Saturday, July 21, 2012

Names of infamy. Deny killers the notoriety they seek

NOTE as of 2021, the number of these events just keeps skyrocketing, with many heinous individuals openly proclaiming that their motive for wreaking harm was fame... or infamy. So, before handing you over to the original 2007 essay, below, let me add that the Romans also adopted the "Erastratos Option" at times. 

"Damnatio memoriae is a modern Latin phrase meaning "condemnation of memory", indicating that a person is to be excluded from official accounts. There are and have been many routes to damnatio, including the destruction of depictions, the removal of names from inscriptions and documents, and even large-scale rewritings of history. The term can be applied to other instances of official scrubbing; the practice is seen as long ago as the reign of the Egyptian Pharaoh Hatshepsut in the 14th century BC." And further: "One example of damnatio memoriae, or oblivion, as a punishment was meted out by the peoples of Ephesus after Herostratus set fire to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of antiquity. The Romans, who viewed it as a punishment worse than death, adopted this practice. Felons would be erased from history for the crimes they had committed."

... Now back to the original 2007 essay...

== Deny them what they seek... ==

Now it’s “James Eagan Holmes,” another name we’d rather not know. Opening fire at a crowded Colorado movie theater during a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises," Holmes killed twelve and injured dozens -- seizing world attention and far more than his fair share of our collective memories.

Though hate crimes, mass murders and school shootings draw the public eye, statistically, there is no evidence of a rise in episodes of wholesale slaughter. Nor is it a uniquely American phenomenon, as illustrated by the horrific acts of Norwegian lunatic Anders Behring Brevik. Though perhaps there has been a rise in the perpetrator's ability to swiftly and easily do harm.

Journalists and shrinks and the public fret over each killer's declared motives, From Brevik's islamophobia to Timothy McVeigh's war against government, to Al Qaeda suicide bombers, to the murderous students at Columbine High School who appeared to be seeking vengeance for bullying. Yet, when we step back and look for common threads, the emerging pattern seems to be less about specific hatreds, racism or anti-Semitism than frenzied, bloody tantrums staged by a string of losers with one common goal — to grab headlines.

“The reason they are doing this is for their moment of glory,” says Marvin Hier, who has studied the subject intensely for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, “when they feel the whole world is stopping to take notice of them.”

This trend isn’t limited to hate crimes. In the chilling story of Cary Stayner — the Yosemite killer — we saw how one man’s penchant for brutality can be sharpened by an appetite for publicity. Soon after he confessed to murdering four women in Yosemite National Park in 1999, Stayner told San Jose reporter Ted Rowlands, “I want a movie of the week.” Though he admitted having murderous fantasies since childhood, Stayner may also have been propelled by a jealous wish for notoriety equal to his brother Steven, whose escape from a pedophile in the late ’70s was indeed dramatized for television.

It’s an all-too-familiar pattern. The Oklahoma City terrorists, Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, killer Mark David Chapman and Anders Breivik all showed a yearning for attention, both in the headline-grabbing nature of their crimes and in their polemics after capture. And it extends to less violent outlaws who relish fame, like cyber-vandal Kevin Mitnick, who portray themselves as Robin Hood romantics for what amounts to pissing in the common well. Whatever their diverse surface-rationalizations, it also surely has a lot to do with getting noticed in an era that reveres fame.

Society appears to be trapped, obliged to pay madmen the attention they crave, in direct proportion to the hurt they do.

=== History and biology ===

Small surprise - this is not a new problem. Two millennia ago, in the Hellenistic era, a young man torched one of the seven wonders of the ancient world — the Temple of Diana at Ephesus. When caught and asked why, he replied first with grievances against individuals and his city state, then admitted that he really wanted to make a mark, to be remembered. Since he wasn’t a great warrior, or creative person, his best chance was to gain infamy by destroying something.

Evolutionary biologists explain why this happens almost exclusively among frustrated, under-achieving males.  In nature, a male animal is never assured reproductive success.  He must find some way to be noticed, to stand out, at least a bit.  And the drive to stand out more than just a bit always simmers under the surface... because a risky gamble might bring disproportionate rewards.

"If I can't achieve that through talent or great works or team effort or any of the regular routes... I'll make a splash in ways you won't forget!"

Sure, none of these fellows gets to breed after committing awful acts. It must have been more successful in the Neolithic. It will take millennia - or fierce female selection - to work that crazy recourse out of our genes.

=== A healthy reflex, turned horrid by exaggeration ===

romantic-lonerConditions today are ripe for more of this. Not only has fame itself been made sacred, but countless films and novels feed a culture of resentment by extolling the image of romantic loners, battling vile institutions. On the plus side, this all-pervading mythos fosters a healthy suspicion of authority - or SOA.

(Much of modern politics revolves around which elite you perceive grabbing too much power -  e.g. oligarchs or snooty academics. Culture War might ease a bit, if we recall that other folks'  SOA fears may be as valid as ours.)

Alas though, SOA all-too easily inflates into contempt for all institutions, along with disdain for the very same tolerance and cooperative effort that sustain civilization. Now add another ingredient — the progressive diffusion of destructive technologies into private hands — and you get a recipe for profound unpleasantness in the years ahead. We just don’t need this trend further reinforced by the seductive lure of renown.

=== A possible solution? ===

One answer is suggested by that fellow who burned the temple at Ephesus. He is often called Herostratos. But in fact, many scholars think that is a made-up name, used to replace his true identity, which was expunged. To punish his abhorent act and to deter others with the same aim, the city banned speaking of him. Two millennia later, no one knows for sure who he really was.

Were the ancients on to something? If a sociopath’s attraction to villainy is partly engendered by hope for celebrity, might a “Herostratos law” take away some of the allure, by ensuring the opposite?

Of course things work differently today. Coerced forgetfulness is out of the question in a free society. Newspapers and journalists would have to participate voluntarily. Instead of suppressing actual facts, which are needed for accountability, good results might be achieved simply by making adjustments in style and presentation. After all, reporters assented, en masse, when Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh asked to be called “Tim” and the Unabomber said “call me Ted” instead of Theodore. If journalists accommodate murderers in this small way — as a reflex of professional courtesy — why can’t they lean a bit the other direction, after someone is convicted of gross felonies in a court of law?

Courts already do have some authority to order name-changes. Suppose that power were widened — any criminal sentenced for a truly heinous crime could be renamed as part of his punishment, with a moniker that invites disdain. New history books might state: “Robert F. Kennedy was slain in 1968 by Doofus25*.”

The asterisk is there to let anyone find the assassin’s former name in a footnote, if they are truly interested, so no one is actually suppressing knowledge. Nevertheless, the emphasis on a new moniker will take hold.

Who would choose the new names? Judges could get creative, or the public might be invited to suggest appropriate derogations.  Or something random might be the greatest punishment of all.

herostratosHowever it’s done, won’t it make sense for ridicule to replace some of the grotesque fashionableness that’s now attached to terror? It would reflect society’s determination to allocate fame properly, to those who earn it. We would be saying — “You can’t win celebrity this way. By harming innocents, you’re only destroying your own name.”

The idea may seem odd, at first. Maybe even needlessly vindictive. But I promise it will grow more appealing each time the cycle is repeated by some murderous loony who demands our attention with both violence and contempt. Pragmatically speaking, it could contribute to breaking today’s vicious feedback loop by denying sociopaths the attention they crave, perhaps even tempting them to seek help. (Help we all-too-often fail to provide. But that’s another, much harder subject.)

Moreover, this approach to deterrence may give us — civilization’s rambunctious, argumentative, yet cooperative citizens — the last laugh. We can catch, punish and outlast them, of course. But above all we’ll deny villains any chance to win through violence a bigger place in history than the hard-working, creative people they hurt and despise.

Who knows? Some of those angry ones out there, who are teetering with indecision each desperate day, may even decide that it’s better to help lay a few bricks, alongside the rest of us, than to claw after infamy by tearing the walls down.

If they do — if they choose to join us — we should try to welcome them. Listen to them. And learn their names.

This article originally appeared in Salon and was revised and updated in light of recent events.


Dwight Williams said...

I remember a similar suggestion from Spider Robinson in the pages of the Globe and Mail in the wake of John Lennon's murder. Something to the effect of only ever referring to Lennon's murderer as "one who offended all"...?

Roger Kent said...


This is an interesting idea. I am not sure how many killers would be deterred, but I would feel better renaming some attention seeking mass murderer Doofus25.

Roger Kent

Tacitus said...

I won't mention the name of this new monster at all. Ever. But as the topic has been raised I have to say I am afraid that we are about to encounter something new. New and awful.
This individual is obviously intelligent. This is not some low IQ person who is likely to have swallowed nonsense about Templars or White Supremacy. There is evidence of methodical planning, and a mind capable of evading whatever common sense measures we may wish for. (And yes, the high capacity magazines must go). I won't go into the alternate ways something like this could unfold, nor should anyone else.
I find it alarming that there is none of the usual Facebook, Twitter, online manifesto material. What person his age is off the grid that much? I think he is toying with us. He will say something when he choses.
And what will it be?
He might be garden variety crazy, a schizophrenic somehow able to keep the deflector screens up just this long.
Or he might be something worse.
Will he come out as a self styled crusader for, well, for what?
"You need gun control, look what I was able to do!"
"America is rotten to the core, you bring children to a violent movie at midnight."
Or maybe he is a harbinger of something darker still. An obviously intelligent person unable to find work after graduating from college. Is he going to denounce America root and branch?
Maybe it is better that he has a common name. It should be forgotten by everyone except the idiot ABC reporter who tried to pin this horror on a Tea Party member with a similar name. Let's hope he and his liabilty carrier never forget it.
And if it turns out that there is some far fetched connection in this madman's brain, well be it Occupy or Tea Party or the Illuminati it won't alter my opinions.
It is the Hydra we confront here. Not an army of McVeighs but an evil serpent with many different heads.

icowdave said...

Hari Seldon made the same damnatio memoriae suggestion to Emperor Cleon I in the Foundation series. They renamed each perpetrator as "Idiot" with a number appended to discourage others from trying to achieve fame in the same manner. As I remember it worked in the book. Of course the press was compelled by royal decree to do so which as you said would not be possible in our world.

SteveO said...


The guy heretofore known as Littledick Pickshisnose (or Ahole#929 - your choice) just dropped out of medical school at CU Denver, so it was not quite that he couldn't find a job after graduation - and given his grades in high school should have been able to succeed.

Also keep in mind that, contrary to expectations, many terrorists are not ignorant, but fairly well-educated, so it is a complex picture. No doubt more information will emerge, at the same time true and misleading.

CITOKATE: I don't know that I buy misplaced sexual selection pressure presenting as desire for notoriety as a primary driving force in this case, though it is certainly up there. (Another solution in that case: government-sponsored pleasure borgs for the young, male, and restless?) Obviously Littledick wired his apartment (and told cops about it) to stay in the news longer. I suspect that there is a lack of socialization component, a mental health component, a lack of friend and family support network.

But to Tacitus' point, I think one of the other factors is certain members of society who go beyond incivility and treat disagreement with them as something akin to sin. So whether it was the TEA Party, PETA, or none of the above whom he will claim "made him do it", violence as a reaction to problems is being preached by people who are influential in our culture. Even if you disagree with their statement, it makes violent reaction more...palatable...for those on the fringe.

I won't hide the fact that I think there are currently more inciters on the political Right than the Left, but that does not matter to people who already have some mental illness - all they need is the vitriol.

John Barnes said...

There's a critical truth spoken in jest here: the anonym should be something generic and mildly disparaging. Doofus25 might be a little too friendly, but it's awfully close. Maybe a short abbreviation, like MHA for Mental Health Accident, NDP for Not Discussed Person, or NRCO (name redacted by court order).

Most of the effect could be achieved by coordinated cooperation; you rarely see racial epithets in the news in the US anymore, not because they're illegal, but because organizations and people won't accept content that contain them.

AM Bodmer said...

I like this proposal.

May I suggest a format that is less amusing and more clinical?


This format has the added benefit of being translatable, making the names a little more friendly for historians/ researchers/ data miners compiling global data. The number on the end is simply the sequence of the crime, in chronological order. The name can then be generated immediately following the event or discovery of the crime. It gets used in all news stories before there is even a person in custody to attach it to. For multi-perpetrator crimes, a final .01, .02, .03, .04 gets appended. Not letters. Letters get too close to being a name.

The full-on name change should only be for those not intended to re-enter society. For them, its permanent and the name used for them outside the prison.

A temporary name-change might be appropriate for some severe crimes during prison only, and then not for the full duration. Whether to enforce use of the new name outside the prison is something I don't think would be worth bothering with, given that we want these people to be able to eventually re-integrate and the damage to that effort might overwhelm any beneficial results.

I say this because I find a lot to admire in what I learned about Norway's rehabilitative model in the aftermath of the massacre perpetrated by Breivik / Murderer.Norway.2011.00001. The focus there seems to be on fixing the person and making it so they can be trusted to be in society again. It seems to work.

For those we'd re-integrate, use the name change during the initial period of incarceration to drive home that this is a new era of their life, then near the end of incarceration to repeat the lesson, on a more positive note - 'we are going to return you to society. You have earned a place there. You will be known by your own name there, and leave the name of your crime here.'

It might be nice to include a small ceremony for the renaming each time to punctuate the event in the criminal's mental history. Instead of just being something that gets bundled in with the rest of the consequences, there is that moment when they lost their name, and then later regained it.

I'd be very interested to see a study tracking recidivism rates with such a program.

Will Shetterly said...

I like this, but I'd vote against including mocking names. Someone might be proud of even getting that degree of fame. There's little fame in being known by the number of your court case. And, before conviction, there would be little fame in being just an Accused with a number.

Daniel Dvorkin said...

It's an interesting idea, but I really don't see any way it would work -- nobody's going to be satisfied with "The crime was committed by ___". And the mandatory-renaming thing strikes me as the thin end of a very large wedge. We already have far too many people who think that humiliating convicted criminals (or even just those accused of a crime) is a good idea. If this practice were accepted, you can bet it wouldn't stay reserved for mass murderers for very long. I can only imagine what making people convicted of lesser crimes go through life with deliberately embarrassing names would do to the recidivism rate.

Klaus said...

It's a great idea, but it's also spelled "Notoriety" :D

David Brin said...

Tacitus... your speculations wabout the killer were cogent. But I will bet the TOPIC of the movie played into it. The film makes an anti-government ranter into an epic villain. The McVeigh types may have a grudge against Nolan and this flick.

icowdave, yes the Benford novel FOUNDATION'S FEAR (the first book in our trilogy) included a riff about this Herostratos Law. At my suggestion!

At 7:30pm EDT on Sunday, July 22nd, a 3,000-foot asteroid will pass by Earth at a distance of 3.2 million miles. 2002 AM31, discovered ten years ago, has no chance of impact, but its relative proximity means that you'll be able to see the journey through the Slooh Space Camera in the Canary Islands.

David Brin said...

The Jefferson Rifle: Offering the NRA a reasonable deal in exchange for common sense in gun control.

David Brin said...

High capacity magazines exacerbate the problem. "One element to the Tuscon rampage that I haven't seen mentioned, so far, is the role that was played by the gunman's use of an insanely large capacity, 31-round magazine, which allowed him to spray a helpless crowd, killing several elderly bystanders, a federal judge and a nine-year old girl, and critically injure the district's freely elected representative to the United States Congress, before he could finally be brought down, when his automatic pistol ran out of bullets."

"...Time and again, we have seen mass murdering gunmen brought down by brave citizen bystanders... at Columbine and when Reagan and Ford and Robert Kennedy were attacked... and in Tucson.  For the most part,  the take-down happened as soon as the bastard ran out of bullets!

"(These immense magazines are only good for one purpose, pouring a lot of bullets into a crowd of people, too fast for anyone to react.  You cannot come up with another scenario for such  awful things. Even if you are in a B-Movie gun fight with a horde of motorcycle-riding zombies, that will take place over a period when you can change your freaking magazines. Heck, Lady Lara Croft does just fine with seven or nine-round clips."

David Brin said...

Brad Templeton's brother just made the same point in web-cartoon form!

Alex Tolley said...

I like the idea of using ridicule to deter future sociopathic killers from getting what they crave, but I have to agree with the logic that it is unworkable. At best, we might diminish the publicity.

My question is what impact ridicule might have to dissuade further episodes. Would it be effective, or are such acts so emotional that the perpetrator does not take the consequences into consideration.

J. Daniel Sawyer said...

David --

This is brilliant, and if a way could be found to do it without constitutional problems (for example, if it became the court convention, and then we could construct a social contract to honor it), I'd join that campaign.

On the subject of large-capacity magazines, I'm very much a libertarian on the gun rights front and such restrictions push my reactionary buttons. That said, while doing research for my recent book Throwing Lead (an apolitical book for writers on gun tech, tactics, and history) I ran across a few facts that make me more open to such proposals. In case they help forward the discussion, here it is:

High capacity automatic weapons are tactically useless in battle. Anyone who's used one knows they're not accurate--what I didn't realize was that in battle only about 1 in 250,000 bullets ever hit their target. The main (intended) purpose of high capacity weapons is to make the other gunman duck.

In terms of resisting tyranny (one of the three legitimate purposes of gun ownership in my mind, the other two being self-defense and recreation/hunting/etc in a controlled environment), the public does not need machine guns--for that matter, neither do the police. In Fallujah, the dissidents held of the USMC for a long time, and they were armed largely with bolt-action rifles. A good shooter with a bolt-action rifle and a normal-capacity pistol in good repair is often more effective and dangerous than a dolt with a typewriter.

Because of these two facts (and a number of others), I've reached the conclusion that high-capacity magazines (fun as they are on the shooting range) are not essential for any of the three legitimate purposes outlined above. I am still uncomfortable with legal restrictions on them, but I now see it as a slippery slope problem rather than a cut-and-dried Constitutional issue.

Thanks for the provocative and creative article!

TheMadLibrarian said...

Returning to the preceding discussion about solar panels:
I wanted at some point to put panels on my S facing roof. The problem is getting a county permit to do so. Our local power company has a very pragmatic reason for limiting the amount of solar panels that can pump power back into the system: they are too variable and unreactive. You need a system that reacts within minutes to changes in power flow. One cloud over the sun causes big fluctuations in immediately supplied photovoltaic power. Until we develop methods of storing renewable power within the system and can tap it during slack times, it will always be second rate over controllable power supplies. At this point, battery tech isn't quite there.

61 criptern: disabled bird count

Anonymous said...

I think that western law is so dependent upon individual identity, it permeates every aspect of our culture. It seems that I have a right to my identity--a collective forgetting, or obscuring of my identity, mandated by law, is terrifying. Regardless of what I've done, should I be subject to "deletion" by "society"? And how can a victim reconcile the fact that society says "no-name" is the one that caused them harm? Wouldn't this be more in criminals' interest, to foster the idea that identity is transient--'catch me if you can.' Anyways, I think this guy is just trolling on anonymous, or those who identify as anonymous. Trying to illustrate possible ethical issues behind their choice. Fact is our government plays the noname game everyday, making us all victims of collective forgetting of their crimes. I think anonymous is simply, satirically, and intelligently mocking this corrupt system, knowing that they will be the ones to pay a personal price. Because the government collective will never be held accountable, nor it's conspirators. Truth is the ultimate test though--the joke is on the corrupt.

Paul Hays said...

As for the legality of all this. I notice that most papers and on-line news sources seem to with hold names of rape victims and Under age offenders, at least for a while, until the notoriety dies down.
It might also ease the Burdem of prosecutors in finding juries that are not tainted by pre-trial reporting that may make it hard to find an un-biased group of peers.

David Brin said...

J. Daniel... calling your attention to both of my previous articles

The Jefferson Rifle: Offering the NRA a reasonable deal. Making the bolt action rifle constitutionally protected and sacred... in exchange for common sense re other kinds of weapons, background checks and huge magazines.

High capacity magazines exacerbate the problem. "One element to the Tuscon rampage that I haven't seen mentioned, so far, is the role that was played by the gunman's use of an insanely large capacity, 31-round magazine, which allowed him to spray a helpless crowd, killing several elderly bystanders, a federal judge and a nine-year old girl, and critically injure the district's freely elected representative to the United States Congress, before he could finally be brought down, when his automatic pistol ran out of bullets."

"...Time and again, we have seen mass murdering gunmen brought down by brave citizen bystanders... at Columbine and when Reagan and Ford and Robert Kennedy were attacked... and in Tucson.  For the most part,  the take-down happened as soon as the bastard ran out of bullets!

"These immense magazines are only good for one purpose, pouring a lot of bullets into a crowd of people, too fast for anyone to react.  You cannot come up with another scenario for such  awful things. Even if you are in a B-Movie gun fight with a horde of motorcycle-riding zombies, that will take place over a period when you can change your freaking magazines. Heck, Lady Lara Croft does just fine with seven or nine-round clips."

Nellie Tobey said...

I agree. Idiot#25 it is. there is no law against the american people giving this murderer any nickname we choose. Done deal for me.

infanttyrone said...

We could go mixed-Classical and call them Odysseus-XXV. (or whatever number is next in sequence)
'Odysseus' referencing the Cyclops encounter where he used the name 'no man' to outfox Polyphemus.
It could help to teach the Roman numerals that kids probably aren't taught much these days.

One small comfort from this is that with the Odysseus handle there will be almost no chance of one of these yoyo's winning the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes.
Now, if we can figure out a way to wall them off from Powerball...

Just a little fun tune on the money theme...

Aunt Foggy said...

I agree wholeheartedly with the rationale for a generic nomenclature for convicted criminals. But I also am having unsettling recollections of every dystopian SF story I have ever read in which increasing government repression is often signaled by just this sort of social change.
There would be some trepidation on my part for giving that sort of power to the folks who have brought us the TSA, Homeland Security, and legalized fishing expeditions.

David Brin said...

Hey I went on a legalized fishing expedition with the boy sprouts last year. Granted, it was a crime how little we caught that was actually edible.

Tony Fisk said...

I've long wondered how alluring the prospect of manly martyrdom would be if terrorists and suicide bombers were referred to as 'sadmen' and their 'bangboys'.

In a similar vein, Silverberg referred back to a Babylonian punishment in his short story 'To See the Invisible Man'. A bit more draconian than 'Herostratus, and it struck me that how society went about wilfully ignoring the wrongdoer's existence was lose-lose.

Banning semi-automatics after Port Arthur was one of the few things I agreed with Howard on. Perhaps the US constitution should be reinterpreted as a right to *own* arms?

Oh well! We are currently in the anger stage of the reaction. As the Onion sadly notes, all this will have given way to other things in two weeks.

Solar power fluctuations can be smoothed simply by adding (ultra)capacitors, preferably between the panel and the inverter.

Tim H. said...

I'd say the man-shaped creature deserves an "FME", Fecal Matter Equivalency. Tweaking society a little in a more humanistic direction might reduce such incidents, a little. Agree on the bolt action rifle, how many rounds do you really need to take out bambi?

Louise Lucas said...

My husband recognized an ancillary benefit of David's suggestion: protection of the perpetrator's relatives. If Doofus 25* shoots up a theater, does his family deserve instant notoriety? Maybe, but probably not. Denying killers their infamy could provide their families with a critical buffer while they cope with the appalling shock.

Acacia H. said...

Actually, Dr. Brin, there is an added benefit of this action. Think for a second of a certain young lady in Florida who was found not guilty of a crime but who now is in hiding because a number of people have stated a desire to give her the punishment the courts denied them.

If she were anonymous, if we never truly knew her name... then once she was found not guilty, she could reenter society. Likewise with the current mass murderer who seemed to have chickened out of his suicide-by-cop and surrendered to the police instead. If he were somehow found not guilty by some bizarre chance... then would he not benefit by being known in the criminal news as Murderer.Colorado.20120719.1 throughout his trial... and then if somehow found to not be guilty, allowed to leave and become the name he once held?

In short, Anonymity becomes a shield and a defense for those who are found not guilty... as well as a deterrent to prevent people from gaining a place in the history books by perpetrating horrific acts of terror.

Of course, we should not stop there. Why call a certain organization Al Qaida? Why not call it Terrorist.Organization.[region].0015? All at once, Al Qaida loses its power because all it is is a number. (And best of all, never list any of them as #1 so that there's no real value. Who wants to be #2 after all? You can even create the fiction of "tried repeating an action by T.O.[region].001" so they buy the lie they aren't even first on America's list.

Just something to consider.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Louise's suggestion resonates with the movie "We Should Talk About Kevin" which is a real downer about a woman whose son commits a horrible act. Weirdly synchronously, we watched it last night.

Paul451 said...

Re: The invisible.
I agree with those who say not "Doofus" or "Idiot" or "Ahole", and definitely not "the one who offended all". I much prefer AM Bodmer's idea to bury them amongst the rest of the murderers. (I'd only add, it must be searchable via a central .gov website. The information must be available for individuals to look up, even if not otherwise published.) During the trial, it would need to be Accused.2012.012345, changing to Murderer.2012.012345 only after conviction.

Exceptions: It occurs to me that sometimes the police themselves would want to release the name/identity, in order to call for witnesses and prior victims.

Re: Enforcement.
Within a jurisdiction, it can be enforced like any suppression order. Between jurisdictions it would simply be a courtesy and habit. Media would have a short window between arrest and arraignment to name the perpetrator, most eventually wouldn't bother. (Especially once people internalise the new system and become offended by any mention of a perpetrator's identity.)

Re: Slippery slope.
If it became a humiliation punishment outside of prison, activists would rebel simply by pointedly breaching the suppression.

(ordsmoo 14: Convicted of the worst crime of all.)

Paul451 said...

Re: Gun control.
Since the shooting, I've been hearing comments from the conspiracy nuts that "the timing is suspicious, what with Obama's recent gun control efforts". I know they're just paranoid loons, but I was wondering if there is any real actions by Obama that this is based on? It's seems a widespread belief amongst rightwing extremists. ("The most anti-gun president in America's history.") His administration seems to have done little about gun control. (He's spoken in favour of the Clinton-era assault weapons ban, but signed laws supporting CCW on Federal land.) Certainly no hint of him taking advantage of any recent mass shootings to ram through gun control while everyone is still in "something must be done" shock/anger, as Howard did in Australia in 1996.

Kathy said...

Strange, people don't object (too much) to all the rules and regs surrounding automobiles and one's "freedom" to drive a car. Every year we must pay a special car tax (registration) and make sure our vehicle is "safe" and has pollution controls.

But idiots howl like a banshee with a hot poker up its ass at the mere suggestion of regulating murder-machines in a similar way. Thank god the Automobile companies never acquired as much power as the munitions makers and their puppets the "NRA".

Ian Gould said...

I'm having trouble seeing this work in practise, can you imagine a TV journalist asking a grieving family: "Is there anything you want to say to Idiot27?"

David Brin said...

Paul451, to my knowledge, Obama's gun control efforts have amounted to virtually nil.

The fact that they allow their puppeteers to talk them into imagining things that aren't there... nor even remotely... is proof of hallucinatory schizophrenia.

Their movement has cast off from any residual relationship with fact or evidence. It's all narrative and story. You can TRY to at least get money out of it, by demanding wagers. But that only makes them sullen and angry as they refuse, ever, to shake hands like a man and put money on it.

The facts? A few lefties still speak of gun control... and moderate people like me will raise the issue of insanely huge ammo magazines...

But in fact, many many liberals have shrugged, written the issue off, and moved on. Indeed, I know many of them who have taken courses and started arming themselves.

Does that make your friends happy?

David Brin said...

My wife - far more of a "liberal" than I am, in any classic sense - is an NRA certified Pro Marksman.

And I pity the fool who ever messes wit' her.

Paul451 said...

Random thought:

What about raising the age you can legally own a gun (*), to 35 for men, 30 for women? Gets people past "the age of madness".

(* Okay, excepting the militia rifle.)

Re: Mad "friends"

I was referring to online comments only. It seems to be a cultural shibboleth of the extreme-right & gun-nuts. Gun-nuts are much rarer here in Aus. (I haven't owned a gun in 20 years, and I only know one person who does and they aren't political about it.)

Acacia H. said...

The NRA and related gun rights activists point to the "Fast and Furious" and claim it was a deliberate attempt by the Obama Administration to set up a sequence of events where they could create a widescale ban on guns because of the obvious threat they pose.

Then there is Obama mentioning the need to enforce existing gun laws.

Literally the entire anti-gun Obama camp lies with FaF and Obama's limp comments after that poor Congresswoman got shot. And yet it's enough to rile up the masses. There is tremendous fear among gun activists that Democrats will eliminate their right to bear arms, despite the fact most Democrats refuse to even consider such legislation on a Federal level after what happened in '94.

Rob H.

Rob H.

Tissue paper machine said...

Great job on the blog, it looks great. I am going to bookmark it and will make sure to check back weekly!

Ian said...

As a duly appointed representative of the 955 of the human race residing outside the United States: Fuck it, we give up.

If Americans find the occasional mass murder an approrpriate price to pay for their constitutional right to bear arms, then that's fine with us.

Tim H. said...

My father claimed the reason he sold his Ruger 22* revolver was my mother pointed out a particular walnut, high up, and hit it.
*For those with more rational systems of measurement, 5.56mm. Inches & feet are self-consistent, more than I could say about certain other aspects of this country, especially in an election year, ever wonder if Romneybama (A lot alike, but one is known by the company one keeps, and I have an opinion (Surprise!) on which ones creep me out more.) just hopes some other poor soul will come out of the woodwork and spare them? One of 'ems got a tax return mystery, just what sort of whited sepulcher are we seeing? "Join with Michelle, and tell Barack you're in" bet he wouldn't of approved that if he had boys. "chtutho 81" distant cousin, shorter tentacles, no ambition.

Jumper said...

This sort of thing really only works democratically and voluntarily, but it's still something that ought to be publicized. I have been adhering to it since 1980 regarding one of them. When forced, I simply describe the crime and mention my vow. Everyone has respected it and some may have adopted it. No "McFilthy #312," no nothing.

A comics fan pointed out somewhere online a day or so ago that Batman has traditionally been very opposed to guns. I will forego further speculation.

Jonathan S. said...

Well, Jumper, in Batman's case it's a result of untreated PTSD - young Bruce Wayne watched both of his parents shot to death in front of him, and everyone's idea of appropriate treatment was to take him back to Wayne Manor and let Alfred handle it. Small wonder the Bat hates guns.

Don't think that has the least bearing on what Accused.Aurora.20120720.001 did that day, though. I figure he dropped a processor bank or two. Psychiatrically unsound, but legally probably "sane" - that is, capable of understanding that his actions were wrong.

Edit_XYZ said...

Related to David Brin's comments about a new aristocracy and its bid for absolute power:

rewinn said...

On solar ... I'm not sure your utility is being entirely straight with its explanation.

Our PV system feeds into our house box where it powers our personal use same as the grid does. We feed the grid only when we generate more than our personal use, and that means that our feed from the grid fluctuates only to the same order of magnitude that a home's draw normally fluctuates. (Indeed you probably have some microgenerators at your house, e.g. when you powerdown your vacuum, there is probably a small feed into your box as the motor slows - not enough to actually feed the grid of course.)

The utility's explanation just doesn't make sense. It may have other concerns, e.g. shutting off your feed when they're working on the wires. These are all solvable problems but it takes some work on their part and they may have decided being a footdragging dinosaur it the best business model for them. The geographical near-monopoly utilities enjoy may make that a viable strategy for holding off decentralized competitors unlike other markets such as computing or beer brewing.

Random thoughts on Colorado.Pervert.2012.00001

1. Has no-one noticed that the GOP is nominating a presidential candidate who signed a gun ban?

2. What if we auction naming rights for criminals, giving the money to crime survivors? A name may be consider personal property, and that (in a disturbing trend) may be civilly forfeited.

3. It seems only an urban legend that Dr. Mudd (who unwittingly helped Lincoln's murderer) was the origin of the phrase "your name is mud".

4. I am proud that our nation goes on and hope for a better future. As one of our libertarians noted above, large capacity magazines aren't really party of a better future and if we can come to agreement on that, across a chasm of ideology, that's another reason for hope.

Mel Baker said...

The series NCIS did exactly this after capturing a psychopath. The character was murdering people for the fame it would give him. The government told the press it was an act of terror and the suspect was only being called X to protect further investigations.

As a working journalist, I'm not so certain I like the idea. When the story is unfolding it would be impossible to withhold a name, but perhaps in the aftermath a new name could be assigned.

Look at the success of creating a new definition for the name Santorum by LGBT activists furious over that vile, hating GOP presidential candidate.

infanttyrone said...

@ rewinn
I did not know that Romney had signed a gun ban.
No wonder Palin seems lukewarm to his candidacy.

Another Thought on the Elephant in the Living Room
Does no one remember that when we were losing about 500K jobs per month at the time of the last election, the GOP's nominee was not the guy who now boasts about his business experience and how he "understands how to create jobs".

John Barnes said...

A little semiotic noodling to add to the soup:

One problem you're up against here is the inherent pejorative: any expression for something that large numbers of people hate, fear, or are disgusted by will quickly become an insult, and until the hate/fear/disgust/bigotry fades out, all that happens is that a new polite name is coined and becomes an insult. The history of terms for African-Americans is one obvious place to see this; the history of terms for the developmentally disabled/delayed is another (at one public school where the special education facility was called the resource room, the children began using "resourcie" as an insult, for example). So any name you come up with is going to become a pattern for insult; you don't have to call them Idiot because if the papers use NDNP-19 (name deliberately not published) or some such, within a short time rude people, trying to start fights, will be saying, "So did you take your mom's last name instead of your dad's number?" and "Is NDNP a traditional name in your family?"There's going to be abundant shaming whether you try to encourage or discourage it, because it's about as basic a human behavior as sex or violence.

Conversely, some segments of society will make it a badge of honor, or what's called a perverse honorific. Oppressed groups reclaiming oppressor language is the most familiar example, but think about the subcultures in which you are not "real" if you haven't done the time. So at a guess, there would pretty quickly be anti-hero types in the media awarding themselves NDNPs and glamorizing the code.

Neither phenomenon is avoidable, so you might as well just do what you can not to enable either very much, and then either de-name people or don't. But you cannot possibly design a designation so clever that some people won't turn it into hate and others won't turn it into glamor.

Tony Fisk said...

...There is also a presumption of guilt inherent in choosing names like 'colorado.pervert'. If this idea does get adopted, then the names coined should be random, and neutral (I shudder to think what comes after Dis.Lucifer #41!)
I think there's been quite enough trashing of laws to get after the Devil as it is.

Eek! Just saw the capcha: 'atnerFeb 41'....!!

David Brin said...

Very important news -- our Viktor Frankenstein moment. Remember where you were when you read this. It’s important. In a breakthrough effort for computational biology, the world's first complete computer model of an organism has been completed, Stanford researchers reported last week in the journal Cell." A team used data from more than 900 scientific papers to account for every molecular interaction that takes place in the life cycle of Mycoplasma genitalium, the world's smallest free-living bacterium.

Why is the a whole lot more than your run of the mill bioscience breakthrough? Until now, knowing the ways and means of a bazillion sub-reactions and gears and wheels did not combine into a clear model of a whole organism. This is a true Frankenstein moment... in the best meaning of the term! In that before, all we had were countless non-living pieces on the work bench.

Now... we know how to put them together. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha. No, seriously. Bwa-haha.

Tony Fisk said...

Hmm! This denaming idea may have drawbacks.
Imagine what would happen if you started referring to terrorists as teddy bears (or was that the other way around??)

Acacia H. said...

When I refer to renaming a prisoner or an accused, I do not mean the legal renaming so that their permanent name is such-and-such. What I mean is that they will be referred to the news media as Accused.Massachusetts.Boston.125125 (or once convicted Murderer.Massachusetts.Boston.0125) and during court proceedings. If they are found not guilty, they return to their original name. If they serve their time and are released back into society, they return to their old name. In short, the new name is meant to be their label while they go through the judicial system.

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

Should you want your monster-raising 'Bwa-haha!s' set to music on Tesla coils... (OpenSpark playing 'Nikola Tesla', what else?)

Who was/will be 'ogricula 17'? Is it politically correct to ask?

LarryHart said...

Just dropped by to say hello. I've been out of the country and pretty much out of touch for a week, so I didn't even know about the latest shooting until I read today's papers. I see I missed several Brin main posts as well. Will take me a few days to catch up.

And I'm 100 pages from the end of "Existence". Lots to mull over in that one, but so far, I'm liking it. Well worth the wait!

BCRion said...

Meanwhile on the transparency front:

Summary, from $21-32 TRILLION exists in offshore tax havens. None of it accountable, and none of it taxed. If so, many of the global economic problems could be solved.

sociotard said...

As a counter to the "renaming not fame-ing" proposal:

What about establishing notoriety for people who wish to avoid it?

17-year-old sexual assault victim could face charges for tweeting names of attackers
A Kentucky girl who was sexually assaulted could face contempt of court charges after she tweeted the names of her juvenile attackers.

Savannah Dietrich, the 17-year-old victim, was frustrated by a plea deal reached late last month by the two boys who assaulted her, and took to Twitter to expose them--violating a court order to keep their names confidential.

"There you go, lock me up," Dietrich tweeted after naming the perpetrators. "I'm not protecting anyone that made my life a living Hell." Her Twitter account has since been closed.

Attorneys for the attackers asked a Jefferson District Court judge to hold Dietrich in contempt for lashing out on Twitter. She could face up to 180 days in jail and a $500 fine if convicted. The boys have yet to be sentenced for the August 2011 attack.

Effectively, the government told her "This part of your history now belongs to the state. It is no longer yours and you must obtain our permission, which we will not give, in order to discuss it."

Paul451 said...

Rob H,
Re: Accused.2012.012345

I strongly disagree with the idea that any no-name is actually used in court. Any dehumanisation is hugely prejudicial, even for a non-jury trial. It's human nature, even for judges, even for the accused's own lawyer. The accused shouldn't even be in prison gear and cuffs unless they've previously acted violently in court.

Paul451 said...

"What about establishing notoriety for people who wish to avoid it?"

For the strict legal version of the idea, you answered your own question, the victim (or Twitter) is in contempt of court. (Which, hopefully, the judge will dismiss since the account is deleted.)

For the non-legal version, it's purely choice whether the idea is respected. (I'm shifting against having a formal renaming scheme. It's too tempting to use it as a form of punishment itself. Better to not use any "name". Encourage the media, each time this happens in the US (and occasionally elsewhere), to avoid using the perpetrator's name. "The accused", "the man arrested in connection with", "one of the perpetrators", etc. A social convention, not a law, nor a renaming.)

"$21-32 TRILLION exists in offshore tax havens. None of it accountable,"

More evidence we need to adopt David's "own it or lose it" proposal.

Actually David, how would it work with money hidden in non-participating jurisdictions (off-shore tax havens)? Presumably on transfer, but in genuine transactions (foreign sales, etc) how can I, receiving payment, be responsible for the foreign payer being in a country that doesn't participate in the scheme?

(Although, having a standard transaction tax on all transfers to/from non-reporting tax havens might be enough. Even without the rest of the "own it or lose it" idea.)

Ian said...

A 0.1% tax on all financial transactions and a 1% wealth tax on all billionaires would raise a hell of a lot of funds.

If the major countries all legislated to require this and to ban all fiancial transactions with non-complying jurisdictions they'd likely cave pretty quickly.

Actually I'd impose the wealth tax on all assets for which it couldn't be shown conclusively that the beneficial owner was not a billionaire.

You'd probably collect around a trillion dollars a year - which would pay hadnily for both global warming adaptation and mitigation and the eradciation of absolute poverty.

Mike said...

Some food for thought on the "high capacity magazine" front.

It's now being reported all over the place that Dr. Loony's primary-and by far most lethal-weapon jammed.

Because he was using a high capacity magazine.

These are generally cheaply made aftermarket pieces of junk that barely fit the weapon, take forever to exchange when empty(under serene range conditions) and are prone to near constant jams and other feed problems. This is why the military does not use them(along with the tendency to encourage "spray and pray" rapid fire shooting that usually misses.)

Who knows how many more people would have been killed had he been using standard capacity, OE, magazines that essentially NEVER jam and can be changed in less than a second while under fire(as designed).

Reports are Captain Loony did in fact pause to re-load his handgun several one rushed him then or earlier when the weapon jammed.

I highly doubt that a magazine ban would have deterred any of these shooters-what it WOULD do is what it did before, create a black market for these things...and once you have a popular black market there is no regulation.

The impulse to do...something is almost irresistible when one of these things happens-but perspective is important.

Charles Whitman killed more people from a clock-tower in 1966-his main weapon: a bolt action Remington 700. The Jefferson Rifle.(He also had a massive brain tumor-not a need for attention...)

McVeigh(and company)killed many, many more without using a firearm at all.

Again, just something to think about-better living through legislation seems troublesome, particularly when you take a close look at the legislators...

I always enjoy the blog, and the perspectives.

Jonathan S. said...

In Aurora, CO, 12 people died when a lunatic opened fire on them in a crowded theater. This has been headline news for several days.

In Goliad, TX, this morning, 13 people died when an overloaded pickup truck crashed. This rated a short article around page A-5 or so in the Seattle paper; doesn't seem to have made much more of a splash anywhere else, so far as I can tell.

It would seem that it's not the number of deaths, but the cause, that's getting all the attention.

Acacia H. said...

It's a matter of intent. If the truck driver deliberately drove through those people to kill as many as possible, then it would draw attention. If it were an accident caused by drunk driving, mechanical failure, or other causes that cannot be attributed to human malice, then it isn't as big of a news story.

Rob H.

sociotard said...

Yeah, humans are weird about intent and malice. Death, injury, or loss of property that arise from malice are treated differently than the same from accident or disaster.

rewinn said...

Perhaps it's more important to pay attention to deaths arising from malice, since one way to suppress them is to delegitimize malice.

It's still important to reduce the harm that can arise from malice (which is why in a sane society, no-one but cops would have weapons that can fire more than six shorts before reloading; they're simply not required for self-defense or hunting), but in general, accident- and disaster-reduction require somewhat different approaches than malice-reduction.

Acacia H. said...

Bears. And even then, six shots ain't gonna be enough, unless you've a .44. Even then you need to get a good shot in or the bear might shrug it off, maul you, and then go off to die elsewhere.

Of course, a good hunting rifle will penetrate a bear's hide but again you need to hit it in a good location (lungs, for instance) or the only good that gun is going to serve is to piss off said bear to tear you a new one before it goes off to die.

Rob H.

Ian said...

Mike, your argument is quite logical.

Provided you ignore all evidence from outside the US.

Robert, get many bear attacks in american cities?

sociotard said...

Not many bears in the city, but we'd see them when we'd go camping in Kelly's Canyon, in Idaho.

Can you point out data on black markets for illegal weapons? I'm not aware of any one way or another.

rewinn said...


Seriously ha-ha.

If you haven't taken down the bear in your first six shots, she's running away from the loud noise or eating your face.

But if it makes you feel better, carry TWO. Now, as to the real problem of guns, can we have a serious discussion?

David Brin said...

you guys are still down here?

we've moved... onward...

Acacia H. said...

Which is my point, Rewinn. While I'm not advocating the uber-large capacity mags for handguns for hunting purposes, having the normal number of shots in a semi-automatic handgun clip does provide a couple more chances to try and get that lucky shot that would take out the bear.

And yes, I'm talking about bears while hunting. My father and I have come across bear sign on the Ragged Mountains in Colorado. Cartoonist Colleen Doran (of A Distant Soil fame) has been posting pictures of a bear that visits the land her family owns and where she lives. So if you live in a rural region... bears can and will come by and "visit." It's their land too. But sometimes they can end up a threat.

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

I suspect that some of the mass killers, like the latest ones in Aurora or at VA Tech, have real mental illnesses and "fame" is not on their mental horizon.

Others, like Tim McVeigh, are terrorists, who see themselves as martyrs for a cause. Denying them fame may work, but the fame they find important would be among their non-rational comrades and co-ideologues.

A long time ago an sf author -- I think it was Mack Reynolds -- wrote a novel where every time the terrorists did something, the news media would make the terrorists the butt of a joke, lampooning the terrorists intelligence, manhood, whatever.

David Brin said...

Have you folks noticed the huge national swell - - to not mention the perp's name?

As reported by Molly Hennesy-Fiske of the Los Angeles Times:

" Jordan Ghawi, 26, of San Antonio became frustrated by how much of news coverage focused on the 24-year-old Holmes.

"Let us remember the names of the victims and not the name of the coward who committed this act," Ghawi tweeted Friday afternoon. The tweet went viral. When some Twitter followers noticed Holmes' name trending on Twitter - something Ghawi said bothered his mother - they started a campaign to promote (a victim's) name instead."

On SUnday, Mr. Ghawi made his pitch directly to President Obama, who chose not to mention the shooter by name, in his remarks.

I imagine Mr. Ghawi and the others thought of this notion independently. Still, it's good to see good ideas gain traction. And someone has to stand up for the intellectual/historical side of things....

Unknown said...

Dr. Brin, finally found this posting after the exchange in a completely separate comment thread. Now it makes a little more sense, though I'm confused why you felt the need to drop indirect mention (twice, now) in the more recent thread about this regrettable "movement" instead of posting a blanket sticky comment saying explicitly that you don't want the perp's name mentioned in your comments...

Seeing that in the other comment thread was more confusing than anything else. But now at least I see your own personal argument in favor of censorship in this very article.

I agree with Anonymous, obviously, in that mental illness plays a role here and not the seeking of fame. I think I would like to hear reasoned opinions supporting Marvin Hier's thesis because I honestly don't think this "moment of glory" concept is universally accepted. Of course, if you're making an argument, you have the right to cherry-pick your sources...

In that vein, it's interesting that you bring up Herostratus (or Herostratos), yet you claim that "many scholars think" that that's a made up name. I'm curious as to which scholars believe this? (As Wikipedians might say, [citation needed].) This would mean the historian Theopompus was either perpetrating a fraud or an unwitting dupe.

If those unnamed historians are right, they support your thesis. If they're wrong, then your thesis gets deflated substantially.

As a long-time fan, it disturbs me greatly to see you espousing this viewpoint, especially considering the Transparent Society... I just don't see how you can square this idea (censorship) with that vision.

Final note: Dr. Brin, saw your "You guys are still down here?" comment. Discussion threads often live way beyond the original blog post, and I'd rather see the discussion of a particular topic focused in one area, instead of smeared across unrelated blog posts.

Anonymous said...

I think that the removal of names and assigning generic names is a form of ostracism which has shown to be effective in the past. In ancient and more recent times [people who offended the primary tenants of the society they were a part of were shunned and cut off from the community through various means. This is just another way to accomplish this.

As a side note, does any one find it strange that there was no police presence during the Tuscon shooting until it had occurred? I find it strange that there were no officers that showed up until after the shooting had occurred. Frequently, when any political person speaks somewhere, you at least have a police presence for crowd control. One has to wonder who Gifford pissed off in the power structure.

Plus, as to gun control, every time something like this occurs, it seems like the gun control nuts come out of the wood work and we loose a little more of our right to bear arms. Somehow these nuts have money and a way to get access to guns that I as an average citizen who would like to own a gun (for personal protection) cannot.

As an example, let's look at the Aurora shooter...he was a student in the hell was he able to afford all of the weapons they found in his apartment??? I know as a student my self, one usually has very little funds and relies on grants, loans, and low paying jobs to survive. Heck, I probably make more than him annually and cannot find it in my budget after living expenses to afford to buy a gun which I would love to have for protection.

I hate to sound like a conspiracy nut, but it seems to me someone or some group is funding these whack jobs for the sole purpose of elimination or right to bear arms. Every time it seems we have a tragedy like in Connecticut or Colorado or anywhere else, our rights are legislated away.

Manish Packers and Movers Pvt Ltd said...
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