Rights versus "Public Health"

The governor of New Mexico has issued a decree purporting to "suspend" the right to carry a firearm in Albuquerque -- most famously the site of Bugs Bunny's repeated failures to take the right turn -- after a series of shootings.  I say "purporting to" as an antidote to the news reports, which breathlessly claim that she did "suspend the right," as if that were something she has legitimate power to do.

I don't have the figures in front of me, but my guess would be that approximately zero percent of the shootings were the product of people lawfully carrying firearms using permits. None of the stories in the press sound like they were the products of people with concealed carry permits: they sound like a collection of mostly crimes and a few accidents that wouldn't actually be affected by this edict at all. 

I do see that several law enforcement leaders have already said they won't enforce her unconstitutional order, that lawsuits are expected, and that there is talk of impeachment for having issued it. Those things are good. 

Supporters are not bothered by either the unconstitutionality nor the fact that it wouldn't have any effect on the actual problem, and instead resort to genuinely stupid mottos.
Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, applauded the governor’s order as a courageous and necessary step to curbing gun violence, even if its legal fate is uncertain.

“If it saves one life, then it’s worth doing,” she said.

Normally I try to refrain from calling my opponents stupid, but that rhetoric is not compatible with thought. Here's a humorous video illustrating the point.

Of interest, though, is that the purported excuse granting the governor power to ignore the constitution and basic rights is "public health." 

The firearms suspension, classified as an emergency public health order, applies to open and concealed carry in most public places, from city sidewalks to urban recreational parks.

One might give a slippery slope argument here -- at first they're just going after guns which they never thought of as a 'real' right, but if you let this stand they might use 'public health' as an excuse to go after First Amendment rights like religious exercise or Free Speech. One might, except that of course it's the other way around: they started with religious exercise and free speech, as well as freedom of movement and association and other rights. 

That was during the COVID period, of course, and although many expect a renewed attempt to restore COVID restrictions in order to -- frankly -- defraud the 2024 election using similar measures to the 2020 one, the circumstances are different. In 2020, COVID was novel virus apparently leaked from a bioweapons lab: we had no natural immunity to it, and no idea how horrible it might prove to be. It was rational to treat it like a genuine emergency. These days, almost everyone has been exposed to COVID and has natural antibodies; there are also, er, treatments available some of which are apparently better than others. It's annoying to have what amounts to a second flu, which will kill a certain number of people every year as the flu does, but it's not an emergency on the same scale as before. 

Still, the idea that the COVID emergencies allowed the camel to get its nose into the tent should be alarming. "Public Health" was used as an excuse to limit even the most basic freedoms, by pure executive orders like this one. This was done, and enforced, even in cases like this one where the evidence strongly suggested that the order would have no effect on public health ("wear one of those cloth masks you made at home, or maybe a bandana") or kept in force long after they had proven to have no effect.

There is a reasonable debate -- allied to the general discussion we are having about anarchism and volunteerism -- about whether a government is necessary to address genuine emergencies like the Black Death, and if so what powers it should have for that purpose, for how long, and what limits it should be required to obey even in such an emergency. Actions like this one are well outside the parameters of any such reasonable discussion. 

Anarcho-Capitalism in Argentina

The story is in Jacobin, whose name heralds their opinion of the philosophy without the need of reading it. Still, Wretchard took note of it so I read it anyway. Anything a man as intelligent as himself finds interesting usually is. 
[T]he self-described “anarcho-capitalist” made a name for himself by excoriating right-wing politicians for their moderation and quoting obscure paleolibertarians.… Discounting the possibility that ten million Argentines made a midnight conversion to free-market fundamentalism, explanations tend to focus on the fact that Milei’s rebellious image struck a chord with an increasingly disillusioned electorate. 

…[the] two-party system is coming undone, insists Pryluka, under the weight of decades of inflation and economic stagnation.

If government is the problem, anarchy is certainly a solution. Combining it with free markets may prove difficult, as governments are usually thought to have a key role in protecting property and enforcing contracts. Whether the coercion can be done without is a question with which I am also keenly interested.  


The British have decided to protect the lands around Tintagel Castle, preserving a natural character to the area. Tintagel was of course the castle where Arthur was supposed to have been conceived, and later born, according to Sir Thomas Malory's account (and many others on which he drew, or which drew on him).
Smith’s Cliff, on the north Cornwall coast, will be cared for by the conservation charity as a space for wildlife to flourish, for heritage to be conserved and for people to access and enjoy forever.

The 55-acre (22.6 hectares) acquisition puts in place a vital piece of the coastal ‘jigsaw’ for the National Trust in the area, joining up land that the charity looks after at Barras Nose, which lies north of the castle, all the way to Bossiney, to become a continuous 2.7-mile stretch of coastal land.

Knitting together these sections will create a coastal corridor that connects and encourages the spread of wildlife within a naturally and culturally significant landscape. The site sits within the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the Pentire-Widemouth Heritage Coast, and forms part of the setting of the spectacular Tintagel Castle.

Tintagel is also the home to an interesting sculpture of Arthur. The castle itself is a kind of memorial to Arthur: it was built in 1230, but " inspired by the association with Arthur, [Richard, Earl of Cornwall] had the castle styled to appear older."

It strikes me that this attempt to build a natural corridor around Tintagel will actually make it less like it was in Arthur's day (i.e., around 500 AD, not that we are sure that Arthur actually ever lived at all), because then it was a bustling area rich enough to build and sustain a castle. There would have been farms and bakeries and wells and wagons all up and down the nearby areas, commerce and merchants, peasants and men of the church. 

The influence of the idea of the Wilderness on how we envision Arthur is long and striking, though; it is as old as the desire to build monuments either physical or literary to him and his tradition. Merlin in the earliest stories is tied to a man who went mad in the wilderness, and long dwelt there; as is Lancelot, in much later stories. The knights are always going to the wild to seek adventure, encamped in some forest or by some crossing to offer joust or battle to any who pass by. 

An Example to All

The Orthosphere on a recent sentencing in the J6 case:

I believe John Derbyshire coined the phrase “cold civil war” as a name for the ever-worsening feud...[the phrase] came to mind when I read in this morning’s paper that... Enrique Tarrio has been sentenced to twenty-two years in prison for “inspiring followers with his charisma and penchant for propaganda.”  This was in connection with the 2021 Capital Hill protest, which Tarrio did not attend, but about which he appears not to have felt sufficiently sorry.

The judge in Tarrio’s case, one Timothy Kelly, told the court that the sentence was exemplary: “we need to make sure the consequences are abundantly clear to anyone who might be unhappy with the results of 2024, 2028, 2032 or any future election.”  I trust Judge Kelly did not mean that unhappiness with election results is now a crime punished by twenty-two years in prison, but prudent losers... should in future limit their expressions of disappointment to a quiet “darn it” or “shucks.”

I would think it would be grounds for appeal of a sentence if it was given on an 'exemplary' basis: that is, not out of considerations of justice for a particular act of which one had been found guilty, but out of concern for future acts that might (or might not!) be committed by someone else. 

Nevertheless the idea of punishing in this way is very old. In Plato's Protagoras, the title character argues the point to Socrates as a proof that virtue can be taught:

[If] you will think, Socrates, of the nature of punishment, you will see at once that in the opinion of mankind virtue may be acquired; no one punishes the evil-doer under the notion, or for the reason, that he has done wrong, only the unreasonable fury of a beast acts in that manner. But he who desires to inflict rational punishment does not retaliate for a past wrong which cannot be undone; he has regard to the future, and is desirous that the man who is punished, and he who sees him punished, may be deterred from doing wrong again. He punishes for the sake of prevention, thereby clearly implying that virtue is capable of being taught. 

On this argument punishment is really only defensible as a means of avoiding future harms, not of creating a sort of justice for past ones. This puts the Proud Boy in the position of the sacrificial animal: he suffers that we may benefit, and become better people by his suffering. 

So it is really we, you see, who are being sentenced to prison: it is a suspended sentence, for us, but we are meant to understand that anyone who 'might be unhappy with the results of 2024, 2028, 2032 or any future election' is the judge's target. Torres (who is widely reported to have been a Federal informant at least) is just the one who has to suffer for our conversion. 

UPDATE: Here's another exemplar. It's a much shorter sentence being sought, but he also didn't enter the Capitol; he's being prosecuted for exercising what is usually considered protected free speech outside.

The Biden DOJ claimed that Shroyer "spread election disinformation paired with violent rhetoric" to viewers in the months leading up to January 6, and that on the day, "Shroyer took to a megaphone before leading a crowd to the Capitol" and said "The Democrats are posing as communists, but we know what they really are: they’re just tyrants, they’re tyrants. And so today, on January 6, we declare death to tyranny! Death to tyrants!"

"Shroyer did not stop at the sight of tear gas or sounds of explosions on the west side of the Capitol. He continued marching around to the top of the east steps chanting '1776!,' where rioters would eventually violently breach the Capitol and its police line and halt the transfer of presidential power," the court document states.

The usual standard is that a threat isn't protected if and only if it's a real threat against an actual individual that you plausibly intend to carry out. Vague statements like "Death to Tyrants" are usually protected as political rhetoric; heck, people set up fake gallows and guillotines (depending on their own political orientation) to convey the same idea, but without any actual violence occurring.

Meanwhile, remember how the anti-police protests in Seattle and Portland actively protected arsonists and others physically attacking Federal buildings and personnel from arrest? The one-sided nature of these prosecutions is galling even to ordinary people who would never attend a protest of any kind.

Here as elsewhere, I get the sense that our system is so bent on destroying Trump and his movement that they're ripping up their own pillars. A political system is analogously like a building: it's built to withstand force, but only so much. The more force you apply, the more danger you'll rip out a supporting wall (and thus bring the whole thing down).


The Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) has had a troubled history even before this year. As an act it is only dubiously aligned with the Anglo-American tradition of law, which ordinarily requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt that someone broke a particular law on a particular occasion. RICO bypasses via what you might call a dramatic approach: instead of establishing that Person X did Crime Y on occasion Z, it tells a story about how Person X and Person Q and perhaps several other persons have been engaged in an ongoing criminal conspiracy. You have to prove a couple of crimes still -- a historic one and a more recent one, more or less -- but you are then allowed to assume the conspiracy as an ongoing fact.

There are reasons to be suspicious of granting prosecutors this power to bypass ordinary standards. Humans are storytelling creatures by nature, and having a story that explains can end up enabling a lot of cognitive biases that often lead humans to bad decisions. Cognitive bias is a dread fact afflicting even the most rigorous science. Achieving reasonable clarity on the facts is hard in criminal law, and a great deal is at stake. Letting prosecutors tack up a story with only a couple of things they can actually nail down is likely to lead to suspect convictions. 

Sometimes juries don't buy it. One of the most famous RICO prosecutions was 1979's US vs. Barger, in which the US Federal government tried and failed to paint the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club as a racketeering organization. It was clear that some Angels had guns, and others had drugs; they never could show that the club was in the business of guns or drugs. Even with a story the prosecutors told in the blackest terms, the jury saw the club in a different light. They saw the guns and drugs as individual acts within a culture that embraced outlaw imagery, and didn't buy that it was a criminal enterprise. Prosecutors spent a lot of money, as well as a lot of time, trying to build their case; in the end, the audience for whatever reason wouldn't believe it. 

Georgia is now running two RICO cases [correction: under Georgia's version of the Federal statute, which is even broader] in which the political bias of the jury is likely to play a big role in what kind of story they are prepared to believe. Personally I think it's simultaneously ridiculous and also highly plausible to view a political campaign's efforts to work recounts as a racketeering conspiracy: ridiculous because it's not criminal, and indeed universal to high-level campaigns, but plausible because frankly all these politicians are criminals and the whole business has become a species of corrupt racketeering. 

That, though, is a reason to indict all the major politicians; it won't do for us to pretend that they aren't all engaged in corrupt conspiracies, just this one guy and his team. (The irony of seeing former prosecutor Rudy Giuliani of all people indicted under RICO, after he made his name using it against the mob, is striking.) We're not bringing charges against the Biden crime family? The Clintons? The Pelosis? All of them? 

Yet I suspect that the indictment inside Atlanta is likely to produce a jury for whom the story of the Trump organization as an ongoing criminal conspiracy won't even have to be sold. The jury may well come into the room believing that, and confirmation bias will then allow them to believe everything else. A conviction there is highly probable unless his lawyers succeed in getting a jury from the state more broadly, as they might for example by a change of venue or a shift to prosecution in Federal court. 

The second case is against a group of what it is popular to call ANTIFA organizations, some 60 members of them who are protesting the 'cop city' development of the Atlanta Police Department. The thing about these sorts of organizations is that they're not criminal enterprises, because they're not enterprises. They are conspiracies, certainly; and they are often criminal conspiracies, in that they conspire about the practicalities of violating the law and getting away with it. But to be convicted under RICO, you have to show that the acts are part of an ongoing criminal enterprise, and these kids aren't trying to make any money. They're trying to effect political change, even if it costs them money (or jail time). 

I personally think that prosecutors should have to prove everything they want to punish you for to the 'beyond a reasonable doubt' standard. These dramatic prosecutions don't seem to me to be in good order, or in the best of our traditions of ordered liberty. The state should always have to prove its case before a jury if it wants to deprive any citizen of life or liberty; I don't even think plea bargains should be permitted, as that loophole has expanded to embrace 90% of prosecutions (98% in Federal court). The state almost never now has to actually prove its case, even when they aren't granted the power to go spinning stories that are barely tacked up with facts. 

Generally I see commentary about this that the prosecutions show a kind of fairness, as Georgia's prosecutors are going against both Trump and ANTIFA. That's an optimistic way of looking at it. In both cases, the establishment is going after its enemies. Calling that evenhanded is fair only insofar as you are likening them to a swordsman, who slays his foes on his right hand as well as on his left. 

Was the Georgia Election Stolen?

Roger Stone, a man with a tattoo of Nixon on his back, suggests that it was. Hot Air is gravely upset at the suggestion:

Brian Kemp didn’t steal the 2022 election from Stacey Abrams. The truth is that rightly or wrongly Kemp believes that Trump lost Georgia fair and square and is unwilling to lie about it. Guess what? Lying is a bad trait, and while common enough in politics it is hardly something to be admired. How many of us hate politicians because they are a bunch of liars? Count me in that camp.... it is just... disgusting. Every Trump “influencer” repeats the same tired lines about Trump’s opponents and regurgitates the most fanciful and slanderous attacks.

I don't know if the 2022 election was stolen, but it was a repeat contest from an election in 2018 that I actually voted in. That election was as shady as it was possible for an election to be; I've written about it in detail (scroll to "Georgia"). I don't have any confidence at all that Kemp isn't cheating in every election, because his behavior in that one was absolutely disgraceful. The system they had in place was perfect for fraud, too, lacking any capacity to be audited because there were no actual ballots to check it against. 

Hot Air points out that Kemp won by 300,000 votes, which you might think was outside the margin of fraud. The un-auditable system they  had in 2018 was replaced with another vote system, Dominion, at the order of a Federal court. Yet over 400,000 votes in Georgia's 2020 election lacked chain of custody, which was 67% of the 'drop box' votes. That election was decided by 12,000 votes.

Ultimately the establishment remains invested in assuring us that our elections are reliable and, therefore, that they justify and legitimate the power of the elected. I don't believe that anymore, and I definitely don't believe it in Georgia's case particularly. Anything Kemp and his ilk are in charge of is is untrustworthy, as they have proven by their own actions. 

Active Shooters Mostly Stopped by Armed Citizens

Two pieces today find that the percentage is on the order of sixty. 

The Language of Trees

Yesterday I took a hike on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. I didn't do the whole thing, just a section near Haywood Gap. 

Much of the trail in the mountains is like the Appalachian Trail: although you know you are in the mountains because of the slope of the land and the difficulty of the terrain, rather than long views you are just in a green tunnel. The Appalachians do not generally rise above the tree line, like the Tetons or the Big Holes, so you are always surrounded by trees -- many of them evergreens, especially Red Spruce and Hemlocks.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Buffett

I remember first hearing this one playing on the radio in the family car when I was a kid. It gave us all a laugh and I've enjoyed his music ever since.

Local Government

Continuing the topic of rebuilding, one of the themes that emerged in the recent discussion was that of local government. AVI suggested that a lot of the difference in the need of government has to do with the facts on the ground about a locality: dense populations may need more, he suggests, whereas rural areas may be able to make do with much less. Douglas added that he thought there was a general problem about trying to nationalize rather than localize problem-solutions, and that a focus on locality might be beneficial. Elise's proposal makes a lot of sense in a community in which people know each other, and is harder to implement as actual knowledge of candidates has to be mediated by, well, media. 

By coincidence, Thos. and I had a discussion on the same subject in person over some Thai food (which is improbably popular in the Teton Valley: there are a surprising number of Thai restaurants given a population that is relatively non-diverse, mostly descended from the Mormon settlers of the late 19th to early 20th centuries). The role of the local is often underexamined, but it is also where I have been focusing my practical efforts for several years now: abandoning national and state politics as hopelessly corrupt, nevertheless there is a lot of practical good to be done in your own community. 

One of the reasons that a  voluntarist society has come to make sense to me is that I can see how much practical good is actually done by such organizations in communities, which compares extremely favorably to the good actually accomplished by larger-scale government organizations (or professional organizations like public schools even at the local level). There's no reason that you can't make your living privately, and still contribute to the public good as a member of a volunteer local 'government' organization -- to whatever degree it is really proper to refer to such an organization as a government, since no one acting in the public interest here is employed by the government.* 

There is another question about the importance of planning. Localities really do benefit from planning at a higher level than the individual: while the market can do a lot to align interests about how various properties are used, it can also be helpful to have a higher-level perspective to ensure that there are not bottlenecks in traffic, pollution of water sources that are of general utility, a large amount of wild space that does not get developed so that the natural beauty and wildlife continue to flourish, and so forth. In principle a voluntary council like the old Icelandic Thing could do this, but in practice America has long chosen to depend on coercive organizations -- even privately, as with Home Owners Assocations -- in order to compel obedience to the decision of the planning council. There is an important discussion to be had as to whether coercion is really required, and if so to what degree, and how to ensure that it minimally troubles human liberty. 

So again: what do you think about all of that? 

* I think I've told the story of an old man who was upset that we had temporarily blocked his driveway with a fire truck while fighting a wildfire that was literally just over the ridge behind his house -- indeed, the truck was stationed there specifically to protect his house. He was furious with us anyway, and finally said the worst thing he could think to say to us: "The Fire Department is no better than the government."