Child and the water-gun

Public Domain Image

Short version: With the US gun-debate in full-swing in the aftermath of the latest mass-shooting (Connecticut 2012), I find myself wishing it would become less of a gun-debate and more of a cultural-priorities debate.

Longer version: Having just read yet a few more essays and articles [1], [2], [3] about the gun-situation in USA, I felt even more need than usual to add my fourpence to the blogosphere. Sometimes when the “left” and the “right” sides of an argument have locked horns so tightly that it feels like an impasse, you need to step back and find a broader definition of parameters, rather than bouncing disagreements back and forth ad nauseam. You need context.

I am lucky in that I am a New Zealander who has spent most of my adult life living in different countries (on every continent except Africa) and ended up spending the last decade living in Greece. One of the best lessons these experiences have taught me has been that extreme opinions about any subject (both for and against) are 95% of the time both just plain Wrong. Another important lesson has been that law and politics are ultimately just conceptual frameworks. Enforcement of them is just an attempt to shape a culture around those frameworks. The only way to change the real lives of people (in a way which is more than just blowing hot air) is to steer the very culture of those people. The only way to do that in a lasting fashion (i.e. fairly) is to incrementally reach consensus on cultural issues, so that The People steer the culture of The People. None of this gun debate is dealing with that because almost everyone is myopically focused on knee-jerk reactions (both for and against) rather than dealing with the less vote-winning/emphasis-friendly, less immediately intellectually “rewarding” and more uncomfortable subject of how to reach a consensus on ways of steering the culture out of an addiction to the “you’re for us or against us” mentality – from which gun addiction (as well as state obsession with control) have both organically, and unsurprisingly, sprung.

For a parallel example, two of the biggest reasons I stopped living in the UK are also two of the main reasons I moved to Greece:

  1. to get away from the culture of binge-drinking
  2. to get away from the undercurrent of day-to-day violence and frustration

Of course this is not a racial issue, because in both cases there are oases in the UK where these things are not so prevalent, but of course those are exceptions to the cultural “rule”. Also, the laws and the politics in both countries (about drinking and violence) have some variance but overall are not that different. The difference is the cultural momentum, changes to which are not measured in years or even in electoral terms, but are measured in lifetimes (of course I could conversely make similar arguments about aspects of life in which Greece look tarnished in comparison to the UK, etc). My point is that the gun problem in USA (<rant>United States, as opposed to “America” which is an entire continent, by the way</rant>) is not as much a political problem, or a legal problem, as a cultural problem. I would go further and say that it is merely a large side-effect of an even bigger cultural problem. By the way, if you think I am making some racial generalisation – I would add that some of the most advanced thinkers and wisest people I have discussed this issue with over the years have been good friends of mine from the US. Interestingly, all of them have lived in many countries, and gained context that many of the most vocal players in this debate inside the US could never dream of having. Those friends have learned to live with the discomfort of not being so “certain”, of avoiding “confirmation bias”, and always looking to test their own beliefs – i.e. the opposite of how the US has decided its “leaders”, and trained its “enforcers” for the last few decades at least.

I am not going to preach on about my own personal opinions regarding the specific cultural problems which I believe are causing this gun-violence crisis, because I think those are easy enough to discern (especially from other rants of mine [1], [2], [3], [4]), and anyway people would then just nit-pick (straw-man style) on those opinions to distract and detract from the bigger point I am trying to make. If you want to have a fruitful debate, shift at least some of the debate from nit-picking over symptoms, into a debate about causes – about how you define and uphold your own cultural identity. What do you represent in universal human terms? What do you deem important in life? Who are your true heroes? How do you make it possible for your people to keep learning throughout their lifetimes, rather than be brainwashed with a limited set of accepted behaviours during the first few years of their childhood? etc…

As this picture comes into focus the debate about guns eventually becomes as relevant as the debate about how quickly a fish can climb a tree (yes, I did obliquely reference a famous Einstein quote on purpose). Until then of course some short-term measures must also be taken to treat the violent “symptoms”, just like a doctor might need to treat an AIDS patient’s pneumonia (for example), but just as for the doctor – if you are too focused on the present symptoms and ignoring the underlying cause:

  1. there will always be new symptoms anyway
  2. eventually the “patient” (cultural and national identity) will collapse, no matter what you do

Ask the Ancient Romans, Mongols, Ottomans, British, Egyptians, etc…

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Short version: I’ve just updated a shell script, and created a Windows batch script version, for un-mangling UTF-8 from being double-encoded by things like old MySQL dumps.

Longer version: I recently read a blog post about rescuing data from the famous UTF8-in-old-mysql-latin1-tables problem which would have helped me several years ago if it had existed, and on reading it realised I could also have helped myself if I understood the underlying concepts as well then as I do now. That post in turn links to an earlier blog-post which inspired it, and which provided the original script to which it added support for Greek characters. I won’t bore you by repeating what they’ve already stated so succinctly, I will just link to my additions and edits to their scripts (the below links include both shell and batch scripts, and an example test file and the resulting file).

Here’s a list of my tweaks:

  • shell-agnostic
  • edge-case handling
  • filename quoting
  • error-condition handling
  • separate sed script
  • fixed errant symbols
  • combined sed invocations into one
  • converted/adapted to Windows batch script (in addition to the updated shell-script)

If you find this useful please let any friends who may also have such problems know – I wish someone had spared me the headache all those years ago (I ended up hand-editing a monster SQL dump…). If I’ve made any mistakes (or for whatever reason) please comment below.

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Rupert Murdoch

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 26 JAN 07 - Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, News Corporation, USA, captured during the session "Who Will Shape the Agenda?" at the Annual Meeting 2007 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 26, 2007. Copyright World Economic Forum (www.weforum.org) on Flickr

Many years ago I read the hilariously funny (yet depressingly pertinent and prescient) doomsday novel “Stark” by Ben Elton, and I remember thinking even then that the despicable character Sly Moorcock was an ingenious symbol for Rupert Murdoch – different enough for Ben Elton to avoid any libel charges, but similar enough for anyone (who knew the Murdoch basics) to spot the hilarious parallels. Now with the Murdoch empire – or at least sizeable portions of it – showing signs of an imminent implosion, especially gaining momentum with the News Of The World phone-hacking scandal, every new article – e.g. [here], [here], & [here] - and every YouTube video – e.g. [here], [here], & [here] - reminds me again of the parallel between the two characters, and leaves me almost hoping Rupert would share Sly’s fate, but not quite (I’m too humane to really mean it). Below is a link to the Wikipedia page about the book, but I am prefacing it with a spoiler alert – if you intend to read the book at some point then don’t scroll down to the synopsis section – it spoils the story. It is better if you don’t know the ending:

Read about Stark at Wikipedia.

By the way, for those wishing to know what “the Milly Dowler incident” is all about (a pivotal event in the phone-hacking saga), read the section on the Wikipedia page. Also – I just discovered this little gem of a quote on the Wikipedia page for News Corporation:

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud of Saudi Arabia, through his Kingdom Holding Company, owns 7% of News Corp.’s shares, making Kingdom Holdings the second largest shareholder.

…interesting…

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It was a real downer to hear that Gary Moore (such a unique, multi-talented and prolific musician) died so young, and so unexpectedly (!?) the other day. Due to having a guitar-playing older brother who fanatically jammed along with his cassettes note-for-note as a teenager (late 80s, early 90s), my lasting impression of him will always be as a rock guitarist with an epic voice and often politically charged lyrics, rather than his more recently popular blues incarnation. I’m sure the mainstream channels will be pumping out more than enough of his blues stuff these days (which I love too), so as my little contribution, here is a youtube playlist of some of my favourites from his “other” stuff (from a career which spanned back to the 60s).

  1. Victims Of The Future
    • He actually had something to write and sing about, unlike so many of the cardboard cutout R ‘n B popsters these days. I guess coming from Belfast gave him an unfair advantage in terms of exposure to eye-opening experiences…

  2. Business As Usual (live at Montreux)
    • Many people love this song, but honestly it isn’t one of my favourites, but at this gig he played an epic and beautiful solo from 8:30 onwards to the end. That must have been awesome live.

  3. Led Clones (with Ozzy Osbourne also singing)
    • This song was about how there were too many rip-off artists drowning out good musicians with shallow copies and lots of marketing. The song is called “Led Clones” and is mostly aimed at a group called Kingdom Come who had just released an album totally ripping off Led Zeppelin’s style. I really sympathise with the frustrated/ripped-off artist feeling…

  4. What Are We Here For
    • This is one of those songs I like more each time I listen to it. Especially when he cuts loose near the end.

  5. The Loner
    • Moving, melancholic instrumental.

  6. Over The Hills And Far Away
    • From the Wild Frontier album which was a blatant re-investigation of his Celtic roots.

  7. Murder In The Skies
    • Blisteringly fast and furious solos in this one. Passionate song too, about when the Russians shot down a commercial plane flying to Korea, nearly provoking a nuclear war.

  8. Surrender
    • I like this song for its simplicity. And its soul.

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Bernie Sanders imageWatch Senator Sanders’ awesome speech blasting income-inequality in the US, where he goes so far as to identify it as a war (I concur).

Wikipedia says “Sanders is a self-described democratic socialist, and has praised European social democracy. He is the first person elected to the U.S. Senate to identify as a socialist.” So he’s the odd one out. Not a coincidence, probably. I hope he doesn’t end up assassinated, like the only catholic president they ever had, or harassed and demonised like their first openly black president (although apparently as many as five presidents before Obama likely had black ancestry, by the way)…

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White crossThe way this video from April 2010 unfolds is deeply disturbing, especially considering it happened to a citizen who was entirely correct about this session of the Hawaii State Legislature breaking the law (by not maintaining a separation between church and state). What’s more they then charged him with disorderly conduct, yet he wasn’t breaking any law by speaking out non-violently in the senate chambers. Even the courts agreed with him. This is disturbing for two reasons. Firstly, occurrences like this are hypocritical in the extreme, coming from a nation (USA) who invade other countries without UN authorisation, and retrospectively take the moral high-ground by thrashing around “news” articles demonising religious (non-Christian) extremists for trampling civil-liberties, in a last-minute attempt to drum up sympathy for their illegal “wars” when no OBLs or WMDs magically materialised on request. The second disturbing aspect is that this is yet another example of how heavy-handed violence from authorities is becoming almost a daily occurrence in the US recently, especially in the years since Bush Jr staged his little Cowboys & Indians farce (which is surely no coincidence). It seems a new kind of slavery is rearing its ugly head across the “Land of the Free”…

My guess is that the reason we are seeing a general increase in wild and erratic behaviour from authorities in the USA is because the fundamentalists are panicking, as their beloved hegemony is now sinking fast – due to the Euro becoming a logical alternative for the international reserve currency. This spells disaster for the US because their empire has primarily been built on the seldom-mentioned fact that (due to the US historically being the prime consumer of oil), US dollars have been the international reserve currency since 1945. This has allowed the US to continually spend far more than it earns while the rest of the world has had to earn far more than it spends. What’s really silly is that logical solutions (which could still avoid the US economy belly-flopping into the gutter overnight) have been floating around for a long time now, like installing a dual or triple OPEC oil transaction currency standard (US dollar, Euro, Yen/Yuan) as proposed by William R Clark back in January 2003. Even countries less sympathetic with the US want the US economy not to fail catastrophically, because they know the ripple effect would cause a global recession/depression (far worse than the present one) as a consequence. The problem is that the neocon Axis of Authority firmly embedded at Washington (visibly, and insidiously) will never let that happen, even if Obama begged them, ultimately because they’re greedy and myopic. They’d rather take their country down in flames than let go even an inch of their beloved yet illusory status as “Economic Superpower”.

It’s interesting too that religious fundamentalists in the US are showing the worst lack of self-restraint. I would have thought that they should follow their own advice about “trusting in God to provide”, if they really believed what they were saying, yes?

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Following the uncharacteristically fast reactions of various “leaders” in the US to the recent unprecedented Wikileaks public-service – the exposure of a quarter-of-a-million diplomatic cables, I have several thoughts circulating around my head:

  1. What would have happened if there had been such a motivated and prompt reaction to the BP Oil disaster?…
  2. Since when did politicians and corporations take over the legal role of the courts? (a comment from this page posted at the The Student Room says: “Whether the death penalty should be given for murder is a political decision. Whether someone was guilty of that crime is a judicial decision.”)
  3. Are Amazon, EveryDNS, and PayPal setting dangerous and cowardly precedents [amazoneverydnspaypal articles], which large numbers of others will reference as excuses for behaving similarly, invoking the “to protect our profits” mantra and cloaking their actions in sanitized business-jargon to dilute the fact that when on ethically complex and exposed ground they merely chose to roll over?
  4. Will the above point leave those with the courage to expose the truth increasingly unprotected and isolated?
  5. Will attempts at maintaing data havens be hobbled by geographic limitations (having to protect every single cable connection to the nearest routers, and the nearest connections from those routers etc…), or by centralised organisation?

Reporters without Borders have strong opinions about the situation. Also, as always, slowly but surely, people keep finding new methods like anonymous hosting and new architectures like P2P DNS to dodge the bullets of the corrupt and immoral “leaders”…

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I just watched “Beware: Killing Ads”, a well-made documentary (with English subtitles) by Manolis Andriotakis, about the out-of-control situation with illegal advertising street-billboards in Greece, the corrupt people who keep them there in spite of the law, and the disturbingly large number of families destroyed by the fatal accidents they have caused.

As a side-note, the statistics alone in this film serve as a sober reminder of not only how important it is to fight the pervasive corruption undermining so many aspects of our society (especially in Greece), but also as a reminder of how vulnerable we are on the roads, and how we must be sensible and conscious at all times, because adding an element which creates even a moment’s distraction can have the cumulative effect of thousands of deaths on the Greek roads. Your car may weigh a ton and be constructed of steel, but your body is not. And neither are the people in the cars around you.

I want to reiterate something I have said for years – Don’t leave learning the value of a seatbelt until you are already flying through your windscreen. By then it’s too late. I mean that literally (when driving), and figuratively (when condoning corruption, which is a social cancer that eventually becomes incurable and unstoppable).

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OK, I usually have a deep respect for experts, if for no other reason than that they have usually spent years learning what I have just passingly browsed during the previous 30 minutes, and with most subjects requiring “expertise” the old cliché that “the more you learn, the more you appreciate how much more there is to learn” ends up holding true. I prefer to err on the side of humility and thoughtful collection of facts, rather than barrelling in at max-volume like a shameless Labrador puppy. However, in recent years I’ve been seeing what I believe to be an increasing number of “experts” of certain subjects who are in fact quite underqualified in the subject itself, but are veritable geniuses at “manipulation of public opinion about the subject”. Take, for example, the present “oil spill” in the Gulf of Mexico (“oil disaster of epic and ultimately globally catastrophic proportions” would be an appropriate and more-accurate-than-you-want-to-believe way to say it). Even after only some superficial searching and a few lucky finds, it didn’t take long for me to find a lot of very credible and substantiated content implying or outright stating that the BP “experts” are either running an unprecedented botch-job which stretches the limits of belief, or they have opaque reasons for not heeding any of the most obvious and sensible suggestions which the independent experts have been screaming at them from the sidelines, for weeks. As for the “opaque reasons” option, I often find that the large majority of people who can’t subscribe to “all that conspiracy nonsense” in such cases, start changing their opinions a bit after hearing some of the worse statistics about the staggeringly enormous (read “corrupting”) amount of money and power that changes hands within and between such mega-corporations.

Anyway, I don’t want to rant today. I admire that a flood of public-members have been throwing suggestions and possible solutions at various channels recently, and wish to contribute my fourpence worth. I was reading through hundreds of suggestions for either cleaning up the spill, or stopping the “source”, and I found myself remembering a very cool quote from Einstein, which I can not now locate anywhere, to quote it exactly, but the gist of it was “What’s important is to educate yourself to a high level, but to still be able to ask questions a child would ask” (quoting very loosely). The reason I thought of this was because a childishly simple yet important question occurred to me, and after some searching it still remains apparently almost unasked on the blogs, etc:

If so many oil-extraction techniques don’t work at high-pressure, deep-sea levels, why not focus and redirect the oil at the source – directly to the surface, or even to solid land, for real-time treatment there?

I realise there are such high pressures and so much fast-moving oil down there that it is impossible to “attach” pipes and suchlike, but because the oil is gushing out and up at a very strong rate, all that is needed to contain almost all of it would be effectively a very big upside-down weighted metal funnel, attached to a very wide (how many metres’ diameter?) and long (1.5km to surface) buoyant hose suitable for oil transportation. I have read that the sea-floor is very fragile, and would collapse under any serious amount of weight, but if the funnel is weighted just enough to counter the upwards-pressure of the oil flow, the funnel could be suspended over the leak, very low to the ground, but without exerting any actual weight on the ground. Variations in pressure could even be dealt with relatively easily by automating slight increases/decreases in weight used, by way of some kind of surface pressure sensor inside the funnel, and a negative-feedback loop. Too close, too much surface pressure from the oil, and weight would stop being added. Too far, too little pressure, more weight would be added.

This is not a suggestion to process the oil itself, or to “stop” the source. It is to simply contain and redirect the oil-flow (and some unavoidable but small amount of sea-water, etc) either to surface-level by pipe, or even to land if necessary, which would facilitate realtime processing using techniques which would have been non-viable “at the source” (in deep high-pressure conditions). Of course it is not 100% airtight, but I think it could isolate a very high percentage of the oil gushing out, and maybe then other proven techniques like oil-eating microbes or centrifuge-filters could realistically deal with the small amount of oil which would “miss” the funnel, without any potential ecological side-effects they might have when being used on all the oil.

Materials needed:

  1. Enough non-eroding material to construct the giant funnel.
  2. Enough static balast-weight to approximately cancel the upwards pressure exerted by the oil against the funnel plus the buoyancy of the hose
  3. A system involving a sensor of upward-pressure against the funnel (or a very accurate device for measuring variance in depth), and an automated way of increasing/decreasing the weights attached to the funnel (possibly some deep-sea submersibles physically attached to the funnel, which increase downward/upward thrust based on the feedback loop)
  4. 1.5Km long very wide oil-resistant buoyant hose or an unknown length(?) if necessary to direct the flow all the way to solid land…
  5. Some sensible way of filtering/processing/disposing of the slightly diluted oil-and-mud output fast enough to keep up with the rate of the leak, while keeping it entirely separated from open seawater.

Pros and Cons:

  1. Oil tends to rise, so won’t start trickling out the bottom of the funnel (especially with the upward pressure occurring right underneath it). If there is a lot of mud mixed in, it might tend to sink instead…
  2. Whatever processing technique is employed at the “receiving end” would *have* to be able to remove the oil as fast as the leak at the seafloor is spewing it out…

I realise I am no engineering expert, or geologist, etc. So maybe this idea is laughable. Please send me any feedback – I’d like to see if there is any substance to it. Here is a very quick and painfully bad sketch of it:

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So what do I have to say about the financial nonsense going on at the moment behind closed doors, and the violent nonsense going on outdoors?… I’ll just let someone else say it for me:

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.” – Bertrand Russell

If you’re angry enough, buy this book:
Globalization and Its Discontents

By the way, welcome to the IMF nightmare. Excuse me while I say “I told you so” yet again (yes, I know it’s irritating, but I won’t apologise). Oh, here’s a thought I had 4 years ago which, depressingly, is relevant again:

“Modern society is not something that happens to us, we all created it, we are all its shepherds, we are all responsible for it, and we will all be held accountable for it by our children” – Me, 2006

…there’s no such thing as a free lunch…

© 2010 rowanthorpe.wordpress.com. This RSS Feed is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Greece License. If you believe the version of this material which you are reading infringes this license, please send details to rowanthorpe(at)gmail[dot]com so legal action can be taken immediately.

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