Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Doing Math On A Plane Can Get You Pegged As A Terrorist

Guido Menzio is a briliant economist and mathematician,
but not a terrorist, despite his habit of doing
math equations of airline flights.  
I'm not particularly good at math, and in fact I'm terrified of advanced equations.

Still, math does not, um, equate to terrorism,.

Except for one paranoid woman aboard a recent airline flight who decided that the professorial guy next to her scribbling math equations just had to be a terrorist.

Why else would a guy intently work on complicated math equations unless he was a terrorist plotting to blow up the plane?

Because if you're doing math equations, the next step is to build a bomb and set it off, right?  Never mind you can't just build a bomb out of nothing but math equations, but whatever.

This guy really had to be a terrorist because he had olive colored skin, had dark curly hair and spoke with a foreign accent.

Everybody who is not lily white is a terrorist, right?

At least that's what one really weird, paranoid woman apparently thought. She delayed a flight from Philadelphia to Syracuse the other day for two hours because she reported the guy next to her as a terrorist.

The guy doing math.

As Catherine Rampell in the Washington Post writes, the woman saw Something.

"That Something she'd seen had been her seatmate's cryptic notes, scrawled in a script she didn't recognize. Maybe it was code, or some foreign lettering, possibly the details of a plot to destroy the dozens of innocent lives aboard American Airlines Flight 3930.

She may have felt it her duty to alert the authorities just to be safe. The curly-haired man was, the agent informed him politely, suspected of terrorism."

It turns out the "terrorist" doing math is Guido Menzio, a brilliant Ivy League economist and among many other awards, was declared the best Italian economist under age 40, says the Washington Post.

He was doing math as part of his focus on search theory, which is too technical to get into here.

It seems that anything anybody does now is suspicious.

I'm afraid I'm going to get kicked off a flight soon for my behavior. On flights, I sometimes read books. Not on a Kindle or something like that, but a physical book. Nobody does that anymore. That's suspicious.

Plus, I'm a hopeless weather geek. If I have a window seat and see some particularly interesting clouds, I'll sometimes snap a photo of them with my smart phone. Taking pictures aboard a plane?


Luckily I'm white, so Paranoid America won't suspect me as much as some Italian mathematician, who has darker skin.

For his part, Menzio told the Washington Post he was treated respectfully through the whole thing, but he is troubled by the ignorance of his fellow passenger, and a rigid security protocol that stops everything for often no reason, and relies on people who are clueless.

The Paranoid Woman didn't reboard the flight, safe in the knowledge the mathematics didn't kill her.

Or anybody else.

Lesson learned: Don't do math on a plane.

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