Monday, November 11, 2013

Scotland Trip Report

I flew to Scotland last week to participate in a conference on the security dimensions of the referendum next year on Scotland's independence.  I learned much, as I have never studied Scottish nationalism.  I presented an argument about how irrelevant the referendum would be outside of the UK, based on my previous work on the limited virulence of separatism. 

I chatted with some Scottish nationalists who were pro-independence.  I did not find them very persuasive, but perhaps I am a victim of confirmation bias.  I kept on seeing Quebec: no, separation will produce no uncertainty, the transition will be easy and quick with few costs, the national government sucks, and so on. 

My bias is that groups in advanced democracies that already have heaps of political power and access to the political system do not need to separate.  I also think that 50% plus one is a crappy threshold for major political change.  So, I did not warm for their form, even though my message, that the rest of the world will not care about the precedents the Scots might set, was one that was favorable to them--one less cost to get in the way of that happy place with unicorn-flavored haggis or haggis-flavored unicorns.  It does not look like the referendum will be won by the separatists, but stranger things have happened. 

What else did I learn on this trip?
  • Scotland is very wet.
  • Driving on the wrong side of the road is particularly scary in Scotland as the roads are narrow, twisty and narrow. 
    • Especially if you are driving a big SUV.
  • Flying is both better and worse than before
    • United initiated its new electronic policy the day I left for Scotland, so I could keep on my ipad throughout the flight.  Woot!
    • United changed its Silver benefits so I no longer get put on the upgrade list.  I didn't get upgraded often, but it was cool when that happened.  I hope that they don't change the deal any further.
    • A tip flying in Newark--Terminal C has three entrances--1 and 3 have TSA precheck which means short lines, no removing belts or shoes or coats, etc.  If you have TSA precheck and you need to make a connection at C, go to the security that is not in the middle even it means walking a bit.  You will most likely save time.
    • I did not enjoy my last flight as I was stuck between two guys who were saying stupid things about Obamacare.  Oy.
  • Heaps of movies to catch up.  Best was Way Way Back.  By a mile.  Just a very good movie, very engaging.
    • Worst?  Hmmm.  Much selection bias since I tend to watch bad movies on airlines since I have seen the good ones.  But probably Man of Steel.  It had some decent parts (Amy Adams, Diane Lane, the super guy was ok), but the Russell Crowe stuff was silly, Zod was lame, and Superman + the US military destroyed Smallville and then Metropolus.  Just take the battle to the farmlands or the arctic.  Holy lousy protector of humanity, Batman!
    • Hangover III was pretty awful, but had a nice Billy Joel running gag in it.  Alas, they did not keep it up at the end.
    • 2 Guns, with Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg and Paula Patton was mildly entertaining but also incredibly stupid.  Lots of interesting politics in it, with interesting criticisms of the drug war, the usual fear-mongering of the CIA's role in the transport of drugs, and so on.  The stuff with Patton was the most interesting in terms of plot, character, and aethetics.  I will not spoil it, but she should get more work as a femme fatale.

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