As Thick as Two Short Plancks

So the European Space Agency have proudly released their all-sky image of the universe, and quite stunning it is too. Bravo. Except, no. On reading further and hoping to access high-resolution images I find that one is not available. As Dr Tauber explains on the BBC web site, “We have also reduced the resolution of the image to something which is more manageable for people to look at. Otherwise it would just be too big.” What a bunch of conceited scumbags these people are.

NASA releases masses of high-definition imagery all the time, from Hubble, from Mars, from everything, and what a joy it is. I’m not sure whether I’m more annoyed at ESA treating us as imbeciles, “just too big” for us to look at indeed, or for their academic selfishness in purposely withholding scientifically and culturally significant material. Apparently “one or two groups” have already tried to make “unauthorised interpretations”. How shocking, and how backward this is.

I’m not happy. I think either a change of policy is required, or a change of personnel followed by a change of policy.

Not Google Earth View (Copyright ESA)

Lights, Camera, Action

Most commentators have stopped saying Derrick Bird “snapped” and are now thrashing around instead to find his motive. I think we may need to go back forty years for that. Derrick Bird was born in 1957, and I think it may be significant that he was born within a few years of two other mass-murders, Michael Ryan (Hungerford) born in 1960, Thomas Hamilton (Dunblane) born in 1952. So I think it’s not the year they committed their crime that matters, nor their age at the time, but that they were young and impressionable when Hollywood released films such as these:

Get Carter (1971)
High Plains Drifter (1973)
Death Wish (1974)
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

These were highly acclaimed ultra-violent films that dealt with retribution, portraying a solitary individual successfully exacting revenge and being widely admired by the cinema-going pubic for it. Allowing of course that each of these three murderers had different “triggers” that prompted them to put their fantasies into effect, I do think it’s possible films such as these could have provided them with a rationale for their actions. That was to settle scores and die in a blaze of glory. In their world, the outcomes were justified.

Here’s the score-settling tally for Bird: He settled scores with his brother and the family solicitor over a family dispute; he settled scores with his taxi-driving colleagues over alleged fare stealing; he tried to settle a score with a scuba-diving instructor; and he targeted passers-by seemingly at random. I wonder if they weren’t as random as we imagine, but perhaps they represented fare-paying passengers who he felt had disrespected him in some way. I can certainly imagine as a taxi driver he might have a problem with cyclists. I’m not saying all taxi drivers do or should, but seeing as he now seems to be an intolerant individual maybe he saw cyclists generally as a nuisance. So, see one, kill one. Likewise if he sees someone who reminds him of passengers who never tip, or someone who might have thrown-up in his cab once, or maybe even the guy who robbed him. It’s death by association.

You need the means and you need the motive to carry out something like this, but I think you also crucially need the self-justification.

Outrage >> Knee >> Jerk

It had to happen. It’s been years since we had a shooting outrage, but within minutes of the latest one, and on the basis of no knowledge whatsoever, we have the first knee-jerk reactions calling for tighter gun control.

First of all it has been reported that this guy held his license for 15 years. Is there any possibility whatsoever we could make gun license applicants wait fifteen years to see if they were going to do anything stupid? On top of all the other existing conditions and restrictions? Would that work? Of course not. In the 15 years he held his license, some 750 people (as near as I can find out right now) have been shot dead by people not licensed to carry guns.

It is suggested that he “snapped”, perhaps provoked in a family dispute. It has also been reported he told a taxi driver he’d argued with the night before, “There’s going to be a rampage tomorrow,” and then he went home and armed himself with two weapons. He was dissuaded on that occasion by a friend’s daughter. I feel desperately sorry for her right now, how must she feel? But at that point, even then could he have been stopped? How many people get angry but never follow through? Could she have reported him? What if it turned out he was only making an idle threat? It must happen a million times. How about the hospital where he is supposed to have gone for help, only to be turned away?

In the event, after killing his twin brother, he calmly went to the home of the family solicitor, waited for him and killed him, before going to Whitehaven to settle a grudge with former co-drivers. That done, and all in cold blood, he went off on his killing spree. It doesn’t seem to me he “snapped”, he made a calculated decision and followed it through. Even the killing of his brother could not have been a “snap” decision, it occurred at a quarry and not at the home of either of them. So they met there, and Bird took his guns with him.

How do we legislate against that, other than “No guns, no way”? I think everyone who’s asking that question right now is asking the wrong question. I would be much more interested in a debate about personal responsibility. He was able to rationalise his actions before he took them. How did he get there? I think that’s the more frightening aspect.

OMG, I am so honoured!

This has just landed in my in-box, and frankly I am overwhelmed. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who nominated me, I feel so humbled to receive your recognition. My life will not be the same after this. Who is the Presidential Who’s Who anyway?

Dear Mark,

You were recently chosen as a potential candidate to represent your professional community in the 2010 Edition of Presidential Who’s Who.

We are please to inform you that your candidacy was formally approved February 28th, 2010. Congratulations.

The Publishing Committee selected you as a potential candidate based not only upon your current standing, but focusing as well on criteria from executive and professional directories, associations, and trade journals. Given your background, the Director believes your profile makes a fitting addition to our publication.

There is no fee nor obligation to be listed. As we are working off of secondary sources, we must receive verification from you that your profile is accurate. After receiving verification, we will validate your registry listing within seven business days.

Once finalized, your listing will share prominent registry space with thousands of fellow accomplished individuals across the globe, each representing accomplishment within their own geographical area.

To verify your profile and accept the candidacy, please visit here. Our registration deadline for this year’s candidates is March 31th, 2010. To ensure you are included, we must receive your verification on or before this date. On behalf of our Committee I salute your achievement and welcome you to our association.

MarkAnthony McGuiness
Chief Operations Officer

Presidential Who’s Who
134 Rockaway Ave
Valley Stream, NY 11590, USA

How much is Free Speech worth?

There’s an old saying along the lines that something free is only worth what you paid for it, or put another way, if it’s free it isn’t worth having. So what of free speech? What good does it actually do us? I can see how in times past it was a serious matter that you should be able to criticise the king without fear of losing your head, or challenge religious orthodoxy, or develop new scientific thinking. Free speech has enabled civilisation to advance, it was crucial to the spread of new ideas, new thinking, new understanding. But as crucial as it was, free speech did not represent new ideas, new thinking or new understanding, it was merely the tool to bring them about. Today we have a lobby that worships free speech as if it were an end in itself. There is a scene in “Life of Brian” where the fleeing anti-hero loses a sandal and some of the chasing mob pick it up and worship it. Free speech should be something we use to get from A to B, like a sandal, and that’s all it is. That’s not to say it’s bad, that’s not to say we shouldn’t have it, that’s not an attack on free speech as a concept.

Where we do have a problem with free speech is with the zealots who worship it and who strive to extend it’s boundaries beyond reason, the sandal worshipers in that Python film in other words. To them, it is perfectly okay to insult Christians, it is perfectly okay to insult Jews and it is perfectly okay to insult Moslems. To them, free speech is paramount, it matters above all else. If they see that any Moslems, for example, are offended by cartoons mocking the Prophet then it becomes a matter of principle to them to torment those Moslems beyond endurance. Free speech is paramount. Free speech must prevail. The Christians and Jews have already been beaten into submission by the free speech lobby, but is that right? To complain or criticise on the basis of reasoned rational thought is one thing, but should it be acceptable to insult anyone for no reason other than to extend the limits of free speech? It is almost a religious obsession with some of the free speech fanatics, just criticise them and see the reaction. The irony would be lost on them.

The problem is that free speech is not being used to advance new ideas, new thinking or new understanding. It has been hijacked by those who are intolerant. To them the feelings of other people are an irrelevance before the altar of free speech. No one who is hurt to see their sincerely-held faith mocked, or is offended by foul or abusive language, actually matters. Indeed, it sometimes seems they are deliberately targeted for offence. Free speech did not come to us for free, it was hard won and a high price was paid for it. Right now we have lost it, and it is not doing us any good. On the one side we have whistle-blowers trying to tell us about corruption in Europe and who are being suppressed. Where are the free speech zealots when you need them, banging their drums and demanding attention? On the other side we have idiot Danish cartoonists who become a cause celebre instead. We need to win back free speech, it is too important to allow the zealots to run riot with. I am never going to stand up and defend the right of someone to be gratuitously offensive.

Does Blogging make you a better person?

There has been some debate recently about freedom of speech, moderation, flame wars, leaving in a huff, learning to live with criticism, differences of opinion – a whole raft of aspects really. The most popular topic on the MyTelegraph blog site is – blogging. There seems to be very little sympathy however for the effete, the shrinking violet, the gentle soul. The attitude is if you can’t stand the heat you should get out of the kitchen. Me? I’ve been around the block a bit when it comes to blogging, and posting on USENET before that. How many of you even know what USENET is, never mind have used it? rec.humour.funny, remember it well, alt.flame, another cracker and, where I cut my teeth. It is certainly true that many people develop a thick skin and can look after themselves well in what can be an unremittingly viscious environment. And it can be that at times. What we have on MyTelegraph these days is like the proverbial vicarage tea party. Even so, we see people storm off in high dudgeon and I’ve seen that before, oh so many times.

Why do I believe my premise is true? Well you might believe that what you have to do to survive is develop a thick skin and learn to fight back when attacked. You could pick up some flaming techniques from the experts and you might even get quite good at it yourself. But I don’t think that’s what makes you a better person. What I think could make you a better person is if you learn to read between the lines, behind the actual words being used. If you learn to use words yourself with care. If you develop toleration not just of the views of others but of the way they express themselves. If you develop a skill at understanding someone else, you will learn so much more about life, about other people, and those are skills you can use in everyday life too. Life’s too short to worry about punctuation. Life’s too short to take offense where none was intended. The neat thing is, if you learn to ignore what you wrongly perceive to be an insult directed at you, you will learn to ignore real insults when they are intended. That’s actually quite a useful trait. By then you have probably learned what causes offense to others in the way you communicate, especially when you don’t intend it. That’s especially valuable to learn.

So I believe that blogging can make you a better person, if you wish it to.