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Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Presto! We're in Preston

Gaelic Games in Preston, U.K.
Clare* and her folks playing an ancient Gaelic game of strategy.

The implicit Swedish tourist visa is good for 90 days, but when it came time to book flights out of the country, it happened that the affordable flights were just a couple days beyond that limit. I scratched my head over this for a while, trying to weigh my bad luck with this sort of thing against the possibility that I'm just excessively paranoid. I knew Garrett* in my shoes just wouldn't worry about it, and it wouldn't be a problem--immigration doesn't check your passport on the way out, after all, just in. But while I have no genuine belief in "bad luck" as an a priori state, it remains an accurate operative assumption for predicting my future. Fortunately, during the delay of my indecision the prices dropped for the day I wanted, thus resolving the issue through productive procrastination.

As it turns out, they'd completely overhauled the airport since my arrival three months ago, and amidst the remaining construction was a new line to stand in--to have Swedish immigration carefully scrutinize your documents, scan them into the computer, give you the suspicious eye, and, in my case, stamp an exit visa right next to the entry visa from exactly 90 days earlier. Eight hours later, and I would have been fined and officially deported from the country--a blemish on my record that would have made all future travels more difficult, residency in New Zealand (or most anywhere) potentially impossible, and would have prohibited me from returning to Sweden for three years.

This tangentially reminds me of an idea for a new talk show: It would be called "Reality Sucks". At the beginning of each show would be a bunch of brief interviews with people on the street in which they give their solutions to the problem du jour--like "What do you think the U.S. should do in the middle east?" or "What do you think the drug laws should be, and how should they be enforced?" or "What should the government do about the current state of the economy?" and so on. (Other categories too, not just issues of government/law, but those are the most obvious fit to the format.) The interviews selected for the show would be the ones that most represented each major category of opinion, such that each could be shown with a prominent percentile for how much of the voting public this opinion represents. The remainder of the show, then, would be top-notch experts and historians talking about what would happen if these ideas were realized, or what actually happened in the past when something similar was done (or when applicable, results of simulations, specific related studies, or such). And of course, most of the time, the outcome would be horrendous, because most people just don't think things through even half as far as could be covered in the span of a talk show.

If I had to call out a single attribute of the human mind as its greatest failing, I would say it is people's inability to question their own intuitive sense of truth. That is, if something is just obviously true to most anyone, no manner of argument or evidence will ever convince them otherwise--because their emotions tell them it is simply silly to question it, and because perception, which is the product of expectation and raw input, will simply omit anything that defies an absolute conviction.

Anyway, we made our flight, barely made our connection after baggage and security line delays at Stansted, and finally arrived at Blackpool airport, U.K., the nearest airport to Clare*'s home town of Preston. Preston is about half way between London and Edinburgh, a region somewhat analogous to the American mid-west--with the notable exception that, still being the U.K., they quite value a good Indian curry here (something I am looking forward to! :).

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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com