Places I should be traveling to

NASA posted high resolution scans of all the Apollo photos, so obviously I had to browse through them. A few thoughts:

When you see the Apollo Lunar Excursion Module at high resolution, or in real life, it looks really crap. It’s like something welded together out of dented leftover sheet metal and wrapped in aluminium foil. Obviously part of the design problem was making it as lightweight as possible, but it’s hard to believe that something so flimsy looking landed on the moon and took off again. (Well, about half of it took off again, anyway.) I’d be scared to fly to Houston in that thing.

I wondered why the astronauts took 80 almost identical photos of a camera, until I realized that the photos were taken from the lunar rover, and showed totally different areas of the moon which all look almost exactly the same. Just featureless grey landscape with no way to judge distance or make out landmarks.

The photos get better with successive missions. Presumably NASA gave the astronauts more camera training, in the hope of getting better photos that would recapture the public’s interest and increase support for continuing with the program.

Imagine if the astronauts had had 4K video cameras and we could see moving pictures with the resolution of the Flickr uploads.


News in brief

Saudi Arabia still plans to literally crucify a young man arrested and convicted of protesting against the government, who was 17 at the time. UK Prime Minister David 🐷 Cameron has apparently urged the Saudis not to crucify him. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is still heading a UN Human Rights Council Panel. Thanks to Wikileaks, we now know that they got to head that panel because of a sleazy backroom deal with the UK.

The 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner bombed the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize Winner.

Dr Ben Carson, Republican presidential candidate, said that if he was President he would probably skip going to Oregon in the wake of the latest school shooting, and just go to the next one instead. He also offered the helpful advice that if he had been in Oregon, he wouldn’t have just stood there and let the gunman shoot him.

A Christian group in the US predicts that the world will end tomorrow. In the light of the above news, I think I’m reasonably OK with that possibility.


Quote of the week

Why so many mass shootings? Breitbart weighs in:

[…] heterosexual men are being told, constantly, by the media and even in schools, that what they are is bad. This, I submit, is at least in part what’s driving the recent spate of shootings.

The media trash-talks everything men love: guns, booze, boisterousness, drugs, sex and video games. Economic pressures are relentlessly stripping away male spaces like the traditional pub, where blokes can drink and bond. Social pressures are opening up male-only golf and social clubs to women, destroying what made them precious and essential.

If only the school hadn’t closed their male-only golf club.

Man purses

I carry a bag with me when I go places. I usually have some sort of electronic device, a camera, maybe some sunglasses, other assorted junk — more than will fit in pockets. I used to use army surplus canvas shoulder bags, but the quality dropped so fast during the 90s that eventually they would only last a year or two before developing major holes. Eventually I gave in and bought a Timbuk2 custom messenger bag. That was over 10 years ago. Since then, I’ve used it practically every day. Any time I leave the house, it goes with me.

Today I finally decided the bag was too scuffed up and faded, and looking embarrassingly shabby, so I’ve ordered a new Timbuk2 messenger bag.

I’ve gone the custom route again, partly because I’m now aware that I wear my bag left-handed, and partly because I wanted a custom design with waterproof fabric and reflective edging. What surprises me is that nobody else seems to be competing with Timbuk2. If you want a shoulder bag, and want it to last, I recommend them.

Naming and shaming

Josh Marshall, the editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo (TPM), has written an opinion piece rejecting calls to avoid giving publicity to school shooters. In doing so, I believe he has made two errors.

The first error is to assume that refusing to publicize the killer’s name is a meaningless feel-good gesture. As the WSJ explains:

Mass shooters aim to tell a story through their actions. They create a narrative about how the world has forced them to act, and then must persuade themselves to believe it. The final step is crafting the story for others and telling it through spoken warnings beforehand, taunting words to victims or manifestos created for public airing.

What these findings suggest is that mass shootings are a kind of theater. Their purpose is essentially terrorism—minus, in most cases, a political agenda. The public spectacle, the mass slaughter of mostly random victims, is meant to be seen as an attack against society itself. The typical consummation of the act in suicide denies the course of justice, giving the shooter ultimate and final control.

Consider some recent specific examples.

The Sandy Hook killer was obsessed with previous spree killings, and kept copies of newspaper articles. The Isla Vista killer recorded videotapes he hoped the media would air, and ended his manifesto saying “I will punish everyone… Finally, at long last, I can show the world my true worth”. The Virginia Tech killer mailed a videotaped message to the TV station. The Aurora movie theater shooter told his psychiatrist he wanted to “blow up people and become famous”.

Unlike serial killers, who typically try to cover their tracks and evade capture, these assholes plan their murders with the media in mind. They analyze media coverage of previous spree killings. They have no plans to survive, they just want to go out with as much infamy as possible, for the entire world to see them and be hurt by them.

Criminologist James Alan Fox described the issue to The Daily Beast:

Copycatting does exist, of course. And the nature of the coverage matters. There is a big and important distinction between shedding light on a crime and a spotlight on the criminal.

For example, the attention given to Sueng Hui Cho (VA Tech) with his fearsome pose. Not just in the tabloids, but above the fold in that NY paper whose motto is “all the news that’s fit to print”. It does turn monsters into celebrities.

Take the coverage of Columbine: cover of Time with the pictures and headline “Monsters next door.” Sure, as adults we saw Klebold and Harris as monsters, but there would have been a few alienated adolescents who saw them as heroes . . . not only did they get even with the jocks, and the nasty teachers, but they’re famous for it.

There are related issues around suicide. The CDC actually has guidelines for reporting suicides, because careless media coverage has been shown to cause copycat suicide attempts. There’s some research on similar issues around spree killers; e.g. “Threats of school violence in Pennsylvania after media coverage of the Columbine High School massacre: examining the role of imitation

But the bigger error Josh Marshall makes is this: He assumes that the police, NRA and politicians who are refusing to name the killer, are doing so for selfish, venal reasons.

Now, it’s certainly possible that the NRA are suggesting that we avoid giving publicity to spree killers purely so that we will be distracted from considering America’s gun problem. Maybe the NRA really do believe that spree killers never copycat, and are pushing the idea of reduced media coverage cynically, as something they believe won’t help.

But it’s also possible that the NRA are aware of the research, and have heard about the many criminologists and psychologists who think that wall-to-wall news reports and biography pieces concerning spree killers encourage copycats.

When you immediately assume without evidence that your opponent is ignorant and acting selfishly, you are behaving unfairly, and you are unlikely to convince anyone.

For example, what if I was to assume that Josh Marshall was acting in bad faith? It’s pretty easy to come up with a narrative…

As someone who edits an online news site, it’s in Mr Marshall’s interest to get as many outraged clicks as possible. A juicy story about a mass shooter is a great way to do that. So obviously he doesn’t want us to refrain from naming spree killers; he wants to encourage as many copycats as possible, so he’ll have lots more grisly details to publish in TPM.

See how unfair that is? If I was seriously suggesting that, what kind of reaction would I get?

The only argument in the TPM piece that I sympathize with is that journalism requires reporting the facts, even if they may cause some harm. For example, yes, we needed to be told about America bombing a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan, even though the coverage will undoubtedly damage the image of the US overseas, and maybe even radicalize people into committing terrorist acts in revenge.

So how about this: Sure, let’s report the names of the shooters, but let’s pick the most embarrassing facts to pin to them. Let’s refer to failed scientist James Holmes, OCD bowl-haircut boy Dylann Roof, literally friendless Adam Lanza, upskirt-photographing bully Seung-Hui Cho, and of course friendless virgin Elliot Rodger who couldn’t even get laid driving a BMW…