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Friday, March 23, 2018

Facebook in big, big trouble

From the Singapore Straits Times

WASHINGTON: As Facebook reels from the scandal over hijacked personal data, a movement to quit the social network has gathered momentum, getting a boost from a high-profile co-founder of the WhatsApp messaging service acquired by the huge social network in 2014.
"It is time. #deletefacebook," Brian Acton said in a tweet, using the hashtag protesting the handling of the crisis by the world's biggest social network.
The WhatsApp co-founder, who now works at the rival messaging application Signal, posted the comment amid a growing uproar over revelations that Facebook data was harvested by a British political consulting firm linked to Donald Trump's presidential campaign.
"Delete and forget. It's time to care about privacy," he said.
Several websites offered tips on how to quit Facebook, while noting that the process is more complicated than it appears.
Facebook offers users the option to "deactivate" an account for users who want to take a break and return later, or to "delete" the account and its data entirely.
But Facebook noted that some data such as posts on friends' timelines might remain in the system even after an account is deleted.
And longtime Facebook users could face complications on dealing with log-ins and authorizations to other websites and apps through the social network.
The website The Verge published a guide to deletion, advising users to download a copy of all personal data including photos and posts before quitting.
The website noted that it could take up to 90 days to fully delete an account, and that data may be inaccessible during that period.
Users may also face choices on what to do about other Facebook-owned properties such as Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger.
It was unclear how many users were following through on plans to quit Facebook, which has more than two billion users worldwide.
But Roger McNamee, an early investor in Facebook, said the social network was losing the trust of its users.
"The issue is a callous disregard for the privacy rights of users and a lack of care with respect to data that had been entrusted to Facebook," McNamee told National Public Radio.
"I'm not sure exactly what's going on here, but I'm afraid there is a systemic problem with the algorithms and the business model of Facebook that allow bad actors to cause harm to innocent users of Facebook." — AFP

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Million Dollar Mouse -- success!

The Million Dollar Mouse project team return, to announce the success of the mission.  No mice were found on Antipodes Island, so it can now be called predator free.

From Voxy

In a world-leading conservation effort, mice have been successfully eradicated from Antipodes Island in the New Zealand Subantarctic, Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage announced today.
Million Dollar Mouse, a joint initiative between the Department of Conservation (DOC) and funding partners the Morgan Foundation, WWF-New Zealand, Island Conservation and public supporters, has successfully delivered one of the most complex island eradication projects ever undertaken.
"This is huge news for conservation both in New Zealand and internationally," Ms Sage said.
"Special plants and wildlife, including 21 species of breeding seabirds, more than 150 species of insects - 17 per cent of them only found on the Antipodes; 21 uncommon plant species and four unique land birds are found on the Antipodes Island. They can now thrive with mice no longer preying on the insects or competing with the land birds."
The Minister visited Antipodes Island aboard the HMNZS Wellington in February when the outcome monitoring team were dropped off to review whether the winter 2016 baiting operation was successful.
During her visit, she saw first-hand the challenges the project faced, including remoteness, scale, and difficult terrain.
"The successful Antipodes Island mouse eradication is another landmark conservation achievement which underlines DOC’s technical expertise in pest control and threatened species protection.
"Seeing so many Antipodean and Reischek’s parakeets, pipits and insects flourishing on what is now a predator-free island is a tribute to the ambition, planning, dedication and skills of everyone involved from the helicopter pilots and bait crews in 2016 to the monitoring team this year."
Led by DOC’s Finlay Cox, the monitoring team searched the island for almost a month and found no sign of mice. They were assisted by three rodent detecting dogs from the Conservation Dogs programme, supported by Kiwibank and Auckland City Council. They returned to Dunedin yesterday.
DOC’s Island Eradication Advisory Group (IEAG) has declared the Antipodes Island officially mouse free.
DOC Project Manager Stephen Horn said work started on the project in 2014, but planning started much earlier.
"The success of this project was built on the lessons and experience from many other island eradications in New Zealand and abroad. The Subantarctic islands are remote, but the role they play in global conservation as the home for so many unique species can’t be overstated," he said.
"This success is not down to any single organisation or country and thanks must go to everyone involved, particularly the New Zealand public. Their donations and belief in the outcome got this project off the ground."

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Raft

This was yet another book I picked up at a whim.  I was in the library, and the title piqued my interest.  So I took it off the shelf and read the blurb:

Lydia and Martin Napier decide to get away from it all at a remote property in Far North Queensland [Australia].  It is their chance to spend time with their eight-year-old daughter, and also a chance to get their relationship back on track. The family hit the road for what they hope will be a taste of paradise.

Instead, they run into cyclone weather.  And as the rains stop, the floodwaters rise.

Caught up in the dramatic rescue of a policeman and his prisoner, within hours the family find themselves marooned on the roof of an isolated farmhouse.  With limited food and water, little hope of rescue, and a killer in their midst, they face the most terrifying ordeal of their lives.

A novel of heart-stopping suspense, The Raft is a deft psychological drama that will force you to keep turning the pages.

Interesting.  I suppose it was the blurb that made me borrow the book, though I must admit I also read the first few pages, to make sure it was decently written.

Within the first three chapters, I came to the conclusion that the author should have sued the blurb-writer.  Well, the blurb-writer was just doing his or her job, to sell the book, but this was truly under-rating it.  I really wondered if he or she had either (a) actually read the book, or (b) understood it.

So, let's see what I found.  First, we have a yuppie family, of two parents and one child.  The father has just been informed that his comic strip is going to be ... well, stripped from the franchise.  While his hunky hero, Zardan, has made megabucks in the past, Martin was silly enough to sign away his copyright, and now that there is a new CEO, who doesn't consider Zardan very sexy.

Martin's wife, Lydia, would like to be a fulltime mom (with lots of spare time at the gym) but her brother has talked them out of the Zardan millions with a really silly financial scheme, and so they are broke and she has to work.  And, while they have a lovely little daughter, the death of a son from meningitis lurks in the psyches of both.  Therefore, both are obsessive parents.  And, on the practical side, it looks as if they are going to have to get along on Lydia's salary.

So, weighed down with angst, they head off to Cairns (lovely town, great shopping center, good place to buy mosquito repellent, but surrounded by intimidating landscape) and then drive into the unknown, to spend a couple of weeks working through their problems at a farmhouse loaned by Lydia's boss.  And we all know that the Australian landscape, though stunning, is a field of extremes.

From that moment on, disaster after disaster.  Floods, and more floods. Total inundation. A broken bridge blocking their escape.  Dangling off the broken bridge is a police van carrying a couple of repellent nasties.  One (like one of the two policemen) succumbs to the flood.  The other, along with a cop with huge personal problems, is rescued -- not so much by Martin Napier, as by a truckie called Tony who happens along.

And so they go back to the farm, to retreat floor by floor as the flood engulfs them, until they are stranded on the roof.  So we are left with a group of virtual castaways. One aggressive cop, one murderous felon, a rather engaging truckie with a Croatian past, and a family of three trying to get their shattered existence in order.  There are crocodiles, a dam breaks, and there of a couple of looter/raiders. 

It sounds as if it was made for a movie, right?  Maybe (though the Australians have already made Dead Calm, a movie I recommend unreservedly) but there is a difference from the usual thriller genre.  A big difference.  Martin Napier's hero, Zardan, is facing similar problems in Napier's final comic strip, and Napier is constantly comparing himself with his comic book hero, and feeling utterly inadequate because of it.  A very nice touch is the interpolated description of Zardan's ordeal, and the awful story of his end.  Very Game of Thrones, believe me.

So this is an unusual look into the minds of people when taxed by extreme challenges.  With an unexpected ending.  And a different approach.

An interesting read, most definitely.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Is the seizure of the yacht Trump's revenge?

On the last day of last month (February 28), Indonesian authorities made a surprise descent on the luxury yacht Equanimity in Benoa Bay, Bali, and seized the vessel, said to be worth US$250 million.

According to "financetwitter" four United States "chief investigators" accompanied the Indonesian police, suggesting a joint operation.

Registered in the Cayman Islands, the yacht is claimed to be the property of financier Low Taek Jho, generally known as Jho Low.  However, he was not on board at the time.   His present whereabouts are unknown -- the best guess is that it is somewhere in Taiwan.  He has been a shadowy figure, reported as spending most of his time on Equanimity -- which was sailing under the radar, as it were, with its positioning signals turned off -- and the rest in Shanghai.  The yacht has been reported in Cambodia, Thailand, Taiwan, and some of Indonesia's most remote islands, as well as Bali, as Jho Low secretly cruised the South China Sea.  It was probably just a matter of luck that he was not in his plush stateroom on the Equanimity when the police climbed on board.

Agung Setya, the director of Special Crimes at Indonesia's equivalent of the British CID, announced that when the yacht was seized there were 34 crew present, and that these were being cross-examined.  "I have been told by the US Department of Justice," he said, "that this vessel is among the assets resulting from criminal activity."  This is, of course, part of the investigation into the 1MDB scandal, where Malaysian development funds were allegedly misappropriated.  And a prime figure in this investigation is the Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, who is also the Chairman of 1MDB.  As the writer for "finance twitter" observes, he has been "caught with his hand in the cookie jar -- a whopping US$681 million in his private banking accounts."

This investigation has been going on for quite a while.  In August 2017, when it was well underway, the US Department of Justice asked for a stay on the civil move to seize assets bought with 1MDB funds, as they were conducting a related criminal probe -- one where offenders could be extradited to face justice.  And so the matter stalled for months, while Jho Low flitted about the South China Sea -- and then, suddenly, the investigators sprang into action. And it is probably no coincidence that it happened at the same time that Najib Razak was about to call a snap election.

According to the Straits Times, this could be held as early as the last week or so in April.  And Najib Razak's coalition government has a good chance of getting back into power, courtesy of a reshaping of electoral boundaries.

So, why the rush to discredit him?  It goes back, perhaps, to his visit to the White House in September 2017, where he pledged a US$20 billion investment, to "help make America great again."  Was it in the hope that the US investigation into 1MDB money-laundering be closed?  If so, it was doomed, because the promise was an empty one: the money has never materialized.

And so the order to expedite the investigation and, incidentally, seize the yacht, was issued.

Both Jho Low and Najib Razak must be sleeping uneasily.  Jho Low has no diplomatic immunity, and if found could be extradited, to face charges and give evidence.  And, if the Prime Minister of Malaysia loses the election, he loses his diplomatic immunity, too.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The controversial luxury yacht.

It is billed as the 50th biggest luxury yacht in the world, but is now number one in terms of controversy.

She is certainly impressive.

Built by Oceanco to an Andrew Winch design, and with Azure Naval Architects engineering, the yacht Equanimity was delivered to her owner in June 2014.  Undoubtedly, he enjoyed her. The yacht can accommodate 26 guests in 9 staterooms and has a crew of 28. Equanimity’s features include a spa and beach club, a beauty salon, a gym, a sauna, a Turkish bath and a large pool. The interior has some oriental inspired themes, lush with bamboo and gold.

The identity of the owner is a bit of an imponderable.   According to one source, Do Won Chang is the lucky fellow, while other experts says that Malaysian billionaire Jho Low is the owner.  Whatever (or whoever), the owner has Chinese roots -- which could mean either man, but was confirmed as Low in a 2017 USA court case. 

Jho Low is an interesting man, with interesting ancestors.  His grandfather, Meng Tak, settled in Thailand in the early 1960s, and accumulated great riches as a mining and liquor-distillery entrepreneur.   Most of this was invested in real estate.

Low's father was Sri Larry Low Hock Peng (known as Larry Low).  He carried on under the name of Strategic Resources Global,also dabbling profitably in the stock market, holding stakes in the Frencken Group, among others.  It seems he also had excellent connections in Malaysia, because the King accorded him the honor of Commander of the Order of Loyalty to the Crown of Malaysia, something the government of Malaysia may be regretting, right now.

Jho Low himself is the co-founder and CEO of Jynwel Capital Ltd., an international investment and advistory firm based in Hong Kong.  Through this body, the family has invested heavily in the US, owning shares, in EMI, Myla Lingerie, and the Park Lane Hotel in New York.

From these heights the family fortunes have abruptly plummeted.  Last year, US authorities filed a criminal case against Jho Low, claiming that he had transferred one billion greenbacks from the Malaysian authorities to a private account.  Allegedly, a strategic investment and development company owned by the government of Malaysia, called 1MDB, formed a joint venture with a Saudi oil company, PetroSaudi International, for this illicit shifting around of funds.  The money went into a Swiss bank account held in the name of Good Star Ltd., which was owned by Low.

With this money, he bought:

A Bombardier 5000 private jet
A Van Gogh painting
Two paintings by Monet
Two paintings by Picasso (one of which he gave to Leonardo Dicaprio for his birthday)
A penthouse in the Walker Tower in New York
A Laurel mansion in Beverly Hills
The Quentas townhouse in London
A penthouse in Stratton Street, London
A 22-carat pink diamond necklace
And the yacht Equanimity

Oh dear.  Flaunting such wealth can be a big mistake, as important people start asking where it came from ... and why.

Last month, as the Equanimity lay quietly in Benoa Bay, Bali, Indonesian police marched and board and seized her, at the request of the US and Malaysia.

You can read all about it in Old Salt Blog.

As Rick Spilman points out, 1MDB was set up by the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak, and it would only be natural if he and his government were panicking.

According to the Singapore Straits Times, they are calling it FAKE NEWS, and are issuing stern warnings.

Deputy Minister for Communications and Multimedia Jailani Johari said, as quoted by the Malay language Sinar Harian daily, that following the seizure in Bali of luxury yacht Equanimity believed to be owned by businessman Low Taek Jho, the foreign media has been spreading fake news to tarnish Datuk Seri Najib's name ahead of the upcoming general election.
The warning came as the Malaysian government is preparing legislation to strengthen punishments to whom it deem to be spreading "fake news".
"The ministry has identified several news portals that are trying to revive the 1MDB issue following the seizure of the Equanimity. Among those portals are The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Economist, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and the latest, MSNBC," Datuk Seri was quoted Jailani as saying on Sunday (March 11) by Sinar Harian.
"While the government is trying to combat fake news here, these issues are brought up by sources from outside the country," he added. "We believe that these efforts are by certain quarters who have a political agenda and are trying to damage the prime minister's good name" ahead of the 14th general election.
His ministry is monitoring the matter through the country's Internet regulator, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, and advised these news outlets to stop publishing such "fake news".
The 1MDB fund is at the centre of billion-dollar money-laundering probes in at least six countries, including the Unied States, Switzerland and Singapore.
The US Justice Department alleges in civil lawsuits that US$4.5 billion (S$5.93 billion) was stolen from 1MDB - which was set up by Mr Najib - in a campaign of fraud and money-laundering.

Mr Najib and the fund deny any wrongdoing.
The suits list US$1.7 billion in assets allegedly bought with the stolen funds, which US officials are seeking to recover.
Those assets include the 90m yacht Equanimity which US officials said was purchased by Malaysian financier Mr Low, also known as Jho Low, an unofficial adviser to 1MDB. The boat was seized by Indonesian authorities in Bali two weeks ago at the request of US investigators.
The yacht was handed over to the FBI on Thursday (March 8).
Malaysia's police chief said there is no link between Mr Low and 1MDB.
A spokesman for Mr Low has said the yacht's seizure was part of the DOJ's "pattern of global overreach - all based on entirely unsupported claims of wrongdoing" in the 1MDB case.
The Malaysian goverment is meanwhile preparing legislation proposing that those who spread "fake news" be punishable with fines of up to RM500,000 (S$159,000) and 10 years in jail. This is 10 times the limit for transmitting data deemed "offensive" and a possible "annoyance", a clause which has already been criticised for stifling free speech.
All very mysterious.  Maybe it will all be explained, one day, but, in the meantime, it seems that there is a lovely yacht coming up for sale. 

Echoes of the Battle of the Java Sea

An evocative find in East Java.

A team from the Lamongan administration has excavated a grave, reported to be the burial site of three Dutch navy personnel killed in a World War II battle in the Java Sea, in Brondong subdistrict last week.
It is suspected that the remains belong to navy personnel of the Netherlands’ De Ruyter warship that sank during a battle against a Japanese warship in the Java Sea. The battle reportedly claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Dutch soldiers.

Brondong subdistrict head Sariono said the excavation took place at a local cemetery belonging to Suko residents in Sedayu Lawas village in Lamongan, East Java.
Representatives from the Foreign Ministry and the Netherlands Embassy attended the excavation, he went on. "The bones were later handed to the East Java Police to be examined," Sariono told The Jakarta Post.
The presence of the grave in Sedayu Lawas village is related to the remnants of the De Ruyter warship found in the waters surrounding Bawean Island in Gresik, East Java.
“Skeletons were found scattered around the ship's remnants when it was found by a company seeking undersea metal debris,” said Sariono.
“Some of the remains were left in the sea while the rest had been buried in the public cemetery in Suko.
Previously, the Dutch government had lodged a protest to the Indonesian government after remnants of the country’s sunken warship in the Java Sea were reportedly stolen. The Dutch government is waiting for an explanation about the stolen remnants from the De Ruyter warship. 

With thanks to Kevin Boatman Foster

Future of eBooks

Believe it or not, this is the tenth anniversary of the launch of the Kindle.  And yet, it feels as if the eBook reader has been around for ever.

In the beginning, it was hugely successful.  The "print" run of the first model sold out in less than six hours.  Everyone thought that this was the future of reading.  Print book sales would plummet, and digital books had a golden commercial future.

Well, it didn't work out like that.  People who cleared their shelves of traditional books came to regret it very fast.  After all, there is nothing like the weight and intimacy of a printed book in your hand.  And, have you ever tried reading a Kindle in the bath?

So, while it is hard to put a figure on it, digital books have hung about the 25% of total book sales mark.  And now, the blame is being placed on the Kindle itself.

The first evidence that the Kindle was clunky came when reading eBooks became possible on other devices -- tablets (the iPad in particular), phones and laptops.  But still there are huge drawbacks, a major being the stress on the eyesight.

And so the gurus and geeks in the back rooms of Amazon are working on a digital device that you could easy mistake for a proper book.  It has pages that can be folded and dog-eared, and hold a proper bookmark, instead of that annoying digital tag.  And, at the same time, it can be connected to the internet.

But will it bring more readers to the market?  Maybe, but maybe not.  Because the sad truth is that people are reading fewer books than ever.  Because of social media, the entire industry, both traditional and digital, is facing a serious threat.

Post inspired by an article, "E-book tech makes for page-turner" by Cas Carter in the Dominion Post. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Oldest message in a bottle

A Western Australian family picked up a bottle after getting bogged down on the beach, and took it home as an ornament.  Then it was noticed that there was something that looked like a rolled up cigarette inside.  Dropped out, and dried briefly in the oven, it turned out to be a message.

The BBC reports that experts have confirmed it is an authentic message from a German ship.
The note in the bottle, which was dated 12 June 1886, was jettisoned from the German ship Paula, as part of an experiment into ocean and shipping routes by the German Naval Observatory.
Previously, the Guinness world record for the oldest message in a bottle was 108 years, between it being sent and found.  This one was dropped into the sea almost 132 years ago.
Dr Ross Anderson, Assistant Curator Maritime Archaeology at the WA Museum, confirmed the find was authentic after consulting with colleagues from Germany and the Netherlands.
"Incredibly, an archival search in Germany found Paula's original Meteorological Journal and there was an entry for 12 June 1886 made by the captain, recording a drift bottle having been thrown overboard. The date and the coordinates correspond exactly with those on the bottle message," Dr Anderson said.

The handwriting on the journal, and the message in the bottle, also matched, he added.
Thousands of bottles were thrown overboard during the 69-year German experiment but to date only 662 messages - and no bottles - had been returned. The last bottle with a note to be found was in Denmark in 1934.
The bottle found on Wedge Island was found "mostly exposed without any form of cork or closure, and was about a quarter full of damp sand", and the bottle appeared to have lain "buried or mostly buried", partially filled with damp sand, Dr Anderson added.
Sand dunes in the area are quite mobile during storm events and heavy rain, so the bottle could have been subject to "cyclical periods of exposure" which could have led to the cork in the bottle drying out and becoming dislodged, "while the tightly rolled paper along with a quantity of sand remained inside preserved".

"The narrow 7mm bore of the bottle opening and thick glass would have assisted to buffer and preserve the paper from the effects of full exposure to the elements, providing a protective microenvironment favourable to the paper's long-term preservation," the report added.
The Illman family have loaned the find to the Western Australian Museum for the next two years, and it will be on display to the public from Wednesday.
WA Minister for Culture and the Arts David Templeman said he was "delighted" with the loan, adding: "It is truly an impressive find and thanks to the wonderful international and interdisciplinary cooperation of science and research, it can now also be shared with the world."
"To think that this bottle has not been touched for nearly 132 years and is in perfect condition, despite the elements, beggars belief. I'm still shaking."
Reporting by the BBC's Helier Cheung.
You can read a pdf of  the complete scientific report  HERE

Friday, March 2, 2018

Saving the Antarctic

Air New Zealand (rated the best airline for six years in a row) is famous for its funky safety videos.

Once bound in our seats, we have watched "creatures" from Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit series tell us how to latch and unlatch our seat belts and so forth, and All Blacks, beach-babes, and primal survival gurus telling us the same thing.

It has all been rather fun, though tedious if you fly a lot.

Now the series has hit a crunch.

Air New Zealand has done the non-political thing.  The latest safety video (I haven't seen it) pushes the pristine Antarctic as an Adventure Paradise.

Well, that is what a prominent environmentalist is telling us, according to the news.

UN Environment Patron of Oceans and endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh famously swam the Ross Sea off Antarctica - clad only in his trademark speedos to raise awareness about protecting the region.
Dubbed the "Sir Edmund Hillary of swimming", he later helped broker the establishment of a Marine Protected Area, the largest protected area in the world, in the Ross Sea.
Mr Pugh yesterday heard Morning Report's interview with Nicholas Bennett, whose father was the chief purser on the Air New Zealand DC10 which crashed into Mt Erebus in 1979, killing all 257 on board.
This morning he told the programme Air New Zealand have got it "really badly wrong" after releasing their new safety video yesterday.
"It portrays Antarctica as the next great adventure playground," he said. "Let's be very clear, it is not."
"Antarctica is a unique eco-system and it's very precious. It has already been heavily impacted by climate change and pollution."
"We have a duty to protect this continent and all the incredible animals that have live there for thousands and thousands of years undisturbed," Mr Pugh said.
"We have to remember that in Antarctica we humans are guests."
It's also "deeply disturbing" that the safety video was filmed a few kilometres away from Mt Erebus, he said.
"Has Air New Zealand forgotten about Air New Zealand flight 901?"
"There will be sons and daughters and mothers and fathers who now get on an Air New Zealand flight and have to watch this safety video," he said.
Mr Pugh pointed out that Sir Edmund Hillary was meant to be on the flight but could not go. Instead his friend and mountaineer Peter Mulgrew went. Mr Pugh said he wondered what the public's reaction to the video would be had Sir Edmund been killed instead, and whether Air New Zealand would still have made the video.
"Everybody in New Zealand knows about this flight. This safety video was filmed just a few kilometres away from Mt Erebus. It's an extraordinary decision," he said.
"This video is very poor taste and it sends the worst message about protecting Antarctica. It's a unique continent, and its not the next recreational playground.
However Air New Zealand has defended its new safety video set in Antarctica saying it is tasteful.
Air New Zealand's chief pilot, David Morgan, said earlier this week the airline approached filming in a sensitive way and had been very careful to ensure none of the footage used would feature Mt Erebus or memorial sites.
He said they had received positive feedback from family members after they told them of their decision to film.
Mr Pugh had a sharp message for Air New Zealand:
"I'm calling on the CEO to show leadership and to withdraw this safety video immediately," he said.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Guns and the Wild West of Modern America

As if teachers did not have enough to do, training for the very exacting job of keeping students actively interested, as well as keeping up with the skills they are expected to impart...

As friend Maggie Rainey Smith commented on FaceBook, "Imagine if our professional development week mid-term, included how to handle a semi automatic firearm or hand gun...then imagine the funding issue - hmmm bullets or whiteboard markers ... and then of course, the parents will want all their kids to have a gun in their lunch box to keep things in perspective."

Has anyone over there thought of the obvious answer, that to buy a gun you have to have a gun licence, issued by the police -- which means you have a clean record, no history of violence or mental illness, are old enough to drink and vote and have a driving licence and a car with a licence of its own?

But let's get away from the controversy, and look at the Second Amendment, instead.  What does it actually mean?  

It reads:  A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

There are two important words here -- important because they are the focus of the debate of who has the right to bear arms.

The first is MILITIA.  The impressment of citizens to form military groups -- small armies -- began in the 10th century in England, and was formalized after the Norman Conquest into an obligation to serve a term for some lord or other, who was supposed to arm and feed them.  They were incurably amateurish, however, something that was recognized in the English Civil War.  The Royalists, supporting the king, relied on these small, amateur armies, while the Parliamentarians developed a much more professional version, called the New Model Army, with the result that we all know.

And so the system survived after the Restoration of the King to the Crown,  with the royal household having what was in effect a small army of its own, though everyone was very careful to call the soldiers "guards."  (Hence the Royal Guards.)   Then, in colonial North America, the militia system evolved even further.  The settlers had hostile forces to contend with, but no professional soldiers, so formed their own squads of guards -- the village militia.   These amateur soldiers were remarkably successful -- in Bermuda there were interesting encounters with mutinying privateers, where the Bermudian Militiamen did very well indeed.  (In New Zealand, in the 1860s, similar village militia units were raised from the local populace to help fight the Land Wars.) 

Back in England, in the 18th century, the militia system was evolving, as well.  The politicians, wary of a military force that was controlled by the throne, passed legislation outlawing the establishment of a standing army in times of peace -- with the codicil that any man who was a Protestant had the right to bear arms.  This meant that a local militia could be easily raised in an emergency -- for instance, to contest the tyrannical action of a king.

This system was easily transferred to colonial North America.  Colonial militia, manned by villagers, served a vital role in the French and Indian Wars,  And then they were taken over by the Revolutionaries, providing a valuable supplement to the regular force that was also formed -- the Continental Army.  And we know the result of that, too.

Interestingly -- and importantly -- the militiamen were expected to provide their own weapons.  The Militia Act of 1792 reads, in part:  "... each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia, ... every citizen, so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock."

So there we have the explanation for the second important word in the Amendment -- PEOPLE.

To read it again:  A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Every able-bodied white male citizen, according to this, had the right to carry a "good musket or firelock" so that if he was called up to join the local militia, he would be carrying his own weapon with him.

Today, there are more than 500 militia groups in the United States, most of them rightwing.  You can watch a PBS documentary about them HERE.

Naturally, they all claim the right to bear arms.  Naturally, too, those "arms" are not "a good musket or firelock."

Did the writers of the Second Amendment have assault rifles in mind?  Obviously not.  But still it comes down to semantics.