Jun 05

Who’s a warblogger? Blogotypology considered

My good buddy Doc Searls says I’m
a warblogger, not a techblogger
. Truth is I’ve never thought of
myself either way. I had only the vaguest notion what a `warblogger’
is until I followed his links to the definitional discussion. I write
stuff related to 9/11 because it’s one of the definining events of our
day, but I didn’t start blogging particularly because I wanted to
comment on the war. Y’all may have noticed that I write about sex and
guns a lot. Nothing about witchcraft yet, but give it time… :-)

The blogotypological distinction that makes the most
sense to me is “thinker” vs. “linker”. I know which of those
camps I’m in. I’m a thinker, an essayist. I’d rather write about
my original thinking than reflect or index other peoples’ words.
VodkaPundit was right on when he compared me to Steve Den Beste over at U.S.S. Clueless. Glenn Reynolds is, of course, the king of the linkers (though
he goes into thinker mode off-blog).

I’d actually say there’s a
third setting on this switch; “diarist”, someone who blogs
essentially as a public journal. Like Den Beste, I’m not a diarist; you wouldn’t find ramblings about my beagle or my infant daughter here even if I had either.
My personal life appears in this blog only insofar as it’s the
frame in which my ideas happen. I can imagine writing personal journalism, but it’s not my default style.
Asparagirl, on
the other hand, is a good paradigmatic example of a diarist; her ideas are embedded in a narrative of her life.

Of course, people do mix modes. James Lileks is
a diarist/thinker, or thinker/diarist, and
Andrew Sullivan
oscillates among all three modes in a (dare I say it?)
gaily promiscuous fashion. But most bloggers seem to
have a base style that’s one of these three, from which they
may make occasional excursions but to which they
inevitably return.

As Doc points out, I’m not a techblogger either. Technology
evangelism is what I do off-blog; Armed and
is for the writing that doesn’t fit that box, just
as a lot of other bloggers treat the medium as an outlet for
whatever is not their day job. Maybe that’s another
distinction we need; `problogger’ (someone like Jonah Goldberg
whose blogging is a seamless extension of his day job) versus `playblogger’ (someone who blogs to let off steam that their day-job channels don’t have a good vent for).

While the best I can say about the term `warblogger’ is that
it’s not completely useless, `techblogger’ seems to me to be a
category that’s likely to survive as the medium matures. So
does the thinker/linker/diarist distinction, and the playblogger/problogger flag bit.

I’ll end with the obligatory abjurgation not to take any such
terminology too seriously. We’re all writers, a prickly bunch,
and we’re all to some degree category-busters by nature or
we wouldn’t be here in the infancy of a new medium at all. Still…I suspect that more definite blogotypes will emerge as people explore the space of available styles and discover which ones
are most effective at communication.

Jun 03

We are all Jews now

This afternoon I was reading a quote from a woman who had left a comment on Tim Blair’s weblog. She wrote:

rld, I feel it’s my duty as a woman to wear clingier clothing, flirt more outrageously, have more orgasms, and get on top more often. In short, anything that’s taboo to the islamofascists.”

Boo-yah, sister! This struck me as a wonderful example of what computer hackers and science-fiction fans call a `ha ha only serious’, which is just the the opposite of a `ha ha only kidding’. It’s a wonderfully multi-leveled utterance.

Generally when people start out with “As an X, I feel it’s my duty” one expects the followthrough to be some ennobling exhortation to self-sacrifice and a stiff upper lip. The sheer cheekiness of following instead with “gonna get laid more” is wonderful — I can imagine the sister, with a gleam in her eye and a curl of her lip, daring anybody to call her on it, and daring anybody not to notice that she is one hot chick who knows exactly how to use what she’s got.

An idiot, or a conservative of the ramrod-up-the-ass school, would stop there, take her rhetorical flip-the-bird at islamofascists as more than an excuse for narcissism-tinged self-display or a thin bit of patter, and perhaps splutter with jowly indignation. Me, I got respect for this sister. I think she meant every word she said and was being wicked smart.

The true mindfucking beauty of this quote only becomes apparent when you hold both meanings (the sexual self-display and the the anti-islamofascist flip-the-bird) in your mind at once, and allow each to play off the other in a spirit of intentional irony. Our sister has uttered the perfect sexual battle cry for the islamofascists’ occidentalist nightmare — and I think she knows it.

Since 9/11 it has become easier to notice that Islamic fear and hatred of the West (and of America as its political and cultural hyperpower) is rooted in a hostility to all the freedoms and self-indulgences of urban western civilization — commerce, mixed populations, artistic freedom, sexual license, scientific pursuits, leisure, personal safety, wealth. Indeed, one of the circumstances that justifies the term “islamofascism” is that this catalog of resentments is exactly that of classical fascism. And the icon of subversive modernity, to all fascists everywhere, has been the Jew — rootless, cosmopolitan, urbane, commercial, and (in anti-Semitic propaganda) sexual seducer of the pure.

Two perceptive commentators (op. cit.) have written “Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Hitler, Japanese agrarian fascists, and of course Islamists all extolled the simple life of the pious peasant, pure at heart, uncorrupted by city pleasures, used to hard work and self-denial, tied to the soil, and obedient to authority. Behind the idyll of rural simplicity lies the desire to control masses of people, but also an old religious rage, which goes back at least as far as the ancient superpower Babylon.”

By saying “fuck me”, the sister is saying a big “fuck you” to all that. She is choosing to embody the whore of Babylon for reasons that mingle her own desire with deliberate defiance of the bearded patriarchs and their stormtroopers. She is acting out the culture war as sexual politics. She is not merely a hedonist or a rebel (though either would be bad enough) but an ultimately enraging combination of the two, conscious blasphemy written with the body under those clinging clothes.

In the fevered mind of any islamofascist, the sister is certainly urban and probably Jewish. In fact, we are all Jews now, every one of us in the West. This is what lies behind the standard-issue Arab-world mutterings about U.S. policy being controlled by Jews and Israelis, and the tremendous wave of pro-Jewish, pro-Israeli solidarity in the U.S. after 9/11. The alliance both we and the Islamists are sensing is more than geopolitical; it’s founded in everybody’s gut-level understanding that rage against the Jews and rage against modernity have become effectively synonymous.

Yes, we’re all Jews now, even blue-eyed Germano-Celtic goyim like me. We are going to be everything the islamofascists fear and hate, and we’re going to glory in it. We’re going to embody all the worst nightmares of those butt-ignorant ragheads in Al-Qaeda. We’re going to kill them, we’re going to subvert their children with MTV, and we’re going to teach their women to wear clingy clothing and say “fuck me” and “fuck you” to men whenever they damn well feel like it.

And, sister? Here’s my ha ha only serious, offered in the same spirit as yours. You are a warrior. I salute you. And if you want to commit exactly the kind of scandalous, adulterous, hedonistic, casual sex best calculated to drive fascists and patriarchs up a wall sometime, I’m your guy. You can be on top.

Jun 01

Arm the Passengers

The recent controversy over arming airline pilots against a
possible repetition of the 9/11 atrocity misses a crucial problem that
makes arming pilots relatively ineffective: terrorists would know in
advance where the guns are, and be able to game against that.

Let’s say you are a terrorist executing a hijacking. You know the pilots
are armed. Then here are your tactics — you send the pilots a message that
you will begin shooting cabin crew and passengers, one every five minutes,
until the pilots throw their guns into the main cabin. Just to make sure,
you split your gang into an A team and a B team. After the pilots have
thrown out some guns, you send the A team into the cockpit. If the pilots
resist, the B team kills more people.

Sky marshals can be taken out in a similar way. Your B team, armed
with knives, breaks cover and announces the hijacking. The sky
marshals (if there are any present; they’re now flying on less than 1%
of planes, and can’t be trained fast enough for that figure to go up
significantly in the foreseeable future) break cover. Now your A
team, armed with guns, breaks cover and disposes of the sky marshals.
Game over.

Anyone who thinks either scenario can be prevented by keeping
firearms off-board should put down that crack pipe now.
Tiger team exercises after 9/11 have repeatedly
that the new, improved airport security has had
effectively zero impact on a determined bad-guy’s ability to sneak
weapons past checkpoints — it’s still easy. Despite government spin,
there is no prospect this will change; the underlying problem is just
too hard.

For terrorists to be effectively deterred, they need to face a
conterthreat they cannot scope out in advance. That’s why the right
solution is to arm the passengers, not just the pilots.

Now, as a terrorist, you would be facing an unknown number of guns
potentially pointed at you from all directions. Go ahead; take that
flight attendant hostage. You can’t use her to make people give up
weapons neither you nor she knows they have. You have to assume
you’re outnumbered, and you dare not turn your back on
anyone, because you don’t know who might be packing.

The anti-gun bien pensants of the world wet their pants at
the thought of flying airplanes containing hundreds of armed
civilians. They would have you believe that this would be a sure
recipe for carnage on every flight, an epidemic of berserk yahoos
blowing bullet holes through innocent bystanders and the cabin walls.
When you ask why this didn’t happen before 1971 when there were no
firearms restrictions on airplanes, they evade the question.

The worst realistic case from arming passengers is that some gang
of terrorist pukes tries to bust a move anyway, and innocent
bystanders get killed by stray bullets while the passengers are taking
out the terrorists. That would be bad — but, post-9/11, the major
aim of air security can no longer be saving passenger lives. Instead,
it has to be preventing the use of airplanes as weapons of mass
destruction. Thus: we should arm the passengers to save the lives of
thousands more bystanders on the ground.

And, about that stray-bullet thing. Airplanes aren’t balloons.
They don’t pop when you put a round through the fuselage. A handful
of bullet holes simply cannot leak air fast enough to be dangerous;
there would be plenty of time to drop the plane into the troposphere.
To sidestep the problem, encourage air travelers to carry fragmenting
ammunition like Glaser rounds.

Think of it. No more mile-long security lines, no more obnoxious
baggage searches, no more women getting groped by bored security
guards, no more police-state requirement that you show an ID before
boarding, no more flimsy plastic tableware. Simpler, safer, faster
air travel with a bullet through the head reserved for terrorists.

Extending this lesson to other circumstances, like when we’re
not surrounded by a fuselage, is left as an exercise for
the reader…

Blogspot comment

May 29

Teen Sex vs. Adult Resentment

A wise and cynical friend of mine once described the motivation behind puritanism as “the fear that someone might be fucking and getting away with it”. I think the subtext of the periodic public panics about teen sex has always been resentment that sexy young things just might be getting away with it — enjoying each others’ bodies thoughtlessly, without consequences, without pregnancy, without marriage, without “meaningful relationships”, without guilt, without sin.

The traditional rationalizations for adult panic about teen sex are teen pregnancy and STDs. But if teen pregnancy really had much to do with adult panic, anti-sex rhetoric would have changed significantly after reliable contraception became available. It hasn’t. Similarly, we don’t hear a lot of adult demand for STD testing in high schools. No; something else is going on here, something more emotional and deeper than pragmatic fears.

Conservatives and liberals alike are attached to the idea that sex ought to be controlled, be heavy, have consequences. The Judeo-Christian tradition of repression, which yokes sex to marriage and reproduction, is still powerful among conservatives. Liberals have replaced it with an ethic in which sex is OK when it is harnessed to building relationships or personal growth or therapy, but must always be undertaken with adult mindfulness.

Both camps are terrified of mindless sex, of hedonism, of the pure friction fuck. Lurking beneath both Judeo-Christian and secularized taboos is a fear that too much pleasure will damn us — or reduce us to the status of animals, so fixated on the drug of orgasm that we will become unfit for marriage and society and adult responsibility. What has not changed beneath contingent worries about pregnancy and STDs is the more fundamental fear that pleasure corrupts.

And beneath that fear lurks something uglier — the envy that dares not speak its name. The unpalatable truth is that a teenager’s “immature” hormone-pumped capacity to have lots of mindless sex makesĀ adults jealous. The conscious line is that the kids have got to be stopped before they have more sex than is good for them — the unconscious line is that they’ve got to be stopped before they have more fun than we can stand.

Thus the curious sense of relief that lurks behind a lot of the propaganda about the dangers of AIDS, even the version of it retailed by lifestyle liberals. Being able to tell the kids that they shouldn’t casually fuck around because it will kill them feels good; it neatly rationalizes our resentment of their capacity for pleasure.

But resentment makes for lousy morality just as surely as it makes for lousy politics. It prevents us from forming rational strategies to avoid the bad side-effects of teen sex, mires us in denial and cant. The real issue here is not the teens’ experience but our envy of their youth, innocence, and sexual capacity. And don’t think the kids don’t sense this!

Teenagers, whatever their other failings, are keenly attuned to the smell of adult hypocrisy; they can tell when our stated reasons for telling them to keep their pants zipped are just cover, even when they lack the experience to understand what’s really bothering us. By bullshitting them, we forfeit our own moral authority. We damage our ability to intervene when the kids really do have to be protected from their impulses.

There may be good reasons to stop teens from screwing each other with the avidity that nature intended. But we adults won’t be able to focus on those, or make a case for them that is honest and persuasive, until we stop kidding ourselves about why teen sex makes us panic. Until we face our sexual fears and resentments squarely, the kids won’t listen. And, arguably, shouldn’t listen.

May 26

Arm and Assimilate

A current Weekly Standard article,
Crime Without Punishment
, observes that European crime rates are
soaring to levels that match or exceed the U.S.’s even while U.S crime
rates decline for the tenth consecutive year. Schadenfreude
is not a pretty emotion, but it’s hard not to feel a twinge of it
after so many years of listening to snotty Europeans lecture us
Americans on how U.S. crime rates demonstrate that we are a nation of
violent barbarians who can be saved only if we swallow European social
policies entire.

The article proposes as an explanation that local control of
policing is more effective than Europe’s system of large centralized
police agencies. This may well be true; in fact, it probably is true.
But it fails to explain the time variance — because that structural
difference is not new, but the flipover in relative crime rates
between the U.S. and Europe is recent.

If that’s not what is going on, what is? The article passes over
two potential explanations far too quickly. One: differences in
patterns of civilian firearms ownership. Two: the novel presence of
large unassimilated minority groups in European cities.

The article correctly notes that “John Lott has shown that greater
gun ownership reduces crime” but then dismisses this with “gun
ownership levels are about the same as they were when crime hit its
all-time highs in America 30 years ago”. However, the
distribution of firearms has changed in relevant ways. As
Gary Kleck noted ten years ago, the composition of the U.S. firearms
stock in the early 1970s was dominated by rifles and shotguns.
Nowadays it is dominated by pistols. Americans, aided by a recent
state-level trend towards right-to-carry laws, are packing concealed
weapons on the street in greater numbers than ever before — and those
are the weapons known to have the most dramatic effect in suppressing
crime. Indeed, one of the principal results of Lott’s regression
analysis is that encouraging civilians to carry concealed is both a
cheaper and a more effective way to deter crime than increasing police

The article dismisses immigration with “violence and theft have
also spiked in countries that let in few immigrants”. Again, there is
an issue of distribution here. American experience tells us that it
is not the absolute number of unassimilated poor that matters, but the
extent to which they are concentrated in subsidized ghettos with
little contact with the mainstream and no incentive to assimilate.
After the repeated news stories observing that skyrocketing crime in Paris
is largely a phenomenon of Arab thug-boys from bleak government-run
housing projects, this should not be a difficult concept to grasp.

What’s new in Europe is not comparatively poor policing, but rather
the combination of two trends: laws disarming civilians and the
formation of persistent, crime-breeding ghetto cultures analogous to
the U.S.’s urban underclass. Both trends are clearest in Great
Britain, where violent assaults and hot burglaries have shot up 44%
since handguns were banned in 1996, and police now find they have to
go armed to counter gangs of automatic-weapon-wielding thugs in the
slum areas of Manchester and other big cities.

The prescription seems clear: arm and assimilate. Arm the victims
before they become victims and assimilate the criminals before they
become criminals. Raising the frequency of civilian concealed carry
of firearms will deter crime, just as it does in the U.S.
Assimilating the new wave of poor Third-World immigrants and breaking
up the ghettos will drain the stagnant pools in which crime

And the next Euro-snob to lecture me on how America’s “gun culture”
causes crime is going to get both barrels of this prescription right
in his face…

UPDATE: The Boston Globe is running a story on the failure
of gun control in Great Britain

UPDATE: A reader points out that I was inexplicit about what has
led to the formation of a ghettoized underclass in Europe’s cities.
It is, of course, the same blunder that started the same process in
American cities forty years ago — the social-welfare state,
subsidizing poverty.

Blogspot Comments

May 25

Women With Guns

James Rummel why men keep teaching women to shoot, despite the fact that they tend to outdo us at this manly pursuit.

As a man who makes something of a hobby of teaching woman to shoot, I can answer in two ways:

One: Women need to learn to shoot more than men do. Men have a 2:1 advantage in upper-body strength over women. Most criminal assailants are men. While we Y-chromosome types have a fair chance of fighting the average assailant off without technological help, women do not. I teach women to shoot on the principle that the only good rapist is a dead one.

Two: A pretty woman with a gun in her hand is way sexier than one without. Why this is I don’t know, but I do know that I am far from the only male with this reaction. There was that legendary video of bikini-clad models firing automatic weapons…

Which reason is more important? Let’s just observe that all interesting behavior is overdetermined and leave it at that.

May 25

Women With Guns

James Rummel

why men keep teaching women to shoot, despite the fact
that they tend to outdo us at this manly pursuit.

As a man who makes something of a hobby of teaching woman to shoot, I can answer in two ways:

One: Women need to learn to shoot more than men do. Men
have a 2:1 advantage in upper-body strength over women. Most
criminal assailants are men. While we Y-chromosome types have a fair
chance of fighting the average assailant off without technological help,
women do not. I teach women to shoot on the principle that the
only good rapist is a dead one.

Two: A pretty woman with a gun in her hand is way sexier than
one without. Why this is I don’t know, but I do know that I am far
from the only male with this reaction. There was that legendary video
of bikini-clad models firing automatic weapons…

Which reason is more important? Let’s just observe that all
interesting behavior is overdetermined and leave it at that.

May 25

Sexual Competence

Most of the participants in the recent blogospheric
about a Yale Press Daily article on the fine points of
either make crude jokes, dismiss the article as either a sophomoric
exercise in tweak-the-fogies or shocking evidence of the depravity of
today’s youth.

I think both are missing the real point. Well, OK, the
tweak-the-fogies camp is not completely off base, but there is
something the Natalie Krinsky who wrote this item of tweakery
understands that they don’t seem to. And that is this: today,
sexual competence is a mainstream virtue — part of the
normal toolkit of adults, like table manners or choosing appropriate

And by “sexual competence” I specifically do not mean just the
ability to get laid, but being good in bed once you get there. Sexual
competence includes the ability to give and receive sexual pleasure.
It includes the ability to express one’s playfulness, affection, lust,
passion, and love towards a sexual partner with physical acts; to give
pleasure with behavior that is considered, purposed, and conscious,
and which expresses pride in and enjoyment of one’s own sexual

In the dark and backward abysm of time (that is, before about
1973), nice people weren’t really supposed to work at being
good in bed. Only prostitutes, gigolos and sex symbols were allowed
the privilege of treating sex as a conscious art of pleasure.
Everybody else was, essentially, only allowed to be good in bed only
by accident of endowment.

There was a limited exception for married couples and other people
passionately in love. They were permitted to improve their sexual
competence as long as the goal was to affirm the relationship. The
idea that competence at giving sexual pleasure could be a good in
itself, even in a one-night stand, was simply not part of our culture.
The outraged critics of Ms. Krinsky’s article seem still to be living in
that world.

But the reality around them has changed. Alex Comfort’s The
Joy of Sex
was probably the breakthrough, nearly thirty years
ago now. Today’s college kids have grown up in an environment in
which questions of sexual competence (and expectations about it) go
way beyond “will-she/won’t-she?” and “can he avoid coming too soon if
she does?”.

Today, even teenage boys and girls expect each other to cultivate
sexual competence; those who don’t are simply not competitive in the
dating-and-mating game. Ms. Krinsky’s article may have been intended
to tweak the fogies — but it also describes learning behavior that is
perfectly adaptive for today’s environment, because oral sex is a
gateway behavior for the aspiring hedonist.

That is, learning how to give good head is usually the first
pleasure-giving behavior in sex that is not a straight-line
elaboration of instinct. Kissing, caressing, and intercourse are
wired in; one can refine technique, but the behavioral basis is
already present. Oral sex is the usually the first behavior sexual
hedonists acquire that has to be completely learned.

A significant and related fact is that taking pleasure
from giving head has to be learned, by a kind of transference from the
pleasure taken by one’s partner. Experienced fellatrices and
cunnilinguists may learn to take direct sensual pleasure in the act,
but that usually follows from and is conditioned in by the
transference effect rather than leading it. Thus, for beginners,
giving oral sex is a particularly unselfish and adult skill.

Finally, for most pairs of partners oral sex is the most important
method of orgasmic gratification other than vaginal intercourse. So
learning to give good head is not just a gateway behavior, it’s one
that tends to remain central in the adult repertoire.

Therefore, a teenage girl teaching herself how to give a good
blowjob is not merely learning how to give a blowjob. She is
declaring her intention to acquire the (now mainstream) virtue of
sexual competence. She is matter-of-factly reaching not just for a
particular skill that she knows will be expected of her as an adult,
but to learn the attitude and sensitivity that will take her
further on the path of sexual ability. She is growing herself

Looked at this way, it’s hard to see why anyone living in 2002
should find Ms. Krinsky’s report of her self-training exceptionable. One
might just as well object to her teaching herself how to cook, or drive,
or dance.

Blogspot comments

May 21

Closed Source — Who Dares Call It Treason?

The cat is out of the bag. During testimony
before a federal judge
, Microsoft executive Jim Allchin has
admitted that some code critical to the security of Microsoft products
is so flawed it could not be safely disclosed to other developers or
the public.

Allchin was arguing against efforts by nine states and the District of
Columbia to impose antitrust remedies that would require Microsoft to
disclose its code. He constructed dire scenarios of U.S. national
security and the war against terrorism being compromised if such
disclosure were required.

Now turn this around. Allchin has testified under oath in a Federal
court that software Microsoft knows to be fatally flawed is deployed
where it may cost American lives. We’d better hope that Allchin is
lying, invoking a “national security” threat he doesn’t actually
believe in to stave off a disclosure requirement. That would merely
be perjury, a familiar crime for Microsoft.

If Allchin is not committing perjury, matters are far worse — because
it means Microsoft has knowingly chosen to compromise national
security rather than alert users in the military to the danger its own
incompetence has created. Implied is that Microsoft has chosen not to
deploy a repaired version of the software before the tragedy Allchin
is predicting actually strikes. These acts would be willful
endangerment of our country’s front-line soldiers in wartime. That
is called treason, and carries the death penalty.

Perjury, or treason? Which is it, Mr. Allchin?

There is another message here: that security bugs, like cockroaches,
flourish in darkness. Experience shows that developers knowing their
code would be open to third-party scrutiny program more carefully,
reducing the odds of security bugs. And had Microsoft’s source code
been exposed from the beginning, any vulnerabilities could have been
spotted and corrected before the software that they compromised became
so widely deployed that Allchin says they may now actually threaten
American lives.

Thus Mr. Allchin’s testimony is not merely a self-indictment of
Microsoft but of all non-open-source development for security-critical
software. As with many other issues, the legacy of 9/11 is to raise
the stakes and sharpen the questions. Dare we tolerate less than the
most effective software development practices when thousands more
lives might be at stake?

Closed source. Who dares call it treason?

May 20

That’s Why They Call It ‘Sex Education’

I’m on the road in Thailand, speaking at a U.N. conference on sustainable A
development in the Third World. Earlier today I listened to a presentation
on the effects of sex education for women. The presentation mentioned some
cultural value conflicts about sex education, but it occurred to me that it
didn’t touch the biggest one. To wit: worldwide, the teachers want the
kids to learn abstinence, but what the kids to learn is technique.

May 17

Socialists to the Stars

Science fiction, because it deals in extrapolated futures, has a long
tradition of employment as a vehicle for political argument. More than that,
science fiction encourages politically-minded writers to narratize their
beliefs in ways that can sometime reveal more than the writers intended
about the problems and contradictions in their own theories.

I was powerfully reminded of this fact while reading Ken MacLeod’s
latest The Sky Road. A reference in the book led me to
think about Iain Banks, and from there I flashed on some recent
analyses of post-9/11 confusion among the European left. And I
realized that MacLeod and Banks between them inadvertently reveal some
interesting things about socialism in the post-Soviet world.

Ken MacLeod and Iain Banks are two of the most interesting young
writers in science fiction. Both are rooted in Scotland, and both
manage the peculiar and somewhat arresting trick of writing rather
hard SF from a Marxist political stance. For multiple historical and
structural reasons, the dominant strain in the politics of SF has long
been individualist, anti-authoritarian, even libertarian in tone —
and this has been most true near the hard-SF heart of the field.
MacLeod and Banks, then, are almost unique in proposing SF narratives
in which socialism has a heroic future — and in doing so giving us an
SFnal window into how socialists in the post-Soviet world think,
and the unrecognized contradictions in their ideas.

Banks is the less explicit of the two. His Culture novels
(including Excession, Use of Weapons,

The Player Of Games, and Look To Windward
are wide-screen space operas in which the good guys are a communist
utopia. In the Culture, there is no money and no want and no markets;
the economy is run by the vast AIs called Culture Minds, who somehow
centrally plan everything so that human beings never have to make
unpleasant scarcity choices. It’s Marxist eschatology entire,
with the withering-away of the state sustained by deus ex machina.

But Banks never refers to communism or capitalism or any feature of
present-day politics by name. You get his politics by indirection,
mainly by noticing how he thinks economics and history work. In his
universe all the non-communist cultures are barbarians waiting to be
assimilated by Culture contact expeditions. The cat gets let out of
the bag in a historical aside; Banks imagines Earth itself being
subsumed. Marx’s dialectical imperative having failed us, Banks is
imaginatively counting on invasion by superior aliens to sweep
capitalism and markets into the dustbin of history.

Banks’s Culture is not quite the dreary exercise in correct-think
the above description might suggest; in fact, the Culture is a lot of
fun to read about. But there is a black hole at the center of Banks’s
construction. Leaving aside all the tendentious political questions
about who gets to use force in the Culture, and when, and for what
reasons…the economics can’t possibly work. The Culture Minds, if
they existed, would run slap-bang into F. A. Hayek’s `calculation
problem’. In 1936, Hayek showed that a planned economy, deprived of
the demand signals generated by markets, will inevitably malinvest its
way to collapse. The Soviet Union took less than sixty years to act
out Hayek’s prediction, and in 2002 there is really no better excuse
for an SF writer not understanding this than there would be for
getting the physics of a story gimmick wrong.

If Banks narratizes the fundamentalist version of socialism
(believe and heaven will take you up), MacLeod gives us something
rather weirder and more complex. Unlike Banks, he is economically
literate. His characters are staunch old socialists who have figured
out that Marxism is a total crock and the Soviet Union was a doomed,
murderous failure. In fact MacLeod is an anarchist at heart, and his
futures succumb to the inevitability of markets in the absence of
state control. And yet, his characters cannot let go of that old-time
religion — they fetishize posters of Che Guevara and hate
“imperialism” and sing the Internationale and get all misty-eyed over
hammer-and-sickle emblems and even obey orders from the shadowy
remnants of the Communist Party.

MacLeod gives us post-Communist Communism, heavy metal irony,
socialist camp — indeed, one of the two viewpoint characters uses the
latter phrase to describe the “worker’s state” she runs in Central
Asia. The program is gone, all that’s left is the attitude and the
conspiracy and the dreary verbal cliches and the resentment.
Including the hatred of capitalism. The results in MacLeod’s weiting
sometimes have an appealing gritty contrarianism, but more often just
the morbid fascination of a bad auto accident. One pities his
characters in the way one might pity any gifted obsessive. In
fact, one pities MacLeod himself.

Banks’s denial-drenched wish-fantasy. MacLeod’s
self-loathing-tinged politics of resentment, intermittently
intelligent but unable to escape the sentimental gravitational pull of
the old Soviet evil. Voila! The two poles of the European left after
the fall of the Soviet Union, and especially after 9/11. Neither one
of them which much sustainability or mass appeal.

Leftist theory has been in a state of accelerating disintegration
ever since “real existing socialism” fulfilled the fate Marx predicted
for capitalism by collapsing under the weight of its own
contradictions. Once the European left could no longer seriously
propose a Marxist program, it had to settle for a defensive
hunker-down around the socialist-inspired institutions of state — the
dole, national health services, and so forth. This is why ever since
Margaret Thatcher, most of the dynamism of European political change
within countries has come from the right — and the European Union,
always an enterprise of the left, may now be in jeopardy under
populist and nationalist pressure.

Pim Fortuyn and Jean-Marie Le Pen (to name the two most ecent
upsetters of the Euroleftist applecart) really had very little in
common except for having been branded “right-wing” by left-sympathizing
journalists. In fact, both their platforms are traditionally left
on economic policy. What they did have in common is that they were
both shrewd opportunists who stepped into the vacuum created by
the ideological collapse of the traditional left.

Nowhere in either Banks’s or MacLeod’s mythologizations of future
socialism is there any hint of an answer for the rising political
problems of the present. The failure of multiculturalism as a strategy
for preventing inter-ethnic and sectarian strife is the one Fortuyn
and Le Pen exploited. There are others; environmental policy,
information privacy, biotech. The European left, an increasingly
tired anachronism in a capitalist world, no longer has either the
energy or the intellectual heft to tackle any of these. The best its
parties can hope for is to do as the British Labor party did; shift
towards centrist pragmatism while making obeisances to left rhetoric
that everyone involved recognizes as increasingly meaningless.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that both Banks and MacLeod
are creatures of the post-Soviet world. Their fantasies of
socialism to the stars may be all the Left has left.

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May 15

Foo on you, Asparagirl!

Asparagirl has committed a base calumny
against me. While it’s true she had something to do with me entering
the blogosphere, this business about threatening her with a Glock is
totally off-base. I would never do anything like that. My carry
weapon is a Colt Officer’s Model 45 ACP. It’s my wife who
carries the Glock…

May 15

Terrorism Becomes Bad Art

Minnesota art student Luke Helder has been charged with the recent string of Midwestern mailbox bombings. There doesn’t seem to be much doubt that he’s the perpetrator.

An art student. Yeah. That fits; the tone of the portentious twaddle in pipe-bomb-boy’s manifesto was exactly that of the artist manque, big ideas being handled stupidly by a doofus whose ambition exceeds both his talent and his intellect. He fronted a grunge band called “Apathy”, we hear.

You know what? I’d lay long odds the band sucks. And I’m not making that guess out of hostility or contempt, either, but because an artist with any confidence in his own ability would have found it a much better way to achieve his artistic goals than anonymously bombing mailboxes. (Artistic goals, in a guy that age, usually have a lot to do with meeting girls. I was a rock musician in my youth, and am therefore un-foolable on this issue.)

It was inevitable, I suppose, that sooner or later terrorism would become bad performance art. It’s easy to condemn pipe-bomb-boy for callously putting people at lethal risk with his toys, but difficult to summon up the kind of personal hatred for this perpetrator that Al-Qaeda’s flamboyant fanatic nut-jobs have so richly earned. I think our ire might be more properly directed elsewhere — at all the people who have cooperated in dumbing down the definition of `art’ so completely that Luke Helder actually thought he was doing it.

Once upon a time, art had something to do with achieving a meeting of minds between artist and audience. The artist’s job was to rework the symbols and materials of his culture into expressions that affirmed and explored the values of that culture and pleased audiences. Artists operated within interpretive traditions that they shared with the non-artists in the audience. The truly able artist earned the privilege of making his work personal and individual, but only by successfully finding an audience and communicating with it in acceptable conventional terms first.

In the late 19th century Western culture began to admit a new definition of `art’ and a new role for artists. Under the influence of modernism and various post-modern movements, artists began to see their job as the systematic subversion of the interpretive traditions they had inherited. “Back to zero!” was the cry. After zero, the new goal could no longer the meeting of minds in a culturally shared commons, but rather that the audience’s minds should be invaded by the disruptive brillance of the artist’s individual insight.

In the hands of a few early moderns — Stravinsky, Brancusi, Picasso, Joyce — the new agenda produced astonishingly fine work. In the hands of too many others, it produced vacuous, narcissistic nonsense. Luke Helder inherited its most vulgar form — the notion that all the artist is required to do is “make a statement” about the contents of his own muddled mind, and it’s the world’s job to catch up.

Luke-boy’s last art project at school was “a pencil sharpener embedded in a tree stump that was rigged to illuminate Christmas lights as it sharpened pencils”. No comedian could make up such a perfect paradigm of bad art. The pointless artifice, the banal superficial cleverness, the utter lack of respect for materials, and the complete disconnection from the millennia-long cultural conversation that includes all the great art of our civilization. It’s really not a long step from this garbage to pipe bombs as `art’. Not a long step at all.

No account of Luke Helder suggests that he’s particularly evil. I wonder…suppose he had learned formal prosody, or how to paint in oils, or compose a fugue, or do figurative sculpture. Suppose he had learned artistic forms and media that were situated in history, connected with the world, concerned with beauty. Suppose he had been taught something for art to be about other than the vacancy in his own head. Suppose he had been taught (shocking concept) standards?

Perhaps, then, he would not have required explosives to express himself.

UPDATE: And back in 1996, there were conceptual art bombs in Seattle.

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May 14

Firearms and the dominant media culture

A recent flurry of
nearly identical editorials
in American newspapers conveys the
degree of fluttering endemic in dovecotes everywhere in the wake of
the Justice Department’s new statement of position on the Second
Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The New York Times
and Washington Post have viewed with alarm, displaying an
almost pathetic degree of panic at the thought that lawmakers might
once again have to start taking that pesky “shall not be infringed”
language seriously.

The dominant culture of the American national media knows what it
believes about guns. Firearms are evil juju that have the power to
induce murderous violence in otherwise normal human beings. Firearms
owners are all either ghetto drug dealers whose idea of the good life
is a drive-by a day, or else tractor-cap-wearing rural sociopaths jes’
itchin’ to shoot up a schoolyard. Firearms-rights advocates are a
tiny nut-fringe of reactionary wackos barely one step from blowing up
a federal building. Gun-control boosters are virtuous crusaders
animated by selfless love of children and small fuzzy things. There
will come a day when all guns are banned, hallelujah, violent crime
will plummet, and we can stop being embarrassed for being

Over the last thirty years this mythology has grown so thick, so
armored with smugness, that the dominant media culture is normally
incapable of noticing mere facts that happen to contradict it. Gary
Kleck’s Point
Blank: Guns and Violence In America
should have put paid the
demonization of gun owners back in 1993. John Lott’s 1998 book
More Guns, Less Crime demonstrated that civilian firearms
dramatically reduce crime and violence. And Sanford Levinson’s 1989
study The
Embarrassing Second Amendment
began a wave of legal scholarship
that established what is now called the `Standard Model’, that the
Second Amendment does indeed protect an individual citizen’s right to
bear arms.

That smugness has been shook, badly, by three different
events of which the Justice Department’s finding is only the most recent.
The media panic we’re seeing is a cumulative result of all three.

First there was Michael Bellesiles’s exposure as a fraud. His book
Arming America won the Bancroft prize and gushing encomiums
from the dominant media culture when it purported to show that the
armed and self-reliant American frontiersman was a myth — that the
gun culture of the U.S. postdates the American Civil War and was alien
to the framers of the Constitution.

Alas for the bien pensants of the world that the book
turned out to be a tissue of lies, invented but nonexistent evidence,
and willful misquotation of existing evidence. A fabrication, in
fact, so egregious that it has induced the National Endowment for the
Humanities to open its first official fraud investigation in thirty-seven
years. Suddenly the fraud claims gun-rights activists had been making
for years about other anti-gun scholarship (such as the infamous
Kellerman “43:1”)
study) were no longer so easily dismissible as paranoid ranting.

But worse was to come, on September 9th 2001. Because Al-Qaeda’s
ability to turns airliners into weapons of mass destruction using
nothing but carpet knives illustrated in the most dramatic possible
way the folly of believing that a disarmed world is a safe one. All
the “security” that kept civilian firearms off airplanes did was make
terrorism easier for the determined few who could smuggle weapons on

Many tides turned after 9/11, and not the least result of it was
a huge groundswell in popular support for civilian self-defense and
firearms rights. The
Pink Pistols
and chapters of the
Second Amendment Sisters
on college campuses previously known
as strongholds of anti-firearms politics became impossible to ignore.
The new wave of popular pro-gun agitation could not be forced into the
“right-wing kooks” box so beloved of the dominant media culture.

It’s no wonder the Justice Department’s endorsement of a
pro-gun-rights brief in “Emerson vs. U.S.” has the mavens of the
dominant media culture feeling faint and panicky. One of the pillars
of their world-view (up there with the unquestionable sanctity of
environmentalists, say, or the importance of `diversity’, or the
superior virtue of the putatively oppressed) is creaking. Those loony
gun nuts night turn out to be (a) right on the facts, (b)
overwhelmingly popular, and (c) backed up by the Bill of Rights, the
Justice Department, and the Supreme Court, after all!

If the Supreme Court grants certiorati on the Emerson case, we can
expect the dominant media culture to get its knickers in a knot so
complicated it would baffle an algebraic topologist. Because given
the composition of the Court and the tenor of the times, the result
might well be a dramatic rollback in the reach of firearms regulation.
Gun-rights advocates can hope that laws touching the Second Amendment
may in the future have to pass the same strictest level of scrutiny
as laws touching the First. A wave of lawsuits successfully striking
down state and local gun laws under the doctrine of incorporation
could well follow.

The closest historical precedent for what may be about to happen is
the rediscovery of the First Amendment in the early 20th century.
Before 1919 speech advocating unpopular ideas could be made a
punishable offense. Oliver Wendell Holmes created the doctrine,
since become sacred to the dominant media culture, that unpopular
ideas demand the most constitutional protection, and that
the press has a broadly privileged role under that shield.

There is irony in the fact that, having benefited from the
reassertion of the first article of the Bill of Rights, the dominant
media culture should so be resisting the second.

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May 13

Acting White

Eugene Volokh comments that
many of the leading promoters of racial identity politics in the
U.S. have begun to lump Asians in with white people, but declines to
attempt an interpretation. Actually this development is very easy to
understand. All you need to break the code is to know that “white” =

Asians tend to be perceived as “white” not
because they have white skin but because they behave as white people
are expected to behave — they pursue prosperity and value education,
and seek to blend into the U.S.’s broad middle class rather than
creating a defiant, adversarial ghetto or barrio culture. Compare the
epithet “acting white”, used among urban blacks to sneer at kids with
black skin who work at being good students or holding down regular

This is nothing new. Historically, “whiteness” has never been a
purely racial category. As late as the turn of the 20th century,
Irish immigrants in the U.S. were sometimes separated from “whites” in
speech and writing. Later, Eastern Europeans and Italians had to
assimilate to U.S. cultural norms before being considered as “white”
as the English, Germans, and Irish who had preceded them. Today,
prosperous Asians have edged over that border. In our big cities,
Chinese New Year is headed the way of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade,
becoming as American as apple pie.

So why aren’t black people white too? The answer, I suggest, has
very little to do with race and a lot to do with class —
specifically, the persistence of the black urban underclass. Not just
as a population but as a culture that remains mired in high crime,
high rates of single motherhood, high unemployment, and all the other
symptoms of high dependency on government largesse. The “Great
Society” programs of the 1960s and the race-hustling identity politics
that followed stalled out the assimilation process that turned Irish,
Italians, and (recently) Asians into whites.

Try to imagine a Korean equivalent of gangsta rap. Or a bunch of
Vietnamese high-school students taunting one of their own for “acting
white”. Or Chinese kids fixating exclusively on Chinese adults as
role models. These things don’t happen. And that’s why Asians are

UPDATE: Several Asians have written to tell me that I was doing OK
until the last paragraph. There are anti-assimilationists among Asian
immigrants, as it turns out; there is, in fact, even Korean gangsta
music. However, my sources agree that these phenomena don’t persist
among American-born Asians. I think it’s also significant that Asian
anti-assimilationism is not a public phenomenon — it’s
visible to other Asians but there are no movies glorifying it nor
political organizations trading on it.

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May 10


Welcome to Armed And Dangerous, an experiment in weblogging.

This is a test. This is only a test. If this had been an actual
emergency, this post would be immediately followed by a pointer to
some old-media channel that would tell you what to think.