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Saturday, November 02, 2002

Another silly quiz:


What's *Your* Sex Sign?
More Great Quizzes from Quiz Diva

Hm. First I come out as "Lust" in the Seven Deadly Sins quiz, now this. Do we sense a pattern forming here?

posted by Eric at 12:17 PM          

Thursday, October 31, 2002

Armed children:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

posted by Eric at 4:39 PM          


The capsaicinization of American food:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

posted by Eric at 10:51 AM          

Monday, October 28, 2002

Why We Fight — An Anti-Idiotarian Manifesto:

This is the final draft version; changes since version 5 have been slight and editorial in nature, as will be any further changes. Thanks to the hundreds of people who contributed feedback and helpful suggestions. I'm contemplating where and how to permanantly host it now.

For legal purposes, this work is ©2002 by Eric S. Raymond. Email me for distribution terms — I'm not especially interested in making money from it, but I want some artistic control of how it's used.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


			Eric S. Raymond
			28 October 2002

			(your signature here)

posted by Eric at 6:53 PM