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Web Truths: The web is better than any other platform as it is backwards compatible and fault tolerant

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This is part of the web truths series of posts. A series where we look at true sounding statements that we keep using to have endless discussions instead of moving on. Today I want to tackle the issue of the web as a publication platform and how we keep repeating its virtues that may not apply to a publisher audience.

The web is better than any other platform as it is backwards compatible and fault tolerant

This has been the mantra of any web standards fan for a very long time. The web gets a lot of praise as it is to a degree the only platform that has future-proofing built in. This isn’t a grandiose statement. We have proof. Web sites older than many of today’s engineers still work in the newest browsers and devices. Many are still available, whilst those gone are often still available in cached form. Both search engines and the fabulous wayback machine take care of that – whether you want it or not. Betting on the web and standards means you have a product consumable now and in the future.

This longevity of the web stems from a few basic principles. Openness, standardisation, fault tolerance and backwards compatibility.

Openness

Openness is the thing that makes the web great. You publish in the open. How your product is consumed depends on what the user can afford – both on a technical and a physical level. You don’t expect your users to have a certain device or browser. You can’t force your users to be able to see or overcome other physical barriers. But as you published in an open format, they can, for example, translate your web site with an online system to read it. They can also zoom into it or even use a screenreader to hear it when they can’t see.

One person’s benefit can be another’s annoyance, though. Not everybody wants to allow others to access and change their content to their needs. Even worse – be able to see and use their code. Clients have always asked us to “protect their content”. But they also wanted to reap the rewards of an open platform. It is our job to make both possible and often this means we need to find a consensus. If you want to dive into a messy debate about this, follow what’s happening around DRM and online video.

Standardisation

Standardisation gave us predictability. Before browsers agreed on standards, web development was a mess. Standards allowed us to predict how something should display. Thus we knew when it was the browser’s fault or ours when things went wrong. Strictly speaking standards weren’t necessary for the web to work. Font tags, center tags, table layouts and all kind of other horrible ideas did an OK job. What standards allow us to do is to write quality code and make our lives easier. We don’t paint with HTML. Instead, we structure documents. We embed extra information and thus enable conversion into other formats. We use CSS to define the look and feel in one central location for thousands of documents.

The biggest benefactors of standards driven development are developers. It is a matter of code quality. Standards-compliant code is easier to read, makes more sense and has predictable outcome.

It also comes with lots of user benefits. A button element is keyboard, touch and mouse accessible and is available even to blind users. A DIV needs a lot of developer love to become an interactive element.

But that doesn’t mean we need to have everything follow standards. If we had enforced that, the web wouldn’t be where it is now. Again, for better or worse. XHTML died because it was too restrictive. HTML5 and lenient parsers were necessary to compete with Flash and to move the web forward.

Backwards compatibility

Backwards compatibilty is another big part of the web platform. We subscribed to the idea of older products being available in the future. That means we need to cater for old technology in newer browsers. Table layouts from long ago need to render as intended. There are even sites these days publishing in that format, like Hacker News. For browser makers, this is a real problem as it means we need to maintain a lot of old code. Code that not only has a diminishing use on the web, but often even is a security or performance issue. Still, we can’t break the web. Anything that goes into a “de facto standard” of web usage becomes a maintenance item. For a horror story on that, just look at all the things that can go in the head of a document. Most of these are non-standard, but people do rely on them.

Fault tolerance

Fault tolerance is a big one, too. From the very beginning web standards like HTML and CSS allow for developer errors. In the design principles of the language the “Priority of Constituencies” states it as such:

In case of conflict, consider users over authors over implementors over specifiers over theoretical purity

This idea is there to protect the user. A mistake made by a developer or a third party piece of code like and ad causing a problem should not block out users. The worrying part is that in a world where we’re asked to deliver more in a shorter amount of time it makes developers sloppy.

The web is great, but not simple to measure or monetise

What we have with the web is an open, distributed platform that grants the users all the rights to convert content to their needs. It makes it easy to publish content as it is forgiving to developer and publisher errors. This is the reason why it grew so fast.

Does this make it better than any other platform or does it make it different? Is longevity always the goal? Do we have to publish everything in the open?

There is no doubt that the web is great and was good for us. But I am getting less and less excited about what’s happening to it right now. Banging on and on about how great the web as a platform is doesn’t help with its problems.

It is hard to monetise something on the web when people either don’t want to pay or block your ads. And the fact that highly intrusive ads and trackers exist is not an excuse for that but a result of it. The more we block, the more aggressive advertising gets. I don’t know anyone who enjoys interstitials and popups. But they must work – or people wouldn’t use them.

The web is not in a good way. Sure, there is an artisinal, indie movement that creates great new and open ways to use it. But the mainstream web is terrible. It is bloated, boringly predictable and seems to try very hard to stay relevant whilst publishers get excited about snapchat and other, more ephemeral platforms.

Even the father of the WWW is worried: Tim Berners-Lee on the future of the web: The system is failing .

If we love the web the way we are happy to say all the time we need to find a solution for that. We can’t pretend everything is great because the platform is sturdy and people could publish in an accessible way. We need to ensure that the output of any way to publish on the web results in a great user experience.

The web isn’t the main target for publishers any longer and not the cool kid on the block. Social media lives on the web, but locks people in a very cleverly woven web of addiction and deceit. We need to concentrate more on what people publish on the web and how publishers manipulate content and users.

Parimal Satyal’s excellent Against a User Hostile Web is a great example how you can convey this message and think further.

In a world of big numbers and fast turnaround longevity isn’t a goal, it is a nice to have. We need to bring the web back to being the first publishing target, not a place to advertise your app or redirect to a social platform.

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christophersw
6 days ago
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Baltimore, MD
kazriko
6 days ago
A lot of the underlying technologies aren't as backwards compatible or fault tolerant, and not all websites continue to work. Stellar Crisis has all but fallen off the web because of its reliance on the obsolete Roxen webserver. A lot of web sites that relied on Flash have vanished, and many Java oriented sites have stopped working. Many sites made in the era where IE5 or IE6 were dominant no longer work correctly. Sites that rely on other sites often stop working. Some sites change their APIs as often as people change pants.
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Firefox’s faster, slicker, slimmer Quantum edition now out

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christophersw
9 days ago
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Baltimore, MD
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Gates notes: Why i'm digging deep into alzheimer's

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[Ilya Somin] Lessons from a century of communism

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The three biggest Communist mass murderers: Lenin, Stalin, and Mao.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik seizure of power, which led to the establishment of a communist regime in Russia and eventually in many other nations around the world. It is an appropriate time to remember the vast tide of oppression, tyranny, and mass murder that communist regimes unleashed upon the world. While historians and others have documented numerous communist atrocities, much of the public remains unaware of their enormous scale. It is also a good time to consider what lessons we can learn from this horrendous history.

I. A Record of Mass Murder and Oppression.

Collectively, communist states killed as many as 100 million people, more than all other repressive regimes combined during the same time period. By far the biggest toll arose from communist efforts to collectivize agriculture and eliminate independent property-owning peasants. In China alone, Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward led to a man-made famine in which as many as 45 million people perished – the single biggest episode of mass murder in all of world history. In the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin’s collectivization – which served as a model for similar efforts in China and elsewhere – took some 6 to 10 million lives. Mass famines occurred in many other communist regimes, ranging from North Korea to Ethiopia. In each of these cases, communist rulers were well aware that their policies were causing mass death, and in each they persisted nonetheless, often because they considered the extermination of “Kulak” peasants a feature rather than a bug.

While collectivization was the single biggest killer, communist regimes also engaged in other forms of mass murder on an epic scale. Millions died in slave labor camps, such as the USSR’s Gulag system and its equivalents elsewhere. Many others were killed in more conventional mass executions, such as those of Stalin’s Great Purge, and the “Killing Fields” of Cambodia.

The injustices of communism were not limited to mass murder alone. Even those fortunate enough to survive still were subjected to severe repression, including violations of freedom, of speech, freedom of religion, loss of property rights, and the criminalization of ordinary economic activity. No previous tyranny sought such complete control over nearly every aspect of people’s lives.

Although the communists promised a utopian society in which the working class would enjoy unprecedented prosperity, in reality they engendered massive poverty. Wherever communist and noncommunist states existed in close proximity, it was the communists who used walls and the threat of death to keep their people from fleeing to societies with greater opportunity.

II. Why Communism Failed.

How did an ideology of liberation lead to so much oppression, tyranny and death? Were its failures intrinsic to the communist project, or did they arise from avoidable flaws of particular rulers or nations? Like any great historical development, the failures of communism cannot be reduced to any one single cause. But, by and large, they were indeed inherent.

Two major factors were the most important causes of the atrocities inflicted by communist regimes: perverse incentives and inadequate knowledge. The establishment of the centrally planned economy and society required by socialist ideology necessitated an enormous concentration of power. While communists looked forward to a utopian society in which the state could eventually “wither away,” they believed they first had to establish a state-run economy in order to manage production in the interests of the people. In that respect, they had much in common with other socialists.

To make socialism work, government planners needed to have the authority to direct the production and distribution of virtually all the goods produced by the society. In addition, extensive coercion was necessary to force people to give up their private property, and do the work that the state required. Famine and mass murder was probably the only way the rulers of the USSR, China, and other communist states could compel peasants to give up their land and livestock and accept a new form of serfdom on collective farms – which most were then forbidden to leave without official permission, for fear that they might otherwise seek an easier life elsewhere.

The vast power necessary to establish and maintain the communist system naturally attracted unscrupulous people, including many self-seekers who prioritized their own interests over those of the cause. But it is striking that the biggest communist atrocities were perpetrated not by corrupt party bosses, but by true believers like Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. Precisely because they were true believers, they were willing to do whatever it might take to make their utopian dreams a reality.

Even as the socialist system created opportunities for vast atrocities by the rulers, it also destroyed production incentives for ordinary people. In the absence of markets (at least legal ones), there was little incentive for workers to either be productive or to focus on making goods that might actually be useful to consumers. Many people tried to do as little work as possible at their official jobs, where possible reserving their real efforts for black market activity. As the old Soviet saying goes, workers had the attitude that “we pretend to work, and they pretend to pay.”

Even when socialist planners genuinely sought to produce prosperity and meet consumer demands, they often lacked the information to do so. As Nobel Prize-winning economist F.A. Hayek described in a famous article, a market economy conveys vital information to producers and consumers alike through the price system. Market prices enable producers to know the relative value of different goods and services, and determine how much consumers value their products. Under socialist central planning, by contrast, there is no substitute for this vital knowledge. As a result, socialist planners often had no way to know what to produce, by what methods, or in way quantities. This is one of the reasons why communists states routinely suffered from shortages of basic goods, while simultaneously producing large quantities of shoddy products for which there was little demand.

III. Why the Failure Cannot be Explained Away.

To this day, defenders of socialist central planning argue that communism failed for avoidable contingent reasons, rather than ones intrinsic to the nature of the system. Perhaps the most popular claim of this sort is that a planned economy can work well so long as it is democratic. The Soviet Union and other communist states were all dictatorships. But if they had been democratic, perhaps the leaders would have had stronger incentives to make the system work for the benefit of the people. If they failed to do so, the voters could “throw the bastards out” at the next election.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that a communist state could remain democratic for long, even it started out that way. Democracy requires effective opposition parties. And in order to function, such parties need to be able to put out their message and mobilize voters, which in turn requires extensive resources. In an economic system in which all or nearly all valuable resources are controlled by the state, the incumbent government can easily strangle opposition by denying them access to those resources. Under socialism, the opposition cannot function if they are not allowed to spread their message on state-owned media, or use state-owned property for their rallies and meetings. It is no accident that virtually every communist regime suppressed opposition parties soon after coming to power.

Even if a communist state could somehow remain democratic over the long run, it is hard to see how it could solve the twin problems of knowledge and incentives. Whether democratic or not, a socialist economy would still require enormous concentration of power, and extensive coercion. And democratic socialist planners would run into much the same information problems as their authoritarian counterparts. In addition, in a society where the government controls all or most of the economy, it would be virtually impossible for voters to acquire enough knowledge to monitor the state’s many activities. This would greatly exacerbate the already severe problem of voter ignorance that plagues modern democracy.

Another possible explanation for the failures of communism is that the problem was bad leadership. If only communist regimes were not led by monsters like Stalin or Mao, they might have done better. There is no doubt communist governments had more than their share of cruel and even sociopathic leaders. But it is unlikely that this was the decisive factor in their failure. Very similar results arose in communist regimes with leaders who had a wide range of personalities. In the Soviet Union, it is important to remember that the main institutions of repression (including the Gulags and the secret police) were established not by Stalin, but by Vladimir Lenin, a far more “normal” person. After Lenin’s death, Stalin’s main rival for power – Leon Trotsky – advocated policies that were in some respects even more oppressive than Stalin’s own. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that either the personality of the leader was not the main factor, or – alternatively – communist regimes tended to put horrible people to positions of power. Or perhaps some of both.

It is equally difficult to credit claims that communism failed only because of defects in the culture of the countries that adopted it. It is indeed true that Russia, the first communist nation, had a long history of corruption, authoritarianism, and oppression. But it is also true that the communists engaged in oppression and mass murder on a far greater scale than previous Russian governments. And communism also failed in many other nations with very different cultures. In the cases of Korea, China, and Germany, people with very similar initial cultural backgrounds endured terrible privation under communism, but were much more successful under market economies.

Overall, the atrocities and failures of communism were the natural outcomes of an effort to establish a socialist economy in which all or nearly all production is controlled by the state. If not always completely unavoidable, the resulting oppression was at least highly likely.

Just as the atrocities of Nazism are abject lessons on the dangers of nationalism, racism, and anti-semitism, so the history of communist crimes teaches the dangers of socialism. The history of communism does not prove that any and all forms of government intervention in the economy must be avoided. But it does highlight the dangers of allowing the state to seize control of all or most of the economy, and of eliminating private property. Moreover, the knowledge and incentive problems that arise under socialism also bedevil efforts at large-scale economic planning that fall short of complete government control of production.

Sadly, these lessons remain relevant today, in an era where socialism has again begun to attract adherents in various parts of the world. In Venezuela, the government is seeking to establish a new socialist dictatorship that pursues many of the same policies as the old, including even the use of food shortages to break opposition. Even in some long-established democracies, recent economic and social troubles have increased the popularity of avowed old-style socialists such as Bernie Sanders in the United States and Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. Both Sanders and Corbyn are longtime admirers of brutal communist regimes. Even if they wanted to do so, it is unlikely that Sanders or Corbyn will be able to establish full-blown socialism in their respective countries. But they can potentially do considerable harm nonetheless.

On the other side of the political spectrum, there are disturbing similarities between communism and various newly popular extreme right-wing nationalist movements. Both combine authoritarian tendencies with disdain for liberal values and a desire to extend government control over large parts of the economy.

Today’s dangerous tendencies on both right and left are not yet as menacing as those of a century ago, and need not cause anywhere near as much harm. The better we learn the painful lessons of the history of communism, the more likely that we can avoid any repetition of its horrors.

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christophersw
12 days ago
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Baltimore, MD
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[David Kopel] Mass shootings in gun-free nations

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Stephen Willeford, center, listens during a prayer vigil on Wednesday in Floresville, Tex., for the victims of the Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church shooting. (David J. Phillip/Associated Press)

The global history of mass shootings demonstrates that the vast majority of these crimes are perpetrated in places where citizen firearms ownership is close to nil. While people can argue about cause and effect, the facts are indisputable.

This might seem surprising to people who read a recent article in the New York Times claiming that the mass shootings in the United States are a direct consequence of the high density of gun ownership in the country. But the article is analytically flawed, as Robert VerBruggen detailed for National Review Online. For example, the Times article is based on a study by a professor who refuses to allow skeptics to see his data or his methodology. But let’s hypothesize that the assertions by the professor are correct. It is still true that mass shooting fatalities are heavily concentrated in areas where citizen firearms possession is prohibited.

Consider, for example, some of the deadliest mass shootings of the 20th century. As soon as the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union began on June 22, 1941, special SS units called Einsatzgruppen were deployed for mass killings. All the Jews or Gypsies (also known as Roma) in a village would be assembled and marched out of town. Then they would all be shot at once. (Yehuda Bauer, “Jewish Resistance in the Ukraine and Belarus during the Holocaust,” in Jewish Resistance Against the Nazis, Patrick Henry ed. [D. C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2014], pp. 485-93.)

Within a year, the 3,000 Einsatzgruppen, aided by several thousand helpers from the German police and military, had murdered about 1 million people, concentrating on small towns in formerly Soviet territory. (Hillary Earl, The Nuremberg SS-Einsatzgruppen Trial, 1945–1958 [Cambridge, U. K.: Cambridge Univ. Pr., 2009], pp. 4–8; Reuben Ainsztein, Jewish Resistance in Nazi-Occupied Eastern Europe [London: Elek Books, 1974], pp. 222–25.) Einsatzgruppen mass shootings took place not only in today’s Russia but also in nations that the Soviet Communists had taken over, and which were then over-run by the Nazis: eastern Poland (taken by Stalin pursuant to the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact), Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

Because of psychological damage to the Einsatzgruppen, the Nazis attempted to replace mass shootings with mobile gas vans. But these did not work out well, partly because herding people into the gas vans required even closer contact with the victims than did mass shooting. (Earl, p. 7). Therefore, the Nazis invented extermination camps with huge gas chambers, which were more efficient at mass killing, and which created a larger physical (and, consequently, psychological) distance between the murderers and their victims.

In pre-WWII Poland and in the Soviet Union, “no firearm, not even a shotgun,” could be lawfully possessed without a government permit. For most people, “such permits were impossible to obtain.” (Ainsztein, p. 304; see also Chaika Grossman, The Underground Army: Fighters of Bialystok Ghetto, trans. Schmuel Beeri [N.Y.: Holocaust Library, 1987; first pub. in Israel 1965], p. 3.) “Not to allow the peasants to have arms” had been the policy “from time immemorial.” (Ainsztein, p. 304.) In this regard, Lenin and Stalin carried on the Russian czarist tradition, as they did in many other ways. (See generally Eugene Lyons, Stalin: Czar of All the Russias [Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1940]; Simon Sebag Montefiore, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar [N.Y.: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004].)

In Poland, the main way that firearms got into citizens’ hands was peasant scavenging of rifles that had been left behind from the battles of World War I (1914-1918) and the Russo-Polish War (1919-1920). Usually the rifle barrels would be sawed short, for concealment. (Ainsztein, p. 304.) But thanks to the 1939 Hitler-Stalin Pact, the Soviet Union invaded and conquered the eastern third of Poland at the beginning of World War II. The Soviet secret police, the NKVD, “took great care to disarm the local population, and was very successful.” (Ibid.)

The one big chance to acquire arms was in the chaos immediately after June 22, 1941. In those first weeks, the Soviet army reeled in retreat, leaving large quantities of weapons behind. But the abandoned arms tended to be in rural areas (where Polish peasants picked up many), whereas most Jews lived in cities or towns. (Ibid.)

During the chaotic early weeks on the Eastern Front, the Nazis successfully deterred most Jews from attempting to scavenge arms. As in every nation conquered by the Third Reich, being caught with a firearm meant instant death for oneself and one’s family, and perhaps even for others, in reprisal. This was especially so for Jews. Disarmed, the Jews and Roma were soon destroyed.

Victims of a mass shooting perpetrated by organized government are just as dead as victims of a mass shooting perpetrated by a lone nut. Adopt the broadest definition of “mass shooting” that you want (e.g., three victims wounded, one killed). Add up all the mass shooting deaths from lunatics, organized crime, jihadist cells and ordinary criminals. The global, historical total of mass shooting deaths will be gruesome, and it will also be small compared to the total of mass shooting deaths perpetrated by criminal governments — including Fascists, Communists and non-ideological tyrants.

University of Hawaii political science professor R.J. Rummel compiled demographic data regarding genocide. He estimated the total number of victims of mass murders by governments from 1901 to 1990 to be 169,198,000. (Rudolph J. Rummel, Death by Government [Piscataway, N.J.: Transaction Pub., 2d ed. 2000].) This figure does not include deaths from wars; it includes only deliberate mass murder of civilian populations.

Because Rummel was only studying situations in which governments were engaged in major efforts to exterminate a large number of people, his 169 million victims figure does not include smaller-scale mass murders, including mass shootings. For example, if government agents shoot up a political rally, or attack an opposition newspaper, killing dozens of people, those deaths would not be included in Rummel’s figures.

There are lots of means to perpetrate mass murder: with poison gas, with bombs, by running people over with trucks, working them to death in slave labor camps, or even by hacking them with machetes, as in Rwanda. However, mass shootings have been among the most common methods of mass murder around the world for more than a century. Even when victims are killed by other means, such as deliberate starvation or gas chambers, a government monopoly of arms is essential for governments being able to prevent the victims from resisting.

The illegitimate “governments” that perpetrate mass shootings or other forms of mass murder have worked assiduously to ensure that their intended victims are disarmed. This was true in Turkish Armenia in World War I;  in Darfur, Sudan;  in Indonesia’s ethnic cleansing of East Timor; in Bosnia; in Kenya and Uganda; in Ethiopia against the Anuak; and in many other places.

Gun prohibition advocates insist that armed self-defense could not possibly make a difference when governments perpetrate mass shootings or other forms of mass murder. But this is true only for strawman scenarios. Of course the Jews in Nazi Germany could not have overthrown Hitler by themselves. Nor could the Jewish or Roma peasants in eastern Poland have single-handedly driven the Wehrmacht back to Germany. But at the least, armed resisters can fight back and kill some of the perpetrators. If every one of the 1 million Jews and Roma who were murdered by the Einsatzgruppen had possessed a good rifle, then it would not have been so simple for a million people to be  slaughtered by a few thousand. Plenty of Einsatzgruppen would have been shot and that would at least have slowed down the pace of murders, providing more time for some potential victims to escape, and making it harder for Hitler’s regime to recruit replacements.

Notwithstanding the assertions of anti-gun lobbyists that victim resistance is futile, the governments that perpetrate mass murders do fear armed citizens. That is why rigorous disarmament of the victims almost always precedes the killings.

Besides denying the universal human right that is recognized by the U.S. Second Amendment, the perpetrators also deny the universal human right recognized by the First Amendment: the exchange of information. It was not until early 1942 that Eastern European Jews began to realize that when Nazis moved people out of a city or town, the purpose was not deportation for slave labor, but rather extermination. The news of the Nazis’ actual intentions was first spread by a Jan. 1, 1942, manifesto written by Abba Kovner, a young poet in Vilnius, Lithuania. Kovner’s words were smuggled from ghetto to ghetto:

“Let us not go to slaughter like sheep! Jewish youth, do not trust the deceivers. . . . Hitler has invented a system for the destruction of all the Jews on Europe….It is true that we are weak and we have nobody to help us. But our only dignified answer to the enemy must be resistance! Brothers, it is better to die like free fighters than to live by the murderer’s grace. Resist until your last breath!”

(Ainsztein, p. 499.)

It can’t happen here,” some people say about the United States. But during the 1930s, there were lots of American supporters of Fascism and Communism. Today, there are far too many people on the political far left and far right who are openly hostile to civil liberty and to the Constitution. They palpably yearn to be ruled by a strongman. On nearly every college campus, many professors indoctrinate students in Marxist thinking, which in practical application is little different from Hitlerite thinking. As detailed by the Canary Mission, Jew-hating student “leaders” are common on American college campuses; like their brownshirt ancestors of the 1920s in Germany, they use violence and intimidation to suppress speech in favor of Jewish resistance to exterminationists, which today include organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas.

Germany in 1900 was one of the most tolerant places in the world for Jews; in any country, things can change a lot in a few decades.

Contrary to the claims of the gun prohibition lobbies, sensible policies to minimize mass shootings are not simply a matter of confiscating guns from law-abiding citizens. The better approach was adopted by the United States as World War II loomed in Europe. First, laws should attempt to prevent firearms acquisition by individuals who have proven they are particularly likely to use firearms offensively. The first broad federal law to do so was the Federal Firearms Act of 1938, which, among other things, prohibited firearms sales to felons. This was later strengthened by the Gun Control Act of 1968. Today, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System works towards the same objective.

Second a policy for reducing the death toll of mass shootings also means ensuring that lawful defenders have the means to resist. This means abolishing laws that forbid licensed, trained adults to carry defensive handguns in certain locations, such as churches. It means not depriving good citizens of effective arms of resistance — such as Stephen Willeford’sAR-15 rifle that instantly ended the killing spree in Sutherland Springs, Tex., on Nov. 5.

Most of all, it means ensuring that our nation can never be turned into a “gun-free zone,” in which a rogue government could perpetrate mass shootings without resistance. Thus, after Congress passed the Federal Firearms Act of 1938, it passed the Property Requisition of Act of 1941. This was the first of several federal statutes to outlaw federal gun registration and gun confiscation. The act was informed by what had already taken place in Europe, where Hitler and Stalin used registration lists to confiscate guns, create gun-free zones, and then perpetrate mass shootings. Registration, confiscation, extermination.

Humane and sensible firearms policy aims to deter illegitimate, offensive uses of firearms, and to foster legitimate, defensive uses. Unreasonable and unfair policy disarms everyone except the government and its favored elites. Not every nation that adopts the latter policy ends up with genocide. Yet the historical record is clear that mass disarmament of citizens can be the gateway to millions of deaths by mass shooting.

Some of this essay is based on Kopel’s book “The Morality of Self-Defense and Military Action: The Judeo-Christian Perspective” (Praeger 2017).

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christophersw
14 days ago
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This is a good defense of the Constitutional right to bear arms. It has nothing to do with hunting and sport. The more deadly the guns, the more deterrence they offer, so in theory we should allow people to own tanks? Also, does an effective state militia offer enough protection? Could return of traditional non-national, state militia men/women accomplish deterrence of national tyranny?
Baltimore, MD
kazriko
14 days ago
A tank is somewhat hard to fit in your pocket, so it wouldn't make a good deterrence in every-day scenarios. Tanks in the hands of individuals could make a good deterrence to invasion by a hostile power. The cost benefit analysis could be good, but how do you measure that when both the costs and benefits are very rare events.
christophersw
12 days ago
I picked the tank example to be purposefully outlandish here ... The force you would be deterring would that of the national government. I think that was the thought behind the Constitutional Amendment - to ensure state's retained the right to have a well armed militia for the common defense of their citizens against invaders, other states, and the newly formed federal government. We have, in my mind, diverted from this thinking significantly in not allowing people to own high power weapons (fully-automatic guns, tanks, missiles, etc.). This departure leaves us in the place of absurdity, where we suffer the losses associated with mass shootings and all sorts of gun-related deaths (as the NYT piece nicely points out), and yet aren't really insured against a leader turning our federal military against us (states). That said - does it make sense to allow people to own tanks, and everything else? Could they even? Does warfare even work that way any more? If the answer seems to be no - that ownership of guns of the type the public can and will buy - is not a deterrent to the federal government using the military against the domestic citizenry, then I think you are out of room to argue we shouldn't adopt gun control on a public health basis.
kazriko
12 days ago
The counter argument to the last point possibly being that it probably wouldn't help the public health to adopt gun control, just as adopting drug control hasn't lead to less drug deaths, but more drug deaths, and more violence deaths.
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Why You Should Never Buy an Amazon Echo or Even Get Near One

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christophersw
15 days ago
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The arguments made here strike me a nakedly Luddite - That in order to defend your privacy you need to significantly modify your behavior. This reasoning is broken because it gives up freedom, liberty, and progress in the name of "privacy". Privacy cannot ever be adequately protected by behavioral changes and tin foil hats. Stop worrying about whether your Echo is listening to you, and ask it who your congressional representatives are, or how you can support the EFF or ACLU. Resist the urge to buy into the defeatist "that's just the way it is, I guess I'll live like Snowden now" mentality.

And if you are a security engineer/blogger/advocate address concerns from the view point of consumer or citizen protections at law. If we give up on the law's ability to protect us from each other and the government, our Echo's listening to us is going to be the least of our concerns.
Baltimore, MD
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