was treated respectfully throughout, he added. But, he said, he was concerned about a delay that a brief conversation or an Internet search could have resolved. "Not seeking additional information after reports of 'suspicious activity'... is going to create a lot of problems, especially as xenophobic attitudes may be emerging."
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Airline Delays Flight Over Passenger's Suspicious Math Equations

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 08, 2016 @10:32AM (#52070383)

    Into your life it will creep
    It starts when you're always afraid
    Step out of line, the men come and take you away

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 08, 2016 @10:32AM (#52070385)

    We need to ramp up reverse retaliation on stupid people 100x fold to stop shit like this

    • by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Sunday May 08, 2016 @10:52AM (#52070491)

      Haven't you noticed? People today are ignorant and uneducated. But what's new is, they are proud of it.

      Ours is a world in which football players, reality TV stars and talentless singer bimbos earn hundreds of times more than Nobel prize-winning scientists, and represent what young people aspire to become when they grow up.

      In a world of self-satisfied, militant, openly avowed crassness, writing equations onboard a plane instead of watching the latest episode of Game of Throne on one's tablet is seen as suspicious. That's more than a little sad.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The fact that at least in the US our education system is horribly underfunded and under supported, coupled with social structures that make these things worse doesn't help

        The much more realistic and appropriate way to change things is to canoe these root causes rather thank trying to somehow get rid of or shame or do something else punitive to the stupid people in the world. The nice thing about people is that they sometimes can be taught

      • by U2xhc2hkb3QgU3Vja3M ( 4212163 ) on Sunday May 08, 2016 @11:22AM (#52070603)

        Ours is a world in which football players, reality TV stars and talentless singer bimbos earn hundreds of times more than Nobel prize-winning scientists, and represent what young people aspire to become when they grow up.

        I keep telling people that Idiocracy [wikipedia.org] is a documentary from the future but nobody believes me.

      • by Sarten-X ( 1102295 ) on Sunday May 08, 2016 @11:44AM (#52070695) Homepage

        People today are ignorant and uneducated. But what's new is, they are proud of it.

        No, people today are, as always, proud of what they think they are. For instance, you seem to think of yourself an intellectual, and are jumping at the chance to denigrate those you see as different.

        Ours is a world in which football players, reality TV stars and talentless singer bimbos earn hundreds of times more than Nobel prize-winning scientists, and represent what young people aspire to become when they grow up.

        How, exactly, is that different from the the last century? Come to think of it, when exactly did scientists make more than non-scientist celebrities? There are a lot of professions out there, and very few of them fall into any kind of "science" classification. For most of human history, those pure-science careers have always been academic, having no practical application that would affect most peoples' lives. When your job is to move a load of cargo to a different continent to support a colony, you don't care about the amount of redshift in the starlight by which you're navigating. On the other hand, having a widespread reputation that your city is the best at some particular popular sport provides a conversation for a salesman, opening new opportunities for business.

        As I see it, after the atomic bomb brought immediate public attention to scientists, pure science has been getting more celebrated. Today we have more college graduates than ever before, and that number is still rising. We have more STEM careers and more STEM jobs than ever before, and we're even starting to see an increasing number of scientist celebrities like Neil deGrasse Tyson (Whose Twitter account, I'll note, appears second in a Google search for "Neil", below only Wikipedia.)

        In a world of self-satisfied, militant, openly avowed crassness...

        ...which is so much different from a world where we publicly post [pompeiana.org] such intellectual statements as "Phileros is a eunuch", "Epaphra, you are bald!", or "Lesbianus, you defecate and you write, ‘Hello, everyone!’".

        ...writing equations onboard a plane instead of watching the latest episode of Game of Throne on one's tablet is seen as suspicious. That's more than a little sad.

        What's sad is the pervasive suspicion that caused it. This time, it was math equations. Next time, it could be a poet writing in Arabic. Recognizing it as Arabic would be less "ignorant and uneducated", but it'd be just as bad, and would probably result in even more delay. It's the paranoia that's the problem, not stupidity.

        • by Alomex ( 148003 )

          How, exactly, is that different from the the last century? Come to think of it, when exactly did scientists make more than non-scientist celebrities?

          Actually, The Economist had an article on this, and while professionals and academics never matched celebrities in salary, they used to have guaranteed paths into the middle class back when this was 15% of the population. Today they still have a guaranteed path into the middle class... which is over 50% of the population. The article pointed out that to keep up with similar professional rankings a top professor should be earning upwards of $1.1 million a year. Presently top professors (outside economics an

      • by theArtificial ( 613980 ) on Sunday May 08, 2016 @12:25PM (#52070889)

        Ours is a world in which football players, reality TV stars and talentless singer bimbos earn hundreds of times more than Nobel prize-winning scientists, and represent what young people aspire to become when they grow up.

        You may find it insightful to learn about Gaius Appuleius Diocles [wikipedia.org]. He was a famous chariot racer who among other things amassed a fortune valued enough to feed the city of Rome for an entire year. Even in antiquity the entertainers fared quite well.

    • by OzPeter ( 195038 )

      We need to ramp up reverse retaliation on stupid people 100x fold to stop shit like this

      It's not stupid people .. it's fearful people.

      Just look at the number of people in the US who have been kicked off a flight or pulled up for interrogation just because they spoke Arabic or "looked like a certain way".

      This is the last one that I heard about UC Berkeley student questioned, refused service after speaking Arabic on flight [dailycal.org]

    • And what would be the point? Or effect?

      Like being able to execute 12 year olds in some states for "murder" ... you now are harassing concerned citizens?

      The woman was an idiot, yes ... but then again, you convict her for what? Being stupid?

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        The problem wasn't that the woman was an idiot, every village has one. The problem is everyone else dog piling on. All it would take is for one person to say "it's just math" and for that to be enough to shut the panic down. Instead, we too frequently hand the leader role to whoever is most terrified and anyone who isn't terrified clearly doesn't understand the gravity of the situation (never mind that there really isn't a situation).

  • Bill her! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 08, 2016 @10:33AM (#52070387)

    I hope they billed the idiot for the inconvenience, expense and defamation...

    • Re:Bill her! (Score:5, Informative)

      by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Sunday May 08, 2016 @11:54AM (#52070747)

      I hope they billed the idiot for the inconvenience, expense and defamation...

      While people are (perhaps rightly) ganging up on this passenger and blaming her for being ignorant, she was only a small part of the problem here. The Washington Post story [washingtonpost.com] on this incident notes a comment from Menzio that isn't in the summary here, where Menzio expressed concern about...

      "A security protocol that is too rigid--in the sense that once the whistle is blown everything stops without checks--and relies on the input of people who may be completely clueless. "

      Contrast this incident with what would happen in a sane world.

      What happened here:
      - Woman feigns illness to deplane. Reports suspicious person to authorities. Pilot escorts "terrorist" off plane. Delays follow for hours as suspect is questioned until "threat" is cleared.

      What would happen in a sane world:
      - Woman says to flight attendant, "Can I talk to you for a second?" and gets up from seat. Attendant knows terrorists are much rarer than lightning strikes, so is skeptical. After short conversation, flight attendant walks past, glances at man's paper, sees he's just doing math, and tells woman everything is fine -- return to seat.

      What would happen in a relatively sane world with some greater level of caution:
      - Woman has conversation with flight attendant. Flight attendant walks up to man, sees math. Attendant casually asks, "Hey, sir, what are you working on there?" Guy replies, "Oh, well... economics actually. I'm a prof at Penn." Situation resolved.

      If still suspicious, we could even go a step further -- Attendant: "Oh, can I just check your ticket? We had a question from a passenger about seat numbers?" Attendant checks name of passenger, excuses herself, sends message to security -- they do a Google search and verify guy actually is Ivy League prof in economics, and situation is resolved in 3 minutes instead of hours.

      Bottom line: while we can laugh that this woman's ignorance, the greater problem here is the general paranoia and bureaucratic structure around security theatre that requires disproportionate responses to things that don't deserve them.

    • I hope they billed the idiot for the inconvenience, expense and defamation...

      Everyone here keeps blaming the idiot who made the complaint but what about those who investigated it? It's well known that there are idiots out there so when someone comes forward with words to the effect of "I think the person next to me is a terrorist because they are writing something I don't understand on paper." the correct response from the authorities should be to ignore it because they are clearly talking to one of those idiots. If they don't exercise some judgment as to which complaints are credi

      • Sure, there's a bit of fail on the part of the airline. The Washington Post article though seems to indicate significantly less stupidity on the part of the airline and the authorities than in other cases such as that UC Berkeley student who was forbidden from flying for speaking in arabic to his uncle. In this case, most of delay was from the false accuser faking illness. Only after a period of feigned sickness did she leave her seat, speak to the flight crew, and make her accusation. Dr. Menzio was th

  • ... I hear the passengers thought he was with the Al-Gebra network - and he was holding potential weapons of math instruction.
    • Hahahaha ... that was pretty funny!

      Weapons of Math instructions!!! I will remember that.

    • by MillionthMonkey ( 240664 ) on Sunday May 08, 2016 @10:49AM (#52070465)
      "There's this guy in the seat next to me... he's writing some message with Arabic numbers in it."
      • "There's this guy in the seat next to me... he's writing some message with Arabic numbers in it."

        See -- that was the suspicion! The passenger obviously saw he was Italian, so why wasn't he using Roman numerals?!? Those suspicious Arabic numerals were a dead giveaway: Obviously he must be an Arab terrorist posing as an Italian. it's always those little things that give the foreigners away....

      • Wow, here's a virtual +5 Funny to you too!

    • Also, he was using Arabic numerals... I mean, how many more red flags do you need??
      • To deconfuse people, some have started calling what we use "Western numerals", so as to make clear that there's also a different set of numerals that the Arabs and Persians actually use (at least except perhaps some parts of Africa or something like that) that look different. (I believe the two sets used to be called "Western Arabic numerals" and "Eastern Arabic numerals".)
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 08, 2016 @10:50AM (#52070477)

      You may already know this, but I'll put this here anyway: The name "algebra" actually *is* Arabic in origin. It comes from "al-jabr" meaning "reunion of broken parts".

      • Indeed, it is. I remember hearing it mentioned decades ago in middle school when I first started taking Algebra (although the notion of what Arabic was likely was more abstract to me at the time). There was a good "TED radio hour" that talked about that (and other related topics) as well:

        Solve for X [npr.org]
      • The name, it is. Funnily, the name doesn't correspond to the contents anymore in any meaningful way. It's just something people are used to.
        • by Sique ( 173459 ) on Sunday May 08, 2016 @12:00PM (#52070779) Homepage
          It still does. The actual name of the book is Al-kitab al-mukhtasar f hisab al-jabr wa’l-muqabala, which translates to The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing. The putting together (al-jabr) can also be translated to completing. The author is a guy named Muammad ibn Musa, born in the persian region of Chorasmia. So he was mostly called al-Khwarizmi, the Chorasmian, latinized to Algoritmi. He does not only gave us the Algebra (al-jabr), also the Algorithmus: if you do it following the sequential solution descriptions put down by al-Khwarizmi, you are following the Algorithmus. And he even gave us the x we see in all the algebraic equations. When he was posing a question for the thing to solve an equation, he used the arabic term "chai" (thing), which in the first editions of his book in latin letters was written as xai, shortened to x.
    • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Sunday May 08, 2016 @11:01AM (#52070519) Homepage

      "Middle School Teachers Discovered Supporting Mysterious Al Gebra Network! Entire Courses Devoted to Brainwashing!"

      Next week's headline on CNN.

    • Best play of words I've read in a very long time. Virtual +5 Funny to you, my good sir.

      • Best play of words I've read in a very long time. Virtual +5 Funny to you, my good sir.

        Actually, I assume it was just a reference to this internet meme [uky.edu] from over a decade ago with the same puns. Still funny though.

    • ... I hear the passengers thought he was with the Al-Gebra network

      Even funnier, considering "algebra" is an Arabic word.

  • There's no shortage of kids in school that will tell you math is terrifying...

  • by slashmydots ( 2189826 ) on Sunday May 08, 2016 @10:42AM (#52070421)
    Oh no! Italians doing math?! They're only supposed to cook pasta and things. That's definitely out of character if you base it solely on cartoonish stereotypes.
  • by Z80a ( 971949 ) on Sunday May 08, 2016 @10:45AM (#52070433)

    ..Unless he divided by zero.
    That would create a NaN, and everything that touched it would also became a NaN, thus the passagers, plane fuselage, engines, ground...

  • by hyades1 ( 1149581 ) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Sunday May 08, 2016 @10:48AM (#52070451)

    ...Osama is high-fiving Satan under a "Mission Accomplished" banner.

  • And the scared passenger didn't want the professor to fly under false (mathematical) terms.
  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Sunday May 08, 2016 @10:48AM (#52070457) Journal

    To be fair, Professor Menzio (if that is his real name) was using Arabic numerals.

  • by Alomex ( 148003 ) on Sunday May 08, 2016 @10:49AM (#52070471) Homepage

    This has become a trend in American life: the culture of stupid.

    Started with Sarah Palin, who couldn't even name a newspaper she read and people readily accepted that, and it carries on today, with Trump spouting platitudes and messages of hate (many self-contradictory) that wouldn't stand a few seconds of rational though. But he says them with the right anger tone and that's all it matters.

    Next time it will be us geeks&nerds being detained because we are editing some code on our laptops.

    Say no to hate, say no to ignorance.

  • by rjforster ( 2130 ) on Sunday May 08, 2016 @11:01AM (#52070515) Journal

    At least this story brought us the caption "We can't fly on together with suspicious maths".
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/worl... [bbc.co.uk]

    • by habig ( 12787 )

      Except the BBC picture is of electromagnetism, which is far less of a black art than economics.

  • by clovis ( 4684 ) on Sunday May 08, 2016 @11:07AM (#52070547)

    What if, and I'm just saying, what if he had been writing his mathy stuff and using METRIC UNITS!
    This would clearly identify him as being a foreigner. And furthermore, he spoke English with an accent according to the article. Why would anyone learn to speak English with an accent unless they were, in fact, a terrorist?

    Once exposed, he was no longer able to carry out his nefarious plot.
    I say that woman did stop his plot. Kudos to you, plot-stopping heroine.

  • by l3v1 ( 787564 ) on Sunday May 08, 2016 @11:22AM (#52070605)
    While this story might seem funny at first, it quickly becomes sad. Also very inconvenient for a few hundred people who sit on the plane and get delayed beacuse of an idiot. Lots of people would say better safe than sorry, but this is much more than that: usually ignorance won't hurt many people, but it can reach a point where it will make the lives of the rest of the population a living hell.

    As a sidenote, such stories made me to really think about what I want to read on to/from-US planes, for many years now. Back in the days I mostly read technical stuff, papers, articles, but slowly I switched to "simple" novels with no math and no images. Might be crazy, but I just don't want to be the cause of some idiot delaying the flight - which, as we can see, happens from time to time.
  • Because its possible that just writing could bring down a plane?

  • There is some entertaining detail missing from the US News story that you can find in Washington Post [washingtonpost.com]. Here is their description of how the encounter started:

    The curly-haired man tried to keep to himself, intently if inscrutably scribbling on a notepad he’d brought aboard. His seatmate, a blond-haired, 30-something woman sporting flip-flops and a red tote bag, looked him over. He was wearing navy Diesel jeans and a red Lacoste sweater – a look he would later describe as “simple elegance

  • Wha! (Score:4, Funny)

    by 101percent ( 589072 ) on Sunday May 08, 2016 @01:24PM (#52071163)
    "Oh my lord, he's doing encryption!
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Sunday May 08, 2016 @01:45PM (#52071241) Journal
    We constantly blare over the PA systems, "If you see something, say something ..." and scare the population to no end with "all suspicious packages will be removed". We install jersey barriers in airport drop offs. So she saw something and said something. After training the population to be afraid of every passing shadow why expect them to exercise common sense or expect them to be reasonable?
  • by SYSS Mouse ( 694626 ) on Sunday May 08, 2016 @03:59PM (#52071863) Homepage

    I think the woman was too embarrassed to continur the flight.

    FACE THE WRAITH OF THE PASSENGERS for delaying the flight for stupid reason.

  • by Attila the Bun ( 952109 ) on Sunday May 08, 2016 @07:08PM (#52072565)
    There are dumb people everywhere. What's more worrying is that the cabin crew -- the people charged with the safety of their passengers -- were unable to deal with a simple situation and had to call for outside help. Were they also too dumb to gauge the danger posed by some scribbles on a piece of paper?

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