Sunday, September 22, 2013

if this were a movie ...

So, a former navy petty officer with a couple of minor gun-related brushes with the law and a pass into a secure navy yard, suddenly starts hearing voices and a few weeks later guns down 12 people in that secure facility for no apparent reason.

A SWAT team that probably could have stopped the murders was ordered to stand down, and no one knows why or by who. Even the patrol officers on the scene had the gunman outnumbered and were probably equipped with bullet-proof vests but they didn't try to go in and stop him unit until a half hour later when more police arrived. If either the SWAT team or the patrol officers had gone in as soon as they could, many lives could have been saved. Apparently nearly everyone who was killed was killed between the time that the SWAT team was called off and time that the police started to clear the building.

And now someone, somewhere seems to be throwing up roadblocks to finding out why the SWAT team was told to stand down. The leader has been replaced and four team members have asked for and been denied leave.

So I was thinking about how this would play out in a movie. Let's say there is a government or political agent --let's call him Mr. Jones-- who is tasked to silence a potential risk who knows something about --I don't know, some political scandal involving Libya , say. Let's call this guy Whistleblower. Let's say Whistleblower is in a sensitive position so if he dies, even in an apparent accident, there is likely to be an investigation that might cause problems. What to do, what to do.

I know! How about a workplace rampage killing? Blood, gore, weeping wives and mothers ... the whole bit. That would lead to an investigation for sure, but the investigation would be mostly focused on the killer not the victims. The news media would focus endlessly on the killer's history, his family, his mental health issues, and most importantly, on how "assault weapons" were involved and the sizes of the clips. With constant badgering on these side issues by the press, the investigators aren't going to have much time to think about hidden motives and wonder why those particular people were killed.

Unfortunately, Whistleblower works in a secure navy yard, so Mr. Jones has to find someone --let's call him Patsy-- with a security clearance to commit the act. Hmm. How about a retired navy petty officer who is still working on base as a contractor? Or maybe Mr. Jones has to get Patsy the job to get him on base. If Patsy has a couple of minor gun-related police incidents in his past, that's just terrific --something more for the press to worry at, like a dog worrying at one of those tough plastic chew toys that is all kinds of fun to chew but doesn't actually contain anything like meat.

Oh, sure, someone might point out that the explosions of workplace/school violence generally come from passive/aggressive men who want their first (and probably only) true act of violence to really count rather than the sorts of just-plain-aggressive men who shoot out someone's tires. But no one is going to care about that when they are just desperate to find a way to explain this horrific act of violence.

So you find your Patsy and pay or blackmail him somehow. You coach him to act deranged and tell him pretend to hear voices for a couple of weeks before the attack. Mr. Jones tells Patsy that he is laying the ground work for an insanity defense, but Mr Jones plans that Patsy will not survive long enough to need a defense. For Mr. Jones, the insanity act is just something to toss to investigators and press to keep them from looking for other motivations. It's also easier to do than to set up a serious work conflict to explain the killing without getting Patsy fired over the conflict.

In addition, Patsy gets some training on how to get a shotgun through security --not something one would expect a navy petty officer to know about. You also have to set up someone to control the police and navy response to make sure Patsy gets time to get to Whistleblower. Get someone on the police force to put off the response for as long as possible. Let's call him Henchman. Henchman has to be high-enough level to keep the police from going in and to keep the navy SWAT team out. As a backup, you have to get to someone in the chain of command of the SWAT team and make sure that anyone who might overrule that person is out of communication for a half hour or so.

OK, then! Now we are ready for the big scene. Patsy goes in and starts shooting people, the police response teams are delayed just long enough to make sure Patsy can get to Whistleblower and a dozen or so other victims to hide who he was really after.

There is some fallout, of course. The SWAT team is upset about being called off and trying to find out why they were. So fire the team leader to send the others a message. No one is interested in this story of how the murderer was allowed an extra half hour of killing except for some British rag and a few tea-bagger bloggers. The mainstream media is too busy looking for an anti-gun political angle and anyway is so used to being stonewalled on important investigations by the most transparent administration in history that this little thing hardly arises to the level of notice.

Whistleblower will have a nice military funeral, but it's just one of a dozen so it doesn't merit much notice. Within a few weeks everyone will move on except for a few straggling commentators who bring it up over the next year or two as an example of how we need to make involuntary mental treatment easier or how we need to keep guns in the hands of only the military, the police, and the bodyguards of Important People. This later group will never note the irony of using a gun rampage by a former military person as an argument for how we can only trust military people with guns.

So I'm just wondering. Is anybody looking into the victims to see if there might have been a particular motive for killing a particular person?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

a helpful note on the design of user interfaces for sip phones

A sip phone program is a computer program that lets you make phone calls. The last two sip programs that I downloaded both had a user interface that looks like a cheap mobile phone. There are no menus. The main window contains no useful information except for the phone number that you just dialed. You have to dial by clicking the number buttons on the image of the phone with your mouse. If there is any way to create a phone book to dial from or any way to dial from history, I couldn't figure out what it was, possibly because I've never used the freaking model of phone that they based their user interface on. In light of my less-than-enjoyable experiences with these programs I hereby post this helpful open letter to the makers of these programs:

Dear Morons:
It seems to have escaped your notice that mobile phones are designed to be carried in a pocket and intended to be used in various non-ideal conditions including one-handed. What this means, as any non-moron could tell you, is that the user interface of a mobile phone is a compromise. It is the best that phone designers could do given the very harsh constraints under which they were operating.
These compromise user interfaces suck in comparison to the user interface on a regular sized computer. Tiny keypads suck compared to full-sized keyboards. Little screens that can only show 10-digit numbers suck compared full-sized monitors. Obscure buttons scattered around a device suck compared to menus that use actual WORDS to tell you what they do.

And what this in turn means (designers of Windows 8, take note) is that when you design a user interface on a full-size device that was built to enable convenient, powerful user interfaces, you do not copy the user interface from a tiny device that was designed to be carried in a pocket. You freaking morons.

I don't know what reasoning leads multiple designers to make this idiotic mistake. Do you think the saccharine cuteness is going to give you a competitive advantage? So how does that work? I suppose you envision some teenage girl downloads your software, installs it, and goes, "Hey, that looks like the kind of mobile phone my grandfather use to carry back in his youth (he's dead of old age now)! Isn't that cute! Giggle! In fact it's so cute to have to pick out digits one at a time with my mouse instead of JUST TYPING THE FREAKING NUMBER that I'm going to tell all of my friends about this wondrously cute application! Giggle!"

Or do you think familiarity with mobile phones is going to make this application more accessible because typical users of Windows or MacOS are too stupid to get their heads around an application that dials phone numbers using the same sort of user interface that practically every other program on their computer uses? I mean, they can figure out browsers, spread sheet programs, word processors, email, games, and dozens of other programs, but dialing a phone number --that's a bridge too far! We are talking about PHONE NUMBERS here! That's complicated! We can't confuse people with a normal user interface because they might forget they are making a call and think they are entering their credit card number or something!

Or am I being too charitable in ascribing this practice to reasoning?

    Respectfully yours,

    Doc Rampage

    You freaking morons.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

the tree of knowledge of good and evil

This post was prompted by a comment on this tremendous video by Andrew Klavan and Bill Whittle.

The Fall is the story of Adam and Eve eating the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This story has often been criticized on the grounds that God condemned all of Adam's descendents for Adam's actions, and that is no longer considered just in Christian-influenced countries.

But I don't think that is really what the story means. The Tree gave Adam and Eve a conscience, a knowledge of good and evil (hence the name of the tree). This implies that before they ate of the tree, they did not have a conscience and therefore, like animals, they were not capable of moral choices. They were like animals doing whatever they pleased and doing no evil. Dogs attack other animals, fornicate in public, take what doesn't belong to them, and sniff the genitals of strangers without permission, yet we do not condemn them as immoral for doing these things because they are animals. They do not understand right and wrong.

If Adam and Eve were without a conscience before eating of the Tree, then this implies that eating of the tree was not morally wrong and so not something that they or anyone else could be condemned for. Eating of the tree should be compared, not to a morally wrong act, but to an act of poor judgement with catastrophic consequences like a dog dying after stealing your chocolate bar. Stealing the chocolate wasn't morally wrong, but it was a serious mistake. Similarly, for Adam and Eve, eating the fruit was not morally wrong but was (from one point of view) a serious mistake because it left humans and all of their descendents capable of guilt, of suffering and of fearing death.

Before eating the fruit, Adam and Eve were in Paradise like a dog is in Paradise, because they lived in the moment, doing whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, and not thinking about what they could not have. After the fall, when God tells them of the consequences, it seems that he is saying that all of creation has changed, but instead he may simply be telling them how their perceptions have changed.

So when someone says that we are condemned through Adam's action, it doesn't mean that a judicial decision was made by God that he would punish all of us for what Adam did. It means that because of Adam's action, we are all have a conscience and have to suffer the consequences of that. It is as if Adam had taken a poison that spread a genetic disease to all of his descendents.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

the war on the weird

Be careful what you wish for because you might get it. If we increase the power of psychological professionals to involuntarily commit people, or to otherwise have their freedom limited, and if this power becomes abused for political purposes (as it has been in other countries), who do you think is going to be the big losers, given that probably 80% or more of psychological professionals are liberals and that liberals control all of their organizations and standards-making bodies?

This attempt by a lot of conservatives to deflect the anti-gun hysteria from mass shootings into anti-weird-people hysteria has me a bit concerned. I've read descriptions of the "warning signs" that should have alerted people to make sure that someone didn't have access to guns, written by conservatives, that look something like this: "a loner who didn't talk much and when he did he was socially awkward and people considered him weird and possibly dangerous. Seemed rebellious and resentful towards society. Had an unusual fascination with violent things like guns, knives, and martial arts."

You know who that sounds like? That sound like me in my early twenties. Pretty much exactly. I never once fantasized about gunning down a bunch of random people at a mall, but how could I ever prove that, especially since I was given to telling dead-baby jokes and joking about committing crimes just to shock people?

If in my early twenties we had had in place some of the mental illness precautions that some conservatives seem to be endorsing, I could very well have been forced into counseling and forbidden to own weapons even though I never harmed anyone nor ever wanted to. My resentment and resistance to these things might very well have ended up putting me in a mental institution or into jail just for the crime of being weird in a scary gun-owning kind of way instead of in a pathetic forty-cat-owning kind of way. That hardly seems fair.