Tuesday, December 31, 2013

At Long Last, 2013 Comes To An Unlamented End

Good morning, Gentle Reader. Here we are...finally.

Recent events have had me somewhat distracted -- "wrapped around the axle of life," as a dear friend likes to put it. Like many others of the Internet Commentariat, I view the dissipation of this most unfortunate year with relief. And despite my own mounting weariness, I'm here to rant about it. But not with a year-in-review piece of the usual sort. There are plenty of other bloviators out there who can do that adequately well.

Buckle up. This ride could get bumpy.

Not to put too fine a point on it, two developments stand out above the rest. (And for those of you with homonym trouble, the study of that sentence would be most profitable.)

  1. The United States of America no longer exists.
  2. The world has moved to the brink of nuclear war.

Assertion #1 proceeds from the following rather simple chain of postulate, observation, and implication:

  1. Any particular polity must possess a specific definition.
  2. The United States of America is a polity defined by a Constitution which is "the supreme Law of the Land."
  3. The Constitution of the United States no longer defines the polity currently called the United States of America.
  4. Therefore, the United States of America as defined no longer exists.

None of those statements are objectively arguable. Have a pithy summation from one of the few remaining statesmen in Congress:

Here we have a supposed "Constitutional scholar" completely flummoxed by a simple question about the reach of presidential authority. For those of you who haven't read the document recently, the Constitution is nine sheets of parchment written in clear, nontechnical English. Even if we include the signatures at the bottom, it comes to under 5000 words. But Simon Lazarus, the witness Representative Gowdy is interrogating, is determined not to say anything that might undermine any of the positions or actions taken by Barack Hussein Obama, another supposed "Constitutional scholar."

What's worse, were you to assemble a hundred persons generally accorded the status of "Constitutional scholar," about half of them would be just as unwilling to answer Representative Gowdy's questions clearly. With the willing support of...persons such as this Lazarus creature, the Obamunists have completed a coup against the Constitution. That coup has been in development for at least a century. It has come fully to fruition with the assertions of Barack Hussein Obama that he can refuse to enforce the laws he himself has agitated for and signed.

Congress? Without any enforcement power of its own.
The federal courts? Completely cowed by the executive branch.
The "alphabet agencies?" Their entire agenda is increased power and control.
The Legacy Media, who are the main reason Obama was elected, are in on the coup.

Allow me one further, extremely bitter observation:

The sentiments expressed by Miss Gerritson in the above graphic are fine ones indeed...but does she believe them herself? A few questions would clarify the matter:

  • Do you believe that the federal War on Drugs is Constitutional?
  • Do you believe that federal anti-child-labor laws are Constitutional?
  • Do you believe that federal redistribution programs (e.g., Social Security, Medicare, and federal welfare programs) are Constitutional?

Not one of these things -- and they're far from the only ones I could cite -- has any Constitutional basis. Indeed, the text of the document, when coupled to the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, would appear to forbid all three exertions of federal power. But how many supposed Constitutional Fidelists would be willing to oppose all three of them as beyond Washington's Constitutional authority?

Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government's purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal well meaning but without understanding. -- Justice Louis D. Brandeis

The United States of America has ceased to exist -- and We the People, "well meaning but without understanding," helped to kill it.

Quod erat demonstrandum.

First we got the bomb, and that was good,
'Cause we love peace and motherhood.
Then Russia got the bomb, but that's okay,
'Cause the balance of power's maintained that way.
Who's next?

France got the bomb, but don't you grieve,
'Cause they're on our side (I believe).
China got the bomb, but have no fears,
They can't wipe us out for at least five years.
Who's next?

Then Indonesia claimed that they
Were gonna get one any day.
South Africa wants two, that's right:
One for the black and one for the white.
Who's next?

Egypt's gonna get one too,
Just to use on you know who.
So Israel's getting tense.
Wants one in self defense.
"The Lord's our shepherd," says the psalm,
But just in case, we better get a bomb.
Who's next?

Luxembourg is next to go,
And (who knows?) maybe Monaco.
We'll try to stay serene and calm
When Alabama gets the bomb.
Who's next?

[Tom Lehrer, "Who's Next," 1964]

North Korea has nuclearized and is arming itself with missiles of intercontinental range.
Iran is very close to nuclear-state status, and has explicit North Korean support.
Pakistan, already a nuclear state, is steadily "going Taliban."
Saudi Arabia is suddenly interested in acquiring nukes.
Venezuela? Watch this space.

There will be war. It will break out within the next two to three years. Whether it will be nuclear remains to be seen...but Israel is likely to decide that for the rest of us, and Israel has a very powerful incentive -- national survival -- to draw the nuclear sword against Iran.

Whether a regional war in which nukes are employed would directly involve the U.S. -- yes, yes, I'll keep calling us that, for simplicity -- is difficult to determine. It would depend on the characters of several individuals whose responses to events are difficult to predict.

However, three of those individuals -- Barack Hussein Obama, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, and Kim Jong-un -- are hardly models of sober consideration or restraint. Whether the rest of the world in combination could restrain the three of them is horribly uncertain.

In the very best case, Israel strikes Iran conventionally and pre-emptively, destroying its nuclear facilities before the ayatollahs can complete a deliverable nuclear weapon. The United States and Russia then proclaim the matter closed, commanding that all other nuclear states "stand down" on pain of annihilating nuclear retaliation. No other outcome would be nearly as acceptable...but how likely is it?

Iran's nuclear facilities are dispersed and well hardened. It's by no means certain exactly where Iran's fabrication of a deliverable nuke would be performed, or on what delivery platform it would be mounted. And as I've already observed, Israel has very powerful reasons to want to do a thorough job...which might not be possible with conventional arms alone.

Pyongyang is informally allied with Tehran. A megalomaniacal delusive such as Kim Jong-un might see the outbreak of hostilities in the Middle East, whether nuclear or not, as his opportunity to assert North Korea's status as a "great power." He might use his nukes to hold South Korea, a U.S. client state, hostage while he comes to the support of the ayatollahs.

Have you checked out this line of products? They're not that expensive. Really!

How much can any group of decent persons do about any of the above?

2014 looks to be the year we'll find out. I'm not sanguine about it. We're too badly fragmented, too various in our personal and provincial concerns, and too beleaguered by more immediate threats to our freedom, our prosperity, and our security. As a Christian, I'm supposed to be a "person of hope," but this morning most of that hope is focused on the life to come.

I'll keep writing -- fiction and non-fiction both. It's what I do, and anyway, I'm too old to adopt a new vice.

Keep close to your loved ones. Make sure they know that you love them.

Happy New Year.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Fiction: "The Knight Before Christmas"

Find this free story in its entirety HERE at Smashwords.com.

(part of) Part 1

Jamison Riley strode quietly to the doorway leading into the spacious modern kitchen. “Mrs. Costas!” The frat housemother glanced up calmly, as if she truly did have a sixth sense when it came to her boys. “What are you still doing here? It’s after five on Christmas Eve for God’s…I mean, well…” The 21-year-old suddenly looked embarrassed.

Sigma Mu Pi’s chief cook and practically resident Dear Abby glared at him; quickly glanced heavenward; mouthed something religious sounding; then made the sign of the cross.

“I could ask you the same thing, Mr. Riley. Weren’t you--”

He cut her off. “Meeting a new ‘friend’ that now I fully suspect will turn out to be a figment of Mr. Brit-Lit’s imagination? Yeah, well, either way it kinda fell through…” If she was real all they had to do to dissuade her was post any of a million geeky pictures they have of me.

“Oh dear. I’m so sorry, Jamison,” she said, rushing around the island cook top, arms outstretched towards the lanky 6’ 7” engineering student, whose Santa hat barely brushed the top of the doorframe, even in thick-soled boots. He’d had a major say in designing the new house, recently rebuilt from the ground up. So here, at home, his typically battered noggin was safe, unlike elsewhere around the historic college, with its antiquated structures.

He halfheartedly returned the proffered hug.

“So that’s what some of the boys were joking about it,” she said, “at the farewell breakfast…” She looked away and bustled back to finish whatever tidying he’d caught her at.

“Seriously? Well, no great loss; it was just coffee.” Though he tried to sound cavalier, the date was the first he’d almost had all semester. “Guess they took bets on how close to 6 p.m. she’d bail.”


“You know; break the date. Bail out…on me.” He set a large SMP-logo’d mug in position under the single-serve coffee maker and absently twirled the pod tree.

On the cast-concrete counter Ivana Costas’ phone lit up and vibrated.

“Ah. There’s my baby,” she said and snatched it up, but not before Jamison had gotten a look at the glowing portrait of Nadia, the housemother’s achingly attractive youngest daughter.

Nadia…for me it might as well be nyet.

“Oh Noddy, sweetheart,” she paused listening, “I’m so sorry--” paused again and locked eyes with Jamison; shook her head and shrugged. She looked at the kitchen clock. 5:20. “Then there’s no reason, I mean no objection counselor, that you can possibly come up with now to keep from coming to dinner and then to church with the rest of us.”

The older woman fairly beamed. As if she’d won her first case against her law-student daughter. “Five minutes then?” She paused to listen. “I’ll overrule you! Approach me at the curb.” She chuckled into the phone and winked at Jamison as if he was in on all of it. “Love you, too. Bye.”

“She’s…Nadia’s…back? From the University?” He squeaked at the end and felt plenty stupid. Of course she was back. It’s Christmas, idiot. It was no secret, from most of the students in SMP and because of that, most likely not from Ivana Costas either: Jamison had long been smitten with the girl. From the first time he’d seen her sitting in the car out front while her mother had interviewed for the in-house job and every time thereafter she’d acted as chauffeur...FIND the rest of the story at the Smashwords link above.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The greatest challenge to our democracy.

Mediacrats fill the airwaves with rantings about corporate influence on politics. The 800 pound gorilla of corporate influence on politics is the media. Candy Crowley's employer, CNN, is owned by Time Warner, the second largest media conglomerate on the planet. Not the country, the planet. The only media conglomerate bigger than it is the one that owns ABC News. But the Mediacrats never report on their own influence, never turn the camera back into the studio while warning about the danger of corporate lobbyists. But the corporate lobbyists sitting in the CNN studio don't just want to chat with a few politicians in a closed room, they do their best to dictate the outcome of elections.

* * * *

The greatest challenge to the integrity of our democracy may be the coup of the media corporations. Information is the lifeblood of a free society and the consolidation of information outlets in the hands of a small and powerful elite with no ethics and no boundaries is leading us down the road to a virtual tyranny that will maintain the illusory workings of a democratic society without any of the substance.

The old institutions of elections are becoming a charade . . . .

Daniel Greenfield has some trenchant observations about the role of Candy Crowley in one of the last election's presidential "debates." Who the hell was she and how did she inject herself in the debate as an equal or superior of the actual candidates undergoing a grueling process of vetting from which she was exempt?

The perplexing aspect of her presence -- to now depart from the major point of this post -- is that not one of the candidates objected to her selection or role. It seems that, time and time again, the supposed stellar lights of Republicanism simply blink out. Is border control one of the most important public issues imaginable? It most surely is and, yet, what do Republican leaders focus on but the amorphous – and treacherous – stellar lie of "comprehensive" immigration "reform." Why legislative action needs to be "comprehensive" is never stated. Similarly, the exact intention of immigration laws to keep illegals "in the shadows" for @#$% ever, or until they give up and go home, whichever comes first, is inexplicably billed as something needing "reform."

Were the Republican leaders all gelded at birth? So it would seem.

Mediacracy and gelded Republican leadership. God help us.

"Crowdsourcing the End of Free Speech." By Daniel Greenfield, Sultan Knish, 12/28/13.

Investing Your Credulity Part 2: Christian Faith

Inevitably, when the subject of the previous essay arises, so will questions about why anyone should accept the claims of any of the various "classical" faiths: Judaism, Islam, or Christianity. After all, the postulated events critical to each of those faiths occurred a long time ago, are frequently dismissed as implausible, and involve records that many regard as unreliable. All of them make claims about what comes after the death of the body. Each of them advances a moral-ethical code that is supposedly the key to attaining a joyous afterlife. And of course, each of them is neither verifiable nor falsifiable; it must be taken on faith.

And I, as a believing Catholic Christian who writes for a general audience, am charged with the duty of telling you, Gentle Reader, why my faith is, at minimum, not unreasonable -- preferably, why accepting its mythos and conforming to its ethos is a very good idea.

Sheesh. I really should have joined the Navy.

First, let's clear away some underbrush: Faith is always a personal matter. It requires the free acceptance of certain premises, and of the veracity of certain events said to have occurred in the distant past. It cannot be any other way; propositions that are beyond Man's capacity to prove or disprove cannot be forced upon you. Your heritage doesn't come into it. Whatever degree or kind of religious indoctrination you've suffered is equally irrelevant. The approval or disapproval of others, while it might matter to you to some degree, is far less important than your personal and intellectual integrity.

Viewed in that light, we must ask: Why accept faith -- i.e., the account of the seminal events and, therefore, the theology that springs from them?

Phrased that way, the only imaginable answer is Because you choose to do so. Given the premise that there is a Supreme Being to whose will the laws of nature are subordinate, none of the events of Christ's birth, His ministry, His Passion, and His Resurrection reported in the Gospels are flatly impossible. You may choose to reject that premise. That would allow you to dismiss the Gospel accounts as "implausible," since they contrast so dramatically with our more pedestrian acquaintance with temporal reality. That's how it must be when the subject is admittedly disputable events that can no longer be objectively verified.

Atop that, even if Christian teaching is absolutely correct about the nature of the afterlife, a just God would not hold theological skepticism against you. Some of us simply haven't got the gift of faith and can't accept the claims required to become believers. In that respect, the ethos is more important than the mythos to your prospects in the next world -- and the Christian ethos is far simpler and much less demanding than many non-Christians might think:

The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted; precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden. [G. K. Chesterton]

Indeed, one of the things that set the Sanhedrin's hair on fire was Christ's insistence that "all the law and the prophets depend" on two fundamental principles:

"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." [Matthew 22:37-40]

Clearly, the dietary laws, the prohibition against any form of exertion on the Sabbath, and many of the other prescriptions and proscriptions of Mosaic law have nothing to do with either of the Two Great Commandments, and so may be dismissed. Indeed, the Two Great Commandments, to which Paul of Tarsus explicitly referred in what might be the most famous of all his writings:

Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, "Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet," (and if there is any other commandment) are summed up in this, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. [Epistle to the Romans 13:8-10]

...are all a man must observe to be accorded the title of just. Nothing more is required for eternal life in the nearness of God.

Yes, the Gospel According to John does say:

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes unto the Father but through me." [John 14:6]

...but where is He not? Where is it written that a skeptic who lives a just life shall not receive His assistance at the Particular Judgment?

As with all matters of faith, the premise of a Supreme Being is indispensable. Without it, the representations of Christianity are insupportable, even if the Gospels are conceded to be factually accurate. But let's imagine that Smith, an American of no particular faith, says he's willing to allow the premise for the sake of argument, and follows that up by asking:

"Even so, what good is this creed?"

Smith is clearly interested in the consequences of adopting the Christian faith. There are several angles from which this can be approached, but for my money the two that matter most are:

  • What benefits would a convert derive from conversion?
  • What benefits would society derive from the wholesale adoption of Christianity?

Those questions have been debated endlessly. The history of the Christian West speaks variably about the effects of the creed...though be it plainly said, most of the derogatory episodes pertain to large-scale defections from the Christian ethos. The creed can hardly be blamed for the actions of those who give it lip service but violate it when they think they can get away with it.

Even so, here is the core question for the "practical" man: Would good come of this? Inasmuch as each of us has his own notions about good-better-best / bad-worse-worst, when you're asked that question it would be best to answer it with another question -- "What would you like to come of it?" -- and take off from there.

I'll close this piece by recounting a snippet from a dear friend, which first appeared at Eternity Road:

Yesterday I visited with a new friend who's rapidly becoming a very close friend: Matt, the gun store manager I met on my "armament shopping trip" a few weeks ago. He's a little younger than I am -- he'll be 26 just about as I turn 34 -- but he has a hard sense about him that a lot of older people could stand to learn from. Maybe that comes from working around "deadly weapons" and the people who love them. I couldn't say. But I really enjoy the spin he puts on some of the stuff we talk about. (I also love that he has no fear about driving into New York City on the spur of the moment.)

Matt has no religion. I, of course, told him that I'm a practicing Catholic...just yesterday evening, for the first time. In the process of getting to know someone who might become really important to you, you can't just blurt out the most important stuff about you; you have to choose the right time and setting. You also have to work up enough nerve, for some things at least. Religion is one of them.

Matt was curious. He wanted to know more. Not in a prosecuting-attorney sort of way, either. He really, truly wanted my reasons. He wasn't about to let me get away with a synopsis, either; he wanted the whole story. So I did my best to give it to him.

I had no problem explaining the core of Christian doctrine -- hey, we sum the whole thing up in one prayer -- and no problem with the basic rituals of Roman Catholicism and why we practice them. But how do you explain conversion? It's an internal process. It involves things no one else can see, hear, or feel -- what Fran calls private knowledge. Talking about it can make you sound like some kind of nut.

I tried to avoid it, but Matt wouldn't let me. I became curious about the intensity of his interest, but I kept all my questions to myself and just did what I could.

He took it seriously. That surprised me more than anything else. He didn't pull a face. He didn't act as if I was someone who had to be handled very carefully. He accepted what I said as a truthful narration of what I'd experienced.

After a while, he said, "Do you think that happens to everyone? Because it hasn't happened to me."

I tried flippancy. "Well, you're not dead yet."

He scowled. "Look, if this is a good thing, then it ought to be available to everyone. Catholics don't believe in predestination like the Calvinists, do they?"

That set me back. "No, of course not."

"Then I want to know why you and not me," he said.

Oh boy, I thought, now I have to play theologian.

"Look," I said, "I'm not a missionary, I'm just a believer. I wouldn't dream of trying to convert you."

"Why not?"

I was punch-drunk by then. "Well, most people consider it impolite to press their religion on other people."

And this twenty-five-year-old man who sells steel, lead, and gunpowder for a living, who's surrounded six days a week by people whose every third word is obscene, who described the household he grew up in as "a demilitarized zone," said to me, "That's their problem. If this is good stuff, I want in. And if you believe it's good stuff, you should be out there trying to share it with others. Especially as it costs you nothing."

Therein lies one of the greatest of all challenges -- not for the believer but for the interested skeptic: Faith is often the consequence of an entirely private, inherently personal event. He who hasn't had such an event is fully justified in asking why not? And he who has had one can only shrug and say "I have no idea."

No one's private illumination constitutes evidence another person must accept.

Perhaps I haven't given this subject the best possible treatment. I addressed it this morning for the usual reason: It was on my mind. I may return to it. But for the moment, I'm empty of words.

May God bless and keep you all.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Investing Your Credulity

What to believe? is among the eternal questions. So many people are propounding so many dramatic claims about so many different subjects -- often in stark contradiction to one another -- that the most common reaction is to dismiss them all, draw into one's own protective shell, and spend one's attention solely on reruns of Millionaire Matchmaker and Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

The critical word in the above is believe. The propositions of which I speak are ones which resist objective verification. Some are about things that happened long ago; some are about things to come; and some are about things supposedly going on right now under a thick cloak of concealment. Whatever the case, the claimant is passionate about his claim and wants you to invest in it equally.

Is this wise? Seldom. As I wrote just yesterday, Man is highly fallible. We screw up a lot. We keep damaged, tendentious records; we forecast on the basis of insufficient knowledge and insight; and we tend to believe lurid fantasies over banal facts.

Yet it is in the nature of things that now and then a wild-eyed type actually gets one right and surprises us all...all of us, that is, except for whatever tiny group took him seriously. Sometimes, being a part of that tiny group produces a payoff. And we like payoffs. So: when confronted with such a dramatic proposition, how should we allocate our credibility?


In case you were wondering, this subject is on my mind because of a flock of recent Web articles. The Web has become the preferred outlet for outlandish claims, a phenomenon that should require no explanation. The mere fact that such claims appear on the Web and not in "respectable" organs is often cited as a reason to dismiss them with prejudice. Yet now and then, a claim will prove correct, startling the more skeptical and reinforcing the credulity of the credulous.

Here are three such articles:

Note the epistemological commonalities among the three pieces:

  • All three forecast a looming disaster;
  • All three rely upon imputed authority over the subject matter;
  • All three imply that drastic action on the part of individuals is necessary to ensure our survival.

These pieces are about as lurid as lurid gets before we enter alien-invasion territory. Yet any one of them could be correct in its claims. The average reader has no way to know.

Assuming you haven't adopted the turtle-defense measures I mentioned above, how do you cope, Gentle Reader?

I'm a skeptical sort. I prefer to deal with verifiable facts and causal mechanisms that I can confirm from observation. That's my front-line defense against being panicked about some development or some representation being urged upon me by crisis-mongers. Were I present in Seldon's Trantor, I'd have been one of those reluctant to put stock in his forecast.

But skepticism is a play on probabilities. It's not guaranteed to be correct; unlikely-seeming things happen all the time. Inasmuch as some of those unlikely-seeming things have had significant, wide-ranging consequences in the past, giving some attention to those who prognosticate about them is a reasonable investment of a modest fraction of one's time...always with the proviso that one be on the lookout for evidence at all times, and ever mindful of the major wisdoms about human credulity:

  • We tend to believe that which favors our prejudices;
  • We tend to believe that which would benefit us personally;
  • We tend to believe that which issues from persons we like or admire;

...to some degree independent of the plausibility of the claim involved. Which makes mechanisms for "tuning" one's degree of credibility investment important enough to ponder at some length.

"Proportion your belief to the evidence." -- David Hume

Facts trump theories, always. If facts relevant to a claim are available, they should be gathered and measured against the representations of the claim. This is particularly important in gauging claims based on trends -- and the most dramatic claims are all based on trends.

Trends are important. Trends can have a significant impact on our decision-making. But trends are neither universal nor eternal. Indeed, by their very existence they tend to evoke damping mechanisms of equal intensity.

Financial trends are a good example. If you haven't heard the term contrarian investing, it's proved to be one of the surest routes toward modest but steady gain. Contrarian thinking proceeds from the postulate of fallibility, as confirmed by the evidence: Nearly all forecasts are wrong nearly all the time.

The contrarian must have a stolid disposition, inclined to walk, not run. He doesn't bet on the exact opposite direction of the current trend. Rather, he prepares for its eventual dissipation. He looks for "irrational optimism" and cautiously takes a stake in the opposing view. Speculators riding the trend, looking for a "big score," are the contrarian's natural feeding ground. It's an approach that requires patience and an imperturbable nature, but it's solidly founded on the facts: No trend lasts forever. Equilibrium always triumphs.

Which leads to the next yardstick for gauging the plausibility of a claim.

"Action equals reaction." -- Sir Isaac Newton

As I stated above, a strong trend is likely to evoke a damping mechanism of equal intensity. The nature of the damper will depend on the nature of the trend; it need not be of identical form.

In the late Nineteenth Century, when a largely free market, the rapid industrialization of the cities, and a little political favoritism gave rise to the first very large enterprises, a critical damper arose in the form of the Progressive movement. This rapidly swelling movement, founded upon envy and inherently fallacious in its claims, was the counterweight to the great industrial fortunes. It was a political response to an economic and technological phenomenon. And it largely succeeded in reining in the industrial development of the United States.

Compare that development with its contemporary analogues. The Eighties and Nineties saw a second huge burst of capitalist enterprise, resulting in a new crop of major commercial firms and figures. The most effective counterweight in recent years was political environmentalism, only modestly buttressed by old-style "compassionate" Progressivism. (The latter had been weakened by rampant "compassion fatigue" from the Great Society and its sequelae.) Some who bet on the speeding elevator of Eighties capitalism gained from their gambles, but more others lost their shirts as the countertrends kicked in.

Consider in this light the massive gun purchases by private citizens since 2008, the Tea Party response to Obamunism, and the flood of new interest in preparationist writers, non-traditional schooling, concierge and other alternatives to traditional medicine, and the precious metals.

Keeping an eye peeled for asymmetrical responses to a development is among the most prudent ways to gauge the credibility of a claim founded on a trend.

"Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead." -- Origin unknown

There's nothing quite as confounding as a claim premised on "inside information." The claimant might actually have it; you have no way to tell. What, then, are we to make of dramatic claims founded on such knowledge?

These are the cases that demand the most reliance upon our knowledge of Mankind. In particular, we must lean upon the aphorism at the start of this segment. No matter the stature of the claimant, the mere fact that he claims knowledge or insight unavailable to others casts a pall over his representations. Why him and no one else? Alternately, If others also know, why has he alone spoken of it?

The principle is most significant in assessing claims that imply a degree of conspiratorial action. There have been real conspiracies in the past, and no doubt there will be others in the future. However, the larger a conspiracy becomes, the more visible it becomes, both from the impact of the coordinated actions of its participants and from the inability of most people to keep their mouths shut.

We've all read about "conspiracies in plain sight" such as the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberger Group, and so forth. Those are all real organizations, each with a moderately coherent agenda. But the public nature of such groups gives rise to the forces that dampen their influence. To be genuinely important, a conspiratorial organization would have to fly under the radar, working its will without being detected until it was too far along to be thwarted. This isn't impossible, but it is exceedingly difficult, for reasons already stated.

Besides all that, a completely secret conspiracy of power and skill sufficient to impose its will on the nation against all countervailing forces would therefore be unopposable. There'd be nothing to be done about it. So believe in it if you please, but take Bobby McFerrin's advice to heart and tend your own garden.

This ramble proceeded from that part of my psyche wherein resides my faculty for amusement at Man's follies, including my own. I recognize my own credulity -- mostly after it's gotten me kicked good and hard -- as typical of the human race. I've believed enough absurd things in my sixty-plus years to have taught me the value of amiable skepticism: a let's-wait-and-see attitude that gives way to others' assertions only after amassing significant evidence and slow-roasting it on the rotisserie of reason and history.

This isn't a brief against ever believing any dramatic claim. It's an exhortation to a degree of imperturbability: not absolute immovability of conviction but a preference for reposing confidence in the laws of equilibrium. Yes, things change; that's absolute and inevitable. But swift, dramatic changes are fairly rare, are normally preceded by visible harbingers, and are predicted consistently by more than a few prognosticators at any given time.

And now that that's off my chest, on to more practical matters. I must pay the dues for my memberships in the Knights Templar, the Freemasons, and the Illuminati today, and buy another quarter-ton each of rice, beans, and peanut butter before DHS and FEMA close the stores. After that, perhaps I'll have time to clean all the guns. The voices have become most insistent about that lately.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Institutions And Capitalism

I really must redo the blogroll. Most of the writers I've been reading obsessively aren't on it, while at least half of the entries on it are sites I no longer visit.

Yeah, yeah: pressure of work, other priorities, endless distractions, unceasing interruptions, the vagaries of time and space and the Higgs boson, et cetera ad nauseam infinitam. I'm as good at making excuses as anyone. (I thought briefly about having "stop making excuses" as my New Year's resolution, but I realized immediately that I'd surely find an excuse for not living up to it, and would immediately implode from unterminated recursion.) All the same, it must be done, and I will get to it...right after I finish waxing the garden hoses.

But seriously, ponder this neatly phrased swatch of insight:

I told one of my Little Bookworms yesterday that the laws of economics are as unfailing as the laws of physics. When you first jump off a cliff, you may think you’re flying, but you’re really falling. And when your government distorts the marketplace, the short team benefits invariably give way to real world wealth loss.

It got a chuckle from me for two reasons. The first was the penetration of it...which would only be grasped by persons who understand the difference between legislated law and natural law. The second was the following snippet from Freedom's Fury:

    He sighed. “There you go again.”
    “Being wiser than your years.”
    She scowled. “Wiser? Wise-ass, maybe. Want to hear what has my gears grinding?”
    He peered at her through the gloom. “Hit me.”
    “I’ve been sleeping with Chuck. Since the day before yesterday.”
    Barton became immediately lightheaded.
    “Emma, was that...your idea?”
    She snorted. “It wasn’t his. Though he took to it enthusiastically enough, I can tell you that.”
    He found himself bereft of speech. She grinned wanly at him and chafed his hand.
    Presently she said “I had to do something, Uncle Bart. He was desolated. Worse than the day she told him she wasn’t his wife anymore. I thought he might self-destruct on the spot. The only thing I could think of was to love him, so that’s what I did.”
    “Is it working?”
    “I think so.”
    “Then why...”
    “Because it was a trademarked Emma Morelon impulse decision! Because it’s done and can’t be undone! What comes next? What have I committed myself to? If I stay with him, I’m blocking him from finding someone nearer to his own age and experience. If I treat it as a fling and just stroll away, it might crush him even worse than losing Charisse!”
    He laid his free hand over hers and squeezed gently, and she regained a measure of calm.
    “I remember your last serious impulse decision pretty well,” he murmured. “To become my scion. How would you say that’s worked out?”
    She peered at him curiously. “So far, so good. We’ve done some good work together. I’ve actually had a lot of fun at it. Why?”
    He grinned impishly. “You just used exactly the phrase I was hoping to hear. ‘So far, so good.’ As long as you’re alive and kicking, that will apply to every decision you make that you aren’t struggling that very moment to overturn. So how are things going with Chuck? Would you say the same?”
    Her face clouded with uncertainty. “Yeah.”
     “Okay. That’s check mark one.” He pantomimed checking a box on a form. “Second question: has either of you proposed to the other?”
     “So there are no firm commitments in either direction, right? Believe me, Chuck knows that quite as well as you and I. He would never presume otherwise.” Another check on the invisible form. “Third question: would you say the two of you are satisfied with this new relationship, at least for the present? No undue burdens or significant friction?”
    She nodded warily.
     “You’re three for three and rounding into the home stretch, Em. This is for the win: Are you loving him, or just having sex with his body?”
    Her mouth dropped open.
    Her whisper seemed to require all the force she had in her. “Loving him.”
     “Grand prize.”

Give that a moment to simmer.

The fate of Man is to make mistakes, learn from the non-fatal ones, pick himself up, and carry on.

Hey! Don't blame it on me. It's a designed-in feature. It's the basis of the scientific method. It's how we learn. And as long as we persist under the veil of Time, it will refuse to change.

Man's institutions are as fallible as Man. Indeed, we can't honestly claim credit for having created most of them intentionally. They're a secondary consequence of what Nobel Laureate Friedrich Hayek termed spontaneous order: a constructive interplay between some human undertaking and the laws of Nature that reinforced the former and allowed something persistent to form around it. And like all else in Creation, they are finite, fallible, and mortal.

An institution that has served some need well for a long interval is likely to be nearing its demise. The reason is not far to seek: Success attracts parasites. A man with an agenda will be powerfully tempted to seek a successful institution -- an icon of substantial and persistent accomplishment -- and to attach his agenda to it, even if the agenda is entirely distinct from the field in which the institution has historically succeeded. As the institution will be operated by persons likely to have a high opinion of themselves, he will endeavor to flatter them into taking his cause for their own. Should he succeed, the degree of congruence between the institution's historical mission and its new undertaking will determine the direction and magnitude of the consequences.

Extend that process over time and compound it with two other human characteristics:

  • Our unending pursuit of innovation and improvement;
  • Our penchant for screwing up.

"John Galt" noted in Dreams Come Due that the longer a trend has persisted, the more suspect is its continuation. ("Trees do not grow to the sky." -- Baron Philippe de Rothschild) The same is true of human institutions, regardless of their character or the intentions of their founders.

In another segment of the cited post, Bookworm declaims thus:

The Left makes inroads into institutions, while conservatives abandon them. Theirs is the better tactic. Or, as I’ve also said before, Leftists have horrible ideals and great tactics; conservatives have great ideals and horrible tactics.

Consider Bookworm's evaluation of Leftist tactics rather than the accuracy of her observation thereof. Yes, that's what the Left does. That's the basis of all its successes since the British Fabians decided to take over the Labour Party from within. Is Bookworm's evaluation ("great") atemporal and eternal? Is the tactic a guaranteed, never-to-fail winner?

My answer is: No, it is not. It requires the prior existence of institutions to batten on -- and it reaps gains only for so long as the institution persists essentially unchallenged. But capitalism doesn't merely create institutions; it also destroys them.

A free-market / capitalist economy is a "So far, so good" state of affairs. In his masterwork Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, Joseph Schumpeter put it thus:

Capitalism...is by nature a form or method of economic change and not only never is but never can be stationary....The fundamental impulse that sets and keeps the capitalist engine in motion comes from the new consumers’ goods, the new methods of production or transportation, the new markets, the new forms of industrial organization that capitalist enterprise creates....The opening up of new markets, foreign or domestic, and the organizational development from the craft shop and factory to such concerns as U.S. Steel illustrate the same process of industrial mutation...that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. It is what capitalism consists in and what every capitalist concern has got to live in.

This process, which arises from Natural Law and cannot be modified nor set aside by any exertion of human will, applies to every sort of institution, whether economic, social, or political. Thus, there is a countermeasure to the Left's tactic of infiltrating and corrupting existing institutions: Bypass them and create new and better ones.

That's our "paper" to the Left's "rock." But as you might infer from that analogy, there are "scissors" yet to be considered, and "rocks" beyond them, and so on.

To preserve the advantages it has acquired from the corruption of existing institutions, the Left strives to prevent the formation of competitors by political means. The pattern is observable in both small matters and large ones, over short spans of time and long ones.

The historical countermeasure to political suppression is to move away: to pass beyond the frontier, to where the Left's political influence does not reach. Today this is very difficult, as the entire land surface of the Earth has been partitioned into States, essentially all of which have been irremediably corrupted by the Left. Barring the fortuitous arrival of a convenient planetoid, that appears to leave two other approaches: "hiding in place" and revolution.

"Hiding in place" is distasteful to many. It's a passive strategy; it relies upon the conviction that things will eventually change...which they will, though on what schedule we are forbidden to know. Yet it smacks of surrender...and indeed, it shares many of outright surrender's least attractive aspects. But for some, there are no practical alternatives.

Revolution doesn't have to be an armed or a political affair. Revolutions have started inside institutions, including governments, on several occasions. However, most institutions have internal processes that "filter out" those opposed to their reigning norms and philosophies. That makes it a chancy matter to try to change one from within: given the correlation of forces, it's more likely to change you.

(As I wrote the above, another approach occurred to me: "feeding the beast to death." A corrupted institution can sometimes be brought down by over-larding it with new and incongruent missions; consider the government-run schools as a case for study. Variations on the idea apply to political structures as well. But that's a topic for a separate tirade.)

Whatever our chosen tactics, we must always keep in mind the "so far, so good" nature of all things: the inevitability of failure, change, and subsequent developments. Governments cannot legislate that pattern away. O'Brien's vision of "a boot stamping on a human face -- forever" is as fallacious as the dream of a perfect freedom eternally unchallenged by the envious and the power-mongers who exploit their unholy desires.

The moral should be clear. Regardless of your preferences in countermeasures, whenever you look at any institution the Left has succeeded in perverting, say to yourself:

"And this, too, shall pass away."

Your task is to keep fighting -- and to survive.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Some Thoughts On Saint Stephen's Day

Most Gentle Readers of Liberty’s Torch are probably aware that I write these pieces in the very early morning, typically between 4 AM and 5 AM. ("That accounts for how stupid they are," chorus my detractors.) For some reason beyond my ken, that's when the kind of subject that animates my essays here is uppermost in my thoughts. As my typing when still three-quarters asleep is no worse than at any other time of day, that's when I produce them.

This morning's topic is the persecution of Christians and the suppression of Christian convictions.

If you're a Christian, once you leave these shores, concealing your faith swiftly becomes a matter of physical survival. No, you're not safe in Europe. Africa? Who's safe in Africa? Asia and the Middle East, of course, are Persecution Central. Given the swelling (and steady radicalization) of its Islamic fraction, you're advised to be wary in Canada.

Here in America, you're still physically safe...mostly, anyway...but the Militant-Evangelistic Atheists are doing their best to make you cringe and suppress your convictions even so.

It's not senseless. Indeed, there are powerful reasons behind it. They can be summed up in a single sentence:

Christianity is the staunchest barrier to the ambitions of power-seekers everywhere.

Don't kid yourself. Militant atheists want power over you, quite as much as do the Muslims. At the very least, they want the power to shut you up, to compel you to practice your faith in secret if at all. Your convictions make them feel bad about themselves. Inasmuch as the right to feel good about oneself is enshrined in the Constitution -- it is, isn't it? Maybe in one of the invisible-ink clauses, like the one that guarantees the right to kill your unborn child or your Alzheimer's-stricken old Mom -- the militants must do away with all visible expressions of your beliefs.

So the amoral, the prodigal, the dissolute, the swindlers and the chiselers, the adulterers, the Takers and Fakers, and of course the homosexual activists are absolutely determined to expunge us from these United States.

They've made quite a bit of progress these past few decades. Our pusillanimity is the reason.

The unwillingness to offend is a terrible weakness. It renders its sufferer defenseless in ideological combat. More, he has only himself to blame for it.

There's nothing in Christ's teachings about an obligation not to offend others. Indeed, a graphic that's been making the rounds is quite explicit on the point:

Whoever produced that highly instructive gem deserves Christians' profuse thanks. When, shortly after His entry to Jerusalem, the Redeemer came upon the merchants in the vestibule of the Temple, He was properly incensed:

And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting; And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables; And said unto them that sold doves, "Take these things hence; make not of my Father's house a house of merchandise." [John 2:13-16]
And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of them that sold doves. And said unto them, "It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves." And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. And when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the Temple and saying Hosanna to the son of David, they were displeased. [Matthew 21:12-15]

The concluding verse of the passage from Matthew is particularly significant. Why were "the chief priests and the scribes" -- i.e., the Sanhedrin and its hangers-on -- displeased? Was it possible that they approved of the commercialization of the Temple?

Of course they did! It was a source of power and profit. Profit, because a would-be worshipper had to acquire special coinage controlled by the Sanhedrin to purchase a sacrificial animal, without which he could not enter the Temple; power, because the Roman occupiers had left authority over Jews' religious practices to the Sanhedrin as a concession to "local rule!"

There's power and profit available from expunging Christianity and establishing a "secular religion" over Americans, too. I won't insult your intelligence by explicating the matter, Gentle Reader; just think about it for a few moments and you'll surely come up with a few ways on your own.

Of course, Christ could get away with a few things that we lesser creatures cannot. I wouldn't advise anyone to overturn the tables at a GLAAD or ACT-UP booth. Neither is it licit to physically attack organizations that promote adultery, abortion, euthanasia, or envy acted out through public policy. But conspicuous, utterly fearless disapproval, coupled to the appropriate consequences for such disapproval, is obligatory for anyone who considers himself a Christian in these latter days.

Remember that we are to "hate the sin but love the sinner." That is: we are to condemn the behavior, but invite the perpetrator to repentance. As for whether to boycott the commercial establishments of the unrepentant, that's up to the individual's conscience. No third party can authoritatively say whether it would do more good or more harm in any particular case.

There will be consequences. There will be persons who deride you. There will be places you're unwelcome or worse. But sincere adherence to the teachings of Christ has always carried consequences. If we are expected, like Saint Stephen, to hold fast to our faith even under the threat of death by torture, what shrift would God grant us for retreating from the Great Commission out of fear of being disapproved?

If you want this country to remain free and safe for our posterity, don't "just" be a Christian. Don't just teach your children as you were taught. Wear your convictions openly. Condemn what you ought to condemn, forthrightly and fearlessly. The power of openly expressed disapproval, of refusal to associate with those who don't meet your standards, is far greater than you might think. After all, look at what it's done to us!

Be not afraid.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

FREEDOM'S FURY Now Available as an Ebook (UPDATED 12/26/2013)

Freedom’s Fury, the concluding volume of the Spooner Federation trilogy, is now available as an eBook.

The women's hour has come:
The highest child of the anarchic world of Hope vows vengeance upon a whole planet...for using her as a weapon.
The greatest healer in history is cast out by her clan...for falling in love.
A planet ruled solely by women seeks to destroy the freest society in history...to avert punishment for an unthinkable crime.

The fate of Mankind hangs once more in the balance.

To those of my readers who've waited so patiently for the conclusion of this saga, I hope it meets with your expectations.

UPDATE: Amazon has just made the paperback edition available as well! Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas Present To The Readers of Liberty’s Torch

The Knife...And The Newf


Who rules America: Useful bibliography.

As the childish notion of a rational AND patriotic ruling elite necessarily fades before the irrefutable evidence of an animating governmental agenda fundamentally at odds with the spirit of America's founding document and the interests of America's founding people, and as we approach the point in our history
A sus ordenes.
where political reality will most closely resemble the card game "52 Pick Up," a little "back to the drawing board" thinking is in order:
Power Elite Analysis (also called Libertarian Class Analysis or Establishment Studies) is a theme I have repeatedly stressed at LRC to understand both present-day and past historical events. Knowledge is power. Empower yourself by learning about Power Elite Analysis and how it impacts specifically upon the welfare-warfare state and the parasitical elites which benefit from this leviathan within our midst.

In July of 2010, Angelo Codevilla's magnificent manifesto, "The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It" was published initially online in The American Spectator (and later in book form). It immediately went viral on the Internet and started a widespread national conversation about America's hubristic power elite and the arrogant way they reign over the rest of us.

When Codevilla's article appeared I stated that it was the most important essay I had ever read. I still believe this because it is a superb synthesis of class analysis with keen insights on contemporary power elite relationships regarding today's rulers and the ruled.

This class division of present-day America into two factions, Court and Country, has absolutely nothing to do with any Marxian view or analysis. It is a reaffirmation of the seminal insights of Bernard Bailyn's Pulitzer Prize winning volume, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, and Murray N. Rothbard's Conceived in Liberty.

"Who Rules America?" By Charles Burris, LewRockwell.com, 1/18/12 (bibliography at this link).

Monday, December 23, 2013

New reality show.

A&E is now canceling Duck Dynasty and replacing it with a new reality show about life in the White House. It will be called Duck Responsibility.
Schadenfreude comment on "Quotes of the day." By Allahpundit. Hot Air, 12/20/13.

Propositions (UPDATED 12/24/2013)

Yes, you get two essays today.

Christmas is almost upon us, and as usual at this time of year, the Militant Evangelistic Atheists (MEA) are out there doing their best to spoil it. These...persons are not to be confused with the Amiable Atheists (AA). AAs have no problem with theism as long as it isn't forced upon them -- and that is as it should be. Both theism and atheism are statements of faith, which makes them singularly unsuitable for aggressive promotion.

What's that you say? Am I not a Christian? Indeed, am I not the hardest of hard-core Christians, a Catholic, and thus charged, as are all such, with the Great Commission to "Go and teach all nations" -- ? Well, yes, but I regard the prescription of Saint Francis of Assisi as the best approach to that work: "At all times, preach the Gospels. When necessary, use words." The best possible evangelism is living as a Christian should: modestly, decently, and with good will toward all who are willing to return it.

The Great Secret is exactly that, you know. What the angels' chorus sang to the shepherds of Bethlehem, heralding the arrival of the Christ Child in this world: "Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace to men of good will."

MEAs are not men of good will. They prove it every time they open their mouths.

I once wrote as follows:

Your Curmudgeon, much given to pondering the categories into which ideas fall, after long and hard thought has arrived at the following partition:
  • Theses which can be proved or disproved: mathematics.
  • Theses which can be disproved, but not proved: science.
  • Theses which can neither be proved nor disproved: religion.

By "proof" is meant the modus ponens / modus tollens sort of logical proof that proceeds from widely accepted postulates and uses implication to reach the desired conclusion. By "disproof" is meant the demonstration of one or more counter-examples to a theory.

Atheism, gauged against this partition, is a religious creed: the creed that there is no God. It is distinct from agnosticism, a purely heuristic stance which maintains that personal experiences of the mystical and numinous cannot be used as evidence for a religious proposition....Rational agnostic Smith would concede that there might be a God after all, even though he refused to accept religionist Jones's private personal revelations as evidence to that effect. The atheist fails to grapple with the fundamental limitations of Man's mind and senses, which make it impossible to evaluate claims of Godhood with confidence.

Militant Evangelistic Atheism -- the sort that proclaims that "There is no God and that's a fact!" -- is most definitely a religious creed. But you'll never get a more violent reaction from an MEA than by telling him that just as he doesn't accept your faith, you decline to accept his faith. They tend to foam at the mouth at such an assertion. Don't you know that faith is a dirty word, you chest-crossing, rosary-fingering, incantation-mouthing monster of irrationality, you?

Perhaps it's petty of me, but twitting MEAs is among the little pleasures of my latter years. I look forward to opportunities for it.

Some MEAs have become quite prominent for that reason. Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens have all written spittle-flecked tracts about their religions. The lesser orders of the breed, such as Eric S. Raymond, seem to want to borrow their dubious glory. You'd think there was no merit to be gained from forming one's own opinions...and for admitting that they're opinions and nothing more.

Dawkins, in particular, has gone on the attack against anyone who refuses to adopt his faith:

Dawkins' style of debate is as maddening as it is reasonable. A few months earlier, in front of an audience of graduate students from around the world, Dawkins took on a famous geneticist and a renowned neurosurgeon on the question of whether God was real. The geneticist and the neurosurgeon advanced their best theistic arguments: Human consciousness is too remarkable to have evolved; our moral sense defies the selfish imperatives of nature; the laws of science themselves display an order divine; the existence of God can never be disproved by purely empirical means.

Dawkins rejected all these claims, but the last one – that science could never disprove God – provoked him to sarcasm. "There's an infinite number of things that we can't disprove," he said. "You might say that because science can explain just about everything but not quite, it's wrong to say therefore we don't need God. It is also, I suppose, wrong to say we don't need the Flying Spaghetti Monster, unicorns, Thor, Wotan, Jupiter, or fairies at the bottom of the garden. There's an infinite number of things that some people at one time or another have believed in, and an infinite number of things that nobody has believed in. If there's not the slightest reason to believe in any of those things, why bother? The onus is on somebody who says, I want to believe in God, Flying Spaghetti Monster, fairies, or whatever it is. It is not up to us to disprove it."

Science, after all, is an empirical endeavor that traffics in probabilities. The probability of God, Dawkins says, while not zero, is vanishingly small. He is confident that no Flying Spaghetti Monster exists. Why should the notion of some deity that we inherited from the Bronze Age get more respectful treatment?

Dawkins has been talking this way for years, and his best comebacks are decades old. For instance, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a variant of the tiny orbiting teapot used by Bertrand Russell for similar rhetorical duty back in 1952. Dawkins is perfectly aware that atheism is an ancient doctrine and that little of what he has to say is likely to change the terms of this stereotyped debate. But he continues to go at it. His true interlocutors are not the Christians he confronts directly but the wavering nonbelievers or quasi believers among his listeners – people like me, potential New Atheists who might be inspired by his example....

Dawkins looks forward to the day when the first US politician is honest about being an atheist. "Highly intelligent people are mostly atheists," he says. "Not a single member of either house of Congress admits to being an atheist. It just doesn't add up. Either they're stupid, or they're lying. And have they got a motive for lying? Of course they've got a motive! Everybody knows that an atheist can't get elected."...

For the New Atheists, the problem is not any specific doctrine, but religion in general. Or, as Dawkins writes in The God Delusion, "As long as we accept the principle that religious faith must be respected simply because it is religious faith, it is hard to withhold respect from the faith of Osama bin Laden and the suicide bombers."

So! If you disagree with Dawkins's entirely unprovable and undisprovable faith, you can't be intelligent and honest! Frankly, the man thinks too much of himself. I could prove it to him in fifteen minutes' conversation, which he, being the possessor of one of the world's most overinflated egos, would never dare to court. His strawmen would burn far too easily...and I suspect that, in his heart of hearts, he knows it.

You'd think these were still the years of the Inquisition -- that nonbelievers are in peril of their lives merely for being nonbelievers. You'd think, given their vehemence, that Dawkins and those who worship as he does:

...were displaying actual courage in the face of imminent violent retribution.

It's an indicator of some significance that MEAs such as Dawkins regard anyone who disagrees with them -- about anything -- as either stupid or dishonest.

Christians should take comfort from this: that ours is the faith that began with a single Martyr; that He commissioned a mere eleven men to spread His word; and that from that humble beginning, viciously opposed by all the powers of that day, His creed spread over the entire globe, eventually becoming the dominant religious creed of Mankind.

He needed no armies.
He asked only that we love God, and our neighbor as ourselves.
He accepted the most torturous imaginable death, and rose from it to confirm His authority.

Really, what more is there to ask of a religious creed? Yet Christianity offers far more: the comfort of God's love; the hope of eternal bliss in His nearness, and the warm security of both mutual sustenance and good will toward all who are willing to return it.

As I wrote long ago at the Palace Of Reason:

Even in the Church's grimmest, most pleasure-averse eras, the doors of a Christian church have always connoted welcome and safety. Time was, even a criminal fleeing apprehension was deemed to be safe there. It was hoped that the evildoer would be moved to repentance, would confess his sins, and would exit voluntarily before hunger forced it on him, which was often the case. The custom has largely lapsed, but Christians remember.

It's every true Christian's desire that all the world should unite in praise and worship of the Redeemer. (He'd certainly like it, too.) But we don't run around forcing our creed down others' throats, the crimes of the Spanish Inquisition and Calvinist Switzerland notwithstanding. We offer it to those who might be ready for it, joyously welcome those who embrace it, and pray for those who brush it aside. It's what we're commanded to do, but alongside of that, a world united in the love of Christ and obedience to His Great Commandments would be a world in which all of us are unquestionably safe from one another.

That's why we do much of what we do. Perhaps we don't speak of it as often or as plainly as we should. It makes the hostility of the militant anti-religionists, who are utterly safe from us, even more difficult to comprehend. Perhaps the unrelenting cold competitiveness of their academies has made them envy the fellowship and warmth we enjoy.

Life holds many pleasures. Not all are available to everyone. A few are attainable only on extremely demanding terms. But the quiet joy of Christian brotherhood, and the sustenance that flows from it, is free to anyone who wants it.

The physical light may stream from a bank of incandescent bulbs. The physical warmth may flow from a furnace. But these are the least part of the thing. Any Christian will tell you.

Try it out. You don't have to wait for an invitation; you can engrave this one on card stock and sign my name to it, if you like. Visit the church down the block, some Sunday soon. Don't be shy. Shake a few hands; make the acquaintance of the pastor. Everyone there is as flawed as you, but they'll accept you anyway, if you'll grant them the favor of reciprocation. If you're the least bit open to it, I guarantee that you'll feel it as I do.

Whether made of wood, stone, or grass and mud, a Christian church filled with its congregants is a warm, well lighted place.

It's a warmth and a security I wouldn't trade for any MEA's representations...even if Militant Evangelistic Atheism did offer something beyond a futureless material reality and an eternity of nothingness to follow.

May God bless and keep you all. Merry Christmas, and may the joy of His Nativity illuminate your coming year. I'll be back after Christmas.

UPDATE: If you still disbelieve in the War on Christmas, have a look at how our military has mobilized against it!

The Extinction Of Conviction

I know that the Enemy [God] disapproves many of these causes. But that is where He is so unfair. He often makes prizes of humans who have given their lives for causes He thinks bad on the monstrously sophistical ground that the humans thought them good and were following the best they knew. [C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters]

There are subjects it pains me terribly to write about. This is one of them.

Read this article very closely:

"We were flat out wrong."

That’s the message Cracker Barrel is sending to enraged customers after the restaurant chain removed Duck Dynasty items from its stores over fears it might offend people.

"Our intent was to avoid offending but that’s just what we've done," Cracker Barrel said in a statement posted on its Facebook page. "You told us we made a mistake. And, you weren't shy about it. You wrote, you called and you took to social media to express your thoughts and feelings."

Is it gratifying that Cracker Barrel has reversed its decision? Moderately so, I suppose. But what about the reasons for both the original removal and the reversal? How would you assess them? As statements of conviction, or as commercial minimaxery that eschews all such notions?

Imagine for just a moment that the GLAAD assault on Phil Robertson, which triggered A&E’s decision to "indefinitely suspend" the Duck Dynasty patriarch, had expressed the sentiments of a majority of Americans. Isn't it fairly easy to see what course Cracker Barrel would have followed? Would that have expressed a sincere conviction of any sort?

How I long for the sight of a Thomas Watson Sr. or a George Pullman: men whose convictions defied considerations of majority sentiment, and who operated their companies as they damned well pleased. These days, the last line of the quarterly report seems to possess ultra-hypnotic powers. At any rate, no corporate executive or Board of Directors seems willing to stand on principle...regardless of the principle in question or its soundness by any criteria.

Yes, yes, Gentle Reader. Fran's being an old fossil again. A dinosaur who just can't "get with it." What's all this nonsense about convictions? What relevance do they have to American enterprise in this scrambling-for-the-shekels / open twenty-four-seven /always on-always hot / fiber-optically-connected / happenin' age?

You might want to give it some thought.

Just now, what Phil Robertson said, which I accept as an expression of his sincere convictions, strikes me as less important than the vectors of reaction to it.

GLAAD did what homosexual mouthpiece groups always do: it went on the attack. It's succeeded in getting its way with that tactic many times to date. Perhaps this time it won't, but we shall see. There are more cards to be played -- and you can bet the rent money that every significant corporation in these United States will be watching closely until the table is bare of chips.

First question: Should the tide of popular sentiment remain overwhelmingly in Phil Robertson's favor, will GLAAD retract or modify its condemnation?

A&E did what a left-leaning media outlet might be expected to do. It's possible that the network's executives sincerely believe that Robertson expressed hateful, unacceptable sentiments, but I severely doubt it. They know their viewer demographic. It's pained them from the first that Duck Dynasty, a show with the same sort of intentions behind it as National Geographic's Preppers, should have elicited so much actual affection for its stars. Indeed, there's a strong possibility that they arranged for the GQ interview precisely to give them a reason to put the vice grips to this unacceptably Christian show.

Second question: Had there been no GLAAD reaction to Phil Robertson's statements, do you think A&E would have refrained from doing what it did?

The aftermath is well known to anyone who hasn't slept through the contretemps. Cracker Barrel isn't the only company that's been influenced by developments; it's just the first to reverse itself. But its statements are painfully poignant: to avoid giving offense, they took Duck Dynasty products out of their shops, and to avoid giving offense, they're putting them back! Clearly, all that matters is the preponderance of sentiment. Where the corporation's guiding lights actually stand is a matter for speculation alone.

Third and final question: Do you respect for Cracker Barrel for its original actions, for its reversal, or for both? Why and / or why not? Would you have more respect for its leaders had they stood fast on their initial decision? Please remember that respect is not the same as agreement or approbation.

Time was, we understood the concept of an "honorable enemy:" one who opposes you out of sincere conviction. We respected such enemies even as we fought them. We might have tried mightily to show them the error of their ways -- a course, if available, that's always preferable to outright combat -- but we fought them all the while...because we fought from sincere conviction as well.

Perhaps the professionally managed joint-stock corporation falls outside that paradigm. As Isabel Paterson has noted, "A corporation has neither a soul to be damned nor a body to be kicked." It's a purely appetite-driven machine with little or no ability to inhibit itself on moral grounds. All that matters to it is reward and punishment as expressed in dollars and cents. In that regard it falls below canis familiaris on the moral spectrum.

Today, most working Americans are employed by such a firm. Their well-being depends critically on the health of their company's balance sheet. Inevitably, they learn to "root" for whatever turn of events will fatten the bottom line...as long as it doesn't include automation or layoffs, of course.

There's no room for conviction in any of that. Convictions about right and wrong are orthogonal to the quest for ever larger profits. Worse, they can get in the way -- and the more dominated by greed and fear are a company's masters, the larger will that prospect loom in their nightmares. Were it otherwise, do you think the 3% of Americans who are homosexual could successfully threaten a boycott that any company would take seriously?

Thus doth commerce make cowards of us all.