Sep 04

Kyle Rittenhouse and the militia obligation

There’s an angle on the case of Kyle Rittenhouse that I haven’t seen even hinted at in the media.

Section 246 of US Code Title 10, entitled, “Militia: composition and classes” reads:

“(a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.

(b) The classes of the militia are:

(1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and

(2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.”

That is, all males of military age who are or intend to become citizens of the United States are under federal statute the “unorganized militia”, and have the duty of the militia to defend the Constitution of the United States against enemies foreign and domestic (as both naturalizing citizens and members of the armed forces swear to do).

Kyle Rittenhouse is a 17-year-old male and thus a member of the unorganized militia under black-letter Federal law. When he armed up to defend a friend’s business during a breakdown in civil order, he was acting precisely as all members of the unorganized militia have a legal and Constitutional duty to act in like circumstances.

And yes, shooting violent criminal insurrectionists is included in that duty. Rittenhouse would have been justified in doing so even if he had not been acting in self-defense against lethal threats to his person.

So let’s not hear any more nonsense about a teenager having no business being in that situation. Kyle Rittenhouse recognized one of his core duties as an American citizen and performed it with exceptional skill and courage.

Apr 03

On the implausibility of a war with China

In the wake of the PRC’s actions around the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been increasing speculation in some circles that the PRC might be preparing to wage war against the United States, or at least some sort of regional war (such as an invasion of Taiwan) in which treaty obligations would involve the U.S.

I’ve actually been considering this possibility, from my perspective as a wargamer and military-history buff, for over a decade – ever since China began seriously flexing its muscles in the South China Sea. And the risk of war has undoubtedly been rising recently.

The PRC has given U.S. and other trade partners ample reason to conclude that they need to decouple their economies from Chinese supply chains. Threats by China to use its control of most of rare-earth production for economic blackmail have been followed by much more serious threats to use its dominance of the manufacturing of basic pharmaceuticals as a weapon.

Post-COVID-19, it’s now strategically vital for other nations to develop supply chains for critical goods that are domestic, or at least better guarded against the political and epidemiological risk of relying on Chinese manufacturing. While necessary, this shift does mean the PRC has less to lose in the event of going to war.

Nevertheless, I continue to judge that the odds of China launching a war are very low. Nobody can entirely rule out enraged, irrational behavior by the PRC, but in the remainder of this post I will attempt to demonstrate why the war options available to the PRC hold out little or no prospect of a satisfying victory and entail severe terminal risks.

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Feb 27

The right to be rude

The historian Robert Conquest once wrote: “The behavior of any bureaucratic organization can best be understood by assuming that it is controlled by a secret cabal of its enemies.”

Today I learned that the Open Source Initiative has reached that point of bureaucratization. I – OSI’s co-founder and its president for its first six years – was kicked off their lists for being too rhetorically forceful in opposing certain recent attempts to subvert OSD clauses 5 and 6. This despite the fact that I had vocal support from multiple list members who thanked me for being willing to speak out.

It shouldn’t be news to anyone that there is an effort afoot to change – I would say corrupt – the fundamental premises of the open-source culture. Instead of meritocracy and “show me the code”, we are now urged to behave so that no-one will ever feel uncomfortable.

The effect – the intended effect – is to diminish the prestige and autonomy of people who do the work – write the code – in favor of self-appointed tone-policers. In the process, the freedom to speak necessary truths even when the manner in which they are expressed is unpleasant is being gradually strangled.

And that is bad for us. Very bad. Both directly – it damages our self-correction process – and in its second-order effects. The habit of institutional tone policing, even when well-intentioned, too easily slides into the active censorship of disfavored views.

The cost of a culture in which avoiding offense trumps the liberty to speak is that crybullies control the discourse. To our great shame, people who should know better – such as the OSI list moderators and BOD – have internalized anticipatory surrender to crybullying. They no longer even wait for the soi-disant victims to complain before wielding the ban-hammer.

We are being social-hacked from being a culture in which freedom is the highest value to one in which it is trumped by the suppression of wrongthink and wrongspeak. Our enemies – people like Coraline Ada-Ehmke – do not even really bother to hide this objective.

Our culture is not fatally damaged yet, but the trend is not good. OSI has been suborned and is betraying its founding commitment to freedom. “Codes of Conduct” that purport to regulate even off-project speech have become all too common.

Wake up and speak out. Embrace the right to be rude – not because “rude” in itself is a good thing, but because the degenerative slide into suppression of disfavored opinions has to be stopped right where it starts, at the tone policing.

The OSI membership page is here.

Dec 23

The Great Inversion

There’s a political trend I have been privately thinking of as “the Great Inversion”. It has been visible since about the end of World War II in the U.S., Great Britain, and much of Western Europe, gradually gaining steam and going into high gear in the late 1970s.

The Great Inversion reached a kind of culmination in the British elections of 2019. That makes this a good time, and the British elections a good frame, for explaining the Great Inversion to an American audience. It’s a thing that is easier to see without the distraction of transient American political issues.

(And maybe I have an easier time seeing the pattern because I lived in Great Britain as a child. British politics is more intelligible to me than to most Americans because of that early experience.)

To understand the Great Inversion, we have to start by remembering what the Marxism of the pre-WWII Old Left was like — not ideologically, but sociologically. It was an ideology of, by, and for the working class.

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Nov 17

Some places I won’t go

A few minutes ago I received a request by email from a conference organizer who wants me to speak at an event in a foreign country. Unfortunately, the particular country has become a place I won’t go.

Having decided that I want my policy and my reasoning to be publicly known, I reproduce here the request and my reply. I withhold the requester’s name for his protection.

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Nov 10

Grasping Bloomberg’s nettle

Michael Bloomberg, the former Mayor of New York perhaps best known for taking fizzy drinks, and now a Democratic presidential aspirant, has just caused a bit of a kerfuffle by suggesting that minorities be disarmed to keep them alive.

I think the real problem with Bloomberg’s remark is not that it reads as shockingly racist, it’s that reading it that way leaves us unable to deal with the truth he is telling. Because he’s right; close to 95% of all gun murders are committed by minority males between 15 and 25, and most of the victims are minorities themselves. That is a fact. What should we do with it?

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Sep 14

Gratitude for Beto

Beto O’Rourke is a pretty risible character even among the clown show that is the 2020 cycle’s Democratic candidate-aspirants. A faux-populist with a history of burglary and DUI, he married the heiress of a billionaire and money-bombed his way to a seat in the House of Representatives, only to fail when he ran for the Senate six years later because Texas had had enough of his bullshit. Beneath the boyish good looks on which he trades so heavily, his track record reveals him to be a rather dimwitted and ineffectual manchild with a severe case of Dunning-Kruger effect.

Beto’s Presidential aspirations are doomed, though he and the uncontacted aborigines of the Andaman Islands are possibly the only inhabitants of planet Earth who do not yet grasp this. Before flaming out of the 2020 race to a life of well-deserved obscurity, however, Beto has done the American polity one great service for which I must express my most sincere and enduring gratitude.

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Sep 04

Be the America Hong Kong thinks you are

I think this is my favorite Internet meme ever.

Yeah, Hong Kong, we actually have a problem with Communist oppression here, too. Notably in our universities, but metastasizing through pop culture and social media censorship too. They haven’t totally captured the machinery of state yet, but they’re working on that Long March all too effectively.

And you are absolutely right when you say you need a Second-Amendment-equivalent civil rights guarantee. Our Communists hate that liberty as much as yours do – actually, noticing who is gung-ho for gun confiscation is one of the more reliable ways to unmask Communist tools.

We need to be the America you think we are, too. Some of us are still trying.

Aug 17

How the D candidates would introduce themselves at the next debate if they were honest

Hi, I’m Joe Biden. I’m the perfect apparatchik – no principles, no convictions, and no plan. I’m senile, and I have a problem with groping children. But vote for me anyway because orange man bad.

Hi, I’m Kamala Harris. My white ancestors owned slaves, but I use the melanin I got from my Indian ancestors to pretend to be black. My own father has publicly rebuked me for the pandering lies I tell. I fellated my way into politics; put me into the White house so I can suck even more!

Hi, I’m Elizabeth Warren. Even though I’m as white as library paste, I pretended to be an American Indian to get preferment. My research on medical bankruptcies was as fraudulent as the way I gamed the racial spoils system. So you should totally trust me when I say I’m “capitalist to my bones”!

Hi, I’m Bernie Sanders. I honeymooned in the Soviet Union. I’m an unreconstructed, hammer-and-sickle-worshiping Communist.

Hi, I’m Kirsten Gillibrand. I used to be what passes for a moderate among Democrats – I even supported gun rights. Now I’ve swung hard left, and will let you just guess whether I ever had any issue convictions or it was just pandering all the way down. Tee-hee!

Hi, I’m Amy Klobuchar, and I’ve demonstrated my grasp on the leadership skills necessarily for the leader of the Free World by being notoriously abusive towards my staff.

Hi, I’m Robert Francis O’Rourke. I’m occupying the “imitate the Kennedy” lane in this race, and my credentials for it include DUI and fleeing an accident scene. The rumors that I’m a furry are false; the rumors that I’m a dimwitted child of privilege are true. But vote for me anyway, crucial white-suburban-female demographic, because I have such a winning smile!

Hi, I’m Pete Buttigieg. I was such a failure as the mayor of South Bend that my own constituents criticize me for having entered this race, but the Acela Corridor press loves me because I’m fashionably gay. And how right they are; any candidate you choose is going to bugger you up the ass eventually, but I’ll do it like an expert!

Hi, I’m Bill de Blasio. I’m as Communist as Bernie, but I hide it better. And if Pete thinks his constituents don’t want him in this race? Hold…my…beer!

Hi, I’m Cory Booker, and I’m totally not gay. OK, maybe I’m just a little gay. My city was a shithole when I was elected and I’ve done nothing to change that; I’m really just an empty suit with a plausible line of patter, especially the “I am Spartacus” part. But you should totally vote for me because I’m…what was the phrase? Oh, yeah. “Clean and articulate.”

Hi, I’m Marianne Williamson. If elected, I will redecorate the White House so it has proper feng shui. I am the sanest and least pretentious person on this stage.

Jul 12

The Rectification of Names

The sage Confucius was once asked what he would do if he was a governor. He said he would “rectify the names” to make words correspond to reality. He understood what General Semantics teaches; if your linguistic map is sufficiently confused, you will misunderstand the territory. And be readily outmaneuvered by those who are less confused.

And that brings us to the Jeffrey Epstein scandal. In particular, the widespread tagging of Epstein as a pedophile.

No, Jeffrey Epstein is not a pedophile. This is important. If conservatives keep misidentifying him as one, I fear some unfortunate consequences.

Pedophiles desire pre-pubertal children. This is not Epstein’s kink; he quite obviously likes his girls to be as young as possible but fully nubile. The correct term for this is “ephebophile”, and being clear about the distinction matters. I’ll explain why.

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Jun 25

A libertarian rethinks immigration

Instapundit recently linked to an article at the libertarian Reason magazine with a premise I found – considering the authors and the magazine – surprisingly dimwitted. No, a border wall is not necessarily morally equivalent to the Berlin Wall, or anywhere near it. Consider Hadrian’s Wall, or the Great Wall of China. Sometimes there are actual barbarians on the other side of it.

But this does motivate me to try to clarify my own thoughts about libertarianism and immigration. Is there, in fact, any libertarian defense of border and immigration controls?

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Apr 30

Spotting the wild Fascist

The term “fascist” gets thrown around a lot by people who have no actual clue what Fascism was about. I know what it was about because when I was about 11 or 12 I read Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of of the Third Reich and became fascinated by the question which has driven my study of politics and history for all of the fifty years since. Which is: how do we prevent the genocidal horrors of the Nazi regime from ever recurring?

In the process of trying to answer this question I have read deeply about Naziism, Italian Fascism, Francoite pseudo-Fascism, Marxism, Irrationalism, and several political tendencies related to these. I know their theory, I know their history, and I know what Fascists believed about themselves. Most of all I think I have a pretty firm grasp on how a revival of Fascism in the 21st century would look. And it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility, either…but if it happens, it’s not going to come from where most people currently throwing around the term “fascist” expect.

Hence, a field guide to spotting the wild Fascist. And avoiding false alarms.

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Apr 28

Gun voodoo and intentionality

There’s a recent article about gun violence in Haiti that features the following quotes:

But the anthropological lesson from Haiti is that the truth is more complex. It isn’t just the technological lethality of guns that makes them dangerous: They also exert a power on human agency. They change us. It is both the technology and the symbolism of a gun that can encourage someone to shoot.

[…] There is a lesson to be gleaned from understanding the supernatural potency of guns. We cannot think about guns and people as separate entities, debating gun restrictions on one hand and mental-health policy on the other. The target of intervention must be the gun-person composite. If we are to truly understand and control gun violence, we need to accept that guns have potent technological and psychological effects on people – effects that inspire violent ways of being and acting in the world.

This article has come in for a great deal of mockery from gunfolks since it issued. Representative bits of snark: “Apparently, the ‘magic’ of a professorship can turn you into an imbecile.”, “Gun owners in US- approx 100 million. If this bozo was right, everyone would be dead.”, and a picture of an AR-15 with speech balloons saying “Pick me up…Shoot me at unarmed people…you are powerless.”

I’m probably going to startle a lot of my readers by asserting that the article is not entirely wrong and gunfolks’ dismissal of it is not entirely right. In fact I’m here to argue that almost the entire quoted paragraph is exactly correct, and the last sentence would be correct if it replaced the word “violent ways” with “both violent and virtuous ways”.

So keep reading…

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Oct 27

On the Squirrel Hill shooting

To my Jewish friends and followers:

I’m grieving with you today. I know the neighborhood where Tree of Life synagogue sits – it’s a quiet, well-off, slightly Bohemian ‘burb with a lot of techies living in it.

I’m not Jewish myself, but I figured out a long time ago that any society which abuses its Jews – or tolerates abuse of them – is in the process of flushing itself down the crapper. The Jews are almost always the first targets of the enemies of civilization, but never the last.

But I’m not posting to reply only with words.

Any Jew who can get close enough to me in realspace for it to be practical and asks can have from me free instruction in basic self-defense with firearms and anti-active-shooter tactics. May no incident like this ever occur again – but if it does, I would be very proud if one of my students took down the evildoer before it reached bloodbath stage.

Sep 13

Hacker culture and the politics of process defense

In my last two blog posts, on the attempted hijack of the Lerna license and speech suppression in the Python documentation, I have both urged the hacker culture to stay out of political issues and urged what some people will interpret as “political” stance with regard to political correctness and “diversity”-driven speech demands.

The expected “gotcha!” comments that “ESR is saying hacker projects should stay clear of politics while arguing politics” have duly followed. While the way this sort of objection is usually posed barely rises above the level of a stupid rhetorical trick, there is an actual issue of principle here that deserves exploring.

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Sep 12

Slaves to speech suppression are masters of nothing

Comes the news that the Python project has merged a request to partially eliminate the terms “master” and “slave” from its documentation on “diversity” grounds. Sensibly, Guido van Rossum at least refused to sever the project from uses of those terms in documentation of the underlying Unix APIs.

I wish Guido had gone further and correctly shitcanned the change request as political bullshit up with which he will not put. I will certainly do that if a similar issue is ever raised in one of my projects.

The problem here is not with the object-level issue of whether the terms “master” and “slave” might be offensive to some people. It’s with the meta-level of all such demands. Which the great comedian George Carlin once summed up neatly as follows: “Political correctness is fascism pretending to be manners.”

That is, the demand for suppression of “politically” offensive terms is never entirely or usually even mostly about reducing imputed harms. That is invariably a pretense covering a desire to make speech and thought malleable to political control. Which is why the first and every subsequent attempt at this kind of entryism needs to be kicked in the teeth, hard.

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Aug 29

Non-discrimination is a core value of open source

Today I learned that something called the Lerna project has added a codicil to its MIT license denying the use of its software to a long list of organizations because it disagrees with a political choice those organizations have made.

Speaking as one of the original co-authors of the Open Source Definition, I state a fact. As amended, the Lerna license is no longer conformant with the OSD. It has specifically broken compliance with clause 5 (“No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups”).

Accordingly, Lerna has defected from the open-source community and should be shunned by anyone who values the health of that community. I will not contribute to their project, and will urge others not to, until and unless this change is rescinded.

We wrote Clause 5 into the OSD for a good reason. Exclusions and carve-outs like Lerna’s, if they became common, would create tremendous uncertainty about the ethics and even the legality of code re-use. Suppose I were to take a snippet from Lerna code and re-use it in a project that (possibly without my knowledge) was deployed by one of the proscribed organizations; what would my ethical and legal exposure be?

It gets worse. Suppose I write code that happened to be identical, or very similar to, portions of Lerna? Could anyone make a case that I was in violation of their license? It is definitely unsafe when a question like that turns on facts of knowledge and intent no one outside a putative violator’s skull can know for certain.

The Lerna project’s choice is, moreover, destructive of one of the deep norms that keeps the open-source community functional – keeping politics separated from our work. If we do not maintain that norm, we risk fractionating into a collection of squabbling tribes arguing particularisms and unable to sustain really large-scale cooperation.

I would consider such a disintegration not merely unpleasant but actually dangerous to civilization, which relies on us for an increasing portion of its critical infrastructure. Accordingly, we need to cooperate more, not less.

That, in turn, means that, even as we may hold strong individual opinions about issues like those motivating Lerna’s proscription list, we need to be more neutral and non-discriminatory in our collective behavior about such issues, not less.

Update: Less than 24 hours after I posted this, the license change was revoked and its committer expelled from the project. This is how sanity wins – one fightback at a time.

Jun 18

The critical fraction

I’ve seen analyses of the long odds the U.S. government would face if it ever attempted to confiscate civilian firearms before. The Mathematics of Countering Tyranny seems like a particularly well done example.

The authors compute that under very generous assumptions there are about 83000 door-knockers available to perform confiscation raids. Dividing that into the estimated number of semiautomatic rifles in the U.S. and assuming that each raid would net three rifles confiscated (which I think is optimistic in the raiders’ favor) each doorknocker would have to execute and survive 864 raids in order for the entire stock of rifles to be seized.

Notice that we’re not even addressing the far larger stock of handguns and other weapons yet. But I’m willing to tilt the conditions of the argument in the confiscators’ favor, because that makes the conclusion more difficult for them to rebut.

There’s a different way to slice these numbers. Applying the 3:1 force ratio military planners like to assume, this means the number of violently resistant gun owners – people willing to shoot a doorknocker rather than watch their country sink into tyranny – needs to be about 249000.

Is this a plausible number?

The NRA has about 5.2 million members. That’s about 1 in 20 NRA members.

According to the General Social Survey in 2013, about 1 in 4 Americans owned guns. That’s 79 million gun owners, and probably an undercount because gun owners are chronically suspicious of the intention behind such questions. But we’ll go with it as an assumption that’s best-case for the doorknockers.

That means that in order to stop attempted gun confiscations dead on a purely force-on-force level, only one in 317 American gun owners needs to remember that our first American Revolution began as spontaneous popular resistance to a gun-confiscation order. Only one in 317 American gun owners need to remember their duty under the U.S. Constitution as members of the unorganized militia – “the body of the people in arms”. Only one in 317 American gun owners need to shoot back.

Is that a plausible fraction? Yes. Yes, I think it is. Count me as one of them.

Why am I publishing these numbers? To persuade the would-be confiscators that their enterprise is doomed to fail in fire and blood, so freedom-loving people never actually have to take on the moral burden of killing them. The fact that we’re ready to do so if we have to does not mean we want that terrible day to arrive.

But eternal vigilance is not the only price of liberty. Eternal deterrence against would-be tyrants – including the threat and in extremis the use of revolutionary violence – is part of that price too. The Founding Fathers understood this. The question is whether a critical fraction of American gun owners today know our duty and would do it.

Here is why I am optimistic on that score: every estimate in this back-of-the envelope calculation has been pushed to the end of the plausible range that favors the confiscators. In fact, the stock of weapons that would need to be confiscated is much larger. The number of gun owners is pretty certainly underestimated. Even getting full compliance with confiscation orders from the agents and local police is unlikely, reducing the effective number of doorknockers.

Correspondingly, the critical fraction of American gun owners that would have to be hard-core enough to resist confiscation with lethal violence in order to stop the attempt is lower than 1 in 317. Probably much lower.

Especially if we responded by killing not merely the doorknockers but the bureaucrats and politicians who gave them their orders. Which would be more efficient, more just, and certain to follow.

Feb 26

How elites are blind about immigration

I had been thinking about posting about immigration recently, because some facts on the ground have caused me to move away from a pure laissez-faire position on it. A few minutes ago I wrote a long comment on G+ that I realized says a lot of what I wanted to. This is a slightly revised and expanded version of that comment.

I am asked, by another member of the educated white elite, why we shouldn’t simply end border enforcement entirely rather than buid a wall or tolerate Joe Arpaio’s squalid detention camps.

Both here and in Europe there’s been a significant spike in communicable diseases that can be traced back to low immunization rates in what Trump may or may not have called “shithole” countries.

Crime is a real issue. Legal immigrants have a slightly higher criminal propensity than the native born (the difference is small enough that its significance is disputed) but illegals’ propensity is much higher, to the point that 22% of all federal incarcerees are illegals (that’s 92% of all jailed immigrants).

But the elephant in the room is the impact of illegal immigration on social trust.

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