Observations on boiling frogs

I've had the recent opportunity to observe a post-COVID concerted attempt by tech leadership to reduce its company's costs, and it has been quite eye-opening. A common theme in employee chat spaces when discussing the changes is the whole boiling frog meme, but I think that a lot of people miss the deeper implications of what's actually going on.

Q: Why do you boil frogs in the first place?
A: You're making frog soup.

When you make frog soup, you can add in lots of other ingredients to change / disguise the taste, but inevitably you will need to have a certain amount of frog to attract customers. Yes, these customers will probably be French, and you'll have to deal with everything that comes along with that, but that is your customer base. Frog soup eaters, who pay you for the soup, want frogs in their soup.

Ah, but how many frogs will there be? You fill the tureen with lukewarm water, drop (say) 100 frogs into it, and turn on the gas cooker. Will you get a 100-frog soup? No!

  • Some frogs will jump out of the tureen, just because they're interested in the wider world - the water temperature means nothing to them.
  • Some frogs are sensitive to heat, and at the first warming sensation they'll try to escape.
  • Once the activity becomes noticeable to the broader frog population, there will be general concern in the tureen, and some frogs will try to jump out just because they notice other frogs jumping out. Generally, you lose the healthiest frogs at this point. The old, sick frogs are stuck.
  • You might try to drop additional frogs into the tureen to replace those lost. Unfortunately, word gets around the frog community fairly quickly, and the larger frogs will squirm out of your hands. You're left with the young frogs who don't know any better.

Eventually, the soup comes to the boil, and you're left with... substandard frog soup. Bon appetit!


Evanston - an inadvertent experiment in racial math

Hat tip for this to @DanProft on Twitter:

Note: I'll be giving references throughout these blog posts, but I have high confidence that they will soon be wiped out, so I'm preserving as much relevant text as possible.

Evanston Township high school in Illinois (1600 Dodge Avenue, Evanston, Illinois, 60201), is in the suburbs of Chicago, about 7 miles north of Chicago city center. It has just achieved notoriety by racially segregating its math classes. For background, Evanston's population demographics are 16.1% Black, 11% Hispanic or Latino - not far off the USA average.

In case you think I'm indulging in hyperbole, here is the curriculum:

  • AP Calculus AB - MA0515: Students will study the equivalent of one semester of college calculus... This code for the course is restricted to students who identify as Black, all genders
  • AP Calculus AB - MA0555: Students will study the equivalent of one semester of college calculus... [No racial restriction]
  • AP Calculus AB - MA0565: Students will study the equivalent of one semester of college calculus... This code for the course is restricted to students who identify as Latinx, all genders.
The same pattern is repeated for the Pre-Calculus course, which is a precursor to AP Calculus, and in the case of Latinx for 2 Algebra, which is the precursor for Pre-Calculus.

Note: I looked at the Science courses, and they did not have any kind of racial restriction.

Some background: the "AP" classes are usually taken at ages 16-18, though can theoretically be taken any time in the four years of high school. They are 1 year long, have a well-defined national curriculum, and culminate in an exam which is marked completely separately from the coursework and other scoring for the class; so, for a 1 year AP course you get a regular grade (0.0 to 4.0, approximately, higher being better) and also the final exam grade (integers 1 to 5, 5 being best). You could in theory get a 1.0 in class (terrible) and 5 in final exam (amazing) - or 4.0 in class (great!) and 1 in final exam (did you even spell your name correctly?). They are notorious, especially in mathematics topics, for needing coaching to do well.

In UK terms, AP Calculus AB is something around A-level Mathematics. The separate course AP Calculus BC - which is offered here but not racially segregated is more like A-level Further Mathematics, and only for hard-core nerds.

The obvious question: why is the school doing this, and what are the implications?

A tempting answer is: "to cheat!" Why else would you split out by race? You give the Latinx and Black students a teacher who marks easy, say about +1.0 on the curve, and the rest of the students a teacher who marks hard, say -0.5 on the curve. That way, a Latinx student who is actually 1 whole grade point behind a white/Asian student, would show up in final results as 0.5 points ahead, and therefore tempting material for a college recruitment.

Problem! The AP final exam is hard to cheat on. All students in the school should be taking it at the same time, under the same conditions, and probably in the same room. It would be very hard - though not impossible - to give the Black/Latinx students an advantage by writing down or correcting answers. If a school took this route, it would show up for any sample size other than tiny, by the white/Asian students having much higher final AP exam scores than their course grades would predict, relevant to Black/Latinx.

What I think might be going on instead: the school assigns the Black/Latinx classes their best teacher in the area, and a time-serving loser for the white/Asian class. This will muddy the waters in the scoring differentials. With a good teacher, Black/Latinx will achieve their maximum potential in both class and final exam, whereas white/Asians will depend heavily on external coaching - or high innate ability - to do well, since the teacher is useless. And, as an explanation for why they're not doing it for AP Calculus BC, they probably only have one teacher who can lead this subject, and in any case lots of external parental help / tuition ends up being important, which Black/Latinx students are less likely to get in any case.

Short version: in my opinion, this school wants to boost Black/Latinx student achievement in mid-level math, at the expense of white/Asian students. If you're one of the latter, consider identifying as Black.

I'm really looking forward to how this experiment works out, and I sincerely hope that legal action doesn't kill this segregation - as it well might - because getting this relative performance data would be fascinating.


A short history of the Trans movement

Roman times

Trans woman: I like to wear dresses
Man: Dude, we already wear togas
TW: I'm a woman
Man: if you've cut your balls off, you're a eunuch, not a woman. Not that there's anything wrong with that!
Woman: a big strong man with no interest in women to guard the harem - what's not to like?
TW: I want to have babies!
M: Where's the fetus going to gestate? You going to keep it in a box?

Middle Ages

TW: I like to wear dresses
M: The Catholic Church might be just the thing for you
TW: I'm a woman
M: I'd keep that quiet while you're leading Sunday Services
TW: Though I still do enjoy perving on and bullying women from time to time
M: Like I said, Catholic Church
W: (told to keep her mouth shut)

Late 20th century

TW: I like to wear dresses
M: Seems to work for the Scots
TW: With nothing underneath
M: As I said...
W: At least, shave your legs
TW: And wear makeup!
M: The major advantage of men in getting ready quickly in the morning, and you just piss it away
W: Top tip: use about 80% less. And don't steal my stuff.
TW: I'm actually a woman
M/W: Sure, Jan

Early 21st century

TW: I like to wear dresses
W: How bold! How brave! How lovely!
M: You look ridiculous, but that's up to you
TW: I'm really a woman
W: Yes, yes, of course
M: You're really a loony
TW: I want to use women's bathrooms
W: Err... should I say something? Mustn't look judgemental
M: Weirdo
TW: I'm actually a woman
M/W: You don't have a vag
TW: I've got them to make me a vag
M/W: Oh my. Ewwww


TW: I am woman, hear me roar!
M/W: Okay ...
TW: Call me Agatha
M/W: Okay!
TW: Address me as "Miss"
M/W: Wut?
TW: Haters! BLASPHEMERS! I'll get you fired
M/W: Okay, "Miss"
TW: Time to start picking up easy trophies in womens' sports
W: What the hell?
W: (shuts up, simmers)
TW: Ah, a woman's locker room. Please admire my penis
W: Get out!
W: I'm starting to think we made a mistake
TW: Hmmm... how to reproduce given the obvious but unfortunate biological obstructions ...?


TW: I am woman, hear me roar!
W: But... (Gets punched in the mouth)
M: That's not very lady-like
Antifa: We'll burn your fuckin' city to the ground, transphobe
TW: I'm enjoying my new job as an elementary school teacher
M: What in the name of X is this 1st grade lesson plan about anal sex?
TW: All your kids are belong to us
M: (starts building up his household armory)
W: Wait, what's going on here?
TW: I'm taking all your sports trophies, and cancelling you if you object
W: (weeps)
TW: full public obedience and obeisance to the Trans cause, or we'll destroy you
M/W: (moves out of California, Oregon, NY, DC if they can)
TW: Christians? Legit targets. Let's leave the Muslims alone for now, they look like they might be a bit challenging.
W: (insists that husband purchase pastel grips for her pistol)

I don't know where this ends, but it's not going to be pretty.


The Twitter Whistleblower report - how bad was Twitter, really?

Prompted by a post by everyone's favourite Portugal-based squirrel-torturing blogger, Tim Worstall, I thought I'd dive into the practical implications of all the (frankly, horrendous) technical, security and privacy problems that Twitter was identified as having before Elon Musk rocked up as owner and CEO.

Usual disclaimer: I'm going by the reports. Reality might be different. I cite where I can.

For background: both USA and European authorities take a dim view of corporate access to, and usage of, individual user data. Remember the European "ePrivacy Directive"? Also known as the "'f+ck these annoying cookie pop-ups' law"... Governments in both Europe and the USA are keenly interested in companies tracking individual users' activities, though my personal opinion is that they're just jealous; they'd like to do it too, but they're just not competent. Anyway, a company doing individual tracking at large scale for profit - Twitter, Google, YouTube, Meta, Amazon - attracts their attention, and their laws.


Let's talk about security - and, more importantly, access to secure data. A fundamental principle of security is "least privilege" - everyone should have the smallest set of access privileges to be able to do their job. You could argue that 5000+ people in Twitter "need" to be able to change things in production at some point to do their jobs, but they certainly don't "need" to have always-on, cross-production access. Not least, because someone running a command they found on an internal playbook as an experiment, could easily break a large chunk of the service. But don't rely on me, ask their job candidates:

Twitter's practice was a huge red flag for job candidates, who universally expressed disbelief. One Vice President of Information Technology [his current role, not the target role] considered withdrawing his application on the (accurate) rationale that Twitter's lack of basic engineering hygiene in their arrangement presaged major headaches.
Hire that guy.

Certainly, every company is far from perfect in this area, but those with regulators are continually seeking to narrow the number of people with access, and the scope of access those people have. Twitter pre-Musk clearly did not give a crap about the count and scope of access. One can only imagine why; were they, for instance, relying on a large base of pre-approved employees to intercept and downgrade/block opinions outside the mainstream? How would we tell if this were not the case? Can Twitter show that they were engaged in a systematic reduction of number and scope of access to production? If not, who will be held to account?


Control is one thing - but at least, if a human performs an action in the production environment (change, or query), that action should at least be logged, so future audit can see what happened. This is not a high bar, but was apparently too high for pre-2022 Twitter:

There was no logging of who went into the production environment or what they did.
To make clear the implications: in general, there was no way of finding out who queried (for their own purposes) or changed (deleted posts, down-rated users, etc) the production environment at any particular time. "Why did [event] happen?" "Beats the hell out of me, someone probably changed something." "Who? When?" "No idea."

This is particularly interesting because Twitter's Chief Information Security Officer - who resigned post-Musk - was also their former head of privacy engineering, and before that, apparently, global lead of privacy technology at Google. One could only imagine what that implies.


There is also a wide range of engineering issues. Data integrity (not losing user-entered data) was obviously a critical issue, but Twitter had been aware for a while that they teetered on the edge of a catastrophic production data loss:

even a temporary but overlapping outage of a small number of datacenters would likely [my italics] result in the service going offline for weeks, months, or permanently.
This is not quite as bad as it first seems. After a year or so in operation, companies have a fairly good idea what happens with a datacenter outage - because they're more frequent than you imagine. Say, Henry the intern accidently leans against the Big Red Button on the datacenter floor, that cuts power to everywhere. Or you do a generator test, only to discover that a family of endangered hawks have made their nest in the generator housing for Floor 2... So you get used to (relatively) small-scale interruptions.

If you want to run a global service, though, you need to be able to tolerate single site outages as routine, and multiple site outages (which turn out to be inevitable) have to be managed within the general bounds of your service's promised availability - and latency, and data availability. Even if all your physical locations are very separate, there will inevitably be common cause failures - not least, when you're pushing binary or config changes to them. So, don't wait for these events to sneak up on you - rather, anticipate them.

This means that you have to plan for, and practice these events. If you're not doing so, than a) it will be obvious to anyone asking questions in this area, and b) when things inevitably do run off the rails, there will be bits of burning infrastructure scattered everywhere, around the highly-paid morons who are busy writing memos to cover their asses: "how could we have foreseen this particular event? Clearly, it wasn't our fault, but pay us 20% extra and we might catch or mitigate the next such event."

Go looking for those people. Fire them, and throw them into a den of hungry pigs.

Leaving the doors open

By far the most horrific aspect, however, was the general relaxed attitude about government agencies - and heaven only knows what other NGOs, cabals, and individuals - having under-the-table access to Twitter's data. Just the tolerance of user-installed spyware on privileged devices would be enough for any sane security engineer to be tearing out their hair, but actually letting in individuals known to be employed by foreign - and even domestic - governments for the purposes of obtaining intelligence information, and potentially affecting the flow of information to their and other countries... one is lost for words.

At some stage, Twitter had to either grow up, or close down. Under Dorsey's crew, the latter was inevitable - and likely not far away. It's still too early to tell if Musk can get them to option 1, but there's still hope.


The (Karin Jean-)Pierre Principle

Many of my readers (at least two!) may be familar with the long-established Peter Principle which states that in many organizations, people rise to - and are left at - the level of their incompetence. And I'm sure that we can think of many examples in our own corporate experiences.

Now, dear readers, I would like to propose the (Karin Jean-)Pierre Principle which states:

Promoting someone based on their identity, rather than ability, leads almost inevitably to incompetence which you are unable to fire.

For evidence, I'd like to offer the examples:

  • The titular Karin Jean-Pierre, promoted to White House Press Sec based on being black and a lesbian. If anyone would like to argue that ability featured in this promo, I'm all ears.
  • Kamala Harris as VP of the USA. Heaven help us.
  • Pete Buttgig as Sec of Transportation, advising all Americans to buy electric cars to save money.
  • Keisha Lance-Bottoms as mayor of Atlanta, Georgia; subsequently failing-up to be senior advisor and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement
  • Jayson Blair, former staff writer at the New York Times; they were eventually able to fire him but my goodness, it was hard going.
Notable counter-examples: Hillary Clinton (barely female, was kept out of any important jobs), Barack Obama (could actually give a good speech), Margaret Thatcher (one of the few competent UK Prime Ministers, and elected despite being female).


Elon Musks' employees might be racist

A Happy New Year to all my occasional readers! May your 2022 be less fucked-up than your 2021, which is probably the best we can hope for.

I was inspired to put pen to... LCD? whatever... reading a breathless Los Angeles Times article on racism and discrimination at Tesla's Fremont, California plant:

4:05 p.m. Feb. 12, 2022: An earlier version of this article said that at least 167 racial and sexual harassment suits were filed against Tesla since 2006. At least 160 worker lawsuits were filed over various grievances, not just harassment.
Oh, sorry, that was an article correction. I'm sure that most of the 160 lawsuits were about racism and sexism. Many, at least. Some, for sure. I wonder why they didn't give a more specific breakdown?

Anyway, let's get on to the meat of the allegations from California's (government) civil rights agency, who are clearly in no influenced by Tesla's move from California to Texas that will take billions of dollars out of their income:

Tesla segregated Black workers into separate areas that its employees referred to as “porch monkey stations,” “the dark side,” “the slave ship” and “the plantation,” the lawsuit alleges.
Only Black workers had to scrub floors on their hands and knees, and they were relegated to the Fremont, Calif., factory’s most difficult physical jobs, the suit states.
Graffiti — including “KKK,” “Go back to Africa,” the hangman’s noose, the Confederate Flag and “F-- [N-word]” — were carved into restroom walls, workplace benches and lunch tables and were slow to be erased, the lawsuit says.
Ooohkayyy... Let me show you where this factory is located:
It's squarely in the Bay Area, which is one of the most liberal areas known to man persons. It's just down the road from Oakload, which is heavily Black. If this behavior was really happening at the scale indicated, I would fully expect mobs from Oakland to come and burn down the factory - while mobs from San Jose and San Francisco with artificially colored hair paraded cleverly-worded signs outside.

This claim is almost certainly massively exaggerated bullshit, based on a few events. I mean, the Confederate Flag? If you ever flew it here, your house and car would be burned down in short order. But, and here's the kicker, it might contain a kernel of truth.

Thing is, these "triggering events" aren't coming from the well-established white supremacists in the Bay Area (either of them). They're coming from the near-minimum wage factory worker class - and, to no-one's surprise, this is dominated by recent immigrants: Very few of whom are in any way white.

The dirty secret which the California civil rights agency skirts around is, and this goes back to Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird", practical racism mostly happens around the same strata in society. The Ewells were racist - eventually, fatally so - to Tom Robinson because he was only one rung below them in society - a hard-working black man, not far off from doing better than the wastrel crackers who formed the Ewells. Things have not changed much in 60 years.

The relevant strata of society in the case of Tesla - and any other manufacturing company in the Bay Area - is recent immigrants in manual labour, earning not much above the minimum wage. There is strenuous competition for these jobs, and indeed for the positions just above them that have more security and better prospects. As such, you tend to see the various communities form "views" on the other communities. And, unfortunate as it might be, African-Americans are seen as the least hard workers and least dependable.

From reported experience in major cities, in both USA and Canada, newly immigrated Hispanics and East Asian Americans tend to be reasonably coherent groups, with intra-group solidarity (if you were Manuel Labor on the factory floor, you'd support Javi in his attempt to get a full-time position because he's "one of you", you'd grudgingly agree that Binh from Vietnam could do the job but he's clearly trying to climb to the management ladder, but there's no way you want Marland from Jamaica because he's always complaining and making other people fix his mistakes, but the boss won't fire him because he's black and they can't be doing with the inevitable racial discrimination claim...

This is deliberately a caricature, but it's the practical reality in a wide range of jobs around here. There's strenuous competition for jobs and advancement, so the natural defensive tendency of the human is to join a tribal group for self-protection, and absorb their attitude towards other groups.

Interestingly you don't get so many (proportionate to immigration rates) South Asians in these jobs - they tend to come to the Bay Area on graduate-level visas, or head towards their own small business rather than working for The Man. But still, they have a view on Black Americans, and it's often informed by the relative racial proportion of people robbing their - and their extended family's - retail establishments.

I particularly liked this claim from the article:

One was lodged by a female Black employee who said her female white boss struck her with a hot grinding tool and called her “stupid” and the N-word and insulted her intelligence. The suit says the supervisor was fired but later rehired.
A white woman, in the Bay Area, using physical violence and calling a Black woman the N-word in earshot of anyone else? And the company re-hires her? I would love to hear the details of this case. I suspect the actual facts are quite different to the stated ones.

I understand that the California governing class is mad at Elon for taking his money away from them, and that an accusation of racial discrimination is the easiest tool to exact revenge. But let's not be fooled - these claims are likely 90% bullshit, and the core of real racism arises from the struggle for good jobs and money between non-white ethnic groups.


The Mythical Bay Area Mask Mandate

I had to buy a pair of shoes today, and so decided to use the mall visit to test the effect of the "mask mandate" that theoretically grips San Jose in its iron fist.

My selected target was an anonymous, generic, medium-quality indoor mall. I approached it in regular clothing, with no mask or other face covering in sight - I had a mask in my back pocket should things prove sticky at any point. Spoiler: they didn't.

Within the body of the mall, I passed by security guards at least four times in close proximity. No-one said anything. I was careful not to lock eyes in challenge, just looked ahead at a destination store and occasionally consult my phone.

Of the other stores:

  • I avoided CVS (Pharmacy), and the pharmacy area of Target - didn't want to unnecessarily disturb sick people
  • Within Target there was no reaction, even though I walked past several staff members.
  • Discount clothing store #1 - nada
  • Footwear store #1 - very relaxed, even when I asked them questions
  • Discount clothing store #2 - no challenge, but a staff member was wearing trousers well below his underwear waistline so I'm not surprised he didn't say anything. Let he who is without sin, et cetera...
  • Discount clothing store #3 - v helpful, no comment on lack of mask.
  • Footwear store #2 - no problem at all, friendly even through the purchase of shoes.

Summary: no-one gives a shit on enforcement of the mask mandate. It's way too much hassle. Don't feel constrained to wear a mask. That said, everyone else in the mall I saw was wearing one, even though some were way below the nose and only being worn for the form of things.

Also note: as a highly white person with clear diction, if there were anyone expected by shop staff to be a nark, and therefore demand mask-compliant behavior, it would be me.

I'm rather disappointed that I didn't have to pull out my explanation:

"I'm feeling the spirit" -SF Mayor London Breed, explaining why she was dancing without a mask in one of her city's nightclubs , contrary to her own order


Comparative advantages in violence

This post was occasioned by the viral video of a Houston high school student (Hispanic) being attacked by two others (black). It's not a nice video - while we don't know what happened immediately before it, the Hispanic student appears to be trying to ignore the other two students and eat his lunch; then the other two suddenly launch a frenzied attack, initiated by a hard sucker punch to the ear. Once he falls to the floor, they lay in with repeated kicks.

Fights happen in high schools all the time - though this one appears to be particularly vicious, and possibly caused by racial tensions in the school - but this one in particular made me ask: "what made them think that they could possibly get away with this?" No obvious provocation, clearly no aspect of self-defence, aggravating kicking-when-down factor; I can't imagine that they didn't know they were being filmed. Heck, they quite possibly warned the camera holder - why was he/she filming in the first place?

I won't bother to recycle the stats that black male youths include a disproportionate number of the most violent and dangerous youths in the USA. If you don't believe that's true... you should take a walk around Baltimore/Chicago/Oakland and see how that works out. But why is this true? Why do you find black youths initiating so much violence?

Like most things in life, it's perfectly rational with the right data. It's all about what's to gain vs what's to lose. If you're in a sink school, poor family, probably no father in the picture, no real job prospects, you really don't have anything to lose. The school expels you after repeated violent episodes - so what? You weren't going to graduate anyway. Your only plausible route to success is in the local gang scene, and if pummelling a random Hispanic student (on video) is your way to rise in status in that gang then, frankly, why wouldn't you?

The Hispanic students, though, are likely first or second generation immigrants. Their mommas - and papas, and abuelas, because they're generally in intact families - are busting their cojones about succeeding in school and getting a job. Maybe not always college, but doing well enough in high school and part-time work to get a decent job with pathway to financial security. They start getting seriously involved in violence, they have a lot more to lose.

Thus, the black students generally have the comparative advantage in applying violence - they're more likely to get a net benefit from it. So we shouldn't be surprised when they do disproportionately more of it.

There are always exceptions; one can contrast a Hispanic student whose father is in jail for a lengthy term for MS-13 crimes, with a black student from an intact family who realizes that his only real shot at success is to do the best study he can. And every school bully has the common sense to avoid that one weird kid whose family history is murky, but whose every action at school indicates that he has absolutely nothing to lose.

The problem, of course, is the medium term. Teenagers have highly short term thinking... if you're in doubt, talk to a teenager for more than two minutes. But if you look at the demographics in Houston, where Hispanics comfortably outnumber Blacks more than 2 to 1, you start to see the future problem. Should the Hispanic population finally decide that the Black populatation is too much of a threat, it's not going to be pretty, and it's only going to end one way.


Asian Lives Matter - intervention

Instance number N in a long series of crimes, during the past weekend two Asian women in Oakland were attacked by scumbags who stopped their car in the street, and stole the ladies' purses. However, two bystanders intervened:

One of the Good Samaritans was shot and wounded and crumpled to the ground.
One of the robbers is seen on video jogging to a double-parked Honda Accord. The second man trying to help is pistol-whipped and gets into a tug-of-war over a purse with the other assailant.
Now, that's pretty ballsy of the bystanders. Not wise, but brave. Two (Chinese) male bystanders saw the robbery being perpetrated, and tried to intervene. Of course, they were physically smaller than the (apparently African-American) attackers, and the attackers had firearms, so it didn't work out too well. The first defender was shot; looks like the second defender was beaten around the head but managed to hold on to the purse long enough for the attacker to give up and make a break for their car. Still, the bystanders must have known that the odds strongly favored the attackers, and yet tried to intervene anyway. Mad props to them.

KTVU (local TV station) interviewed Mr Li, the bystander who got shot but fortunately survived:
"Well, I wouldn't call myself a hero... they can call me a hero if they want. I just consider myself as trying to help someone in need, so I'm pretty sure that they really needed help."
I would like to big-up Mr Li - he must have known that he was facing a dangerous situation, had nothing but his wits, and nevertheless stepped in to try and help. He was damned lucky to come out of the situation injured but generally okay - only luck stopped it being much worse. Still, communities need people like Mr Li to stiffen their backbone, and resist predators like those seen today.

The police aren't going to stop crimes like this. Oakland's police leadership and Mayor does not appear to be interested in doing anything even slightly controversial to reduce crime in the city. So, how is this going to change anything?

I refer my dear readers to my previous posts on this subject. Does the "Black Community" really think that the "Asian Community" is going to continue to take these assaults and not retaliate? The Chinese Chamber of Commerce is undoubtedly already talking to the local Tongs - and, likely, Triads - about their need for protection. Do you think that the undisciplined, random violence of African-American thugs is going to be able to persist against a highly organized and cohesive network like the Tongs/Triads? The hell it is.


Why Americans love guns - interpreting for Europeans

Over the past year+ of lockdown, I have attained an unexpected view into the American psyche with respect to legal gun ownership. The summer of 2020 demonstrated to a lot of "regular" American people that

  1. city, county and sometimes state governance was not particularly interested in safety for business owners and home dwellers,
  2. local police were overstretched at best, and unable to respond in a timely and effective manner to widespread domestic insurgence, and
  3. local political interest in protecting the populace was rather racially selective.

As a result, Americans are buying guns and ammunition. A lot of guns, and more ammunition than you can shake a stick at. A best guess[1] is that 8.4 million Americans became gun owners for the first time in 2020.

If you hail from a gun-phobic country like... most of Europe nowadays, certainly including the UK and Germany, then this might all seem like paranoid insanity. It is anything but. In this blog I'm going to try to explain, to a UK mindset, why the American love of guns is actually very rational - and maybe something to emulate.

The American Gun Situation - Overview

If you want to understand how a very well-informed - albeit highly opinionated - USA gun owner thinks, particularly in regard to mass shootings, you need to read Larry Correia's 2012 blog post "An Opinion on Gun Control". His assertions have repeatedly been proven correct in the past 9 years. Go read that article, then come back here. As an optional exercise, you may like to evaluate the circumstances of this year's San Jose Valley Transport Authority mass shooting with Larry's assertions in mind.

Hopefully, you came away from that article with some understanding of the American gun owner mindset. Let me try to summarize in bullets (hah!):

  • Gun ownership in America is much more heavily regulated, at both federal and state level, than you think;
  • Mass shootings are highly publicised but a small fraction of overall gun homicides;
  • Mass shootings occur almost universally in "gun free zones" because shooters are not stupid, and pick places where people won't shoot back;
  • The various federal and state restrictions on firearm ownership ("no assault weapons!") since 1990 have been pointless and ineffective, except in provoking Americans to go out and buy a shedload more guns;
  • Defensive gun use saves a lot more lives than offensive gun use takes (this surprised me too, but Larry's source is not exactly known for being a pro-gun camp);
  • It is not practically possible to ban guns in America. Really, it isn't.

The Legal Situation

There is the perception in some countries that Americans can wander into their local Walmart, and wander out with a military-grade assault weapon. This is not an accurate statement of the facts. In fact, it's so far off base, it's wandering around the baseball stadium car park.

Suppose you want to buy a gun; that you are of the relevant age (18+ or 21+, depending on state); you are not otherwise disqualified from gun ownership by being a felon, illegal immigrant (yes! you need valid residence and identity documentation) or other locally disqualifying status such as being an accused domestic violence perpetrator.

You rock up to the gun store, browse the various firearms on display - currently, very limited - and pick one that suits your lifestyle and aesthetics. What happens now? You fill in the form for the ATF Form 4473, then - in many states - you leave the establishment and wait for them to contact you. Hopefully within the week, they will inform you that you have passed the checks, and you have 30 days to come in and formally pick up your firearm.

You also may have to, if this is your first firearm purchase, complete a state-defined written multiple-choice test, and there may be a required "waiting period" distinct from the 4473 check until you are allowed to take possession of the firearm.

So next time you hear a politician say "it is easier to buy a firearm than vote!" you know that they are talking complete bollocks.

Now you have a gun, what can you do with it? It varies depending on state. Larger weapons like rifles and shotguns can be taken hunting, can be kept in your house (there are often requirements by states on how they are to be secured) and in some states can be carried around outside ("open carry").

If you want a gun for self-defence in any location other than your home, then practically your only choice is a handgun. Here the states, counties and even cities in the USA have a patchwork of different requirements. Carrying around a (legally owned) handgun with you is referred to generally as "concealed carry", and there is a wide range of what's allowed - from "unrestricted carry" which means you don't even need a permit, to "restricted may-issue" in places like the Bay Area and New York city where they actually don't issue a permit unless you donate generously to the local sherriff's campaign. Allegedly.

Ammunition is generally easy to buy - if you can find it these days - with the exception of gun-hating states like California which restrict who can buy ammunition, where you can buy or import it from, and require background checks for purchaes.

Oh, and "assault weapons"? Go re-read Correia above - but in short, politicians are deliberately conflating a fully automatic ('selective-fire') rifle, exclusive to the military, with a semi-automatic (one bullet per pull of the trigger) rifle which happens to be the most popular kind of rifle in the USA. It turns out that you can't own a "machine gun" in the USA in practice - unless you buy a smuggled one illegally, which criminals do because they don't actually "obey the law".

That's how you get a gun, and what the major types of gun are - now, who's actually getting them?

Gun Ownership in the USA (it's everywhere)

People often make the mistake of underestimating gun ownership in America. They say blasé things like "you know, literally everyone has a gun!"

If you took that as an estimate, you'd be low by at least 20%. In 2018 the USA had more guns than people - 393 million guns compared to 325 million population. There have been a lot more guns bought since then, and guns don't really 'wear out', although they can rust and become unreliable. Note also that these numbers are only estimated, because of the general lack of registration of guns. My personal opinion is that it's a lot higher now; about 40 million guns were purchased in 2020, and we're probably on target to beat that this year if the supply can keep up.

About half of the civilian weapons in the entire world are held in the USA. And civilian weapons are 90% of the total, because there are many more civilians than military.

Obviously, many people have many guns, and many others have none, so it makes more sense to look at per-household gun ownership. This ownership is not distributed evenly. Republican states have a higher rate of household gun ownership in general; Alaska, Montana and Wyoming all have rates above 60%, whereas the populous northeast states are under 20%. But it's mixed - liberal Washington state has a similar ownership rate to redneck Texas (42% to 45%). Even hippie California has a 28% ownership rate, though my guess is that it's higher in the rural parts and lower in the heavily liberal Bay Area.

A joke goes that China's People's Liberation Army is the largest standing armed force in the world - but Texas has a much larger, better trained, and more heavily armed force which deploys in pickup trucks. I would estimate that there is somewhere in the range of 35-40 million firearms in Texas, handily beating the PLA's 28 million firearms. If Beta O'Rourke[2] really does intend to take away guns in Texas, it's going to take him quite a while. I hope he has a big truck to carry them.

Even in the Bay Area, if you assume that ownership rate is half that of the rest of California, 1 in 7 houses have a firearm. And, since it's so expensive and bloody awkward to buy and supply it, they are probably not just owning the firearm because they like the look of it above their fireplace. (Why do so many homes in sunny California have fireplaces? Why? Why?)

Let's talk about sex, baby; and eth-ni-ci-ty

Sorry, Salt-N-Pepa, I couldn't resist.

Over many visits to shooting ranges, you get an idea of what kind of people - phenotypes - are interested in firearms ownership. Now, I'm only going by what I see locally (Bay Area in California), but it's told me a lot:

  • The majority are white men, and generally older (40+). So far, unsurprising.
  • There are more women than you might think. Most shoot handguns, but I've seen several shooting rifles including one who's shooting a heavy calibre (7.62mm or .308) with very tight groups at long distance. (Side note: intermediate calibre rifles like the infamous AR-15 are in fact the easiest firearm for smaller people to shoot: they have remarkably little recoil, so are easier to keep on target than a handgun or shotgun)
  • Strongly represented ethnic groups: Hispanic, Korean and Chinese
  • Under-represented ethnic groups: Black, Indian
  • A number of men bring along their children (teens) - and in my experience, this happens disproportionately with Hispanic men. They're clearly interested in teaching their daughters to shoot.

Those people familiar with Bay Area Asian demographics might be thinking: Why Koreans? Well, let's talk about the Rooftop Koreans cultural meme. Back in 1992, the Los Angeles riots resulted (for complex cultural reasons) in Los Angelino criminals - primarily black - looting Korean stores. The Koreans had generally settled in the area in the 1970s-1980s and made a successful living with small retail businesses, but in '92 found rampaging mobs trying to loot and burn their livelihoods.

Korean men - at least, those born in Korea - all serve in the military. When you have a succession of unhinged dictators in North Korea, controlling a huge standing army and artillery, South Korea is going to make damned sure that its populace is trained in military skills and able to react quickly to an attempted invasion. This is not like the previous West German conscription where you had options for conscious objection, or the ability to volunteer in Civil Protection Services - in South Korea, you're going to serve in the active duty military for at least 18 months, and you're going to like it. And if you don't like it, they really don't care. Even famous actors have to do their part. It took until 2018 for South Korea to recognize conscientious objection as even a thing.

As a result, in Los Angeles the Korean male population had a) ready access to firearms and ammunition, because they were in America, and b) the training, discipline, and community coordination to mount an effective defence to looters. It's notable that in 2020 the LA rioters generally stayed well away from Korean businesses - because they knew that the Koreans would shoot them with no compunction, and the local police would not give a crap. Even USA-born Koreans get the indoctrination from their appa (father) about the potential threats to their family's prosperity, and their need to be able to defend the family from them.

Let's not forget Hispanics. The USA Democratic Party likes to think that, because Hispanics are generally lower on the income ladder, that they're sympathetic to Democratic social justice aims. In my experience, this is rather an optimistic reading. If you're struggling to make your way in the USA, as many of them are, the last thing you want is a criminal scumbag coming into your small business and robbing it because it's an easy way for him to make money - and so, you take protective measures into your own hands. And if it's a scumbag criminal Hispanic, you're going to be very relaxed about taking him out, even if he thinks you're his compadre.

Finally, and even The Guardian admits this, middle-class blacks are buying a whole lot of guns. When you see sustained riots in your community, and respected community members gunned down for having the temerity to resist violence, what are you going to think? Are you going to rely on the police? The hell you are. You're going to tool up to defend your family - whether you're a man or a woman.

How it Plays in Practice - Deaths

There are many guns in America, so there are a whole lotta shootings. The connection is undeniable.

There are lies, damned lies, and gun death statistics, but a good place to start is the number of homicides by firearm. You can see that it has kicked up in recent years, but it's about 10,000 deaths per year. Don't confuse this with the number of deaths by gun which is far higher (about 34,000 deaths a year) - because there's a lot of gun-induced suicide, and note that the higher the gun ownership rate in an area, the easier a suicidal person finds it to use a gun instead of hanging / tablets / car exhaust, etc.

Now, remembering our table of household firearm ownership, check out Figure 2 (state-by-state ranking of gun homicide rates) at the americanprogress.org site. Heavily armed Texas is #22. Liberal and lightly armed California is at #25. Those are two very big, populous states with a number of large cities. Liberal and disarmed Illinois (home of Chicago) is #9. Top ranking Montana and Wyoming are #37 and #38 respectively. Now, the overall picture is complex, and it's hard to compare state-to-state completely, but you should at least be convinced that just having a large number of guns doesn't inherently make a state more dangerous.

So Why Do Americans Own Guns?

Based on the ownership numbers, and noting the firearms death numbers, Europeans could be forgiven for assuming that Americans have to be insanely and irrationally paranoid to own all those guns. But as the saying goes, "you're not paranoid if 'they' really are out to get you."

Home defence

Americans do not like people breaking into their homes. Not at all. Over the years many US states - including highly liberal California - have passed laws stating in essence that if someone uses force to break into your house, you don't have to hide or retreat, or wait for an imminent threat of violence to you or someone else. You are presumptively allowed to shoot the invader, and when the police rock up, the worst they will do is temporarily confiscate your firearm (after giving you a receipt), and comment on your shot groupings.

Shooting home invaders who are actively fleeing the property is a little dicier legally (sorry, Tony Martin) but I suspect rural police forces are more tolerant in this regard. In rural Alabama I wouldn't be surprised if they helpfully drag the bullet-ridden body back over the property line into your yard before taking the crime scene photo. And then throw the corpse in jail for 20 years for felony robbery, just to make the point.

Bear in mind just how big the USA is. Even in crowded regions like the Bay Area, the population density is far below the UK's average. It can easily take 10-20 minutes for the police to reach you, even if they're available. Out in rural parts, that number could be half an hour, or much longer. If you have a crime problem, that's a very long time to wait. Americans are not inclined to wait.

Note that, although Antifa are happily rampaging in the center of major cities, there are very few suburbs where they'd try that on. Because the homeowners would shoot them - in many cases, with actual glee - and, again, the police really would not care.

Self defence

If you want one reason why Americans own handguns, self defence (the aforementioned concealed carry) is it. As Larry Correia noted:

Handguns are tools for self-defense, and the only reason we use them over the more capable, and easier to hit with rifles or shotguns is because handguns are portable. Rifles are just plain better, but the only reason I don’t carry an AR-15 around is because it would be hard to hide under my shirt.

Are Americans paranoid about being attacked while out in public? Maybe. But it certainly seems to happen a lot. See my Asian Lives Matter series for what happens in cities like NYC, DC, and San Francisco where handgun carrying is effectively banned. I assure you, these attacks will happen less in concealed-carry-permitting cities, because a bystander will pull out their weapon and shoot the attacker in short order. You will rapidly run out of motivated scumbags.

Take a look at what happened in the West Freeway Church of Christ in 2019. A scumbag pulled out an (illegal) handgun and started firing, killing two church members. A church member pulled out his concealed pistol and shot the scumbag dead, with a single shot to the head, doubtless preventing many more deaths. Interestingly, weapons had not been allowed in places of worship until shortly before then.

Incidentally, if you want to understand some of the issues around effectively using a handgun for self defence, read Correia's article on CCW training. Suffice to say, it's not something to be undertaken lightly.

The Gummint

And now we get to the real point of owning a firearm, and why so many have been bought in recent times.

The essential difference between the American and the British psyches, from my observation, is in their obedience to government. British people often don't like their government, and hold it in polite contempt, but with few exceptions they will still nearly all follow "the rules" even if the rules don't make sense, because - well, they are the rules, and they don't want to make trouble. As a demonstration, see the past year and the COVID restrictions.

Tell a rural American to follow a pointless and obnoxious government diktat, by contrast, and his or her response is very likely to be along the lines of "f*cking come and make me, you bastards." And if you do try to make him or her do it, there is not an insubstantial chance that you will get shot. Ask the Internal Revenue Service about their previous experience trying to collect taxes in places like the Ozarks, for instance.

I don't think most Europeans fully understand how serious many Americans are about having firearms to resist government tyranny. Part of the reason, of course, is the recurring incompetence and actual malice of US governmental institutions. Anyone dealing with the Social Security Administration, immigration authorities or - my favorite - the public school system quickly starts to understand some of this mentality. The government is not generally seen as benevolent, and it doesn't really matter which party the titular President belongs to.

Americans know what malevolent, unaccountable government looks like. They run into it with uncomfortable regularity at a small scale, and they don't like it, at all. It's not a stretch for them to think that the malevolence could scale up with a suitably "we know what's best for you" government. That's what the firearms are a brake on. If you doubt this, ask yourself why approximately eighty million firearms will have been purchased between March 1st 2020 and December 31st 2021. Government saying "we're going to tax, regulate and take your guns" a) is an overtly aggressive act, and b) shows that the government actually thinks that the current firearms are a barrier to them governing "effectively". And the last thing that most Americans want is "effective" government.

What the UK Could Learn

First, it was a mistake to peacefully give up nearly all guns. Probably an unavoidable one, given the media climate at the time, but there is now no practical way for the British population to resist government oppression. Maybe you don't think that's a problem for now, but sooner or later it will be. An unarmed population is remarkably tempting as a takeover target for self-favouring politicians. That's not true in places where they will overthrow you, shoot you, and stick your head on a fence post as a warning to others.

Second, stop respecting all the laws. Politicians make stupid laws, regulations and "emergency powers" impositions all the time. Tell them to get stuffed. Make the politicians and low-level clipboard-carriers fear the people, not the other way around. You think that a fluorescent-vested busybody going around the Alamo in San Antonio telling people to wear a mask outdoors is going to get any traction? He'd be lucky not to be thrown in the nearest pond.

Third, you're going to have to defend yourself and your family eventually. It seems clear that the police are more interested in prosecuting people for silly speech on Twitter than going after actual hard-core criminals, people smugglers etc. - well, you can do the former from an air-conditioned office, but the latter actually requires hard work and personal risk. So if you can't rely on the police to defend you, how are you going to defend yourself?

Fourth... oh, sod it. Just emigrate to the USA. Pick a suitable gun-favouring state, go to the local gun store and ask for help. It'll be the most liberating thing you ever do. Not to mention, it'll annoy Polly Toynbee.

[1] There is no national register of who-owns-which-guns in the USA, and that's very deliberate. A gun ownership register tells you where to go to confiscate guns should you be inclined towards a dictatorial rule.
[2] Actually "Robert Francis O'Rourke", known as "Beto". But I like "Beta" better.