Saturday, April 19, 2014

Faith And The Vigil

One of the things a thoroughly scientific outlook is good for -- and please don't assume that it's good for much else; take it from one who knows it from the inside -- is separating fact from implication, conjecture, opinion, desire, and everything else that is not fact.

A fact is something anyone with the requisite senses can perceive for himself. Some facts are easier to perceive than others; some pertain to events difficult or impossible to reproduce; and some are passionately wished away by those to whose agendas such facts are unfriendly. Those things cannot turn a fact into a non-fact. Of a fact, we can always say one of two things:

  1. It exists.
  2. It happened.

Of that last, it is important to note that the reportage of an event does not confer upon the event unassailable factual status. Reporters have been wrong many times. Some reporters are malicious. Perhaps worst of all, some will lie --ever heard the phrase "noble lies?" -- for a Cause to which they're committed. That last phenomenon has inflicted untold suffering on persons beyond counting.

Ultimately, unless you observe it yourself, its status as a fact is provisional. Even then you can be mistaken; we often see what we want to see, rather than what's really before us.

There are persons who've seized upon the fallibility of our senses to assert that we have no business talking about facts -- that "all is theory" and must forever remain so. I'm sure you can see where that leads. Be wary of it. Solipsism is a nasty malady. The cure is not pleasant.

The human mind cannot operate without the assumption that there is an underlying reality to what we perceive, however limited our perceptions may be. Human society cannot endure without the assumption that, over time at least, accurate reportage of those things we cannot perceive directly will overcome inaccurate or willfully deceitful reportage. Human happiness cannot be attained without the conviction that one possesses or can acquire all the facts relevant to the maintenance of one's values...whether that conviction is true or false.

Many centuries ago, four men, separated from one another by some years, composed four separate accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Scholars of classical history agree that only one of those men could possibly have witnessed any of Jesus's deeds or travails. Some scholars contend that there are other accounts that could and should be added to the "canonical Gospels," but they quarrel among themselves (and with the Church) about which ones, and why.

The Gospels are reportage. They are not facts per se; their coverage of the Ministry, Passion, and Resurrection of Jesus may or may not be accurate. They agree on all the most salient details, but consensus does not confirm accuracy, though it can amplify confidence.

Similarly, the reportage of the deeds of the Apostles, of their several deaths, and of the other saints who lived and died before us does not qualify what it narrates as facts. One may have great confidence in the honor and accuracy of the reporters, but unless one has directly perceived an event, confidence is all he can have. Certainty is denied him.

That's the nature of faith -- in anything.

Far too many persons of the present day confuse skepticism -- a valuable attribute, if properly disciplined -- with a scientific outlook. A common skeptical rejoinder to a claim of fact is "So you saw it with your own eyes?" That's a worthy thrust. We see very few of the things we believe with our own eyes, yet our confidence in them often shades into a certainty we should not allow ourselves. Thus it is with faith -- and the skeptic must be as aware of it as the believer.

Whenever anyone asks me about my Christianity "How can you believe such an obvious fantasy?" I must restrain myself from replying "Were you there? Can you assure me from your own witness that it's not true?" That tends to rock the skeptical objector. He must confront his own assumptions if he wants to continue. Few persons are willing to do that; it involves a variety of humility that's become uncommon. But the exception who's willing to do so will sometimes continue with "Well, why do you believe it?"

That's one of the most important questions ever asked about any faith. Tragically, many Christians don't know how to answer it properly.

I believe it because:

  • It cannot be disproved;
  • It is incomparably beautiful;
  • It is perfectly compatible with human nature and the requirements for a flourishing society.

And that's all anyone needs to know about a Christian's faith.

Today is Holy Saturday, the day of Vigil for Christians worldwide. Jesus told His Apostles that He would "lie three days in the earth" before returning to them. Over those three days they could do nothing but wait and watch. It was a dread-filled vigil, for the mob that the Sanhedrin had aroused against Jesus was still active. Had it found them, they might not have survived the encounter. So they confined themselves to the "upper room" in which Jesus had held the Last Supper. Some did not leave that room until the resurrected Savior came to them.

The Apostles did not know that Jesus would be resurrected; they merely believed it. They knew that prior claimants to the title of Messiah had made similar claims that were not fulfilled. So they waited.

We who believe that Jesus was resurrected, irrefutably confirming His status as the Son of God, do not know it for a fact. We have the reportage of the event. We have the reportage of subsequent events consistent with the Resurrection. We have the reportage of the subsequent lives of the Apostles, in particular the executions of those who preferred to die horribly rather than recant their faith. We have the reportage of many other saints, throughout the centuries, through whom miracles were performed and who gladly surrendered their lives rather than renounce Christ.

We have confidence in those things. But we have not certainty. Certainty for living men is forever confined to those few who saw the resurrected Christ before His Ascension. We who come after them must wait.

And that is a blessing we seldom appreciate, for it makes our faith possible:

    Well met yet again, Father Altomare.
    —Nag? What news of the Realm?
    All is well. If you were wondering, Tiran is not among us. It appears that you banished him to some other plane.
    —But you don’t know where or how?
    We know quite well how, Father. As do you.
    —Nag, you might have a hard time understanding this, but when...whatever happened, I wasn’t really myself.
    It is quite comprehensible, Father. You were temporarily possessed by a greatly superior power. You are not the first to experience such a possession. You are unlikely to be the last.
    —You sensed it, then?
    Of course.
    —But what was it?
    We do not know. It bore a striking resemblance to an event far back in your history, when a comparable power illuminated the group that had witnessed the Ascension.
    —The Pentecost. The investiture of the Apostles with the gift of tongues, in service to Christ’s Great Commission.
    —Then it’s all true!
    We do not know.
    —WHAT? But you said—
    We are limited beings, Father. Our limits are not yours, but they bind us just as tightly. No more than any human are we capable of verifying a claim to omnipotence or omniscience. Surely we are neither of those things.
    For eons, we believed that our Brother Evoy, who dreams greatly, had created your world. The events of the past two millennia have left us unsure. Evoy himself has concluded that, while he may have contributed to the specific laws of your universe, he was not the true cause of its coming to be.
    We observed the life, ministry, Passion and Resurrection of Christ just as we observed your own, more recent adventure. It was plain that he was of an order superior both to Mankind and to the Brothers of the Realm. His passing rewrote laws of Creation so fundamental that we had never previously suspected their existence. We believe that it was his power that you invoked to expel Tiran from Creation. It was a match for the forces he commanded in every observable way. We cannot prove it...but we believe it.

    —That’s faith, isn’t it?
    Indeed. Be grateful.
    —Hm? How so?
    Your psyches are built to require it. An emotionally healthy man with no faith is the rarest of creatures.
    Do you begin to see, Father Altomare?
    —I see that all my life, all my passion for my faith, and all my thought and study and efforts at explaining it to myself and others, has been but a beginning. A beginning that will last until God calls me back to him.
    Your philosophers have said that the journey is what matters, have they not?
    —Indeed they have, and it is so. Nag...Areth, Brother of the Realm of Essences, we are at last truly well met.
    How so, Father?
    —As brothers in faith.
    A most appropriate brotherhood for two such as we. Be well, Father Raymond Altomare, vicar of Christ. May the Son of God and Redeemer of Mankind hold you close, guide your heart and hand, and guard you from every harm.
    —And you, Areth.
    It is to be hoped.

[From Shadow Of A Sword]

May God bless and keep you all. I'll see you again on Monday.

Friday, April 18, 2014

For Good Friday: The Ruthlessness Dynamic

"When force is made the standard, the murderer wins over the pickpocket." [Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged]

Once you accept that politicians put the acquisition and retention of power above all other considerations, including the moral and ethical constraints you and I regard as absolute, it becomes possible to believe just about anything about them.

Did Richard Nixon knowingly dispatch the "plumbers" to burgle the offices of the Democratic National Committee, to engineer his 1972 landslide? Unclear, but it's not implausible.

Did the Clintons have Vince Foster murdered to prevent him from blowing the whistle on one or another of their many abuses? Unclear, but it's not implausible.

Did someone in the Obama Administration threaten Lois Lerner with death should she "spill the beans" about the IRS's targeting of conservative groups to Darrell Issa's Oversight Committee? Unclear, but it's not implausible.

Knowing, by reason of the evolutionary dynamic of politics, that our contemporary power-seeker is utterly unscrupulous, we are therefore unable to trust him. This is a great part of the core problem of politics in the present day. It is therefore imperative in the highest degree that we should grasp the mechanism that facilitates such ruthlessness in men -- the impulse or emotion that looses the chains of conscience and makes of a man a moral solipsist, ever ready to reduce other men to mere means to his ends.

There is no need in human life so great as that men should trust one another and should trust their government, should believe in promises, and should keep promises in order that future promises may be believed in and in order that confident cooperation may be possible. Good faith -- personal, national, and international -- is the first prerequisite of decent living, of the steady going on of industry, of governmental financial strength, and of international peace. -- Benjamin M. Anderson, Economics and the Public Welfare: A Financial and Economic History of the United States, 1914 -- 1946

I wrote some time ago about how we've squandered the trust that once made America the greatest nation in history:

In a discussion of the big AGW scandal issuing from the Hadley CRU leak, one participant expressed bewilderment, averring that:
...a hoax on this scale would require the collusion of a whole lot of people…

Not so, in the traditional sense of "collusion." Scientists, just like the rest of humanity, respond to incentives and penalties. The warmistas in the scientific community were drawn there by a variety of incentives.

Some were undoubtedly sincere, certain that with enough evidence they could validate the greenhouse-gas thesis and willing to explain away "inconvenient data" with the usual dismissals of the true believer.

Some were loyal Hessians, willing to go wherever their idols and masters might point them.

Some were "following the money," as ever greater amounts of money poured from government coffers and the treasuries of left-leaning foundations to support the promulgation of the anthropogenic-global-warming thesis.

Some were merely publicity hounds, who would ride any wagon that appeared to have the media's attention.

Some were flogged into sullen support of AGW, fearful that refraining would cause them to be stripped of their funding and relegated to the outer darkness.

No doubt there are other light of the fraud the Hadley CRU documents have revealed, none of them in any way connected to the core doctrines of science.

What matters is the fraud itself. Some thousands of "scientists" were moved to abandon science as it's been practiced for centuries by motives that, if they're to be summed up in one word, could only be called evil. Yes, tens of millions of persons worldwide cheered them on, but that's hardly an exculpation.

We have created -- and institutionalized -- incentives for fraud and penalties for honesty and candor. Not just for men of science; for virtually every trade and walk of life. For many men, the touchstone of ethical judgment is no longer "Is it right?" It's "Can I get away with it?"

We have destroyed the bedrock of freedom: our ability to trust.

How does such destruction come about? How does it begin?

It strikes me as near to certain that, in keeping with the old maxim that "the fish rots from the head," the rot in our formerly trusting and trustworthy culture began at the top: with our political class.

A polity which elevates its officials to authority by a democratic process -- i.e., by majority vote in a popular election -- is always theoretically vulnerable to demagoguery. However, demagoguery only works if the populace can be numbed to ethical constraints. Thomas Babington Macaulay captured the essence of it more than a century ago:

The day will come when a multitude of people will choose the legislature. Is it possible to doubt what sort of a legislature will be chosen? On the one side is a statesman preaching patience, respect for rights, strict observance of public faith. On the other is a demagogue ranting about the tyranny of capitalism and usury and asking why anyone should be permitted to drink champagne and to ride in a carriage while thousands of honest people are in want of necessaries. Which of the candidates is likely to be preferred by a workman? When Society has entered on this downward progress, either civilization or liberty must perish. Either some Caesar or Napoleon will seize the reins of government with a strong hand, or your Republic will be as fearfully plundered and laid waste in the twentieth century as the Roman Empire in the fifth, with this difference, that the Huns and Vandals who ravaged Rome came from without, and that your Huns and Vandals will have been engendered within your country, by your own institutions. [Thomas Babington Macaulay]

It is critical at this juncture to note that a demagogue is impotent without a large and willing audience. If those to whom he appeals are unwilling to accept his slanders and follow out their implications, he will achieve nothing. As in the Macaulay passage above, the demagogue must strive to elicit malicious envy from the crowd. That is, he must persuade them by non-rational means that the superior material condition of some entitles those less well off to hate them and, ultimately, to dispossess them.

A charismatic personality with sufficient eloquence can pull a crowd toward such a conclusion. It helps if the crowd is poorly educated, out of touch with relevant history, and generally indisposed to reason. It helps even more if the crowd has not been inculcated with Christian precepts concerning justice and love of neighbor. And it starts with the demagogue's willingness, out of an unchecked desire for unchecked power, to exploit human weakness and ignorance for his own gain.

Except for the most deteriorated societies, tottering upon the edge of the abyss, such a demagogue will know something that the crowd must not: that the policies he urges upon them will cost them more than they could ever gain by it. He must despise the very people he seeks to sway.

Hatred is best combined with Fear. Cowardice, alone of all the vices, is purely painful—horrible to anticipate, horrible to feel, horrible to remember; Hatred has its pleasures. It is therefore often the compensation by which a frightened man reimburses himself for the miseries of Fear. The more he fears, the more he will hate. [C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters]
Fear always springs from ignorance! -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

He who can make a man fear can induce him to hate. To make a man fear, one must detach his rational faculty -- his reason and his learning capacity -- from his appreciation of his present state. Thus, he becomes incapable of reasoning out how he got to where he is and how he can get to somewhere better. The next step, of course, is to get him to adopt a devil-thesis, in which his miseries and unmet desires are someone else's doing.

Assembling people into crowds is a great assistance to this process, for a crowd can smother an individual's willingness to disagree, to diverge from what "everyone knows," or to assert a moral premise that would deflect the crowd from its chosen course:

There is no telling to what extremes of cruelty and ruthlessness a man will go when he is freed from the fears, hesitations doubts, and the vague stirrings of decency that go with individual judgement. -- Eric Hoffer

A crowd demanded that a murderer's life be spared and Christ be crucified.

We of Hell see the connecting link, which is Hatred. [C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters]
Easier to get people to hate than to get them to love. [Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress]
Power, like the diamond, dazzles the beholder, and also the wearer; it dignifies meanness; it magnifies littleness; to what is contemptible, it gives authority; to what is low, exaltation. -- Charles Colton
"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." -- The Gospel According To John, 8:32

The traditional American education included a great deal of factual American history. Anyone who absorbed that history and accepted it as correct could hardly avoid loving this country and desiring its preservation. But learning takes effort; ignorance does not. A kind of Newton's First Law of the human intellect suggests that the demagogue will strive to prevent young persons from learning, especially about the principles upon which the United States was founded, and will succeed more easily than the would-be educator. A populace maintained in such ignorance is the most fertile ground for demagogic appeals.

But one cannot desire that others be maintained in ignorance without despising them. This, too, is intrinsic to the ruthless dynamic of power-seeking. For how could one possibly desire the rule of others without despising them, demoting them to a lower moral and intellectual plane? Such an attitude must be concealed, of course, but it will be present in any demagogue. Indeed, it will dominate his whole psyche.

The implication for disarming a demagogue should be clear.

At first I was undecided about writing something for today, it being Good Friday, but the most recent political events, both domestic and international, impelled me beyond my resistance. Awareness of the terrible power of hatred, and its inseparability from the desire for power over others, simply overwhelmed me as I thought about what Christians worldwide commemorate today: the Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and Redeemer of Mankind.

Jesus preached a New Covenant of stunning simplicity:

"You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and your whole soul, and your whole mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets." [The Gospel According To Matthew, 22:37-40]
Now a man came up to him and said, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to gain eternal life?" He said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." "Which ones?" he asked. Jesus replied, "You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false witness, honor your father and mother and love your neighbor as yourself." [Matthew, 19:16-19.]

Whether one accepts or rejects Jesus's divine status, a decent man can find little to quarrel with in the above. Our consciences say the very same things to us, when we trouble to listen to them. But once we accept them, it is mandatory that we accept their political implications, which far too many Americans have proved unwilling to do.

The Commandments Jesus articulated are the liberating truths. Indeed, without them, liberty and justice are impossible. It is the ultimate demonstration of their importance that Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin feared them so greatly -- and that Jesus went unresisting to death by torture, as have many of His followers down the ages, to seal them with His divine authority.

One must hate them to dismiss them.
But one cannot hate His Commandments without also hating Him.
Such hatred is undergirded by fear: the fear that His preachments will thwart the hater's drive for power.
Thus, the power-seeker must detach those he seeks to corrupt from Him.
The vileness of contemporary politics follows.

May God bless and keep you all.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Programs, Motivations, And Popular Acceptance

    "Of all the musts and must-nots of warfare, this one is paramount: you must conceal your motives. Unless he is insignificant in comparison to you, once your opponent knows your motives, he'll be able to defeat you. He'll probably even have a choice of ways to do it.
    "You must move heaven and earth, if necessary, to discover your opponent's motives. His tactics will be determined by them. If his motives change, his tactics will follow. There lies your opportunity, if you can get him to adopt tactics unsuitable to the conflict. Of course, he could try to do the same to you."
    "What's the countermeasure?"
    "Constancy. Refusal to let yourself be diverted. Of course, that can be a trap, too. Motive is partly determined by objectives. If your adversary's situation changes but his objectives remain the same, he could find himself committed to paying an exorbitant price for something that's become worthless."
    "And that's the time to stop playing with his head?"
    His grin was ice-cold. "You have a gift."

[From On Broken Wings]

The piece immediately below emphasizes the power of gradualism to achieve the sort of absolute tyranny to which the Communists and Nazis aspired but which they were unable to cement in place. The parable of "The Wild Pigs of the Okefenokee Swamp" underlines the importance, in pursuing such a strategy, of keeping the intended subjects' eyes fixed upon something positive and desirable while their freedom is being pared away. The combination, and the efficacy it has demonstrated in these United States since the New Deal, compels us to address certain associated questions:

  1. Are all "social benefit" programs evilly motivated?
  2. If the answer to #1 is no, what accounts for their "unintended consequences?"
  3. How can Americans be weaned off the State's teat?

There are no more vital questions in our national discourse.

In order to obtain and hold power, a man must love it. Thus the effort to get it is not likely to be coupled with goodness, but with the opposite qualities of pride, cunning, and cruelty. -- Leo Tolstoy

It chafes me, but I must reluctantly concede that not all proposed "social programs" are motivated by a desire to use them to advance totalitarian tyranny. At least, that appears to be the case when such programs are first proposed. Indeed, good intentions seem to be the rule rather than the exception.

But good intentions are far less potent than the laws of Nature.

The dynamic of politics is ruthless in selecting for ruthlessness. He who wants power most, and is willing to set aside all moral and ethical constraints to get and keep it, is most likely to hold it. Therefore, no politician should be assumed ab initio to be motivated by good intentions. Exceptions to this pattern are rare.

More, and critically more important, political acumen -- i.e., the body of expertise relevant to obtaining and keeping power -- increases from generation to generation. Each wave of aspirants to power learns from the experiences of the previous ones. In particular, politician Smith learns from the achievements of his predecessors what will win the populace's acceptance, and what price we're willing to pay for it.

Though the New Deal first federalized welfare -- what was then called "relief" -- FDR and his lieutenants were not unaware of what it would buy them. They had the effects of state and local relief programs to study, plus the remarkable success Bismarckian social programs had achieved in persuading the German people to accept essentially totalitarian rule. In every case, the disbursement of a valuable benefit by a government purchased the political allegiance of its beneficiaries for those identified with the program. Here's how Garet Garrett put it in "The Revolution Was:"


This was not a specific problem. It was rather a line of principle to which the solution of every other problem was referred. As was said before, in no problem to be acted upon by the New Deal was it true that one solution and one only was imperative. In every case there was some alternative. But it was as if in every case the question was, "Which course of action will tend more to increase the dependence of the individual upon the Federal government?"—and as if invariably the action resolved upon was that which would appeal rather to the weakness than to the strength of the individual.

And yet the people to be acted upon were deeply imbued with the traditions and maxims of individual resourcefulness—a people who grimly treasured in their anthology of political wisdom the words of Grover Cleveland, who vetoed a Federal loan of only ten thousand dollars for drought relief in Texas, saying: "I do not believe that the power and duty of the general Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering. . . . A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that though the people support the Government the Government should not support the people....Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our National character."

Which was only one more way of saying a hard truth that was implicit in the American way of thinking, namely, that when people support the government they control government, but when the government supports the people it will control them.

Well, what could be done with a people like that? The answer was propaganda. The unique American tradition of individualism was systematically attacked by propaganda in three ways, as follows:

Firstly, by attack that was direct, save only for the fact that the word individualism was qualified by the uncouth adjective rugged; and rugged individualism was made the symbol of such hateful human qualities as greed, utter selfishness, and ruthless disregard of the sufferings and hardships of one's neighbors;

Secondly, by suggestion that in the modern environment the individual, through no fault or. weakness of his own, had become helpless and was no longer able to cope with the adversities of circumstances. In one of his Fireside Chats, after the first six months, the President said: "Long before Inauguration Day I became convinced that individual effort and local effort and even disjointed Federal effort had failed and of necessity would fail, and, therefore, that a rounded leadership by the Federal Government had become a necessity both of theory and of fact." And,

Thirdly, true to the technic of revolutionary propaganda, which is to offer positive substitute symbols, there was held out to the people in place of all the old symbols of individualism the one great new symbol of security.

After the acts that were necessary to gain economic power the New Deal created no magnificent new agency that had not the effect of making people dependent upon the Federal government for security, income, livelihood, material satisfactions, or welfare.

If Grover Cleveland's understanding of the matter was that clear, you may be absolutely sure that the New Dealers' grasp of it was no less so. As for those who came after them, can you really doubt it?

Government means politics, and interference by government carries with it always the implication of coercion. We may accept the expanding power of bureaucrats so long as we bask in their friendly smile. But it is a dangerous temptation. Today politics may be our friend, and tomorrow we may be its victims. -- Owen D. Young

Though questions #1 and #2 seem to me to be adequately answered, I have no answer to question #3. Those who see are few; those who cannot or will not see are many. Worse, the latter vote more reliably and more predictably than most others. The State has met their price. They will defend the State, or at least those of its masters they believe to be "on their side," as long as the goodies keep coming, and will assail any contrary voice with the worst epithets they can muster. Freedom? Bah! When has that ever gotten anyone a free cell phone?

The mailed fist of tyranny within the velvet glove of social programs is either invisible or irrelevant to those addicted to State benefits.

If it seems to you, Gentle Reader, being an apostle of freedom and a believer in the right of the individual to do as he damned well pleases, that no sane man would sell his birthright for such compensation, you are to be commended. The reaction confirms your membership in The Remnant: Albert Jay Nock's term for that shrunken segment of the American people who can still see through the veils to discern what is truly and enduringly valuable:

"Ah," the Lord said [to Isaiah], "you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it."

....In any given society the Remnant are always so largely an unknown quantity. You do not know, and will never know, more than two things about them. You can be sure of those — dead sure, as our phrase is — but you will never be able to make even a respectable guess at anything else. You do not know, and will never know, who the Remnant are, nor what they are doing or will do. Two things you do know, and no more: First, that they exist; second, that they will find you.

It is a terrible thing to know oneself so thinly supplied with confreres. Yet it is our job, as it was Isaiah's, to conserve it, to defend it, and to do what we can to enlarge it. And as Nock learned from his own experiences, it has its rewards as well. High among them is this: you make the right enemies. Enemies to be proud of.

Be not afraid.


[The following first appeared at Eternity Road on July 31, 2009. -- FWP]

In reply to this earlier piece, longtime reader and frequent commenter Goober wrote:

It isn’t their fault. The founding fathers knew for a fact that even the kindest and most altruistic of governments would and could overstep their bounds on occasion. That is why they wrote the Constitution, and entrusted we, the people (NOT the government) with it’s enforcement and adherence.

We’ve fallen down on the job, not them, and we’ve done so because they’ve promised us things. A cleaner environment (EPA), a safer world (IRS and income tax for WWI), safety from jobsite hazards (OSHA) and payment in the case that you lose your job or are injured (FICA and FUTA). They’ve promised us medical care when we’re old, a pension for our retirement, a super-highway system to get us there, and all of these things were ushered in not just with the consent of the governed, but with their cheerful support.

All were constitutional oversteps. All were heralded by the governed.

The government isn’t to blame. We are.

All true until the very last line. Yes, we cooperated in our enslavement, but to say that the architects and builders of our political prison are therefore not to blame is like exculpating a rapist on the grounds that his victim chose not to resist him. All the same, there's a lesson in our history of habituation to bondage: a lesson about how cheaply we price that for which we never had to struggle.

Americans at the opening of the Twentieth Century were largely unaware of the differences between freedom and tyranny. They'd enjoyed the former lifelong, and had never tasted the latter. Remember that in 1900:

  • There was no conscription;
  • There was no income tax;
  • There was no Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or unemployment insurance tax;
  • There was no zoning;
  • There were no environmental laws;
  • There were no labor laws;
  • There were no anti-discrimination laws;
  • There were no "public accommodation" laws;
  • There were no laws mandating preferential treatment by race, sex, religion, or ethnicity;
  • There were no restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms;
  • Private property was considered sacrosanct;
  • The right of self-defense and defense of the innocent, by any means up to and including lethal violence, was unchallenged.

An American of 1900, if given a device through which he could survey the political landscape of 2000, would have tossed it aside in disbelief. Such things could never come to America, he'd say. That sort of nonsense is strictly for the Old World and the savages of Africa, Asia, and South America. This is the Land of the Free.

Well, it was, anyway. Yet the changes all came, as lovers of freedom know to our sorrow.

With very few exceptions, the legal fetters Americans wear today were applied to us quite gradually. Our masters allowed us to grow accustomed to one before applying another. Nor were they at once tightened to the maximum; few persons chafed under them at the outset.

The income tax is an excellent example: When the Sixteenth Amendment was being debated on the floor of the Senate, one of its opponents rose to ask the body what it could say to reassure the American public that this tax would not rise to seize some unconscionable fraction of their earnings -- perhaps as much as ten percent! A pro-income-tax senator rose and replied that the country need never fear such a development: "The people would never allow it!"

Another fine example arises from Social Security, which Franklin D. Roosevelt pitched as a "supplement" to the resources of American retirees. At its inception, Social Security promised to take no more than $7.50 per month from a worker's paycheck. Today the limit is over $550.00 per month, and for many wage earners is the largest single tax they pay. To add insult to injury, the Supreme Court has ruled that no matter how large his payments to the Social Security system, no man has a right to any payments from it.

Look at any of the political bonds that have been fastened upon us: labor law, environmental law, firearms control laws, laws that infringe upon property rights, what have you. In nearly every case you'll find that the original collar was gently applied and loosely fastened. It simply didn't stay that way.

The term most commonly applied to such a slow, steady tightening of the screws is gradualism. Gradualism uses the power of habituation -- the ordinary human tendency to accommodate and adjust to conditions we can't individually alter -- to solidify its gains and prevent retrograde motion. In her landmark book The God Of The Machine, Isabel Paterson referred to it as political power's "ratchet action."

We have habituated ourselves to all manner of fetters. They were applied with such delicacy, and tightened so slowly and smoothly, that many of us cannot imagine life without them. Yet at any instant in the process, it was still possible to rear up against it. Despite appearances, it remains possible today. We simply haven't done so, nor is it likely that we will.

The process got under way in the early years of the Twentieth Century, when Americans had enjoyed liberty without cost for too long to remember the price that was originally paid for it. They had ceased to believe that it should cost them anything to remain free. Worse, they looked upon subsidies, subventions, and other temptations held forth by the State and failed to ask, "What's the price for these things? Just because no one has spoken of one doesn't mean there isn't one."

All things have their price. Nothing worth having can be had at zero cost.

Which brings your Curmudgeon to the parable of:

The Wild Pigs Of The Okefenokee Swamp
Some years ago, an old trapper from North Dakota hitched up some horses to his Studebaker wagon, packed up his traps, and drove south. Several weeks later he stopped in a small town just north of the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia.

It was a lazy Saturday morning when he walked into the general store. Sitting around the pot-bellied stove were seven or eight of the town’s local citizens. The traveler said, "Gentlemen, could you direct me to the Okefenokee Swamp?"

Some of the oldtimers looked at him like he was crazy. "You must be a stranger in these parts," they said.

"I am. I’m from North Dakota," said the stranger. "In the Okefenokee Swamp are thousands of wild hogs," one old man explained. "A man who goes into the swamp by himself asks to die!" He lifted up his leg. "I lost half my leg here, to the pigs of the swamp."

Another old fellow said, "Look at the cuts on me; look at my arm bit off! Those pigs have been free since the Revolution, eating snakes and rooting out roots and fending for themselves for over a hundred years. They’re wild and they’re dangerous. You can’t trap them. No man dare go into the swamp by himself." The others nodded in agreement.

The old trapper said, "Thank you so much for the warning. Now could you direct me to the swamp?" They said, "Well, yeah, it’s due south, straight down the road." But they begged the stranger not to go, because they knew he’d meet a terrible fate. He smiled, waved away their concern, and said, "Sell me ten sacks of corn, and help me load it in the wagon." And they did. Then the old trapper bid them farewell and drove on down the road. The townsfolk thought they’d never see him again.

Two weeks later the man came back. He pulled up to the general store, got down off the wagon, walked in and bought ten more sacks of corn. After loading it up he went back down the road toward the swamp.

Two weeks later he returned and bought another ten sacks of corn. This went on for a month. And then two months, and three. Every two weeks the old trapper would appear on Saturday morning, purchase ten sacks of corn, and drive back into the swamp.

The stranger soon became a legend in the little village and the subject of much speculation. People wondered what kind of devil had possessed this man, that he could go into the Okefenokee by himself and not be consumed by the wild, free hogs.

One morning the man came into town as usual. Everyone thought he wanted more corn. He got off the wagon and went into the store where the usual group of men were gathered around the stove. He took off his gloves.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I need to hire about ten or fifteen wagons. I need twenty or thirty men. I have six thousand hogs out in the swamp, penned up, and they’re all hungry. I’ve got to get them to market right away."

"You’ve WHAT in the swamp?" asked the storekeeper, incredulously. "I have six thousand hogs penned up. They haven’t eaten for two or three days, and they’ll starve if I don’t get back there to feed and take care of them."

One of the oldtimers said, "You mean you’ve captured the wild hogs of the Okefenokee?"

"That’s right."

"How did you do that? What did you do?" the men urged, breathlessly.

One of them exclaimed, "But I lost my arm!"

"I lost my brother!" cried another.

"I lost my leg to those wild boars!" chimed a third.

The trapper said, "Well, the first week I went in there they were wild all right. They hid in the undergrowth and wouldn’t come out. I dared not get off the wagon. So I spread corn along behind the wagon. Every day I’d spread a sack of corn. The old pigs would have nothing to do with it."

"But the younger pigs decided that it was easier to eat free corn than it was to root out roots and catch snakes. So the very young began to eat the corn first. I did this every day. Pretty soon, even the old pigs decided that it was easier to eat free corn. After all, they were free. They could run off in any direction they wanted at any time."

"The next thing was to get them used to eating in the same place all the time. So I selected a clearing, and I started putting the corn in the clearing. At first they wouldn’t come to the clearing. It was too far. It was too open. It was a nuisance to them."

"But the very young decided that it was easier to take the corn in the clearing than it was to root out roots and catch their own snakes. And not long thereafter, the older pigs also decided that it was easier to come to the clearing every day."

"And so the pigs learned to come to the clearing every day to get their free corn. They could still augment their diet with roots and snakes and whatever else they wanted. After all, they were free. They could run in any direction at any time. There were no bounds upon them."

"The next step was to get them used to fence posts. So I put fence posts all the way around the clearing. I put them in the underbrush so that they wouldn’t get suspicious or upset. After all, they were just sticks sticking up out of the ground, like the trees and the brush. The corn was there every day. It was easy to walk in between the posts, get the corn, and walk back out."

"This went on for a week or two. Shortly they became very used to walking into the clearing, getting the free corn, and walking back out through the fence posts."

"The next step was to put one rail down at the bottom. I also left a few openings, so that the older, fatter pigs could walk through the openings and the younger pigs could easily jump over just one rail. After all, it was no real threat to their freedom or independence. They could always jump over the rail and flee in any direction at any time."

"Now I decided that I wouldn’t feed them every day. I began to feed them every other day. On the days I didn’t feed them the pigs still gathered in the clearing. They squealed, and they grunted, and they begged and pleaded with me to feed them. But I only fed them every other day. And I put a second rail around the posts."

"Now the pigs became more and more desperate for food. They were no longer used to going out and digging their own roots and finding their own food. They now needed me. They needed my corn every other day.

So I trained them that I would feed them every day if they came in through a gate. And I put up a third rail around the fence. But it was still no great threat to their freedom, because there were several gates and they could run in and out at will."

"Finally I put up the fourth rail. Then I closed all the gates but one, and I fed them very, very well. Yesterday I closed the last gate. And today I need you to help me take these pigs to market."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Concerning the vagaries of domestic hot-water heaters:

FWP: Damn. No hot water again.
CSO: Why do you think that always happens at this hour?
FWP: Climate change.

CSO: But there’s snow on the back deck!
FWP: That’s just the failure of the government to act.

CSO: Should I have the furrier bring my coats back?
FWP: Naah. But I think I’ll get the snowblower out of the shed. Just in case.

For Tax Return Deadline Day

[The following first appeared ten years ago today, at the old Palace Of Reason, -- FWP]

To love a thing is to know and love its nature -- Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

This rant will be rather ranty, so the Curmudgeon has stepped aside to let Fran write it. Stop drumming your fingers, Mr. C; this won't take long.

I've become known as an America-booster, a flag-waver who doesn't want to hear anything said against his country or anything associated with it. The charge has some substance. Among nations, America stands alone. It's the only nation that routinely exhibits decency and generosity toward other nations. It's the only nation whose denizens possess any freedom worth mentioning, whether de jure or de facto. Its people are the best people in the world: the most passionate about justice, yet also the most charitable and most willing to forgive.

So I trust Palace readers will pardon me for saying that America-bashers of all stripes, young or old, left or right, foreign or domestic, can kiss my bleeding Irish ass.

America is not perfect; even its most ardent defenders will admit that. We'll listen to anyone who has a constructive criticism or a well-meaning suggestion for us. If it strikes us right, we'll act on it.

But, if you can't present your case without running my country down, condemning it for all manner of things it did not do, comparing it to Nazi Germany and its president to Hitler, I'm not going to listen. I won't care what your claims are, and I won't care what injustices you've suffered. All I'll want is to see the back of your neck receding at red-shift speed, and if you're not inclined to oblige me, I might just wring your neck for you, because I have had enough of you and I no longer care what the consequences of shutting you up forcibly will be. DO YOU HEAR ME?

Ah. There. That feels better. Now, where was I? Oh, yes.

In David Brin's post-Apocalypse novel The Postman, he has an exchange between his protagonist, Gordon Krantz, and a secondary figure, George Powhatan, that rings a striking note for those who love this country as I do. Krantz, who's been trying to organize a defensive force for what he calls the Restored United States, has pinned a great deal of his hopes onto Powhatan, whose military prowess has become regionally known. However, Powhatan is unwilling to have anything to do with Krantz's project. When Krantz asks Powhatan if he'd ever loved anything beyond the little community his skills had secured, Powhatan's response is that he tried, once, but he'd learned that the big things don't love you back.

Indeed, it can be hard to avoid that conviction, especially on April 15.

Today is an appropriate day for meditating on the asymmetry between the individual American citizen and the 88,000 governments that claim some jurisdiction over his actions and his property. Let's follow our old friend Smith...well, okay, strictly speaking he's the Curmudgeon's friend, but allow me a little latitude here...through his day and see just how much his country loves him.

Smith rises at six AM, careful not to wake his wife. He immediately turns up the thermostat and hurries to the bathroom, where he showers in government-provided water. Once his house had a well, but the county made him shut it down. There might be pesticides in the water, they said. Far better to buy certifiably clean water from the government's water monopoly.

Smith's house isn't properly warm until seven, when he gets into his car. Smith has to turn the thermostat down at night to save oil. The government has put so many obstacles in the way of petroleum and natural gas exploration that the country is at the mercy of OPEC, and OPEC is widely known to be merciless. Once, when the local electric utility proposed to build a nuclear generating plant nearby, Smith thought he might convert to electric heat, but nothing ever came of it. Permission to build a fission generator is even harder to get than permission to drill an oil well.

Around eight AM, Smith reports to work at an employer where a string of innocent words, if said to the wrong person or at the wrong time, could get him disciplined or fired, because federal law has made assuaging the sensitivities of various aggressive grievance-mongering groups a higher priority than freedom of speech. Smith's employer also collaborates with various governments in reporting and dividing Smith's income, whether Smith has agreed to the role or not.

Smith's children attend government-run schools where highly paid civil servants, who work less than seven hours per day and only 180 days per year and are immune from discipline for anything short of a major felony, harangue them about how America is a genocidal nation that's raping the Earth, and her military is forcing its "consumer culture" on all the other peoples of the world.

At dinnertime, Smith contemplates the rising tide of lawsuits that seek to make just about anything that tastes good a crime to put in his mouth. It's for his own good, of course, just as it was with drugs, and alcohol, and tobacco.

Smith's wife is a little worried. She's been run down lately. Her doctor said it's probably nothing, but he's ordered a set of tests. When she asked what she was being tested for, he wouldn't say. What with the skyrocketing taxes and costs of living, the family couldn't get by without her income.

Smith's son has worries, too. He's about to turn eighteen, and there are some prominent legislators talking about reinstating the draft.

Smith's elder daughter is sixteen. She's a pretty girl, has her share of friends and a boyfriend that Smith's just a little unsure about. Oh, the kid is probably decent enough; that ring in his nose is just a youth-culture fad. Still, Smith's daughter has brought home some unsettling stuff from her mandatory Sex Education class. He wonders just how much no-holds-barred experimentation is going on under the radar of these nonjudgmental educators...or with their explicit approval. There don't seem to be any limits these days, even with all the diseases.

Smith leaves the dinner table and heads for his tiny home office to pay his bills. His mortgage payment includes taxes for all sorts of "services" he'd never asked for and wished were not offered, including some that couldn't have been designed better to ruin the quality of life in his neighborhood, by attracting loafers and parasites onto the public teat and criminals into the area.

Smith's wife busies herself with cleaning. Fatigue or no fatigue, there's work to be done. Hire a cleaning woman to help with the house? Are you kidding? That would make Smith an employer, subject to an array of federal reporting and taxing rules that could choke an elephant. Careers have been ruined for ignoring those rules. Ask Zoe Baird or Kimba Wood.

There some money left after the bills have been met. Smith contemplates extending the house or landscaping the grounds. But he'll need a permit granted by some unelected board of officials that answers to no one, and that can approve or deny any application for any reason, or none. They'll want to do a site inspection. God help Smith if they notice that his yard is damp a few days out of the year; he might be forbidden even to mow it, as a federally protected "wetland." Anyway, he hasn't yet filled out his tax returns, and there's no telling what surprises might lurk in them.

Around eleven PM, after much fevered work with calculator and pencil, Smith heads for the post office with his tax returns. There's a line wrapped around it, as there is around every post office in the country tonight. Smith has no choice; he has to get his tax return postmarked so he won't be penalized for not waiving his Fourth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

Smith gets to bed at about half past midnight, dead tired. But before he retires, he has to set the alarm clock for four AM. He has a shuttle flight to catch tomorrow, to an important business meeting. It takes off at eight AM, but because of the new security rules, Smith has to be there no later than six, and it will take him at least an hour to get to the airport in the morning traffic. He makes a mental note to leave the silver money clip his wife gave him for his last birthday at home. Airport security workers, now federal employees, have been known to confiscate such things on any pretext. The chance of getting them back is slight.

That's an awful lot of love, isn't it? That is, if love is a cactus shoved up your ass by a professional sadist.

It can be hard to see Smith as some sort of victim. If he's typical, he owns his own home and two cars. He might own a boat. There are bank liens on all these things, of course, but that's the price of hastened, not to say instant, gratification. If his kids are at all bright, they'll surely go to college, though the benefits of that particular rite of passage are falling off rapidly and have always been less than claimed.

Still, Smith is being hemmed in on all sides by governmental prescriptions, proscriptions, and exactions. He's not as free as his father or grandfather were, even though he's more prosperous. He's also not as safe, nor is he as capable of defending himself against predation. There are more predators prowling the neighborhood than ever, and much of the time the law is on their side.

Smith's retirement is an uncertain thing, too. He's been mulcted throughout his working life to pay into the Social Security system, but whether the system will pay him the benefits promised so long ago is becoming ever more doubtful. He's likely to have to work well into his sixties.

I'm not saying things are worse here than in some other unnamed country; quite the reverse. And we can afford the monetary part of the tab...for now. But the sense that the order of things has gone badly wrong has never been stronger.

This used to be the Land of the Free. In many ways, it still is. More de facto personal freedom is not to be found anywhere in the world. But it's far less free than it once was. It's disavowed its presumptions of freedom and shed its original libertarian nature.

The trend away from freedom and toward bondage continues to accelerate. Governments and their hangers-on continue to chip away at individual autonomy and personal sovereignty, usually under the justification of either security or what's "good" for us.

A lot of thought has gone into how to halt and eventually reverse that trend. I should know; I've written quite a lot about it. But breakthrough-quality tactics that don't come with unacceptable costs have yet to surface.

There's little point in dwelling on all of this. It's everywhere. If you've never felt afflicted as Smith has, you're a very atypical American. It you don't know anyone who shares some or all of Smith's complaints and fears, you died before 1914.

But you might be one of the multitudes standing on line at the post office tonight with a nine-by-twelve manila envelope clutched in your hand, possibly containing a check it greatly pained you to write. You might be asking yourself whether that check is an installment payment on your fetters. I wanted you to know that you're not alone, in a deeper sense than is covered by the folks on line with you.

The worst part about being jilted by this country is the impossibility of a new and better love. There simply aren't any. We have to save this one.

The raw materials for the rebirth of freedom are all around us. But they require a foundation of hope sufficient to build on. And whether it's justified or not, hope is the thing most lacking from the freedom-minded in our time.

It is a terrible but cherished thing to love without hope. -- Frederik Pohl, "We Purchased People"

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Blinded By "Science"

Even now that they've largely been revealed to be money-hungry shills for a wholly unsubstantiated thesis that would rationalize the imposition of totalitarian control upon all human activity, the "scientists" of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are still at it:

A rapid shift to less-polluting energy will be needed to avoid catastrophic global warming, because global emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases have accelerated to unprecedented levels, the United Nations reports today.

These emissions — largely from the burning of oil, gas and coal — grew more quickly between 2000 and 2010 than in any of the three previous decades and will need to be slashed 40% to 70% by mid-century and almost entirely by century's end to keep global temperatures from spiraling out of control, according to a landmark report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Please, please, please: Read every word of the above slowly and carefully. Note exactly what it says:

Emissions of greenhouse gases have risen rapidly.

Then note exactly what it doesn't say:

Global temperatures have risen in consequence.

The reason, of course, is that while the first statement might be true -- it's beyond my power to verify, and probably beyond yours as well -- the second statement is irrefutably false. Mean global temperatures, even according to the contentious methods used by the warmistas, have remained flat for seventeen straight years.

Which brings me to my subject for today.

A long, long time ago, I penned a short story titled "Terminal Guidance," about a scientist who had lost his family to an accident and was about to lose his life to cancer. The scientist reasoned that, if human death is somehow the will of God, then trapping God's agent in such matters could put a halt to human death. He then contrives an angel trap and uses it to capture and confine Archangel Uriel, the angel who serves as the Doorwarden between Time and Eternity.

But Uriel endeavors to disabuse the scientist of his hypothesis -- and succeeds:

    "Are you a scientist in name only, Dr. Culloden, or in fact?"
    The researcher stiffened. "What do you think, my unwilling guest?"
    "I think you have evaded the question."
    "I am a scientist." He hurled the words at the Dark Angel, a return of service of the glove Uriel had hurled into his face.
    "What is the first rule of science?"
    "Prediction is knowledge."
    "How many counterexamples are required to disprove a theory?"
    Culloden could see the end of the syllogism. "One."
    "Then let us return whence you found me."

Archangel Uriel reminded his captor that one can only claim knowledge by demonstrating the ability to predict the consequences of a stimulus applied to a well-defined context -- and that one's claim can be shattered by the failure of a single prediction. That is indeed the first rule of science -- real science, as opposed to the unsubstantiated theorizing of men in lab coats surrounded by glassware.

A pointed example provided by the late Sir Fred Hoyle in his novel The Black Cloud should make the matter even clearer:

    "It looks to me as if those perturbations of the rockets must have been deliberately engineered," began Weichart.
    "Why do you say that, Dave?" asked Marlowe.
    "Well, the probability of three cities being hit by a hundred-odd rockets moving at random is obviously very small. therefore I conclude that the rockets were not perturbed at random. I think they must have been deliberately guided to give direct hits."
    "There's something of an objection to that," argued McNeil. "If the rockets were deliberately guided, how is it that only three of 'em found their targets?"
    "Maybe only three were guided, or maybe the guiding wasn't all that good. I wouldn't know."
    There was a derisive laugh from Alexandrov.
    "Bloody argument," he asserted.
    "What d'you mean, 'bloody' argument?"
    "Invent bloody argument, like this. Golfer hits ball. Ball lands on tuft of grass -- so. Probability ball landed on tuft very small, very very small. Million other tufts for ball to land on. Probability very small, very, very very small. So golfer did not hit ball, ball deliberately guided onto tuft. Is bloody argument, yes? Like Weichart's argument....Must say what damn target is before shoot, not after shoot. Put shirt on before, not after event."

The Black Cloud is a highly imaginative novel, but the above passage, for me at least, is the jewel in its crown:

Scientific knowledge is about cause and effect.
Therefore, a claim of knowledge can only be confirmed by a chain of successful predictions.

Successful predictions made by the warmistas, IPCC-affiliated or otherwise, specifically about the response of mean global temperatures to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide: NONE!

The warmistas have made much hay by pointing to simulations and to heavily constrained experiments with small amounts of gas in closed environments. But a simulation can prove nothing except that the assumptions upon which the simulation is based will lead to certain consequences. As for those experiments, they demonstrate only what will happen in the tightly specified context of the experiment itself. They cannot predict what the Earth's complex of living and non-living systems will do under unconstrained circumstances far less amenable to exhaustive specification -- to say nothing of the influence of events on the Sun, a 4% variable star.

But they do have lab coats and glassware. More important still, they have lots and lots of governmental backing. And the governments of the world are positively slavering over what the general acceptance of the Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW) thesis would justify:

Loss and damage [from global warming] is a gift to politicians in developing countries, who benefit from an external enemy, especially if it comes with gobs of foreign aid. Instead of voters blaming their government for not building levees, they blame Americans for their consumerism.

The mechanism creates an expectation that wealth redistribution will solve age-old problems, and if it is not forthcoming, it’s likely that resentment, anger, and a toxic victim mentality will increase. Loss and damage activists are fostering anti-American hatred in millions of people, teaching them that the prosperity of the West – its massive SUVs and unnecessary consumption of meat, its air-conditioned skyscrapers and mega-mansions – is destroying their homeland. And if Atiq Rahman gets his wish, these millions will have the right to immigrate to the United States.

It's not only foreign governments that like the idea of totalitarian control over the American economy. The Obama Administration, most recently through the odious John Kerry, has advanced the notion that combating global warming is a matter of national security:

Saying that climate change ranks among the world's most serious problems -- such as disease outbreaks, poverty, terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on all nations to respond to "the greatest challenge of our generation."

Kerry, speaking before college students in Jakarta, Indonesia, also criticized climate-change deniers, saying "a few loud interest groups" shouldn't be given the chance to misdirect the conversation.

Kerry has no time or patience for skeptics or dissenters:

Kerry reiterated U.S. President Barack Obama's assertion in the State of the Union address that climate change is an undeniable fact.

"We should not allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists and science and extreme ideologues to compete with scientific fact," Kerry said at the U.S. Embassy's @america function in Jakarta.

"Prediction is knowledge" is the first rule of science. Political analysis is not a science, but it does have some rules of its own. The greatest of them is this:

Before all else, ask: Cui bono?
Who would benefit most greatly from what has been proposed?

While you ponder that, enjoy this little reminder of a more cheerful time:

Monday, April 14, 2014

Reviving The Constitution Part 3: Federal "Property."

The drama in Nevada these past couple of weeks, as the federal Bureau of Land Management attempted to dispossess a peaceable rancher for the heinous offense of not having donated to Dingy Harry Reid, has spotlighted a curious aspect of the powers of Congress to acquire land.

Rancher Cliven Bundy's cattle made use of open land claimed by the federal government. Neither of those things is much out of the ordinary. Western ranchers have long pastured their animals on "open range." More, as the feds claim 84% of the land in the state of Nevada, there aren't many options for such a rancher. But in this case, there were covetous eyes on that pasturage: a group of Chinese investors who sought to turn it into a solar energy farm. For them to get their way, Bundy and his cattle had to go.

Since the Supreme Court's infamous Kelo v. New London decision, it's been deemed acceptable for a government to seize land from a private owner and transfer it to yet another private entity, on the rationale that such involuntary transfers can be made to serve a "public purpose." This isn't the place to rake over that decision again; suffice it to say that the popular outcry against it sufficed to persuade many states to enact "anti-Kelo" statutes forbidding the practice to their governments. But a major aspect of real property law went unaddressed: one that goes to the heart of the enumerated powers doctrine according to which the states agreed to the Constitution.

Is it Constitutionally permitted for the federal government to acquire land for any arbitrary purpose or none?

Certain clauses in Article I, Section 8 authorize Congress to acquire land: "The Congress shall have power:"

  • "To establish post offices and post roads;"
  • "To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States..."
  • "...and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings;"

If the Constitution is to be taken seriously and literally, Congress has no authority to acquire land except for the enumerated purposes. (As for that "other needful buildings" clause, a building can only be "needful" if it's required for the exercise of one of the other enumerated powers.)

Mindful of this, Congress under Thomas Jefferson, the most freedom-minded of the Founding Fathers, originally balked when asked to consider the Louisiana Purchase:

The purchase of the territory of Louisiana took place during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson. At the time, the purchase faced domestic opposition because it was thought to be unconstitutional. Although he agreed that the U.S. Constitution did not contain provisions for acquiring territory, Jefferson decided to go ahead with the purchase anyway in order to remove France's presence in the region and to protect both U.S. trade access to the port of New Orleans and free passage on the Mississippi River....

The American purchase of the Louisiana territory was not accomplished without domestic opposition. Jefferson's philosophical consistency was in question because of his strict interpretation of the Constitution. Many people believed he, and other Jeffersonians such as James Madison, were being hypocritical by doing something they surely would have argued against with Alexander Hamilton. The Federalists strongly opposed the purchase, favoring close relations with Britain over closer ties to Napoleon, and were concerned that the United States had paid a large sum of money just to declare war on Spain.

Both Federalists and Jeffersonians were concerned about whether the purchase was unconstitutional. Many members of the United States House of Representatives opposed the purchase. Majority Leader John Randolph led the opposition. The House called for a vote to deny the request for the purchase, but it failed by two votes, 59–57.

The transfer was effectuated under a treaty ratified by the Senate. More, the adjustment of a nation's borders does not compel the conclusion that its government owns the newly acquired land. Thus, Jefferson's action passed muster. Even so, the dispute about its validity has never entirely ceased.

However, the land thus added to the United States was not deemed the property of the federal government. Any portion of the Purchase not already homesteaded nor otherwise recognized as privately owned went "into the common." An interested private party could stake out a portion of it, register his claim with the nearest land office, and develop it as he saw fit, becoming its owner under the common law as we inherited it from England.

Thomas Jefferson, the strictest of the strict constructionists, would not have had it any other way.

The Louisiana Purchase was only the first negotiated addition of territory to the United States. Others, arising from wars or treaties, would soon follow. Yet it was not until relatively late in the nation's history that the federal government adopted the posture that it could exercise the rights associated with ownership of land for a purpose not mentioned in Article I, Section 8. More, the conceit is fan-danced by an exceedingly thin rationale: that "federal land" is in reality "owned by American citizens represented by the Federal government."

Such an assertion answers to none of the usual characteristics of ownership. If We the People are the true owners of federal lands, why are we restricted in their use? Why can we not homestead portions of them, turning such portions into private property? Why does the federal government, rather than "American citizens," possess the sole privilege of exercising the all-important power to exclude undesired aliens from access to those lands? (A fair number of persons in southern Arizona would like answers to that last question.)

There are, of course, other considerations arising from the explicitly purposive property-acquisition clauses of Article I Section 8:

  • Which of the enumerated powers of Congress authorizes its assertion of an owner's rights over approximately 28% of the land area of the United States?
  • What "forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings," in the context of Congress's enumerated powers, make that 28% appropriately federal property?
  • Where in the Constitution is any branch of the federal government awarded the power to dispossess private owners for the sake of a "national monument," or some "endangered species?"

Ultimately, the question is one of strict versus loose construction. If the Constitution permits only those exertions of authority explicitly stated in its text, then the entire federal edifice of land "management" in all its forms is unConstitutional. Alternately, if the Constitution permits the federal government to do whatever is not explicitly forbidden to it, then Congress can appropriate lands and treat them as federal property without reference to an authorized, purposeful use.

Loose constructionists seldom trouble themselves about the implications of their stance. It hallows the seizure of private property "for public use" regardless of whether the subsequent actions implied by the stated use are ever undertaken. It sanctions the internment of the West Coast Japanese during World War II. It blesses the creation of a federal penal code of indefinite length and complexity, which criminalizes actions that have been deemed legal and acceptable throughout human history.. It permits the arbitrary redefinition of who is and who is not an American citizen, and of what rights other than those explicitly guaranteed by the Bill of Rights a citizen possesses.

And it smiles upon the efforts of the Bureau of Land Management, through its armed hirelings, to dispossess a private rancher whose family business has continued uninterrupted in one place for more than a century, so that Dingy Harry Reid and his son might turn a fast buck selling that rancher's spread to the Chinese.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Mundane Resurrection

Apologies if you’ve come here hoping for a Rumination, Gentle Reader. I know, it’s Palm Sunday and you probably expected something especially sonorous, or at least sententious. However, yesterday’s events in Clark County, Nevada were too exciting for me to allow them to pass without comment.

The Bureau of Land Management, a wholly unConstitutional federal executive branch bureaucracy, attempted to squeeze Cliven Bundy, the last rancher in Clark County, out of his livelihood and, by extension, his home. The BLM brought armed and armored thugs in plenty, expecting to intimidate the elderly rancher out of his stand. The federal myrmidons’ tactics included arbitrary assaults, confiscation of private property, and the unbelievably arrogant assertion that First Amendment protections of freedom of expression only apply where they say it applies. Their fist tightened for several days, until it appeared that the Bundys would be crushed within it.

Bundy declined to be squeezed out, though it appeared that the whole might of the federal government would be brought to bear on him.

The news of this assault on a peaceable private citizen swiftly traveled nationwide. Outrage swelled in response. The esteemed Dana Loesch endeavored to discover why the BLM is so determined to have the Bundys out, and turned up some extraordinary connections:

A tortoise isn’t the reason why BLM is harassing a 67 year-old rancher. They want his land. The tortoise wasn’t of concern when Harry Reid worked BLM to literally change the boundaries of the tortoise’s habitat to accommodate the development of his top donor, Harvey Whittemore. Whittemore was convicted of illegal campaign contributions to Senator Reid. Reid’s former senior adviser is now the head of BLM. Reid is accused of using the new BLM chief as a puppet to control Nevada land (already over 84% of which is owned by the federal government) and pay back special interests. BLM has proven that they’ve a situational concern for the desert tortoise as they’ve had no problem waiving their rules concerning wind or solar power development. Clearly these developments have vastly affected a tortoise habitat more than a century-old, quasi-homesteading grazing area. If only Clive Bundy were a big Reid donor.

That news spread like a prairie fire, as well.

It appeared that a tipping point had finally been reached. Over two days, a thousand Americans, many of them armed and ready to shoot it out with the BLM, arrived to defend the Bundys. Miraculously, Clark County law enforcement also showed up in the Bundys’ support. For a brief time a violent confrontation seemed inevitable.

But the BLM backed down.

The feds didn’t have much choice. The found themselves on the wrong side of public opinion, and exposed as in collusion with a corruptocrat, and outgunned by freedom-loving American patriots willing to stake their blood on the outcome. So the BLM struck its tent, returned the Bundys’ confiscated cattle, and withdrew, leaving the rancher free to go about the business his family had pursued there for more than a century.

There hasn’t been a more thrilling episode in America in at least a century.

A week from today, Christians worldwide will celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth: the miracle by which Christ’s divine authority to proclaim the New Covenant, displacing the old Levitical one, was confirmed beyond all dispute. The coming week commemorates the prequels to that event, which include the Last Supper, the institution of the Eucharist, and the Passion and Crucifixion. Even for those of us who’ve celebrated Holy Week many times, it remains a supremely enlightening experience – and the Resurrection itself the most exalting event of all time.

But in our joy this Holy Week, let us not omit to celebrate another resurrection of a more mundane character: the revival of the American spirit of defiance in the face of arbitrary authority. True, the noonday sun did not darken. There was no earthquake. The veil of the Temple was not rent asunder. No graves were opened, and no saints returned to life praising God. Neither was it the entire nation that banded together to defend the Bundys. Yet more than a thousand patriots, some from as far away as Connecticut and New York, took their muskets down from the mantel and went to Nevada to defend the rights of a beleaguered rancher and his family business. In doing so, they proved to the world that the spirit of freedom is alive at the very least...and possibly healthier than any Washington tyrant-aspirant would care to accept.

Demonstrations of defiant liberty must happen many more times, in defense of still other oppressed Americans and private American institutions, before the political elite and its enforcers get the message. If blood should be spilled, let us pray that it will reinforce, rather than weaken, the resolve of freedom’s defenders. Given the events of the past three days, the prospects are promising.

Perhaps I will live to see the nation reborn in freedom after all. Please God, let it be so.

And may He bless and keep you all!