10 Lessons From Real-Life Revolutions That Fictional Dystopias Ignore

Monday, September 29th, 2014

Esther Inglis-Arkell lists 10 lessons from real-life revolutions that fictional dystopias ignore:

The Enemy of Your Enemy Is Not Your Friend. And even though smugglers who deal in that contraband may seem to oppose their government, they’re actually part of a stable system.

The Top Guy Isn’t Always the Problem. There were, and are, plenty of dictators who brutally check every attempt at reform. There have also been kings who supported the cause of justice and attempted reform, only to be stopped by a large group of people who had enough power and wealth to topple the monarchy more quickly than peasants could.

Sometimes Making Concessions Leads To Rebellion. Authors are concerned with making dictators frightening, rather than frightened. Remember that sometimes a “reasonable response” is not actually a reasonable response. Dictators are morally wrong — but they might be, practically speaking, right not to compromise.

Two Downtrodden Groups Will Usually Be Fighting Each Other. Both the Union and the Confederacy passed conscription acts. Exceptions to both conscription acts were contingent upon wealth.

Never Neglect the Practicalities. Women rioting for bread got the ball rolling on both the French and the Russian revolutions.

New Regimes Come With Crazy Ideology. Sometimes these radicalization plans are horrific, like China’s Great Leap Forward. The program was meant to modernize the nation, but was planned and executed by non-experts. As a result the modernization plans included asking farmers and urban neighborhoods to make steel in “backyard furnaces,” build aqueducts with no training, and kill every sparrow. The resulting insect plague and irrigation disaster caused a food shortage that resulted in between 18 and 45 million deaths.

Revolutions Take Place on a World Stage. When Americans rebelled against Britain, they didn’t do it alone. The French enacted devastatingly effective naval warfare against the British, committing 32,000 sailors to the cause. They also contributed soldiers, supplies, and money. Which made it awkward when France underwent its own revolution, and both the royalists and the republicans expected the United States to be on their side.

Violent Conflicts Keep Cropping Up From Within. Every revolution starts out by employing the “we are all brothers and sisters” ideology to get people on board.

Fear Alone Can Precipitate the Explosion. The French revolution was exported from Paris to the provinces because peasants, coming off a bad harvest and looking forward to a good one, were worried that their local nobility would sabotage their food supply in retaliation for the goings-on in Paris. Terrified, they took to the country houses, demanding food, cash, and rights. They took the Revolution nation-wide not because any particular event sparked retaliation, but because they feared it soon would.

Afterwards There Will Be Mythology for the Losing Side. There are very few regimes so terrible that they can’t be romanticized. This is especially true after they have been defeated. It’s easy to be sentimental about something when nobody has to deal with it anymore.

How Civilizations Die

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

Arnold Kling describes David P. Goldman’s How Civilizations Die as very anti-Islam, very pro-Jewish and pro-Christian, very heavy on the civilization-barbarism axis and shares this representative sample:

Wherever Muslim countries have invested heavily in secondary and university education, they have wrenched their young people out of the constraints of traditional society without, however, providing them with the skills to succeed in modernity. An entire generation of young Muslims has lost its traditional roots without finding new roots in the modern world. The main consequence of more education appears to be a plunge in fertility rates within a single generation, from the very large families associated with traditional society to the depopulation levels observed in Western Europe. Suspended between the traditional world and modernity, impoverished and humiliated, the mass of educated young Muslims have little to hope for and every reason to be enraged.

He thinks that recent events will lead people to give more consideration to such darker outlooks — and notices a change in the Zeitgeist:

By the way, my Facebook feed has changed radically in recent months, with much less political snark and a surfeit of cute animal videos. Part of me wonders if something like that happened in Britain when Hitler took power in 1933. Was politics just too unpleasant to contemplate at that point?

Middle Class Values

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

The 20th century redefined what it meant to be middle class, Henry Dampier says, especially in the United States:

In the past, it was a particular set of mercantile and moral values combined with a basic material requirement of property ownership.

Gradually, with the help of more than a century of propaganda, it changed into a squishy set of beliefs centered around faith in education and in sending children to be educated by their priestly betters. This was not the case in the 19th century, especially in the United States: you can read about the disdain for formal education broadly shared by the barons of the bourgeoisie. Similarly, you can find a disdain for high culture, preferring the virtues of hard work, thrift, and personal restraint.

Previously, the role of thrift was critical. It was middle class to wear inexpensive shoes and simple clothing. Investors who wanted to show canniness would condemn company owners who used fancy pens or who purchased gilded books for paying excessive attention to form over function.

Parents instructed their daughters to marry men who displayed such values, in large part because it’s more natural for women to be physically attracted by rakes and not by dentists.

We can criticize these values from a different standpoint, but that’s not the point of this post. Whether or not those values were good or bad is less important than observing how they have been obliterated in the present.

Currently, middle class has become less about thrift and ownership and more about displaying your access to credit with enormous vanity purchases used to signal class status. Because, under democracy, it’s not possible to formalize class distinctions in law, people will often expend enormous sums to signal their status informally. They will buy expensive new cars on credit, buy expensive (and useless) educations for their children from the most prestigious (holy) institutions that they can get their children into, and buy ticky-tacky houses in the nicest neighborhoods that they can borrow for.

Part of this has to do with many decades of monetary experimentation that punishes saving and rewards borrowing, but that, too, is co-morbid with a change in values.

One of the big problems is that we have told everyone that they are ‘middle class’ even though that they show none of the attributes that were historically attributed to that class.

Cannon Fodder

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

The great European armies relied on cannon fodder, Gary Brecher (The War Nerd) explains:

Often the best cannon fodder came from ethnic groups that were systematically crushed by the empire, then groomed as cannon fodder, where their desperation made them easy marks for flattery for “bravery” in the service of the empire that had destroyed their people. The Prussian Army recruited heavily among the Poles, Belarussians, Lithuanians and other Slavic groups. Slavs were excluded from Prussian institutions, which worked out very nicely, guaranteeing recruiters a steady supply of men of military age with no other option. And if they didn’t speak German, they could be taught by the rod.

That’s the horrible logic of recruiting the lowest of the low: The worse their lives become, the easier it is to sign them up as cannon fodder. If you look into the history of the most famous, illustrious military units, you find their origin in a minority ethnic group that’s been brutalized, walled off from the civilian economy, and then offered a chance to take the king’s shilling. Since European armies loved elaborate uniforms, these units would be “honored” with headgear or some other ethnic marker. And sure enough, whip-sawed by desperation and flattery, these units performed heroically, generating more flattery and a tradition of joining up, making the recruiter’s job even easier.

Which is why certain highly-decorated British regiments wear kilts. The Highland Scots, now extinct, scared the life out of Britain in 1745 by wading through better-equipped regular-army units staffed by English soldiers at Prestonpans. The Highlanders weren’t cute, quaint, or beloved in the minds of the London elite, when they heard how the Scots had charged out of the fog, swinging huge broadswords and screaming in Gaelic. The Highlanders were alien monsters — and Papists to boot, the worst crime of all in 18th-c. Britain.

After the inevitable defeat of the small, disorganized, half-armed Scottish invaders, the Empire pursued a classic two-phase plan. First, the extinction of the Highland Scots’ culture. The Earl of Cumberland, in charge of this phase, issued a classic “No prisoners!” order covering all Gaelic-speaking men of military age, armed or not. Anything associated with the rebel ethnic group was banned. Wearing tartan and playing the bagpipes were capital offenses in Scotland in 1746.

So how did it happen that this brutalized ethnic minority ended up marching in the Empire’s parades, decked out in tartan, with the pipes blaring, all through Victoria’s long century? That was phase two, and it worked very well, as it usually does. Once the insurgent ethnic group has been destroyed, it can be made quaint. Its markers — tartan, the pipes — can be used to flatter young Highland men into taking the king’s shilling. And best of all, the utter devastation of their homeland gives them no other options. And that’s always been the bottom line for getting good-quality cannon fodder: Make sure they have no other options.

You’ll find that grim sequence behind every military unit recruited from a crushed ethnic group.

Americans, fixated on skin color as a “racial” marker, tend to understand what the empires did (and do) to non-European groups like the Sikhs but miss how the technique — crush’em, then recruit’em and flatter’em — worked on other “white” European minorities just as well.

Cameras. Lotsa cameras.

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

To restore faith in the police, Chris Hernandez recommends cameras — lotsa cameras:

Many cops don’t like having cameras in their car or on their body. I understand why. Even in cases where we do everything right, police work can still be ugly. There is no nice, gentle, eye-pleasing way to take down a violent suspect. And the language of the street ain’t too pretty either. Cops are human, and there are cases (lots of cases) where we use bad language during a high-stress incident. Some police actions just look bad on video, no matter how right we might be. And it’s a bit unreasonable for someone to watch a video of a violent struggle between a cop and criminal and say, “Just because that PCP addict attacked an officer with a tire iron, there’s no reason for the officer to curse. The officer should have called him ‘sir’.”

Video doesn’t always tell the whole story, either. An officer in the middle of a critical incident may miss something that’s readily apparent on video. There are good reasons for this: an officer may have been stunned by a blow, or had a brief visual obstruction, or may be suffering from physiological responses to stress such as tunnel vision. People watching video of an event might say, “Why didn’t the officer see that? It’s totally obvious!” And maybe it is obvious – to the camera. To the guy fighting for his life, it may not have been.

I hate comparing any real-life activity to sports, but consider how often players, refs and fans see something in an instant replay that they missed during the actual play. If someone never played sports and only watched instant replays, “what should have been done” might seem real obvious. It’s not so obvious to the guy playing the game. Video doesn’t capture everything, and even when it does it may not show what the officer saw.

Here’s an interesting example. A dash cam captured part of a fight between an officer and suspect, but didn’t capture the suspect hitting the officer. If the officer hadn’t been wearing a body camera, he would have been stuck trying to convince the public that he was assaulted.

Without question, video has its limitations. But even if it doesn’t tell the whole story, it still provides the public with critical information.

Consider this shooting, which superficially compares to the Ferguson shooting. An unarmed black male was killed by a white police officer. The officer claimed he was attacked and had no choice but to shoot. Without video, and absent any significant injuries, that officer would be hard-pressed to explain why a grown man with a Taser and maybe baton and pepper spray couldn’t defend himself against one unarmed guy.

The video shows just how big and aggressive that suspect was. It clearly shows the officer did not provoke the fight. It shows his Taser fail. It shows the first punch that floored him. In short, it removes the “he said/she said” atmosphere swirling around the Ferguson shooting.

Here’s another one. Officers kill a suspect trying to stab his girlfriend.

Two major points from this incident: officers accidentally shot the girlfriend in the arm when they killed her boyfriend, and the girlfriend says repeatedly “Y’all didn’t have to do that.” In many domestic violence cases, the victim will claim she wasn’t in any danger and the officers didn’t have to take the action they did. This woman insisted the officers didn’t have to shoot; however, in the video (at around 00:57) we see the suspect trying so hard to stab her that the knife blade actually bends from the downward pressure.

The officers were obviously justified. The video proves it. But imagine how it would have been reported without that video.

“White officers shoot black woman while allegedly trying to save her from her black boyfriend. ‘They didn’t even have to shoot him,’ woman says. ‘He wasn’t really trying to hurt me.’”

Cameras may not be perfect, but they give us a better option than expecting everyone to believe us just because we’re cops. The public doesn’t give us that much benefit of the doubt anymore. But if we all have car and body cameras, and the public hears us testify to facts that are backed up by video, we’ll start getting that benefit of the doubt when there is no video. We cops should start demanding that our departments provide cameras. They’ll save a lot of officers who might otherwise be going through the same thing Darren Wilson is.

Cultural Literacy and Common Core

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

At age 86, educational theorist E.D. Hirsch is finally being rehabilitated:

“It’s hard to feel like a guru,” he says, quietly. Then he offers a soft chuckle. “I’ve been a pariah for so long.”

It was back in 1987 that “Don” Hirsch, then English department head at the University of Virginia, published his first popular work, Cultural Literacy. The book proposed that all public schoolchildren should be provided with instruction aimed at familiarizing them with a wide variety of topics, including literature, geography, history, math, science, art and music, in order to have the background knowledge that would make them successful readers and learners. But the book, subtitled “What Every American Needs To Know,” quickly became famous not for its seven dense chapters of educational theory but for The List — a 63-page index of 5,000 essential subjects and concepts that Hirsch believed teachers should impart to their students, arrayed in alphabetical order: A.D., ad absurdum, adagio, Adam and Eve, Adams, John.

[...]

The liberals of America’s educational establishment, meanwhile, responded to Cultural Literacy as if it were a manifesto for what one called “a new cultural offensive” aimed at writing the common man out of history. The book, they insisted, was a traditionalist polemic that would replace higher-order thinking in the classroom with a dry-as-dust set of increasingly irrelevant names, dates and places. As for Hirsch, they saw him as little better than a lone reactionary trying to prevent the tide of multiculturalism from eroding the hegemony of the vanishing WASP.

Even now Hirsch can’t hide his irritation. The lifelong Democrat — “I’m practically a socialist,” he insists — was particularly rankled to find himself described by a Harvard education professor as “a neoconservative caricature of contemporary American education.” “I was,” he says, “inundated by irrationality.”

But the progressives, while dominant, have been unable to improve educational outcomes for low-income students, particularly African-Americans and Latinos, and today, liberal educators and politicians are giving Hirsch’s ideas a second, much more admiring look. Many now support a set of grade-specific guidelines developed by the National Governors Association in 2009 known as the Common Core State Standards. Hirsch didn’t write the Common Core, but the guidelines match the expectations set forth in the rigorous public school curricula Hirsch developed with his Core Knowledge Foundation, and he is credited with laying the intellectual groundwork.

“He showed the fundamental importance that knowledge plays to develop the foundations of literacy,” says David Coleman, one of the chief architects of the Common Core, who calls Hirsch’s research “absolutely foundational.”

Hirsch himself started in public schools until a prolonged illness led him to a progressive private school with project-based learning.

His big idea came to him while his was conducting research at a community college near UVA, where he was head of the English department:

There, he observed that the largely African-American low-income students could read short works of narrative fiction but could barely wring meaning from a piece about Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox because they lacked basic knowledge about the Civil War. “What I saw is that background knowledge really mattered,” Hirsch says.

Over time, he expanded on this idea until his central observation ran like this: Children can be taught to read — to decode words — but teaching them to comprehend all but the simplest text requires a shared body of knowledge between writer and reader. For example, when a biographer describes her subject’s central flaw as his “Achilles’ heel” or a disastrous turn of events as a “Waterloo,” people who have acquired a passing knowledge of mythology and European history can easily understand that the first means a potentially devastating personal vulnerability and the second, a staggering defeat. But others just don’t get anything from the words themselves.

Knowing the national language of culture, even haphazardly, has a vast, far-reaching and brutally cumulative impact on learning. For those who begin their education with sufficient stores of background knowledge, it forms a virtuous circle: They have higher levels of reading comprehension, which helps them understand the daily social, intellectual and political discourse, which in turn helps them obtain more background knowledge. Those who do not have it languish. To level the playing field between rich and poor, schools should intentionally build background knowledge in all children in a wide range of subjects, or, says Hirsch, “It will be impossible to break the cycle of illiteracy that persists from parent to child.”

The Fruits of Democracy

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

If you establish a democracy, Jerry Pournelle reminds us, you will in due time reap the fruits of a democracy:

Almost all the political philosophers of prior eras concluded that democracy was actually suited only to rather small states. When Jefferson said that the basis of the American experiment was that governments are instituted to secure the rights of the people, and derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, was being profound: but he was also indicating that there have to be limits to government.

Consent of the governed is impossible in societies that value ‘diversity’ more than assimilation, and which seek to incorporate more and more people into the decision making entity. The California education system, once the envy of the world, was seen as inefficient: it left control of the schools to locally elected officials in rather small — and thus inefficient — districts. The key would be to consolidate those districts, and take the personal interests of the taxpayers and parents out of the picture: have huge districts governed by boards elected by people who had no relationship with each other beyond living within an arbitrarily drawn boundary, and who often had no actual common interests. The result was predictable and predicted, but that didn’t slow the disaster.

Where it was once thought shameful that only 90% of those enrolled in high schools actually graduated, that is now seen as an impossible dream. The LA Unified School District is a wreck, with widespread illiteracy, little discipline, and — except for some outstanding schools of which our local school is one — are worse than useless. Moreover the district cannot fire incompetent teachers, despite growing evidence that the simplest and fastest way to improve a rotten school is to fire the worst 10% of teachers and not replace them; disperse their students into other classes. Astounding improvement — 100% and more — often follows. But it will never happen.

George Bernard Shaw, who valued Socialism far more than democracy, once said

Democracy means the organization of society for the benefit and at the expense of everybody indiscriminately and not for the benefit of a privileged class.

A nearly desperate difficulty is the way of its realization is the delusion that the method of securing it is to give votes to everybody, which is the one certain method of defeating it. Adult suffrage kills it dead. Highminded and well-informed people desire it: but they are not in the majority at the polling stations. Mr. Everybody, as Voltaire called him — and we must now include Mrs. Everybody and Miss Everybody — far from desiring the great development of public organization and governmental activity which democracy involves, has a dread of being governed at all…

… I do not see any way out of this difficulty as long as our democrats insist in assuming that Mr. Everyman is omniscient as well as ubiquitous, and refuse to consider the suffrage in the light of facts and common sense.

Perhaps a better way would be to limit the scope of government, and not attempt the great development of public organization and governmental activity. Or perhaps, as we should have learned form ruining the best public school system the world has ever seen, allow local control of local matters, even though it is certain that some of those districts will misuse their freedom to do things we don’t want them doing, or which we see as not as good as what we do, and so we should help them — by force if needed — to see reason. And since we can’t watch them all the time, we appoint an organization of experts, who after all must know better, to manage the whole thing while we get back to watching TV or video games or another beer. And “DCPS is unable to excuse Avery’s absences due to her piano travels, performances, rehearsals, etc.,” Jemea Goso, attendance specialist with the school system’s Office of Youth Engagement tells us. Imagine! An entire Office of Youth Engagement, with an attendance specialist! I wonder how many other school districts have such marvels.

Somehow I think the nation would be better served with opulence and excellence. But that will never happen.

Reap, reap, reap.

Lose the Military Gear

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

The police are losing public support, Chris Hernandez notes, and the first step toward getting it back is to lose the military gear:

Even though I’m a minority and police allegedly want to murder me because of my skin tone, for some odd reason I’ve never been afraid of a police officer in America. And in another strange twist, neither I nor any of my dark-skinned friends or family members have ever been shot by a cop. I grew up lower middle class, obviously Hispanic, but never felt oppressed.

But I was scared of cops once. In another country. During a war.

In 2001, while I was working as a United Nations police officer in Kosovo, I had to stay overnight in neighboring Macedonia to catch a flight early the next morning. Macedonia was at that time embroiled in a civil war between the Slavic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians. The Macedonian military and police were run by Slavs, and they believed Americans were backing their Albanian enemies. Despite the war, borders were open and the capital’s airport was still running. One of my Albanian translators in Kosovo lived in Macedonia and invited me to stay with his family before the flight.

I had a very nice dinner with his family. Then the translator, his brother and I walked to the town square. Before we left the house they warned me: “If we get stopped by the police, don’t talk. Most of the police are drunk, and they hate Americans. You look Albanian, so if you don’t talk they won’t know.”

The town square was nearly empty because of recent fighting. We only spent a short time there before heading back. And as we walked back through a darkened neighborhood, we turned a corner and ran right into the police.

There were maybe four or five of them. The “police officers”, if you could call them that, looked exactly like soldiers. They were dressed in camouflage fatigues and black combat boots, wore chest rigs and carried AK-47s. They were closer to a fire team than a police patrol.

When they saw us they almost stopped, and glared hard at us. My heart rate quickened. One officer in particular, a small dark guy, focused on me. Crap, I thought, and looked away. I was unarmed, had no idea where exactly I was and had no realistic expectation of either fighting or escaping. If one of those guys decided it would be fun to throw an American in jail, into jail I’d go. And jails in semi-third world, former communist countries aren’t known for being pleasant.

My Albanian hosts gave the officers a friendly greeting in Serbo-Croatian. The officers mumbled back a reply. We turned toward the house, which actually put us in front of the police. I didn’t look back, but I expected to hear “Stop!” in Serbian any second. My friends whispered, “Just act like everything’s normal. I don’t think they figured out you’re American.” Eventually, several minutes later, one of them looked behind us. The coast was clear.

I relaxed, but it had been an odd feeling. I had never been scared of a cop before. I guess when police are geared up like soldiers in a war, and look like they hate you, they can be intimidating.

Anyone else ever seen a cop wearing so much military gear you literally couldn’t tell whether he was a cop or soldier?

I’ve been a Marine and Soldier longer than I’ve been a cop, and I served in Iraq and Afghanistan. I understand that military gear can be useful to cops. If some wacko with an AK is dumping rounds out his bedroom window, I want an MRAP there. If ISIS is attacking a school, I want SWAT teams to be fully geared out like I was overseas. Other than those extreme situations, why do we need to look and act military?

This is a fine line. We soldiers have learned a lot of hard lessons in the past 13 years of war, and anything we learn that can help make police safer, which then makes the public safer, is a good thing. But there has to be a balance. Yes, officers should carry tourniquets and pressure bandages, because those items save lives. No, officers don’t need to wear desert boots or camouflage uniforms on the street. And good God, someone please explain to me why a cop on duty in America would ever need to wear a shamagh (Arab head scarf).

Do desert boots, camo and shamaghs make us safer or help us do our jobs? No, but they do accomplish two other things: making us look like wannabe soldiers, and gradually eroding public respect for police. The cool gear some of us wear isn’t worth the bad feelings it generates.

People get why we cops do what we do. Most of them respect what we do. But they don’t respect us if we look like we’re trying to be someone else. A cop in all camo with desert boots, a shamagh, chest rig and carbine looks like he’s trying to be a soldier instead of a cop.

Americans don’t want soldiers patrolling the streets looking for combat. They want officers there to help people who need help and keep the community safe. They understand we need to fight sometimes, they understand we need to shoot sometimes. But they don’t want us all geared out unless the crap hits the fan. And that’s not unreasonable.

We’re not at war here in America. We don’t need to look (or act) like those “cops” I encountered in Macedonia. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have any military-type gear; on patrol I carried a carbine, plate carrier and helmet in my trunk for special occasions, and I broke it out several times. We should put that gear on when circumstances demand it. But we shouldn’t break it out simply because circumstances “permit” it.

The Popularity of the AR-15

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

What explains the popularity of the AR-15?

There’s a perception in the media that the AR-15 is some kind of weird outlier in gun culture. How many times have you heard since Sandy Hook that nobody needs an AR-15? Well it turns out everyone needs an AR-15; it’s the only gun anyone wants. Have you ever fired one?

No.

If I put one of those in your hands and you shot at a target you would be awestruck at how well you shot. It’s like a guitar that makes everyone play like Jerry Garcia. It was not a particularly popular gun until the assault rifle ban of 1994. The second thing that made it very popular after the ban was lifted in 2004 was the Iraq War and the war on terror. Everyone has seen these guns a million-billion times because it’s the gun our soldiers and marines use. So we are bathed in free advertising for the AR-15 with all the coverage of the wars. But also, it is enormously popular precisely because it’s just so cool. It shoots so well, it’s lightweight, it has a spring in the butt-stock so you don’t feel much recoil. It’s accurate and modular and it has all those great accessories. It’s just a fucking awesome consumer product. It’s the iPhone of guns. When gun guys hear all this talk, they just don’t get it. They’re like, “Are you kidding me? Everyone needs an AR-15!”

How the Left “Blew It” on Gun Control

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

Baum may be a gun guy, but he’s also liberal. He explains — in Mother Joneshow the Left “blew it” on gun control:

You will hear people say gun owners are accessories to murder, and it’s just the wrong way to talk about people. I spent my whole life among liberal Democrats who are so achingly careful to say all the right, supportive things about Hispanics, immigrants, gays, transsexuals, and blacks, and they will say the most godawful things about gun owners, calling them “gun nuts” or “penis compensators.” The gun represents a worldview that we on the left do not share. The gun represents individualism over collectivism, American exceptionalism over internationalism. It’s a totem of the other tribe and we don’t like the other tribe. The tragedy is, we seem to think by attacking the totem we’re going to weaken the opposing tribe, but it’s just the opposite. Republicans love it when we do this sort of thing. It’s their best organizing tool. Gun owners are kind of a free-fire zone for lefties.

[...]

I personally have met very few gun owners who oppose background checks. But very few of them, even the ones that don’t want an AR-15 with a 30-round magazine, believe that limiting the amount of rounds in a magazine is going to contribute materially to public safety. What worries them is being told you are not to be trusted with these things, and that is really offensive because gun owners derive a tremendous amount of pride from being able to live alongside very dangerous things, use them effectively, and not hurt anyone. When a politician or a pundit who obviously has very little experience or no experience with guns, like Charles Schumer or Dianne Feinstein, says to your ordinary gun owner, “You cant be trusted with more than 10-round magazine,” it really strikes the wrong chord.

Letting Kids Shoot Guns Is Good for Them

Saturday, September 20th, 2014

Marksmanship builds concentration, confidence, and trust, Dan Baum says, which is why letting kids shoot guns is good for them:

It’s a terrible time to say this, right after a 9-year-old girl killed her instructor with an Uzi, but shooting guns can be great for kids.

Of course, there’s shooting and there’s shooting. Handing a loaded submachine gun to a small child is patently crazy. Sadly, Charles Vacca, the instructor in Arizona, both paid for that mistake with his life and inflicted on the unnamed girl a life sentence of horror and regret. Lest anybody think that the gun-owning and gun-rights communities are defending Vacca’s judgment, rest assured that they’re not. I watch the gun blogosphere as part of my work, and even the most hard-core gunnies are appalled and infuriated.

What the shooting community worries about is that people will conflate this tragedy with proper marksmanship training for children. A lot happens in a good shooting class before a kid touches a gun. The first class often involves nothing but drilling on the rules of gun safety. When it comes time to shoot, that’s done prone, for stability, and the guns are long-barreled, single-shot .22s with minimal recoil. Kids are given one cartridge at a time, and any deviation from the rules — a muzzle moving in the wrong direction, a finger on the trigger too early — stops the whole class for more drilling. Compare that to an unschooled 9-year-old in standing position with a short-barreled, full-auto gun and a magazine holding 32 rounds of powerful, 9mm ammunition. It’s the difference between leading a child in circles on the back of a docile pony and sending her alone around a track on the back of a thoroughbred.

Shooting a rifle accurately requires children to quiet their minds. Lining up the sights on a distant target takes deep concentration. Children must slow their breathing and tune into the beat of their hearts to be able to squeeze the trigger at precisely the right moment. Holding a rifle steady takes large-motor skills, and touching the trigger correctly takes small motor skills; doing both at once engages the whole brain. Marksmanship is an exercise in a high order of body-hand-eye-mind coordination. It is as far from mindless electronic diversion as can be imagined.

Other activities build skills and concentration, too — archery, calligraphy, photography, painting — but shooting guns is in a class by itself precisely for the reason highlighted by last week’s accident: it can be deadly.

A single-shot .22, while easier to control than an Uzi, can kill you just as dead. So how can such rifles possibly be appropriate for use by children? Again, context is everything. Under proper instruction, shooting is a ritual. You do this for this reason and that for that reason, and you never, ever alter the process, because doing so is a matter of life and death. Learning to slow down and go through such essential steps can be valuable developmentally. The very danger involved gets children’s attention, as it would anybody’s. But there’s an added benefit to teaching children to shoot: it’s a gesture of respect for a group that doesn’t often get any.

Invite a child to learn how to shoot and the message is: I trust your ability to listen and learn. I trust your ability to concentrate. I welcome you into a dangerous adult activity because you are sensible and trustworthy. For young people accustomed to being constrained, belittled, ignored and told “no,” hearing an adult call them to their higher selves can be enormously empowering. Children come away from properly conducted shooting lessons as different people, taller in their shoes and more willing to tune into what adults say.

While traveling around the country talking to gun owners, I met several who told me that when their teenage sons or daughters were going “off the rails” — drinking, experimenting with drugs and getting poor grades — they started taking them shooting. The very counterintuitive nature of the invitation — giving guns to druggies? — snapped the children into focus. The chance to do something as forbidden and grownup as shooting overcame their resistance to spending time with dad or mom. The discipline and focus that marksmanship required, combined with its potential lethality, not only brought these adolescents back from self-destructive habits but deepened the bonds of trust between them and their parents.

Again, it has to be done right. You don’t buy a girl a rifle and let her keep it in her room; you keep it locked up and let her use it only under supervision. You don’t let a boy new to shooting touch a gun until he’s been well schooled in the safety rules. You don’t ever let people shoot guns they can’t handle. But when done right, marksmanship training can be just what a young mind and spirit needs.

Social justice was on the side of the enemy

Saturday, September 20th, 2014

Gen. DePuy felt that the reporters in Vietnam who worked with the combat troops were fine:

I liked them, and I thought they were fair enough, and very brave, and as good as combat reporters have ever been. I am thinking about Arnett, Pappas and the like. I think the problem was not with the reporters so much as it was with the editors back in the United States. I have a theory which may not hold water, but it seems to me that something happened fairly early on, maybe even as early as 1962, ’63, or ’64, which resulted in the intellectual elements of our society — and this included a lot of the editors, television correspondents, and even some of the reporters — somehow getting the impression that social justice was on the side of the enemy. This happened early on and then was repeated again later, with the American public. In other words, I see it as two waves.

The first wave was amongst the reporters and the intellectuals coming to the conclusion that somehow or another we were guilty of some form of political aggression and were being heavy-handed about it. Conversely, there was a love affair with the idea of the brave freedom fighter in black pajamas making monkeys out of the establishment. Then, that whole thing was repeated when American troops went over. When the American troops first went over, the American people, the man on the street, was told that there was a communist menace, and that we were going over to cope with it. Therefore, at that time, the enemy was the problem. The enemy was evil. Then, through the bombardment of television and articles written by a lot of the intellectuals who had already been through this process earlier with the ARVN, it seems to me that the average American got to the point where he wondered on which side lay the purity of social justice. Now that we know about the aims and activities of the North Vietnamese and their direction of the effort from the very beginning, all of this was nonsense.

Coming to America

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

There are about 100 times more blacks in the U.S. today than arrived via the slave trade. In fact, between 2000 and 2010, the number of legal black African immigrants in the United States doubled, to one million.

How Gangs Took Over Prisons

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

California had prisons for nearly a century before the first documented gang — or security threat group — appeared, but now gangs run prisons — and the street, too:

Another common misconception about prison gangs is that they are simply street gangs that have been locked up. The story of their origins, however, is closer to the opposite: the Mexican Mafia, for example, was born at Deuel Vocational Institution, in Tracy, California, in 1956, and only later did that group, and others, become a presence on the streets. Today, the relation of the street to the cellblock is symbiotic. “The young guys on the street look to the gang members inside as role models,” says Charles Dangerfield, a former prison guard who now heads California’s Gang Task Force, in Sacramento. “Getting sentenced to prison is like being called up to the majors.”

But Skarbek says the prison gangs serve another function for street criminals. In a 2011 paper in American Political Science Review, he proposed that prison is a necessary enforcement mechanism for drug crime on the outside. If everyone in the criminal underworld will go to prison eventually, or has a close relationship with someone who will, and if everybody knows that gangs control the fate of all inmates, then criminals on the street will be afraid to cross gang members there, because at some point they, or someone they know, will have to pay on the inside. Under this model, prison gangs are the courts and sheriffs for people whose business is too shady to be able to count on justice from the usual sources. Using data from federal indictments of members of the Mexican Mafia, and other legal documents, Skarbek found that the control of prisons by gangs leads to smoother transactions in the outside criminal world.

Gangs effect this justice on the inside in part by circulating a “bad-news list,” or BNL. If your name is on a BNL, gang members are to attack you on sight — perhaps because you stole from an affiliate on the outside, or because you failed to repay a drug debt, or because you’re suspected of ratting someone out. Skarbek says one sign that the BNL is a rationally deployed tool, rather than just a haphazard vengeance mechanism, is that gangs are fastidious about removing names from the list when debts are paid.

A Small Mistake

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

When Mao died, The Economist made a small mistake describing his legacy:

In the final reckoning, Mao must be accepted as one of history’s great achievers: for devising a peasant-centered revolutionary strategy which enabled China’s Communist Party to seize power, against Marx’s prescriptions, from bases in the countryside; for directing the transformation of China from a feudal society, wracked by war and bled by corruption, into a unified, egalitarian state where nobody starves; and for reviving national pride and confidence so that China could, in Mao’s words, ‘stand up’ among the great powers.

The emphasis is David Friedman’s:

The current estimate is that, during the Great Leap Forward, between thirty and forty million Chinese peasants starved to death.