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Belmont Club

A Dangerous Mind

May 12th, 2013 - 1:59 am

A science fiction short story written many years ago narrated the efforts by human colonists to eradicate vermin they found on their newly settled world. The environment on that distant planet were so harsh that the evolution of its indigenous species were orders of magnitude faster than on earth. But no one was worried. The colony had weapons.

Yet each time the settlers would create a new extermination device the vermin would mutate to something more formidable. The story ends with the colonists suspending their anti-vermin campaign in dismay.  The reason? The vermin was evolving into something very like a man.

The final line was something like “we can beat this. But it’s what comes after that worries me.”  That phrase should have occurred to the State Department officials who have ordered the removal of downloadable plans to print 3D guns. “Defense Distributed, an organization that recently released open-source plans for a 3-D printed gun, received a letter from the U.S. State Department to remove the plans. ”

The end product, a plastic firearm with the lethality of a World War 2 era zip gun, was not especially formidable. Yet the unspoken thought of  authorities must have been ”we can beat this.But it’s what comes after that worries me.” These forebodings must apply even more pertinently to any advanced process of transforming abstract ideas into physical objects. It is that technology rather than the specific application of earliest forms to firearms manufacture that should be of concern.

A plastic zip gun isn’t much of an objective threat. You can buy something much more lethal and far cheaper at your neighborhood sporting goods store. However the horizons opened up by the underlying technology are truly consequential.  For knowledge is application-neutral. Anything that can be used to build can be used to destroy, every agency of healing is potentially a lethal weapon. From the day Prometheus seized fire he acquired the means to burn himself.  The Center for Strategic and International Affairs described the general problem of knowledge using biochemistry as an example:

Research with dangerous pathogens is inescapably dual-use. Any effort to create countermeasures to anthrax or smallpox, for example, requires intensive work with that pathogen – work that could easily be a precursor to the creation of biological weapons. The ambiguity between civilian and military research was the Soviet cover for their extensive biological weapons program, and this fine line continues to arouse suspicion among some about U.S. biodefense research.

Distributed manufacturing techniques, including cooperative chemistry and incidipent nano-technology are inescapably dual use.  In fact the worst recorded cases of modern terrorism never used a firearm. The attackers on September 11 used box cutters. Jim Jones used a poisoned Kool-Aid. Shoko Ashara manufactured Sarin. Timothy McVeigh’s weapon of choice was fertilizer. The Boston Bombers wreaked their mayhem with nothing but pressure cookers and black powder.

Their real weapon was not the box cutter. It was knowledge. For a choice of enemies pick a paranoid illiterate holed up in a mountain cabin with a rifle and six cases of beans over an MIT engineering graduate out to kill the world any day of the week. The MIT grad doesn’t even need a background check to get the knowledge. You download the information from one of America’s flagship universities with government money — and then you are the 3D printer.

Aafia Siddiqui is a Pakistani who studied neuroscience in the United States. She emigrated to the U.S. in 1990 and obtained a Ph.D. in 2001 from Brandeis University … Siddiqui returned to Pakistan in 2002, before disappearing with her three young children in March 2003 … Her whereabouts were reported to have been unknown for more than five years until she was arrested in July 2008 in Afghanistan. Upon her arrest, the Afghan police said she was carrying in her purse handwritten notes and a computer thumb drive containing recipes for conventional bombs and weapons of mass destruction, instructions on how to make machines to shoot down U.S. drones, descriptions of New York City landmarks with references to a mass casualty attack, and two pounds of sodium cyanide in a glass jar.

We can handle Siddiqui. We can handle the plastic gun. But to paraphrase the science fiction story “it’s what comes after that worries me.” The problem with knowledge is that its proper employment is not a function of pure science. It is a function of cultural morality and governance. Why do people worry about a North Korean nuclear bomb and not a Canadian one? Canadian technology is far superior to North Koreas, but there is general confidence in its ethical capacity to control the employment of that capability while there is probably none whatever for North Korea.

Just as it is not the gun but the man that kills, it is the man and not knowledge that provides safety. When J.Robert Oppenheimer ruefully watched his creation the light up the New Mexican desert he reflected that the only remaining bar to our self-destruction was intent, not capability. That will be truer in 2045 than in 1945.

The question is either how to prevent 2045 from rolling around or discovering a way to live with our dangerous minds.

What technological advancement has done is shifted the problem of proliferation downwards. Where formerly we used to worry about proliferation among states we must now worry about the spread of means among individuals. And yet we have almost completely dismantled the human context of modern Western life.

Every man is a client. Only the crazies still think “you built that”. People now expect to be stopped since the capacity to stop ourselves is increasingly disparaged with each passing year. We have right to be stopped. The modern cry is “why didn’t you keep me from buying a gun at Walmart and shooting my kids?” Well, why indeed.

Stop me from eating trans-fats buying big gulp cokes. Defend me from myself.

People expect to be saved during an emergency crisis. In fact many urban dwellers don’t even know if there’s a nurse, a doctor or a serial killer who lives in their apartment building.  Why should they care? It’s someone else’s problem, isn’t it?

People expect to be defended. If two homicidal Chechen teenagers are on the loose, then the logical thing to do is “shelter in place”. That’s what any ‘resilient’ society should strive for.

At every turn it’s someone else’s lookout. One of the most disturbing aspects of the Boston Bombing was no one in the Tsarnaev’s immediate circle of friends or family seemed to think it was their job to blow the whistle on the bombers. Why should it be different for anything else?

Anyway attempts to ban the storage of 3D gun printing plans will be defied by peer to peer sharing network almost as surely as they will be hosted on some offshore server or transferred to  some thumb drive the likes of Aafia Siddiqui had. Gone are the days when some guy with a fedora would intone, “one thing’s for sure. Inspector Clay’s dead … murdered … and someone’s responsible.”

Nobody’s responsible any more. WH Auden knew what it felt like to fall into a pit. Not a physical but a virtual one. Into a dark shaft bereft of handholds and which we have never repaired.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.
Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,

With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;
With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,

Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;
In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

“What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel!” A killer angel.

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99

Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99

No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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Top Rated Comments   
"In fact many urban dwellers don’t even if there’s a nurse, ..."
Missing the word "know"?

"Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."
- J. Robert Oppenheimer
Oppenheimer is probably mistranslating "kalo 'smi loka-ksaya-krt" where Krishna says he has become "all powerful Time, the destroyer of worlds."

They used the State Department to order the files deleted.

The government had been divided between what I call active and passive branches. The passive branches provide services but did not impose upon the general population outside of their narrow areas of expertise and physical presence. The Interior Department ruled in the park but you had to go there to encounter them. The local library or school had no say as to what happened outside of their doors. The State Department issued passports and sent someone to visit you in jail if you got locked up overseas but otherwise left Americans alone.

Some active branches of the federal government such as the military and CIA operated under strict rules that prevented them from imposing on US citizens, except in very narrow circumstances, such as engaging in active hostilities overseas. Most federal active functions were assigned to the defined law enforcement branches of the Departments of Justice and the Treasury, with carefully crafted safeguards and constant oversight.

The Gramscian project, and its Alinskyite progeny including the activities of Bill Ayers depended on the tolerance and forbearance of institutions not treating domestic threats like foreign threats as they burrowed in. Because a line was drawn between the active and passive institutions infiltration of the supposedly passive sectors was not seen as much of a threat to liberty.

By using the previously passive sectors to impose controls over society the Left has pushed so that the controls on the known active agencies no longer constrain them. What they could not do using the FBI and the CIA they now attempt using end runs through the Social Security Administration/Medicare and the State Department.

This knowledge is now released and will come back to haunt them. One day we may see thousands arrested for Child Abuse because they favorably quoted Ayers or Gramsci. If that happens Ayers, the man who dedicated his book to Satan, will probably hug himself with glee when they lock him up.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
In the 1930's Chinamen were whacking out copies of Mauser machine pistols. With a set of files. Some were awful, some were indistinguishable from the originals. 80 years ago.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (55)
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Just tried to reset my password to no avail. Every time I log in I have to ask for a new password. Not a happy puppy. Did PJM hire the ORCA guy from the Romney campaign to set this new comment format up?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
in Galaxy, March 1953

Thanks to the YASID crew on rec.arts.sf.written (yes, Usenet lives!)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
STEM educating muslims will be the end of the West.

While the original intent was to lift up the ummah -- to civilize them -- the reality is that STEM graduates have no career prospects among the ummah.

That's why they stay on in the West -- becoming hyper-radicalized -- and then blow up the hands that fed them.

It's a tragic theme: we're importing grubs -- that morph into fanatical anarchists -- upon receiving 're-direction' from Communists and imams.

For Islamism is equal handed in rage and evil: their 'injuries' flow from Communist cant -- and their 'battle plans' and fatwas flow from Islam -- in all its battered gore.

It's not for nothing that their parents don't recognize their sons. They honestly must wonder where in Hell the kids picked up their 'new direction.'

Leftism/ Marxism/ Progressivism -- picked up on campus -- and coffee houses nearby -- is where they lost their sons.

Boston and Berkeley = goof ball hatcheries.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
An SF story I recall was where some experts were called to testify before a Congressional committee. They proceeded to describe how they set out to develop a lethal "ray" gun that could be constructed from common off-the-shelf components. And they said they were successful and proceeded to describe how to build the weapon.

At that point the Senator in charge of the hearing, which was being televised, ordered the cameras be turned off. The cameraman replied, "No, Senator. I have been working with electronics all my life. I want to hear this and I know there are many other people who do also. You can't stop us, and if we all build one of those ray guns then you won't stop any of us." The balance of power was about to shift from people who could command things via the police power of the government to people who actually knew how to do useful things.

But in reality, that's the way it is today, anyway, even without ray guns you could build on the kitchen table using Radio Shack parts.

Diane Feinstine justifies her desire to ban many types of weapons by saying "We stopped machine guns, didn't we?" And she shows her ignorance again. No, Senator we did not stop machine guns; anyone who can pass a background check and pay the hefty Federal licensing fee can still buy one. Or you can ignore the laws and build one yourself. I have had a Sten gun apart in my own hands and it's not hard to make one. For that matter, conversion of AK's, AR-15's, MAC-10's and many other weapons to full auto is not at all difficult.

For that matter, Senator, what about people owning fighter planes and tanks? Can't have that, can we? But a great many people do. Back in 1974 there were 114 privately owned jet fighters in the U.S. Now there are more. Back in the 80's I recall talking to a young guy who said he had bought a F-80 for $800 and around that same time a friend of mine bought one for $500. I recall seeing an F-100 for sale in Trade A Plane back then for $15,000. 20 miles from where I sit there is a Mig-17P some college kids bought a few years back and a few miles from there is a man who has a large collection of tanks; he owns a factory that makes machine guns. And a nearby airport authority recently was tying to sell a complete Canberra bomber.

But no one is worried about the jets and tanks. because people capable to acquiring and operating such equipment are thought to be trustworthy. They know how to "build that."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Young "waxwing", (does everyone remember the story if Icarus?), tries to "wax" all biblical on this subject.

OK, let's play his silly game:

Excerpt from Matthew 26:47-54:

"But Jesus said to him, “Put up your sword. All who [b]take[/b] by the sword, die by the sword.

There is some difference between "living by the sword" and "taking by the sword"; not to mention simply having a sword and knowing how to use it. Those who have been soldiers (and sailors and airmen) will have some understanding.

Furthermore, there is the follow-up:

Luke 22:47-51 …When his followers saw what was coming, they said, “Lord, shall we use our swords?” And one of them struck at the High Priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, “Let them have their way.” Then he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

Note the phrase; "...shall we use [b]our[/b] swords". The disciples were not just a bunch of fish-munching sycophantic academics; they acted as a bodyguard both for their teacher and for themselves.

I have a problem with the pacifist interpretation of the entire gospels. The core message is hardly one of "just lie down and die, resistance is wrong".

Nor do the gospels convey the message of Arnaud Armoury. “"Cædite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius". ("Kill them all. God will know his own".)

My take on the message is that the point of offering the other cheek was to ascertain whether the first blow was in a brief moment of heat or part of continuing malice. In the case of the first, simply offering the "other cheek" to a momentarily enraged person would give them an opportunity to cease and reflect on their actions.

It's a bit like the modern dictum: "Once is an accident, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Waxy flew too close to the Sun -- and has remained unglued ever since.

Either Waxy de-toxxes or increases the dope -- his current tempo is an epic fail.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The scenarios described here apply equally to proposed projects like developing the capacity to deflect an asteroid from a collision course with Terra. A technology powerful enough to deflect away from collision is also powerful enough to deflect a "near miss" into a "definite hit". In the end the probability of a "hit" would likely be much increased with the availability of such a capability.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Song sung to the melody of the Mills Brothers "Paper Doll"
"I'd like to have a paper gun that I could call my own,
A paper gun the leftists couldn't steal..."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Well, let us take a look at the technology and those who may use it.

1. Technology. Perhaps someone here who is more technically adept than I can answer this: Instead of using plastic, is it possible to combine powdered carbon steel or nickel-titanium or some other high-strength metal with the type of chemical bonding agents used to anchor steel bolts to concrete pads, commonly used in the construction industry for playgrounds and the like? These are all off-the-shelf components and it seems to me could be used to make gun parts far stronger than any plastic.

2, As to the people, well, I will admit the problem is we have spent the past 50 years dismantling the fail-safes of the soul and mind that hold the ID of man in check. As they said in the classic film, Forbidden Planet " we all have the beast in us, that's why we have laws and religions". We may still have laws, but without morals, ethics, and yes, religion, law is a weak reed indeed.

3. And for our international foes, we do not even have that. In fact, their laws and religions encourage violence against the infidel, they do not discourage it. Instead of trying to create international norms and standards, we have adopted a standard of all cultures are superior to our own and can do as they wish.

In plain English, the Left has spent generations pouring sand into the machinery of society, machinery that was imperfect to start with. When and if that machinery crashes it will be very messy indeed, and the Left will no doubt say: "But its not my fault, I meant well, and besides, you should have stopped me."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Your post reminds me of the movie, In the Line of Fire, where John Malkovich's character builds a handgun out of polymers. I think anyone clever enough can build limited use handguns out of many things. But they would not do much in a sustained fire fight. Much ado about nothing, IMHO.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
One of the most popular firearms, the Glock, is largely plastic. Admittedly, plastic barrels would not work too well, at least not for long, but virtually the whole of the rest of the weapon could be plastic.

Note the name of the downloaded gun, "The Liberator." In WWII the Liberator was a single shot .45 caliber pistol, crudely but robustly made. To reload you had to poke the empty shell casing out and stick another one in by hand. It was dropped in large numbers to resistance groups and saw wide up in the Phillipines. It was quite effective because the shooter knew not to use it except when he had a Japanese solidier in a vulnerable position. And then he took the Japanese's gun and passed on the single shot to someone else.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Item 1. Possible though still some issues. Carbon fiber technologies are the most promising. A single carbon fiber can be laid with a 'spinerette' like a spider laying strand after strand until desired shape. Gross forms of this are used in making commercial aircraft engine nacelle covers by winding fiber around a spool.
Joining metals require fairly high temps and using epoxies has a list of issues. But, it is a'comin' our way.
More easily done is a simple milling machine. A manual 'hobby' level milling machine is available, new, for under $500. (Harbor Freight Tool Stores et al) Smart guys can convert them to CNC easily enough, but manual works too, and has for a very long time. (Manual means that the motor works the machine but a man moves the cutting tool, like the wood lathe in 8th grade shop. Some skill required, meaning make 5 to get one part right.)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
That's how the old 'Damascus steel' barrels were fabricated. tell wire was wound around a form and then hammered into a solid barrel. The old merges with the new or the new stands on the shoulders of the old. The only thing I know is that government is a necessary evil and that it is more evil than it needs to be.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
State Department acts after first 100k downloads. Barn Door, Horse, Late.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Given this is the State Department that we are talking about, did you mean Late or Latte?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
OK what A** reported my comment?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The problem with Canadian technology is that our universities are keen to bring in Muslim students. So we just learned of another Siddiqui, a chemical engineer who wanted to mass poison Americans;

And then there was the plan to gas the Montreal metro:

One of these days one of these guys will succeed. Probably a greater threat than North Korea, though NK isn't isolatred from the global Jihad. In any case our willingness to educate all without question or walls will cost many lives.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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