An arbitrary angel of darkness

The press gather round Lady Ashton during her hearing at the EP

Translated from the original German (Ein schwarzer Engel des Zufalls)
By Oehmke, Philipp und Schmitter, Elke

Literature professor Manfred Schneider talks about the rationality and irrationality of killers, the paranoid psyche of western society, and its search for explanation

SPIEGEL: Herr Schneider, on 8th January 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in the head, and killed six other people at point blank range. And while the world agonises for an explanation, it is possible to find explained in your recent book, Das Attentat, that an assassin such as Loughner isn’t actually irrational, rather the product of hyperrationality. What do you mean by that?

Schneider: Every assassin is an acute observer and interpreter of signals and events. For him, nothing happens by chance; he scans the world for evil doings. He sees conspiracies everywhere. The result appears to us to be crazy and insane. However, at the same time it is precisely logic and reason running in overdrive, that lead to these paranoid conclusions. Paranoia isn’t a form of irrationality, but one of hyperrationality. Loughner is a typical example of this.

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The spam strikes back

Extravagant spam

A topic I’ve previously written about has lately become something of a pain, to such an extent that I’ve actually decided to change my way of dealing with it. Whilst I could certainly complain that the number of spam messages on this blog far exceeded those few genuine comments (by a factor of several hundred), glancing over the list of catches once a week, it didn’t take all that long to weedle out the very occasional piece of ham incorrectly identified by Akismet as ‘spiced’.

Unfortunately, in recent months the deluge seems to have increased. This blog has seen almost as much spam in the last three months as in the whole of 2010. Even a cursory scan over the pages of detritus has become chore enough that I’m no longer willing to bother.1 Added to which, rumours are abound of Akismet changing its free nature, only fair given how much traffic they must receive, and the search for an adequate free replacement could take some time.

So instead and at least in the short term, I’m just going to go about disabling comments on those posts which accrue the most unwanted attention. There are currently just a few posts which seem to be targeted heavily by the spambots, so I’ll soon see if this makes an impact on the figures. Otherwise I might simply switch to a general policy of switching off comments on all posts of a certain age, as many other blogs do. For the occasional interesting slices of ham this blog gets, closing the window after a certain period really won’t make much of a difference.

And on a slightly related side-note, here’s proof that spammers will find and target anything. Spammers are just like young boys with their genders: if there’s a box, they’ll put their details into it.

[Photo courtesy of The Other Dan]

  1. What made the situation worse is that I installed the IntenseDebate plugin, which at the moment doesn’t seem to handle Akismet spam in any intelligent way, instead leaving the comments hidden and requiring the user to disable the plugin to clean out the spam each time. []

Free Will?

Slightly confusing argument to start with, but this comic provokes enough argument for legal eagles and philosophising owls alike. Would the three go down for attempted murder or conspiracy to commit murder? Would Alp get sentenced for manslaughter for being the last one out of the room and apparently the one to finally turn the key? Should Aaron take the blame for ultimately removing the water, the pre-meditated poison going unused? Did Harold commit suicide by being so dopey about sitting around in there with just a bottle of water in the first place? Could Alp get committed for being so loopy as to drill several holes in a bottle after confusing sand and water?

Sadly, however, rather little to do with the real question of free will!

Keats and Chapman at the show

Sifting through a flurry of invitations that rained upon them with the approach of spring, Keats and Chapman eventually settled upon visiting a dear animal-lover, Geoffrey Malmouth, for what was billed to be the Greatest Cat Show in The North. Away from the blustery, biting winds sweeping in off the North Sea, what on first glimpse appeared to be nothing but a large warehouse had been converted into a true Aladdin’s cave for the cat fancier. Felines of all sizes and breeds, colours and patterns were present, and there were prizes for all manner of category, youthful and old, hirsute and bald, a veritable multitude of attractions to grab the visitor’s attention.

The highlight of the prize-giving ceremony was to be the awarding of the Breeder’s Achievement Award, conferred upon the breeder who had in the eyes of the panel done the most for his or her chosen breed in the course of the year. Whilst Geoffrey was not short-listed for it, he had been given what in his view was an honour greater than the prize itself: that of supplying the model for the so-called AilurOscar, a gold-plated, life-sized cast replica of last year’s champion. Said model, a superb Burmese specimen by the name of Mystique, had been put into a narcosis and taken to the sculptors just a few days earlier, and should have been returned with the unveiling of the prize. The latter now stood gleaming on the prize-winners’ table, but of Mystique there was no sign.

As the day wore on, it eventually came for the prizes to be awarded, the judges having had sufficient time to make their decisions on the vast quantity of fur and claws they had seen that day. Geoffrey started to get particularly agitated that he still hadn’t seen his cat, especially when he noticed the sculptor sidle into the room and take up a place at the back of the crowd, without word or sign of Mystique in tow. His agitation soon took effect on Chapman who, more suo, decided to take the bull by the horns and demand an explanation. Rather pale in the face, he returned.

“Well,” prompted Geoffrey, after waiting patiently for Chapman to begin, “where’s Mystique?”

“I’m afraid our friend over there seems to have gotten the wrong end of the stick about your instructions, dear boy,” came the stammered reply. “He took it that your feline companion was in something, well, far deeper than a narcosis, and the prize was to double as something of a sarcophagus.”

Geoffrey was aghast; his mouth working like a fish, he eventually sputtered out his disbelief. Chapman assured him he wasn’t tugging on anyone’s appendages.

“You mean that little statuette is my Mystique?” came the blurted response, to which Chapman nodded in affirmation. “But this is an absolute disaster!”

“I think,” offered the till-now silent Keats politely, “you mean a catastrophy.”