Days of Rage

“People have completely forgotten that in 1972 we had over nineteen hundred domestic bombings in the United States.” — Max Noel, FBI (ret.)

Recently, I had my head torn off by a book: Bryan Burrough’s Days of Rage, about the 1970s underground. It’s the most important book I’ve read in a year. So I did a series of running tweetstorms about it, and Clark asked me if he could collect them for posterity. I’ve edited them slightly for editorial coherence.

Days of Rage is important, because this stuff is forgotten and it shouldn’t be. The 1970s underground wasn’t small. It was hundreds of people becoming urban guerrillas. Bombing buildings: the Pentagon, the Capitol, courthouses, restaurants, corporations. Robbing banks. Assassinating police. People really thought that revolution was imminent, and thought violence would bring it about.

One thing that Burrough returns to in Days of Rage, over and over and over, is how forgotten so much of this stuff is. Puerto Rican separatists bombed NYC like 300 times, killed people, shot up Congress, tried to kill POTUS (Truman). Nobody remembers it.

Also, people don’t want to remember how much leftist violence was actively supported by mainstream leftist infrastructure. I’ll say this much for righty terrorist Eric Rudolph: the sonofabitch was caught dumpster-diving in a rare break from hiding in the woods. During his fugitive days, Weatherman’s Bill Ayers was on a nice houseboat paid for by radical lawyers.

Most ’70s of the bombings were done as protest actions. Unlike today’s jihadists, ’70s underground didn’t try to max body count. And ’70s papers didn’t really give a shit. A Puerto Rican group bombed 2 theaters in the Bronx, injuring eleven, in 1970. NYT gave it 6 paragraphs.

Protest bombings started on college campuses. The guy who moved them off-campus was a dude named Sam Melville. Melville was an older radical (mid-30s). He’d thought idly about bombings before, but in February ’69 he hooked up with two Quebecois separatists on the run. Melville was fascinated by their knowledge of revolutionary tactics. He admired them so much, he even drove them to the airport so they could hijack a plane to Cuba.

Logical next step for Melville: emulate them. Specifically, find an explosives warehouse, steal dynamite, start a bombing campaign against United Fruit. Except United Fruit had moved their warehouse, so he bombed a tugboat company instead. Whoops. Next: a bank, injuring 20. A bombing spree ensued, but the FBI had an informer, and Melville was busted red-handed with a sack full of bombs. He became a hero to the movement, and later a martyr: he was one of the inmates shot in the Attica uprising.

After Sam Melville, bombings were A Thing.

One thing Burrough makes clear: the 1970s underground was not primarily focused on Vietnam. It was domestic. Focused on the black cause. Burrough traces black radicalism through guys like Robert Williams, Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, and Huey Newton, but for me this particular thread really takes off when it gets to Eldridge Cleaver, whom I haven’t read and really feel I should.

Cleaver, born in Arkansas, moved to California, attained his fame based on two things: 1) he was a rapist and 2) he could write. Leftists have this weird thing about deifying criminals who can write. Norman Mailer and Jack Henry Abbot being the most famous example. In Cleaver’s case, he viewed the rape of white women by a black dude like himself as a revolutionary act.

Cleaver wrote to a radical attorney, impressed her, and seduced her; she secured his release & promptly set him up with a gig at RAMPARTS. White radicals fell hard for Eldridge Cleaver. This became an trend, part of a couple of uneasy dichotomies that you see a bunch of.

Example #1: Huey Newton, Malcolm X used the idea of violent resistance mainly as a recruiting tool. Eldridge Cleaver believed that shit.

Example #2: Some white leftists (like SLA) worship black revolutionaries, crave their leadership. Others (like the Weathermen) want to lead.

Cleaver hooked up with the Black Panthers, so we’ll see him again when we talk about them. For now, let’s look at Weatherman.

The Weathermen (technically, the name of the group was Weatherman, singular) came out of a group called Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). SDS was a college organization with a bunch of campus chapters. That meant existing machinery that worked, and membership numbers. A fantastic resource, if you want to mine it to build a guerilla movement.

SDS started radicalizing in ’66. By ’67, Burrough notes, an SDS leader is saying in the New York Times, “We are working to build a guerilla force in an urban environment.” He backed down quickly, but the genie was out. And then 1968 happened, and things went completely batshit.

You have to understand: in 1968, many radicals absolutely believed that the United States was getting ready to collapse. One Weatherman puts it: “We actually believed there was going to be a revolution. We believed 3rd World countries would rise up and cause crises that would bring down the industrialized West, and we believed it was going to happen tomorrow, or maybe the day after tomorrow, like 1976.”

They believed the revolution was imminent. BELIEVED IT. Like Alex Jones’s audience believes in chemtrails. That level. Absolute, apocalyptic. The SDS got angrier and angrier, and wound up doing an occupation at Columbia University, which got attention. At the same time, they read up on the foco theory of Che’s buddy Regis Debray: that small guerrilla groups could overthrow the US.

If you think this sounds completely insane and crazy, you’re absolutely right. But think about it this way: who’s in SDS leadership?

SDS leadership is disproportionately well-off Jewish kids at elite universities. The kind of people who create Facebook.

Well, in 1968 you can’t go to the Bay Area & create a killer app, so if you want to disrupt stuff you literally have to start a revolution. And that’s the equation: Paranoid fervor of chemtrail-sniffers + Silicon Valley’s faith in its ability to change the world = the Weather Underground.

When it shakes out, two of the big SDS movers and shakers are John “JJ” Jacobs and Bernadine Dorne. Their goal: to take over SDS entirely. Because, remember, organization is critical. SDS is a nationwide organization. And college campuses are receptive to radical messages.

How receptive? In fall of 1968, there were 41 bombings and arson cases on college campuses. We’re not talking letters under doors or vandalism, here. We’re talking about Molotov cocktails setting shit on fire. Here’s how radical SDS was: Burrough notes that Weatherman’s opponents for leadership in SDS elections were “Progressive Labor,” who were literal Maoists. To distinguish themselves, Weatherman called for white radicals to live like John Brown: ie, to kill the enemies of black liberty.

The election was nuts; Weatherman literally expelled their opponents from the party before the vote, so SDS split. But Weatherman occupied the national office, which meant they could evaluate SDS members as potential recruits.

The FBI was up SDS’s ass, and Weatherman’s. They harassed the core cadre. Beat them. Threatened them. This does not dissuade revolutionaries. Weatherman started doing crazy stuff with SDS: street brawls, public nudity, sexual orgies, ordering established couples to break up. If you think it sounds like a cult, you’re right. This is literally cult indoctrination stuff. They were remaking people, seeking the hardest of hardcore.

The Black Panthers, erstwhile allies, thought Weatherman was nuts. But Weatherman, despite pro-black rhetoric, didn’t care. (Weatherman’s pro-black rhetoric was mainly Phariseeism, done to win acclaim from other whites. Basically, they’re Tim Wise.)

Just to skim through some of the stuff Burroughs addresses: Weatherman’s Bernadine Dohrn goes to Cuba, meets a North Vietnamese delegation, and literally discusses forming an American VC (!!!). Weatherman-controlled SDS chapters around the country are taking over classrooms, running through schools yelling, promoting Days of Rage. As commies, Weatherman is into in fomenting revolt among the working class. Their problem, they keep discovering, is that working class wants to beat the shit out of them.

But Weatherman kept molding their people. They did Maoist “criticism/self-criticism” sessions, lambasting people for weaknesses. If you think the Maoist self-criticism technique sounds like it bears a resemblance to privilege workshops, you’re not wrong. But Weatherman went farther.

They planned to get thousands of people in a massive protest: October 8, 1969, the Days of Rage. But only a couple hundred showed up, so they decided to turn being small into an asset. Weatherman abolished SDS, and went underground.

At about the time they were doing this, the Chicago police stormed Fred Hampton’s apartment and shot him to death in his sleep. Bernardine Dohrn’s reaction to Hampton’s murder included (infamously) praise for the Manson family murder of Sharon Tate.

It’s about this point where you would think even the most dedicated of hard leftists would realize that things are going off the rails.

But Weatherman is locked in, and getting increasingly insular and cultish. Eventually, there are maybe 150 Weathermen left out of all of SDS. And now they turn to a new organization: the underground, which offered (among other things) a market for new identities. If you’re thinking “hey, I bet that market has something to do with Vietnam-era draft dodgers,” spot-on. They established covers.

And then they started bombing.

Bill Ayers claimed that Weatherman never meant to hurt anyone; this is absolutely a lie. Their first bombing (which they never officially claimed, but which members admitted to Burrough) was a police shift change in Berkeley. Weatherman remains the prime suspect in a police station bombing in the Haight that killed a police officer, though they deny this. In 1970, Weatherman planned to kill a bunch of people at a dance at Fort Dix… but instead blew up their own NYC safehouse in a work accident.

This up-close encounter with death made Weatherman realize they had no stomach for it, and they decided to not try to kill people anymore. (Okay, they did try to kidnap a Rockefeller, but they fucked that up and couldn’t find their victim. Because they were shit.)

Weatherman is facing a few problems at this point: 1) they’re on the run 2) flower children are now dominant in the movement, not hard left 3) people are less supportive of bombings after a postdoc was killed by a Wisconsin car bombing of a university math building that did army research 4) as Burrough very amusingly points out, Americans had decided they actually liked the counterculture in parts: they liked the music and the fashion and a lot of them discovered they liked weed; what they didn’t care about were the radical politics — i.e., literally the only thing Weatherman was trying to sell them.

So Weatherman tried to suck up to the flower children by helping Timothy Leary (doing 10 years for 2 joints) escape from prison and to Algiers. They thought about freeing Huey Newton, but Leary was in minimum security and Newton was in max and WELP (Newton was free soon, anyway).

But none of it mattered. Nobody cared.

Weatherman had fucked themselves. They’d abandoned the Black Panthers, who now looked down on them. They were leading nobody. They could have made a difference with the organization of SDS, but they’d set it on fire to build Weatherman. And now they’d decided they weren’t going to kill people any more.

So if you’re a radical who’s willing to kill, but decide you won’t… what does that leave? How long can you keep bombing bathrooms until it gets boring? Well, Weatherman is about to find out. Enter the long suck.

A reminder: during this period Weatherman is being hunted by the FBI. So how are they staying fed, sheltered, alive? Part of it is fake I.D.s. The other part of Weatherman staying alive and free is: they are being funded and supported by the National Lawyers’ Guild.

I just want to emphasize this: radical lawyers are literally giving fugitive domestic terrorists who are still bombing money and support.

And it’s harder for hippies to sneak bombs into places. What’s great cover? Parents with children. Weatherman used radical lawyers’ kids. Dohrn actually convinced a radical lawyer’s wife to leave her husband and take the kids and go under with the Weather Underground.

Weatherman bombed the Pentagon in ’72, but by 1974, they’re fighting among themselves, arguing about feminism (hence their name change to Weather Underground). And this is where Weather Underground becomes incredibly relevant to 2016 again: because they decided to re-enter mainstream politics. To do this, they decided, they would take over the radical left, and use that as wedge/entry point to change society.

This was the plan: 1) Publish a manifesto (Prairie Fire) 2) Make an aboveground group, the Prairie Fire Distribution Committee — not Weather! oh, no! not Weather! — no, just people who admired Weather 3) Turn the PFDC into a permanent group, the PF Organizing Committee 4) Hold a PFOC conference to unite the entire radical left under PFOC 5) Weather’s people deals with their legal issues, then officially take PFOC over, ta-dah!

Weather prints Prairie Fire themselves, distributes thousands of copies to radical organizations and bookstores, does bombings to promote it. This is, Burrough notes, a pretty impressive achievement just in terms of logistics, especially considering they’re on the run from the FBI.

Everything goes smoothly in Weather’s plan until the PFOC conference happens, which looks stunningly like what we’re seeing emerge in today’s Democratic party politics. The white leftist elites (Weather) are stunned to discover that the diverse radicals (black, American Indian, Puerto Rican) they’ve imagined leading actually have opinions of their own, and perfectly rational desires for their own power, and no desire to be ruled by Weather’s upper-crust radicals.

One of Burrough’s Weather interviewees notes that she was very upset and rattled to continually be called racist. This was before white leftists started to unpack their invisible knapsacks and bewail their whiteness as original sin. She couldn’t grasp it.

In the end, Weather was ignominously expelled from their own conference by a Communist who had been one of their former members. (Said Commie later got arrested himself by the Feds when he tried to start a bombing campaign of his own).

Meanwhile, the DOJ, searching FBI files in response to an unrelated civil rights lawsuit, found evidence of black bag jobs and illegal wiretapping against Weather Underground. So at the end of all this, who faces legal trouble? Not Weather. The FBI. Not big trouble, mind. The FBI guys got fined for the black bag jobs against Weatherman. They served no jail time, and President Reagan pardoned them in April 1981.

In the end, the Weather’s fugitives turned themselves in with little trouble. To give you an idea: Bill Ayers was scott-free. Cathy Wilkerson did a year. Bernardine Dohrn got three years probation and a $1500 fine. The radical lawyers, accessories to Weather’s bombings? Nada. Zip. Zero.

They did pretty well afterwards. Bernardine Dohrn was a clinical associate professor of law at Northwestern University for more than twenty years. Another Weatherman, Eleanor Stein, was arrested on the run in 1981; she got a law degree in 1986 and became an administrative law judge. Radical attorney Michael Kennedy, who did more than any to keep Weather alive, has been special advisor to President of the UN General Assembly. And, of course, Barack Obama, twice President of the United States, started his political career in Bill Ayers’s living room.

This is the difference between the hard Left & hard Right: you can be a violent leftist radical and go on to live a pretty kickass life. This is especially true if you’re a leftist of the credentialed class: Ph.D. or J.D.

The big three takeaways for me about Weatherman, when it comes to political violence in America as we might see it in 2016:

  1. Radicalism can come from anywhere. The Weathermen weren’t oppressed, or poor, or anything like that. They were hard leftists. That’s it.
  2. Sustained political violence is dependent on the willing cooperation of admirers and accomplices. The Left has these. The Right does not.
  3. Not a violent issue, but a political one: ethnic issues involving access to power can both empower and derail radical movements.

Moving from the white Leftists to the black revolutionaries, let’s talk for a second about George Jackson. Massive criminal history, seriously violent dude: his own father actually testified against his parole. Jackson was in Soledad prison in 1970 when a fight between white and black inmates broke out in the yard. With no warning, a white guard ended the fight by shooting three black prisoners dead. In retaliation, George Jackson and two other inmates murdered a guard by throwing him off the tier. They became known as the Soledad Three.

Fay Stender, who’d defended Black Panther Party founder Huey Newton, also defended Jackson. She got the radical community backing his freedom and published a book of his letters. So George Jackson got famous.

This is where radical professor Angela Davis comes in. Davis, if you don’t know, is so dedicated to communism that she literally got her Ph.D. behind the Iron Curtain. From a moral perspective, that’s a little like somebody getting a Ph.D. in old South Africa specifically because they dig apartheid.

On August 5, 1970, Davis had a long meeting with George Jackson in prison. After her meeting with George Jackson, Davis bought Jackson’s little brother Jonathan, still in high school, a shotgun. Two days later, Jonathan took hostages in a courtroom and demanded the release of the Soledad Three.

Jonathan killed the judge before being killed himself. Two other hostages were badly wounded. As for George, on August 21, 1971, somebody — prison officials held it was Jackson’s lawyer — gave him a gun. Jackson took seven hostages before he was killed by snipers while trying to escape prison. Five of the hostages were found dead in his cell.

Jackson wasn’t the only black radical of the period to meet a violent end. The contrast in the fates of 70’s black radicals and white radicals is pretty stark. A lot of white radicals came out okay. A lot of black radicals came out dead.

But Angela Davis did great. She’s had a successful career and remains celebrated. Arrested for her part in Jonathan’s plot, Davis was acquitted, and became a radical icon.

I think an underappreciated factor in Angela Davis doing so well afterward is her position as part of the credentialed class. Like the Weathermen — and unlike most black radicals — Angela Davis had access to Institutions.

Institutions are one of two major assets that the Left has and the Right lacks. The other is Shock Troops.

Institutions are organizations the Left controls that operate for the benefit of the Left’s people. The Right doesn’t really have these. As an example, there are occasional hard right lawyers, but so far as I know there is no such thing as the Reactionary Lawyers’ Guild.

The other thing that the Left has that the Right doesn’t are Shock Troops: unshameable actors.

Institutions and Shock Troops are important resources for the Left. They work together. The Left’s Institutions accept, cater to, train, and/or employ its people, including Shock Troops. And, in the cases of several Weathermen (and Davis), give them cushy jobs in their Shock-Troop retirement.

What happens when you have Shock Troops, but no, or few, or short-lived Institutions? That’s the story of black radicalism in the USA.

Burrough’s Days of Rage provides a quite good overview of several parts of black radicalism. We’ll review three groups here: BLA, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and the Family. (There’s also a little mention of the NWLF, who aren’t a black radical movement but fit in timewise with the SLA.)

Odd fact: in 2016 we saw a lot of news stories about police being targeted for murder, including a spectacular attack in Dallas…and I didn’t seen a single news article mentioning the Black Liberation Army. That’s how forgotten this stuff is!

The short answer to “Who were the BLA?” is “they were a splinter group of the Panthers.” The longer answer requires a little bit of backstory.

In January, 1969, 23 Black Panthers attempted a combination of bombing and sniper attacks on police and at a board of education office. As in a lot of these cases involving radical groups plotting violence, two of the Panthers in question turned out to be undercover NYPD. The actual Panthers involved became known as the Panther 21.

The Panther 21 were found not guilty after an 8-month trial — pretty impressive, because while the undercover cops gave them two fake bombs the Panthers also got real dynamite from another source, so their third bomb actually went off! With the informants and acquittal, in some ways it’s similar to the Malheur Occupation thing, only with an actual murder plot attached.

But can you imagine if a famous conservative like, I dunno, Gary Sinise had tried to raise money for the Malheur Occupation dudes? Okay, well, exactly that happened, but it was Leonard Bernstein raising money for the Panther 21, who actually tried to murder people! Tom Wolfe wrote a classic article about Bernstein’s party and the period’s radical chic.

The main reason Burrough discusses the Panther 21 episode: it showcases a growing problem for the Black Panthers. Namely, for a good number of their members, the Black Panthers are not nearly militant enough. And there are a LOT of Panthers at this point. When Huey Newton gets out of prison in 1970, he finds a Black Panther Party that’s grown bigger than his ability to run. Meanwhile, Eldridge Cleaver (remember him?), who’s been running stuff with Huey inside, has set himself up in Algiers with, I shit you not, a nice stipend and an actual embassy paid for by the Algerian government, which I guess really means by the Russians. (The Panthers didn’t have their embassy long. It was gone by the fall of ’72, probably bc some Soviet beancounter said WHAT.)

As you can imagine, at this point Newton and Cleaver absolutely loathed each other, so clearly the smart thing for the party to do was have a phone call between them Live. On. Television. On a local San Francisco talk show.

Sadly, this is not on YouTube.

The TV chat went as well as you’d expect, which means it ended with Cleaver and Newton literally expelling each other from the party. The factionalism was so bad that a Cleaverite Panther was murdered by a Newtonite. The Black Panthers expected a civil war.

If you’re going to have a war, it makes sense to organize for one. So a NY Panther named Dhoruba Moore organizes the Black Liberation Army. One of Moore’s BLA recruits is a young woman named Joanne Chesimard, later known as Assata Shakur. Another is a fellow named Sekou Odinga.

But the Panther civil war never actually happens. And then cops stop three Panthers on the street, it turns into a shootout, and a Panther is killed. The Panthers are understandably enraged, and — wouldn’t you know it? Dhoruba Moore has his new wing of hitters just sitting there.

So the BLA shrugs: eh, forget the civil war; let’s go kill some cops.

In May 1971, BLA started going out shooting cops in NYC. Two cops were killed with a submachine gun fired from a car. Then two more were brutally short down in the street (Burrough gives the details; they are horrifically graphic). Moore’s group claimed both killings. In truth, a copycat Panther group killed the second two.

The challenge for the BLA is that, while Weatherman has radical lawyers willing to fund and abet them, the BLA, like most radical groups, does not. So the BLA takes to robbery to secure funding. Founder Dhoruba Moore is arrested in one of these attempts, but the BLA keeps rolling.

Eldridge Cleaver, BTW, is totally down with this mayhem. But he does not want to coordinate it. Cleaver’s instruction calls for autonomous cells. In theory: autonomous BLA cells cannot be rolled up wholesale by the cops. In practice: none of the cells know what the other is doing. This leads to batshit crazy things like two BLA cells trying to rob the same bank at the same time.

The point of the robbery, though, let’s not forget, was to enable BLA to better kill cops. BLA used robbery money to establish training camps down South. They killed cops there, too. Within nine months of start-up, BLA had attacked ten cops, killing seven, in four different states. Not a furious pace, but steady.

Chesimard’s cell was finally arrested in 1971, after a massive car chase and gunfight in South Carolina. They were caught with a gun that belonged to one of the murdered cops.

So, of course, they were back walking the streets in NYC by fall ’72.

Yeah: in 1971, you could get in a gunfight with cops, shoot a cop, be carrying a gun stolen during a different state’s double cop murder — and get out of prison in less than a year!

Ever wonder why the American public got behind the idea of mandatory minimums and stiff sentences? The Seventies. The Seventies are why!

As BLA attacks continued, a lone wolf perp in New Orleans, a black radical named Mark Essex, shot 19 people, killing 9, 5 of them cops. Then NYC saw two BLA attacks on cops in 53 hours, and people started thinking that there was a nationwide conspiracy. (It wasn’t that huge.)

In 1973, Chesimard was shot and captured following a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike in which a policeman was killed. Not much later, the police finally landed an informant, and after a few stakeouts and gunfights they arrested or killed BLA’s shooters. Sekou Odinga got away. But that’s basically the end of the BLA. Except…

Except this flurry of activity and press has all the radicals who weren’t involved thinking, “Dang, I missed out!” And guess where there’s been a ton of radicalization? In U.S. prisons!

Weatherman had tried to rally the working class. No luck. They weren’t into being radicalized. But black prisoners really, really were.

And white radicals — many the kind who’d be really into privilege confession today — started getting into the idea of black leadership. I mean: really into the idea of black leadership. To the point of fetishizing it. Fetishizing black convicts, especially.

I told you this gets crazy, right? Well, here’s a little taste of the stuff Burrough gets into. Check this out:

In 1972, a group called Venceremos, from the Bay Area, literally broke out a black convict named Ronald Beaty during a prison transport so he could train them in guerrilla tactics and lead a revolution.

That was their actual plan. That was their entire actual plan.

Exactly that one bit from South Park, but a bunch of ’70s white Bay Area radicals going, “Token, you’re black; you know guerrilla tactics.” (Spoiler: when Beaty got arrested again, he promptly rolled over on the white radicals.)

But where there’s a demand, a supply will surface, and in 1973, a black inmate named Donald DeFreeze capitalized on the trend. To better explain Donald DeFreeze: imagine that Eldridge Cleaver & George Jackson are YouTube stars, ok? Well, DeFreeze is the comments.

DeFreeze escaped prison and hooked up with a Berkeley, CA radical named Patricia “Mizmoon” Soltysik. DeFreeze and Mizmoon assembled a small cell of eight men and women. Say hello to the Symbionese Liberation Army. Slogan: “Death to the fascist insect that preys on the blood of the people!

So their first target, of course, is Oakland’s first black school administrator, superintendent Marcus Foster!

I know. You’re thinking, “Wait, what?”

Foster had dared suggest ID cards for kids and using police to curb in-school violence. For this, the SLA murdered him, on November 6, 1973. In 1974, the SLA kidnapped 19yo heiress Patty Hearst, demanding her family do massive food giveaways (which they did). The food giveaways actually got the SLA some favorable attention in the radical press, for forcing the rich to give to the poor. Meanwhile, the SLA was indoctrinating Hearst and raping her repeatedly. Then the SLA offered her a choice: to join them, or be released.

Let me ask you a question: in the shoes of 19-year-old Patty Hearst, how much would you trust the assurances of Donald DeFreeze and the SLA? That’s exactly how much Hearst trusted them when they said they’d let her go. So she said of course she’d join them. Hearst famously robbed a bank with the SLA and went on the run with them. The account I’ve given of her decision is hers, which I believe.

The press was going nuts. Imagine a Kardashian were kidnapped, then resurfaced having become a terrorist. That’s what this was like.

The SLA’s darkest day came when they were busted for shoplifting in L.A. It turned into a gunfight. They split up: Hearst and a couple in one direction, DeFreeze & the rest in another. Hearst’s party got away. DeFreeze’s took over a random house, and was indiscreet about it. Cops closed in. There was a massive gunfight and a fire. DeFreeze and his party died horrible deaths.

Hearst’s survivors sought the help of a radical named Kathy Soliah, who had championed the SLA at a rally that got newspaper attention. Literally, I think that’s it: they’d read her name in the newspaper, and looked her up. And of course she helped them. Soliah not only arranged shelter for them, she helped them re-recruit. #the70syall

Soliah also started a study group called the Bay Area Research Collective, publishing a radical paper called Dragon. Dragon published bombing news, how-to bomb manuals, communiques from underground groups. You could send them letters to claim your bombings. The Bay Area Research Collective also had its own terrorist group: the New World Liberation Front. More on them in a minute.

The SLA, now restaffed, robbed a bank in Sacramento, murdering a bank patron, Myrna Opsahl. This turned the heat on them again, hard. They returned to San Francisco and started bombing for revolution and fighting among themselves. The cops picked most of the SLA up (Hearst included) not long after, and that chapter was concluded.

But what about that NWLF thing?

NWLF was an oddity: domestic terrorism by creative commons. If you wanted to detonate bombs in their name, you could! That was its thing. And people detonated bombs in the name of the NWLF. Regularly. For three years.

In 1975, NWLF bombs went off in San Francisco once a week for nine months. They targeted local politicians, including Dianne Feinstein’s house. NWLF bombed a trial, country clubs, the opera. The bombings didn’t wholly stop until 1978. The reason NWLF bombings stopped: the guy who did most of them went insane and killed his girlfriend with an axe.

But to return to the black radicals, and Institutions: one of the most insane stories is that of Lincoln Detox and the Family. July and November of 1970, a gang occupies the South Bronx’s Lincoln Hospital and presents demands to administrators. The demand: Lincoln Hospital facilities are shitty. The gang demands a drug treatment center, and they demand to operate it.

They got nearly a million bucks from the government to do it. That’s what the 1970s were like. This was Lincoln Detox. It was run by militant leftists. (They gave the BLA medical supplies, to give you an idea.) Methadone came coupled with Marxist education, paid for by the city. Political education as a cure for heroin addiction.

I’m not kidding! This really happened! New York City was paying for it all!

Lincoln Detox was, in short, an Institution for leftist radicals, paid for by city tax dollars. And it was robbing the city blind. Burrough’s accounting of how blind is stunning: in 1973, Lincoln Detox was treating half the patients its contract called for, at rates *four times* those of other city clinics. In 1976 HHC found nearly $1 million in unsubstantiated payroll, with staff absentee rates up to 71%. The clinic refused to share its personnel records, but during an auditors’ visit only half the 45 listed staff were on duty. Despite this remarkable absenteeism, the staff were still managing to make thousands of dollars in personal phone calls.

NYC’s Addiction Services Agency was supposedly in charge, but when Detox refused to give required information they’d cut all funds in 1973. So Lincoln Detox got money from Health and Hospitals Corporation, another city agency, which gave money with no strings. Any effort to control the clinic caused massive protests — the clinic staff occupied HHC’s offices and smashed stuff at one point.

Clearly, the only logical thing to happen at this point in the story is for Tupac Shakur’s future stepfather to study acupuncture.

Look, I told you today’s installment gets crazy.

It turns out that Marxist education is not actually helpful in curing drug addiction, so clinic staffer Mutulu Shakur learns acupuncture. He learns from a doctor working at Lincoln Detox, but his education is interrupted when the doctor dies of a heroin overdose. IN THE CLINIC.

But he finds a new teacher and he and others eventually get doctor of acupuncture degrees from the Acupuncture Association of Quebec. Naturally, with a cushy city gig and a growing acupuncture practice, Shakur comes to the same decision you would in such a situation: “I should use this place and its connections to start robbing banks so I can raise money to start a revolution.”

“Also,” he doubtless added, “to pay for a cocaine habit that is already considerable *fnorrrrrrrrkkkkkk*

Reminder: this is all happening at a drug treatment clinic that is fully funded by the tax dollars of the City of New York!

But Shakur has never robbed a bank. He needs an experienced bank robber and oh look here comes Sekou Odinga, formerly of the BLA! Naturally, Shakur and Odinga need some logistical support, and what better place to find this than a bunch of white communist feminists —

Look, I told you this story gets crazy.

The feminists are the May 19 Communist Organization, whom Odinga knows through a white radical named Marilyn Buck, who had bought ammo for BLA. Black leadership fetishization is in full effect, so May 19 looks at Shakur and Odinga and assumes OF COURSE they know WTF they’re doing. This union of Lincoln Detox, the last of the BLA, and a bunch of feminist commies gives birth to the radical group known as the Family.

It came at an opportune time. Ed Koch was elected Mayor of New York in 1978, and he had no patience for the Lincoln Detox radicals. Koch evicted them, closed the clinic, and reopened it in a new location under complete city control.

This left Shakur a bit adrift, but bank-robbing was going well. Shakur and his white feminist allies decided: hey, let’s jailbreak radicals. They broke a FALN bombmaker out first (more on that in a moment). Then they went for Joanne Chesimard.

Chesimard, aka Assata Shakur, was serving life for the murder of the cop killed during her capture. But under little security. How little?

Sekou Odinga — who was a wanted fugitive at the time — went to visit Chesimard, and brought her a gun. That was it. Chesimard sheltered in Pittsburgh for 9 months, then managed to get to the Bahamas, and after that Cuba, where she lives today.

So now the 1980s roll around, Mutulu Shakur has a new acupuncture clinic in Harlem, and the Family’s robbing banks for revolutionary funds. This is a great set-up. Or it would be, if the revolutionary funds weren’t going straight up Shakur’s nose. If you believe the May 19 crowd — and it’s embarrassing enough to be plausible — the feminist commies had no idea about the cocaine; they just naively thought Shakur & his fellow black revolutionaries (cokeheads all) had tons of wonderful revolutionary energy. It goes back to the white ’70s radical black leadership fetishization. “It’s all right, they’re black, they know what they’re doing!”

Turns out massive amounts of cocaine and firearms are never a good mix. The Family killed a Brink’s guard during an NYC armored car robbery, which drew serious NYPD attention. And then October 20, 1981 happened. An armored car robbery. White radicals driving, black radicals shooting.

During the robbery, the perpetrators opened fire, killing one guard, wounding two. They took 1.6 million (leaving 1.3 more). The shooters made rendezvous with the switch vehicle, driven by David Gilbert and Kathy Boudin, formerly of Weatherman. But the switch vehicle parked in the wrong spot. A line of sight was left open. A witness saw everyone, all the cars, the cash, the guns. The witness called the cops, and the police pulled over Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert. In the back of their U-Haul trailer, under a blanket: Mutulu Shakur, and four more Family members, heavily armed and coked to the skies.

Boudin and Gilbert were asked to get out of the vehicle and sit beside the road. The police went around back to search the U-Haul. Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert proceeded to create a distraction, drawing the police’s attention. And the shooters came out of the U-Haul and murdered two police officers.

Two Family members carjacked a doctor’s car and drove off. David Gilbert hopped in another of the getaway cars. Kathy Boudin was nabbed by an off-duty corrections officer as she ran down the highway. The local police chief followed the two escaping cars. One crashed, and he rounded those people up (including David Gilbert).

Marilyn Buck, of May 19, escaped, but the cops found her apartment. She was the logistics officer, so she had the records of the safe houses. And the building superintendant had the license plate numbers of a bunch of their cars. Further round-ups were only a matter of time.

But because I keep coming back to the power of Institutions to shelter leftist radicals, to close our time with the Family: Kathy Boudin, accomplice and facilitator to multiple murders, was paroled in 2003.

She is now an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s school of social work.

So, looking at the BLA, SLA, the Family, wth a detour to NWLF — what do we learn about political violence? Looking, in particular, through the lens of our the concepts of Institutions and Shock Troops, and why these matter:

Institutions are crucial to the longevity of organized campaigns of political violence by Shock Troops.

Shock Troops that don’t have Institutions fare worse and have shorter careers than Shock Troops that do.

Shock Troops without support from Institutions tend to turn to crime, often violent crime, for money.

Doing violent crime to raise money eventually bites Shock Troops in the ass.

The bigger a Shock Troop army, the more financial support it needs, whether from an Institution or from criminal activity.

The Shock Troops that succeed without Institutions have as few members as possible & avoid violent crime (the NWLF guy didn’t do robbery; he grew tons of reportedly amazing weed), and keep a low profile outside of their Shock Troop actions.

Having an Institution is no guarantee of keeping it; Institutions can be attacked by adversaries or other outside forces (see: Lincoln Detox).

All of which is to say: in some respects, a resurgence of political violence in the United States would look similar to previous versions — but in others, it’d look very different.

The last story I’ll share from Days of Rage is, I’m not gonna lie to you, the craziest of the lot. How crazy? Let me ask you this:

What if fanatics made a serious and nearly successful attempt on the life of the President of the United States?

What if those fanatics got into the Capitol building and committed a mass shooting on Congress while it was in session?

What if those fanatics conducted bombing sprees, for years, in multiple American cities?

And what if people really did do every one of those things, and you’d never heard of them? That’s the story of Puerto Rican separatists.

I’m not kidding.

The President they tried to kill was Harry Truman, in 1950, as told in the book American Gunfight. They shot up Congress in 1954, wounding five Congressmen (who recovered). They bombed American cities like mad in the 1970s.

The ’70s bombing campaign was done by a group called FALN. The FBI’s working theory is that the FALN was a creation of Cuban intelligence.

I’m still not kidding.

FALN starts from a couple of different places. One path goes back to a dude named Filiberto Ojeda Rios, a Puerto Rican communist.

Ojeda Rios trained in Cuba, worked for their spy service, and then went back to Puerto Rico to start a revolution. It didn’t work. Plan B: go underground & start bombing. Castro approved. so Ojeda Rios formed a group, MIRA, to attack in Puerto Rico & the US mainland. It didn’t last. MIRA was rolled up when the police caught their NYC bomber. Ojeda Rios was arrested in PR, but he skipped bail and vanished.

The second path to FALN traces back to Chicago, and a young Puerto Rican named Oscar Lopez Rivera. He and his high school buddies were young activists.

The story is Oscar Lopez Rivera & friends were recruited by Filiberto Ojeda Rios. Raising the q: …so, uh, could FALN be considered an act of war?

It’s murky. Per Burrough, there’s no evidence Cuba gave FALN operational orders. More that they wound them up, let them go.

That said, FALN had an amazing set-up in the hard left. Not only were they trained in bomb-making by Weather Underground, they had possibly the best Institution any radical group has ever had: the Episcopal Church.

I’m still not kidding.

FALN started bombing in ’74. Their demands were 1) Puerto Rican independence 2) release of PR separatist prisoners. Their deeds were nasty. FALN targeted cops with a fake call and a boobytrap, disfiguring one. They bombed a restaurant on Wall Street, killing 4, injuring over 40. Outrage at the deaths changed their approach. They started bombing at night, setting off department store fires — nonlethal, but harrowing. More harrowing: FALN opened new fronts in Chicago and in Washington, D.C. Bombing in three cities demonstrates serious logistics.

Eventually cops lucked out: a Chicago guy robbing his new neighbors found shitloads of explosives, and tried to sell them to a police informant. Using building records, the Chicago PD and the FBI got a name: Carlos Torres, a Puerto Rican community organizer whose wife worked for the feds — she was an equal employment specialist at the EPA.

The FALN safehouse also yielded a copy of a business letter to one Maria Cueto, of the National Commission on Hispanic Affairs. The NCHA was a charitable organization affiliated with the Episcopal Church. When the FBI started looking into it, their hair stood on end. Basically, every. single. person of interest in the FBI’s FALN investigation was, or had been, on NCHA’s board of directors.

Maria Cueto was FALN. She had used her position to put a half-dozen FALN members, including chief bombmaker Guillermo Morales, on the NCHA board. Let me emphasize how amazing this was: these were *paid positions.* Puerto Rican terrorists were being paid thousands of dollars by the Episcopal Church. Like cannibalizing and repurposing a nonprofit. It may be the greatest Institution in American radical history. FALN was literally using a charity run by the Episcopal Church as a front.

Yeah. It gets crazier.

You would think the Episcopal Church would be outraged. Horrified to be dragged into the legal proceedings. You’d be wrong. Liberal Episcopal bishops were enraged — with the FBI! Claimed govt was out to stop the church from funding progressive Hispanic groups! The institution the FALN had compromised went full-force to defend them and mobilized mainstream institutions on FALN’s behalf!

Cueto and a colleague were hauled before a grand jury. The National Council of Churches (!!!) rallied behind them even as FALN went on a new bombing campaign specifically demanding the grand juries be halted.

Progressive ministers accused the FBI of illegal harassment. FALN radical actions were being supported by mainstream legal lawfare. And the various cases against FALN wore on through 1977, getting nowhere.

On August 3, 1977, FALN called in bomb threats to seven sites, causing mass evacuations in downtown Manhattan. But they weren’t just threats. Carlos Torres’s wife left a bomb at Mobil Oil HQ’s employment office. The explosion killed one person and injured several more. The Torreses and Oscar Lopez Rivera were indicted based on fingerprint evidence, but they were in the wind.

And now the story gets even crazier. As 1978 rolled around, the FALN cases were falling apart. Several suspects were freed, even as the bombs continued. Then, on 12 July 1978, FALN’s chief bombmaker Guillermo Morales had a work accident. With a bomb. Morales blew off nine fingers, his lips, and his left eye. The explosion broke his jaw to boot. Devastating injuries. Knowing the cops were coming, a crippled, bleeding, disfigured Morales still tried to flush incriminating FALN documents and rig a gas explosion trap for the cops to get the police when they showed up. With. No. Hands. (The trap didn’t work, thank God.)

All of that is not yet the crazy part.

This is the crazy part: Remember Mutulu Shakur and the Family? Who jailbroke radicals?

If you think a bunch of coked-up black radicals and feminist commies can’t come up with a plan to spring a handless Puerto Rican bomber all I can say is, you don’t know the Seventies, brother. Check this shit.

By May 1979, Morales is as healed up as he’s gonna get. He’s down to one eye and one thumb. He’s in custody, under 24-hour guard. He has a window. But there’s a metal grate on it. And it opens onto a sheer forty-foot drop. He’s not going anywhere.

Radical attorney Susan Tipograph, who insisted that attorney-client privilege exempted her from search, visited Morales on 18 May 1979. Mysteriously, after that, Morales had wire cutters. Tipograph was never charged.

Laboriously, with basically no hands, Morales cut through the grate over his window. Punched out the screen. The Family had brought a ladder. But ladders look longer when you’re coked out of your gourd, or they just fucked up, because the ladder was only twenty feet long. The distance to the ground was forty feet.

Morales had no rope. And no fingers. He had a ten-foot length of bandage. And brass balls. Somehow, this dude with no fingers lowers himself from the window on the bandage. It snaps. Morales falls 20 feet onto an air conditioner, then another 20 feet to the ground. Injured, but alive. The Family and FALN whisk him away.

The guard on Morales’s door slept through the whole thing. Morales was not missed until an hour after dawn. Their bombmaker returned to them, FALN embarked on a new campaign of robberies, bombing, and interfering with elections.

Wait, what? Yeah. In 1980, the FALN attacked the NYC campaign HQ of George H.W. Bush in an effort to destroy voter-registration lists. Another team smashed up the Carter-Mondale HQ in Chicago. The FALN even threatened delegates to the party conventions. Nobody remembers!

The FALN round-up, when it came, happened by accident as they were getting ready to rob an armored car near Northwestern University. The FALN stole a panel truck to use as a switch vehicle. A campus cop spotted it, and police put it under surveillance. They nabbed 2 FALN. Another call led police to 2 more vans: the ambush awaiting the armored car. The people in the vans were disguised: wigs, false moustaches. The cops took them in. The arrestees were totally silent. The cops began to wonder if this was above their paygrade, and called the FBI. An FBI agent recognized several of the suspects.

Just like that, most of the FALN had been rolled up. All the suspects refused to mount defenses at trial. They were found guilty, sentenced for eight to thirty years. Another indictment for seditious conspiracy piled decades on top of that. But Oscar Lopez Rivera and Guillermo Morales were still free.

In Christmas 1980, a new group called the Puerto Rican Armed Resistance bombed Penn Station in NYC during rush hour. No one was hurt. In May 1980, the PRAR called in bomb threat to JFK. A Pan Am handyman found their bomb, and alerted people, but the bomb killed him. Two more bombs at the airport were found in the aftermath. It was all getting going again. And then, just like that, it ended two weeks later when Oscar Lopez Rivera and a new recruit got stopped for an illegal U-turn. Lopez Rivera got 55 years.

Guillermo Morales was arrested — in Mexico, which refused to extradite him to the US. He eventually emigrated to Cuba. Got clean away.

Let me ask you a question: how the hell did I not know this story? Forget the presidential assassination attempt. Forget the mass shooting in the Congressional chamber. Just look at the FALN stuff: a years-long bombing campaign in multiple American cities, by perpetrators trained and initiated by a foreign power. A terrorist organization that parasitized a church so effectively, it got the church infrastructure to act on its behalf. A stunning escape from custody almost too astounding to believe.

Why is this not a movie? Why is this not two or three movies? This story is amazing! And it’s just totally memory-holed. Here’s how memory-holed it is: I didn’t even know that, in 1999, seeking Puerto Rican voter support in New York for HRC’s senate run, President Clinton offered clemency to 16 imprisoned FALN. 14 accepted. Congress condemned it at the time. But people remember the Mark Rich pardon. Not FALN.

What does it mean for us? First, let’s be blunt: most political violence is not going to be as well-trained & highly disciplined as FALN. You’re not going to see that level of skill again, unless the Cubans decide they want to come to play. What you might see, on both sides, is what to me is the most amazing part of the FALN story: its parasitization of the Episcopal Church.

Organizations don’t have to fully capture institutions. They can latch onto them, and come to be seen as limbs. One person in a position to hire effectively suborned the Episcopal Church to give violent radicals jobs, stability, and even protection. As with everything, the Left will be much better at this kind of operation than the Right will. But the Right might do it on occasion.

The other takeaway: again, Lefty radicals have more opportunities and more acceptance from their mainstream than Righty ones. I don’t see Eric Rudolph getting clemency, no matter the administration. He shouldn’t. Nor should have FALN.

Of course, that didn’t stop President Obama, in the last days of his administration, from commuting the sentence of Oscar Lopez Rivera. The decision caused ecstasies of delight in Lin-Manuel Miranda, celebrated author (and former star) of HAMILTON, who pledged to reprise in the role in a Chicago performance especially for Lopez Rivera, whom Miranda referred to as “Don Oscar.”

That’s everything I want to cover from Days of Rage. There’s more in it. Buy the book; read it; you won’t regret it. It’s amazing history.

But it’s the implications of Bryan Burrough’s book that scare the willies out of me.

I am afraid that the United States is in for political violence in 2017. It could be as bad as or worse than the 1970s. I have some ideas as to what some of it may look like. It really isn’t pleasant to think about.

Political violence is like war, like violence in general: people have a fantasy about how it works. This is the fantasy of how violence works: you smite your enemies in a grand and glorious cleansing because of course you’re better.

Grand and glorious smiting isn’t actually how violence works. I’ve worked a few places that have had serious political violence. And I’m not sure how to really describe it so people get it.

This is a stupid comparison, but here: imagine that one day Godzilla walks through your town.

The next day, he does it again.

And he keeps doing it. Some days he steps on more people than others. That’s it. That’s all he does: trudging through your town, back and forth. Your town’s not your town now; it’s The Godzilla Trudging Zone.

That’s kind of what it’s like.

I’m going to talk about some nasty things here. I do not want any of it. But some or all of it could happen. Some of it already is. In 2017, I am very pessimistic about America’s future, to the point that I think the country should seriously consider a National Divorce.

Everyone feeling nice and at ease now? Good, let’s get started.

Let’s not mince words: the United States of America is currently engaged in a cold Civil War.

In North Carolina, the Republican governor lost re-election, so the Republican legislature convened a special session to limit powers of the post. Democrats nationwide howled with justified outrage; as we all know, legislators who dislike a governor should flee the state to block quorum, facilitate occupation of government buildings by mobs, and have allies execute secret raids on homes on the governor’s supporters. All of those are things that the Democrats did to oppose a Republican governor in Wisconsin, and the Democrats were pretty cool with it.

This isn’t a cutesy “both sides” argument. Nor am I calling out the press for bias, or politicians for hypocrisy (that’s later).

My point is: did you notice the Left and the Right use fundamentally different tactics?

This is no accident. They’re different cultures. The Left and Right don’t just want different things. They also have different abilities, goals, resources, and senses of propriety. Meaning contemporary political violence from the Left and from the Right will look very different.

Now, 2017 isn’t going to be the 1970s. Goals, situations, and cultures change. The actors want different things. But we can look to the ’70s for hints.

Like: what kind of people will do this stuff?

The mental model we have for domestic terrorism in 2017 is shaped by what scares us: mass shooters and jihad. ’70s radicals were different. ’70s radicals wanted to get away with their crimes. They wanted to avoid detection, they didn’t want to get arrested, and they didn’t want to die. Most ’70s bombers had no moral objection to killing people, but they also didn’t go to any great lengths to maximize body count. That’s pretty different from 21st-century mass shooters (who tend suicidal) & jihadists (for whom a high body count is part of the message).

Some suicidal mass murderers choose political targets, though it’s uncommon. Overseas jihadists draft depressives, but that takes organization (and willingness to use suicide attacks). When we’re talking about domestic political violence, we’re mostly talking about stuff that is coldbloodedly plotted by serious people.

So maybe we can hope that political violence in the US, ’70s-style, won’t go all-out for massive numbers of deaths? Well… maybe. The way I see it, domestic conflict in the United States could operate in basically four stages:

  1. cold Civil War
  2. targeted political violence, mostly short of murder
  3. political violence with murder as the default
  4. Civil War II

The United States should start seriously talking about National Divorce before we get to stage 3.

We’re in Stage 1 now. Stages 2 and 3 are what we’re concerned with: the public getting mobilized. What would that look like, on Left and Right?

People tend to think that the Right will be an awesome, horrific force in political violence. The SPLC’s donations depend on that idea. Righties tell themselves that *of course* they’d win a war against Lefties. Tactical Deathbeast vs. Pajama Boy? No contest. Why, Righties have thought about what an effective domestic insurrection would look like. Righties have written books and manifestos!

It’s horseshit.

The truth: the Left is a lot more organized & prepared for violence than the Right is, and has the advantage of a mainstream more supportive of it.

You think that’s unfair? Okay, well: imagine an abortion clinic bombing ring getting presidential clemency.

Imagine an abortion clinic bomber getting a comfortable job at an elite university.

Outrageous, right? No way the Right could get away with that. But the Left does! And the press gives them cover.

(This is the “hypocrisy and media bias” section, by the way.)

The press freaked out and called for a National Conversation every time some shithead punched a protestor at a Trump rally. If Trump fans pulled a Portland, running through the streets, intimidating motorists, smashing windows, what would press reaction be? You don’t need me to tell you: pants-shitting hysteria fascism OMG Hitler. When Lefties really did that: “meh, that’s what Lefties do.” No need for a National Conversation. Certainly not a Clinton disavowal.

Organizing protests like Portland and the other cities takes experience, efficiency, and a lot of people you can call out. The Left can do that. The Right can’t. That is a logistical advantage that is enormous, and it matters. Because a Left that can tell that many people to do that stuff in that many places can also tell at least some of them to do something else.

The hard Left selectively uses violence, normalizes it with weasel words: “Direct action.” “Diversity of tactics.” “Nonviolent property damage.” “Antifa.” If you want to know why Righties will get down with streetfighting, if it comes to that: take a look at Antifa. A good long one.

Part of the bargain of civilization is ceding the authority to commit violence to the State. (Has its own problems. Beats the alternative.) Lord knows there are people I’d love to beat the shit out of in the street, but if I don’t get to then neither do you. No, I don’t give a flying fuck who they are; you don’t get to do that.

Lefties say, “Well, that’s Nazis, they only do that to Nazis; Nazis are different, you have to shut that shit down, etc.” Great. Except that Lefties pull the same “shut this shit down!” stuff on mainstream Righties on college campuses, all the while calling them Nazis.

Hell, Lefties said Ted Cruz was a Nazi, Mitt Romney was a Nazi, George W. Bush was a Nazi. I’ve done human rights work that had me working in proximity to the U.S. military, so at a professional meeting a Lefty called me a Nazi.

So if you tell me that I’m a Nazi, and tell me people I respect are Nazis, and tell me you’re in favor of going out and beating up Nazis, guess what? I am suddenly very interested in the physical safety of Nazis.

And I’m Jewish.

Lemme tell you a true story.

In 209 BC, two Qin Dynasty army officers, Chen Sheng and Wu Guang, were ordered to lead their troops on a march to provide reinforcements. Massive flooding delayed them. They couldn’t make their rendezvous time. In the Qin Dynasty, this carried the death penalty. No excuses.

“What’s the penalty for being late?”

“Death.”

“What’s the penalty for rebellion?”

“Death.”

“Well — we’re late.”

And that’s the story of the Dazexiang Uprising.

How does full-on streetfighting start in the United States of America? My guess is: pretty much like that. “What’s the penalty for kicking the living shit out of Leftist protestors?” “Oh, Jesus, we’d be demonized as Nazis.” “…what’ll they do if we don’t kick the living shit out of Leftist protestors?” “They’ll — hmmmmmmm….

So, what’re the odds of Righties kicking the living shit out of Lefty protestors actually happening? Depends on what happens January 20th, and after. Before the inauguration, the movement DisruptJ20 announced plans to screw up the inauguration.

Here’s a pre-inauguration article on DisruptJ20. Notice the variety of things they had on the agenda at that point.

Now reread that article, and think about how the national press would react if instead of a commie it were Richard Spencer.

The thing about commies is you have to pay attention to what they don’t say: “This is a nonviolent protest and we will not attack anybody.” Instead, it’s: “We are preparing for the possibility of sporadic fights breaking out because people are very emotional about this.” Cute, huh?

Protests like DisruptJ20 operate on a sliding scale from disruption to violence. This is deliberate. They harass their opponents, and try to bait opponents into attacking them. One tactic you often see: if one of their protestors does get violent, other protestors will loudly call, “Peaceful protest! Peaceful protest!” This is not an attempt to dissuade the violent person, but to persuade onlookers that they are not seeing what they are seeing. At the very least, the protestors figure, onlookers will assume “they’re not all like that! They’re trying to stop the bad one!” Of course, that’s a scam.

If at any point in 2017 Trump supporters are harmed or harrassed like the rally in Chicago, expect Righties to get very interested in forming street defense leagues: goons and headhunters to make Black Bloc spit teeth. And they’ll be purely defensive. For a while. But they’re human. So then they’ll think about getting proactive.

Bluntly: this is dangerous. The people who do it for the Left are literal Communists. What kind of Righties will it draw? Oh, I dunno, I’m guessing people who’re comfortable with violence, who don’t mind breaking norms or being arrested…

…if you’re now thinking, “Oh shit,” well, guess what? So am I.

If streetfights start happening on a regular basis on American streets, our democracy will corrode very quickly. We’ll see rapid radicalization at both poles, meaning normalization of political extremists.

The usual story American politics tells of how extremists get politically normalized is, to say the least, inaccurate. “Extremists get normalized bc the mainstream says things so beyond the pale it invites extremes.” ie, “Republicans make Nazis.” Bullshit.

How extremists really get mainstreamed: because the extremists have organization, logistics, and manpower that the mainstream finds useful.

Mainstream Lefties happily go to protests they favor that are organized by the literal Stalinists of ANSWER & the Worker’s World Party. Why? The commies are really good at getting people signs and making sure there are enough port-a-potties. When you’re great at organizing signs & port-a-potties, Lefties overlook that you’re into an ideology that murdered a hundred million people.

So how far would this go? Would mainstream Nazi-hating Righties be ok w/ literal Nazis on the streetfighting squads that keep them safe?

I dunno; how’d you feel about folks who voluntarily get their bodies between your peaceful gathering and a crowd trying to intimidate you?

Lefties could keep that very human thing from happening. But they’d have to de-escalate. And they won’t. Mellow out on college campuses? Quit disrupting righty events? No chance. It’s too much fun. So the hard Left is going to do more to normalize literal Nazis in America than anyone since Charles Lindbergh.

Let me be blunt, though: with or without literal Nazis, if Lefties pull another Chicago, Righty defense groups will happen. I honestly don’t think think the literal Nazis are going to be as involved in streetfighting as you might think. It’d be a distraction. The big thing the hard Right is trying to do right now is create organization and infrastructure. They have, historically, sucked at it. The hard Left has great infrastructure. Look at DisruptJ20: they know enough lawyers to have 2 teams dedicated to getting them out of jail! Think any Righty group has gotten around to organizing lawyers on tap like that? Nope.

Why are the Lefties so good at this? Communism. The American Communist Party got fantastic hand-me-down Russian-facilitated training, and shared. But hard Righties learn from overseas compatriots now, too. And a bunch of overseas hard Right movements are aided by the Russians. It’s not gonna happen overnight. But in ten or twenty or fifty years, you could have a superbly organized hard Right movement in America.

Now, you can do two things with radical infrastructure: use it to nudge the mainstream (SDS) or use it for radical action (Weatherman). I think Righties have to go SDS, while Lefties have room to go Weatherman. This is not from any innate philosophical difference, but purely practical. Effective Righty infrastructure is too rare & valuable to risk. (Also, any Righty organization or conspiracy is going to be stocked to the gills with snitches. Look at Malheur. Literally 25% snitches!) So I cannot stress this enough: any righty organization designed from the ground up to be violent is doomed to fail.

What this means: hard Left violence will be coordinated. Hard Right violence will be distributed.

Terrorists are basically mass murderers, or people who want to be. If you think about it, there are three kinds of mass murderers, and the typology applies to political violence too. The first kind is loners. The second kind is conspiracies (which have to be very tight-knit, or somebody narcs). The third kind is guys from the murder factory. A murder factory is a self-perpetuating machine that brings in recruits and spits out killers. Islamic State: that’s a murder factory.

Murder factories are hard to build. Weatherman tried to build one. They failed. The hard Left is bigger with fifty years more experience now, and I still doubt they could make a murder factory without support from a foreign power. That leaves conspiracies for Lefties, and loners for the Right.

So if Lefty violence will mostly be the result of conspiracies, while Righty violence will mostly be the work of loners, there will be differences in the kinds of things that Lefties and Righties will be able to do. A lone perpetrator can pull off a bombing, for example, but not a riot.

Left and Right also have different vulnerabilities. The Left is far better at allowing its people, esp radicals, to rise and mainstream. As a result, way more new Lefties attain prominence and effective leadership status than Righties. This makes for a deeper activist bench. With a sea of effective, prominent Lefties, Lefties who are lost will be mourned but not irreplaceable. This is emphatically not the case for Righties. To be perfectly blunt: the Right would be extremely easy to disrupt with targeted assassinations. The Left would not.

Once political violence starts, the smart move is to keep your violence low-level and try to provoke the other guys into serious violence. This, as with everything else, favors the Left. The Left can absorb a hell of a lot of serious violence. Martyrs are fuel for Leftism. Look at the history of unions. So these are the tactics I see the Left using for early political violence:

  1. use as many different nonmurderous but disruptive-to-violent tactics as possible — “shut it down,” occupations, property damage, riots
  2. weaponize Institutions against Righties, when possible
  3. drag events out — long, very low-level conflict works in Lefties’ favor
  4. target individual Righties for intimidation/disemployment, to discourage others
  5. target the most effective Righties for Unpersoning, lawfare, and (only if absolutely necessary; this would be very rare) assassination

Yes, the Left is doing almost all of this stuff already. But it could be ramped up. Take disemployment: Lefties clamoring to get somebody fired. The way it works now is reactive, news-cycle driven. It doesn’t have to be. Political donations are public record. So are voter registrations. It would be trivial to set up a Disemployment Committee to scrape these. HR departments tend to have a lot of Lefties in them. They could bring back a coordinated blacklist. You’d never know it.

Expect expansion to second-order targets, too. If you can’t target someone (bc they’re self-employed, and unshameable), go for their family — that’s already happening, by the way. Remember: most Americans are a paycheck or two from financial calamity. I’m surprised disemployment hasn’t yet been repaid with murder.

Setting up fake petitions to get your enemies to sign themselves up on your Enemies List is a tactic I expect to be pretty bipartisan. Lefties’ enemies lists will have fewer prominent Righties and Righty infrastructure types on them, just because there are fewer of those.

If you notice who Lefties really tend to go after, it’s two kinds of people:

  1. Righties who might be growing in popularity and/or influence, to make them radioactive and make others afraid to associate with them
  2. regular people, who have employment and social fragility, to make them scared to admit WrongThink.

So Lefties will target more people on top and on bottom, status-wise. Righties will target more in the middle, go for the Lefty NCO corps. That’s because the biggest impact the Right can make at this stage of conflict is to destroy, damage, or neutralize Lefty Institutions. But Lefty Institutions are massive cultural power centers. Universities, Media, Bureaucracies, Organizations/Foundations, Cities.

The Right is not big enough or organized enough to really destroy Lefty Institutions. Like the Left, they’ll be looking to intimidate people out of the game and take away enemy tools. Example: Institutional and media bias means radical Leftist tactics are accepted, which means radical Leftist tactics become normalized. Ergo, the only way the Right can delegitimize Lefty tactics is to use them, at which point they’ll become The Worst Things Ever Done By Man. My guess is the Right will start using Leftist tactics against members of Leftist Institutions: “This is what you ordered. Eat it.”

Some of this could actually be constructive for campus civility. For instance, I’ve long argued that if a Righty speaker is disrupted on a college campus, then campus Righties should *disrupt every single Lefty speaker for the remainder of the school year.* Of course, Righties can’t get away with what Lefties get away with, so no swarming, no intimidating people, no pulling fire alarms. What Righties can get away with: standing up and chanting, at the top of their lungs, “THIS IS WHAT YOU DO TO US.” In multiple stages, for maximum distraction. Leaving peacefully, of course. The bad news is that’s about as cheerful as these face-offs are going to get. They can and probably will get much nastier.

Specifically, I think the hard Right is going to discover the joys of “nonviolent property damage,” which the Left has foolishly normalized. I’m always puzzled when Lefty journalists praise “nonviolent property damage” as if they don’t have offices, homes, and personal property. University administrators who let Lefties disrupt Righty speakers with impunity also have offices, homes, and personal property. Heck, when Lefty rioters get arrested, papers print their names and mugshots. And they have homes, and cars, and … you know the drill.

The advantage of “nonviolent property damage” for Righties: one person can do it without trying to put together a conspiracy. Nor does it injure people. But let’s be blunt: though no people are hurt it is, despite what Lefties say, violence and it would get very ugly, very fast. And it wouldn’t be entirely effective. The Institutions wouldn’t be destroyed. They’d still be there.

But what happens if the Trump administration is a player? No, I don’t think the Trump administration is going to be putting people in camps, or offering free helicopter rides. What the Trump admin might do is use the full force of the federal government to take a chainsaw to Leftist Institutions’ funding and power. Which threat, of course, could spur radical Lefties to violence. (Remember: provoking your enemy to violence is a goal.)

It gets really nasty if government and non-government factions combine, whether by design or merely taking advantage of each other. What could that look like? Imagine this sequence of events:

President Trump goes to hold a provocative rally in a Leftist area of a Leftist city, inviting a “shut this shit down” Lefty riot. The riot happens. Righties show up… and join the rioting Lefties, ensuring that as much damage is done to local property as is possible. Trump’s DOJ blames the Lefty rioters for the damage, prosecutes for conspiracy to riot, and tears apart their funding structure under RICO. The federal government delays for ages, and finally (on the start of a holiday weekend) denies the city recovery assistance for damages, motivating other cities to avoid that fate by proactively shutting down any Lefty radicals who show signs of organizing.

I dunno if that’d work, or what hell it’d unleash. But I can see something like that happening.

Ultimately, what nongovernmental actors can do depends on their capabilities, organization… and money. Money was the big thing that hampered radical groups in the ’70s. People died or killed people or were arrested trying to get it.

In the 70s, radicals were basically limited to 3 options:

  1. parasitizing existing institutions (like FALN and the Episcopal Church),
  2. leeching off organizations of well-off radicals (Weatherman and the National Lawyers’ Guild), or
  3. robbing banks (everyone else).

Robbing banks isn’t a great strategy long-term. That’s how people got police attention, and occasionally gunfights and murder charges. In 2016, I’d expect radicals to use electronic crime options: ransomware, identity theft, that sort of thing. Less risk of detection. On the Left, though, most violent plots would be funded in the same manner as the FALN: parasitization.

Given the sea of Lefty foundations, nonprofits, and professions, parasitizing a few organizations to fund terrorism would be very doable. Nor would it be hard for YouTube stars or Leftists with Patreons — or, hell, the National Lawyers’ Guild — to turn money toward radicals.

On the Right, funding would be more of a challenge. It always is. Bitcoin would make funding anonymously easier. Also, many righties would be acting alone, so they wouldn’t have huge budgets. Still, the Left, again, has an absolutely massive structural advantage.

There will also be efforts to target each others’ funding. Note that Lefties already do this to Righties, and Righties to Lefties. Righties want to not give their own money to their enemies. Lefties want no one to give any money to their enemies. You can see some of this going on now re: defunding Planned Parenthood. For the pro-life groups, it’s about abortion, full stop, but for Steve Bannon, I’m guessing it’s about a powerful institution that uses money & political organization to support enemy politicians. Of course he’d look to stop taxpayer dollars from going to Planned Parenthood. If you think of politics as a war, that’s a no-brainer.

This is a rare area where Lefties are more vulnerable than Righties, because Lefty organizations get more taxpayer support than Righties do. Lefties are great at mobilizing boycotts and targeting advertisers, though, as we’re seeing them currently do with Breitbart. Could issues over some of this turn violent? Yeah. People could be threatened for advertising, showing support, etc. Any violence would be attention-getting threats/demonstrations, rather than murders. Breaking windows, bombs in offices at night, and the like.

Mostly, though, Americans who turn to political violence will target gatherings of their enemies, and people on their enemies’ lists. Because people are angry at their enemies. They want to punish them. All this godawfulness gets even wackier if the factions of the government get involved. Which, uh. They sort of already are.

The Left has the Bureaucracy and the Deep State. To judge from the press, the CIA is already at war with the Trump administration. So if there are any Righties still dreaming of smiting, lemme point out again: the Left is better placed to go at it than the Right is.

Righties might go, “Yeah, but the military!” Yes, the military runs very heavily Righty. As do the cops. To which my answer is: if we get Civil War II, how many Americans do you think the U.S. military is willing to run over with tanks?

At some point, there’s going to have to be a negotiated settlement for either strong federalism or national divorce. But we’re not gonna do either, because Americans want to rule each other, so.

If you’re asking, no, I don’t know how we’re going to stop this. I don’t even know why you’d ask me. Maybe CalExit could take some pressure off, but I dunno. I feel that bad times are coming.

All right, I’ve yammered more than that game theory guy. Let’s recap and wind up:

The Left wants to disrupt the Right’s power, organizations, celebrations.

The Right is sick of Leftist disruption and wants to punish it with force.

The hard Left has an effective infrastructure. The hard Right is looking to build one.

The hard Left will use the tactics it’s already using.

The hard Right will use Leftist tactics, at which point the Press will become very interested in denormalizing those tactics.

I’m guessing the Trump administration will try to eviscerate Lefty Institutions with budget cuts and the hard Left infrastructure with RICO.

Look for lots of property destruction, by everyone. I would not be surprised to see innovative tactics used to destroy property.

The press is a Lefty weapon and a Righty target.

Everyone will have enemies’ lists. All of us are already on somebody’s.

Effective Righty violence will be, by necessity, by loners or by really close conspiracies (think family members).

Effective Lefty violence will be by capable, fully operating cells.

If we get political violence between civilians, it’s mostly going to be low-level until it abruptly isn’t.

Some suicidal mass murder types may copycat political violence and choose political targets.

You do not want white people to riot. You Do Not. Want. White People. To Riot.

Nobody wants Civil War II. That doesn’t mean we won’t get it anyway.

I feel a little sick writing about this stuff. And a little stupid for talking about it. It sounds crazy in daylight. But every place I’ve been that had this happen thought it sounded crazy, too. And I have a bad feeling that right now what Americans want is to chop each other down like trees.

You want to know what I’m really terrified of? Imagine a few dozen iterations of this story:

There’s a famous case where a shadowy group was after a high-value, high-status target who used his considerable resources to retreat. The group couldn’t get to him. So they targeted everybody associated with him: Friends. Family. Staff. Lawyers. Sympathetic journalists. Eventually, that utter devastation of infrastructure led to the death of the high-value, high-status target, whose name was Pablo Escobar.

That’s what I’m really scared of. Killing like that, on repeat. It’s my nightmare scenario. I know it’s unlikely. But — and this is the stupidest part of this whole thing — after 2016, I’m a little superstitious, and I’m wary of omens.

The shadowy group that unleashed carnage on Pablo Escobar’s Institutions had a name.

They were known as Los Pepes.

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So You Want to Move to the European Union

Welcome back, coastal elites! In the wake of the 2016 US presidential election, many of you have expressed interest in moving to Canada or one of the 28 member states of the European Union. I can’t help you with Canada, but as it happens, I’ve lived in Belgium for the last seven years and finally became a permanent resident last week. This has meant having to learn the ins and outs of one of the more opaque bureaucracies in the world — there’s a reason it’s the rudest word in the Universe — but if someone as pathologically disorganized as I am can pull off emigration, so can you.

The EU is basically a constitutional confederation. Its member states are all sovereign nations, but they’ve also harmonized (i.e., made mutually consistent) many of the laws that govern inter-state interaction. This includes immigration law. So, while there will be small variations in procedure from country to country, the process as a whole is basically standardized EU-wide and consists of several different routes. I have personally gone through three of them: family reunification, salaried employment, and the “highly skilled worker” program, so most of my advice will focus on these paths.

Here are some of the questions Americans have asked me recently:

I’m married to/the minor child of/the parent of an EU national. Can I get citizenship through them?

This route requires the least paperwork, so we’ll tackle it first. The procedures for all the other routes require additional paperwork on top of what’s described in this section, so either read this part now or refer back to it later.

Short answer: Yes, if you’re willing to learn their country’s language. Depending on the country, you may also have to move there and wait a few years.

Longer answer: Citizenship and residency are two different things. Citizenship includes rights and privileges such as the right to vote, the right to a passport, and the ability to give up other citizenships you already hold. (Most EU countries allow dual citizenship, but a few, like Bulgaria, Slovakia, Croatia, the Baltic republics, and Spain, require naturalized citizens to give up any previous nationality.) Being an informed voter means being able to understand the local issues, so in order to extend the franchise to you, your host country will expect you to demonstrate language proficiency (typically to level A2 or B1, which are the second and third of six levels) first.

Residency just means “you live there legally.” However, thanks to the Schengen Agreement, there are mostly no border controls within the EU. (The UK is an exception because it isn’t part of Schengen. More on this later.) So if all you want to do is live, work, and travel around in Europe, residency is all you really need. If your relative is already an EU national, there’s even a special residence category for you, “non-EU family member of an EU citizen.” It also applies to people in civil unions, provided the country you want to move to recognizes same-sex marriages or partnerships. (This is basically everywhere except Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Poland. Hungary and Croatia have civil unions but a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, so a US same-sex marriage probably translates to a civil union, but obviously I’ve never tried this so don’t bet the farm on it.)

The very first thing you and your relative need to do is make sure that your relative’s documents are in order. If your relative’s EU passport or ID card has expired, get it renewed. The “citizen services” department of the relevant country’s embassy can help you with this. E.g., if your relative is French, go to the French embassy; if they’re Austrian, go to the Austrian embassy, and so on and so forth.

While you’re at it, start getting your own paperwork together. Most countries let non-EU family members of EU citizens file for residency while they’re already present on a tourist visa. The only one that requires you to apply from outside the country is Austria; everywhere else, you can relocate along with your relative and then apply.

The Schengen Agreement effectively gives Americans an automatic “brief sojourn” (type C) visa on arrival in a member state. It’s good for up to 90 days, with the catch that you can only stay in the Schengen area for 90 days out of any 180. To be admitted for a stay longer than that, people who aren’t family members of an EU citizen (or who are, but are going to Austria) will need a “national” visa, also known as type D, which we’ll get into in more detail later.

The embassy’s website will have forms for visa applications, so if you’ll need one, download it and fill it out. If you don’t already have a US passport, get one — the book, not the card. Ditto for your kids, if you have any. When you go to apply, note that there is a difference between passport acceptance facilities and passport agencies. Normally, a passport agency will only deal with you if you already have a ticket to your foreign destination, but “I need to apply for a visa” is an exception to this rule. If you’re near a passport agency, go there — they’re faster — and bring your visa application with you. Hold on to any extra passport photos, or if you threw the extras away when you got your passport originally, get new ones; you’ll need to submit one with your visa application.

You will also need to prepare the documents that verify the composition of your family. This includes your marriage license, and if you have any kids, their birth certificates. (If you’re in a common-law marriage or partnership, go to the courthouse and have a justice-of-the-peace wedding; it’s generally easier to register a US wedding in the EU than it is to get married in the EU.) You’ll need to get these documents certified via another document called an apostille, which is like the international-law version of a notarization. In most places, you can do this by mail or in person through the relevant state’s Secretary of State. (So, if you were married in Ohio but now live in New York, your marriage license needs an apostille from the Ohio Secretary of State. If you had a daughter in New Mexico, moved to California, and then had a son there, her birth certificate needs an apostille from New Mexico and his needs one from California.) You may also need to get these documents translated into the national language of the country you want to move to; check with the embassy to be sure. For some weird reason, there is usually a time limit on how old the apostille can be — six months is typical — so keep this in mind as you collect the plot coupons for your application.

(Applications for citizenship typically also require your birth certificate, apostilled and translated. Additional paperwork requirements will vary by country, as will any required waiting period. If you’ve been married to and lived with a Dutch citizen for at least three years, are fluent in Dutch, and meet a few other qualifications, you can apply directly for Dutch citizenship. In France, it’s five years of marriage, or four if your spouse is registered as a French national living abroad. However, the spouse of a Belgian has to obtain residency first, wait five years, and then apply for citizenship; the spouse of a German has to wait three. This is why we’re focusing on residency.)

Once you have all the plot coupons together, go to the embassy, get your marriage registered with the country, and apply for your visa. Like I said before, everywhere except Austria you can also do this at the local administration of whatever municipality your spouse is registered in if you’re already in-country on a tourist visa. However, if you go that route, it’s a good idea to report your presence and file your residency application as soon as possible after you arrive. Legally, they can’t kick you out if your tourist visa (or the visa the embassy issued you) expires while you’re waiting on the authorities to issue your “family member of an EU national”-category residence card, but if you have to travel outside of Schengen, returning on an expired visa may be awkward. Best to give the gears of bureaucracy as much time as you can. Your residence card, once it arrives, will be good for five years, and you don’t need a work permit to get a job. When you go to renew it, you can apply for permanent residency.

Depending on what country you’re going to, or in some cases, what part of a country, you may also be required to take an “integration course.” These are part civics class, part country-specific basic life skills class (e.g., when and how to deal with various administrative offices, how to interview for a job, national customs), and mostly language class. France requires this for all new immigrants; in Belgium, the Flemish region does (and they’ll fine you up to €500 if you don’t enroll), but the Brussels region and Wallonia don’t.

I want to work for an EU company, or I want the multinational company I work for to transfer me to an EU office.

Short answer: There are two ways to do this. One is marginally less hassle over time if you already have at least a bachelor’s degree (or, in some countries, five years’ professional experience in the field you’ll work in), but both routes are about the same amount of effort up front. You will need both a work permit, which is issued by some relevant employment ministry in the country you’re going to, and a Schengen type D visa, which is issued by the immigration ministry and for which a work permit is a prerequisite. These are the plot coupons that unlock your residence permit. After five years of continuous legal residency (you’re allowed to travel, but you have to keep your paperwork current), you’ll be eligible for permanent residency.

Long answer: Whether you apply for a European blue card (“Europe’s answer to the US Green Card”) or as an ordinary worker, the company you work for has to sponsor you by obtaining a work permit for you. In most cases, you’ll have to start this process from your home country. (I was on a family reunification visa from 2009 to 2011; when I switched to a work visa in 2012, I had to go back to the US and apply from there.)

Depending on which country you’ll be hired in, the permit (and your residence card) will have to be renewed every one or two years. After five years, you can apply for permanent residency, which frees you up from the work permit requirement. The advantage of the blue card is that you only have to maintain a valid work permit for two years, after which your residency gets extended another three years and your blue card itself counts as your work permit. I’ve done both, and if I’d known I could have avoided three years of annual paper-chase, I would have gone the blue card route to begin with. But if a blue card isn’t an option for you, the regular-employment route isn’t terrible. It’s just more frequent interaction with bureaucracy.

The blue card is for “highly skilled workers,” which the EU defines as having academic qualifications or professional experience, being paid at least 1.5 times the average national salary in the country where you apply, and having any necessary professional qualifications. Countries can also have a list of professions in high demand, for which the required average-national-salary multiplier can be as low as 1.2. IT is probably the most common field on those lists, but health care, the natural sciences, engineering, and even teaching and law are common among those countries that exercise this option.

So, here’s how this works. First, get yourself hired. Getting hired without a work permit may sound counterintuitive, but your work contract will be a required document in any initial work permit application. (Renewing your work permit typically doesn’t require another copy of your contract, but does often require copies of all your pay stubs from the previous year, so if you don’t get those online, don’t throw them away!) Contracts in the EU aren’t like offer letters in the US; they’re formal, extremely detailed, and several pages long. When you’re hired on the basis of a work permit, the contract will (or at least should) state that it enters into force from the date the permit is issued. In other words, the sooner the permit’s issued, the sooner you can start.

Apart from your contract, the other plot coupons you’ll need to apply for a work permit vary from country to country. Most countries require a medical examination confirming that you don’t have any quarantinable diseases (think tuberculosis, not HIV). They’ll usually provide a form for this. The catch is, either the exam has to be performed by a doctor in the country you’re going to or one in your country approved by the embassy — and those can be hard to find; Belgium, for example, has a list of seven for the entire United States — or you can get an unapproved doctor to do the exam, get the form notarized, and then get it apostilled. This may mean having to call around. The second time I had to apply for a work visa (long story, I’ll explain in a minute), I wasn’t near one of the approved doctors, and none of the nearby clinics that anyone I knew was familiar with were willing to do the exam. (I think they were concerned about legal liability in case the form was rejected. Protip one: minor emergency clinics are useless on this front, so find a real doctor.) Eventually I found a gerontologist at a local hospital who was willing to do it. Protip two: Mobile notaries are really helpful in this situation. They can meet you in the waiting room and witness the signing of the form when the exam is done.

When you have all your work permit plot coupons together, take them to the embassy and file that application. Then it’s time for round two: filing for your type D visa. This is a lot like the process described above; you’ll need your visa application form, your passport, and your work permit once it arrives. However, there will generally be other paperwork requirements as well. The most common is a nationwide background check on yourself, which in EU countries is a completely ordinary thing that you can get at any police station or city hall. Since the US doesn’t have federal police, the closest equivalent is an FBI background check, and that’s what the embassy will expect. There are two ways to do this. If you can wait three to four months, you can print out this form, take your own fingerprints (your local police station may be willing to do this for you if you don’t know how), and mail them to the FBI along with this form and an $18 money order or cashier’s check (they also take credit cards online). If you’re in a hurry, you can go to what the FBI calls a “channeler,” but you’ll pay through the nose for it. Channelers are private companies in the background-check business, and handle fingerprinting for everything from concealed-carry permits to bus driver applications. They’re not cheap, but they will turn it around quickly.

Once you’ve arrived on your new visa, you still have to go get your residence card — the right to work and the right to reside are not the same thing. Do this as soon as you can, especially if your country’s immigration ministry has a reputation for taking its time. The clock on your work permit starts ticking as soon as it’s issued, and every day that your visa application is processing is another day of work permit validity gone. When I filed for my work visa in 2012, the process took so long that when I got back to Belgium, I only had about five months left on my work permit. It also took so long for them to issue my residence card that when I went to get my work permit renewed, they couldn’t do it because I didn’t have a residence card yet. I had to go back to the US and start the whole work visa process over again.

You see why I say the less paperwork, the better.

I don’t have a job offer from an EU company, but my non-EU spouse does.

Great, then family reunification is for you. Most countries will let you apply as soon as your spouse has their residence card, but about a third — in particular, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia (with some exceptions), France (also with some exceptions), Greece, Ireland, Lithuania (again, with some exceptions), Luxembourg, Malta, and Poland (exceptions here too) — will make you wait anywhere from 15 months to 3 years before you can join them. Unlike family reunification with an EU citizen, usually you cannot apply from within the country and must instead apply for a type D visa at an embassy in your home country. (There are exceptions; I got my family reunification permit in 2009 while I was already in Belgium, but it was a highly irregular situation and we had to get lawyers involved.)

In most countries, the process is very much like the process for migrating for work, just replacing the work permit with your partner’s residence card — the passport, the medical check, the FBI background check, your apostilled marriage license if you’re married, and your dependents’ apostilled birth certificates if you have any, plus whatever other paperwork the country requires. For Americans, the Netherlands are an exception to this rule — your partner already in the Netherlands can apply for a residence permit for you, or you can come to the Netherlands and apply yourself, no mucking about with the embassy required.

Whether you can work or not depends on the kind of residence permit your spouse has. If your spouse is on a residence permit that requires them to have a work permit to hold a job, you’ll need one too, from whatever company you go to work for. Once your spouse is a permanent resident and no longer needs a permit to work, you won’t need one either, but remember, this takes five years. What if your spouse is on a blue card and no longer needs a work permit from their employer, but doesn’t have permanent residency yet? This is a gray area, and will be country-dependent, but the way the regulations are phrased, your status depends on your sponsor’s status. Technically speaking, a blue card in its third to fifth year of validity is a work permit, but that permit is still required until your sponsor has permanent residency. So, a conservative interpretation would require you to get a work permit from your employer if you want to hold a job.

I don’t want to work for someone else, I want to freelance or start a company in the EU.

These routes exist, but there’s a lot more variation between countries with respect to how difficult (or possible) they are to pursue. By all accounts, it is extremely easy to get a self-employment visa for Germany, and US citizens can apply while they’re in Germany on a tourist visa. Lithuania restricts self-employment to just a few careers (journalism, sports, the performing arts, religious work). Belgium requires a “professional card” for freelancers who would otherwise require a work permit, but it’s not especially clear how this works for people in an unregulated profession (e.g., programming). In the Netherlands and Portugal, you have to prove that you have an existing freelance contract that will be in force while you’re there. Some countries will require you to submit a business plan and set up a local company in order to freelance. Slovenia and Cyprus won’t let you enter for self-employment purposes at all.

If your host country requires you to set up a local company, you will have to fund it with some minimum amount of capital, known as “share capital.” Again, this varies wildly from country to country, from €1165 in Malta to  €2500 in Estonia to €18,550 in Belgium. Be prepared to learn a lot about your host country’s social security program, because in nearly all cases, you’ll be paying into it. (If your end goal is citizenship, this is practically a given.) Better yet, get an accountant, preferably one who can handle both US taxes and your home country’s tax and social security system.

(A quick word about taxation: it’s complicated. Tax relationships between the US and other countries are determined via treaty. The US could, in theory, enter into a multilateral treaty with the EU to harmonize taxation, but they haven’t yet, so you’ll have to look up the bilateral treaty between the US and your host country to find out what your tax obligations are. One constant is that if you perform work on US soil while residing in another country — say, if you travel to the US for a meeting — the IRS will collect its pound of flesh on any income earned while you’re stateside. Beyond that, seriously, get an accountant.)

I want to get a degree at an EU university and then figure out what to do with myself.

First you’ll have to get admitted, which is between you and the university you pick. Once you’ve been accepted, the process for obtaining a student visa is roughly the same as the process for a work visa, with your acceptance letter in place of the work permit. A student visa is also a type D visa.

You’ll also have to demonstrate that you can cover your tuition and living expenses. It’s possible to be a student with a job, but it won’t be a full-time one. Your host country can’t limit you to any less than ten hours a week, but you can’t necessarily count on more, either.

If you’re pursuing a graduate degree, you have more options. As you might expect, there are more funded research positions in the sciences than in the humanities, but the latter do exist. If you’re in a funded position, your salary will cover your tuition and fees, as well as a modest but comfortable lifestyle. During my first two years in Belgium, Len supported us (and our cat) on his researcher salary, and although we had to budget and live within our means, it was manageable.

As far as I’m aware, time spent in an EU country as a student counts toward permanent residency. This is true for EU citizens studying in another EU country, and I think it’s also true for third-country nationals, but check your host country’s laws to be sure. Note that if you are not a permanent resident by the time you graduate (and you probably won’t be), you will still need a work permit to hold a job until you are one. Whether you can convert your temporary residency from “student” to “worker” without leaving the country is, as usual, country-dependent.

I am disabled and cannot work or study but want to emigrate anyway.

… Your life is going to be more complicated, and I don’t have any good news for you.

Operating a welfare state successfully isn’t cheap. Although many benefits of the social safety net are often equally available to citizens and non-citizens — for example, the up-front cost of visiting a general practitioner in Belgium is fixed, somewhere around €25 — one way that countries control the cost of the safety net is by restricting “access to public funds” to people who have paid into the social security system already. In general, you’ll have to demonstrate that you have some means of financially supporting yourself (or being financially supported by someone else — i.e., that you’re their dependent) in order to be admitted for more than three months.

Look, I told you it wasn’t good news.

On the other hand, if you’re a family member of an EU national and you’re disabled, they won’t hold that against you. Or at least they’re not supposed to; I’m not sure how well that works out EU-wide in practice, but anecdotally I hear Luxembourg is good about it. So there’s that.

One more option: if you require medical treatment that will last longer than three months, it is also possible to get a type D visa for medical reasons. You’ll have to demonstrate that you’ve made the arrangements in advance, can afford it, and will have financial support while you’re here, but if you can manage that, it’s a type D visa like any other. To stay on past the end of your treatment, you’ll have to transfer to another category (worker, student, &c), though this may be difficult to arrange while you’re busy with health care matters. You are playing on hard mode. Good luck.

Is there a way to relocate to Europe without doing all this paperwork?

Kind of, if you’re willing to be nomadic or maintain two residences and split your time between them.

The “90 days out of any 180” rule in the Schengen Agreement doesn’t apply to every country in the European Union. It doesn’t even apply to every country in the eurozone. Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Cyprus, and Ireland aren’t part of Schengen, and Ireland is also on the euro. (Since Ireland’s absence from Schengen has to do with the Common Travel Area it maintains with the UK, this could change as Brexit progresses, but nothing’s happened yet.) Strictly speaking, it is possible to bounce between Schengen and non-Schengen countries every three months pretty much indefinitely, or as long as you’re willing to put up with the hassle of relocating that often. Other non-Schengen options that aren’t part of the EU include Serbia, Albania, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Montenegro. (Belarus and Ukraine don’t do visa-free travel for Americans.)

I’ve done this, and it kind of sucked. Three months isn’t a lot of time to get used to a place, but if you’re the kind of person who thrives on change or doesn’t like to put down roots, it is doable. However, it has its limitations. You won’t be able to work legally for a local employer, some countries won’t let you get a bank account, and none of the time you spend in a country will count toward permanent residency — those five years have to be contiguous. If your end goal is to relocate permanently, this is not a great option. You will of course continue to be a US citizen and pay US taxes.

 

That’s everything people have asked me about so far, and everything I wish I’d known about EU immigration before I took the plunge. I’ll try to answer questions in the comments, if I’m competent to answer them. Best of fortune on your journey!

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Your Leaders Work For You, Not You For Them

Most people think about their superiors in the wrong way.

Most people have this attitude, in politics, or business, or whatever, that the leaders are heroes who will solve all your problems and vanquish the fiends that are keeping you down. The real world does not work like this, and to those people, leaders are constant sources of disappointment.

Some people, on the other hand, see leaders as bullies, thieves, tyrants, who would dominate and to whom you owe nothing but resistance.

These are naieve fantasy attitudes. In the real world, problems are messy, and no one person could ever come in and solve them. Most leaders are not tyrants, and the ones who are rarely look like the kind of comic book Nazi stereotype everyone’s obsessed with.

People look at leaders and adopt a follower mentality. I don’t understand it myself, but it must be deeply seated in the human psyche. They fall in line, sap themselves of agency, get burned, and get upset when that happens.

But the best leaders are not those who bark orders and wait for you to follow. The best leaders are people who get things done, and empower their followers to do the same.

The best leaders need the best followers. The best leader isn’t worth a damn when her followers are hordes of unthinking drones. Zergrushing works in Starcraft, but the real world is not a sci-fi shoot-em-up. The best leaders need smart, capable followers, to build a team and make great things happen.

In whatever you’re doing, in pursuit of any goal, an invaluable attitude to have is that you and your leaders are on the same side, in pursuit of that goal. You are working together. They are empowering you to execute on whatever you need to do to get everyone to that goal. They find roadblocks and remove them, before you hit them. They help everyone be just that much better. I like to imagine that they’re the casters with all the auras, to keep this Blizzard metaphor going.

Taking this attitude is empowering and liberating. On the one hand, cooperation is generally a good way to solve problems. Approaching a problem with an attitude that your leader is a fascist imposing on you by force, is not a great strategy. On the other hand, it lets you take a step back and think: is my leader actually doing this? Is he actually empowering you? Or is he a tyrant?

When you look at leaders this way, choosing to follow becomes more significant. It becomes a choice. You keep your agency. Just as you chose to subject yourself to their leadership, you can choose to walk away. While they help you achieve your goals, walk alongside them. If they abuse their authority, fire them and find ones who won’t. Your loyalty is precious. They are not entitled to it. They have to earn it. They work for you.

Remember that gaffe, a while back, when Mitt “I bet you regret demonizing me in press now, huh?” Romney said he likes being able to fire people? This is exactly the right attitude to have. Hold your leaders accountable. If they are not doing a good enough job, fire them and find better ones. By which I mean, stop following them, and follow someone else.

This post is short, because there’s only so many different ways I can say this. Your leaders work for you. They work for you. Fire them if they’re slacking on the job. They are there, because you choose to let them be there. They are there because they make your life easier. And if they don’t do these things, don’t let them be there.

Don’t let them sap your agency. You are a human, with your own thoughts and dreams and hopes and goals! When you choose to follow a leader, you do not shelve all of that to do what they say. You decide, each and every day, that this person is helping me get closer to my goals. You collaborate with them, working cooperatively, not antagonistically, to get whats best for you. You follow them because they’re leading where you want to go. You do what they tell you to do, not because they told you to, but because you have chosen to. And you could just as easily have chosen not to.

Y’all might think I’m trying to make some wider point about politics, what with the Theocracy of Kek being founded next week and all, but I’m not. This is simpler, more mundane. This isn’t an ideological thing, but practical advice for living a happy, healthy life. Always remember that you’re in the driver’s seat. Following a leader is cruise control. You do it because it makes it easier for you to go where you wanted to go. Where you wanted to go. You turn it off when it stops being helpful.

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Journalistic Innovation

A lot of technological innovation has followed the same pattern.

A given good or service starts its life as Home Production. This is what it sounds like: people making things for themselves, in their homes. This is how virtually all things were created prior to the industrial revolution. The blacksmith had a forge in his house, you went there if you needed a tool. The weaver’s cottage was the cottage they lived in. This is not a very efficient process. It takes tons and tons of time, and tons and tons of resources, but it requires virtually no upfront investment. When a new innovation is born, nobody really knows if it will be valuable, and nobody is willing to invest in it. Interested people engage in home production if they want it. Eventually, if enough people do this, a viable market is formed.

After the innovation grows out of home production, it transitions to Industrial Production. This is the industrial revolution. Mass production, replaceable parts, conveyor belts. Standardized products. The industrialist takes the various quirks from the various home producers, distills them down to a platonic ideal of what that thing is, and efficiently optimizes for producing that at scale. During the process, they learn a lot. What elements can be taken away without affecting the core of the product. What elements need to be added to make it work. Issues with production at scale. Bugs to work out. Everything.

Eventually, through a combination of market saturation and technological progress, the price of this good drops lower and lower and lower. A threshold is hit where it is cheap enough to produce customized goods at scale. The learnings from industrial production can be applied, learning which rules you can break to innovate, learning what fundamentals you need to keep to make it work. Empowered by these learnings, customized goods can be professionally produced for everyone. This is Modern Production.

The invention of bread is probably the best toy example of this. Five hundred years ago, most people baked their own bread, either at their home or via a community bakery. There was no quality control, no standardization. No two loaves were the same. They were expensive and labour intensive to manufacture.

Industrialization led to the invention of sliced bread. Industrial scale food production collected learnings from a large swath of independent bakers, and distilled bread down to it’s platonic ideal: uniformly shaped, sliced, white bread. We produced this at scale, and soon everyone was eating the exact same bread. It wasn’t great. But it was good enough.

Eventually we became so good at producing bread that it became cost-effective to professionally produce a large assortment of different breads. Now, bread lives in the modern production stage, and I can buy a dozen different kinds at Pirate Joe’s, for less than one hour’s minimum wage.


A while back I was listening to (I think) an episode of Planet Money, and they were talking about the history of journalism. They claimed that it arose out of privately funded market research.

In the age of sail, wealthy merchants had business dealings across all the major European capitals, and they made their fortunes on the stock market. Perhaps one businessman wished to stake his fortune on French crepes. As a responsible investor, he wanted to make sure he was making wise investments, so he did market research. This research was often ad hoc, done as it could be. He might pay a traveller headed to Paris to mail him when she got there, telling him the latest Parisian gossip about crepes. In this way, he learned about market trends and was able to make very profitable trades.

These travellers, it was argued, were the first journalists, and their journalism was home production. It was ad hoc, of relatively poor quality, inconsistent, and personal.

Eventually, as society became larger and richer, and more and more people held interest on far off places, these travellers professionalized into what we now know as journalists. They set up standards and practices for how to do journalism “right”. Reporting stopped being a purely regional thing, as large media empires were formed. It lasted this way up until recently, with well understood, precisely-controlled, standardized news delivered to us from the news factories. This was the age of industrial news production. Until the internet happened.

When Twitter, Facebook, and various other social networks popped up, the news industry changed dramatically. By far the biggest difference was a massive reduction in cost. As we’re all journalists now, the marginal cost of producing journalism is zero. Hey look, I’m doing it right here, right now! How much did you all pay me? Exactly.

This marked the transition of news into modern production. We have heard a lot about how print is dying, social media has turned journalism into a slave wage meat grinder, clickbait in service of ads is a necessity. But the flip side, as always: the falling cost of news production makes new doors open. A hundred years of official reporting processes and standards have been understood. We know what parts of news production are essential, what parts can be modified, and what can be thrown away. We know how to make foundations of news cheaply, so we can build all manner of customizations on top. We know how to privately produce customized, professional news.

A friend of mine grokked the implications of this, though he didn’t realize it at first. In the week after the US election, he pointed out something interesting. He said: so campaigns have their own private pollsters, as well as relying on the mainstream media. The mainstream media was disastrously wrong in their predictions. But, presumably, Trump’s pollsters knew what was really going on, since they leveraged it. We can never know this for sure, we can only guess. But consider the full implications of this: One guy, paying for his own private news source, was able to get more truthful, reliable, and actionable news information than the entire journalism industry combined. Modern production.


There are a lot of people who have strong interests in truthful, reliable, actionable news. Per the NPR (iirc) story, it was originally driven by direct economic pressures. As journalism industrialized, plenty of people looked to publications like the New York Times to inform them on very important social, political, and economic concerns. But what has happened now that everyone can commission their own private news?

There’s been a lot of talk about “fake news” recently. The extremely grim implications of the fact that the authorities were able to manufacture consent for severe censorship and propaganda programs over the span of a month, I’ll touch on some other time. Right now, I’m more interested in understanding this phenomenon.

I’ve spoken at length about things like this for years, ever since I found out that journalism is unethical. To me, this is no surprise, but consider why this has happened: people do not care if news is true.

This may seem strange, as everyone thinks they care about truth. The truth is, few do. In most circumstances, truth does not matter. I read a news article about a random pizzeria that won’t cater a gay wedding (I will use this example until I die), it does not matter to me whether that story is true. Why? Because I’ll never know. This story is completely inactionable to me, it’s set in a place I will never be. The only interaction between this story and my life will be when I read it. So if it’s effect on my life is unfalsifiable, is it even valid to call it true at all?

We used to enjoy true, accurate media, because some people relied on that media to inform high-stakes decisions. But if news is now in modern production, if it is viable for people to get individualized professional information on the things they need, then there is no more incentive for the mainstream media to be accurate. The people who care about those things get it elsewhere.

Take me for example. I stopped proactively reading the news about a year ago, checking out specific articles only when they were personally (not algorithmically, not via a share button) sent to me. And yet I am often more informed about current events than the people around me. Why? Twitter and police scanners. I have a police scanner app on my phone, configured to alert me when any scanner in North America sees a sudden spike in traffic. Whenever I get pinged, I know immediately that Something Newsworthy happened. Further, I have a primary source: police dialogue. This signals me to hop on to Twitter, where eyewitness accounts (complete with photos and video) are everywhere. By the time the mainstream news media even realizes there is an Event, I can already write the report.

So the question is: if I don’t need to rely on said media to give me a truthful reporting of the events, if I have better, faster, cheaper, more personalized sources, then why would they bother investing so much effort in true, reliable reporting? They won’t. They’ll give people what they want, and people want panem et circensesNews becomes entertainment, as the pressures for accuracy go elsewhere.

So this is my prediction for the future: “Fake news” is here to stay, and will only get worse. The prestigious mainstream media institutions are on a long, slow decline into irrelevance. Forevermore, news will become less and less relevant. But paradoxically, it will become easier and easier for individuals to get reliable, true, accurate, actionable information in ways that are cheap, easy, and plentiful. It just won’t be through the Cathedral.

I imagine a future where information sources specialize. Instead of going to The News to learn relevant information, I will contact a market research specialist for economic info. A political analyst for political news. A specialist for every source, available to all.

In other words: Wesearchr. It’s gonna be yuge.

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Minimum Viable Citizen

I’m a big fan of economic freedom. The freedom to buy and sell what I want, and to not buy and sell what I don’t want. And this is more than just a thinly veiled support of the free market. Private corporations make you buy things you don’t want all the time.

How many of you have television service? You probably pay a cable subscription in exchange for a ton of channels. But how many of those channels do you watch?  If you’re typical, probably not more than a dozen. So how is it fair to make you pay for over nine thousand channels when you only watch a handful? This is called bundling, and the folks over at Marginal Revolution talk about it all the time. Or, more precisely, they talk about unbundling.

See, the main purpose of bundling is to socialize the costs of niche products. So for example, you may only watch prime time mass market comedies on mainstream channels (actual cost: pennies), but you’re still charged the same $80/mo subscription fee as everyone else. Meanwhile, your neighbour might be a massive fan of ESPN (actual cost: a ton in licensing), but unwilling to pay the full cost of subscribing to it. In a world where each of you were charged only for what you use, you would pay a couple bucks a month, and your neighbour a couple hundred. But, of course, in that world, your neighbour would balk, cancel his subscription, and no sports would be watched. Thus, Shaw overcharges you to subsidize your neighbour, everyone gets more TV, and Shaw gets more money.

Economists though, don’t like this. As one of the normative beliefs they whisper between their catechism of impartiality, they’ll tell you over drinks that everything that can be unbundled, should be unbundled. Because, in effect: it’s not fair to make one person pay for someone else’s consumption. In the perfect world of frictionless economics, the market would hit equilibrium where peoples’ willingness to pay matches suppliers’ willingness to produce. S/D curves 101. By unbundling products, allowing each person to mix and match and pay for only what they want, each person has their resources freed up to better achieve their goals and priorities.


A while back, I was on a date with an AnCom activist from California. This was a bad idea, I know, but the spirit was willing and the flesh was weak. We were talking about air travel, as you do, and I mentioned that one of the things I missed about living in the States was cheap air travel. Air travel deregulation in the 70s is one of the greatest victories of free market economics. It’s why flying in the US is so much cheaper than up here, and it opened the door all sorts of other unbundling of the various aspects of flying. I don’t know about you guys, but I love it that wealthy businessmen pay $50 for priority boarding. It makes my flights that much cheaper.

The AnCom saw things differently. She raised as a counter-example Frontier Airlines. Frontier Airlines is the best example of airline unbundling. Their base fares are extremely cheap, but they charge for everything. $25 for a carry-on item ($50 if you don’t pay ahead of time). Selecting a seat at all carries a fee. In-flight drinks are not free. She saw this as a terrible example of an evil corporation squeezing every last profit out of their customers.

I protested. Gripe as you will, Frontier is knocking it out of the park with this. It turns out, given the choice, people would rather have a cheaper flight. Maybe for well compensated software professionals like myself, saving the $25 by not checking a bag doesn’t matter. But for poorer folk, it can make all the difference. To them, $25 can be the difference between flying at all. And insofar as people are voting with their feet, they seem to love it. For all that people complain, as NPR Planet Money reports, Frontier is seeing amazing success. People are freed up to only pay for what they need, and to save money when they don’t. How is this possibly a bad thing?

Her response, in a nutshell: This is predatory. People are lazy. People are stupid. They see the base fare and assume that’s the cost. They don’t bother to (for example) notice the $25 carry-on fee. And then when they show up at the gate, they’re not only charged a fee, but slapped with a “penalty” (Total fee $50) for their ignorance. This is grossly unethical and must be stopped.


This is an interesting complaint. On the one hand, I am objectively correct. Frontier Airlines is the fastest growing airline. Ignore the complaints; people demonstrably value this pricing structure. But she has a valid point as well. There are no doubt people getting burned by this, and since they’re people flying Frontier and not Virgin, it’s a safe assumption that they’re not likely in the best position to afford it. I thought on this, and I came to a question.

Grant for the sake of argument that this is unethical. Is there anything that could be done that would allow Frontier to keep this pricing structure, while not being unethical? Could they, say, communicate this better upfront? Do the Uber surge price thing and make you confirm that you accept it? Are there certain things for which this is intrinsically unethical, and others for which it’s not? What is the specific threshold at which this practice becomes unethical?

Of course, because she’s an AnCom, her answer is somewhere in the realm of “making me pay for a flight at all is wage slavery”, and so that’s not a fruitful line of inquiry. But lets prax this out. What is the root cause of the problem? The root cause of the ethical problem is that, uncharitably paraphrasing her comments, people are too stupid to reason through this. The corporation on some level knows this, and takes advantage of it.

The customers are stupid, and therefore the corporation is responsible for accommodating them. It sounds strange when phrased this way, but I suspect that most peoples’ instincts fall along these lines. But… why? We take it for granted that a corporation has an ethical responsibility along these lines towards the general public. But what is the general public’s ethical responsibility in return? What level of competency is it ethically acceptable for a corporation to expect from the public? What are the requirements for a minimum viable citizen?

This rarely gets discussed. When it does, it’s usually assumed as a background fact and taken for granted. Progressives and left-wing reformers generally assume that everyone is helpless, and push to accommodate the lowest possible common denominator. Libertarians like to hand-wave it all away with “voluntary exchange”, pushing 100% of the personal responsibility onto the individual. What is the “correct” value? I don’t know, and I’m interested in hearing your accounts of this. But I think it’s critically important that this discussion gets had.

We live in a world where technology is growing at an unimaginable pace. Things that seemed miraculous a decade ago are trivially commonplace now. But as technology progresses, our society becomes more complex. The cost of using these technologies is rarely zero. They all depend on some element of learning. They all hold some basic expectations on their users.

Some people, like the AnCom, find these expectations intrinsically unethical. But along that path lies ruin. Taken to the extreme, that reasoning would suggest that cars should be banned, because it’s too hard for horse riders to learn how a steering wheel works. That would be nuts; clearly the invention of cars has been an enormous boon for humanity. And yet… there are no doubt some people out there for whom driving is too challenging, and a country that expects people to have the ability to drive, is a country in which they cannot be first-class citizens.

But on the flip side, expectations of arbitrary responsibility don’t work either. Back when I lived in San Francisco, it was impossible to find housing. What I, and many other tech people did, was script Craigslist. I had a recipe on IFTTT set up. Every fifteen minutes it would scan Craigslist for new rentals in my desired neighbourhoods and price ranges. It would automatically reply to them with a brief introductory email, and CC me so I could review them and follow up on the promising ones. In this market, this was a necessity. And yet, a market that expects this behaviour of its participants is a market where the vast majority of humanity is excluded by default.

As technology progresses, it will entail ever-rising requirements for people to make use of this technology. Some people will be able to. Some people will not. If we sit here and do nothing, sticking our fingers in our ears, inequality will increase, as the people who can handle the vagueries of Frontier-style pricing economically dominate the people who can’t read the fine print. If we insist on 100% accessibility and inclusion for everyone, we’ll end up with a stagnant society that can never innovate.

If we spoke openly about this, we could discuss the merits and drawbacks, balance the tradeoffs, and set a standard. We could then innovate with that expectation, freeing us from having to worry about every corner case. And we could work to prepare people for that, holding standards for them and supporting them in the process of achieving those standards. But the closest thing to a discussion of this that I’ve ever seen is David Chapman’s Meaningness blog, where he talks about the critical task of leveling people up to a stage 5 mentality. Unfortunately, the only people familiar with his work are people like us, the people who don’t need it.

So what makes for a minimum viable citizen? What expectations of peoples’ ability is it reasonable to hold? Are people even able to rise to these challenges? How can we support them in it if they can?

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It’s Protein World, We Just Live In It

I didn’t have a lot to say about the election this year. To be perfectly level with you, this was largely because my friend Zooko precommitted to unfollowing anyone who was tweeting about it, and looking back from late November, I think he kind of had a point. I’d remarked on Twitter, well before the primaries, that the breakneck pace of overwhelming demands for attention was going to exhaust people. (“You can’t fatigue the Trumpenkrieg,” shot back Andrew Auernheimer. Good ol’ weev.) In private conversations, I ruefully predicted another Brexit, though apparently not with enough conviction to have an analysis of my own prepared. (I’ve been writing other things, but most of them have been code.)

Even now, about all I have to say is that clearly nobody, least of all the media, learned anything whatsoever from Protein World.

(“What the hell is Protein World?”)

Of course you don’t remember Protein World. That was April 2015, nobody remembers that kind of ancient history! So. Protein World is an online store that sells weight loss products and employs some of the most deviously brilliant marketers ever born. Their UK advertising campaign for spring 2015 involved purchasing these ads:

beachbody

on the London Tube, sitting back, and waiting for knee-jerk anger to propel their graphic design in front of way more eyeballs than a £250,000 ad purchase ever could have done by itself. Needless to say, it worked. Never mind that two weeks into the ad’s three-week run, regulators pulled it; those two weeks of Twitter outrage and petition-shilling drove £1 million of direct sales Protein World’s way. The grapes of “They’ll win no awards for this” are extra sour when your “they” has already laughed its way to the bank.

(I pause to reflect, again, on social media’s own peculiar brand of amnesia. Flash outrages, though they may seem omnipresent from within the bubbles whose joint attention they consume, are often not that widespread in the broader scheme of things. What it is easy to excuse having missed, it is also easy to excuse forgetting about. From a more Huxleyan point of view, there’s no need to construct a mandatory memory hole when people are easily incentivized to build their own.)

Now, this may be a glass sword effect, extremely effective once but minimally so thereafter. When Protein World expanded their subway campaign to New York City as May 2015 ticked over into June, search traffic maybe rose slightly, but not distinguishably over the noise of the month following their UK campaign. That said, a TV ad campaign in January 2016 coincided with a visible increase in baseline search traffic — but the same thing happened in January 2015. Considering that the same kind of increase for “beach body” also happened in January 2014, when Protein World was just getting started, I’m going to chalk that up to new year’s resolutions rather than marketing savvy. Still, if you think for a moment that marketers aren’t paying attention, figuring out which tools are glass swords and which tools are reusable, you’re deluding yourself. (And for that matter, even if a glass sword is only useful once, it’s still useful that once.)

I leave the corresponding analysis of, for instance, breathless coverage of 300 edgelords in a hotel, as an exercise for the reader.

We live in a world where individuals, acting in concert, have the power to make literally anything important, and what do we choose to make important? The things that rise above the noise floor of our baseline level of annoyance, the more unusual or appalling the better. Of course people are going to hijack that tendency. Welcome to social engineering, the infosec praxis in which you, your thought processes, and your habitual tendencies, not your silicon or your software, are the attack surface.

We often find, in hacking, that other fields, generally perceived as less adversarial than their offensive-hacking counterparts, independently replicate certain aspects of the offensive domain. Fuzzing has equivalencies in test-driven development, and TDD is finding ways to incorporate fuzzing into its processes. Exploit development has equivalencies in type theory and logic solvers.

The mainstream equivalent of social engineering is, of course, marketing. Also PR.

The less reputable red-headed stepchild of social engineering is, of course, trolling.

When marketing and PR find ways to incorporate trolling into their praxis, we get Protein World. And we get the 2016 presidential election. And, apparently, everything that comes afterward.

The paradox of large countries is that no matter how carefully their machinery of state is designed to disempower populism, at a sufficiently large scale, populism becomes a necessary operational mechanism. If you need dozens of millions of voters to go to the polls for you in order to win, you have to find and convince those dozens of millions of people. If you don’t reach out to enough people, and don’t convince enough of the ones you do reach, that is very bad and you will not go to the White House next year. Blame whatever external forces you want, if your ground game isn’t there, you won’t get the turnout you need in order to win. This is life with 219 million eligible voters. It just seems very odd to me that anyone would think that continuing to broadcast ever more strident messages of fear to the same demographic that didn’t win the last election, while giving plenty of free coverage to something they claim to hate, will move the needle any further leftward.

George Lakoff has lamented, lately, that the left seems unable to grasp the notion of a conceptual frame. This is probably true, but it is compounded by what appears to be an intentional innumeracy. “But Hillary won the popular vote!” Which doesn’t matter, because the race is decided by a different function, namely the sum of electoral college votes. Win all the urban centers you like; if rural and suburban voters disagree with them and outnumber them statewide, those extra millions of votes in New York City and the Bay Area won’t help. It’s not a popularity contest among the voters, it’s a popularity contest among the states, and it doesn’t matter how much New York and California love you if too many other states think you suck. I’m not sure why it’s been so hard for the DNC to grasp this, but if they don’t, after 2020 there may not be much of a DNC left to do any grasping.

The other paradox of populism, of course, is that any sufficiently large popular movement attracts spotlights that bring whackjobs flocking in droves. Occupy got this in spades, with every kind of conspiracy theorist vying for the media’s attention on a leaderless movement. If anything, the alt-right is even less organized than Occupy was; as such, anything that looks like organization looks like a story, especially to a scope-insensitive audience. Forget fake news; where are the calls to action for not-even-wrong news? The grain of truth in that attention-hijack cocktail you’re slurping down doesn’t make it any better than the 100% artificial kind.

I confess I don’t see any easy way out of this. Fake news, and not-even-wrong news, hijack your attention because we got too good at detecting bots clicking on ads, to the point where it became easier for sites to compete for real users’ attention. Yay, I guess? But new problems carry with them new complications. You can’t solve a problem that exists because of a cognitive bias — a heuristic that developed so that its user can expend less effort — by asking people to expend more effort. (Tried it, only works in exceptional cases.) This hugely constrains the possible solution space, even though there’s a significant Pareto improvement at simple actions like “not sharing things you haven’t read.” That sweet spot between “not enough attention to read” and “enough attention to relay” is where troll marketing scores big.

If you’re worried about things becoming “normalized,” worry about the normalization of troll marketing. Particularly the fact that it’s already happened.

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Dude, Where’s My Privilege?

Sometimes it feels like the world has jumped the shark. It’s 2016, and the world outside my door is starting to get stranger than the world behind my screen. Most of this year, it’s been a constant low-grade background of absurdity, but occasionally something so ridiculous happens that I have to blink and pinch myself to make sure it’s real.

A while back was one such occasion. I’d been working with a coworker for a while to put on an after hours event. The topic is unimportant; we organized the event because an external partner suggested it and offered to pay for it, and who doesn’t love free publicity?

As you might expect, a panel-discussion event, where the speakers are non-technical employees of tech companies, attracts its fair share of the absurdity we like to call cordyceps. This one was no exception. One of the panel speakers began to answer the first question by explicitly checking her privilege. Essentially, she apologized for her company’s success, before going on to tell us how this company achieved it.

This was weird, obnoxious, and not relevant at all to the discussion at hand. But it wasn’t unexpected. The unexpected part was that she did it ten more times throughout the night. In a 45 minute panel discussion. With 3 speakers. That’s an average of one privilege check every 90 seconds she spoke.

I understand the idea of privilege and I understand why she did this. After all, part of the reason we focus so much on SJWs is because we do care about these issues. But this was ridiculously excessive. I can’t even begin to imagine the mentality of someone who feels the need to pepper her speech with these catechisms.


One thing that bothers me about this attitude is that it sees everything as a privilege. This was especially obvious at our event. The entire purpose of the event was for successful people at successful companies to share what made them successful, so that the rest of us can do it too. To start the discussion by checking the privilege “of even being able to have this discussion” is absurd. It implies that the success and achievements of everyone involved are random endowments from the universe, and not hard-won achievements created through the work of the people involved. If the person speaking thusly sincerely believed what she was saying about privilege, then she would have nothing else to say. The entire discussion would go like so:

Q: How were you able to drive success at your company, and what lessons do you have to share with the audience

A: I am so unbelievably privileged to work at a company that can focus on driving success. Not every company can afford to do that.

Q: Are you saying that your company’s success is just random chance, and has nothing to do with the work you’ve invested into it?

A: I guess so. Sucks to be all y’all, working at terrible companies.

This is the insidious thing about typical discussions around social justice and privilege. It assumes, as a background fact, a complete lack of individual agency for everyone. You, as a person, with thoughts and hopes and dreams and ambitions, you didn’t build that. You were given it, randomly and unfairly, by society, by virtue of your involuntary, nonconsensual inclusion in a group that we’ve defined into existence. Because this was bestowed at random, you have no legitimate claim on it. Instead, you must grovel and apologize for receiving it. Oddly, you don’t actually have to give it up and distribute it more fairly; simply acknowledging it is sufficient to being a good person.

This is really upsetting. It’s dehumanizing. It reduces individual humans to tokens of their identity group. It’s demoralizing. It takes away your ability to achieve, to feel proud about what you’ve done. It’s a depressing outlook on life.


If you saw me walking down the street, you might think “there goes another rich privileged yuppie”. You’d be wrong. I haven’t had even a tenth as many opportunities, gifts, privileges, as the people lobbing accusations. No, I’ve overcome adversity (real adversity, not college-admission fodder), bettered myself, and become an expert in what I do. I’ve worked hard, achieved well for myself, and I don’t apologize for this. Of course I’ve had my share of luck, people along the way that helped me out. Of course I have the ‘privilege’ of being born here, and not in the third world. But to take these small, specific elements of my experience and reduce it to “everything you have is an unearned privilege” is offensive. It’s disgusting.

I have to wonder, how can people who think this way manage their day to day? If you’re going through life, feeling like none of your accomplishments are your own, how could you do anything at all without feeling like a failure? Like you can’t achieve anything, because your achievements are not you own? I have no charitable ways of understanding that mentality.

Maybe Moldbug was right, and this is just Christian guilt, rebranded. Given my religious upbringing, this seems plausible to me. There’s a definite parallel between the religious, almost cult-like language this speaker was using, and various pastors I’ve heard throughout the ages.

Regardless of its origin, I reject this line of reasoning as toxic. It’s important to take pride in one’s work. To want to get better. To want to achieve goals. It’s how we get things done. It’s alarming to me that a contrary attitude is taking hold in my industry, one that says “all of this is arbitrary and random, you have no right to feel pride or ownership over your accomplishments, and you owe a debt to everyone else who haven’t worked as hard as you.” When nobody takes pride in their work, their work quickly becomes unworthy of pride. When the reward for hard work is more work, and the reward for slacking is handouts, hard work stops getting done.

Maybe the speaker and her friends and coworkers really are privileged. Maybe they had a wealthy upbringing. Maybe they got scholarships to the Ivy League. Maybe their jobs are sinecures. But some of us, many of us even, got where we were through hard work and sacrifice, and it’s not fair or reasonable to paint all of us with that same repressed-guilt paintbrush. My career, my accomplishments, my possessions, my home, my life, these aren’t privileges. I wasn’t given any of these. I made them.

So check your privilege, if you have to. I checked mine. It’s still not there. My achievements, on the other hand? Right where I left them.

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