Saturday, October 25, 2014

Bluenoses On The Attack (Updated)

Apparently a determined sort can turn anything into fuel for his cause celebre. In this op-ed, noted neo-Grundy Donna Rice-Hughes uses Jennifer Lawrence’s recent troubles as a launching pad for a new anti-porn campaign:

In her recent interview with Vanity Fair, actress Jennifer Lawrence addresses her emotions following the widely publicized hack of her and several other actresses’ iCloud accounts, in which privately taken nude photographs were posted on the Internet, saying, “It’s not a scandal; it is a sex crime.”

Miss Lawrence also states she tried to write an apology when news of the hack broke, but expresses she didn’t regret taking the photos, as it was in the context of a “loving, healthy, great relationship” of four years that often took place over long distance; “Either your boyfriend is going to look at porn, or he’s going to look at you.”

Though we cannot (nor should we) know the full context of Lawrence’s relationship, the assumption that one’s boyfriend would turn to pornography in the absence of his romantic partner speaks to how normalized viewing this material has become today. Furthermore, the Internet proliferation of private photos has increasingly become a tool to shame, threaten and blackmail women, as in the numerous instances of “revenge porn.”....

Peer-reviewed research confirms there is a social cost to today’s extreme forms of Internet pornography we cannot ignore. It harms children, fuels violence against women and leads to addiction in both youth and adults. Moreover, Internet pornography, particularly of a deviant and violent nature, fuels the demand for human trafficking of sex slaves. In 2008, the Internet Watch Foundation found a horrifying 58 percent of Internet child-abuse domains originated in the United States, and the United Nations discovered that between 2007 and 2010, the percentage of global child-trafficking victims had risen to nearly one-third.

Sadly, despite the best efforts of parents and caring adults, we cannot completely protect ourselves and our loved ones in a culture that permits child pornography and obscene content, neither of which are protected under the First Amendment, to flourish. Aggressive law enforcement of such federal laws, combined with certain relatively easily implemented measures, is necessary to effectively curb the tsunami of exploitative Internet pornography.

From the "Right"...and "for the children!" Gentle Reader, words threaten to fail me yet again.

Is Miss Rice-Hughes unaware that there are already federal laws against child pornography, and that they're vigorously enforced, to the extent of ignoring their targets' Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights? Is she unaware that for a "public accommodation" to expose unwitting and unwilling others to such images is also against federal law? Or is she simply of the opinion, pace Rahm Emanuel, that "you should never let a good crisis go to waste?"

Or perhaps she's merely stupid. (As little as I like it, there are some stupid persons on the political Right. No political family is without its unfortunate members.) The Supreme Court has proved, by repeatedly attempting the task and failing miserably, that there is no way to define "pornography." Potter Stewart's "I know it when I see it" approach that characterized the most recent attempts, with the consequent rise of an equally undefined "community standards" regime that had neighbors inspecting one another's underwear, fell into desuetude thirty years ago. The lesson the attempt left us should not be lost on anyone bright enough to read these words:

Banning an undefined practice puts infinite power into the hands of the State.

It would seem that some "on the Right" have forgotten this -- and at a time when the Left is desperately seeking a popularly acceptable rationale for State control over the Internet! -- which puts the task of defending the right to create and publish sexual images, including images so bizarre that virtually anyone would be disturbed by them, on the shoulders of this devout and rather priggish Catholic.

An image or statement is not "obscene" except by the standards of some evaluator, with whom other evaluators may disagree. In other words, a judgment of "obscenity" is inherently subjective.

Anti-porn crusaders want you to overlook that inconvenient fact. They want you to conflate porn with objective actions such as murder and rape. The evidence is before us, yea, even in Miss Rice-Hughes's own column. Read it over again; you'll find it.

I shouldn't try to diagnose such persons. I have neither the expertise nor the information, and anyway, I have my own troubles. But I am heartily sick of seeing their fire and brimstone expended on a matter that's properly the domain of parents and schoolteachers.

With all the objective threats we face, is a fresh crusade against porn really the best place for them to expend their energies? Why do they think so? Has a sexual image assaulted them personally, perhaps leaping out of the bushes as they passed by? I'd be interested in hearing about it, as such a thing is outside my experience. Or are they of the opinion that all sexual practices are "obscene," and therefore all depictions thereof, or of the naked human body with which we "practice" sex, must be "obscene" also? In which case I'd like to know where they think children come from.

Away with the BS about "peer-reviewed research" and "social costs." Such pseudo-logic, which is always couched in undefined terms, can be used to support or attack any position or practice whatsoever. There is no cause-and-effect linkage between what one sees on a computer monitor and what one does with, to, or for others.

By now we who prize freedom should be aware that any attack on freedom of expression endangers all forms and subjects of expression, regardless of how the attacker strains to narrow it. It was the Left, which was originally "pro-porn," that produced Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon, who attack images even as mild as those in Playboy as crimes against women! Indeed, both women have also attacked a great deal of clothing advertising as "unacceptably sexualized," and "assaults on women's dignity." If they include in that assessment the women who are carefully groomed and trained and handsomely paid to pose for such photos, I have no idea.

If only we'd return to shouting "Mind your own BLEEP!ing business!" at such persons, whether their totem object is "the children," or "women's dignity," or just their tenure on the lecture circuit. But we appear to have forgotten the phrase. Or perhaps what we've forgotten is the immense breadth of the subjects that belong outside the reach of State power. Your Curmudgeon fulminates; you decide.


Any subsequent commenters who have such clever things to say as "if you don't want nudie pics of you on the Net, don't put them there" will be permanently banned from commenting here. As they're both moronic and obviously not germane to the subject of this article, persons who make such comments are plainly not bright enough to be Gentle Readers of Liberty's Torch.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Oh, For Joy

It’s here.

A few words about contagious diseases:

  • They’re spread by microbes.
  • Microbes don’t carry passports.
  • Microbes aren’t intimidated by guns.
  • Microbes are indifferent to politicians’ preferences.
  • Microbes don’t distinguish among human transportation mechanisms.
  • All a microbe cares about is its vector: the living body that shelters it.

You probably knew all that. The Gentle Readers of Liberty’s Torch mostly paid attention in high school biology class. So why did I bother typing it? On the extremely remote chance that some member of our political elite might stop by seeking the information. If we go by their actions, they seem not to possess it.

In consequence, New York City, America’s media hub and the Western world’s financial center, is now host to an Ebola patient. How much of your next paycheck would you be willing to bet that Craig Spencer hasn’t infected at least one other person since he arrived in these United States?

Doctors Without Borders has a glow of sanctity about it. Yet this supposedly admirable eleemosynary organization is thoroughly statist in orientation and has been at the center of several humanitarian disasters. If you haven’t read Jean-Francois Revel’s The Flight From Truth, his revelations about Medecins Sans Frontiers are only one of the many reasons you should do so. Its philosophy and practices are among the worst outcroppings of transnational progressivism in our time.

It is clear that at least one Doctor Without Borders had no qualms about risking the lives of untold thousands of Americans. Perhaps he's stupid; I've known enough genuinely stupid doctors to be under no illusions about the intellectual level of the medical profession. Or perhaps he thinks it's no more than we deserve.

At any rate, the Ebola virus is now in the Big Apple. Yet my wife keeps haranguing me about my reluctance to leave the house. It is to laugh.

It often seems to me that the threats to the United States "have us outnumbered," such that we are no longer capable of withstanding them. There are certainly enough of them. Worse, our political class appears determined to create or import as many more as possible.

I think we've crossed a threshold. There was an America that is no longer; have a small convincer to that effect. The America that is shares nothing but the name with that lost predecessor. Whether or not you yearn for the former, you suffer with the latter. Whether the former can be restored is increasingly doubtful.

It is possible that the State's atomization strategy has gone far enough to thwart effective resistance to the completion of its totalitarian agenda. The introduction of "faceless fears" such as Ebola would certainly assist in that effort. "Lone wolf" terrorism is in that category as well.

Is there anyone out there who doesn't get the point of the following:


If you do get it, how can you imagine that the rapid multiplication of threats to life, health, and property we can all see proliferating around us, while our supposed "protectors" not only do nothing to thwart them but actively assist in their proliferation, is "just a coincidence?"

Time to check the pantry and count the bullets once more.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Frontiers In Defenselessness

It's been clear for some time -- long before the federal courts said so -- that the police cannot and will not be held responsible for protecting you from aggressors or aggression. Your protection is in your own hands. Therefore, you'd better see to it without illusions about anyone coming to your aid.

That impels most Americans to employ risk minimization tactics. They strive to refrain from behavior that's likely to bring them into contact with the predatory classes. They avoid regions where such persons are likely to congregate. They travel warily, if at all, after dark. Some buy alarm systems or other security services for their homes and businesses. There are other applicable tactics as well.

But some Americans, mindful of the ubiquity of the threats to life and property in our time, go armed. They carry guns, and work to stay abreast of the laws pertinent to violence wielded in self-defense. Though this is a Constitutionally protected right -- indeed, a right inseparable from the right to life -- the authorities are implacably hostile to it. They perpetually maneuver to suppress the exercise of that right: sometimes by law, and sometimes by intimidation.

Here's a case in point:

A West Virginia man is facing charges after he allegedly fired a warning shot when a group of nine men surrounded him and his girlfriend and threatened to cut him and rape her.

Chris Harris and his girlfriend, CC Roxby, were walking home from church on the evening of Sept. 27 in Wheeling, after teaching a Saturday night “Sunday school” class when they say were approached and circled by the nine men, at least one of who was armed with a knife.

“They surrounded me saying some pretty vulgar things like they were going to rape my wife in front of me, cut me,” Harris told WTOV.

Roxby, who said the incident was “one of the most scariest experiences” she had ever been through, called 911. While still on the phone, she pulled out her legally concealed pistol and aimed it at the suspects. But Roxby’s hands were shaking, so Harris took the gun from her.

Harris hoped the sight of the gun would be enough to deter the men, but it wasn’t. They continued to advance toward the couple, make threats and act in an aggressive manner.

“The kid kept advancing on me, saying it wasn’t a real gun,” Harris said.

So Harris, not wanting to have to shoot anybody, fired a warning shot into the air.

“The cruisers were coming down the street at that point and the young men ran away,” Roxby said. “Instead of them following the gang, the officers arrested Chris for firing a shot into the air.”

Harris was charged with "wanton endangerment," a serious offense that could deprive him of his right to own firearms. As for the thugs who'd menaced him and his fiancee, the police didn't even bother to pursue them.

Who out there thinks the proximity of the police cruisers to that roving gang of thugs -- say, what race were they? I ask purely out of curiosity -- might have been a wee bit more than sheer coincidence?

The State wants you to live in fear.

It's beyond serious dispute that America is suffering a plague of violent aggression against innocents. If you haven't been keeping up, the "knockout game" is still in progress. Blacks have been rioting in Ferguson, Missouri since the Darren Wilson / Michael Brown event, and is likely to intensify now that evidence has emerged that appears to exonerate Wilson. Just about anywhere the flood of illegal aliens has touched is enduring an elevated rate of violent crimes and crimes against property. Our large cities, with few exceptions, have become zones of significant risk to life and limb.

All this suits our political elite very well. When people fear, they automatically look for a protector. However deceitfully, the State represents itself as that very thing. But as the bumper stickers have told us, the State hates competition. The armed citizen, prepared to defend himself and his loved ones with his own hands and resources, is the worst competition the State could ever face, because he's effective.

Recent Supreme Court decisions have dealt the gun grabbers severe setbacks. However, they're not without a certain adroit cunning. That craft is being employed to drain the right to keep and bear arms of its utility by imposing massive costs upon it... such as the costs Chris Harris will face for defending his fiancee from rape by a gang of random thugs.

Some of the rationales for these actions to suppress rightful self-defense are beyond ludicrous. Get a load of this comment at this post from the esteemed Joe Huffman:

The Second Amendment doesn’t protect the use of weapons. If it did, murdering someone with a gun would be legal.

If that doesn't pin your Idiocy Meter, I can't imagine what it would take.

So the police arrested and charged Chris Harris, who faced a gang one of whose members brandished a knife, whose fiancee was under a credible threat to her life, and who acted in a fashion that harmed no one. Harris, in the eyes of the Omnipotent State, is a deviant from the desired social norm of pervasive fear. Private citizens simply can't be allowed to rear up on their hind legs and defy useful fear-engendering agents; it would unacceptably disturb The Way Things Are And Must Be. He has to be taught a lesson, made into a warning to others that the attentions of the State are more to be feared than merely being raped and mutilated by a roving gang.

There is no slightest possibility, given the exploding tide of violence against private citizens, including ever more rampant police violence, that this is all merely a coincidence. Nor is there any possibility that it will correct itself. We The People must correct it. There is no one else -- and there's only one method that will serve.

Think it over.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Siege Has Lifted

I’ve solved my work problem, for the moment at least, and am now free to discourse on important stuff again. Let’s see: Ebola, Iran, ISIS, the economy, the emasculation of the military, the drive for amnesty for illegal aliens, same-sex to choose, how to choose...

Ah! I have it! Something of genuinely universal interest!

Brace yourselves, Gentle Readers. Here it comes, in glorious Technicolor. Or perhaps that should be “Here she comes.”

I don’t spend a lot of time on the travails of celebrities. Such folks enjoy blessings beyond those bestowed on the rest of us, and anyway, their troubles are mostly of their own making. Yet now and then, a case will strike me as worthy of the attention of a Certified Galactic Intellect...though not always because of its intellectual rigor.

I style myself a libertarian-conservative: politically libertarian (though with exceptions), but conservative in personal practices. But as the years have passed, I’ve detected an increase in mean-spiritedness among vocal conservatives that makes me uneasy about asserting even a personal inclination in that direction.

I’ll grant you that there’s mean-spiritedness in every political family. I’ll go further: quite a number of persons in the public eye are their own worst enemies, should be smart enough to know it, and therefore deserve no sympathy for their self-inflicted ills. But:

  1. There are a few celebrities who, appearances notwithstanding, should receive “the benefit of the doubt” when events turn against them;
  2. There are excellent reasons never to speak ill of anyone with whose conduct one is not personally, even intimately familiar.

The recent pirated nude photo scandal, which affected several entertainment celebrities, is a case in point. Just incase you’ve spent the last month in a medically induced coma, the outline of the thing is simple: the aforementioned celebrities unwisely left nude photos of themselves on a “cloud” server; some enterprising hacker broke the server’s security; and the photos made their way into wide circulation to the consternation, whether real or pretended, of those depicted. Outrage ensued.

Prominent among those whose nude shots have been glommed and redistributed is double-Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence is currently the number-one box office draw in movies, and for very good reasons: she’s beautiful, immensely talented, personable off-camera, and has had the good sense or good fortune to land the most striking and appealing roles imaginable, including Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games movies and Mystique in the X-Men prequels.

Lawrence has expressed unconditional outrage at the violation of her privacy:

Vanity Fair released the full interview with actress Jennifer Lawrence in which she discussed the nude photo scandal that rocked Hollywood in late-August.

Lawrence, a primary target in the scandal, reportedly called out celebrity blogger Perez Hilton for sharing explicit images of her on his website. He removed the photographs shortly after he posted them and apologized by saying he's often forced to make "quick decisions" at work.

“He took it down because people got pissed, and that's the only reason why,” she said. “And then I had to watch his apology. And what he basically said was, ‘I just didn't think about it.’ ‘I just didn't think about it’ is not an excuse. That is the exact issue itself.”

This “Perez Hilton” creature is a scandal-mongering gossip columnist, a flaming-queen homosexual activist, and unrestrainably vicious toward persons who disagree with his political views. He has no genuine accomplishments to his name.

You would think, given the violation of privacy involved and the publicly known characters of the principals, that good-hearted, well-raised persons would automatically side with Lawrence over “Hilton.” It ought not to require any thought. But it would seem that some of the vocal self-styled conservatives who comment at the Breitbart/Big Hollywood site are neither good-hearted nor well-raised. Read the comments and decide for yourself.

I smell rampant envy. I smell worse than that: big-mouthed hypocrites who are eager to see the high brought down, even if it’s by a despicable specimen such as “Hilton.”

The “she ought to have known better” crap is exactly that: crap. The companies that promote the use of their “cloud” services are forever telling us about the depth and power of their security measures. Is a very young professional actress, highly unlikely to have been schooled in the technologies and their vulnerabilities, supposed to be more aware of the risks than the average non-technical American? If the same thing were to happen to any of her detractors, would they enjoy the degree of opprobrium that they’ve heaped upon Jennifer Lawrence? Would they feel their naivety had earned it?

Let’s not neglect the other aspect of the matter: that Lawrence photographed herself in the nude so her boyfriend would have a sensuous reminder of her when the two of them were far from one another. There are “conservatives” reproaching her for that, too. Apparently that Lawrence would permit someone – someone other than themselves, that is – to see her in all her unclothed glory grates unbearably across their neo-Grundyish sensibilities.

Glory be to God! What is wrong with these people? Have they never been young and in love, even if unwisely? Have they never wanted to keep a lover mindful of them when far away? Are they aware of how their blue-nosed priggishness makes them look to the young Americans who will soon be this nation’s governing cadre?

I can’t help but quote what Robert A. Heinlein said in Glory Road: “Some people disparage the female form divine. Sex is too good for them; they should have been oysters.” Perhaps it’s that; perhaps it’s the old “Madonna or whore” dichotomy returned to feast upon the good sense of the living; perhaps it’s more of the envy that fuels their all too obvious Schadenfreude over Lawrence’s victimization. It could well be all three.

If a freedom-respecting conservatism that’s aligned with American traditions is to make a comeback, the sort of venomous backbiting the “conservatives” above have allowed themselves must cease. Indeed, it must be whipped back in to the cur’s kennel from which it issues. It’s time we learned true tolerance, not merely tolerance for private behavior of which we’re willing to approve where others can hear us.

To those inclined to cross swords with me on this issue:

  • Don’t prattle to me about religion. Religion is a personal choice. I have mine; you have yours; Jennifer Lawrence has hers. I doubt we agree on very much, even if we tout the same labels.
  • Don’t rant to me about “public decency.” The public’s decency is very much in question. At any rate, it’s the hackers and the “Perez Hilton” vermin who violated it, not Jennifer Lawrence.
  • Don’t bore me with any fantasies about what your daughter would or wouldn’t do. The odds are about nine to one that your conception of your daughter’s convictions and preferences is a protective fantasy – protective of you, not her.
  • In fact, just don’t argue with me about this. Learn some charity and humility, and learn to practice them, especially when it seems the hardest.

Case closed.

Intense Work Day Ahead

Apologies, Gentle Reader. I haven't got any free time to write just now. Long-distance telephone support -- debugging via phone! -- is the order of the morning, and probably of the afternoon as well. I might manage to post something later today. Until then or tomorrow, be well.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Lethal Vanity: A Personal Tirade

Sorry, Gentle Reader. Nothing on politics, economics, sociology, Christianity, or fiction today. This morning I have an overriding priority to serve, as you'll understand shortly...if at all.

On a weekday, I'm usually on the road to my place of business no later than 5:30 AM. I commute at that hour because the New York Metro traffic pattern becomes too ugly for me to bear if I wait any longer. The delays, the stop-and-go character of the driving, and the overall waste of time are more than my easily-triggered temper can withstand. Yet even at just half past five in the morning, the roads are nearly full. The traffic moves at a good pace, but there's little room to maneuver and less room for error. That's life and automotive transit in the precancerous zone around the Big Apple.

I just avoided becoming part of a multi-car pile-up on the Long Island Expressway. It's left me rather badly shaken.

I don't know what caused the accident. It could have been any of a number of things. But damned few such accidents result from causes beyond the drivers' control.

It's many years since I got my driver's license, but the experience remains vivid in my memory, mainly because my instructor was a thinker, much like myself. He didn't just tell me what to do and what not to do in a didactic, formulaic fashion; he explained why this practice is a good one and that practice is to be avoided. His tutelage left me with an understanding of traffic patterns and conditions that not everyone possesses, including a sense for what contexts are inherently safer than others and why.

Limited-access highways are potentially the safest traffic context of all:

  • Everyone is moving in the same direction at nearly all times;
  • The cars are tightly clustered around a median speed;
  • Turn signals and horns are easy to perceive and interpret;
  • In the absence of "proper motion," threats to the pattern can be confined to the entry and exit points.

For those without a background in astronomy, "proper motion" is motion transverse to the prevailing pattern. For example, a car deliberately changing lanes is in proper motion; a car that remains in its lane is not. Because it violates the pattern, a car in proper motion imposes risks and costs on cars near it, which must take special care to compensate for it.

That's not to say that proper motion is to be rigidly avoided. However, it should be soberly considered before it's undertaken. Relative speeds, the available space and time, and the trajectories of other vehicles must be respected. Anyone who's ever launched a "longshoreman's blessing" at a car that lurched spasmodically across three lanes without signaling, cutting off dozens of other drivers in a mad dash for an exit ramp far too near for more carefully considered maneuvering -- my wife calls this "driving north-south on an east-west road" -- will grasp this without further explanation.

Ill-considered or unconsidered proper motion gives rise to nearly all highway accidents.

Sources of bad proper motion are many, but the most commonplace (and worst) of them is driver vanity.

Do you know someone whose confidence in his driving strikes you as unwarranted? Who swishes back and forth among the lanes like a matador showing off before a packed stadium? Who routinely takes his eyes off the road for frivolous reasons, for example to send a text message? Who removes both hands from the wheel to grope through the snacks in his center console or the CDs on the passenger side floor? Have you ever said to yourself "He's an accident looking for a place to happen?"

You're right. The odds are that he, or someone very like him, will cause the next highway accident, and possibly a few lives in the bargain. But there's no telling that to him. He takes the mere mention of risk as a mortal insult. He probably has one of those idiotic "NO FEAR" decals emblazoned on his rear windshield, where it can conveniently obstruct his road vision.

If you are such a driver, repent of your sins and reform your ways before it's too late -- "too late" being when you cause the inevitable high-speed accident or when you encounter me, whichever comes first. I have no patience for persons who impose unnecessary hazards on unconsenting others. But sadly, if you are such a driver, the odds are that you would never, ever admit to yourself that your skills are perhaps a mite beneath those of Michael Schumacher and Jackie Stewart. The wound to your ego might cause you to bleed to death.

It's highly unlikely that the burst of proper motion that caused the accident that almost encompassed me arose from a blowout, a suspension collapse, or some other mechanical failure. Almost certainly, it was the fruit of driver vanity. It might have cost lives; I didn't hang around to find out. I can only pray that it didn't -- and give thanks that I managed to stay out of it.

So, Gentle Reader, if you'll excuse me for today, I think I'll sit and shake for a while longer before addressing the morning's tasks. Be well, stay safe, and return tomorrow for a dollop of the usual drivel.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Human Wave, Or Humans Waving?

Yes, this will be a two-post day. I have a little more free time than usual, am rather pleased with my recent efforts on the novel-in-progress, and have had my thoughts redirected by an unusual occurrence.

Yesterday, a dear friend of mine -- some of you from the old Eternity Road days will remember Duyen -- sent a young friend of hers named Minh to me for writerly advice. In this case, young doesn't mean "a few years younger than I am," it means young. Duyen felt ill-equipped to counsel Minh on her writing efforts, for two reasons:

  • Minh writes fiction; Duyen never has and, she says, never will.
  • Minh writes erotica. Really heavy-duty erotica, with all the horns and hooves still on it.

So, in an irony to eclipse all ironies, my sweet Catholic friend Duyen sent Minh to her not-quite-so-sweet Catholic friend Fran -- your humble Curmudgeon Emeritus -- for advice on who, what, when, where, why, and how to go about publishing her efforts and establishing herself among other writers of erotica. Minh sent along a story of which she said she's particularly proud, with a plea for my comments.

Glory be to God! I thought I'd seen everything. It's amazing how wrong I was. I must remember. When I finished reading Minh's tale I felt I should wash my brain out with soap. Lye soap.

But it was good. Really good. Well plotted, well characterized, and well written. It edifies while it entertains. More, it's true to life, instructive despite the coarseness of its subject matter and the shudders it would induce in many of its readers. How much more can a reader ask of a story?

And it left me wondering what I could say to this young woman who'd approached me, quite humbly, for advice on how to pursue, improve, and promote her fiction. "Don't be so in-your-face about the sex" -- ? Nope. The sex was the central driver of the human drama, as it so often is. "Soften the characters' edges" -- ? Nope. She wrote them as what they had to be, in every sense. "Refine your vocabulary" -- ? Nope. As rugged as they were, the words Minh employed were the right ones for the tale.

It caused me to think over some of the comments I've received about Freedom's Fury, which includes a plural marriage -- one man, two women -- as a critical motif. Several readers have written to say "It was great overall, but why'd you have to put that in?"

I "put it in" because it was necessary. It was essential from the very first; indeed, I'd unwittingly written the requirement for it into Freedom's Scion. From the first it was the path my characters had to follow. Had they turned away from it, the story would not have worked.

Take the admittedly rough sex and sexual language out of Minh's story, and it wouldn't work either.

There's an aspect of fiction writing that most non-practitioners would find surprising, perhaps even contradictory: the need for humility.

I'll admit there's also a requirement for a certain amount of brass. After all, you need to believe that you've got worthwhile tales to tell, the chops to tell them, and can get readers' eyes onto your stuff despite the millions of others who believe the very same things. But the humility requirement is subtler.

John Brunner's famous Laws of Fiction tell us that:

  1. The raw material of fiction is people.
  2. The essence of story is change.

Both these laws are titanium-clad. A writer violates them at mortal peril. The consequence of ignoring either one is the very worst thing that can happen to a storyteller: his stuff will be boring.

The first-order implications of the laws are, of course, the point:

  1. People have a nature that must be respected to make one's characters and their actions and reactions plausible.
  2. If a tale's Marquee Characters experience no changes, particularly no emotional changes, there is no story.

The requirement for humility lies in never violating -- indeed, never even toying with the idea of violating -- either of those precepts. No matter what motifs you choose as drivers for your story, you can never allow your characters to act in a fashion that violates what we know of human nature, no matter how badly you'd like to have them do so. More, they must change in reaction to the story's developments, even if the change seems ugly or bizarre. More still, the changes they undergo must be consistent with the way you've defined them.

And with that, we come to the Human Wave.

Sarah Hoyt's "Human Wave Manifesto" is an important, valuable piece of thought. It unflinchingly addresses the critical diseases that have infected the speculative genres, and slightly more arguably, modern fiction overall, and prescribes a batch of remedy-principles for averting contagion. Yet as with every set of rules or guidelines for doing anything, Bruce Lee's Maxim applies: "Respect the principles without being bound by them." There are bits of Sarah's prescriptions and proscriptions that simply must be violated when writing about certain subjects in certain contexts. Take this one:

Unless absolutely necessary you will have a positive feeling to your story.

The qualifier is important: unless absolutely necessary. When addressing certain subjects, such as the one Minh addresses in her short story, you cannot have "a positive feeling to your story." Indeed, in some cases doom must be approaching, and obviously so, from the very first sentence, even if it takes a meandering path to get there. If you choose to write about such a subject, prescribing a positive feeling is a violation of Brunner's First Law. Indeed, it's an illustration of the importance of writerly humility.

I'd say that in the majority of cases where a writer tells a reader that "My character(s) had to do that," he's simply citing Brunner's First Law and his submission to it. He might have struggled with the decision beforehand, much as I struggled with the need to have Althea seduce Claire in the early going of Freedom's Fury. The struggle might have been as unavoidable as the decision. It's the willingness to be humble before the First Law that matters.

So Minh's story, which I found worthy and illuminating despite its rough character, might not qualify as "Human Wave." Yet it does qualify as "Humans Waving:" characters taking a course they might have known better than to take, while striving to "wave aside" the inevitable consequences, but suffering those consequences all the same.

There is room for such tales. An uninterrupted diet of them would be very unpleasant, of course, but as leavening for more positive fiction they provide an important contrast. You can probably hear my Catholicism coming through in that. After all, we're a fallen, fallible race. Mistakes, including the very worst mistakes of judgment, will be part of human existence until the Second Coming.

Which is an important perspective, not only on fiction, but on Man in general.

If you want to read Minh's story, it's here. Just don't say I didn't warn you. By the way, Duyen met her in church. Draw what conclusions you will.


Is everyone properly terrified yet? We all know the reasons to fear everything but our own shadows, don't we? So no excuse remains for trusting that all will be well.

But there's still a lot of mindless, heedless trust out there, Sarah Hoyt's essay on the subject notwithstanding. More, it's the worst kind of trust: confidence in the benevolence and competence of institutions, including governments.

Why anyone would ever trust an institution, be it a private corporation or a government, I cannot imagine. Yet the phenomenon is appallingly widespread, even in these days when governments appear determined to prove that they cannot and should not be trusted.

What's that you say? You think an exception should be made for eleemosynary organizations such as the Red Cross and the United Way? Bubba, are you ever in for a shock. The annual balance sheets of such institutions are matters of public record. Take a close look at a few of them. Tell me afterward if you still feel the same.

Trusting an individual can be hard, given what each man knows about his own fallibility and corruptibility. Trusting an institution -- a faceless, bodiless construct which, in the usual case, was created specifically to shield its members against personal responsibility for what "the institution" does -- is insane.

Yet trust is the sine qua non of a decent, functional society. We literally can't conduct the least of our affairs without it. But to extend it foolishly turns it into a blade we hold to our own throats.

Regular Gentle Readers of Liberty's Torch have seen this quote before:

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 have no doubt that Dr. Anderson was a thoroughly decent man, at least as ethical as any other individual of his time. More, the above statement from his landmark economic history of the Nightmare Years contains much truth. Where it falls short is in its absolutism.

Isabel Paterson noted in The God of the Machine that "A corporation has neither a soul to be damned nor a body to be kicked." It is immune to the consequences of its misdeeds, with the sole exception of financial consequences. As true as this is of any private organization, it has much more force when applied to a government: a body invested with coercive powers and pre-indemnified for their use. The consequences of governmental wrongdoing fall solely on those it wrongs. Even when one of its agents commits an outright murder, he nearly always escapes all penalties for it. When one of its agencies runs totally amok, the inevitable sequel is a cover-up, sometimes effective, sometimes not.

But a hefty fraction of Americans still trust "their" government, most of the time. The reasons are various.

In part, that trust arises from the acquaintance so many of us have with individuals who work for a government. Governments employ about twenty percent of the American workforce, which makes such acquaintanceships commonplace. As the overwhelming majority of Americans, including government employees, are decent, ethical persons, at least when not tempted beyond their strength, there's a tendency to transfer the trust we extend to them to the government agencies that pay their salaries.

Another component of it stems from the general admiration for our superb military, the one and only arm of the federal government that actually seems to work as designed, and efficiently at that. There's a certain irony in this, as the purpose of an armed force is to impose the decisions of one government upon another. Yet the American tradition of the "citizen soldier," who brings the ethics he learned at his mother's knee to the barracks, thence to the training ground, and thence to the battlefield, has resulted in the most ethical warmaking power in human history: a force that kills and destroys only as absolutely necessary to accomplish its objectives. If there were a possibility of holding all of government to that standard, perhaps trusting it wouldn't be quite so irrational.

Finally for this tirade, as Sarah notes in her essay, in certain matters many feel they have no choice but to trust government:

Things for which we used to trust the government, if not exactly to at least be in the right ballpark: Unemployment, inflation, the state of the economy, the state of the population, disease statistics, warnings about what was safe and unsafe (yes, sometimes we got the alar scare, but the truth is, it usually erred on the side of too much caution), the state of the world, the state of our enemies’ forces, the state of our forces.

There are more things I’m not calling to mind now, a myriad points that informed us that civilization was in fact still working, that statistics were still being gathered, and that we could – through them – know the state of the world that we couldn’t verify on our own.

This is not – ah – to say that we, we particularly who tend to hang out in this blog, believe in these things in whole or even implicitly. No, but we did believe in them more or less, and kind of. We would say things like “Of course, the census overestimates the uncounted in the big cities, but—” or “They’re having a panic fit over the disinfectant in smokeless cigarettes, ignore that.”

However, for the big things, important things, we trusted government. You know, weather alerts, forewarning the economy was about to take a dive, election results, that sort of “big thing.”

Yet the extension of trust over those matters is waning as it should.

I have a large collection of lapel buttons with clever sayings on them. Time was, I would hardly leave the house without choosing one that seemed appropriate for the day. One of my favorites in the batch says:

You Trust Your Mother,
But You Cut The Cards

Indeed. Always cut the cards. It's an essential element in "the game," regardless of the specifics of the playing field or the rules. It doesn't matter that the dealer is your mother, you cut the cards anyway. It's not just for your peace of mind, but for hers as well.

When "the dealer" is government, "cutting the cards" can be a matter of life and death.

On a handful of subjects, mainly pertaining to war and international relations, there's no way to "cut the cards." But on nearly everything else, alternatives are rapidly multiplying:

  • Private security companies will protect life and property, rather than arriving after they've been violated.
  • Water and electric power are things most of us can get from a variety of vendors, or can provide to ourselves.
  • Local trade is ever more frequently conducted via barter, or with precious metals as the medium of exchange.
  • There are alternative sources of information about everything demographic or economic.
  • There's always an alternative to "public transportation."

Even should you choose to use the government alternative in any of those venues, you should keep the existence of the others in mind -- and you should keep in touch with those who use the others, so the government can't bamboozle you about its "superiority." That approach to "cutting the cards" is far more important than regularly reading several news sources, which, happily, is now the habit of the typical American news consumer.

The general awakening to the untrustworthiness of governments, politicians, and bureaucrats must be followed by a widespread shift toward nongovernmental alternatives in as many walks of life as possible. Now that voting can no longer effect a significant change in the direction of our deterioration, there is no better way to keep necessary trust -- trust in deserving individuals and in the soundness of our communities -- healthy and growing.

It's already begun.
Make yourself part of it.
Create alternatives of your own.
Help to publicize ones not yet widely known.
It might be the most pro-social thing an American can do.

We can all pitch in. Those of us who have awakened, that is.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Going To Lengths

The indefatigable Robert Stacy McCain has posted an important piece detailing an exchange with a typical feminist, in which McCain meticulously dissects the feminist methodology for advancing its inherently anti-male, anti-heterosexual, anti-freedom agenda. The stimulus for the exchange was McCain's assertion of those three characteristics of feminism, all of which have been obvious to any thinking person since the movement morphed from a quest for legal equality for women to a declared war on men, society, and normality itself.

McCain's analysis of the feminist rhetorical approach makes several references to feminist polemicists with whom few men are likely to be familiar. Even those of us familiar with them are unlikely to have read much of their crap, for a simple reason: to "support" their thesis, the writers McCain cites obfuscate to an extent anyone not obsessed with obtaining power would find terminally irritating. They treat clarity and simplicity as their mortal enemies.

Though the "issue" beneath the exchange is the seemingly trivial contretemps called "GamerGate," it provides a handy microcosm of Leftist advocates' polemic strategy:

  • Assert the existence of a pervasive injustice to which others are blind.
  • Claim "deep reasons" or "deep mechanisms" to be the genesis of the injustice.
  • Direct attention away from facts that contradict the polemicist's core assertions.
  • Conflate utterly unrelated phenomena; vehemently deny fundamental facts and truths.
  • Keep your "argument" obscure by employing as much quasi-academic jargon as possible.
  • Immediately and unqualifiedly categorize those who disagree as oppressors and malefactors.

Anyone who could tell you how many cans there are in a six-pack should be able to laugh such arguments aside -- and many do. But not everyone.

Clarity and simplicity are truth's best friends. Its worst enemy is the unjustified concession of authority.

I was once sent a cassette tape -- say, remember cassette tapes? -- of an anti-capitalist "lecture" by Noam Chomsky, in which the celebrated linguist and notorious Marxist unwittingly created a case study of the Left's rhetorical strategy. To condense the thing to its minimum size: he talked fast; he used a plethora of obscure terms, and he carefully averted attention from evidence that contradicted his contentions. But he who is undaunted by Chomsky's reputation in linguistics, who is willing to tease Chomsky's contentions apart one by one, and who assesses each of Chomsky's claims against objective facts would find the whole "lecture" to be utterly risible.

Much of the Left's success is founded on a widespread unwillingness to do those things. That unwillingness is partly reasonable; after all, how many of us have the time? Besides, we tend to grant persons with high reputations in one field credit for high general intelligence, and therefore with a better-than-average degree of penetration into other subjects as well. In other words, we tend to grant them an authority they haven't earned and seldom deserve.

Quoth Arthur Herzog:

The thirst for answers in a difficult world has brought the rise of Anything (or Everything) Authorities. The Anything Authority is one whose credentials in one field are taken as valid for others -- sometimes many others. Examples are Dr. George Wald, the biologist; Dr. Benjamin Spock, the pediatrician; Jane Fonda, the actress -- all of whom are Anything Authorities on war, peace, and politics -- and Dr. Linus Pauling, who said of President Nixon, "For fifteen years I have studied insanity. I saw the eyes on television, and there is madness, paranoia."

That last should clank against the mind, for Dr. Pauling himself is known to have suffered sharply decreased mental capacity in his latter years, possibly from undiagnosed Alzheimer's Syndrome. But even were that not the case, no one is qualified to diagnose insanity on the basis of a televised image.

But Dr. Pauling's insane claim is exceptional in its boldness and baldness. Chomskyish obscurantism is far more popular with Leftist "thinkers." They prefer what the late, great Cyril Northcote Parkinson called "froth and gas," the sort of rhetoric that intimidates with its pseudo-intellectual veneer of erudition and deep study.

Viewed from that angle, the problem reduces to persuading people not to be intimidated.

Great volumes of verbiage prove nothing. But they can wear down one's resistance. Anyone who's unwisely accepted a promotional "free three night / two day resort vacation" in exchange for agreeing to sit through a harangue about the absolute imperative to buy a timeshare right now can testify to that effect.

This, of course, is not germane to the problem of the willing dupe, nor that of the evilly motivated adopter. However, the majority -- perhaps the overwhelming majority -- of persons who subscribe to Leftist convictions are of neither sort. Some of them are victims of rhetorical bludgeoning of the sort delineated here. It's possible to recommend a set of palliatives to such a person:

  • Be mindful of the facts.
  • Demand evidence for the polemicist's contentions.
  • When the polemicist attempts to evade a question or an objection, mark it against him.
  • Uphold a standard of clarity and simplicity: If a social, economic, or political argument can't be completely framed in a thousand words of common English, it cannot possibly be valid.

And there's this, from Siddhartha Gautama, whom history has styled the Buddha:

Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it -- no matter if I have said it! -- except it agree with your own reason and your own common sense.

Words to live by, Gentle Reader. Words to live by.