Twisted logic

Another story from the USA. I’m sure that nation is schizophrenic! Collectively, US citizens have contributed so much to the world… but they also seem to be full of contradictions.

SBS reports that “A Republican congressional candidate once known as ‘Joe the plumber’ is in hot water after implying in a campaign video that German gun controls contributed to deaths during the Holocaust.”

Samuel Wurzelbacher, who became known as Joe the Plumber during the 2008 Presidential campaign when he questioned Barack Obama at an event, is running as a Republican in Ohio for the House of Representatives. In the video he loads a shotgun and fires at pieces of fruit placed on wooden posts:

In his commentary he lists several instances of genocide, in each case stating that the victims, “unable to defend themselves, were exterminated.” He finishes by saying: “I love America.”

Not surprisingly there were protests. Joe later claimed on Twitter that he didn’t say that gun control caused genocide.

Well, he didn’t actually say that… but what else is the viewer to conclude? Loading and shooting a shotgun while giving a running commentary about historical genocides in which people were “unable to defend themselves”, together with the throwaway “I love America” as he holds his gun at the end, doesn’t leave much room for any other interpretation.

As with most other arguments from the gun lobby, this bizarre video is based on twisted logic. Americans just love to talk about their right to bear arms, and even Christian friends (who I might have expected to have a more balanced view) have defended to me their possession of weapons. Don’t they understand that they have a higher rate of murder using firearms than most other places in the world, and that the number of weapons in the community might just have something to do with that? A friend once told me that his father keeps a gun in case he needs to defend his home and family. When I commented that I’ve never felt the need to defend my home or family – simply because there’s never been a threat, which I’m sure is the case for the vast majority of families in Australia – his response was, “That must be nice.” I just don’t understand that argument. If they didn’t have so many guns there wouldn’t be so many shootings. Simple.

To get back to Joe the Plumber… how exactly does he think the people who were killed during the genocides he mentions were going to defend themselves? Pistols, or even shotguns, would have provided practically no defence against the Nazis, for example. Poland, The Netherlands, Belgium and France all buckled under the might of the Blitzkrieg, and it took more than five years and concerted efforts from east and west to claw back that ground and subdue Hitler. If whole nations – who were able to defend themselves – couldn’t stand against that force, how were individual pockets of Juden (and even smaller other groups, such as homosexuals and disabled people) to do so? Yes, six million Jewish people were killed, but that figure represents people gathered from all over Europe; it’s not as if the whole six million were in one place where they could have taken a stand. In fact, those who did resist were brutally punished.

I love Australia, imperfect as it is, but I don’t need to resort to cheap shots (if you’ll pardon the pun) to try to make a point. In my opinion Joe is defending the indefensible, and causing offence.

A tale of two cities… er, approaches

Richard O’Dwyer is a student from Sheffield in England. At the moment he is fighting an extradition order to the United States. As we all know, the US likes to style itself “the land of the free.” It seems, however, that some people are more free than others… and that the “others” part of the equation don’t even have to be US citizens, let alone live in the US.

Richard’s crime is that he set up a small website linking to sites where people could watch US TV and movies online. The studios would be grateful that Richard was drawing attention to their products, wouldn’t they? Um, no. They decided he was infringing copyright. Now, the first thing to note is that the site was merely “a ‘human-powered search engine’ for people looking for places to watch films, TV and documentaries online. Users could post links to video content – on YouTube, the now-defunct Google Video, MegaVideo or elsewhere – that contained full TV programmes or films. O’Dwyer’s site would check the link worked and add it to its search engine. The site quickly became a specialised search engine for TV and film content, plus a forum for people to discuss and review the films.” [1] Second, Richard complied with legal notices from publishers asking him to remove links, on the few occasions he received them.

According to The Age, “the US authorities became concerned about a site linking to content often still within copyright. To sell a counterfeit CD or DVD of a copyrighted work is an offence, as is deliberately uploading such a work to the internet. American customs officials, after campaigning from industry bodies [emphasis mine], contended that linking to such items on other sites (as search engines and others automatically do) would also be covered by such laws. This is a contentious interpretation of the law, even in the US, where linking has in some court cases been regarded as protected speech under the first amendment.” [2]

If linking in this way is an extraditable offence, why aren’t these “authorities” pursuing Google, Bing and all the other search engines? Maybe it’s something to do with Richard’s status as an individual – a uni student without the multi-million dollar legal teams retained by companies like Google and Bing’s owner Microsoft. Pardon my cynicism.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has defended Richard O’Dwyer, and started an online petition to ask the UK home affairs minister to stop his extradition.

Once again, the studios demonstrate their head-in-the-sand approach to copyright matters. Shame on them.

On the other hand…

Elgato, a company that makes PVR software and TV tuners for computers became aware that gamers were pirating Elgato’s EyeTV video recording software to record the video coming out of their game consoles. Using the movie/TV moguls’ approach, Elgato would trot out its lawyers and demand that people stop infringing its copyright… right?

Actually, they didn’t. They first looked at how people were using their software. Gamers were making recordings using EyeTV and video capture cards, then uploading the results to sites like Youtube. Elgato decided it could offer a better solution. “We ended up finding [pirated] registration keys on YouTube where people were describing how to use our TV software and capturing devices but connected to gaming consoles. We could have continued to blacklist all the pirated keys and try to fight back. Instead we looked at the combination of capturing devices, software and workflows people were using, and at the results they were getting,” said Lars Felber, the company’s product marketing manager. “We decided that we could do better, with dedicated hardware and software which was really tailored to gamers’ needs and would help them get better results.” [3]

Elgato now produces the Game Capture HD, an elegant (and fairly cheap) way for people to record video from game consoles. Mr Felber remarked, “The response from gamers has been great. Looking at their requirements and giving them what they wanted has certainly been a good move for us.”

Are you listening, entertainment industry?

[1], [2] The unlikely poster boy for a culture war: how a knock on the door changed film fan Richard’s life forever

[3] Elgato’s Game Capture HD – fighting back against piracy

When is an error not an error?

In the western USA wilderness, just off Route 160, stands the Four Corners Monument. It marks the spot where four states – Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona – meet. Tourists have been visiting the spot for more than one hundred years so that they can straddle the boundaries.

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There have been claims that the monument is actually two and a half miles (4km) too far west. The north-south boundary between the states is at 109 degrees 03 minutes West, and people apparently assumed that the intention was that it should be at exactly 109° W. This seems to have arisen because Congress determined that the north-south line should be at the 32nd meridian of longitude west of the meridian that runs through Washington DC, which is at 77° 03′.

Four Corners Monument
The Four Corners Monument marks the spot where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona meet

The US National Geodetic Survey (NGS) issued a statement in 2009 explaining why the Four Corners monument is in exactly the right place. The surveyor given the job of determining the boundaries in 1875 did get it slightly wrong – it’s actually about 1800 feet (548m) east of where it was intended to be – but, given the information and technology he had, the NGS is satisfied it’s in the right place.

What’s more, they say, “A basic tenet of boundary surveying is that once a monument has been established and accepted by the parties involved (in the case of the Four Corners monument, the parties were the four territories and the U.S. Congress), the location of the physical monument is the ultimate authority in delineating a boundary. Issues of legality trump scientific details, and the intended location of the point becomes secondary information. In surveying, monuments rule!”

More detail at Why the Four Corners Monument is in Exactly the Right Place

Real North Dakota?

This is Salem Sue, a – dare I say – statuesque Holstein (or Friesian) cow. She stands tall on a ridge keeping an eye on the traffic flowing along Interstate 94 near New Salem, North Dakota. Sue was put up in 1974 by the New Salem Lions Club to help promote the region’s Holstein cattle. Given that “the average productive life of a Holstein is approximately four years” [1], Sue is doing pretty well, and she gives the lie to the assertion that… “Cows that are always on concrete have a lesser chance of living longer.” [2]

Salem Sue
Salem Sue, the world's biggest Holstein cow

I have to say she looks more friendly than the Friesians we had on the farm when I was a kid. The Jerseys were my favourites – not that I really liked any cows, mind you – because they were usually good-natured and placid, while the Friesians tended to be a bit flighty and aggressive.

Sue is more than 11m tall and 15m long. She’s made of fibreglass, so I doubt she gives much milk, but her size makes her visible from about 8km away. The photo below seems to have been taken from I94 to the east of town and about 2km from Sue.

View of Salem Sue from I84
Sue from a distance

The RealND Project has more information on this “truly unique North Dakota roadside attraction” (their words, not mine), heaps of photos and no less than ten virtual tours of Sue. And I thought Australia’s Big Banana was something to behold :).

[1] Holstein Association USA: Holstein Breed Characteristics, accessed 22 Dec 2011.
[2] WikiAnswers: What is the average age of a dairy cow?, accessed 22 Dec 2011.