NOMENCLATURE MATTERS

Meryl Yourish busts the AP and other media for calling the Chechens “guerillas” rather than “terrorists”. She’s absolutely right.
Guerillas attack military targets.
Terrorists attack unprepared civilians.
Let’s be clear about this.
And it’s infuriating to see the Salon headline as ’67 hostages die as Moscow siege ends’. Over 700 hostages were saved from a group of murderous thugs through the professional work of the Russian rescue team.
Good for them.
Between Chief Moose and the Russians, the good guys have had a good week.
Now if we could only make that unnecessary…

SOMETHING I WISH I’D WRITTEN

I’ve been thinking about Paul Wellstone, and how to respond to the loss of someone who was the antithesis of the things I criticise about modern politics…someone who operated from sincere beliefs, from an inclusive patriotism, and from a belief that while he had opponents, that his opponents could be operating from the same kind of place.
Peggy Noonan beat me to it.

BELLESISLES

We have reached the conclusion with reference to clauses “a” through “c,” that Professor Bellesiles contravened these professional norms, both as expressed in the Committee charge and in the American Historical Association’s definition of scholarly “integrity,” which includes “an awareness of one’s own bias and a readiness to follow sound method and analysis wherever they may lead,” “disclosure of all significant qualifications of one’s arguments,” careful documentation of findings and the responsibility to “thereafter be prepared to make available to others their sources, evidence, and data,” and the injunction that “historians must not misrepresent evidence or the sources of evidence.”

Much like the case of the Central Park Jogger, my basic response is “the system works”.
Like Bellesisles, I tend to believe that the role of the gun in American history is somewhat overstated, so my initial response to his book was positive.
But as I followed the controversies afterward, I have to say the his critics made serious points, and that his response to them was a textbook example of how not to defuse a bad situation. Even reading the report (pdf file), it appears that he didn’t do the logical things that would have defended his academic credibility, if not the specific research in question.
I’m sorry for him and his family, and glad that the academic community has performed careful review and upheld its integrity.

BALLISTIC FINGERPRINTING AND REGISTRATION

There’s an interesting discussion going on between Juan Volokh, Mark Kleiman, and Dave Kopel about ballistic ‘fingerprinting’, which I discussed back here. My proposal was to take ballistic data from guns, and store them in a series of ‘private registries’, who would hold the data and registration data in such a way that a) only a limited set of queries would be answered, and b) the registry as a whole would be volatile, and could be destroyed by the registrar in the event of an effort by the government to take it (which destruction would be explicitly permitted in the enabling legislation).
My suggestion was way too complex. (Although it raises other interesting possibilities)
Mark Kleiman proposes a simpler (although somewhat less effective) system, whereby spent brass (and possibly bullets) would be filed and imaged in a database and stored solely against the make, model, and serial number of the gun.
The manufacturer’s existing systems can track the gun to the wholesaler, whose records would reveal the retailer, whose records would then link to a purchaser, which would take a match at least as far as the original new purchaser of the gun.
I have one argument for, and two against, this proposal.
The argument for is:
1) It will help solve some certain number of crimes that would otherwise not be solved.
The arguments against are:
1) It will cost money which would be better spent on other crime-prevention or crime-solving resources;
2) It won’t work very well because
a) the ‘image matching’ technology isn’t very good, the markings and characteristics of each gun change over time (or are easily changed), and so there will be an extremely low ‘hit rate’;
b) it will only be applied to new guns sold after the effective date (otherwise it begins to look like registration)which means it will apply to only a small fraction of the guns in circulation.
So on a cost-benefit basis, I wonder how effective it would really be. This ought to be (roughly) calculable, as an example: we assume that out of 500,000 crimes committed with guns, say 5,000 (made-up numbers alert!!) are committed with guns purchased in the last year. Of these, 1,500 are unsolved. Of these 50% involve spent brass or intact bullets, and we have a 20% chance of getting a match in the system, so we ought to be able to track 150 of these guns to their purchasers. Of these, 75% still own them, so we might get 120 ‘hits’ on a system like this. One issue would be the number of hits we would get through simple good police work, so the additional ‘hits’ would be, hypothetically, in the range of 60 – 80. Note that these numbers are entirely made up, and that I’m simply trying to demonstrate the mechanism whereby we could cost a system like this.
Imagine that 1,000,000 guns are sold every year (that’s less than I believe are actually sold, but sounds about right and I’m not doing research tonight); it costs $10.00 to fingerprint, image, and store the spent brass and bullets (real cost is probably double); we’re talking about spending $10,000,000/year to help solve 70 crimes. Now that will go down every year (in ten years, we’ll be spending $10,000,000 to solve 700 crimes). But on numbers like that, I’d say the proposed plan is a bust. Given some time, I’ll try and plug real numbers into this, and see how they come out (or you can do it and email the results to me!) but the question to the audience ought to be, how much do we spend on a program like this per possibly solved case?? $10,000?? $100,000??
There is a broader issue as well.
As I noted, On the other hand, there are a large group of people in this society who hate guns, and devoutly wish to make them go away…at least except for the ones they get to carry (see CA state Senator “Beretta” Perata) or their bodyguards carry (see Rosie). And these people are close to the levers of power, and it isn’t hard to imagine that one day they’d get those levers, and use them to do whatever they could to take guns away from everyone who wasn’t them. There’s a logical chain that goes from ‘fingerprint new guns’ to ‘fingerprint all guns on sale’ to ‘fingerprint all guns’ and suddenly, like the mythical frog in a pot, we’re being boiled.
On one hand, I’m convinced that the potential for this is very real.
On the other, I believe that the best way to resolve it is to politically defeat the hoplophobes (Col. Cooper’s – the ‘other’ Jeff Cooper’s – term for those who are afraid of and wish to ban the private possession of weapons) completely and thoroughly.
And to do that, we (the gun-rights defending population) need to find a way to reach out to the big group in the middle. Some of them own guns; some of them are afraid of guns. One thing we need to do (and that I do all the time) is to stand ready to discuss the issue of violent crime using guns and what can be done to limit it. And having had those discussions, we need to stand ready to support measures that a) don’t directly remove our rights or lead in that direction and b) have some hope of being effective (including being cost-effective).
I think that ballistic fingerprinting, as suggested by Kleiman, passes test a). I’m not so sure about test b), but that ought to be something where some reasonable set of facts can be brought to light.
I have some homework to do, I guess. Anyone want to help?
[Addendum: Don’t forget to read Rob Lyman and Steven denBeste on these issues. I infer to a point they make … that freedom has a cost, and just because we’re seeing it doesn’t mean we should stop paying it … but I seldom make the argument as persuasively as they do.]

SOME INFO ON JOHN MUHAMMED

Check out The Smoking Gun.

Beltway Sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad served in the U.S. Army for 15 years as a “demolitions/weapons expert” and could “make a weapon out of anything,” his former wife once reported. According to Mildred Muhammad, she was hospitalized in May 2000 when she received a phone call from John Muhammad, who threatened to kill her. According to this report prepared by a Tacoma, Washington hospital security officer (which you’ll find below this text), Mildred Muhammad claimed that her husband–whom she described as “very charming”–had abducted the couple’s three children as part of a custody dispute. She added that Muhammad was skilled in hand-to-hand fighting and that while he “owned no weapons,” he did have “access to them.”

MY WORST NIGHTMARE

As everyone in the world probably already knows, it looks like they may have caught the Beltway shooter – I also don’t like to honor him with the title ‘sniper’.
He appears to be an alienated African-American man, ex-military (although not Special Ops or a trained sniper) and his Jamaican stepson. He apparently has sympathies to the Islamist cause, and wanted to strike his own blow against the Great Satan (and if he could get $10 million into an offshore bank account while doing it, so much the better).
From my point of view, this is the worst possible result.
First, because I think he’s shown a number of other disaffected people how easy it is to leverage small actions into a huge amount of attention.
Second, because I think there are a lot of disaffected people out there.
I’ve talked about ‘muckers’ in the past, looking online for a definition, I found this, by Santa Fe complexity researcher Cosma Shalizi; it’s perfect, and I couldn’t add anything at all:

“Mucker” is a word coined by the science fiction writer John Brunner in his great novel Stand on Zanzibar. The word derives from “amok,” which will require a bit of history.
It is a Malay word, and a person who goes violently insane, rushing through the village and murderously attacking everyone in his path, is said to have “run amok.” In what was an egregiously idiotic statement, even for him, the eminent French critic Georges Bataille called running amok the purest manifestation of revolt, “the movement by which man rises up against his own condition and the whole of creation.” (Bataille never ran through the streets of Montparnasse madly slashing with a kris, so he either lacked the courage of his convicions or was a hypocrite with a small – a very small – modicum of brains.) The Malays, inevitably, were and are more sensible: they kill those who run amok.
A “mucker,” then, is someone who runs amok; the times havin’ a-changed, now they use guns. As always, they are people driven to murderous madness by intolerable frustration, repression and conformity, whether in an isolated kampong or the Postal Service. So far muckers seem to have been mostly Americans, but just the other day the radio carried news of one in Germany.
It does Mr. Brunner’s prescience great credit to have foreseen the need for this word, back in 1964; and it does the rest of us no credit at all, for letting such a word be needed.

Shalizi even makes the neat connection to Romantic philosophy that I keep harping on.
What has happened is that the inchoate rage and disassociation that is felt by too many people in this society (and by waaay more people in places like the West Bank and Saudi) now is legitimized. It’s legitimized philosophically by the Bad Philosophers, it’s legitimized politically by ‘liberation’ ideology (and here I don’t mean politically grounded efforts at national liberation, like Vietnam’s, but the more generic ‘liberation’ ideology of the Frankfurt School), it’s legitimized in the media by our obsession with the pornography of violence (a subject for a later post), and finally, it’s legitimized as it becomes part of a ‘tradition’ where the Khobar Towers leads to the USS Cole which leads to the WTC, which leads to the July 4 El Al shooter, which leads to this nutjob.
Terror is going wide, and we are about to look at a world in which tens or even hundreds of Beltway shooters become a possibility.
What’s the answer??
Well, first of all, a top-down Orwellian security state isn’t. It sure looks like this was broken by good old-fashioned police work (a tip of the hat to Chief Moose and his team) and by an alert guy at a rest stop with a cell phone.
We need to learn the lessons of an alert and empowered citizenry, because if there were ten of these guys running around at once, the criminal investigation infrastructure of the country would just melt down.
And most importantly of all, we need to find a way to stop growing these guys. We need to cut off the cultural roots that promote this kind of behavior. We need to de-legitimize Bad Philosophy, and send it back to the academy, where it belongs. We need to de-legitimize terrorism in all its forms, and we need to figure out how we can begin to stop growing enraged disassociated people who drift across the line into evil.

A DASH OF CONCERN

I regularly read Meryl’s blog, and a few days ago noted the LGF/MSNBC hoohah, and meant to follow up (but had no time).
Tonight, I was browsing, and followed her links to this great – essay – (post seems dismissive) by Anil Dash, who apparently stepped into a fight on this issue by criticising what he saw as racism on LGF.
Following Matt Yglesias’ lead, I haven’t yet read my way through the MSNBC issue; I do have some opinions on the LGF issue, as I’ll note below, but I wanted to compliment Anil for his self-reflective essay; he manages to stand his ground and take responsibility at the same time, and that’s not something many writers are necessarily very good at (including me). So I’ll read the threads out as I have time, and draw my own conclusions. But this is a good piece, and well worth reading.
Re LGF: I think Charles Johnson has done an incredible service by opening a portal into the media and news ofthe Arab Middle East – lots of what we see is stuff we wish weren’t there, but it’s better to see and hope than to hope blindly. We have to deal with reality, first.
Having said that, I’m still not on board on the Clash of the Civilizations model. I am sure there is more here than a few loose psychopaths; but I’m not yet ready to lay it at the feet of the entire culture. I will suggest (remember the ‘armed’ in the blog title) that being well-prepared for war is often a good way not to have to, and any Administration would be remiss not be staging, planning, and otherwise preparing for the worst case, while negotiating like mad to get us to a better one.
I’m not sure if Charles is either; I know he’s signed on to the Clash model, but I’m not seeing what I would perceive as ‘kill them all’ in his writing.
He has however become the center of a community that includes people whose dream is a Middle East made of slag and glass, and who aren’t shy about saying so. If it were my blog, I’m not sure what I would do – in his case, the volume of content he creates, traffic, and so posts by readers is so great, I wonder if one person could police it if they chose to. I know this is an issue I would somehow address if I were him. I’m not.
And finally, I do think that for MSNBC to characterize it as a ‘hate site’; hang on, let me get the exact words from Meryl – ‘A popular but controversial Warblog focusing on militant Islam and terrorism. Is this news or hate?’ – was waaay out of line, and Charles and the blog community that supported him were not wrong for taking a stand on that.
But read Anil’s post; I’m certainly going to be thinking about it.
[Update: I just went over to LGF and there’re a few things you should read before forming a complete opinion. (my penalty for not reading the while damn set of threads first) It may put Anil in a slightly different light…it does for me…but I think Charles is a little too dismissive of the issue of the ‘glass and slag’ folks. They aren’t even a substantial minority of his posters, but they set a tone that makes it easier to dismiss the serious stuff in his posts. But as I’ve said, that’s his thing. ]