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Saturday, June 01, 2002

I think this sums up my attitude rather nicely, actually...

:: how jedi are you? ::

posted by Eric at 6:32 AM          


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 demonstrated 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...

posted by Eric at 6:05 AM          

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

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 dare not speak its name. The unpalatable truth is that a teenager's "immature" hormone-pumped capacity to have lots of mindless sex makes 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.

UPDATE: Dean Esmay has written a thoughtful response that nevertheless misses the point. I was not arguing a libertine position in the above; I was addressing the psychology of panic about teen sex, not its morality. The morality would be a whole different discussion.

posted by Eric at 6:45 AM          

Sunday, May 26, 2002

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 budgets.

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 breeds.

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.

posted by Eric at 6:27 AM