Thursday, 26 July 2012

Guns, Gun Control, Mass Murder a la Carte

The recent murders in Aurora, Colorado at the opening of the latest Batman movie, have reawakened the never-ending debate over gun control, the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms and wage war against an evil government that got out of hand) and so on, with New York Mayor Bloomberg calling on Messrs. Obama and Romney to stand up and speak out on this issue.
Under normal circumstances, we citizens of Canada love to take such an opportunity to boast about how civilized we are up here, where only a microscopic fraction of the population owns a gun, where all legal guns must be registered with the government, and where it is almost impossible to obtain a permit for a handgun, let alone a carry permit.
However, on this latest massacre, the timing was bad, from the Canadian point of view. In the couple of weeks before Aurora, Toronto experienced a wave of gun violence: a shooting in broad daylight on the patio of a popular restaurant in Little Italy, a mass shooting at a block BBQ party on Danzig Avenue, where two people died and 24 were wounded (at this writing, one is still in critical, so those stats may shift), including an 18-month old baby, a wild shooting spree in the food court of Eaton Centre (Canada's largest shopping mall), again in broad daylight, and a few other isolated incidents, in one of which the brother of the victim was charged with first-degree murder.
And of course, the politicians at city, province and federal levels all found it necessary to weigh in with hollow pronouncements, while citizens wailed before the news cameras, community workers demanded restoration of the funding cut by Toronto's obscenely obese Mayor, Rob Ford. and more serious and thoughtful people pondered what can be done.
To be sure, there is a serious problem in Canada -- still nowhere near that of large American cities, whose murder rates pale against those of cities and towns in Mexico.
But that is beside the point.The real question is, How to rid the population of guns, in particular handguns, almost all of which are illegal?
I have no easy answers to this difficult question. Since we in Canada have no 2nd Amendment, and have rather strict laws about the possession of handguns, it must also be said that the criminals who own handguns could not give a shit about the laws. So what can we do about this escalating problem?
Before we can answer this question, we need to examine the facts:
99% of Canada's owners of handguns possess them illegally.
99% of those illegal owners of handguns are members of gangs.Most of them wear tattoos proudly declaring their affiliation and/or accomlplisments (the teardrop tattoo beneath the eye).
The easy and simplistic answer would be to incarcerate every known member of a gang. We in Canada already have such a law, but this has got us nowhere. One could, and IMO should, pass a law stating that mere possession of a handgun ought to result in a sentence of five years in prison. In Canada, this is possible, since we have no NRA lobbies here, and no second Amendment to deal with.
The obvious first step would be to force all gun manufacturers to imprint their items for sale with something far more secure than a simple serial number. Perhaps an embedded GPS which could flag the whereabouts of every single weapon sold.
But the US manufacturers of guns, and the NRA, and various people who have either mis-read or else misunderstood the meaning and context of the 2nd Amendment, all these people and lobbyists continue to cite the 2nd Amendment (the right to bear arms) without actually reading the document.
First of all, the 2nd Amendment was written in a day long gone. The government has weapons that far outstrip the few rifles and AK47s that any given paramilitary group or even mere citizen, can possibly own. Faced with heliocopter gunships, surface to surface missiles, SEAL troups, and so on, the right to bear arms is ludicrous -- unless, of course, you would prefer a society in which the members of certain groups with an agenda ought to be permitted to own AK47s, surface to surface missiles, and so on. So the whole point is pointless; if one seriously believes in the 2nd Amendment, then every citizen has the right to possess WMDs, and to unleash them against Washington, Langley and various other obvious targets.
What to do? As a Canadian, I obviously have no sway in the politics or policies of the USA. The best  Canadians can do is Diplomacy. We can argue that every weapon manufactured and sold within the USA be serialized and stamped with an un-erasable imprint, and possibly a GPS that cannot be removed without total destruction of said weapon. This would make it possible to trace the weapon of interest from its source to its current possessor.
The horrible thing about the recent event in Aurora is that the perpetrator was able to purchase weapons of assault-caliber plus over 5000 rounds of ammunition for same, without a single security check -- not that a simple security check would reliably identify a potential mass-murderer, but at least it might be a start.
The incident in Aurora and the previous incident in Columbine are, from the Canadian perspective, exceptions. North of the 49th parallel, such murders can almost without exception be attributed to gangs, mostly Asian but also amply represented by Somalis, Jamaicans and others -- which is not to say that there is a colour-component in this -- I'm sure there are all-white Canadian-born gangs too, but the fact is that we have chapters of the Crips and the Bloods here, not to mention other gangs who work for the Hells and the Rock Machine and a couple of other biker gangs. The question becomes, How to deal with them?
I confess that I have no ideas on this. The most difficult problem is this: initiation. To become a qualified member, you must kill somebody, witnessed by other members of your gang. Therein lies the problem facing undercover cops. In theory, an undercover agent might elaborately stage a fake-kill, but the resources required to pull such an event off would far outstrip the budget available. And so it goes: such groups are almost impenetrable.
And yet, and yet and yet. Albert Camus had it right in The Rebel: progress follows, and can only follow, the rebel who says, "I would rather die than endure this." Ultimately, the slave rules: when the slaves all say, "Fuck you! I would rather die!", the power of the Master evaporates, because the Master is defined by the Slave. The moment when the Slave says "I prefer death to this shit" is the moment when the Master loses all his power.
Despite the recent events in Toronto, Statistics Canada has weighed in the subject, declaring  the city of Toronto safer than it's been in years. This speaks most of all, IMO, to the power over the collective mind that newspapers and TV newscasts hold over the collective memory. The fact is that crime, and in particular crimes involving guns, have gone way down in the past decade, since what was then dubbed ""The Summer of the Gun".
Back to States-side (that's how Canadians refer to the USA, particularly in Ontario) statistics. James L. Holmes ordered 6,350 rounds of ammunition over the Internet without triggering any alarms. He also acquired, thanks to "freedom", a high-capacity machine gun with a special magazine that holds 100 rounds, not to mention his bullet-proof pants and vest.
All this reminds me at least of the carnage suffered in Norway at the hands of Anders Breivik, who murdered 76 people approximately a year ago. This murderer purchased his ten 30-round magazines from an American supplier over the Internet.
In the USA, approximately 15,000 people die from gun-homicides every year. Despite this, the NRA continues its idiotic argument that the Second Amendment guarantees the citizenry the right to bear arms, Now and then, the facts and the truth need to be observed. Don't count on the NRA recognizing these simple basics of objective argument, but let us persist. The homicide rate in the USA is at most recent count four times that of Canada.
One must, albeit lamentably, admire the skills of the NRA in their success at coercing both parties into cowardly silence and inaction. As a Canadian and therefore an outsider from politics in the USA, I am at a loss to explain how such a vociferous minority could cow the presidential candidates into silence. On the other hand, as a resident of the nation above the 49th parallel, I am free to espouse my opinions and to suggest revisions to the law -- and I offer these recmommdations in the spirit of friendship and camaraderie:
1. Embed a non-erasable serial number within every weapon sold.
2. Embed a GPS within every weapon sold, that cannot be disabled without disabling the weapon itself. Thus we can determine the location of every new weapon at any time. Obviously this would not affect weapons currently held by citizens and gang-bangers, but over the next decade or so, it would seriously impact the sale and distribution of such weapons.
3. As Chris Rock suggested, perhaps we should raise the price of bullets to $5000 per bullet. Granted, this might cause a surge in the traffic of illegal bullets, but we could add to this a prison sentence of, say, five years, for the illegal sale of bullets.
With each passing day, the news grows worse and worse.
An American gunsmith has become the first person to construct and shoot a pistol partly made out of plastic, 3D-printed parts. The creator, who goes by the name HaveBlue and is an AR-15/M16 enthusiast, has reportedly fired 200 rounds with his part-plastic pistol without any sign of wear and tear. HaveBlue's custom creation is a .22-caliber pistol, formed from a 3D-printed AR-15 (M16) lower receiver, and a normal, commercial upper. In other words, the main body of the gun is plastic, while the chamber — where the bullets are actually struck — is solid metal. ... While this pistol obviously wasn't created from scratch using a 3D printer, the interesting thing is that the lower receiver — in a legal sense at least — is what actually constitutes a firearm. This means that people without gun licenses — or people who have had their licenses revoked — could print their own lower receiver and build a complete, off-the-books gun.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Wire: Greatest TV of All Time

Today I secured a copy of IMO the greatest thing ever made for television (psst: it's not TV, it's HBO!), the boxed set of DVDs entitled "The Wire". This is not Just Another Boxed Set (JABS), but rather the boxed set of a series that set a new high bar in the history of series made for TV. I've watched things before and since, and to my mind, nothing compares with "The Wire". This is Truth non-parreil. You may regret lifting up this ugly slab of concrete, but this tome lives with the finest Courbet paintings that master ever created. We're not talking cheesy Dickension portraits of America here. This series broke all the bounds of decency and took us into a place we'd rather not inhabit, and made us feel for the people trapped in that sad reality, and caused us to hope for people like Bubbles, and to cheer when he finally got straight, and to weep when gangsta-chicks finally got outsmarted by her students.... and so much more.
These so-called "Reality TV" shows make me laugh! You want reality, homey, come to Baltimore and strut the streets. We'll show you reality!
My fave character by a long shot is Bubbles, the lowest of the low, who ultimately cleans up his act and becomes a Ciizen. Therin lies a lesson for all of us. None of us has descended lower, nor risen above the predictions laid down by The System. To call "The Wire" a Dickensian novel transposed to the last dying decade of the 20th century would be to diminish it.
IMO, "The Wire" is everything that the post-print novel could and can be.
I'm currently attempting to organize a few private parties here in my building, dedicated to "The Wire": an all-weekend back-to-back session of each Season, one by one, punctuated with pizzas and hilarity and my friends quoting their favorite lines from each episode. As host and adjudicator, I absent myself from the competition, since I have memorized almost the entire script from every episode, and can quote freely, including bad attempts at  the accents. Don't push me on this-- I can bury you! I have a telegenic memory.
Worst move you could ever make in a contest such as this: try me and my best friend Audra on any line from the most beloved "Miller's Crossing", by the most beloved brothers Coen. Try us! Choose at random any line from said movie and Audra and I will follow with the subsequent line(s), and we are prepared to bet serious money on said proposition. We've seen this movie so many times that you'd be throwing your money away to bet against us; so don't be stupid with your mother's inheritance. Keep it in your pocket and be the smart player.
Back to "The Wire", IMHO the greatest thing that ever happened to TV (yeah yeah yeah, it's not TV, it's HBO, I get it already).This series redefined -- actually, I don't know what it redefined -- since it's not exactly mainstream TV fodder, and it also pushed the boundaries of Alternative TV beyond  Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue Homicide: Life on the Streets (incidentally, made by the same people as The Wire), and  The Sopranos (not to slight them -- they pushed the bioundaries in that time and day, but the bar has moved higher. This invites an entirely new conversation, approximately equivalent to "Was Beethoven greater than Mozart, and was Mozart greater than Vivaldi, and recursively through the history of Western Classic musc"?
I know a little about the history of Western classic music, and a little about the history of East Indian classical music, and perhaps a fact or two more about the history of 20th century jazz, rock, punk and its descendants. After all, I did see Jimi Hendrix twice, once in Vancouver and a couple of days later in SeattIe. That said, I profess no expertise in this or any other musico-historical category, but I do love serious music, in all its genres and forms.
To conclude, if you haven't seen The Wire, and you're ready for some ground-breaking TV, buy or rent Season One and work your way through from there. I'd also recommend devoting an entire day to each season, and watching the episodes back to back.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Traditional Developers Hate Windows 8

A friend and colleague of mine, Mark Breen, posted the following question on a newsgroup for software developers:

I know that I am not alone, but does anyone here think that the market are
not going to want to switch to Win8 / Off 13?
I mean, could this release be the worst every for MS?
It is the first ever OS and Off release that I dread.
Finally, did you all see the financial results for MS today?, Imagine what
we will be reading in a years time.
Or am I being too pessimistic?
My answer is this:

Your question reminds me of the old joke about the optimist and the pessimist. The optimist greets the sunrise with a smile and says, "This is the best of all possible worlds."
The pessimist smiles and agrees.

I think that what you and I (and possibly others here) are feeling is our collective obsolescence. I began to learn programming on a shared computer somewhere around 1979. The first program I wrote was a simulation of the casino game craps. I wrote it in BASIC on a Commodore with cassette drives. I bought my first computer on March 15, 1983, an Apple II clone with a CP/M card. It came with WordStar, SuperCalc and dBASE II. I learned WordStar in and SuperCalc in a couple of days each, and dBASE II in about a month. 

Since then, I've spent my entire career in a world where PC applications for business dominated the computing landscape. You could throw a stick and it would hit nine new clients. 

That world is gone -- or rather, like Santa Claus, dying a little more each year but  never quite dead. The computing world has moved on: business apps are no longer the epicentre of computing, just as the internet ate the world of newspapers, just as physical books and the brick-and-mortar bookstores are no longer the epicentre of book publishing, just as the gaming world has far outstripped the Movie industry in terms of revenues. And currently, just as smart phones, tablets and smart TVs now occupy centre stage.

Microsoft is very aware of this, and that is the whole point behind Windows 8, which is targeted much more at tablets and smart phones than it is at the (yawn) business world. There will always be a requirement for traditional, dare I say tired, old, and unexciting, PC apps. But they're not where the action is, and I think we all know it.
Most of all, I think Microsoft knows it, too. Windows and Office have always been the twin pillars of MS's dominance of the PC world. One never shoots a cash cow, and one's nostalgic fondness for her never quite goes away. But her welfare becomes secondary to that of the young, healthy cows in the pasture.

Look around this group. How many young Turks are here, as compared with old farts (like me)? This is not likely to change -- not unless we morphed our site into a centre for developers of phone apps, games, and so on.

That's how I see it, anyway. But why listen to just another old fart? 

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Voracious bug in MySQL 5.25 finally fixed with update

If you, dear reader, thought Oracle and Larry Ellison were voracious, you ain't seen nuthin' yet. Version 5.25 of Oracle MySQL contains a bug of truly voracious nature.

Now don't panic just because of the headline. The bug was introduced in version 5.25, and the update is version 5.25a. The nature of the bug is described in Hartmut (of SkySQL -- cute rhyme) Holzgraefe's blog. 

In a table with 2 indexes, this SQL uses up all available disk space.

UPDATE t1 SET id2 = id2 + 1, b = null 

      WHERE a is null and id1 = 2;

The cause is mysterious and the choices both few and ugly. For a description of them, see,
A better idea, of course, is to grab the update as soon as possible. Chances are that the user of 5.25 will still have to restore the datababase on a new server or instance.
Peter Laursen of webYog comments:
"The lack of willingness of Oracle here to expose the exact conditions for this bug to affected users (and how to repair it should they be affected) is the real problem here".

Monday, 16 July 2012

Toronto Muslim street cleric wants law changed for women's attire

According to a Toronto-based Muslim street cleric, Canadian law should be changed to require women to "cover themselves" to prevent sexual assaults.
Al-Haashim Kamena Atanaga, a 33-year-ld convert to Islam who is connected to a group called Muslim Support Network, wrote in an email to the Toronto Sun newspaper,
"[T]he reason these sex attacks are continuously happening is because (of) Canadian laws, which give too much freedom to women" when it comes to how they dress.
"You should take your example from the way Muslim women dress," Atanaga wrote. "Why does (sic) Muslim women who wear long dress and covers (sic) her head aren't targeted for sex attacks?"
Besides the email to the Sun, Atanaga also maintains a web site,, which contains some of the same bile, and plans to distribute paper versions at the downtown corner of Yonge and Dundas.
Atanaga went on to add, "[T]he reason a woman gets raped is because of the way she (dresses)."
According to Atanaga, "Men must cover their body from the navel to the knees. But when praying, he (sic) must also cover his shoulder."
"Women must cover their whole body except the face, hands and feet while inside. But they are also required to cover their whole body including a part of the face while going out, according to the majority of the Madhabs (school of thought)."
Even ignoring Mr. Atanaga's apparent inability to get tense and person right in a sentence, there are numerous faults in both his logic and his attitude.
But it would be a mistake to characterize Atanaga's opinions as typical even of a small fraction of the Muslim population. Moderate Muslim writer Tarek Fatah says Atanaga's view is a stark example of radical Islamic misogyny -- an example of isolated passages extracted from the Qur'an and exaggerated to fit an antiquated, patriarchal ideology.
"This is not about what women wear," says Fatah. "This is about... some Muslim men believing that any woman whose head is uncovered is fair game because she is lustful."
First and foremost, Atanaga ignores the widespread use of rape as a weapon of war, not to mention the ongoing problem of sexual harassment in Egypt, a predominantly Muslim nation. According to a report from the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights, 83% of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment, and of those surveyed, 70% were wearing veils of some kind, particularly head scarves. Similar cases abound in India and elsewhere.
Second, where does Atanaga (or anyone else, from any religion) get the belief that he has the right to tell anyone of any other belief how to behave?
Third, I think even such extremists as Atanaga would agree that most men do not sexually assault or rape women. Thus, his proposal would tar all men with the same brush.
Fourth, if Mr. Atanaga does not like what he sees, I suggest that he wear a blindfold when out in public.
Finally and perhaps most tellingly, there is abundant evidence that sexual assault and rape are not sex crimes but hate crimes. To that extent, one might consider that Atanaga's own views are helping to foster a hatred of women. Much as the Canadian notion of freedom of speech is curtailed when it comes to the propagation of anti-Semitic bile such as that issued by Ernst Zundel, perhaps the same attitude should be taken towards Mr. Atanaga and those who hold similar beliefs.