The modern Keynesian state is broke, paralyzed and mired in empty ritual incantations about stimulating “demand,” even as it fosters a mutant crony capitalism that periodically lavishes the top 1 percent with speculative windfalls."State-Wrecked: The Corruption of Capitalism in America." By David A. Stockman. New York Times, 3/31/13
Sunday, March 31, 2013
Monday, March 25, 2013
Obama told Israelis, "Four years ago I stood in Cairo in front of an audience of young people. Politically, religiously, they must seem a world away. But the things they want — they’re not so different from what the young people here want. They want the ability to make their own decisions and to get an education and to get a good job, to worship God in their own way, to get married, to raise a family. The same is true of those young Palestinians that I met with this morning. The same is true for young Palestinians who yearn for a better life in Gaza."Hussein of Jerusalem in "Friday Afternoon Roundup." By Daniel Greenfield, Sultan Knish, 3/22/13.
Again, this is from Obama’s big Jerusalem speech and it proves that he either has no clue what happened in Egypt or is just determined to tell insane lies hoping that college students don’t watch the news.
The outcome of democratic elections in Egypt showed that what they wanted was theocracy, the repression of Christians and women, and a state of sectarian conflict.
They didn’t want to worship God in their own way. They wanted to compel everyone to worship Allah their way.
They didn’t want the ability to make their own decisions, they wanted a theocracy that would make those decisions for them.
Saturday, March 9, 2013
I have had enough.
I have written for various Web sites for sixteen years. I’ve given my best efforts and thinking to those writings. The undertaking has consumed thousands of hours of research, analysis, writing, and editing, to say nothing of the cost of maintaining Eternity Road and The Palace of Reason before it. I asked nothing of anyone else at any time. My sole recompense was the pleasure I got from occasionally meeting a kindred spirit. In sixteen years, that happened exactly twice.
But I’ve been harassed, slandered, insulted, derided, and demeaned. I’ve had my intelligence, my erudition, my sincerity, my faith, my morals, and my ethics questioned by persons who haven’t even had enough courage to use their right names. A typical day brings me dozens, sometimes hundreds, of obscene, insulting, juvenile emails. Even flushing them out of my computer leaves me feeling soiled. And that’s not the worst of it. Both I and my wife have been threatened, and more than once at that.
So I’m calling it quits. I’m an old man, and not a well one. I’d like some peace for the conclusion of my life. I’d also like to be free of the jackasses who’ve awarded me the various crowns of thorns mentioned above. It appears that the only way I can acquire those things is to cease to write these op-eds.
To those who’ve enjoyed and appreciated my scribblings and have taken the time to say so: Thanks for the long-distance companionship. To those who’ve done their best to make me regret ever setting my fingers to the keyboard, congratulations. This is what you wanted, isn’t it? You’ll have to find someone else to harass.
Francis W. Porretto
Mount Sinai, NY USA
March 9, 2013
UPDATE: This site will remain a going concern as long as the others continue to post here. However, comments have been shut down permanently, as the site still bears my name and I have no further interest in moderating them.
Friday, March 8, 2013
Mark Butterworth's "Tales of New America" series has recently ventured onto explosive, albeit necessary, ground: the possibility that the franchise has been over-extended, such that the democratic process we use to choose elected officials has been fatally biased in favor of ever larger and more intrusive government.
The problem is politically stiff, as any suggestion of the retraction of a "right" always elicits the most vocal, and sometimes violent, sort of protest. (Look at Greece if you disbelieve it.) Add the argument that the franchise isn't a real right in any case, and you have a very heady cocktail: the sort that can get a nation drunk, and belligerently so, to the point of political dissolution.
In February of 2005, back at Eternity Road, I proposed the following set of criteria for awarding the franchise:
- The applicant must be a citizen of these United States;
- He must present a photographic confirmation of his identity;
- He must be able to show continuous residence in one state for no less than one year prior to his application, that state being the one in which he seeks to vote;
- He must be able to present receipts for having paid sales, property, or income taxes within the state of his residence, no more than one year before his application, and for a total amount not less than $500;
- He must present a Certificate of Proficiency in constitutional understanding, earned no more than one year previously, from his state's elections authority, said certificate to be awarded upon achieving a grade of 85% or higher on a multiple-choice test composed of twenty computer-selected questions on constitutional principles;
- In exchange for the privilege of voting in a specified election, he must agree to forgo and forswear until after the next general election:
- any position of profit or trust under the Constitution, in any federal, state, or local office, whether elective, appointive, or Civil Service;
- any and all payments from any organ of government, regardless of the reason for them;
- any and all personal or categorical privileges, exemptions, or subventions that may be awarded by any organ of government.
Gentle Reader, you would not believe the fusillades that evoked. All the same, I meant it then and I stand by it today. Indeed, back then I was inclined to qualify some of the tougher provisions. Today, I would toughen them further:
- The tax receipt he presents must be a property tax receipt for his residence for the current year, the full payment for the year's property taxes made out in his name;
- The government payments disallowed must include pensions received for prior government service, including military service;
- He may not have any dependents, financially speaking, who themselves receive government payments of any sort.
It is paramount to remove from the electoral process all monetary incentives toward expanding government in favor of an identifiable special interest, including unjustifiable expansions of the military. Decisions about important matters must be free from material bias toward or away from particular institutions. If we're to elect representatives to legislate on important matters, let them be chosen from among those who have no such bias -- no such obvious bias, at any rate -- and elected by that same group.
(Concerning military pensions, the dubious Gentle Reader is invited to look into the history of pensions for Civil War veterans, which grew faster than the Gross Domestic Product for the rest of the Nineteenth Century. Such pensioners constitute a special interest like any other, and must be curbed like any other. Make an exception here and you have to defend your decision not to allow other exceptions.)
Among the other virtues of my system, were the above requirements imposed on all franchisees, the ability to produce the required photo ID, property tax receipt, and certificate of Constitutional proficiency would eliminate the need for voter registration, and thus reduce, effectively to zero, the practice of Election Day illegal voting. Beat that if you can!
I don't share Mark's position on restricting the franchise to men; I merely want each voter to have a demonstrable, enduring stake in the well-being of his county and state of residence, and carry a demonstrably significant share of the burden of supporting those polities. (Federal taxes are a separate subject, about which I'm even more radical.)
Thoughts? (No obscenities, imputations of insanity or senility, or slurs on my character, please; I'm having a very bad day.)
[T]he slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. -- George Orwell, Politics and the English Language
Certain "clever" uses of the language give me a major charge. Of course, not all such charges are positive.
I didn't know until a brief while ago that it was Theodore Roosevelt who popularized the phrase "weasel words." It's a delicious phrase, and one that many Americans should be using just now, for it seems to be the only language that contemporary politicians speak.
Take the recent dustup between Attorney-General Eric Holder and United States Senator Ted Cruz. Holder, desperate to protect what he sees as the prerogatives of "his" president -- one of "his" people, don't y'know -- persisted in weasel-wording his way around Cruz's clear, simple question. For the benefit of those who get pimples from too close an acquaintance with the doings of politicians, that question was:
Holder engaged in some of the most pathetic verbal arabesques, circumlocutions, and evasions on record to avoid giving the appropriate answer ("Hell, no!"). It's not like there's any ambiguity about the matter:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. (Amendment V)
That's a blanket prohibition against any official of any branch of any level of government doing so much as confiscating a penny from a person on American soil unless he's first been convicted in a jury trial. (See Amendment VI for the right to a jury trial.) It's a reinforcement of the seldom-discussed underlying principle of Constitutional government:
If only a jury can decree that you be punished, government has no power except what a jury allows it. Which, incidentally, explains a huge amount about the explosion of "regulatory law," if you think about it.
Eric Holder, at this time the most highly placed lawyer in these United States, was unwilling to concede what the Fifth Amendment demands. Rather, he characterized Cruz's question as "hypothetical," and at one point tried to slither out from under the matter by calling such a presidentially ordered execution "inappropriate." It took a classic filibuster by Senator Rand Paul to force Holder to concede the Constitution's perfectly clear decree. Disgraceful. Pretty much what we've come to expect from an Obamunist minion, but disgraceful even so.
The disgrace doesn't end there, of course. Hearken to the mealy-mouthed statements from two nominally Republican senators about Senator Paul's forthright and principled action:
Almost exactly 24 hours after Mr. Paul began his information-seeking filibuster against John O. Brennan, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham took to the Senate floor to denounce his demands and say he was doing a “disservice” to the debate on drones.
Mr. McCain quoted from a Wall Street Journal editorial: “The country needs more senators who care about liberty, but if Mr. Paul wants to be taken seriously he needs to do more than pull political stunts that fire up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms. He needs to know what he’s talking about.”
The senator went on to say that he didn’t “think that what happened yesterday was helpful to the American people.”
And where Democrats praised Mr. Paul for using Senate rules properly to launch a filibuster, Mr. McCain said it was an abuse of rules that could hurt the GOP in the long run. "What we saw yesterday is going to give ammunition to those who say the rules of the Senate are being abused,” the Arizona Republican said.
Mr. Paul said he was filibustering to get the administration to affirm it won’t kill non-combatant Americans in the U.S. — and his effort was joined by more than a dozen other senators who said they, too, supported his effort to get answers.
Mr. Graham said asking whether the president has the power to kill Americans here at home is a ludicrous question.
“I do not believe that question deserves an answer,” Mr. Graham said.
Just in case your memory has mercifully blotted out all recollection of the 2008 presidential campaign, the Republican nominee was John McCain. As for Lindsey Graham, his long record of unprincipled pro-statist words and deeds should speak for itself.
In a mind-shattering coincidence, McCain and Graham were apparently the "leaders" of a delegation of GOP senators to a dinner hosted by...envelope, please...Barack Hussein Obama! Both senators are notorious sluts for good press -- and there's no better way to get positive ink from the Mainstream Media than to suck up to Obama. Senator Paul's filibuster was was contemporaneous with that dinner, and ruined McCain and Graham's chances of "dining out" on the publicity from it for a week or two. To complete the circle, Senator Cruz should ask those two colleagues, during open Senate session, a simple question. It should be phrased with the directness and clarity he exhibited while grilling Eric Holder:
Perhaps both gentlemen should be reminded of the explicit text of their oaths of office before answering.
Third and last for this tirade is this matter of drones.
A drone aircraft is a mechanical device -- a tool. Yes, a modern military drone is often equipped with weaponry, in some cases weaponry capable of destroying an entire city. But it remains a mindless mechanical device that must be dispatched and directed by human intelligence and will.
The sniping at Senators Cruz and Paul harped on how ridiculous it is to imagine that the president would order a drone strike to kill an American within America's borders. I call this, pace C.S. Lewis, the "red tights and horns" fallacy:
I do not think you will have much difficulty in keeping the patient in the dark. The fact that "devils" are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them), he therefore cannot believe in you. [From The Screwtape Letters]
Okay, for sheer plausibility of argument, let's take drones "off the table." No, the president shall not order a drone strike against an American on American soil. What about rifles? What about grenades? What about flammable gas and bulldozers? For that matter, what about ricin-tipped umbrellas?
Does the tool have any bearing on the legitimacy of the deed? Have we lost sight of the distinction between the tool and its wielder? Is that why so many Americans are hopelessly misguided about gun control?
The Fifth Amendment says nothing about what weapons might be involved.
Clarity of thought is only possible to a man who uses the correct words in which to couch his thoughts. We are easily mollified or cowed by political flummery because we seldom pay sufficiently close attention to the locutions politicians use to deflect and misdirect us. Orwell had it right: there is no more critical undertaking than to restore clarity to political speech in our time, lest we be weasel-worded into marching, six abreast and singing the national anthem, into cheerfully decorated cells custom-tailored to our delusions, where we will be encouraged to prattle brightly to one another about how wonderful it is to be free.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
[Yet another short story -- this one a delight -- from the gifted pen of F. J. Dagg. Thanks, James. -- FWP]
It was a dark and stormy night on the backside of Palomar Mountain when the pet door slammed open with a loud BANG! The gray heads of the man and woman whipped away from Easy Rider on the TV. That door hadn’t swung in two years. The couple, aging flower children, squinted through the smoke that shoaled through the wan TV light.
“My God! Is that?...it is!...it’s...it’s...” the woman stammered.
“Lucifer!” the man finished for her.
A large, magnificent cat stood in the entryway, oblivious to the howling of the coyotes outside, head high and proud, tail twitching, his fur gleaming blue-black in the smoke-dappled TV light.
“’S’up, people?” inquired the cat.
Eyes wide, hands shaking, the woman fished half of a gigantic doobie from the ashtray and rekindled it. She inhaled deeply, and stared at the cat, even after the man plucked the joint from her fingers. In the glow of the splif, the cat’s scars became visible, one over the left eye, another a diagonal slash from the corner of his eye, across his nose, to his mouth.
“But...uh...c-cats can’t talk...” the woman stammered, as the man gagged on the ash of the now fully consumed blunt.
“Babe,” replied Lucifer, “where I’ve been...you don’t just have to walk the walk, you gotta talk the talk.”
“But...b-but..., “the woman continued, “the coyotes got you! We heard ’em wailing that night! I cried over you for three days! I lit incense! I...”
“Coyotes are punks,” interrupted the cat, his lips twisting in contempt. He glanced casually at the claws of his right paw, then continued. “They weren’t out to eat me. They were working for a chain of Korean fast food joints, if you get my drift. I wasn’t ready for them that night and they bagged me and had me on a flight to Seoul in a heartbeat. But like I said...punks. Careless. I was ready for them when they opened the bag...so, pow...right in the eye, the first one.” He made a nasty hiss and extended his claws again. “His buddy was even dumber and slower. So I skated. Hooked up with some cool locals...got my first line on some work.”
The old hippies stared, mouths slack. “Work?” the man managed.
“Oh yeah. The ’nip dens. Big biz in the East. Those cats get wasted, man...and crazy when they don’t get their ’nip.” Lucifer gestured to the scars on his face. “But it’s big, big money.” The cat shook his head. “Sad to see, though, really. So sad, I had to move on. Local cat hooked me up with a gig in the Middle East.”
“But, b-but...,” stammered the woman, as if she were practicing stammering, as if it were a skill she was cultivating.
“Those Persian cats pay a huge premium to get to the Eurocenter. Mega business. But you know, after a while, it got like the ’nip thing. Couldn’t hang with the skin trade.” He gave an ironic shrug. “So, color me sentimental.”
“But, b-b-but...” said the old, stoned hippie chick.
“Next stop was Noo Yawk,” The cat grinned, Cheshire-style, as he said the name with the local accent. “Cat there had a lab. His process started with margarine, and the end product looked like cream. But the shit had a kick, let me tell you. Cats’d kill for the stuff, and I’m not speaking figuratively.” The couple seemed to overcome, momentarily, their chronic astonishment and exchanged looks of budding, if benumbed interest. “So I was back where I’d started--in pharmaceuticals. And again, big dollars.”
“Like cr-e-e-a-m...,” crooned the old pony-tailer, a wistful grin blooming on his face.
The cat rolled his eyes and continued, “So before I knew it, I’d made my heap, and figured, what the hey, wonder how the old folks on Mount P are doing? Guess I might as well finish that trip around the world. And so here I am. And there you are...’bout like I remember.”
“B-b-b-b...” stammered the ancient Joni Mitchell wannabe.
“So...didja, like, bring any o’ that..cream with ya?” asked the faded facsimile of David Crosby.
The door crashed open. Seven burly men in black, bristling with weapons, burst into the cabin. Three held the stunned old stoners against the wall while three more took the cat down and cuffed him. The remaining invader stood over the cat and intoned, “DEA, Luke. Got an extradition order from Mayor Bloomberg’s Food Police. You got any idea how much trans fat’s in margarine? You’re goin’ down for a l-o-o-o-ng time.”
[Copyright 2010 by F.J. Dagg. All rights reserved. “Trans Fat Cat” was originally published in 2010 at A Word With You Press.]
1. Proper Punctuation.
Mark Alger, who's been posting irregularly of late, provides us this morning with a test case for one's punctuating skills:
"The government has no legitimate interest in defining and controlling contraband and needs to have its hand slapped (at least) whenever it tries."
Do you see the subtle error in there? For persons unfamiliar with the more arcane rules of grammar, the period -- the "full stop," for our English, Canadian, and Australian cousins -- belongs immediately after the word "interest." The remainder should be reformulated into a second, independent sentence that provides further elucidation.
In this connection, Robert A. Heinlein's maxim about punctuation is apposite:
The correct way to punctuate a sentence that starts: "Of course it is none of my business, but --" is to place a period after the word "but." Don't use excessive force in supplying such a moron with a period. Cutting his throat is only a momentary pleasure and is bound to get you talked about.
Proper Punctuation, Part 2.
"The government has no legitimate interest." That's just sufficiently obscure to demand a more expansive treatment, so here we go.
The United States of America was and is defined by its Constitution, a document drawn up under contractarian theory about proper relations between a government and those who live within its demesne. That theory makes the U.S. a constitutional federated republic. (Not a democracy, as is so commonly and mistakenly bruited about.) In such a republic, the government is an agent: a quasi-corporate entity contractually assigned certain duties and permitted certain legitimized powers with which to carry them out. An agent qua agent has no legitimate interests.
A brief example might make this clearer. Imagine that you've hired a gardener to look after your lawn and shrubs. You've detailed his duties to him as follows:
- Keep the lawn cut to a three-inch height;
- Keep the shrubs around the foundation of the house trimmed to a uniform thirty-inch height;
- Keep the "hedge" shrubs that line the street frontage trimmed to a uniform seventy-two-inch height and trim any branches that protrude into the street.
Fairly clear, no? But one fine day not long afterward, you come home to find that your gardener has sculpted your "hedge" shrubs into a recreation of The Winged Victory Of Samothrace. In your attempt to remonstrate with him, he tells you that it was in his interest (whether personal or professional) to do so.
You'd fire him on the spot, wouldn't you? You might even sue him for the damage he did to your greenery. You surely wouldn't concede that his "interest" supersedes the duties you delineated for him as your contracted gardener.
In that relationship, the interests, as property owner, are yours and yours alone. So also is it with citizens and government in a contractarian nation:
- The government has certain delineated duties;
- It is granted carefully limited powers with which to discharge them;
- All else is reserved to the sovereign private citizen.
Though the individuals who work for the government at any moment possess interests, they do so as individuals. When they exercise the powers allowed to the government, they are acting as agents, who must not be permitted to trespass beyond their agreed-upon duties and powers, and must be punished whenever they dare to do so.
That we've refrained from administering the proper chastisements at the proper times explains much about the current condition of the American polity, to say nothing about the woeful lack of decoration upon the lampposts of the District of Columbia.
3. Bad Faith.
Every federal elected official is sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States as a condition of his office. The majority of those officials, this century past, have been insincere in taking that oath. In a timely post, Mark Alger says it plainly:
A CALLER TO GARY-JEFF WALKER (sitting in for Brian Thomas) on the WKRC Morning Show last Thursday (it's on I Heart Radio, BTW, so you non-Cincinnatians can listen to it live) was trying to castigate Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA — warning: link takes you to a filthy statist crony-ist government web site) while simultaneously trying to sound reasonable and stipulating that "They may have started out wanting to do good things…" or words to that effect.
As far as I am concerned, this is morally equivalent to Marge Schott's, "Hitler started out good but went bad" gaffe of a few years back. We really need to stop ascribing positive motives to leftists. They don't have them. The entire rotten edifice of the Left is founded in bad faith and ill intent and there is no need -- or any benefit or propriety -- to pretend otherwise. We know they lie. So why do we trust them when they claim good motives?
This acquires even more force when we note that Senator Rand Paul's request for a "Sense of the Senate" resolution on whether the president has power, under the Constitution, to assassinate American citizens on American soil without due process of law, evoked an immediate objection from the Dishonorable Dick Durbin. Durbin was supported in his objection by the Democrat caucus, which was uneasy about going on record with anything that might limit the president's powers.
But then, "Democrat" and "bad faith" have been effectively synonymous for quite some time now. Not that the characterization wouldn't fit a good many Republicans, as well.
4. A Little Levity.
This joint can get awfully heavy, some times. Herewith, a bit of morning fun.
Regular Gentle Readers will already know that I rise from my coffin at 4:00 AM. That's not a preference but a necessity that's become a strong habit. Neither is it entirely pleasant to get out of bed in the dark and face myself in the mirror. I don't look good at my very best, and my visage at 4:00 AM is far from "my very best."
And so, upon arising this morning and confronting my image in the bathroom mirror, I emitted a brief but impassioned "yuck." The C.S.O. heard me and said, most eloquently, "Yuck?"
My reply: "Nothing, nothing. Just an early morning yuck."
And with that, I was off on one of my infrequent ("Thank God!" -- the C.S.O.) spasms of versification:
In the early mornin' yucks,
When the whole world looks like mud,
There's a rumblin' in my gut,
And my eyes are full of crud.
I'm a long way from the shop,
And I hate my commute so,
But my bills won't pay themselves,
So I guess I've gotta go.
Bombin' down the L.I.E.,
With a million other fools,
Crossin' lanes like there's no lines,
Don't these idjits know the rules?
Hope they've got somewhere to go,
Worth the risk to life and limb,
Can't be sure myself, and so,
Think I'll sing my fav'rite hymn.
Here I am now, once again,
In the cubicle called "mine."
Hackin' at some lousy code,
For the ninety-seventh time.
Guy who wrote it should be shot,
But the lucky bastard's gone.
And it's what they pay me for,
So I 'spose I'll just keep on.
Quittin' time don't come too soon,
Though my soul does yearn to split.
But there's stuff I've got to do,
Lots of supervisor shit.
Love to kick it to the curb,
But I need some heavy bucks,
So I'd best be pressin' on,
Despite the early morning yucks.
[With apologies to Gordon Lightfoot.]
And how has your day gone so far, Gentle Reader?
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
The one and only test of a claim of knowledge is the claimant's ability to predict. This is the first principle of science. Among other things, it completely refutes the claims of the "global warming / climate change" hucksters who are trying to persuade Americans to accept totalitarian control of our economy on the strength of the jiggered outputs of a few poorly designed simulations. But (also among other things) it's one of the reasons economics doesn't qualify as a science in the strict sense.
The economist's view of society is largely about trends. We can see trends in motion, and we can forecast trends to come in the broadest, most general fashion. What we can't do is predict future events in the exact sense, with minutely specific measurements and precise times of occurrence. That's why even the most successful economic theories, such as von Mises's Austrian theory and Friedmanite monetary theory, are never regarded as proven beyond all reasonable doubt -- and why unsuccessful theories such as Marxism and Keynesianism can hang around for centuries despite their many insufficiencies in practice.
We Austrians favor a theory of the business cycle that places causal emphasis on the role of currency inflation. A bounded inflation -- i.e., the creation of a significant volume of a fiat currency by the controlling agency, usually a government-controlled central bank -- doesn't have uniform effects in the short term. The new currency makes its way into the economy through government spending. Such spending initially pumps up the sales volume of vendors to the government. Only as those vendors spend their increased revenues do the effects begin to penetrate the broader economy.
In responding to such a surge of government purchases, a large part of a vendor's incremental expenditures will be on capital equipment, the better to meet the increase in demand. The balance of the incremental revenue will go out as wages to employees and dividends to stockholders. Thus, the second perceptible effects of the inflation will be on the makers of capital equipment: first, the sort needed by vendors to government, and after that, the sort required by the makers of consumer goods. This will naturally cause capital-equipment makers to ramp up production and increase capacity.
But in a "bounded" inflation -- a one-time "blip" of newly created currency -- government demand eventually returns to pre-inflation levels. Vendors to government will be compelled to idle the newly purchased capital equipment and lay off any newly hired workers. So the sharp rise in capital purchases that signaled the onset of the inflation is matched by a sharp decline in such purchases once government demand falls back to normal levels. As with the rise, the decline reverberates through the economy, ultimately reaching the makers of consumer goods. At the end of the cycle, there's a lot of idle capital equipment to be liquidated, and the value of the dollar has been reduced in proportion to its dilution.
"Bounded" inflations are always followed by recessions / depressions. Our federal fiscal policy makers are aware of this, which is why they continuously inflate the currency, in the hope that by "keeping the pedal to the metal," they can keep the economy running at full speed.
Unfortunately, it's a forlorn hope, as is every attempt to control a system through positive feedback. But that's a topic for another day. Today's little disquisition focuses on this announcement from Chemung County, New York:
HORSEHEADS, N.Y. -- A local manufacturer is announcing layoffs. Eaton Corporation has informed employees at its Horseheads plant that 33 jobs will be cut at the start of next month.
The company employs 275 people at that facility, where they manufacture vacuum interrupters.
Officials blame the layoffs on the challenging business climate. They have an Employee Assistance Program and will be bringing in representatives from the Department of Labor to help the affected employees.
(Applause to Purp at Ace of Spades HQ for bringing this to our attention.)
Vacuum interrupters, to skip all the interesting engineering details, are a critical electrical component required for any sort of medium to heavy manufacturing. New factories need them; existing factories must replace them now and then. A decline in purchases of vacuum interrupters thus correlates closely with a decline in medium to heavy manufacturing. If Austrian business cycle theory is correct, this is a harbinger of a recession in the immediate future.
The American economy is not a closed system. Indeed, quite a lot of the capital equipment made here is sold to factories in other nations, where the consumer goods so ardently demanded by Americans are made. America's share of the world capital-equipment market is quite large. Estimates, as always, vary, but they average around 50% of total world production. Once again, if Austrian theory is correct, a decline in capital equipment manufacturing here in the United States foretells a global recession, not merely a national one. The status of the American dollar as the world's reserve currency only reinforces that conclusion.
The Federal Reserve Bank has kept interest rates unnaturally low for several years, supposedly to "stimulate the economy." As poorly as that has worked, it appears to have had the results predicted by Austrian theory, at least as regards the initial surge in capital expenditure by vendors to government and the decline taking place today. Eaton's reduction of its workforce in Chemung County, where vacuum interrupters are made, strikes me as more significant than persons other than the laid-off workers would usually deem it.
Attention to such developments will become ever more important as the consequences of Obamunist economic policies continue to unfold. Watch this space.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
I've written so many times about the explosion of laws, and the consequent inability of the common man to know what the law is -- and whether he's broken it, of course -- that stories such as this one no longer come as a surprise:
A California retirement home is backing one of its nurses after she refused desperate pleas from a 911 operator to perform CPR on an elderly woman who later died, saying the nurse was following the facility's policy.
"Is there anybody that's willing to help this lady and not let her die," dispatcher Tracey Halvorson says on a 911 tape released by the Bakersfield Fire Department aired by several media outlets on Sunday.
"Not at this time," said the nurse, who didn't give her full name and said facility policy prevented her from giving the woman medical help.
At the beginning of the 7-minute, 16-second call on Tuesday morning, the nurse asked for paramedics to come and help the 87-year-old woman who had collapsed in the home's dining room and was barely breathing.
Halvorson pleads for the nurse to perform CPR, and after several refusals she starts pleading for her to find a resident, or a gardener, or anyone not employed by the home to get on the phone, take her instructions and help the woman.
"Can we flag someone down in the street and get them to help this lady?" Halvorson says on the call. "Can we flag a stranger down? I bet a stranger would help her."
No, no surprise there. The nurse -- a "health care professional," mind you -- was not only unwilling to administer a resuscitative procedure, she was unwilling to give her name. Why? Partly, no doubt, because of "company policy," as she said to the 911 operator, but for two other reasons as well:
- "Wrongful death" suits;
- "Wrongful life" suits;
...both of which are now recognized in the state of California as legitimate causes for legal action.
Given that a "deep pockets" orientation would cause a plaintiff to aim his suit, of whichever sort, at the employer, you'd think the nurse would be relatively well insulated from adverse legal consequences. But it is not so. Quite often, such a suit will employ a "phone book" approach, suing anyone and everyone with the least connection to the events at issue. Nor would the nurse's employer necessarily be forgiving in the aftermath.
California's "Good Samaritan" law, which was intended to prevent post-hoc tort actions against a person who renders medical assistance in such an emergency, has proved to be no barrier to the sort of lawsuits and professional destruction that nurse might face. Given that, and her employer's policy, she did the safest thing she could: nothing at all.
No, no surprise...but quite a lot of outrage.
In a legal environment as irrational as ours, populated by plaintiffs and lawyers as vulpine as ours, incidents like the above will inevitably become commonplace. Eventually, they will cease to be reported, on the dog-bites-man rule. That hasn't happened yet, mainly because the great majority of America's doctors and nurses retain an ethic of service to life. But time, the great destroyer, will put paid to that as ever more persons in positions similar to that unnamed nurse find themselves in damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don't situations, where the only sure defense against legal and professional ruination is to be somewhere else.
A nurse I dated long ago once spoke, with considerable pride, of being a member of "the helping professions." But she also noted, with no small amount of resentment, how demanding, inconsiderate, and unsparing those she had trained to help could be. In our current milieu, the deterioration of doctors' and nurses' attachment to the ethic of life, and the acceleration of ungrateful, vulpine behavior among those who demand "health care" from them as a matter of right, are both nearly guaranteed.
ObamaCare will surely help those trends along.
Monday, March 4, 2013
Some bloggers are, unjustly, best known for things other than their greatest talents:
At every turn, we're asked: How does it help society that you should be free to do this thing? And we have to offer some rationale wherein we increase the social good by having a freedom.
Does freedom really require a justification at every turn? Why does freedom require an affirmative defense, whereas prohibition -- the reduction of citizen freedom and the increase of power in the State -- is presumptively the correct position and wins on all ties?
Should the prohibitionists, not the freedom-seekers, be required to justify themselves, with the default assumption going to the freedom-seekers?
From the supremely talented pen of Ace of Spades himself.
Among the things one can be reasonably sure of is this: An Obamunist foreign-policy announcement or initiative will not have the interests of the United States at heart. This has been true since Obama's 2009 inauguration. There has been no counter-evidence to it since then.
Obama's recent choice of John Kerry as his second-term Secretary of State is quite consistent with that guideline. Kerry is an opportunist, pure and simple. His statements and actions are always chosen to bring him personally the maximum possible benefit, or to minimize the damage that would otherwise be done to him. That's obvious all the way back to his much-discussed Vietnam service, the recounting of which need not be repeated here.
Concerning the acceleration of tension in the Far East and violence and tyranny in the Middle East, Obamunist statements have been sculpted to provide "deniable threats." That is, the Administration has been trying, simultaneously, to appear to threaten American military action in those theaters to protect our favored parties and movements, while making it possible to deny any intent to threaten anyone in particular. This is not a new tactic. Indeed, it's called the "gray chicken" in strategic-analysis circles -- "gray" for its ambiguity; "chicken" because that's what usually comes home to roost.
America's energy available for foreign involvement is that which is left over from our domestic activity. A foreign power interested in how likely America is to take (further) military action anywhere in the world is likely to base his assessment on our current degree of domestic political fractiousness. Inasmuch as we're internally divided about as badly as possible just now, an aggressive power will rate the current probability of American intervention anywhere as quite low. That makes for a high degree of danger, especially to those nations that have relied upon American protection and deterrence.
I see no indication that this troubles Barack Hussein Obama or his lieutenants in the slightest degree.
There's been a lot of loose talk about the budget sequester in recent weeks, for obvious reasons. We can discount the scare talk, except for one aspect thereof, which I'll address in a moment.
The Obamunists have been so resolved to force tax increases on the American people that they've pulled out all the rhetorical stops, threatening figurative Armageddon should the GOP caucus in the House of Representatives not accede to such increases. Now that the sequester has been triggered, it would be natural to assume that the political combat over it will cease. I regret to say that this is unlikely to be the case.
We have yet to reckon with the Washington Monument Defense.
If you've never seen that term before, it refers to the bureaucratic counterstroke, frequently threatened in response to the discussion of a budget cut, of cutting back those activities or services the public values most. The intent, of course, is to evoke a popular outcry against the proposed cut, hopefully pressuring legislators to back away from it. Less often discussed is the use of the Defense after a cut has been effectuated: to maximize the public's pain and increase the probability that the bureaucracy will prevail in future political combats.
Though the Obama Administration has used the Defense most voluminously in the hope of compelling Republican Congressmen to accede to tax increases in place of the sequester, the sequester is now law. But the Defense remains relevant, particularly with regard to funding for the military. Our military is our principal foreign-relations instrument. No sane nation wants to hear that American forces have set forth for its shores. Were it not for our unchallenged military pre-eminence, American influence on other governments would be minuscule at best.
But the sequester imposes a disproportionate fraction of its cuts upon the Department of Defense, now under the control of Chuck Hagel, no friend to the armed services. Working through Hagel, Obama could use the sequester to weaken America's available military power considerably. Merely by cutting back on gun-toting personnel and their equipment, while sparing civilian employees and administrative operations from the cuts, the Obamunist team could preclude any possibility of an American intervention overseas, regardless of the occasion for it.
The one and only branch of the federal government that still commands overwhelming popular respect and support is our military. Its emasculation would both encourage aggressive foreign powers and appall the public, though to what specific end I cannot say.
During the Cold War years, smaller states had to balance their positions between the superpowers carefully, to maximize the possible gains and minimize the hazards. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, America stood unchallenged as the world's military master. The most important question foreign potentates could entertain over any subject in international relations became "how would the Americans react?" If the Obamunists proceed to weaken our military dramatically, as a political counterstroke against Republicans in the House of Representatives, the consequences could be much farther reaching than just to the upcoming rounds of appropriations talks.
Obama and his henchmen must know this. Whether they regard it as a regrettable undesired consequence of their far more important domestic campaign is open to discussion.
Given that there is no evidence that the Obamunists consider America's pre-eminent role in international relations to be something it's important to preserve, and that several Obamunist moves have weakened American military credibility, my guess is that such a consequence isn't undesired but "spinoff:" a pleasant bonus to whatever the Administration might gain domestically. Which would imply that the use of the sequester to weaken America's effective military power and limit its ability to respond promptly to unpleasant foreign developments would gain impetus from that recognition, rather than lose it.
Saturday, March 2, 2013
[Liberty's Torch principally concerns itself with politics and issues that impinge on politics. My two previous websites, Eternity Road and The Palace of Reason, were similarly oriented. In all three cases, I've solicited Co-Contributors according to their penchant for writing about those subjects, as I consider them the appropriate ones for public writing of the non-fiction sort. But now and then it's worthwhile to jump those tracks and explore a realm other than the most public of public affairs. Hence this new line of demarcation, which I encourage my Co-Contributors to use as well. -- FWP]
"Blog." It sounds like something you'd emit after a gassy repast, doesn't it? But as we all know -- don't we? -- it's a contraction of another neologism, "weblog," which is seldom encountered in its full version any more.
The blog was originally supposed to be an online version of a journal or diary: a place to record the interesting events of one's day. This sort of journal would, however, be visible to others, unlike the traditional paper-bound sort. But we inventive humans are forever finding alternate uses for things, and the blog was no exception. The format was quickly adopted by persons with opinions and interests they simply had to share with others. Soon enough, millions of persons were using blog software to blather about everything under the Sun, to audiences great and small...mostly small.
There are at least as many reasons to blog as there are blogs extant. But that original motivation for the development of the format -- an online version of a private citizen's journal -- is still as valid a reason as any.
I have long admired the blogging of Charles Hill of Dustbury. I'm sure I'm not alone in that. Charles is a person of varied interests and tastes -- no, I don't share them all -- and a writer of considerable talent. Not the least of his site's attractions is that he frequently touches upon a topic that moves me to wonder why I haven't written about it myself... and whether I should.
Charles's most recent Vent is a case in point:
Eventually people do catch on, and I mean to include myself. Once in a while I'd repeat something I'd posted to the site, and someone would look at me sideways and ask "Where on earth did that come from?" And I'd answer, with a perfectly straight face: "From my unauthorized autobiography." Facile wisecracks, after all, are my stock in trade. But after all those uncountable hours at the keyboard — well, I suppose you could count them, as they're not exactly infinite, but why would you want to? — but as time passed and something resembling a narrative began to take shape, I realized that this wasn't so much a wisecrack as a Kinsley-type gaffe: an obvious truth I wasn't at all intending to disclose.
Why this should be so is at least somewhat easily explainable:...a very real fear of mine: that something's going to happen inside my head, suddenly or gradually, and everything I associate with adulthood is going to dissolve into the fog and leave me basically a very large infant. The prospect of an ordinary long and lingering illness doesn't particularly trouble me — I have the example of my brother, who was lucid, if not always able to convey that lucidity, right up until his last few hours — but the idea of going through the rest of my days with a blank expression because I have no clue what's going on is decidedly disturbing.
Hence this urge to document the usual and the unusual, the wan and the wonderful, the predictable and the preposterous. Many of my oldest memories have long since fled, or at least concealed themselves; however, I cling to the belief, valid or otherwise, that if I do forget everything, with the obvious exception of How To Read, I'll have reference material to fall back on.
Perhaps that's the reason for keeping a journal of any sort. After all, most of us don't expect others to show an interest in our scribblings, our immediate families and persons deeply indebted to us excepted. I mention it because it seems to contrast with the putative purpose of public blogging: posts on current events and subjects of wide appeal, the sort that characterizes Liberty's Torch and many far more popular sites.
It also evokes thoughts of a sort not many of us entertain willingly: thoughts of our eventual deterioration and demise.
I opened The Palace of Reason in 1997, at age 45. I'm considerably older today, of course. Hopefully I have a few years left in the tank, but as the Redeemer has told us, we know not the day nor the hour. Over the sixteen-plus years I've written for the Web, I've pumped out several million words of exposition, a million and some of fiction, and a few dozen sentences about myself and events of direct personal importance to me. The Web being inherently a public medium, it's always felt inappropriate to "pollute" it with trivia of concern to myself alone. So I kept almost exclusively to subjects of wide interest: politics, culture, religion, economics, and the occasional story or review of a book by another fiction writer.
But hundreds of thousands of persons are doing exactly the same with their websites. Moreover, some of them are better at it than I: more attentive to developments, quicker to see their true import, and better at elucidating it for their readers' edification. I've always been aware of that, yet I've kept on. I've seldom troubled to ask myself why.
It's not that my opinions should be important to anyone but me.
It's not that my style is brilliant, unique, or specially entertaining.
It's not that there's money, or any other extrinsic reward, to be gained this way.
And it's not that I'd suffer some horrible consequence if I were to stop.
Yet I seldom allow a day to pass without posting something here.
I feel an obligation I've never articulated, and I've begun to wonder if it's to my future self.
A journal of any sort is an incomplete record of the keeper's mental life: the things that have stimulated him to think consciously enough about them to be aware of that fact, and that have struck him as significant enough to be worth recording. Thus, what he chooses to put in it is easily interpreted as a record of his priorities at various times in his life.
Having written the above, I realize that my Web writing could give anyone who never knew me in the flesh an entirely incorrect impression. Yes, the things I post about here are important to me, but there are many things far more important to me that have not appeared here and never will. In that sense, my Web writings have never been "about me," as the blog format was originally expected to be used. They've been about those subjects in which others might take an equal interest: public affairs rather than private ones. And so it shall remain.
Just don't assume that I don't have a private life. I keep it private; that's all.
Regardless of the subject, to write clearly and correctly is a hard job. It takes time, concentration, and considerable effort. When the subject is complex and involute, insight and deep thought must be added to the recipe. If the writer seeks to champion a position others have historically dismissed, breadth of knowledge, creativity, and humor become factors as well.
Why should he do all that, if there's no perceptible reward for it?
Perhaps because he feels he must.
Perhaps because of that sense of obligation to his future self.
Not because he expects to sway many others, nor to prevail intellectually over others.
Because he really feels an obligation -- a moral and ethical one -- to contribute what he can, while he can.
His voice must be part of the national dialogue.
If there are things that must be said, then he must say them, even if others have already done so.
He writes not out of a conviction of exceptional personal penetration, but out of loyalty to himself.
His writings are evidence that he didn't spend his whole life as a spectator, leaving all the heavy labor to others.
For most of us, there comes a time when we can no longer contribute usefully. Age and infirmity relegate us to permanent spectatorhood. That time might be near or far, but unless I'm fortunate enough to be hit by a falling jet engine, it will eventually come for me as it has for others. I don't dwell on nor relish the thought. But I do want that future Fran, and whoever is unfortunate enough to have the job of wiping the drool off his chin, to know that his younger self tried, at least, to "get it said" while he was able. This blog, and Eternity Road and The Palace of Reason before it, will testify to that.
Why do you do it?
Friday, March 1, 2013
...that a supposedly fearless denouncer of faith puts his cowardice on display quite as openly and clearly as this:
In a recent Al-Jazeerah interview, Richard Dawkins was asked his views on God. He argued that the god of "the Old Testament" is "hideous" and "a monster", and reiterated his claim from The God Delusion that the God of the Torah is the most unpleasant character "in fiction". Asked if he thought the same of the God of the Koran, Dawkins ducked the question, saying: "Well, um, the God of the Koran I don't know so much about."
How can it be that the world's most fearless atheist, celebrated for his strident opinions on the Christian and Jewish Gods, could profess to know so little about the God of the Koran? Has he not had the time? Or is Professor Dawkins simply demonstrating that most crucial trait of his species: survival instinct.
Yes, Gentle Reader, that's the Richard Dawkins, the fearless atheist who's been unsparing about the "myths" to which we Christians and our Jewish cousins cling. Remember this article from Wired online?
"There's an infinite number of things that we can't disprove," [Dawkins] 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."...
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."
But Allah? The Supreme Being who exhorts his followers thus?
Sura 9:73: "O Prophet! Struggle against the unbelievers and hypocrites and be harsh with them."
Sura 4:89: "They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing (as they): but take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah (from what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks..."
Sura 9-29: "Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued."
Sura 22-9: "As for the unbelievers for them garments of fire shall be cut and there shall be poured over their heads boiling water whereby whatever is in their bowels and skins shall be dissolved and they will be punished with hooked iron rods."
Sura 47-4: "When you meet the unbelievers, strike off their heads; then when you have made wide slaughter among them, carefully tie up the remaining captives"
...or whose foremost spokesmen in our time speak thus:
"There is no room for play in Islam. Islam is deadly serious...about everything." [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini]
"The minarets are our bayonets; the domes are our helmets. Mosques are our barracks, the believers are soldiers. This holy army guards my religion. Almighty Our journey is our destiny, the end is martyrdom." [Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prime minister of Turkey]
Our brave militant atheist wouldn't dare to cross that mythical dude. His followers might...take it badly.
Perhaps we should poll the other outspoken militant atheists about how they feel about Islam. If memory serves, neither Sam Harris nor Daniel Dennett has made mention of the Muslim perversion of faith. Christopher Hitchens, of course, is currently enjoying his eternal reward; though it would be interesting to have his opinions now, somehow I doubt we can acquire them.
A final thought: In our time, to stand by a faith -- a creed inherently incapable of being proved or disproved -- and to conform oneself voluntarily to its ethos requires sufficient courage not to back down nor qualify one's stance before the supercilious derision of militant atheists such as Dawkins. Contrariwise, to spurn such a creed requires no courage whatsoever. That would seem to put paid to Dawkins's own pretensions to courage for "daring to disbelieve."