Nov 02

The capsaicinization of American food

Consider spicy-hot food — and consider how recent it is as a
mainstream phenomenon in the U.S. In 2002 many of us cheerfully chow
down on Szechuan and Thai, habaneros and rellenos, nam pla and sambal
ulek. Salsa outsells ketchup. But it wasn’t always that way.

In fact it wasn’t that way until quite recently, historically
speaking. I’ve enjoyed capsaicin-loaded food since I was a pre-teen
boy in the late 1960s; I acquired the taste from my father, who picked
it up in South America. In those days our predilection was the
peculiar trait of a minority of travelers and a few immigrant
populations. The progression by which spicy-hot food went from there
to the U.S. mainstream makes a perfect type case of cultural
assimilation, and the role and meaning that the stuff has acquired on
the way is interesting too.

(Oh. And for those of you who don’t understand the appeal? It’s
all about endorphin rush, like a runner’s high. Pepper-heads like me
have developed a conditioned reflex whereby the burning sensation
stimulates the release of opiate-like chemicals from the brainstem,
inducing a euphoria not unlike a heroin buzz. Yes, this theory has
been clinically verified.)

Baseline: Thirty years ago. The early 1970s. I’m a teenager, just
back in the U.S. from years spent overseas. Spicy-hot food is pretty
rare in American cuisine. Maybe you’d have heard of five-alarm chili
if you’d lived in Texas, but chances are you’d never have actually
eaten the stuff. If you’re from Louisiana, you might have put Tabasco
sauce on your morning eggs. Aside from that, you wouldn’t have
tasted hot peppers outside of a big-city Chinatown.

It’s actually a little difficult to remember how different American
cooking was then. Those were the years when Kool-Whip was cool and
the casserole was king, an era of relentless blandness well-skewered
by James Lileks’s
Gallery of Regrettable Food
. Mom didn’t know any better. Well,
most moms didn’t, anyway; mine had acquired a few clues overseas.

But most Americans of that day inherited the pale hues of British
and German cooking. What zip there was in our cuisine came from
immigrants, especially (at that time) Italians. Thai, Vietnamese
and Ethiopian had not gained a foothold. Chinese was on educated
peoples’ radar but only eaten in restaurants; nobody owned a wok
yet.

Indeed, Chinese food had already caught on in a few leading-edge
subcultures by the mid-1970s: science-fiction fans, computer hackers,
the people who would start to call themselves `geeks’ fifteen years
later. But most of what was available was Americanized versions of
the blander Shanghainese and Cantonese varieties; restaurants that
made a point of authenticity and advertised Szechuan and Hunan cooking
to round-eyes were not yet common.

This all began to change in the early 1980s. The yuppies did it to
us; experimentation with exotic and ethnic foods became a signature
behavior of the young, upwardly mobile urban elite, and the variety of
restaurants increased tremendously in a way that both met that demand
and stimulated it. More importantly, cooking techniques and
ingredients that hadn’t been traditional in European cuisine started
to influence home cooking — white people started buying
woks. And Szechuan fire oil.

The first vogue for Cajun cooking around 1984 was, as I recall,
something of a turning point. Chinese cooking was popular but still
marked as `foreign’; Cajun was not. Spicy-hot gumbo joined five-alarm
chili on the roster of all-American foods that were not only expected
but required to deliver a hefty dose of capsaicin zap. I
remember thinking the world was changing when, in 1987 or ’88, I
first saw spicy Cajun dishes on the menu of a white-bread roadside
diner. In Delaware.

This diner was never going to show up in Michelin’s or Zagat’s; in
fact, it was the next thing to a truck stop. Something else was going
on in the 1980s besides yuppies buying woks — and that was the
embrace of spicy-hot food by the small-town and rural working class,
and its coding as a specifically masculine pleasure.

This probably evolved out of the tradition, going back at least to
the late 1940s, of defining barbecue and chili as what an
anthropologist would call a “men’s mystery”. Despite the existence of
male professional chefs and men who can cook, most kinds of domestic
cooking are indisputably a female thing — women are expected to
be interested in it and expected to be good at it, and a man who
acquires skill is crossing into women’s country. But for a handful of
dishes culturally coded as “men’s food”, the reverse is true.
Barbecue and chili top that list, and have since long before spicy-hot
food went mainstream.

For people who drive pickup trucks, spicy-hot food went from being
a marked minority taste to being something like a central men’s
mystery in the decade after 1985. I first realized this in the early
1990s when I saw a rack of 101 hot-pepper sauces on display at a
gun-and-knife show, in between the premium tobacco and the jerked
meat. There’s a sight you won’t see at a flower show, or anywhere else
in women’s country.

The packaging and marketing of hot sauces tells the same
story. From the top-shelf varieties like Melinda’s XXX (my favorite!)
to novelty items like “Scorned Woman” and “Hot Buns”, much of the
imagery is cheeky sexiness clearly designed to appeal to men.

Nor is it hard to understand why the association got made in the
first place. It’s considered masculine to enjoy physical risk, even
mostly trivial physical risks like burning yourself on a sauce hotter
than you can handle. Men who like hot peppers swap capsaicin-zap
stories; I myself am perhaps unreasonably proud of having outlasted
a tableful of Mexican college students one night in Monterrey,
watching them fall out one by one as a plate of sauteed habaneros
was passed repeatedly around the table.

There’s a sneaky element of female complicity in all this. Women
chuckle at our capsaicin-zap stories the same way they laugh at other
forms of laddish posturing, but then (as my wife eloquently puts it)
“What good is a man if you rip off his balls?” They leave us capsaicin
and barbecue and other men’s mysteries because they instinctively grok
that a certain amount of testosterone-driven male-primate behavior is
essential for the health of Y-chromosome types — and best it
should be over something harmless.

This gastronomic pincer movement — Yuppies pushing spicy food
downmarket, truckers and rednecks pushing it upmarket —
coincided with the rise in cultural influence of Hispanics with a
native tradition of spicy-hot food. In retrospect, it’s interesting that
what mainstream America naturalized was jalapenos rather than
Chinese-style fire oil. Tex-Mex assimilated more readily than
Szechuan, as it turned out.

We can conveniently date that mainstreaming from the year salsa
first passed ketchup in sales volume, 1996. Perhaps not by
coincidence, that’s the first year I got gifted with a jar of
homegrown habaneros. They came to me from an Irish ex-biker, a
take-no-shit ZZ-Top lookalike who runs a tire dealership in the next
town over. He’d be a great guy to have with you in a bar fight, but
nobody who would ever be accused of avant-garde tastes. I guess
that was when I realized spicy-hot food had become as all-American
as apple pie.

Blogspot comments

Oct 31

Armed children

The Bear of Considerable Brain, writes:
“This does not mean every man, woman and child should roam the streets
packing heat, much as some of my more rabid hoplophile colleagues in
the Blogosphere might enjoy the sight.”

N.Z. was probably thinking of me as one of his “rabid hoplophile
colleagues.”; I’d be rather disappointed if he weren’t, actually. I
endorse all his good sense about citizen miltias and the necessity of
a decentralized response to decentralized threats; in fact, I wrote an
essay
on that topic the day of the WTC attack. Establishing it as normal
custom that adults go armed strikes me as an excellent idea, and
not merely as a tactic against terrorism and crime either. “The possession
of arms is the distinction between a freeman and a slave.”

I was originally going to respond to His Ursinity’s remark by
tossing off some denial that I contemplate universally arming children
as a response to terrorism. But I’ve decided it would be more
interesting to attack the question from the opposite side: under what
circumstances should children be armed?

If your answer is “Never!” than consider that this is actually
quite a radical position. In large parts of the U.S., rather young
children have and use BB rifles. In much of rural America,
including most of my own state of Pennsylvania, boys learn to hunt
early, and to accept both the weapons and responsibilities of men
when barely into their teens.

The bloody slaughters nervous urban liberals would expect from this
policy somehow never materialize. Kliebold and Harris, the Columbine
shooters, were the exception that demonstrates the rule; they were
not taught to use firearms within approved contexts by their
parents and other adults, but instead devedloped a pathological,
isolated relationship to weapons that mirrored their pathological,
isolated lives. Their victims were not killed by the rural gun
culture, but by its absence.

So part of our answer is this: children should be armed, at least
part of the time when in company with responsible adults, in order
to prepare them for the responsibility of arming themselves as adults
and participating in civilian defense against terrorism and crime.

The next logical question is: under what circumstances should
children be trusted to carry weapons for self-defense without
direct adult supervision? Again, “Never!” would be a radical and
historically exceptional answer. It would also be unfair to the
children, especially poor children who live in areas where the chance
of encountering criminal or terrorist predators is significant.

It’s worth bearing in mind that most decisions about using a
firearm in self-defense are pretty simple. They don’t tend to involve
complicated ethical abstractions — the relevant question is
usually “Am I or a defenseless person I am responsible for in imminent
danger of being assaulted, abducted or killed?” If the answer is no,
you don’t even draw your weapon.

Of course, the capacity to make those judgments varies from child
to child. I have known intelligent, precocious children as young as
eight years old who I would sooner trust with my .45 than, say, an
adult alcoholic with an impulse-control problem. In fact, I wouldn’t
consider most adult pro-gun-control voters as trustworthy as the
children I have in mind; people who project fear of their own behavior
with weapons onto others make that spot between my shoulderblades
itch.

At the other extreme, it’s pretty obvious that pre-verbal children
don’t have the apparatus to make even the simplest ethical decisions
about lethal force. They don’t know enough about the world yet. The
standard models of childhood development tell me the same thing as my
experience of real kids; the on average, possibility of ethical
competence sufficient for self-defense decisions opens up at around
twelve years old. It is not invariably present at that age, but the
possibility deserves to be taken seriously.

I can say this. If a person who is legally a minor but twelve or
over shows signs of continuing responsibility (including either
holding down a job or applying him/herself to make steady grades in
school), and does not have a history of substance abuse or other
self-destructive or criminal behavior, and wants to accept
the responsibility of going armed — then I think custom should
support that.

Finally, I want to point out that we may be doing children no favor
by `protecting’ them from the decisions that go with bearing arms.
Thomas Jefferson once wrote to his teenage nephew as follows:

“As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives [only]
moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence
to the mind. Games played with the ball and others of that nature, are too
violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun,
therefore, be the constant companion to your walks.”

This was no aberration. I have developed elsewhere
the theme that the practice of bearing arms was not important to the
Founding Fathers merely as a counter against crime and overweening
government, but as a school of moral character in the individual
citizen.

The retreat of American gun culture from our cities and suburbs has
coincided with the the fetishization of adolescence and
the infantilization of our entire society. To reverse that trend, we
need to remember the ways we used to use to encourage people to
acquire self-discipline, character, and maturity. One of those ways
was — and in large parts of the U.S., still is — the
healthy use of lethal weapons.

Blogspot comments

Oct 20

Draft for an Anti-Idiotarian Manifesto (version 5)

Changes are deliberately not marked. Read the whole thing, this is
a final pre-publication draft. Most of the changes from version 4
are deletions of excess verbiage.

Counting email, this now reflects approximately 200 comments from
across the blogosphere. Thanks for the feedback and suggestions.
Since this process has to close sometime, I’m declaring that there
wuill be at most one pre-publication draft.

I will post a fair copy of the final version. For legal purposes,
this work is ©2002 by Eric S. Raymond. Email me for distribution
terms — I’m not especially interested in making money from it, but I
want some artistic control of how it’s used.

However, this may not happen for a week, as I am about to go on
the Linux Lunacy Caribbean cruise.

Brian O’Connell has supplied this excellent button for
JavaScript-aware browsers:
Click to Read

And Erica from Sperari has suppiled a very tasteful static button:
AIM button

These buttons will be included with the final version.


WHEREAS, the year since the terrible events of 9/11 has exposed
the vacuity and moral confusion of all too many of the thinkers,
politicians, and activists operating within conventional political
categories;

WHEREAS, the Left has failed us by succumbing to reflexive
anti-Americanism; by apologizing for terrorist acts; by propounding
squalid theories of moral equivalence; and by blaming the victims of
evil for the act of evil;

WHEREAS, the Right has failed us by pushing `anti-terrorist’
measures which bid fair to be both ineffective and prejudicial to the
central liberties of a free society; and in some cases by rhetorically
descending to almost the same level of bigotry as our enemies;

WHEREAS, even many of the Libertarians from whom we expected more
intelligence have retreated into a petulant isolationism, refusing to
recognize that, at this time, using the state to carry the war back to
the aggressors is our only practical instrument
of self-defense;

WE THEREFORE ASSERT the following convictions as the premises of
the anti-idiotarian position:

  1. THAT Western civilization is threatened with the specter of mass death
    perpetrated by nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons placed in the
    hands of terrorists by rogue states;

  2. THAT the terrorists and their state sponsors have declared and
    are pursuing a war not against the vices of Western civilization but
    against its core virtues: against the freedom of thought and speech
    and conscience, against the life of reason; against the equality of
    women, against pluralism and tolerance; against, indeed, all the
    qualities which separate civilized human beings from savagery,
    slavery, and fanaticism;

  3. THAT no adjustments of American or Western foreign policy, or
    concessions to the Palestinians, or actions taken against
    globalization, or efforts to alleviate world poverty,
    are of more than incidental interest to these terrorists;

  4. THAT, upon their own representation, they will not by dissuaded from
    their violence by any surrender less extreme than the imposition of Islam
    and shari’a law on the kaffir West;

  5. THAT, as said terrorists have demonstrated the willingness to use
    civilian airliners as flying bombs to kill thousands of innocent
    people, we would commit a vast crime of moral negligence if we
    underestimated the scope of their future malice even
    without weapons of mass destruction;

  6. THAT they have sought, and on plausible evidence found,
    alliance with rogue states such as Iraq, Iran, and North Korea;
    states that are known to have active programs working towards the
    development and delivery of weapons of that would multiply the
    terrorists’ ability to commit atrocities by a thousandfold;

  7. THAT Saddam Hussein poses a particularly clear and present
    danger in combination with them, a danger demonstrated by his known
    efforts to develop nuclear weapons, his use of chemical weapons even
    on his own population, his demonstrated willingness to commit
    aggression against peaceful neighbors, and his known links to the
    Islamist terror network in Palestine and elsewhere.

RE DECLARE that both the terrorists and their state
sponsors have made themselves outlaws from the moral community of mankind,
to be dealt with as rabid dogs are.

WE FURTHER AFFIRM that the `root cause’ of Islamo-fascist terrorism
lies in the animating politico-religious ideas of fundamentalist Islam
and not in any signicant respect elsewhere, and that a central aim of
the war against terror must be to displace and discredit those
animating ideas.

WE REJECT, as a self-serving power grab by the least trustworthy
elements of our own side, the theory that terrorist depredations can
be effectively prevented by further restrictions on the right of free
speech, or the right of peacable assembly, or the right to bear
arms in self-defense; and we strenuously oppose police-state measures
such as the imposition of national ID cards or airport-level
surveillance of public areas;

IN GRAVE KNOWLEDGE that the state of war brings out the worst in
both individual human beings and societies, we reject the alternative
of ceding to the world’s barbarians the exclusive privilege of
force;

WE SUPPORT the efforts of the United States of America, its allies,
and the West to hunt down and capture or kill individual members
of the Islamo-fascist terror network;

WE SUPPORT speedy American and allied military action against the
rogue states that support terrorism, both as a means of alleviating
the immediate threat and of deterring future state sponsorship of
terrorism by the threat of war to the knife.

WE SUPPORT, in recognition of the fact that the military and police
cannot be everywhere, efforts to meet the distributed threat with a
distributed response; to arm airline pilots, and to recognize as well
the ordinary citizen’s right and duty to respond to terrorist
aggression with effective force.

WE SUPPORT, as an alternative greatly preferable to future
nuclear/chemical/biological blackmail of the West, the forcible
overthrow of the governments of Iraq and of other nations that combine
sponsorship of terrorism with the possession of weapons of mass
destruction; and the occupation of those nations until such time as
the root causes of terrorism have been eradicated from their
societies.

WE DEFINE IDIOTARIANISM as the species of delusion
within the moral community of mankind that gives
aid and comfort to terrorists and tyrants operating outside it.

WE REJECT the idiotarianism of the Left — the moral blindness that
refuses to recognize that free markets, individual liberty, and
experimental science have made the West a fundamentally better place
than any culture in which jihad, ‘honor killings’, and female genital
mutilation are daily practices approved by a stultifying religion.

WE REJECT the idiotarianism of the Right — whether it manifests as
head-in-the-sand isolationism or as a a Christian-chauvinist political
agenda that echoes the religious absolutism of our enemies.

WE ARE MEMBERS OF A CIVILIZATION, and we hold that civilization
to be worth defending. We have not sought war, but we will fight it
to the end. We will fight for our civilization in our thoughts, in
our words, and in our deeds.

WE HAVE AWAKENED; we have seen the face of evil in the acts of the
Bin Ladens and Husseins and Arafats of the world; we have seen through
the lies and self-delusions of the idiotarians who did so much to
enable and excuse their evil. We shall not flinch from our duty to
confront that evil.

WE SHALL DEMAND as citizens and voters that those we delegate to
lead pursue the war against terror with an unflagging will to victory
and all means necessary — while remaining always mindful that we
must not become what we fight;

WE SHALL REMEMBER that the West’s keenest weapons are reason and the
truth; that we must shine a pitiless light on the lies from which
terrorist hatred is built; and that we must also be vigilant against
the expedient lie from our own side, lest our victories become tainted
and hollow, sowing trouble for the future.

WE HAVE FAITH that we are equal to these challenges; we shall not
be paralyzed by fear of the enemy, nor yet by fear of ourselves;

WE SHALL SHED the moral cowards and the appeasers and the
apologists; and we shall fight the barbarians and fanatics, and we
shall defeat them. We shall defeat them in war, crushing
their dream of dominion; and we shall defeat them in peace, using our
wealth and freedoms to win their women and children to civilized ways,
and ultimately wiping their diseased and virulent ideologies from the
face of the Earth.

THIS WE SWEAR, on the graves of those who died at the World Trade
Center; and those who died in the Sari Club in Bali; and those who
died on U.S.S. Cole; and indeed on the graves of all the nameless
victims in the Middle East itself who have been slaughtered by
terrorism and rogue states:

YOU SHALL NOT HAVE DIED IN VAIN.

			Eric S. Raymond
			17 October 2002

			____________________
			(your signature here)

Blogspot comments

Oct 18

A request to web artists

I am planning on publishing the Anti-Idiotarian Manifesto soon, via
petitiononline.com and possibly other channels. My hope is that
enough bloggers will sign it and talk about it to get the position it
describes some notice in the more blog-friendly of the mainstream
media.

Towards this end, I’m seeking volunteers to design a web button for
the Manifesto. Use your imagination — but I’m thinking a design
using the letters A I M in red, white and blue might be
appropriate.

Blogspot comments

Oct 18

Draft for an Anti-Idiotarian Manifesto (version 4)

Substantive changes from version 1 to 2 are marked in red; changes from 2 to 3 are marked in blue; changes from 3 to 4 are marked in purple.

Counting email, this now reflects approximately 200 comments from
across the blogosphere. Thanks for the feedback and suggestions.
Since this process has to close sometime, I’m declaring that there
will be at most one more pre-publication draft.

I will post a fair copy of the final version. For legal purposes,
this work is ©2002 by Eric S. Raymond. Email me for distribution
terms — I’m not especially interested in making money from it, but I
want some artistic control of how it’s used.


WHEREAS, the year since the terrible events of 9/11 has exposed
the vacuity and moral confusion of all too many of the thinkers,
politicians, and activists operating within conventional political
categories;

WHEREAS, the Left has failed us by succumbing to reflexive
anti-Americanism; by apologizing for terrorist acts; by propounding
squalid theories of moral equivalence; and by blaming the victims of
evil for the act of evil;

WHEREAS, the Right has failed us by pushing `anti-terrorist’
measures which bid fair to be both ineffective and prejudicial to the
central liberties of a free society; and in some cases by rhetorically
descending to almost the same level of bigotry as our enemies;

WHEREAS, even many of the Libertarians from whom we expected more
intelligence have retreated into a petulant isolationism, refusing to
recognize that, at this time, using the state to carry the war back to the aggressors is
our only practical instrument of self-defense;

WE THEREFORE ASSERT the following convictions as the basis of
the anti-idiotarian position:

  1. THAT Western civilization is threatened with the specter of mass death
    perpetrated by nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons placed in the
    hands of terrorists by rogue states;

  2. THAT the terrorists who perpetrated the 9/11 attack, and its lesser
    sequels, are motivated by a combination of religious fanaticism and
    a smoldering resentment of the West’s success and by their own culture’s failures;

  3. THAT the terrorists have declared and are
    pursuing a war not against the vices of Western civilization but
    against its core virtues; against the freedom of thought and speech
    and conscience, against the life of reason; against the equality of
    women, against pluralism and tolerance; against, indeed, all the
    qualities which separate civilized human beings from
    savagery, slavery, and
    fanaticism;

  4. THAT no adjustments of American or Western foreign policy, or
    concessions to the Palestinians, or actions taken against
    globalization, or efforts to alleviate world poverty,
    are of more than incidental interest to these terrorists;

  5. THAT, upon their own representation, they will not by dissuaded from
    their violence by any surrender less extreme than the imposition of Islam
    and shari’a law on the kaffir West;

  6. THAT, as said terrorists have demonstrated the willingness to use
    civilian airliners as flying bombs to kill thousands of innocent
    people, we would commit a vast crime of moral negligence if we
    underestimated their future malice even
    without weapons of mass destruction;

  7. THAT they have sought, and on plausible evidence found, alliance
    with rogue states such as Iraq, Iran, and
    North Korea; states that are known to have active programs working
    towards the development and delivery of weapons of mass destruction
    that would multiply the terrorists’ ability to commit atrocities by a
    thousandfold;

  8. THAT Saddam Hussein poses a particularly clear and present
    danger in combination with them, a danger
    demonstrated by his known efforts to develop nuclear weapons, his use
    of chemical weapons even on his own population, his demonstrated
    willingness to commit aggression against peaceful neighbors, and his
    known links to the Islamic terror network in Palestine and
    elsewhere.

WE THEREFORE AFFIRM that both the terrorists and their state
sponsors have made themselves outlaws from the moral community of man,
to be dealt with as rabid dogs are.

WE FURTHER AFFIRM that the `root cause’ of Islamo-fascist terrorism
lies in the animating politico-religious ideas of fundamentalist Islam
and not in any signicant respect elsewhere, and that a central aim of
the war against terror must be to displace, discredit, and destroy
those animating ideas.

WE REJECT, as a self-serving power grab by the least trustworthy
elements of our own side, the theory that terrorist depredations can
be effectively prevented by further restrictions on the right of free
speech, or the right of peacible assembly, or the right to bear
arms in self-defense; and we strenuously oppose police-state measures
such as the imposition of national ID cards or airport-level
surveillance of public areas;

IN GRAVE KNOWLEDGE that the state of war brings
out the worst in both individual human beings and societies, we reject
the alternative of ceding to the world’s barbarians the exclusive
privilege of force;

WE SUPPORT the efforts of the United States of America, its allies,
and the West to hunt down and capture or kill individual members
of the Islamo-fascist terror network;

WE SUPPORT speedy American and allied military action against the
rogue states that support terrorism, both as a means of alleviating
the immediate threat and of deterring future state sponsorship of
terrorism by the threat of war to the knife.

WE SUPPORT, in recognition of the fact that the
military and police cannot be everywhere, efforts to meet the
distributed threat with a distributed response;
to arm airline pilots, and to recognize as well the
ordinary citizen’s right and obligation to respond to terrorist
aggression with effective force.

WE SUPPORT, as an alternative greatly preferable to future
nuclear/chemical/biological blackmail of the West, the forcible overthrowing of the governments of Iraq and of other
nations that combine sponsorship of terrorism with the possession of
weapons of mass destruction; and the occupation of those
nations
until such time as the root causes of terrorism have
been eradicated from their societies.

WE DEFINE IDIOTARIANISM as the species of delusion
within the moral community of mankind that gives
aid and comfort to terrorists and dictators operating outside it.

WE REJECT the idiotarianism of the Left — the moral blindness that
refuses to recognize that free markets, individual liberty, and
experimental science have made the West a fundamentally better place
than any culture in which jihad, ‘honor killings’, and female genital
mutilation are daily practices approved by a stultifying religion.

WE REJECT the idiotarianism of the Right — whether it manifests as
head-in-the-sand isolationism or as a a
Christian-chauvinist political agenda that echoes the religious
absolutism of our enemies.

WE ARE MEMBERS OF A CIVILIZATION, and we hold that civilization
to be worth defending. We have not sought war, but we will fight it
to the end. We will fight for our civilization in our thoughts, in
our words, and in our deeds.

WE HAVE AWAKENED. We have seen the face of evil in the acts of the
Bin Ladens and Husseins and Arafats of the world; we have seen through
the lies and self-delusions of the idiotarians, who did so much both to
make their evil possible before the fact and to deny and excuse it
afterwards. We shall not flinch from our duty to confront that
evil.

WE SHALL DEMAND as citizens and voters that
those we delegate to lead pursue the war against terror with an
unflagging will to victory and all means necessary — while
remaining always mindful that in the process of fighting the enemy we
must not stoop to the enemy’s level of contempt for human rights and
dignity, must not become what we fight;

WE SHALL REMEMBER that in this struggle more
than previous conventional wars, the West’s keenest weapons are reason
and the truth; that it is our obligation as citizens to insist on
reason and the truth; that we must shine a pitiless light on the lies
from which terrorist hatred is built; and that we must also be
vigilant against the expedient lie from our own side, lest our
victories become tainted and hollow, leaving root causes unaddressed
and sowing trouble for the future.

WE HAVE FAITH that we are equal to these
challenges; we shall not be paralyzed by fear of the enemy, nor
yet by fear of ourselves;

WE SHALL SHED the moral cowards and the appeasers and the
apologists; and we shall fight the barbarians and fanatics, and we
shall defeat them. We shall defeat them in war, crushing
their dream of dominion; and we shall defeat them in peace, using our
wealth and freedoms to win their women and
children to civilized ways, and ultimately wiping their diseased and
virulent ideologies from the face of the
Earth.

THIS WE SWEAR, on the graves of those who died at the World Trade
Center; and those who died in the Sari Club in Bali; and those who
died on U.S.S. Cole; and indeed on the graves of all the nameless
victims in the Middle East itself who have been slaughtered by
terrorism and rogue states:

YOU SHALL NOT HAVE DIED IN VAIN.

			Eric S. Raymond
			17 October 2002

			____________________
			(your signature here)

Blogspot comments

Oct 17

Draft for an Anti-Idiotarian Manifesto (version 3)

Substantive changes from version 1 to 2 are marked in red; changes from 2 to 3 are marked in blue. I think the changes largely
speak for themselves. I will say that I think some of the criticisms
I received reflect a conservative bias in the blogosphere population,
and that for appeal to a wider audience it is necessary to
excoriate the Right a little harder than a lot of people here will be
completely comfortable with.

I have removed the paragraph about profiling, not out of political
correctness but because I have been presented with good arguments that
profiling is easy for terrorists to game against (and apparently they
have often done so in Israel).

It has been suggested that I should add the heroes of Flight 93 to
the list of those we swear shall not have died in vain. But they
had already achieved that; they saved many lives and provided a
moral example which shall not be forgotten.

Congratulations to the trivia spotters who identified “to be dealt
with as wolves are” as a quote from H. Beam Piper’s Lord Kalvan
of Otherwhen
. Jerry Pournelle did, I believe, quote it in
Prince Of Sparta. I had always assumed Piper
was referring to the Viking sentence of outlawry, in which the outlaw
was declared a “wolf’s head”. Apparently there is a 1703 historical
cite from the US as well.


WHEREAS, the year since the terrible events of 9/11 has exposed
the vacuity and moral confusion of all too many of the thinkers,
politicians, and activists operating within conventional political
categories;

WHEREAS, the Left has failed us by succumbing to reflexive
anti-Americanism; by apologizing for terrorist acts; by propounding
squalid theories of moral equivalence; and by blaming the victims of
evil for the act of evil;

WHEREAS, the Right has failed us by pushing `anti-terrorist’
measures which bid fair to be both ineffective and prejudicial to the
central liberties of a free society; and in some cases by rhetorically
descending to almost the same level of bigotry as our enemies;

WHEREAS, even many of the Libertarians from whom we expected more
intelligence have retreated into a petulant isolationism, refusing to
recognize that, at this time, using the state to carry the war to
the enemy is our only practical instrument of
self-defense;

WE THEREFORE ASSERT the following convictions as the basis of
the anti-idiotarian position:

  1. THAT Western civilization is threatened with the specter of mass death
    perpetrated by nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons placed in the
    hands of terrorists by rogue states;

  2. THAT the terrorists who perpetrated the 9/11 attack, and its lesser
    sequels, are motivated by a combination of religious fanaticism and
    a smoldering resentment of the West’s success and Islam’s failures;

  3. THAT the terrorists have declared and are
    pursuing a war not against the vices of Western civilization but
    against its core virtues; against the freedom of thought and speech
    and conscience, against the life of reason; against the equality of
    women, against pluralism and tolerance; against, indeed, all the
    qualities which separate civilized human beings from bestiality,
    slavery, and fanaticism;

    THAT no adjustments of American or Western foreign policy, or
    concessions to the Palestinians, or actions taken against
    globalization, or efforts to alleviate world poverty,
    are of more than incidental interest to these terrorists;

  4. THAT, upon their own representation, they will not by dissuaded from
    their violence by any surrender less extreme than the imposition of Islam
    and shari’a law on the kaffir West;

  5. THAT, as said terrorists have demonstrated the willingness to use
    civilian airliners as flying bombs to kill thousands of innocent
    people, we would commit a vast crime of moral negligence if we
    underestimated their future malice even
    without weapons of mass destruction;

  6. THAT they have sought, and on plausible evidence found, alliance
    with rogue states such as Iraq, Iran, and
    North Korea; states that are known to have active programs working
    towards the development and delivery of weapons of mass destruction
    that would multiply the terrorists’ ability to commit atrocities by a
    thousandfold;

  7. THAT Saddam Hussein poses a particularly clear and present danger
    in combination with them, a danger demonstrated by his known efforts
    to develop nuclear weapons, his use of chemical weapons even on his
    own population, his demonstrated willingness to commit aggression
    against peaceful neighbors, and his known links to the Islamic terror
    network in Palestine and elsewhere.

RE AFFIRM that both the terrorists and their state
sponsors have made themselves outlaws from the moral community of man,
to be dealt with as feral beasts are.

WE FURTHER AFFIRM that the `root cause’ of Islamo-fascist terrorism
lies in the animating politico-religious ideas of fundamentalist Islam
and not in any signicant respect elsewhere, and that a central aim of
the war against terror must be to displace, discredit, and destroy
those animating ideas.

WE REJECT, as a self-serving power grab by the least trustworthy
elements of our own side, the theory that terrorist depredations can
be effectively prevented by further restrictions on the right of free
speech, or the right of peacible assembly, or the right to bear
arms in self-defense; and we strenuously oppose police-state measures
such as the imposition of national ID cards or airport-level
surveillance of public areas;

IN GRAVE KNOWLEDGE that the state of war brings
out the worst in both individual human beings and societies, we reject
the alternative of ceding to the world’s barbarians the exclusive
privilege of force.

WE SUPPORT the efforts of the United States of America, its allies,
and the West to hunt down and capture or kill individual members
of the Islamo-fascist terror network;

WE SUPPORT speedy American and allied military action against the
rogue states that support terrorism, both as a means of alleviating
the immediate threat and of deterring future state sponsorship of
terrorism by the threat of war to the knife.

WE SUPPORT, in recognition of the fact that the
military and police cannot be everywhere, efforts to meet the
distributed threat with a distributed response;
to arm airline pilots, and to recognize as well the
ordinary citizen’s right and obligation to respond to terrorist
aggression with effective force.

WE SUPPORT, as an alternative greatly preferable to future
nuclear/chemical/biological blackmail of the West, the forcible overthrowing of the governments of Iraq and of other
nations that combine sponsorship of terrorism with the possession of
weapons of mass destruction; and the occupation of those
nations
until such time as the root causes of terrorism have
been eradicated from their societies.

WE DEFINE IDIOTARIANISM as the species of delusion
within the moral community of mankind that gives
aid and comfort to terrorists and dictators operating outside it.

WE REJECT the idiotarianism of the Left — the moral blindness that
refuses to recognize that free markets, individual liberty, and
experimental science have made the West a fundamentally better place
than any culture in which jihad, ‘honor killings’, and female genital
mutilation are daily practices approved by a stultifying religion.

WE REJECT the idiotarianism of the Right — whether it manifests as
head-in-the-sand isolationism or as a Christian-identity chauvinism that all but mirrors the
Islamo-fascist fanaticism of our enemies.

WE ARE MEMBERS OF A CIVILIZATION, and we hold that civilization
to be worth defending. We have not sought war, but we will fight it
to the end. We will fight for our civilization in our thoughts, in
our words, and in our deeds.

WE HAVE AWAKENED. We have seen the face of evil in the acts of the
Bin Ladens and Husseins and Arafats of the world; we have seen through
the lies and self-delusions of the idiotarians, who did so much both to
make their evil possible before the fact and to deny and excuse it
afterwards. We shall not flinch from our duty to confront that
evil.

WE SHALL SHED the moral cowards and the appeasers and the
apologists; and we shall fight the barbarians and fanatics, and we
shall defeat them. We shall defeat them in war, crushing
their dream of dominion; and we shall defeat them in peace, using our
wealth and freedoms to win their women and
children to civilized ways, and ultimately wiping their diseased and
virulent ideologies from the face of the
Earth.

THIS WE SWEAR, on the graves of those who died at the World Trade
Center; and those who died in the Sari Club in Bali; and those who
died on U.S.S. Cole; and indeed on the graves of all the nameless
victims in the Middle East itself who have been slaughtered by
terrorism and rogue states;

YOU SHALL NOT HAVE DIED IN VAIN.

			Eric S. Raymond
			16 October 2002

			____________________
			(your signature here)

Blogspot
comments

Oct 16

Draft for an Anti-Idiotarian Manifesto (version 2)

Substantive changes from version 1 are marked in
red
. I think the changes largely speak for themselves. I will
say that I think some of the criticisms I received reflect a
conservative bias in the blogosphere population, and that for appeal
to a wider audience it is necessary to excoriate the Right a
little harder than a lot of people here will be completely comfortable
with.

Major trivia points to anyone who can identify the source of the
phrase I was quoting in my first draft, the longer form of which reads
“we declare them the enemies of all men, to be dealt with as wolves
are”. And no, a Web search won’t do it.


WHEREAS, the year since the terrible events of 9/11 has exposed
the vacuity and moral confusion of all too many of the thinkers,
politicians, and activists operating within conventional political
categories;

WHEREAS, the Left has failed us by succumbing to reflexive
anti-Americanism; by apologizing for terrorist acts; by propounding
squalid theories of moral equivalence; and by blaming the victims of
evil for the act of evil;

WHEREAS, the Right has failed us by pushing `anti-terrorist’
measures which bid fair to be both ineffective and prejudicial to the
central liberties of a free society; and in some cases by rhetorically
descending to almost the same level of bigotry as our enemies;

WHEREAS, even many of the Libertarians from whom we expected more
intelligence have retreated into a petulant isolationism, refusing to
recognize that, at this time, using the state to carry the war to
the enemy is our only practical instrument of
self-defense;

WE THEREFORE ASSERT the following convictions as the basis of
the anti-idiotarian position:

  1. THAT Western civilization is threatened with the specter of mass death
    perpetrated by nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons placed in the
    hands of terrorists by rogue states;
  2. THAT the terrorists who perpetrated the 9/11 attack, and its lesser
    sequels, are motivated by a combination of religious fanaticism and
    a smoldering resentment of the West’s success and Islam’s failures;
  3. THAT no adjustments of American or Western foreign policy, or
    concessions to the Palestinians, or actions taken against
    globalization, or otherwise worthy efforts to alleviate world poverty,
    are of more than incidental interest to these terrorists;
  4. THAT, upon their own representation, they will not by dissuaded from
    their violence by any surrender less extreme than the imposition of Islam
    and shari’a law on the kaffir West;
  5. THAT, as said terrorists have demonstrated the willingness to use
    civilian airliners as flying bombs to kill thousands of innocent
    people, we would commit a vast crime of moral negligence if we
    underestimated their future malice even
    without weapons of mass destruction
    ;
  6. THAT they have sought, and on plausible evidence found, alliance
    with rogue states such as Iraq, Iran, and
    North Korea; states that are known to have active programs working
    towards the development and delivery of weapons of mass destruction
    that would multiply the terrorists’ ability to commit atrocities by a
    thousandfold;
  7. THAT Saddam Hussein poses a particularly clear and present danger
    through his known efforts to develop nuclear weapons, his use of
    chemical weapons even on his own population, his demonstrated
    willingness to commit aggression against peaceful neighbors, and
    his known links to the Islamic terror network in Palestine and
    elsewhere.

RE AFFIRM that both the terrorists and their state
sponsors have made themselves outlaws from the moral community of man,
to be dealt with as feral beasts are.

WE FURTHER AFFIRM that the `root cause’ of Islamo-fascist terrorism
lies in the animating politico-religious ideas of fundamentalist Islam
and not in any signicant respect elsewhere, and that a central aim of
the war against terror must be to displace, discredit, and destroy
those animating ideas.

WE REJECT, as a self-serving power grab by the least trustworthy
elements of our own side, the theory that terrorist depredations can
be effectively prevented by further restrictions on the right of free
speech, or the right of peacible assembly, or the right to bear
arms in self-defense; and we strenuously oppose police-state measures
such as the imposition of national ID cards or airport-level
surveillance of public areas;

WE REJECT the theory that `fairness’ requires us not to notice the
dominant gender, age range, ethnic character and religion of our
terrorist enemies; and we urge the systematic use of such profiling to
both make anti-terrorist screening more effective and reduce the
overall intrusiveness of anti-terror measures on the majority of the
population.

IN GRAVE KNOWLEDGE that the state of war brings
out the worst in both individual human beings and societies, we reject
the alternative of ceding to the world’s barbarians the exclusive
privilege of force.

WE SUPPORT the efforts of the United States of America, its allies,
and the West to hunt down and and capture or kill individual members
of the Islamo-fascist terror network;

WE SUPPORT speedy American and allied military action against the
rogue states that support terrorism, both as a means of alleviating
the immediate threat and of deterring future state sponsorship of
terrorism by the threat of war to the knife.

WE SUPPORT, in recognition of the fact that the
military and police cannot be everywhere, efforts to meet the
distributed threat with a distributed response; to arm not merely
airline pilots but ordinary citizens, and to recognize the citizen’s
right and obligation to respond to terrorist aggression with effective
force.

WE SUPPORT, as an alternative greatly preferable to future
nuclear/chemical/biological blackmail of the West, the conquest and
occupation of Iraq and other nations that combine sponsorship of
terrorism with the possession of weapons of mass destruction, until
such time as the root causes of terrorism have been eradicated from
their societies.

WE DEFINE IDIOTARIANISM as the species of delusion
within the moral community of mankind that gives
aid and comfort to terrorists and dictators operating outside it.

WE REJECT the idiotarianism of the Left — the moral blindness that
refuses to recognize that free markets, individual liberty, and
experimental science have made the West a fundamentally better place
than any culture in which jihad, ‘honor killings’, and female genital
mutilation are daily practices approved by a stultifying religion.

WE REJECT the idiotarianism of the Right — whether it manifests as
head-in-the-sand isolationism or as a Christian-identity chauvinism that all but mirrors the
Islamo-fascist fanaticism of our enemies.

WE ARE MEMBERS OF A CIVILIZATION, and we hold that civilization
to be worth defending. We have not sought war, but we will fight it
to the end. We will fight for our civilization in our thoughts, in
our words, and in our deeds.

WE HAVE AWAKENED. We have seen the face of evil in the acts of the
Bin Ladens and Husseins and Arafats of the world; we have seen through
the lies and self-delusions of the idiotarians who did so much both to
make their evil possible before the fact and to deny and excuse it
afterwards. We shall not flinch from our duty to confront that
evil.

WE SHALL SHED the moral cowards and the appeasers and the
apologists; and we shall fight the barbarians and fanatics, and we
shall defeat them. We shall defeat them in war, crushing
their dream of dominion; and we shall defeat them in peace, using our
wealth and freedoms to seduce their women and children to civilized
ways, and ultimately wiping their diseased and virulent ideologies from the face of the Earth.

THIS WE SWEAR, on the graves of those who died at the World
Trade Center; and those who died in the Sari Club in Bali; and those
who died on the U.S.S. Cole; and indeed on the graves of all the
nameless victims in the Middle East itself who have been slaughtered
by terrorism and rogue states;

YOU SHALL NOT HAVE DIED IN VAIN.

			Eric S. Raymond
			16 October 2002

			____________________
			(your signature here)

Blogspot comments

Oct 16

Draft for an Anti-Idiotarian Manifesto (version 1)

WHEREAS, the year since the terrible events of 9/11 has exposed
the vacuity and moral confusion of all too many of the thinkers,
politicians, and activists operating within conventional political
categories;

WHEREAS, the Left has failed us by succumbing to reflexive
anti-Americanism; by apologizing for terrorist acts; by propounding
squalid theories of moral equivalence; and by blaming the victims of
evil for the act of evil;

WHEREAS, the Right has failed us by pushing `anti-terrorist’
measures which bid fair to be both ineffective and prejudicial to the
central liberties of a free society; and in some cases by rhetorically
descending to almost the same level of religious jihad as our
enemies;

WHEREAS, even many of the Libertarians from whom we expected more
intelligence have retreated into a petulant isolationism, refusing to
recognize that, at this time, using the state to carry the war to
the enemy is our only practical instrument of
self-defense;

WE THEREFORE ASSERT the following convictions as the basis of
the anti-idiotarian position:

  1. THAT Western civilization is threatened with the specter of mass death
    perpetrated by nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons placed in the
    hands of terrorists by rogue states;
  2. THAT the terrorists who perpetrated the 9/11 attack, and its lesser
    sequels, are motivated by a combination of religious fanaticism and
    a smoldering resentment of the West’s success and Islam’s failures;
  3. THAT no adjustments of American or Western foreign policy, or
    concessions to the Palestinians, or actions taken against
    globalization, or otherwise worthy efforts to alleviate world poverty,
    are of more than incidental interest to these terrorists;
  4. THAT, upon their own representation, they will not by dissuaded from
    their violence by any surrender less extreme than the imposition of Islam
    and shari’a law on the kaffir West;
  5. THAT, as said terrorists have demonstrated the willingness to use
    civilian airliners as flying bombs to kill thousands of innocent
    people, we would commit a vast crime of moral negligence if we
    underestimated their future malice;
  6. THAT they have sought, and on plausible evidence found, alliance
    with rogue states such as Iraq and North Korea; states that are known
    to have active programs working towards the development and delivery
    of weapons that would multiply the terrorists’ ability to commit
    atrocities by a thousandfold;
  7. THAT Saddam Hussein poses a particularly clear and present danger
    through his known efforts to develop nuclear weapons, his use of
    chemical weapons even on his own population, his demonstrated
    willingness to commit aggression against peaceful neighbors, and
    his known links to the Islamic terror network in Palestine and
    elsewhere.

RE AFFIRM that both the terrorists and their state
sponsors have made themselves outlaws from the moral community of man,
to be dealt with as wolves are.

WE FURTHER AFFIRM that the `root cause’ of Islamo-fascist terrorism
lies in the animating politico-religious ideas of fundamentalist Islam
and not in any significant respect elsewhere, and that a central aim of
the war against terror must be to displace, discredit, and destroy
those animating ideas.

WE REJECT, as a self-serving power grab by the least trustworthy
elements of our own side, the theory that terrorist depredations can
be effectively prevented by further restrictions on the right of free
speech, or the right of peacible assembly, or the right to bear
arms in self-defense; and we strenuously oppose police-state measures
such as the imposition of national ID cards or airport-level
surveillance of public areas;

WE REJECT the theory that `fairness’ requires us not to notice and
use the dominant gender, age range, ethnic character and religion of
our terrorist enemies; and we urge the systematic use of such profiling to
both make anti-terrorist screening more effective and reduce the
overall intrusiveness of anti-terror measures on the majority of
the population.

WE SUPPORT the efforts of the United States of America, its allies,
and the West to hunt down and and capture or kill individual members
of the Islamic terror network;

WE SUPPORT speedy American and allied military action against the
rogue states that support terrorism, both as a means of alleviating
the immediate threat and of deterring future state sponsorship of
terrorism by the threat of war to the knife.

WE SUPPORT, as an alternative greatly preferable to future nuclear
blackmail of the West, the conquest and occupation of Iraq and other
nations that combine sponsorship of terrorism with the possession
of weapons of mass destruction, until such time as the root causes of
terrorism have been eradicated from their societies.

WE DEFINE IDIOTARIANISM as the species of delusion
within the moral community of mankind that gives
aid and comfort to terrorists and dictators operating outside it.

ism of the Left — the moral blindness that
refuses to recognize that free markets, individual liberty, and
experimental science have made the West a fundamentally better place
than any culture in which jihad, ‘honor killings’, and female genital
mutilation are daily practices approved by a stultifying religion.

WE REJECT the idiotarianism of the Right — whether it manifests as
head-in-the-sand isolationism or as a Christian religious chauvinism
and bigotry that all but mirrors the Islamo-fascist fanaticism of our
self-declared enemies.

WE ARE MEMBERS OF A CIVILIZATION, and we hold that civilization
to be worth defending. We have not sought war, but we will fight it
to the end. We will fight for our civilization in our thoughts, in
our words, and in our deeds.

WE HAVE AWAKENED. We have seen the face of evil in the acts of the
Bin Ladens and Husseins and Arafats of the world; we have seen through
the lies and self-delusions of the idiotarians who did so much both to
make their evil possible before the fact and to deny and excuse it
afterwards. We shall not flinch from our duty to confront that
evil.

WE SHALL SHED the moral cowards and the appeasers and the
apologists; and we shall fight the barbarians and fanatics, and we
shall defeat them. We shall defeat them in war, crushing
their dream of dominion; and we shall defeat them in peace, using our
wealth and freedoms to seduce their women and children to civilized
ways, and ultimately wiping their diseased and virulent culture from
the face of the Earth.

THIS WE SWEAR, on the graves of those who died at the World
Trade Center; and those who died in the Sari Club in Bali; and those
who died on the U.S.S. Cole; and indeed on the graves of all the
nameless victims in the Middle East itself who have been slaughtered
by terrorism and rogue states;

YOU SHALL NOT HAVE DIED IN VAIN.

					Eric S. Raymond
					16 October 2002

					____________________
					(your signature here)

Blogspot comments

Sep 25

Failsafe

I just sent the following letter to the Boston Globe
after reading Elaine Scarry’s excellent piece Failsafe!:


Congratulations on having the bravery to publish Elaine
Scarry’s “Failsafe”. She is right to point out that distributed
threats require distributed countermeasures. She is right to point out
that centralized defense of the U.S. massively failed us. She is
right to point out that the founders of the U.S. envisioned citizens,
not standing armies, as the backbone of the nation’s defense.

After all that argument and build-up, it is only unfortunate
that she stopped short of the logical conclusion: that to prevent
future hijackings, the logical course is to arm the passengers.

The extension to other situations involving crime, terrorism, and
politics (insofar as the three are distinguishable at all) is left
as an exercise for the reader.

Blogspot comments

Sep 21

Defeating Hussein Without Government

The aftermath of 9/11 is a hard time to be an anarchist.

For many years before the WTC came down I believed that America
could be better defended by have no government than by the system we
have now, I imagined a nation of heavily armed militias, without
the power-projection capabilities of a conventional military but
with the capability to inflict a world of grief on an invader — and
with nobody having the authority to tell them to surrender. We
could have a home defense better than Switzerland’s, our larger
population and longer distances doing for us what mountainous terrain
does for the Swiss.

There would still be a place in an anarchist America for
professional soldiers — not many, but a few heavy troop formations
would be kept on retainer by consortia of insurance companies. Yes, I
said insurance companies, that’s because how free markets socialize
shared risks. Normal law enforcement would be funded by pools set up
by vendors of crime insurance looking to reduce their payouts;
national defense and overseas power projection (to the extent the term
still had meaning in a stateless society) would be funded by people
who bought war insurance (say, businesses with overseas assets to
protect).

These measures, I was and am convinced, would stop conventional
wars of conquest dead in their tracks. Invade a nation of 350,000,000
libertarians, most of them routinely armed? Yeah. Right. Any
War-College-trained military officer will tell you that urban warfare
against guerrillas on their home ground chews up armies faster than
anything else. Witness Stalingrad.

Without a government, many of the reasons people might go
to war against America would also vanish. No entangling alliances, no
foreign policy to object to. Conventional terrorism would become a
lot dicier proposition in a libertarian anarchy, too — as in
Israel, where armed civilians have on numerous occasions thwarted
attempted massacres by shooting back. And, of course, the WTC would
probably still be standing if the passengers had been
armed…

I grew up in the shadow of the Soviet threat. Theirs was an evil,
evil system, but they were at bottom geopolitically rational. They
calculated their chances very cold-bloodedly, and never pushed the
big red button. An ungoverned America would have stood them off, I
believe, long enough for the inevitable Hayekian collapse to remove
the problem.

But now we face the prospect of weapons of mass destruction dropping
into the hands of people who are behaviorally indistinguishable from
stone psychotics. That prospect poses problems of a different nature
than Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union ever did. Because what Al-Qaeda
wants is not driven or constrained by geopolitics, by pragmatism, by a
rational estimation of risk and reward. They have no population to
answer to even in the limited sense that Hitler and Stalin did. They
were madmen, but they were constrained by the necessities of leading
a country.

Under the present system, I see no alternative to state action as a
way to suppress this threat, up to and including conventional warfare
and the proconsular occupation of significant parts of the Arab world.
I am not happy with this evaluation; war is the health of the State,
and statism is the most lethal enemy humanity will ever know short of
a giant meteor strike (those who think this statement hyperbolic are
recommended to read Robert Conquest’s “The Great Terror”). The
question that drives this essay is whether, supposing the
U.S. were to become a market anarchy, there would be other means to
the same end.

It’s a tough case. Al-Qaeda would not hate us any less; it is not,
at bottom, U.S. policy that enrages them, it is the fact of our wealth
and freedom and refusal to submit to the One True Way of Allah. An
ungoverned America, more wealthy and more free by the exact measure
that its productive capacity is spent efficiently on a network of
security agencies and judicial associations rather than being wasted
on the support of parasitic government, would hardly enrage them
less.

Al-Qaeda in itself is not an exceptional threat; in a properly
armed society the 9/11 hijackers would never even have tried
their stunt, because they would known that the certain outcome was
death in a hail of civilian bullets. It is the combination of
Al-Qaeda-like suicidal fanaticism with state sponsorship (specifically
the ability to produce chemical/biological/nuclear weapons) that
strains the anarcho-libertarian theory of national self-defense, It
does so by dramatically lowering the cost of aggression for both
sets of bad guys; the fanatics get the capability to strike a
hammer-blow at the Great Satan, and their state sponsors get
deniable cat’s paws.

It is worth pointing out, however, that it strains the statist
theory of self-defense almost as badly. A governed U.S. has the
neo-imperialist option (conquer Iraq, install Colin Powell as
miltary governor, and try to transform the place as we transformed
Japan), and that may even appear to be the option with the lowest
odds of catastrophic failure, but we don’t actually have any clue
whether this will actually work — Al-Qaeda might well
be able to get their bombs from the failing states of former-Soviet
Central Asia, or from North Korea. The historical situation
is truly unprecedented.

Harder than the theoretical problem, perhaps, is the practical one.
How to oppose that expansion of state power without acting as an
unwilling enabler for the terrorists? In some ways that’s easy;
pushing to abolish all the police-state bullshit at airports is
a no-brainer, since tiger-team tests of the system consistently show
that none of it has made smuggling weapons on board more difficult
(now, as before 9/11, approximately 30% of attempts succeed).

In a wider sense, though, it’s a very difficult question. One I
will be thinking about — and possibly writing about — in the
coming months.

Blogspot comments

Sep 19

Imperialists by necessity?

Steven den Beste wrote a long, intelligent and insightful essay on who the enemy is. I think he is right to see Afghanistan, Iraq, and the suppression of Al-Qaeda as phases of longer, wider war — a clash of civilizations driven by the failure of Islamic/Arab culture (though I would stress the problem of the Islamic commandment to jihad more than he does). I think he is also right to say that our long-term objective must be to break, crush and eventually destroy this culture, because we can’t live on the same planet with people who both carry those memes and have access to weapons of mass destruction. They will hate us and seek to destroy us not for what we’ve done but for what we are.

I wonder if Steve sees what this implies in the longer time horizon, though? The cultures that produced Al-Qaeda, despite swimming in oil wealth that should have made it easy, have failed in all essential ways to join the modern world. They mutilate the genitalia of the female half of their population, they educate only a vanishingly small number of scientists and engineers, and their politics is a perpetual brawl conducted by tribes with flags. Their capability to get with even the 20th century on their own has been tested and found wanting, let alone the 21st.

Steve may well be right that the only solution to a festering boil like Iraq or Saudi Arabia starts with military defeat, Western occupation, and a forced restructuring of society along the lines of what Douglas MacArthur did to the Japanese after 1945.

I used to think we could corrupt Islamism out of existence, make it fat and lazy with cheap consumer goods and seduce it with porn. Maybe that would be the best way to go if we had two generations to solve the problem. But if the likes of Hussein are breeding botulism and about to get his hands on nukes, we’ve run out of time. We can’t afford the soft option if the price of futzing around might be a mushroom cloud over Manhattan, or over Tel Aviv.

We must win. And we must impose our will and our culture on the losers, not for old-fashioned reasons like gold or oil or craving conquest, but because the likely alternative is nuclear megadeath, plague in our home cities, and the smell of Sarin in the morning. Is there anyone left who doubts that Saddam Hussein, who nerve-gassed Iraqis by the hundreds of thousands in the 1980s, would use nukes if he had them?

There’s a word for the process of conquering a third-world pesthole and imposing your culture on it. It’s called imperialism.

In the 19th century, the Western powers built empires for prestige and economic advantage. In the 21st century, we may be discovering that we need to get back into the imperialism business as a matter of survival. It may turn out that the 20th century was an interlude doomed to end as cheap transportation made the world smaller and improving weapons technology made large-scale destruction inexpensive even for barbarian thugs like Saddam Hussein.

Envy the British of Sir Richard Burton’s time. They could conquer half the world for simple gain without worrying about the Fuzzy-Wuzzies or the Ndebele aerosol-dropping pasteurella pestis on Knightsbridge. We — and I mean specifically the U.S. now — may have to conquer the Islamic world a second time, simply because the risks of war and the moral hazards of imperialism are less threatening than the prospect of some Allah-crazed Islamofascist detonating a knapsack nuke on the Smithsonian Mall.

I’m not joking about the moral hazards of imperialism, either. They may be a more serious danger to a free society than the short-term exigencies of war. Witness the fact that I, a radical libertarian anarchist for more than twenty years, find myself arguing for a position not all that easy to distinguish from reactionary military expansionism. Urgent survival threats make strange bedfellows. And it is all too plausible that. if we take this path, we might degenerate from imperialists by necessity to imperialists by habit and predilection.

Still. Reality is what it is. If there’s no way short of straight-up imperialism and nation-building all over the Islamic world to prevent a holocaust on American or European soil that would make 9/11 look like a garden party, then that’s what we’re going to have to do — civilize the barbarians at the point of a gun.

There is precedent; the British did a pretty good job of civilizing India and we did a spectacularly effective one on Japan. And the U.S. would be well equipped to do it again; our economy is now so large that we could run a globe-spanning empire from the petty-cash drawer. Seriously. The U.S, a hyperpower so dominant that no imaginable coalition of other nations could defeat it at conventional warfare, spends a ridiculously low percentage of GNP (6%, if I recall correctly) on its military.

Civilizing the barbarians needn’t even be a bloody process if you start the job right after their will has been smashed by a major defeat in war. The U.S. burned essentially every major Japanese city except Kyoto to the ground with incendiaries during World War Two and then atom-bombed two of them. This seemed to help. It would be nice if we didn’t have to get so drastic this time, but it might come to that yet; judging by measures like relative GDP and number of Nobel prizes earned, the Arab/Islamic world is actually further behind the civilization curve than the Japanese were in their militarist phase. They may need to be smashed flatter before a latter-day MacArthur will be able to do anything with them.

Some of my readers will be creaming in horror. Imperialism? Barbarians? How dare I use such language? How dare I argue that the U.S. has the right to commit deliberate cultural genocide?

There’s a big hole in the ground in Manhattan. That’s my argument.

If Pearl Harbor was good enough reason for us to conquer Japan and run it like a proconsulate until the Japanese learned manners, then 9/11 was damn good and sufficient reason for us to do the same number on the Islamists. That meant Afghanistan, it means Iraq, and down the road it may mean Saudi Arabia as well.

History is not over.

Blogspot comments

Sep 18

So, Howell Raines isn’t a complete waste of air

The NYT ran a
pro-Linux editorial
today.

That’s good. They had to slip their “communitarian” spin in there, though, as if Linux hackers are all a bunch of PBS-worshiping Mother Jones readers and natural suckers for the fuzzy-sweater cause of the week.

Hah. If they only knew. I’m not going to say my gun-toting
red-meat libertarianism is typical, because it isn’t. Actually
the mass centroid of hackers’ politics is a lot like the
blogosphere’s, a sort of soft-libertarianism-leaning-towards-conservatism or vice-versa
(the centroid used to be further left but a lot has changed in the last decade).
Much less radical than me, but still enough to give the likes
of Raines a bad case of the vapors.

But let’s keep that our little secret, OK? If Raines wants to believe that open-source people are some kind of cross between Greenpeace and the Ethical Culture Society, that’s just fine. We’ll
take the Gray Lady’s backing. It’s another small step on the road to world domination.

The day will come when we will be the guys running the
world’s entire digital infrastructure (not such a stretch; we
already run the Internet). Our example will teach Howell’s
kids stuff about the power of decentralization and voluntary cooperation, all the things leftists pay lip-service to until the
last second before they’d have to actually apply them. And
the world will change out from under him. Subtly. Powerfully.
And in ways he can’t guess at yet.

It should be a fun ride.

Sep 17

Living With Microsoft

In today’s episode of the Microsoft follies, we learned that
Media Player 9
is un-uninstallable
. Deliberately.

A A Microsoft spokesthing confirmed that Media Player 9 is so deeply
integrated into the operating system that it cannot be removed without
doing a `system restore’. Which, incidentally, will wipe out your
Office installation.

It’s at times like this that, contemplating Microsoft users, one
feels as though one is wandering among people lashing themselves with
stinging nettles until blood runs off them in rivulets. One wants to
know why they don’t just stop. One is told “But it’s the
standard!”

One shakes one’s head bemusedly.

They pay heavily for the privilege of lashing themselves, too.
Except for those blessed, blissful occasions on which they pay still
more, grease themselves, bend over, and prepare to be buggered by a
chainsaw. That’s called a “System Upgrade”.

One contemplates the uptime figures on one’s Linux box and
feels — admit it! — a bit smug.

Comment

Sep 13

When there’s nothing left to say, self-parody is the way

I’m just, barely, old enough to remember the anti-war Leftists of
the 1960s and 1970s. I disagreed with them over Vietnam then, and
I disagree with the anti-war Left’s agitation against a war on Iraq
today. But as I read what comes out of minds of people like Robert
Fisk and Noam Chomsky and Susan Sontag these days, I wonder if I’m
getting old and allowing a golden haze to cloud my recollection of
past decades. Because I find myself feeling almost nostalgic for
the anti-Vietnam-war Left.

Yes, yes, I still think “Hanoi Jane” and her crowd were basically
wrong. Wrong about the consequences of a North Vietnamese victory
(Communists turn out to be murderously repressive — what a shock!);
wrong about the motives and interests of the U.S.; wrong about almost
everything except the level of incompetence, buffoonery, and myopia
afflicting the generals and politicians running that war.

But there was one important difference. The anti-Vietnam-war Left
may have been deluded and prone to masturbating in front of Che
Guevara posters…but if you sifted through enough of their ranting
you could detect the outlines of a principled case, or several
principled cases. There was one argument on which they persuaded me;
though I was not of draftable age, I found I agreed with them that the
military draft was an intolerable form of slavery years before I
encountered Robert Heinlein’s pithy objurgation that “A nation that
cannot find enough volunteers to defend itself will not survive
— and does not deserve to.”

But try as I might, I can’t detect a principled case anywhere in today’s
anti-war Left. Which is all the more curious since I think they
could be making one. Several, in fact: starting with the argument
that we should abandon the path of war not even because of what it does
to our enemies but because of what it does to ourselves. At every
level from the personal to the political, warfare is a brutalizing
experience that erodes our freedoms and empowers the nastiest elements
of human psyches and societies.

There are principled responses to that case, but that particular
argument is not my point. My point is that today’s anti-war
rhetoric, as exemplified by reports on a planned September 11
“Teach-In and Panel regarding Oppression” at UCLA, never seems
to even confront the question of whether war against Afghanistan and Iraq
is justified by the Islamist threat. Instead, the topic is “U.S. Law
and Policy Against Immigrants of Color”, as if there is any kind of
equivalence between the U.S.’s border policies and the catastrophic
mass murder of 2,500 people.

There is a curious kind of evasiveness at work here. We can see it
at work in the arid deconstructionism of Susan Sontag’s NYT op-ed, Real
Battles and Empty Metaphors
. Even the title announces that she’s
going to lucubrate about the relationship between language and
reality, not confront reality itself. A similar denial is evident
it the rhetoric of Noam Chomsky; prodded for commentary on the war,
he recites a litany of past American wrongdoing as if that somehow
banishes the question of how soon Saddam Hussein will have nuclear
weapons and what he will do with them when he gets them.

Maybe I’m getting senile, but it seems to me that the Left of my
teens was in better contact with reality than today’s crew. There
really was a military-industrial complex and the desire for war
profits probably did drive some of the political support for the
Vietnam war. The military-industrial complex is still with us today,
but the Left seems to have forgotten even the little it once knew
about political economics and isn’t even bothering to raise that
issue. Perhaps this amnesia is a post-traumatic effect of watching
Marx take a header into the dustbin of history; we’ve come to strange
days indeed when I have to conclude that my libertarian self could
easily write a better Marxist critique of Dubya’s war propaganda than
anyone on the Left has yet issued in public.

Instead, what we’re seeing is a rhetoric that is half a retreat
into language-chopping and half an expression of contempt for the
U.S. — contempt so out of balance that it’s doomed to be tuned out by
anyone less far to the left than the unlamented former Congresswoman
Cynthia McKinney.

When did the Left descend into such empty self-parody? And why?

Watching “real existing socialism” self-destruct must have been
part of it. I speculated on the psychological effects of that
political collapse in a previous essay Socialists
to the Stars
, about Scottish SF writers Ken McLeod and Iain Banks.
But something weirder and more diffuse happened to the Left on
this side of the pond, and I’m not sure what it was.

Some days I wonder if Greg Egan, the reclusive West Australian
author who has produced some of the best hard SF of the last decade,
may not have called it right in the following passage from his novel
“Teranesia”:

“Feminism was working, and the civil rights movement was working, and
all the other social justice movements were getting more and more
support. So, in the 1980s, the CIA […] hired some really clever
linguists to invent a secret weapon; an incredibly complicated way of
talking about politics that didn’t actually make any sense, but which
spread through all the universities in the world, because it sounded
so impressive. And at first, the people who talked like this just
hitched their wagon to the social justice movements, and everyone else
let them come along for the ride, because they seemed harmless. But
then they climbed on board the peace train and threw out the driver.”

“So instead of going to the people in power and saying, `How about
upholding the universal principles you claim to believe in?’ the
people in the social justice movements ended up saying things like `My
truth narrative is in conflict with your truth marrative!’. And the
people in power replied `Woe is me! You’ve thrown me into the briar
patch!’ And everyone else said `Who are these idiots? Why should we
trust them when they can’t even speak properly?’ And the CIA was
happy. And the people in power were happy. And the secret weapon
lived on in the universities for years and years, because everyone
who’d played a part in the conspiracy was too embarrassed to admit
what they’d done,”

Egan’s account is implausible only because it seems unlikely that
the CIA is quite that subtle. But he’s right in pointing out that the
rise of the language of postmodernism — the sterile, involuted,
pseudo-profundity famously skewered by the Sokal Hoax
— seems to be an important correlate of the decline of the
American Left.

Self-parody is where you end up when you have nothing left to say.
And when all you can talk about is `discourse’ that’s a damn short road,

Bogspot comments

Jul 29

Right back at ya, Captain

Last Saturday morning in San Diego I had breakfast with Steven den
Beste, the redoubtable captain of U.S.S. Clueless. One of the
side-effects of that meeting was a long
critique
of open-source development. Herewith my response.

Steve and I agree on the scaling problem that has pushed software
development efforts to the ragged edge of what is sustainable even by
corporations with lots of money. Software project sizes are roughly
doubling every eighteen months, and for reasons Steve alluded to the
expected bug count per thousand lines is actually rising.

My assertion is that software development has reached a scale at
which (a) even large corporations can often no longer afford to field
enough developers to be effective at today’s project scales, and (b)
traditional methods of software quality assurance (ranging from formal
methods to internal walkthroughs) are no longer effective. The only
development organizations that seem to thrive on today’s complexity
regime are open-source teams.

Note that I am not claiming that open source is a silver bullet for
the software-complexity problem. There are no silver bullets, no
permanent solutions. What I am claiming is that at the
leading edge of large-scale software, closed-source development
doesn’t work any more. The future belongs to open source plus
whatever other practices and technologies we learn to use with
it to develop at ever-higher scales of complexity.

Steve’s analysis of the open-source phenomenon is very intelligent,
but doesn’t quite understand either the mode of organization, the
associated technology, or the factional politics within the movement.
Diagnostic of the slight disconnect is when he writes “For [the
zealots], the only true “Open Source” is governed by the strong form
of the GPL, and all other forms and licenses are harmful dilution of
the concept.” In fact, the people he’s talking about reject the term
“open source” entirely and insist on the ideologically-loaded term
“free software”.

A more serious error is when he writes “It is plausible that an OSS
project would require each participant to sign an NDA before being
given access to the source.” It is not plausible. The licenses
and community values of the open-source community would not permit this.
His two bullet points characterizing open source are missing its most
important characteristic: the entire practice is designed to facilitate
scrutiny by people with no institutional or contract relationship to the core
development team. The astringent effect of peer review by people who
have nothing to lose by reporting bugs is precisely the
point of the whole game.

Steve doesn’t undertand the importance or the power of this effect. This
slightly skews his whole essay; much of it is talking past what open-source
people do, rather than addressing us. He’s also unaware of a lot of the
real-world evidence for the success of the method. Some of the things he
thinks are technologically or economically impossible are actually being
done, routinely.

He’s correct when he says that most contributors are self-selected and
self-motivated. He overestimates the cost of training newbies, though. They
self-train; normally, the first time a core developer hears from a newbie
is typically when the newbie sends a patch — self-evidence that the newbie
has already acquired a critical level of knowledge about the
software. The “sink or swim” method turns out to work, and work well.

It’s incorrect to imply, as he does, that open-source development
is unsustainable because the people doing it are flaky amateurs.
Steve hasn’t absorbed the implications of the Boston Consulting
Group study that shows that about 40% of contributors to core projects
are professionals getting paid for working on open source by patrons
who need to use the results. In fact, what the open-source community
is evolving into is something very like a huge machine for bringing
newbies into apprenticeship contact with experienced developers and
professionalizing both groups.

He also writes “OSS by its nature tends to be reactive rather than
predictive. It doesn’t look into the future, try to predict a problem
which doesn’t exist now but will exist then, and be ready with a
solution. Rather, it tends to see problems that exist now and work on
solutions for them.” This is false — or, at any rate, no more true
than it is for closed-source development.

The open-source community built the Web and the Internet before it
had acquired a name for itself and full consciousness of its own
practices. Today, the cutting-edge work in operating systems
languages, desktop user interfaces, relational databases and many
other areas is being done either within the open-source community or
in cooperation with it by academics. These prodigious efforts of
imagination dwarf any “prediction” produced by closed-source software
development in the last two decades.

Steve’s “open source is reactive” claim strikes me as ironically
funny, because I can remember when the standard knock on my crowd was
that we’re great at innovation but can’t actually field product. How
quickly they forget…

He’s right enough about the difficulty of planning and high cost
of face-to-face meetings, though. These are real problems. It’s
a testimony to the power of our practices that we manage to ship large
volumes of high-quality software despite these obstacles.

What Steve called “player-killer” tactics have been tried — there
was a famous incident a few years back in which a TCP-wrappers
distribution was Trojaned. The crack was detected and the community
warned within hours. The black hats don’t seem to bother trying this
any more; our reaction time is too fast for that game to be very
rewarding. The technical design of Linux helps here in ways that
I won’t go into here — suffice it to say that it’s intrinsically
much harder to get a Trojan to do anything interesting than it
is under Windows or other single-user operating systems.

So far, the supply of open-source developers seems to be pretty
elastic — we’re not limited much by lacking bodies. Other factors
loom much larger; patents, the DMCA, intrinsically hard technical
problems. I don’t understand why this is as well as I’d like to, but
the facts are undeniable; the community is ten times the size my
wildest high-end scenarios predicted a decade ago and seems to be
growing faster as it gets larger.

Steve’s whole argument that open-source can’t win in embedded
systems is very curious, since it predicts exactly the opposite of
what is actually happening out there. Linux is taking over in
embedded systems — in fact, many observers would say it has already
won that space. If Steve had worked in the field within the last
three years he would probably know this.

Here are some data about the demand; the only non-general-purpose
open-source software magazine in existence is the Linux Embedded
Systems Journal. Open-source embedded developers like Monta Vista
Software are bucking the recession by growing like crazy. The first
cell-phone prototype running entirely open-source software just
entered beta testing.

I was in California to meet Steve partly because Real Networks
wanted me to be on stage when they announced the open-sourcing of
their RTSP engine. Their CEO, Rob Glaser, was quite frank about the
immediate business reasons: they needed to get ports to forty
different Nokia cellphones and just couldn’t figure out how to muster
the resources for that short of inviting every stakeholder on the
planet to hack the problem. Scaling bites. Hard.

In fact, some of the very characteristics that Steve thinks make
embedded systems like cellphones safe for closed development seems to
be the factors that are driving increased open-sourcing. The close
tie to hardware actually decreases the value of secrecy,
because it means the software is typically not easily re-usable by
hardware competitors. Thus open sourcing is often a great way to
recruit help from customer engineers without a real downside risk of
plagiarism.

In fact, it’s an open secret in the industry that the most
important reason most closed-source embedded and driver software
remains closed is not nerves about plagiarism but fear of patent
audits on the source code. Graphics-card manufacturers, in
particular, routinely swipe patented techniques from their competitors
and bury them in binaries. (This is generally believed to be the
reason nVidia’s drivers aren’t open.)

Another trend that’s driving Linux and open-sourcing in embedded
stuff is the shift from specialty embedded 8-bit processors to 32-bit
chips with general-purpose architectures. Turns out the development
costs for getting stuff to run on the 8-bit chips are sickeningly high
and rising — partly because the few wizards who can do good work on
that hardware are expensive. The incremental cost for
smarter hardware has dropped a lot; it’s now cheaper to embed
general-purpose chips running Linux because it means you have a
larger, less expensive talent pool that can program them. Also,
when your developers aren’t fighting hardware limits as hard,
you get better time to market (which, as Steve observes, is
critical).

Steve is right about the comparative difficulty of applying
open-source methods to vertical applications. But the difficulty is
only comparative; it’s happening anyway. The metalab archive carries
a point-of-sale system for pizza parlors. I know of another case in
which a Canadian auto dealership built specialized accounting software
for their business and open-sourced it. The reasons? Same as usual;
they wanted to lay off as much as possible of the development and
maintainance cost on their competitors.

This is the same co-opetition logic that makes the Apache Software
Foundation work — it’s just as powerful for vertical apps, though
less obviously so. Each sponsoring company sees a higher payoff from
having the software at a small fraction of the manpower cost for a
complete in-house development. The method spreads risk in a way
beneficial to all parties, too, because the ability of separate
companies to sustain development tends to be uncorrelated — unless
they all sink, the project endures.

The way to solve the problem of not exposing your business logic to
competitors is to separate your app into an open-source engine and a
bunch of declarative business-rule schemas that you keep secret.
Databases work this way, and websites (the web pages and CGIs are the
schema). Many vertical apps can be partitioned this way too — in
fact, for things like tax-preparation software they almost have to be,
because the complexity overhead of hacking executable code every time
the rules change is too high.

Steve thinks the differences between Apache and Mozilla are bigger
than they are. In fact, the core groups of both projects are
full-time pros being funded by large users of the software.

So, let’s address Steve’s objections point by point:

For embedded software, OSS has the following problems:

  • It can’t be scheduled; timely delivery can’t be relied
    on.

    Timely delivery can’t be relied on for any software; see
    De Marco and Lister’s excellent book Peopleware: Productive
    Projects and Teams
    on the delusion of deadlines, especially
    the empirical evidence that the “wake me up when it’s done” strategy
    of not setting them actually gets your project done faster (also the
    implication of a recent Harvard Business School study of software
    project outcomes).

    Open source is at least not noticeably worse than closed-source on this
    axis. Arguably it’s better, because the rapid release cycles allow users
    to pick up on project results as soon as they’re good enough.

  • Debugging requires access to custom hardware which usually
    can’t easily be accessed across the net.

    There aren’t good solutions to this problem yet, but the increasing
    use of “overpowered” 32-bit processors using standard busses is
    tending to reduce it in scope. The development tools and interface
    hardware used in embedded stuff are rapidly getting more generic and closer
    to what’s used in general-purpose computers.

  • Active participation even for junior people requires substantial
    amounts of project-specific knowledge which isn’t easily acquired,
    especially remotely.

    This one puzzles me, because I think Steve ought to be right about
    it — but I’m not hearing the kinds of noises that I’d hear if it were
    slowing down the move to Linux and open source significantly.

    At least part of the answer is that embedded-systems work is
    getting de-skilled in a particular sense — more of it’s being done by
    application specialists who are training up to the required level of
    programming, rather than programmers who have acquired expensive
    application-specific knowledge.

  • A great deal of proprietary information is usually involved in
    the process, and if that’s released the company can be seriously
    harmed.

    It’s a question of tradeoffs. As RealNetworks found out when
    costing its Nokia contract, the choice is increasingly between giving
    up control of some of your proprietary IP and being too resource-bound
    to ship at all.

    There is no market for secrecy. There’s a market for product. If
    you can’t ship product, or your customers aren’t confident that you
    can maintain it after shipping, all that proprietary IP amounts to is
    a millstone around your neck.

    There will be more stories like RTSP in the future. Count on it.
    In fact, the day will come when most of your contract partners simply
    won’t accept the business risks of having someone else hold
    proprietary rights on the embedded software they use.

  • It’s nearly impossible to do embedded software without
    common impromptu face-to-face meetings with co-workers, either to ask
    questions or to brainstorm. Doing this electronically is sufficiently
    different as to not be practical.

    Yeah. They used to think that about operating systems, too. Obviously
    the Linux kernel is impossible, and therefore doesn’t exist.

    (At which point Oolon Colluphid disappeared in a puff of logic.)

For vertical apps, the objections are:

  • Security, security, security. You want me to trust my
    billing system to code written by anyone who happens to come along and
    volunteer to work on it, without any kind of check of credentials or
    checks on trustworthiness?

    One of the lessons the business world has been absorbing is that
    open-source projects are dramatically more secure than their
    closed-source competition — anybody who compares the Bugtraq records
    on Apache vs. ISS defacements, or Linux vs. Windows remote exploits,
    will notice that real fast.

    It’s not hard to understand why this is — I’ve found that even
    corporate executives grok the theory pretty quickly. I won’t do the whole
    argument here, but this article on Kerckhoff’s
    Law
    holds the crucial clue. When you rely on the obscurity of source
    code for security, it means that the bad guys find the bugs faster than
    you can plug them — there are more of them, and they have entropy on
    their side. Open source evens the odds for the good guys.

  • Recruitment: for most of the kind of people involved in
    OSS, vertical apps are boring. (Unless they want to figure out how to
    steal from it.)

    This remains a problem. On the other hand, open source makes it
    easier to train domain specialists to be good enough programmers to
    get the job done. It’s easier for physicists to learn to hack than
    it is for hackers to learn physics.

  • It takes a lot of knowledge of the specific aspects of the
    problem to make a significant contribution, which means things like
    observing the actual process of guests checking in at the front desk
    of the hotel.

    This just reinforces the tendency for vertical-app developers to be
    obsessives about something else who learn to program, rather than obsessives
    about programming who learn something else.

    Professional programmers tend to bridle at this thought. Well, better
    learn to live with it. As software becomes more pervasive, the amount
    of it done by application-specialist “amateurs” is going to increase.

  • The industry is full of horror stories of vertical apps
    which ran badly over budget and over schedule; the idea scares the
    hell out of business people. They’re unlikely to be very enthused by
    the use of a process which by its nature *cannot* be reliably
    scheduled. (Remember that Mozilla ran two years long.)

    Schedules — and the belief that deadlines make software happen
    faster — are a delusion in the mind of management, one not supported
    by the actual evidence about project outcomes. This delusion is
    so entrenched that managers fail to interpret the 70% rate of
    project failures correctly. It’s as if people were so determined
    to believe the Earth is flat that they ignore what their eyes tell
    them when ships sink over the horizon.

    No software larger than toy programs can be scheduled.
    Tactics aimed at doing so normally have the actual effect of
    increasing the time to market. `Aggressive’ schedules
    effectively guarantee failure. The sooner we learn these objective
    truths, and that the illusion of control that schedules give is not
    worth the real costs, the sooner rates of outright project failure
    will dip below 70%.

    Go read Peopleware. Now.

For short life apps:

  • Schedule is everything. If you’re six months late, you’re dead.

    See above. There are reasons open sourcing is less applicable to short-life
    applications, but this turns out not to be one of them.

  • Secrecy is everything else. If you’re on time but your
    competitor knows what you’re doing a year ahead, he’ll wipe you
    out.

    This argument has more force for short-life apps than for Steve’s other
    categories, but remember that increasingly the alternative to open source
    is not being able to ship at all. Your competitor is in the same boat
    you are.

  • How do you make money selling what anyone can get for free
    from any developer? If your product was developed out in the open, who
    exactly buys it afterwards?

    Steve has a stronger point here. It’s one that people used to
    think applied to almost all software, but which turns out to be mainly
    a problem for short-life apps. Actually the distinguishing
    characteristic isn’t expected lifetime per se, but something
    correlated with it — whether the product needs continued downstream
    work (maintainance and upgrades) or not.

    Long-life, high-maintainance apps create niches for service businesses.
    That’s the main way you make money in an open-source world. It’s
    harder to make that work with a short-life app. Sometimes it’s
    impossible. Life is hard.

For long life apps:

  • Will the participants be willing to work on what our
    marketing analysis says we need, or will they insist that they know
    what is required and try to add that instead? We don’t need feature
    creep, or people trying to change the direction we’re moving.

    In open-source projects, the function of “marketing analysis” tends to
    be taken be direct interaction with the user community. We find we
    do better work without a bunch of marketroids getting between us and
    our customers.

  • There is major learning curve involved in making a
    reasonable contribution to these kinds of programs; you don’t learn
    how a circuit board router works in a few days of study. In most cases
    you have to be conversant with the way that the package’s customers do
    what they do, and most programmers don’t know these things and can’t
    easily learn them.

    See my previous remarks about application specialists and the
    democratization of programming. And every time you’re tempted to
    say “But they couldn’t possibly get away with that in application
    area X” remember that they once said that about all the areas where
    open source now dominates.

    It’s just not smart to bet against the hackers. Not smart at all.
    We generally end up having the last laugh on the naysayers. As recently
    as 1990, “serious analysts” laughed at the idea of ubiquitous Internet.
    As late as 1996, they said Unix was dead. We showed them — and there
    are more of us now, with better tools, than ever.

Steve is right that one of the most effective ways to head off bugs
is to have a core group of professional engineers do a clean design.
Where he’s mistaken is in believing this truth has anything to tell
us about open vs. closed development. Us open-source guys, it turns
out, are really good at clean design.

This something to do with the fact that, as individuals, we tend to
be exceptionally capable and self-motivated — an elite selected by
dedication to the art of programming. It has more to do with not
having managers and marketroids pissing in the soup constantly,
telling us what tools to use, imposing insane deadlines, demanding
endless checklist features that don’t actually benefit anyone.

But mostly it has to do with the ruthless, invaluable pressure of
peer review — the knowledge that every design decision we make will
be examined by thousands of people who may well be smarter than we
are, and if we fail the test our effort will be pitilessly
discarded. In that kind of environment, you get good or you get
gone.

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Jul 21

Run Silent, Go Feep

Warning: The following blog entry provides way more than the
recommended daily allowance of geeking. If you don’t have a serious
propeller-head streak, surf outta here now before it’s too
late.

I’m mainly a software guy, but occasionally I build PCs for fun.
Design them, rather; the further away I stay from actual hardware the
happier it usually is for everybody. Last year, I designed an Ultimate
Linux Box
; the good folks at Los Alamos Computers built it and
will cheerfully sell you one. It was a successful design in most
respects, but unpleasantly noisy. This year, as we do the 2002
refresh, I’m going to be working hard at getting the most noise
reduction I can without sacrificing performance. I’m experimenting
now with ways and means.

So I spent a couple of hours today disassembling the case of my
wife Cathy’s machine (minx.thyrsus.com) and lining three sides of it
with Dynamat, a kind of stick-on
rubber acoustic insulation often used in car-stereo installations.
The malevolent god that normally attends me when I futz with hardware
must have been off tormenting some other hapless ex-mathematician; no
hardware was destroyed, no blood was shed, and I’m typing this on the
selfsame reassembled machine.

Minx is a pretty generic mid-tower system made with cheap Taiwanese
parts in mid-2002 by my local hole-in-the-wall computer shop: I
spent only $150 to have it built, recycling a few parts from an only
slightly older machine. It has a 300W power supply, Athlon 950 mobo
with stock CPU cooler fan, one 80mm case fan, 7200RPM ATA drive. I
succeeded in lining both 14″-square side panels and the case top; this
used up the 4’sq piece I bought so efficiently that there was only
about 10″sq in two small piece left over. I used those to cover the
only exposed solid section of the back panel.

If you want try this yourself, the tools I found useful were a
utility knife and a metal footrule, the latter useful both for
measuring to fit and as a cutting guide.

I took before and after measurements with the db meter. dbA scale,
measurements made with the probe one inch above the center-rear edge
of the case.

Machine off: 44dbA
Machine on, before: 63dbA
Machine on, after: 61dbA

In other words, only a 2dbA drop — marginal when you consider
that the meter is only rated 1.5dB accurate! but it’s worth bearing in
mind that the scale is logarithmic; 2dbA is more than it looks like.

I have studio-engineer ears and sensitive musician fingers. I took
before-and-after measurements with those, too, listening to the sound
tambre and feeling for case resonance.

My ears tell me that the box is only slightly quieter, but the noise
spectrum has changed. The proportion of high-frequency noise has
dropped; more of what I’m hearing is white noise due to turbulant
airflow, less is bearing noise. This is a good change even if total
emission hasn’t dropped much.

My fingers tell me that the amount of case resonance has dropped quite
dramatically, especially on the side panels.

Was it worth doing? I am not sure. There would probably be more
benefit on a system emitting more bearing noise from 10K or 15Krpm
drives. On this one, I think the power supply is emitting most of
the noise, and acoustic lining can’t do much against that.

In fact, my clearest take-away from this is that the big gains in
noise reduction on conventional PCs are likely to come from
obsessing about power-supply engineering — including details like
whether the fan blows through a slotted grille or a cutout with a
wire-basket finger guard (the latter will generate less turbulence
noise).

I’d like to retrofit minx with a Papst 12dbA muffin fan and see if
that makes a measurable difference. But the best change would
probably be one of the Enhance
300W PSUs that are supposed to only emit 26dbA. I’ll bet that would
win big.

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Jul 18

The Non-Portability of Barbecue

(Originally titled: Travelling in Texas)

I was on the road in Texas last week, addressing Linux user groups in Dallas and Austin. I always enjoy visiting Texas. It’s a big, wide-open place full of generous people who cultivate a proper appreciation of some of my favorite things in life — firearms, blues guitar, and pepper sauces.

And, of course, one of the biggest things Texas has going for it is barbecue. And not the pallid imitation served up by us pasty-faced Yankees here where I live (near Philadelphia, PA) but the real thing. Barbecue, dammit. Red meat with enough fat on it to panic a health-foodist right out of his pantywaist, slow-cooked in a marinade sweeter than a mother’s kiss and eaten with sauces hot enough to peel paint. Garnish with a few extra jalapenos and coleslaw and wash it down with cheap soda, lemonade, or beer. Food of the gods.

I swear your testosterone level goes up just smelling this stuff. After a few mouthfuls of Rudy’s carnivoral bliss you’ll be hankerin’ to cultivate a drawl, wear a Stetson and drive a pickup truck with a gun rack. (I draw the line at country music, though. A man’s got to have some standards.)

At a real barbecue joint like Rudy’s (“Worst barbecue in Texas!”) they serve you piles of beef, pork and chicken wrapped in butcher paper in a plastic basket. No plates, just more butcher paper and bread. And, unfortunately, the bread is where this gustatory Nirvana nearly crashes back to earth. Because the bread at real barbecue places is invariably utter crap — spongy sliced white with all the taste of building insulation.

Here in Philadelphia we can’t make barbecue worth a damn, but we know better than to put a hot sandwich on American bread. One of our regional-food glories is the Philly steak sandwich, fried beef and onions and mushrooms (and usually cheese, but I don’t eat cheese) nestled in a foot-long Italian roll. The bread is important. It’s tasty, it’s chewy, it’s got a crust on it. It’s worthy of respect. One of the reasons you can’t get a decent steak sandwich more than fifty miles from Billy Penn’s hat is that bread. It depends on an Italian baking tradition that just doesn’t exist outside the mid-Atlantic metroplex, and is found in its highest form only in Philly and South Jersey. Philadelphians laugh at the pathetic imitations of “Philly steaks” offered elsewhere for the same reason Texans laugh at barbecue made north of the Mason-Dixon line. And both groups are right to laugh. It just ain’t the same.

Every time I order up a mess of barbecue at a place like Rudy’s or County Line or Dick’s Last Resort I think to myself “Someday, one of these barbecue outfits has got to start offering decent bread. Their sales would go through the roof.” I’ve been waiting for the market to correct this problem for more than twenty years now — and it hasn’t happened. And thereby hangs a mystery.

The mystery is the curious persistence of regional food differences in a country with cheap transport and the best communications network in the world. There are places in the U.S. where you can reliably get really good bread — mostly the coastal metroplexes. There are places you can get real barbecue, in the heartland South and Southwest. And these zones just don’t overlap. (Yes, they have a gourmet-bread bakery in Austin. I suspect, if I went there, I’d find it a lot like the Chinese food in Ann Arbor — impressive to the locals, maybe, but only because their standards are so low.)

I could multiply examples. Sourdough bread — I’ve had it everywhere you can get it and it just doesn’t taste right outside of San Francisco. The East Coast versions are competent, but lack some subtle tang. Yeast strain? Something in the water? Who knows?

Cheesecake. There’s a good one. Anybody who has lived in New York won’t touch most cheesecake made elsewhere at gunpoint, and with good reason. Next to a traditional New-York-style baked cheesecake (the kind you can stand a fork in because it has the approximate density of neutronium) all others are a sort of pathetic, tasteless cheese gelatin. In this case the recipe is clearly what matters.

Or deep-dish pizza. Try to get that done right anywhere but Chicago. Good luck. Actually, the Philly/South Jersey area may be the only other part of the U.S.that can almost make this nut, and our thin-crust pizza is better. But why? Why don’t the good techniques go national and drive out the weaker competition?

The obvious answer would be that nationwide, tastes differ too much for one regional variant to dominate. But many cases there isn’t even any dispute about where the best variant comes from; the superiority of “New York style” cheesecake. for example, is so universally understood that restaurants elsewhere often bill their cheesecake that way even when it’s actually half-composed of “lite” garbage like ricotta or cottage cheese. Nobody who has ever tasted one doubts that Philly steaks are the acme of the art. And nobody — but nobody — who can get both passes up Texas barbecue for what they make in New Haven or Walla Walla.

So you’d think that the market would have propagated Texas slow-cooking, San Francisco yeast starters and the Philly steak roll all over the country by now. But some food technologies travel better than others, and some seem curiously unable to thrive outside their native climes. Cheesecake recipes may survive transmission relatively well, but the mysteries of good barbecue are subtle and deep. Pizzas rely on elaborate oven and dough-mix technology that probably tends to conserve regional variations simply because it’s too capital-intensive to mess with casually.

I’ve meditated on the matter and still can’t decide whether I think that’s a good thing or not. The approved thing for travel writers to do is wax lyrical about the wonderfulness of regional variety, as if it would somehow fail to be an improvement in the world if I could get decent bread with my barbecue. The hell with that kind of sentimentality; I’d rather have a better meal.

But there’s a point buried there somewhere — something that isn’t about the bread or the barbecue, but about what it feels like to sit in a dusty roadside joint like Rudy’s,surrounded by cases of Red Pop and overweight rednecks in tractor caps and checked shirts, with the food of the gods melting in your mouth, and thinking “Damn, this place is tacky, but I hope it lives forever.”

And you know what? I suspect that kind of barbecue joint will live forever, or as close to forever as humans manage, anyway. They’ve probably existed since the first proto-hominids roasted mammoth haunch over a slow fire, washing it down with some badly-made tuber-beer equivalent of Red Pop. And their equivalents will probably persist in the zero-gee arcologies and Dyson spheres of the year 3000. Even if they get hip about the good bread, somewhere in the universe there will always be a Texas. And that’s a good thing.

UPDATE: Some respondents have reminded me of the Piedmont (and specially North Carolina) tradition of pulled-pork barbecue. Let me state for the record that I find it equally delicious. Both the Texas and Piedmont versions are so damn good that there is no call for petty disputation about which is superior. But for those of you who know what I am talking about, I am quite partial to burnt
ends.

UPDATE: Jane Galt has commented in her usual witty and illuminating fashion.

UPDATE: The mystery of San Francisco sourdough, was, as it turns out, solved in 1970. You can buy a starter with the proper symbiosis of bacteria and yeast — and, contrary to myth, local bacteria won’t overwhelm it. Of course this makes it harder to understand why the stuff isn’t everywhere…

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Jul 17

Diet Considered as a Bad Religion

A current New York Times news story, What If It’s All Been A Big Fat Lie, entertainingly chronicles the discovery that low-fat diets are bad for people. More specifically, that the substitution of carbohydrates like bread and pasta and potatoes for meat that we’ve all had urged on us since the early 1980s is probably the cause of the modern epidemic of obesity and the sharp rise in diabetes incidence.

I have long believed that most of the healthy-eating advice we get is stone crazy, and the story does tend to confirm it. One of my reasons for believing this is touched on in the article; what we’re told is good for us doesn’t match what humans “in the wild” (during the 99% of our species history that predated agriculture) ate. The diet our bodies evolved to process doesn’t include things like large amounts of milled grain or other starches. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate wild vegetables (especially tubers) and meat whenever they could get it.

I’ve always had to suppress a tendency to laugh rudely when vegeterians touted their diet as “natural”. Vegetarianism is deeply unnatural for human beings; it’s marginally possible in warm climates only (there are no vegetarians in Tibet because the climate kills them), and only possible even there because we’re at the near end of 4,000 years of breeding for high-caloric-value staple crops.

So what’s the natural diet for human beings? Our dentition (both slashing and grinding teeth) and the structure of our digestive system (short colon, no rumen) is intermediate between that of herbivores like cows and obligate carnivores like cats; both systems resemble those of non-specialized omnivores like bears. Actually, the earlier hominids in the human ancestral line were designed for a more vegetarian diet than we; they had large flat molars and powerful jaws designed for grinding seed-cases. The increase in brain size in the hominid line correlates neatly with a shift to a more carnivorous dentitition and skull structure.

Physical anthropologists will tell you that the shift from hunter-gatherer existence to sedentary agriculture enabled human beings to live at higher population densities, but at the cost of a marked deterioration in the health of the average person. The skeletons of agricultural populations are shorter, less robust, and show much more evidence of nutritional diseases relative to their hunter-gatherer ancestors.

For twenty years I’ve consciously been trying to eat what I think of as a caveman diet — heavy on the meat and raw vegetables, very little sugar, light on the starches. I’m a bit overweight now, not seriously so for a 44-year-old man, but enough to notice; what this NYT article tells me is that I didn’t follow my own prescription strictly enough and ate too much bread and potatoes.

But the evolutionary analysis only tells us what we probably should be eating. It doesn’t explain how the modern diet has come to be as severly messed up as it is — nor why the advice we’ve been getting on healthy eating over the last twenty years has been not merely bad but perversely wrong.

The answer is, I think, implicit in the fact that “health food” has a strong tendency to be bland, fibrous, and nasty — a kind of filboid studge that we have to work at convincing ourselves we like rather than actually liking. Which is, if you think about it, nuts. Human food tropisms represent two million years of selective knowledge about what’s good for our bodies. Eating a lot of what we don’t like is far more likely to be a mistake than eating things we do like, even to excess.

Why do we tend to treat our natural cravings for red meat and fat as sins, then? Notice the similarity between the rhetoric of diet books and religious evangelism and you have your answer. Dietary mortification of the flesh has become a kind of secular asceticism, a way for wealthy white people with guilt feelings about their affluence to demonstrate virtue and expiate their imagined trangressions.

Once you realize that dieting is a religion, the irrationality and mutual contradictions become easier to understand. It’s not about what’s actually good for you, it’s about suffering and self-denial and the state of your soul. People who constantly break and re-adopt diets are experiencing exactly the same cycle of secondary rewards as the sinner who repeatedly backslides and reforms.

This model explains the social fact that the modern flavor of “health”-based dietary piety is most likely to be found in people who don’t have the same psychological needs satisfied by an actual religion. Quick now: who’s more likely to be a vegetarian or profess a horror of “junk food” — a conservative Christian heartlander or a secular politically-correct leftist from the urban coasts?

The NYT article tells us that the dominant dietary religion of the last twenty years is cracking — that the weight of evidence against the fat-is-evil/carbs-are-good theory is no longer supportable. Well and good — but it won’t necessarily do us a lot of good to discard this religion only to get stuck with another one.

I say it’s time to give all bossy nutritionists, health-food evangelists and dietary busybodies the heave-ho out of our lives — tell the sorry bitches and bastards to get over themselves and go back to eating stuff that tastes good and satiates. And enjoy the outraged squawking from the dietarily correct — that, my friends, is the music of health and freedom.

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Jul 03

Winning the War Against Terror

(Final essay of the series.)

In previous essays in this series, I have described
Islam
as a warlike and bloody religion subject to periodic fits of
violent fundamentalist revival. I have analyzed the roots of Islamic
terror in the Koranic duty of jihad, and elucidated Osama bin Laden’s
goal as nothing less than the destruction of the West and the establishment
of a global
Islamic theocracy. I have analyzed the reason
Americans have trouble comprehending
the scope of the threat
, and I have explained why Western-style
diplomacy is next
to useless
in this situation. In this final essay I’ll suggest
paths towards a solution.

In order to win, we must begin with realism about the scope of the
war and the objectives of the enemy. We must realize that although in
theory and theology al-Qaeda is making war on the entire infidel West,
in practice they are only interested in attacking the U.S., the
`hyperpower’ that leads it.

There is no possible gain for al-Qaeda in attacking Europe and
risking a change in the pro-Arab, pro-Palestinian tilt of the EU
(which has just resumed support payments to the Palestinian Authority
despite conclusive evidence that the money is diverted to pay for
massacres of Israeli children). Nor can al-Qaeda gain any leverage by
attacks on the remainder of the world. The theaters of the war will
include the U.S. and terrorist base areas in the Islamic arc
stretching from Morocco through the Maghreb through the Middle East to
Pakistan, and perhaps in Indonesia and the Phillipines as well.

To people who view the entire world through the lens of the Western
tradition, the strategy I will outline is doubtless going to sound
bellicose and regressive. It is not; it is founded on a cold-blooded
realization that Arab cultures (and the Arabized cultures of the rest
of the Islamic world) regard victory in war as a sign of Allah’s favor
and regard compromise and concession as a sign of weakness.

The war against Islamic terror must be fought on three levels:
homeland defense, military power projection, and cultural subversion.
We must foil terrorist acts; we must imprison or kill the terrorists
who plan and execute them; and we must dry up the pool of potential
recruits before they become terrorists who can only be stopped by
being imprisoned or killed.

Homeland defense includes all those measures designed to make the
attacks on U.S. civilians less likely to succeed. These will include
conventional police and security measures. It must also include a
revival of the role of the unincorporated militia and the armed
citizen. Al-Qaeda has limited resources, but the advantage of
choosing where they will strike; since the police and military cannot
be everywhere, civilians (like the passengers of flight 93) must take
anti-terrorist defense into their own hands.

Military power projection includes direct military action against
terrorist bases and havens. As an anarchist, I would prefer a world
in which private security agencies under contract to insurance
companies pursued al-Qaeda; persons of some other political persuasions
might propose supranational agencies such as the U.N. Unfortunately,
under the current world system there is no alternative to governments
to do this work. The U.S. has begun it in Afghanistan; the war must
continue in Iraq, and it is likely to encompass Pakistan, Iran, and Saudi
Arabia as well.

The goal of military power projection must be twofold: physical and
psychological. The physical goal must be to destroy the physical
infrastructure of terrorism — the headquarters, bases and training
camps. While this is important, the psychological goal of humiliating
and crushing jihadists is even more important.

Islamic armies and resistance movements are fanatical in attack but
brittle on the defense. When motivated by the conviction that Allah
guides their arm, suicidal bravery is routine.
On the other hand, when the fortunes of a cause decline past a
certain point, Arabs tend to consider the will of Allah to be manifest
and abruptly abandon it. These tendencies form part of the cultural
background that includes even secularized terrorist movements
(such as Yasser Arafat’s al-Fatah) in the Islamic world.

The U.S. was able to exploit this brittleness effectively in
Afghanistan. By moving in overwhelming force when it moved at all,
the U.S. was able to intimidate many warlords affiliated with the
Taliban into switching sides — an important reason the campaign
involved so little actual fighting.

We must repeat this maneuver on a larger scale. We must teach the
Dar-al-Islam to respect and fear the power of the West. We
must not negotiate or offer concessions until it is clear from the
behavior of governments, the umma, and the “Arab street” that the
public will to support jihad has been broken.

Our most important long-term weapon against Islamic terrorism,
however, will be cultural subversion. That is, to break the hold of
the Islamist/jihadist idea on the minds of Muslims. To do this, it
may be necessary to discredit the entirety of Islam; the question
depends on whether any Islamic figure will be clever enough to
construct an interpretation of Islam purged of jihadist tendencies,
and whether that version can propagate and displace the
Sunni-fundamentalist varieties now dominant in the Islamic world.

I can do no better than to quote Michelle Efird, the woman who
inspired my essay
We Are All Jews Now. In private mail afterwards
(quoted with permission) she wrote:

I don’t want to appease them, I don’t want to understand them, I
don’t want to let them reap the benefits of our liberalism while
plotting our destruction. Like most Americans, I would have been more
than happy to let them pretend the last 400 years of progress never
happened, as long as they didn’t force their warped-vision goggles on
anyone else. But since they brought the war to us, let’s pave the
middle east with outlet malls, fast food franchises, and Disney
Mecca. Let’s infect their entire population with personal liberty and
dissension and critical thinking. And if that doesn’t work, let’s
flood them with porn spam.

Osama bin Laden may, in the end, have materialized his own worst
fears. The ideology of jihad has created its mirror and opposite; the
dawning sense that we in the West have the right, the power, and the
duty to wipe bin Laden’s brand of religion from the face of
the earth before it destroys us all.

UPDATE: N.Z. Bear has written an

excellent essay
on memes and cultural subversion.

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Jun 30

Why Diplomacy Is Doomed

(Fourth essay of a series.)

In Mirror, Mirror: Why Americans Don’t Understand the Threat of Jihadism, What al-Qaeda Wants and The Mirage of Moderate Islam, I have described Islam as a warlike and bloody religion subject to periodic fits of violent fundamentalist revival. I have analyzed the roots of Islamic terror in the Koranic duty of jihad, and elucidated Osama bin Laden’s goal as nothing less than the destruction of the West and the establishment of a global Islamic theocracy. I have analyzed the reason Americans have trouble comprehending the scope of the threat. Now I’ll explain why diplomacy is not a path toards a solution.

The Western tradition of diplomacy, which originated from the “balance of power” model for coexisting nation-states in Renaissance Europe, stigmatizes the use of arms as an admission of failure and elevates good-faith negotiation as a virtue of the strong. Westerners think of a plurality of nation-states with conflicting interests as the natural and right way of the world, and Western diplomacy is themed around compromise as a way of allowing the members of that plurality to continue in more or less peaceful coexistence.

Arab cultures (and the Arabized cultures of the rest of the Islamic world) are very different. The Western idea of a plurality of nation-states is considered iniquitous, a sign that men have turned away from Allah. Islam promotes a world united under a single Caliph with absolute authority in both secular and religious matters.

Further, Arabs respect strength in war. Several features of the Islamic worldview — including fatalism and the belief that Allah guides the arm of conquerors — reinforce this. Extending an olive branch or seeking compromise, on the other hand, is read as a sign of weakness, inviting more pressure and more attacks.

Applying the assumptions of Western diplomacy to Islamic-world conflicts, therefore, tends to have perverse results. The utter failure of diplomacy in the Israeli/Palestinan conflict is a perfect example. Yasser Arafat and his followers interpreted every Israeli compromise not as a sign of virtue requiring a reciprocal response, but as a sign that that their terror campaign was working. As the Israelis conceded more and more legitimacy to Palestinian political objectives, the terror
actually intensified in pitch.

The U.S.’s refusal to negotiate with the Taliban for anything less than the unconditional surrender of Osama bin Laden, by contrast, seemed harsh to apostles of the Western diplomatic tradition but was exactly correct in terms of Islamic psychology. Backing a clear, hard-line position with the threat of force actually gave the U.S. a moral advantage it had lacked when our policy was seen as weak and vacillating. The expected furor of the “Arab street” never materialized.

Diplomacy or negotiation are in any case of very limited use in curbing state terrorism and no use in curbing non-state terrorism. For the forseeable future, the U.S.’s capability to project military power into Third World terrorist havens will be so much greater than that of other members of any imaginable coalition of allies that having a military alliance at all will be almost pointless. Diplomacy need therefore be aimed only at preventing military opposition by nearby nation-states.

Third parties who urge `diplomatic’ solutions to problems like Iraqi, Iranian, and Saudi Arabian sponsorship of al-Qaeda should be ignored. In the Islamic cultural context, force and the threat of force stand some chance of obtaining useful results. Talk does not.

(To be continued…)

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