Spite the Bullet

Two people comfort each other as they sit and mourn at one of seventeen crosses, after a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Wednesday shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Nikolas Cruz, a former student, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder on Thursday. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) Related News

In the wide open spaces of America, it is generally held that the only thing that can take down a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. From afar, that sounds like a fine business plan to sell two guns instead of one. It also reminds one, in an eerily fuzzy manner, of fractional reserve banking. And of American schools, which seem to be bearing the brunt of an inexplicably liberal gun policy.

This week’s tragedy in south Florida had a new angle: students recorded and tweeted the incident as it unfolded, and they were offered support and advice online by survivors of school shootings elsewhere. Time reports that David Hogg, a student editor at the school’s TV station, examined the odds of surviving the day and asked himself: “What will my story be if I die here?” His answer was to start filming. “If we all die, the camera survives, and that’s how we get the message out there, about how we want change to be brought about.”

In early January, the Los Angeles Times quoted a study in the journal Health Affairs showing that among the wealthy nations, the US offered the worst survival odds to children. This has apparently been true since the ’60s and two factors, other than health, may contribute to the gap — better regulation of young drivers in other countries, which reduces road fatalities, and the fact that school shootings are almost unknown outside the US. There, the rate is growing sharply, despite all the good guys with guns taking down bad guys with guns.

Speaking of takedowns, the Freedom of the Press Foundation is moving to solve what’s come to be known as the “billionaire problem”, the ability of the absurdly rich to silence critical media by attacking it legally, buying it out and gutting its content. The foundation proposes to use Archive-it, a service from Archive.org, to back up content that it feels could be in the crosshairs. First up is Gawker, which went down for the count in 2016 under the financial muscle of one man, Peter Thiel, PayPal co-founder, ’s first external investor, Y Combinator partner and fourth ranker on Forbes’s Midas List. He bankrolled Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker which forced it into bankruptcy and last month, he put in a bid for the dormant site.

Thiel had moved against Gawker on a legitimate question of privacy, and the response to his bid derives from the equally valid right to know, the wellspring of all the journalism that really matters. The solution to well-funded takedowns is absurdly simple and is the essence of the Wayback Machine of Archive.org, which people have used for over 15 years to see what websites were saying at specific points in their history. Archiving the whole internet at intervals a few days apart, it is accurate enough to resurrect whole websites from server faults, if you don’t mind a few missing pages. From that, to an accurate last-minute mirror is but a step, and that is what is being used to archive Gawker.

This is psychological warfare — if takedown guerrillas can be rest assured that despite their best efforts, the media space will not be scrubbed squeaky-clean of the content they want to erase, they would be less inclined to try. This reality has offered a slender protection ever since the birth of the internet — some version of what is sought to be suppressed survives somewhere — but now it is institutionalised. Archive-it.org has offered a subscription service since 2006. All that was needed was an organisation to fund the archiving.

The most-viewed video of February has to be the launch of the Falcon Heavy, the first launcher bigger than a Saturn V which was used to send, er, Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster into space, with the hood down and a mannequin named Starman at the wheel. The stereo is playing David Bowie’s Space Oddity on a loop. And well it may, for this must be the most peculiar payload ever. Musk is the closest thing America has to Bruce Wayne, and the billionaire mad scientist — who is, like Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal — seems to be determined to outstrip the comic book millionaire playboy.

With the help of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Ephemeris calculator, reports Space, astrophotographer Rogelio Bernal Andreo caught images and video of the roadster speeding in an orbit around the sun, between earth and Mars, and not headed for the asteroid belt as Musk believed. It may remain in orbit for millions of years, after which all this will appear even more meaningless than it does now. Or, if Musk’s Mars ambitions bear fruit (extremely unlikely!), it may be picked up by a descendant of the Falcon Heavy, bearing colonists to the Red Planet. And there will be another fine video to keep the world entertained.


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