Second Amendment From a New Angle

The ways in which the statement, "A well-regulated militia, being necessary for the defense of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed," has been interpreted to better match prevailing social mores are many and varied. What many interpretations have in common is the understanding that the "well-regulated militia" is the subject, or at least a restriction on the subject; the question then becomes whether the "people" are considered to be the militia (as indeed is made clear in the United States Code), or whether for our purposes the militia is a more restricted group, such as the National Guard.

In a contentious comment thread at Protein Wisdom over constitutional interpretation in general, commenter lee suggests an interpretation of the Second Amendment I had not seen before:
Actually, the intent of the second ammendment was to keep the government from enslaving the people. It’s because of the well-regulated militia that the right to bear arms shall not be infringed.
In other words, because of the need to keep standing armies (which the Founders frequently reviled as being the first step towards tyranny), it is necessary to ensure that the people are powerful enough to resist them if necessary. Without a "well-regulated militia," there would be much less danger that the government could oppress the people with impunity; to mitigate the danger, the people must never be prevented from arming themselves.

Is this interpretation correct? It depends on what you mean by "correct." This was probably not the precise syntactical meaning intended by the Founders; the phrase "well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people" occurs in Article XIII of the Virginia Declaration of Rights (adopted in 1776, well before the Constitution) set against a strong attack on standing armies, making it unlikely that in the Constitution the phrase "well-regulated militia" actually referred to standing armies themselves. But if you are not an Intentionalist, and prefer to work from the text itself, lee's understanding seems as defensible as any other.

More importantly, it harmonizes the Second Amendment with the rest of the Bill of Rights as laying out a right of the people against the government. In that sense, and in the sense that its conclusions undoubtedly match the goal of the Founders, the above understanding may be called "correct."

My Former Classmate is a Marine

This evening we ran into the parents of a student who went to my high school. He is a few years younger than me, and if we were not close friends, we got along. He also enrolled at my college in New York and was there for at least a semester by the time I left. His parents told us that he had "ran off and joined the Marine Corps." The mother proudly showed us a wallet-sized photo of her son in his Marine dress uniform.

Looking at that picture left me profoundly humbled. Here is a young man whose family is doing well for themselves, who did quite well in school and was attending college among a community which is not anti-military, exactly, but where the military just doesn't occur to people as an option. Yet he decided to give up his comforts and enlist in the Marines.

May God bless him and safeguard him, and guide his weapons true.

Quote of the Day

XXIX. Now for my Part, being fully assured, by the Reasons I have already given, that there is some Right common to all nations, which takes Place both in the Preparations and in the Course of War, I had many and weighty reasons inducing me to write a Treatise upon it. I observed throughout the Christian World a Licentiousness in regard to War, which even barbarous Nations ought to be ashamed of: a Running to Arms upon very frivolous or rather no Occasions; which being once taken up, there remained no longer any Reverence for Right, either Divine or Human, just as if from that Time Men were authorized and firmly resolved to commit all manner of Crimes without Restraint.

XXX. The Spectacle of which monstrous Barbarity worked many, and those in no wise bad Men, up into an Opinion, that a Christian, whose Duty consists principally in loving all Men without Exception, ought not at all to bear Arms; with whom seem to agree sometimes
Johannes Ferus and our Countryman Erasmus, Men that were great Lovers of Peace both Eclesiatical and Civil; but, I suppose, they had the same View, as those have who in order to make Things that are crooked straight, usually bend them as much the other Way. But this very Endeavor of inclining too much to the opposite Extreme, is so far from doing Good, that it often does Hurt…
—Hugo Grotius, The Rights of War and Peace, Liberty Fund edition, Preliminary Discourses


Range Voting vs. Instant-Runoff

I have been a fan of instant-runoff voting, an electoral process in which voters rank candidates by preference, instead of casting a single vote. If nobody has a clear majority of first-place votes, the bottom candidate is dropped and his supporters apply their second-place votes. This continues until one candidate has a clear majority. Of course, IRV does not produce outcomes that match precisely with voter preference (whatever you want to define THAT as), tending instead to favor consensus candidates.

Some who pay attention to such things are now beginning to favor a system called range voting, or "rated vote." In it, each voter gives each candidate a rating between 0 and 99 (or 0 and 9, or whatever). The voter is advised to score his top preference as 99, and his bottom preference as 0. These ratings are averaged, and the highest-rated candidate wins.

Partisans for this system note that it has several perceived advantages over IRV, among them: there is no penalty for highly rating multiple candidates; you can more expressively represent your preferences than with simple rankings; there is no structural incentive to vote in a way that doesn't accurately represent your opinion.

Furthermore, IRV is seen to have most of the flaws of the present system, since there is still some degree of strategy in choosing who gets the vital first or second votes. After all, if all voters were to vote first for the most extreme candidates, the consensus candidate may well be eliminated. The reverse is also true, and more likely; those countries with IRV tend to have two strong parties and a host of minor ones.

The concept sounds interesting, and the proponents note that similar systems are presently used to rate content on the internet such as movies or books. But this points out my largest criticism with the plan as proposed by the linked website. In the version it proposes, voters have the option of expressing no opinion on a given candidate. Unfortunately, what often happens in places like Amazon.com is that the overall rating in disproportionally determined by strong partisans for and against a candidate. If a voting system were to allow voters to remove their views from consideration, outcomes would be determined largely by the fringes.

If a candidate has done such a poor job of outreach that many voters have no opinion one way or the other, he should not be rewarded by making his few supporters relatively more influential. There should be no "express no opinion" option.

Aside from that, however, range voting looks interesting.


Another Perspective on Illegal Immigration

Much of the debate on illegal immigration has focused on the effect of such immigration on the United States. But what about its effect on Mexico?

Captain Ed has reproduced an email from Artcamp Artesanas Campesinas, a communal business in Guerrero, Mexico, made up of women. The email calls for the immediate closing of the US border, because the lure of easy dollars has caused all the men of their village to leave the country, destroying families and the local economy:
As we struggle as women, against the difficulty of our situation, we focus all effort on building a business to sustain ourselves and our children.

But we need the help of our husbands and our brothers to re-unite our families and to help us develop economic opportunity in the traditional fashion jewelry production industry that is the heritage of our parents.

Please close the US Border to illegal migration and send our men home to us. Thank you.
Read the whole thing.


Oil: The Long Run

Oil rose past $75 a barrel today. And I feel fine. Indeed, I feel positively thrilled.

Why? Won't high oil prices act as a drag on the economy in general, and on the personal prosperity of millions and millions of people? Yes, in the short term. But over time, sustained high prices for oil will have a number of beneficial efffects.

First, high oil prices have stimulated a rush of investment in alternative energy sources such as biodiesel, ethanol, solar power, and improved batteries. Such investments languished during the halcyon days of $10/barrel oil during the Clinton Administration, prolonging our reliance on an energy source which is overwhelmingly controlled by oppressive foreign governments in general, among whom are states like Saudi Arabia and Iran which used their riches to attack us by proxy. But we are now rapidly approaching the break-point where we can transition away from oil as our main source of fuel, and therefore stop enriching our enemies.

Second, high prices will inevitably cause people to conserve energy. This is good by itself; but even better is that some of them will probably do so by using solar power or some other method of cogeneration. In this manner, the slow process of decentralizing our power system will be accelerated at least a bit. When energy production becomes decentralized (one could even say democratized), the system as a whole will be more resilient and less prone to critical failure, and individuals will take back some measure of control over their lives from the vast centralized distribution networks that dominate modern life. Self-reliance is a good thing.

Third, the rising price of oil is largely driven at present by speculation. All of our production capacity is back online by now, and supplies are near their highs. What this tells me is that traders are anticipating some sort of strike against Iran, or some other "geopolitical risk," and are positioning themselves accordingly. The benefit of such speculation is that it makes the shock of the event, when and if it comes, less painful; we are already prepared for the blow. Any price movement that lessens panic in the long run is good in my book.

So by all means, cut back on your oil usage. But don't rail overmuch against corporate greed or price-gouging as you do. The market is simply encouraging us to do now what we should have begun doing decades ago, and we owe it a debt of thanks.


Preparing the Battleground

How many times have you heard a variation of the following: "Islam is incompatible with violence. In fact, the word 'Islam' itself means 'peace.'"

I know that I have read such statements many times in news stories. And every time, I know that I am being lied to. "Islam" does not mean "peace," far from it. It means, in fact, "submission." And the mindset of "submission" is fundamentally opposed to that of "peace."

One who seeks peace above all else will avoid conflict, seek to resolve differences with neighbors amicably, and in cases of irreconcilable difference will agree to disagree. One who seeks submission before God, on the other hand, will only be happy when the entire world has submitted to the will of God alongside him. There can be no true compromise with opposing views, since that implies that you are ameliorating your perfect submission to the will of God. There can only be the ultimate goal of final victory.

That Muslims may not want their religion seen this way is understandible. Yet they could simply emphasize the personal aspect of submission, while keeping the societal aspect out of the limelight. Why then do many Muslim spokesmen feel it necessary to deceive the West, in ways that are so easy to disprove, about something so basic as the meaning of a word?

Because once they establish the idea that Islam itself is beyond reproach, then it is child's-play for Salafi jihadists to hide behind Islam as a whole to deflect any legitimate analysis of how their beliefs feed into their violence. In other words, people will be reduced to discussions about "root causes" such as poverty, social alienation, or specifics of foreign policy because the biggest root cause of them all — Salafi jihadism — will be totally off-limits.

Learn about Islam. Know when you are being lied to. Keep track of who the liars are. Understand their purpose. Don't let them get away with it.

Global Warming? Global Cooling? Which Is It?

Via Ace comes an editorial in the London Telegraph titled There IS a problem with global warming... it stopped in 1998:
For many years now, human-caused climate change has been viewed as a large and urgent problem. In truth, however, the biggest part of the problem is neither environmental nor scientific, but a self-created political fiasco. Consider the simple fact, drawn from the official temperature records of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, that for the years 1998-2005 global average temperature did not increase (there was actually a slight decrease, though not at a rate that differs significantly from zero).

Yes, you did read that right. And also, yes, this eight-year period of temperature stasis did coincide with society's continued power station and SUV-inspired pumping of yet more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

In response to these facts, a global warming devotee will chuckle and say "how silly to judge climate change over such a short period". Yet in the next breath, the same person will assure you that the 28-year-long period of warming which occurred between 1970 and 1998 constitutes a dangerous (and man-made) warming. Tosh. Our devotee will also pass by the curious additional facts that a period of similar warming occurred between 1918 and 1940, well prior to the greatest phase of world industrialisation, and that cooling occurred between 1940 and 1965, at precisely the time that human emissions were increasing at their greatest rate.
As Ace comments:
It hardly needs pointing out that in the seventies environmental alarmists created a public scare over "global cooling," demanding that we immediately take drastic steps to protect the earth by, essentially, de-industrializing, or else the earth would freeze over.

The ink had barely dried on the "scholarly papers" predicting a new ice age before some of the exact same environmental "scientists" began scare-mongering over "global warming" in the late eighties, demanding that we immediately take drastic steps to protect the earth by, essentially, de-industrializing…. This is not science. It is Marxist Rousseauian "natural state of man" utopianism, and a cult of the worship of Earth as "Gaia."
As they say, read the whole thing.


The French are Losing France

About a year ago, the French government commissioned an exhaustive study of their school system, carried out by a team of educators and Education Ministry officials. Horrified by what the study reported, the government then tried to suppress it entirely; but it was leaked to the Internet a few weeks ago. Here is a summary, along with a link to the original 37-page document in French.

Having by and large completed their takeover of the Moslem ghettoes, often by “targeted violence” against non-Moslems and moderate Moslems alike, the Islamist fanatics are making great progress towards achieving control of the educational system as well.

As usual, girls are the first victims of religious extremism. The “big brothers,” as the Islamists are known in school, enforce a strict Islamic dress code which prohibits make-up, dresses and skirts, forbid any co-educational activities and make going to the movies, the swimming pool or the gym all but impossible for Moslem girls.

The punishment for refusal to conform is often physical violence and beatings. And this, says the report, is a relatively protected environment compared to “what girls experience outside of school.” Such as forced marriages at 14 or 15.

In addition to the routine expression of violent anti-Semitic sentiments, schools have also become a major focus of aggressive proselytism. The report states that it is virtually impossible for non-practicing Moslem kids in school not to conform to the strict Islamist behavior prescriptions. Even non-Moslems are often forced to take part in Ramadan fasting, against the wishes of their parents.

Perhaps most troubling is the study’s finding that this new generation of Moslem children, born and raised in Europe, is growing up already indoctrinated to consider themselves part of a “Moslem nation” separate and opposed to everything Western civilization stands for.
I am increasingly afraid that the world is about to see a prolonged era of religious war the likes of which we have not experienced since the time of William of Orange. All the trends are toward increased polarization, increased violence in the name of Islam, increased bitterness and anger in the Christian community, demographics that favor religious peoples of all stripes over their secular countrymen, and the continued impotence of Western culture in the face of this terrible danger.

I pray that I am wrong. But I have little cause for hope.


Writing about the anemic response by the American black community to the genocide in Darfur, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes:
Among the barriers [to a strong black response], say scholars and social activists, are a lack of news media attention, black leaders' focus on surviving critical domestic problems, the black community's lack of focus on international issues and the perception that the Darfur campaign is largely the province of the Jewish community.
One of the few black activists, Mrs. Anna Thorpe, has been desperately trying to build awareness in the black community. She says:
I've heard people say we have a genocide over here. But [compared to strife in Africa,] this is cake. We have this mentality that we're always oppressed.
Hat tip: Instapundit.


Ideological Purity (or, Apple Does Wintel)

For some time now, Apple Computer has been shipping machines built around the Intel Core Duo processor, which has the same instruction set as any other Intel processor. When this move was first announced, Steve Jobs emphasized the gains in reduced processor heat and increased speed; but observers speculated that this was Step One in a bid to allow Windows use on the Mac.

A few days ago, this potential became reality as Apple introduced Boot Camp, software that allows you to partition a section of your hard drive and install Windows on it. Apple has no intention of shipping Windows software itself, so users have to buy the operating system from Microsoft and install it on their own; but as a marketing move, this is brilliant. Apple has been struggling along with a 3% market share in personal computers. Many people who would prefer to use Macs are forced to use software for their work that is only available for Windows; owning a Mac under these circumstances was a luxury. But now, you can buy a Mac and still use all the Windows software you want, including computer games or anything else. Suddenly, the equation changes; now, when buying a Mac you are paying a slight premium over other PC models for the exceptional hardware design, and access to the beautiful OS X and the specialized software that comes with it — while losing no functionality.

Moreover, as more people begin to experience the joy that is Macness, fewer people will tolerate working with Windows software if they can avoid it. The opportunity cost of purchasing a given piece of software for Mac, as opposed to Windows, just plummeted. In time, many people might completely transition to Mac software, using Windows only for specialized applications.

So, who can possibly be upset by such a shrewd business move? Apparently, the Los Angeles Times.

Last Friday, the print LAT carried a lead editorial titled Apples, Oranges and Windows. In it, they accused Steve Jobs of selling out to the Man:
Apple's move looks like a concession, if not a defeat, in its three-decade-long battle against rival Microsoft. For years, Apple's advertisements have urged computer users to abandon Windows, asserting that the choice between Mac and Windows was a choice between easy and confusing, cool and geeky, good and evil. On Wenesday, however, Apple started giving away software for Intel-powered Macs that makes it easy to install Windows XP…. Instead of trying to cure people of their Windows addiction, Apple is now an enabler…. It seem[s] silly, like trying to fit a lawnmower engine inside a Vespa scooter….

But from a cultural standpoint, it's jarring. It used to be said that the difference between the two tycoons of the computer age is that Bill Gates just wants your money, while Steve Jobs wants your soul. What Wednesday's announcement shows is that, if forced to choose, Jobs will take the money too.
This editorial should be embarrassing for the Times. Good heavens, a businessman actually wants to make money! Imagine that!

More than that, this editorial perfectly demonstrates a pernicious worldview that continues to harm American politics, of which the Times is often a major exponent. In this worldview, image is more important that reality, and cultural subversiveness is prized above all. It doesn't matter that Apple's computer business was continually struggling on the edge of irrelevance, with a market share that would horrify General Motors. No, what matters is that Apple is part of a Manichaean war with the font of all evil, Microsoft, upholding the sacred virtues of coolness and soul.

Never mind that this Manichaean drama was never so cut and dry. Microsoft, while it had some business practices that were definitely unethical and occasionally illegal, and while its software is generally clumsy and poorly written (and has the aesthetic sense of ten drunken clowns in a flea market), performed the service of making software that was good enough. And Bill Gates has in recent years been using his prodigious fortune to fight the spread of malaria in Africa, fund biomedical research here in the States, and assist in a host of other beneficial activities.

Never mind, too, that the Times's narrative uncritically accepts Apple's slick advertising pitch. The idea that you could demonstrate your moral superiority by your choice of computer is laughable. But it appeals to a certain class of people who want to be seen as virtuous, not because of what they actually do in the world, but because of the image they project.

Note the horror with which the Times treats Steve Jobs's desire for profits over so-called principle. They would be much happier, I'm sure, had Apple continued to flail away in the quicksand of the marketplace without getting anywhere, but still preserving their purity of ideas, the pristineness of their vision. Actually getting things done is not important. What is important is to be true to your beliefs in some bizarre sense that holds that intentions trump reality.

Therefore, if you cut taxes for the rich, even if it helps the poor in the long run by stimulating economic activity, you are evil. If you raise taxes for the rich, even if this puts hundreds of thousands of people out of work, you are righteous. If you oppose universal health care, even if such programs are a disaster in every country that has them, you are evil. If you force businesses to purchase health insurance for their workers, even if this makes them fire everyone they can spare, you are righteous. What is important is not real-world consequences, but the beauty of your inner vision.

Needless to say, if you ignore basic economics, if the idea of cost/benefit analysis is beyond you, if you make decisions based on emotion and not logic, if the long run is too far in the future to even cross your mind, if you lack the ability to think three moves ahead, if you willfully disregard Murphy's Law and Heinlein's Law of Tanstaafl (there ain't no such thing as a free lunch), if you insist on casting the basic operations of a free society as an apocalyptic clash between good and evil — then you will tend to create ruinous public policy.

These people should learn from Steve Jobs. They do claim to venerate him, after all.


Alternative Energy Roundup

At Winds of Change, they've posted an extensive series of links about advances in alternative energy. Lots of good stuff over there, you should check it out. Especially interesting to me is the piece about plasma energy experiments at Sandia National Labs, which (IIRC) I've mentioned here in the past. Also interesting is that Honda is apparently researching home cogeneration units, including one that can refine hydrogen. Honda is perhaps interested in establishing a market for hydro-cars, whether the infrastructure is in place or not. Good for them.

My general optimism about our energy problems continues unabated. The trick is getting people to take the initiative in using all this good stuff.

(Hat tip: Instapundit.)


Zarqawi Booted From Insurgent Leadership Role

It would be hard to hat tip everybody I've seen who linked to this, but suffice to say that the blogosphere is reacting gleefully to the news that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has reportedly been unseated as leader by Iraqi insurgents:
According to Huthayfah Azzam, the son of Abdullah Azzam, al-Zarqawi’s former mentor, the notorious commander of al-Qaeda in Iraq was stripped of his political duties at a meeting two weeks ago.

“The Iraqi resistance high command asked al-Zarqawi to give up his political role and replaced him with an Iraqi because of several mistakes,” said Mr Azzam in an interview with al-Arabiya, the Arabic news channel. “Al-Zarqawi’s role has been limited to military action,” he said.

Al-Zarqawi then faced a humiliating climbdown in December when he was forced to drop his opposition to general elections in a clear ideological split with the mainstream Sunni Arab population in Iraq, which participated in the polls. Certainly today al-Zarqawi is no longer regarded by the authorities in Baghdad as the main threat to the country’s stability.
As many other commentators have noted, this is a clear sign that the insurgents are rethinking their strategy of indiscriminately murdering the populace. It has backfired rather spectacularly, leading their former supporters among the Sunnis to switch camps. If the events of the past few weeks are any guide, the insurgents are now trying to game the political system instead of opposing it entirely, by exacerbating tensions between the various political parties. This may end up backfiring as well, as it seems that the most lasting effect of the recent turmoil in Baghdad has been to force the United states and the Iraqi military to finally confront Moqtada as-Sadr's Mahdi Army. (For more on this, go to Belmont Club and just keep scrolling down.)

Of course, this shouldn't be seen as a sign that we're actually winning in Iraq. Because, you know, everyone on TV says that it's a quagmire. And the LA Times even showed gruesome pictures of wounded soldiers on the front page! Things must be bad! Surely it's irrelevant that the highest daily casualties the US has suffered in months came from a single vehicle accident?

Perhaps a year or two after the invasion, I made an off-the-cuff prediction that the stabilization of Iraq would take no less than four years, and not too much more than that. This was based on nothing more than extrapolations based on what I knew about Arab politics in general, and the histories of previous stabilization efforts by the United States, particularly in the Carribbean and Philippines (read Max Boot on the subject). The person I was speaking to was shocked. He said words to the effect of, "The government never told us that we should expect the war to last four years!"

Perhaps I am atypical, given that I did a lot of reading in my youth about the Civil War, WWII, Korea, and other wars that tended to last a long time. My expectations are calibrated to those measurements; I do not consider four or five years to be a long time in which to rebuild a country from the ground up. And it seems from everything I can see that we are more or less on track to hit that goal. Yes, we have suffered temporary setbacks, but that's all they were: temporary. American casualties have dropped precipitously in the past several months. The Iraqi governing coalition continues to take shape. The Iraqi military has grown to more than 230,000 troops. The trend is still our friend.


Britain's Slide into Totalitarianism

From Samizdata comes a frightening post about the creation of a new law-enforcement body in Britain that seems, quite literally, to be a secret police. Agents of the Serious Organized Crime Agency will not take the Police's customary oath of service to the Crown that mandates adherence to the rule of law; they are authorized to act out of uniform, anywhere in the world; the names of SOCA agents will be kept secret; the locations of SOCA offices in Britain will be kept secret; there is at present no address or email given for SOCA, and the only way that private citizens can contact them is through a P.O. box. (There is a phone number given, for media use only.)

SOCA agents can act without judicial warrants; they can deputize anyone else to act on their behalf. They can gain access to secured data from most government agencies, and are authorized to pass data on to whomever they choose. SOCA is exempt from Freedom of Information requirements, and answers to nobody except the Home Secretary.

Most worrying, perhaps, is that SOCA is ostensibly meant to fight not terrorism (which might perhaps justify such abridgments of standard checks and balances) but organized crime, while not being limited to same. Rather, it is authorized to enforce all laws as needed. In other words, the infrastructure is now in place for Britain's government to totally subvert the traditional police powers and ignore judicial restraint.

Tony Blair may be an ally of the United States in international matters, but he is not a good man. His government is steadily exerting control over more and more areas of private and public life in Britain. And he has the almost total cooperation of the leading opposition party, the Tories; the debate is not whether to erect a police state, but in what manner.

It is perhaps not a coincidence that the erosion of Britain's Bill of Rights began in earnest after the 1997 ban on handguns.