Monday, June 13, 2016

Another Mass Shooting.

Another mass killing. This time a gay nightclub in Orlando. 50 dead and counting. The usual expected responses from the pro-gun crowd, the anti-gun crowd, religious and not-so religious homophobes, and politicians of all stripes. I'm not quite sold on the terrorism angle yet, even if the suspect called 9/11 and said so. And of course ISIS will accept him as one of their own. I think he was a homophobic American citizen with Islamist leanings who flipped, acquired a legally available automatic rifle and starting shooting. It doesn't take much planning or support from ISIS to do this. 

But I want to address the gun issue. 
Because it's easy for us non-Americans to shake our heads, tut and wag our fingers and say all guns should be banned, you savages. This seems logical for us since firearms aren’t easily accessible in most other Western countries: why can't you be like us? Yet it's not as clear cut as we'd like it to be.
The current reality is that firearms are readily available, most people can legally buy them and controls vary from strict to lax depending on the state. A lot of people accept them as part of daily life. But criminals can access weapons too, and not just those available to the general public. So the self-defense "if you criminalize guns, then only criminals will have guns" argument is not entirely false. The gun culture is so ingrained in US life via popular culture and the Constitution that changing this will be nigh on impossible. And just imagine the logistics (not to mention the societal impact) of enforcing a total ban: there are hundreds of millions of weapons out there. How do you find them and, more importantly, confiscate them? Kicking down doors at 4am? House to house searches? And what about those buried in fields, gardens, out in the desert? Hmm? A total ban might make emotional sense, but it's not practical. 

That said, it's been established beyond doubt that firearms are a psychologically "easy" way to kill large numbers of people. So it follows that if these weapons weren't easily accessible, a significant number of these mass murders probably wouldn't have happened. It's quicker & psychologically easier to shoot large numbers of people from even a short distance than to stab or beat them, face to face, with blades or blunt instruments. You don't get covered in their blood, feel their dying breath, see the shock, pain and terror in their faces or hear much when you have an automatic weapon rattling in your ear, ten meters or more away from your victims. 
Would all these mass shooters likely have been mass stabbers or bludgeoners in the absence of easy access to firearms? Probably not. But it’s clear that easy access to these weapons means easy access to killing lots of people quickly in the heat of the moment. 

When something like this happens, both sides come out swinging with the usual arguments: on one side you have “ban all guns” and the other side “let everyone have guns so the good guys can defend themselves”. Both of these are very naïve positions and are emotional rather than logical reactions.

I’m not saying anything new here and don’t have a solution. I’m just throwing my two cents worth out there.

Owning firearms is a responsibility as well as a right. You need a mandatory driving license to operate a motor vehicle. You need to pass tests to show that you understand how to drive safely and that you won’t be a danger to others.  This is a requirement, and cars aren’t even designed for killing. So why not a mandatory firearms license stating that you’ve passed a training course on firearms safety AND (because firearms have only one purpose: killing) you accept responsibility for securing your weapon when not using it. This training course could also verify that the applicant is mentally stable enough to responsibly own a weapon. If your weapon is used by another person because you irresponsibly left it readily accessible, then you should to a certain extent be responsible for what happens next. Maybe this is already the case in certain jurisdictions? I don’t know.

Yes, more bureaucracy, more administration. I know what the response to this will be, but at a certain point there has to be some kind of regulation. To what degree? I don’t know. I think it’s needed and it’s probably possible without touching the single-sentence Second Amendment. 

Enough people have died. But unfortunately again, once the media frenzy dies down, it’ll be back to normal until the next one.* Lather, rinse, repeat. And yes, there will be a next one. Have no doubt about it.

If nothing changes, then the American people will have to accept that these mass killings are the price to pay for the status quo vis à vis gun rights.

And to supporters of the status quo I say this:
I sincerely hope it never happens, but the day you get a call telling you that a loved one was shot by some misguided fool who had no trouble getting his hands on a gun and decided to make things “right”, I can only say I’m sorry for your tragic loss. 

*I started drafting this after the shooting in Charleston last year. It never ends. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Nimble fingers on the metro

So my phone got nicked.

Picture it. 6:45pm. April 24th, 2015. Paris. Metro Republique. 

I'm in a bit of a rush after work, changing metro lines. I'm tired, loaded down with a few bags, listening to a podcast on my iphone, and given that it's warm, wearing a suit jacket and not my usual overcoat. 
With the overcoat I usually have my hands in my pockets to control the volume of my phone, but since I wasn't wearing it, I had my phone in my jacket outside pocket, right side. But I'm listening to it, right? If someone tries to take it I'll hear the audio stop & I'll  have time to react. 



I don't know where and when they spotted me but they did. Rushing, loaded down, iphone earbuds going into my easily accessible suit jacket pocket. 

Easy prey.

Quite impressive, really. Coming up the stairs in a crowd (there was a delay so the platform was crowded). Lots of people. The voice in my ear stops, so I put my hand in my pocket to turn it up. Phone's not where it should be. I pat my pocket & look down to see the audio jack swinging in the wind. 


I check my other pockets in case I moved it without thinking. Nope. It's gone. I look all around. Anything suspicious ? 
Yes, there, about 10 metres away. Frantic, fidgety movements. 2 kids standing close together in the crowd, face to face, heads down, glancing over at me then quickly looking away. They're about 16, 17 years old, a boy & a girl, slightly built. He's wearing a white tshirt and light coloured jeans. She's wearing a short black jacket and light jeans and she has a black backpack that they're both fidgeting with.
They glance at me again and look away quickly. The train's pulling in now & they head for it, flashing another quick glance at me one last time. So I run for it & get on with them. I'm hoping I can get to them before they hand it off to someone else. If they've already done that, then it's gone.  

I tap the guy on the shoulder.

"Did you find a phone?"
"Did I find a phone?! What're you talking about?"

-Did you find a phone?
-Uh, no, I didn't. Do you think I stole a phone?

-Well did you?
-no, why are you saying that?

He has an accent I can't place. The girl starts this kind of keening in a language I don't recognise as if to say "what's happening, what does he want, I'm afraid" and puts on this "I'm just a poor weak little girl who doesn't know anything" kind of demeanor that's designed to make me pity her. 

-You looked over at me on the platform & looked away when I looked back. At least 3 times. Why were you looking at me?
-I wasn't looking at you. 

The girl whines another thing or two.

-Yes you were. Why?
-I wasn't. I didn't take anything. 

He starts to raise his voice. 
-you're saying I stole your phone?
-did you?

Other passengers get involved. 
-You should call the police. 
-get metro security

Several of them try calling, but of course there's no signal. Some suggest getting off the train but I know the second we're on the platform they'll bolt like rabbits. 

-we're getting the police.
-get the police. I don't have your phone. I didn't do anything

-well, we'll see.
-and if you're wrong?

-if I'm wrong I'll apologise.
-just leave us alone. we didn't do anything. 

He's getting aggressive again. Several passengers tell him there's no point in getting excited - if he has nothing to hide then it'll be fine.
By now she's taken a seat, and he does too. He starts to get up again going on about how I'm full of shit. I'm watching his hands in case he tries to take a swing at me, but there are too many people around and I'm sure he won't. 
She goes to stand and seemingly tells him to calm down, but he shoves her roughly back onto the seat and growls something at me again along the lines of my being a pain in their ass. 

I tell him to chill out & sit back down again. He backs off. It's all a show. 

By now we've gone a station beyond my usual stop. 

-ok, now what? he says, lounging on his seat with the barest hint of a smirk. 

Good question, I say to myself. The smug little fucker is right. If he doesn't have it, then there's nothing. No point calling the cops or anything. It's gone. 

-empty your pockets. 

He's only wearing a light tshirt & jeans, it's obvious there isn't an iPhone 6 in a lifeproof case in there. 

-look. my pockets. want to put your hands in there? Go on, put your hands in, go on!

-you too, miss. I'm not touching you, show me your pockets and open the bag.

She shows me her jacket pockets, jeans pockets. The bag is empty except for what looks like a crappy old charger for an ancient phone. 

As I feared, they've already handed it off. Fuckers. 

Not only that, but they've gotten me far away from the person they gave it to. And I walked right into it. In hindsight it's obvious they wanted me to follow them. 

I'm two stops beyond my usual one. 

-It's gone, I say to no-one in general, I 'm getting off here. 

So I get off. Phoneless. 

I'm lucky enough that I can afford another one, within 24 hours I was back up and running. And no-one got hurt. 

But fucking scumbag parasites like that really piss me off. What's particularly annoying is that they're really good at this. They're smart, they work in teams and you're manipulated all the way. 

This is the first time in my 40 years around the sun that I've been pickpocketed, 15 of them travelling the Paris metro several times daily. I've always been careful. 
I suppose I became complacent, sure that after all this time without incident I had it figured out, and that only stupid tourists get their stuff lifted.  

Hubris is a bitch. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Carl Sagan - A few links worth perusing

The first five awe-inspiring minutes of Carl Sagan's award-winning Cosmos series.

Carl Sagan reading the now-legendary Pale Blue Dot passage from the book of the same name.

Carl Sagan on the Tonight Show hosted by John Denver, standing in for Johnny Carson; classic Carl Sagan.

The Demon Haunted World: The classic work on critical and skeptical thinking. It's a lifechanger.

Carl Sagan interviewed by Ted Turner circa 1989. This is part 1 of a 5 part series on YouTube, Carl Sagan at his best in describing our common humanity, space, the benefits of scientific literacy and the fragility of our  world. Classic Sagan - time very well spent.

Carl Sagan's Baloney Detection Kit: The classic tool for critical thinking and detecting fallacious and/or fraudulent arguments, and a lot of other resources.

Posted via email from John's posterous

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fix for iTunes Store hanging at "Accessing iTunes Store"

Just found this, hope it helps someone :)

FYI: I'm running iTunes 10.5 on Windows 7 (64 bit), but apparently this works on Mac OS may be due to upgrading o 10.5 last week, but I'm not certain that's what caused it. Anyway, on to the fix!


when you do anything in  iTunes Store, itunes seems to hang showing "Accessing iTunes Store" in the banner.


  • Open iTunes - go to the top bar, click the 'Store' drop down menu
  • Then click 'De-authorise this Computer'
  • Enter your password
  • Close & relaunch iTunes
  • Click 'Store' again then click 'Re-authorise this Computer
  • Enter password

et voila, the store should work properly again!


Posted via email from John's posterous