Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Fire in the Hole

From the Season's Bleedings file comes this Christmas heartwarmer:

COLTON, Ore. -- A 2-year-old girl was accidentally shot in the cheek Christmas morning by a family member that was cleaning a .45 caliber handgun, the Colton Fire Department said.

The toddler is in stable condition and is expected to survive, the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office said.

According to the sheriff's office, the child's 24-year-old uncle was cleaning his gun when it went off. The bullet went out the other side of the girl's cheek, officials said.

The shooting appears to be accidental, and Sergeant Don Boone said he expects no charges will be filed.

Okay, someone needs to explain to me why no charges are being filed. Obviously it was unintentional, but there is criminal negligence here, in that this guy is a fucking moron who shouldn't be allowed to have a goddamned gun in the first place.

Sgt. Boone added that one of the cardinal rules of gun cleaning is you always unload your gun, and always assume that it's loaded.

Gee, ya think so, Deputy Fife? Jesus H. Bushmaster Christ, it seems that pretty much everyone except the fucktard who shot his two-year-old niece through the cheek KNOWS THAT. This is pathetic. I personally know full-on gun nuts who would want this asshole strung up by the balls, just for being a complete idiot. It's people like that who make responsible gun owners look bad.

I really don't understand, will never understand, why there are never any charges when these "accidents" occur. This was unintentional, but it's no accident, anymore than it's an accident when a little kid goes over to Grampa's house and finds his loaded Desert Eagle under the bed. Everyone has a sad and no consequences are pursued over the completely unnecessary, completely preventable death.

It's really galling to think that this is somehow the grisly price we've collectively agreed to pay in order to have an infinite supply of guns. Gun rights folks are consistent in saying that existing laws should be enforced, rather than devising new ways to hinder responsible ownership. Very well then, let us take them at their word. Prosecute these dumb motherfuckers already. Stop letting them off the hook. A person who leaves a loaded gun around where a little kid can find it, or who farts around with a gun while a little kid is in the room, is not a responsible owner. They might as well leave a can of gasoline and a lighter sitting in the middle of a preschool playroom. It's time they were treated as such.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Rebels Without Pause

After a year punctuated more and more by health scares and cancelled shows, Lemmy has died. The seemingly indestructible icon passed just a couple of days after turning 70 on Christmas Eve, and just two weeks after ending the most recent leg of their world tour.

I only got to see Motörhead in concert once, back in 2001, but it was one of the most memorable shows out of the dozens I've been to over the years. For one, the venue in Chico, then known as the Brick Works, was small, maybe 500 in capacity but probably more like 300. For another, the band had arrived several hours before the show and headed straight for the all-day bar (Panama's) next door. A friend of mine called me at work at about 4:00, saying, "Guess who's sitting at the bar at Panama's?". I broke off early and headed over, and of course Lemmy was still sitting there, by himself, as the bar didn't usually pick up until 6:00 or so.

Some people are afraid to meet their idols, too intimidated, don't know what they'd say, whatever. I'm not one of those people; not that I know what to say, but those opportunities are rare and you shouldn't pass them up when they come along.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Have It Your Way, Part 3: Your Call Is Important to Us

A short parable about customer service in the era of optimization:

Since I live in a fairly rural area of Northern California (although I can literally see Interstate 5 from my property, the area is sparsely populated), we've always had substandard internets speed. For the last four or five years I've had what AT&T calls (presumably tongue-in-cheek) DSL service, which means a "guaranteed window" between 250-750kbps. Yes, that's right, in a country and state where the majority of folks would sneer at a megabyte per second, we've had to put up with this bullshit download rate. There simply weren't any other options for the area.

Finally, at the beginning of October, I took a week of "vacation" from work, ostensibly to work on an ever-growing pile of side projects and honey-dos. After a couple days of watching my downloads slow to a fucking crawl, I ran hourly speed tests, averaged them out at under 100kbps (barely more than dial-up, fer chrissake), and called their tech line. They sent out a tech who helpfully told me I was shit out of luck.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Have It Your Way, Part 2: The Trumpening

(A real thing, by the way. Ain't 'murka grate?)

The nineteenth season of South Park just ended, and the final trilogy of episodes contained an intriguing premise -- the idea that advertisements (especially internet ads), through quickly accelerating iterations of evolution, are gaining sentience. Between the ubiquitous pop-ups, embeds, "sponsored content" posing as news, and the cookie-reading that enables the sites you visit to know what you looking at on Amazon, the show raises two essential points:

  • Already it is difficult for many, if not most, people to differentiate between an advertisement and an actual news item.
  • It's only a matter of time before we won't know the difference between a sentient, three-dimensional ad and a living, breathing human being.

The second point is for now the stuff of Dickian sci-fi, but given that author's track record so far, that future is probably much nearer than it seems. Maybe it'll come from the military engineering and tweaking robot warriors, or it could be open-sourced from the bottom. Whether it's Big Brother or Little Brother or both, the tech is improving, probably more rapidly than we know. We are used to hearing about the more sinister Terminator-style possibilities of weaponized mayhem, or aggregated domestic spying. But it's equally likely that it would be used by advertising weasels to continue their never-ending quest to monetize literally everything you see, hear, read, talk to, fuck, or otherwise experience or interact with.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Have It Your Way

One of the cornerstone concepts we covered in MBA grad school was customer service. By "cornerstone" I mean that this idea underpinned every facet, every class that made up the program, from supply chain management to finance to drawing up the dreaded weebis. It was very much a central theme by choice rather than absolute necessity, not unlike writing a history of the world from the viewpoint of, say, Sicily, or organizing musical theory around the Lydian mode (or, for that matter, the major scale, instead of some other scale).

Until relatively recently, business clichés such as "the customer is always right" existed alongside sayings such as "you break it, you bought it", and in practice the relationship was one of patronage; i.e., business>consumer. The lack of logistics and technology made the relationship much more of a dependent one, to a degree that would be difficult to explain to a much-derided millennial -- perhaps as difficult as explaining to them why phones used to be rotary-dial, or that television was not always in color, much less in high-definition resolution.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Bullshit By Numbers

After being spurred on by a headline from tomorrow regarding yet more Trump bafflegab, I felt compelled to once again take a bullet for y'all, and listen to the full rally to see if there was even a little bit of context or elaboration. Let's begin with the nonsense in question:

Republican front-runner Donald Trump promised his approach to terrorism would be "so tough you don't want to hear" during a raucous rally in Raleigh, North Carolina.

With nearly half the 50-minute event devoted to audience questions, Trump talked up the value of waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques and told a questioner he would take a very different approach to terrorism than President Obama.

"We are going to handle it so tough," Trump said. "I would handle it so tough you would have no idea."

Okay, well, suppose you give us some idea, genius. That's kinda how this is supposed to work. Put it this way -- we want to hear, we would like to have an idea. Quit sounding like a twelve-year-old scaredy-bragging about he's like rilly rilly gonna kick yer ass like soooo fuckin' hard, you don't even wanna know. And his dad can beat up your dad.

He also said the attacks in Paris and shootings in San Bernardino could have ended differently if the victims had been armed.

"If the people in Paris or California, if you had a couple of folks in there with guns, and that knew how to use them, and they were in that room, you wouldn't have dead people, the dead people would be the other guys," Trump said.
You mean like armed security guards or cops? They didn't have any security at the Bataclan?

Two of the six security agents on duty that night were stationed at the main door, and they rushed to open up the emergency exits when the first shots rang out. "Didi," who was overseeing security at the Bataclan, told French daily Le Monde that the attackers fired at the security team and shattered the glass windows in the entrance of the hall.

So the first five minutes or so are about how awesome Mister Man is doing in the polls. Of particular note is how he's kicking the shit out Hitlery in the head-to-head polls, how it's not even close. Well, the flaming lie-berals at Real Clear Politics seem to disagree.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

The Family That Preys Together

Right now just about everything you're reading and hearing about the massacre in San Bernardino is speculation, whether it's the usual "completely pulled outta my ass" type that clutters the internets, or the perhaps more pernicious sort that takes known facts as they drip out to the public, and conflates them with long-held assumptions and prejudices.

So it's no surprise that when the name of the main gunman is found to be Syed Farook, it's only a matter of time before someone says "ISIS". It's as predictable as the sun rising in the east, or Charlie Sheen having every sexually transmittable disease known to man, and probably more than a few that were previously confined to livestock.

What can we observe about ISIS' terrorist efforts so far, or the efforts of al Qaeda or Islamic terrorist attacks in general? When they attack targets in the West, what sort of targets do they tend to be? Densely populated areas of cities that everyone in the world has heard of -- New York, Paris, London, Madrid. There are pretty obvious reasons for choosing such targets.

Have you ever been to San Bernardino? As a kid, I lived for several years just a half-hour up the I-10 from it. I know it very well. There is nothing distinguishing about it; it is basically one of the last few cities of any appreciable size on the way to Vegas from LA. I'd bet that a good number of Americans outside of California don't know where it is, and certainly nobody outside the country would know of it unless they've been or have people there.

Put it this way:  San Bernardino is not a place for a fanatic representing an internationally-based religious terrorist group to Make A Statement. That doesn't mean that it's impossible that it's ISIS, just unlikely. Added to that the other known fact that as of this hour, the shooting occurred at a holiday party of county employees, and Farook was a fellow employee, and you have a far more mundane -- and almost uniquely American -- dynamic, that of the disgruntled psycho.

Get ready for the usual idle speculation and fabulism all the same, since a good chunk of us have collectively decided that "facts" and "knowledge" and "evidence" have no value, and are merely quaint notions that our ancestors were forced to deal with in simpler times. Now you can just make shit up, put it on the internets, get people to like it and share it, no problem. Hell, you can be full of shit and proud of it, and run for president.

When tragedies like this occur, another dopey (but harmless) custom in the online era is to Show Your Support by taking a couple seconds and typing "prayers to the families" or some such. Coming from random strangers across the ether, it's a nice enough thought, if easy and essentially without real power or lasting impact. Je suis Charlie and all that.

But when those anodyne electro-homilies emanate from the pulpits of the various hyper-christians vying for the Grand Deacon spot, and every one of said godly men promise to do everything they can to retain the current status quo that has resulted in more than one mass shooting every day this year, the words not only ring hollow, they sting a little. We know that none of these men would do anything at all to curb lunatics from acquiring as many assault rifles and banana clips as they can carry. That's not speculation; they are not at all shy about telling you this fact as a selling point.

So really the only surprise in this sordid narrative so far is that a fairly well-known publication has actually stepped up and said in response to those men, "Your prayers mean jack shit." That is a rare thing. This nation's political and speechifying discourse is rotten with pointless benedictions and catch-phrases, and we're all just supposed sit and listen quietly and pretend to be respectful, knowing full well that they don't respect anyone who believes differently from them.

Can you imagine the outcry if the sekrit mooooslin in the White House failed to end a speech with "God bless America"? The people who will tell you till they're blue in the face that Obama is a traitor who has irreparably fucked up this country are the exact same ones who will yammer on and on about being gawwwd's most favrit nation. Okay, well, if He likes us so danged much, then why did he saddle us with Black Hitler for eight years, hunh, hmm? They don't seem to have an answer for that one, they just continue jabbering in their Idiocracy patois of barely decipherable grunts and squawks. Seriously, pick any ten random comments from the Breitbart link. These morons make YouTube commenters look like Rhodes scholars.

It needed to be said, and it's a good thing that someone finally said it out loud. Again, prayers and kind thoughts from strangers are nice, if essentially without a practical function. Coming from politicians who can actually affect policies that would in turn affect or even prevent future incidents like this, which have become alarmingly routine, it's at best an empty sentiment, at worst a flat-out insult. I'm not necessarily convinced that any or all proposed gun control measures would work -- again, we don't have very many facts at all right now -- but I can definitely tell you one thing that will not bring any of the slaughtered back, nor prevent the next inevitable incident.