Saturday, December 31, 2016

Sayonara To 2016

     No, this won’t be an end-of-year roundup of high (or low) points. It’s just little old me, Underdog your Curmudgeon Emeritus, bidding 2016 a not terribly fond farewell.

     Actually, for us here at the Fortress of Crankitude, it was a pretty good year. We remained healthy, avoided debt, had no accidents of note, kept our animals in good condition, and generally enjoyed ourselves. I’ll look back on the year with no regrets.

     However, among the folks I know are several who didn’t have a good year by my standard. Some had occupational reversals. Others had health setbacks. A couple had the poor grace to die. When I’ve been able to help, I’ve helped; at other times, I’ve kept them in my prayers. The same goes for the C.S.O., whose charities are separate from mine and will not be discussed here.

     I made a couple of new friends. One is near, the other is distant. The farther one has been pressing me to relocate to his part of the country. The nearer one regularly expresses her hope – indirectly, of course – that I never, ever take it into my head to move. I can’t satisfy both of them, so I do what those caught between two opposing forces tend to do: I temporize. As is usually the case, the C.S.O. will probably have the last word.

     Early in the year I had a fresh cancer scare. Those are nothing new for me; I’ve had a bunch of them. But being told that my worries were groundless is always a relief. It’s not that I fear death; I just don’t want to go that way. Too many of my relatives fell to the Big C, and in no case was it pretty.

     In June I released my tenth novel, one I never expected to write: Love In The Time Of Cinema, a rather fanciful romance. The reviewers have been kind. More important, I reread it rather often with a mixture or pleasure and puzzlement, and always with the question “Did I really write that? It’s so far from my usual oeuvre.”

     On December 1 I released my eleventh novel: Statesman, the last of the Realm of Essences family...maybe. The requests for more have been many. At the moment, my resolve to go on to something else is strong, but every morning brings fresh email and fresh uncertainties.

     And of course, just about every day I’ve poured out a thousand or so words of op-ed here at Liberty’s Torch, to please my Gentle Readers. I feel an obligation to produce such pieces as often as possible. I hope they satisfy the appetites of those who come by looking for some intellectual junk food.

     But as Chad Stuart has told us, all good things must end someday. Today is that day for the Year of Our Lord 2016.

     May God bless and keep you all, and may your 2017 be joyous from end to end.

Happy New Year!

Politics, The Type II Risk, And Our Chosen Outsider

     As we embark upon a new year, several large changes to national politics and the international environment are already upon us. The incoming Administration will need to “hit the ground running,” with little experience of the machinations to be harnessed and tamed. To keep his campaign promises, President Trump will be compelled to confront the internal dynamics of the government he’ll preside over. For one whose life has been spent in the private sector, some of those dynamics will prove unpleasant, even intolerable.

     I have no idea whether risk analysis is widely or narrowly studied, but I do know that one giant category of risks, which the late Aaron Wildavsky called “Type II risks,” is insufficiently appreciated by many in the political sphere. The general ignorance of this important category makes me wonder whether courses in risk analysis – if there are any; that’s something else I don’t know – are worth anyone’s time.

     First, some terminology:

  1. Type I risks are direct threats to persons or property.
  2. Type II risks arise from erroneously prioritizing Type I risks.

     Some persons illustrate the Type II risk by citing a famous fable from Aesop: “The Boy who cried Wolf.” In the most popular version of this tale, the Boy, eager for the attention of his elders, twice cries “Wolf!” when there is no wolf in sight, thus persuading the Villagers that he’s a liar. Consequently, when the Wolf really does show up, the Boy’s cries are not heeded. Depending on who’s mangling this fable, either the Boy’s flock of sheep is decimated and scattered, or the Boy himself is eaten.

     However, the above is not a genuine Type II risk. It’s a case of communications degradation by false reports. The true Type II risk arises from assigning a high priority to the mitigation of a trivial Type I risk, such that resources and motivation are expended pointlessly and become unavailable to meet more serious problems.

     Innumerable cases of the Type II risk infest our public policy. The drive to remove “every last molecule” of some substance designated a “pollutant” from our air or water is a good case. Another is the drive to expand a welfare program or other “social service” so greatly that no one who’s imaginably eligible for it will be left out, even if that means frittering away money and effort on far more persons who are completely ineligible. Other cases can be found in the proclamations and activities of every department of the federal government. The common factor is always the squandering of resources on a trivial risk, such that those resources will not be available to meet problems of far greater magnitude.

     In a sense, the exhaustion of government resources on trivial Type I threats is what passes for job security among bureaucrats. They create Type II risks to assure their continued employment and the multiplication of their numbers. That the expense, both of the efforts to alleviate the trivial and of the continued expansion of the bureaucracy to meet “new” threats, falls on the private citizenry and its commercial institutions is not a coincidence.

     Not everyone wants to be “more important,” in some sense, than he is at present. However, they who go into government, whether as elected officials or employees, appreciate the power of status within the State as a guarantor of their prosperity and security. In light of this incentive, the late C. Northcote Parkinson posited that “Officials want to multiply subordinates, not rivals.” For it is the depth and volume of the “tree” of persons accountable to an official that constitutes the prima facie measure of his status.

     One of the most direct routes to expanded responsibilities is the fabrication of risks within one’s existing sphere. Official Smith must meet certain prerequisites before undertaking this task:

  • Smith must already have an area of responsibility;
  • That area must be imprecisely defined, with its refinement part of Smith’s authority;
  • Smith must acquire a reputation for expertise in that area, such that disputing with him is discouraged.

     In the usual case, Smith’s superiors will not be averse to the expansion of Smith’s responsibilities. After all, his subordinates are theirs as well. However, officials at Smith’s level in the hierarchy will feel threatened by Smith’s efforts. Their most common response is to attempt to expand their responsibilities as well.

     The longer this goes on, the more rarefied and trivial the “new” risks become. The department as a whole clamors for ever more men and money. Other departments growing in response to the same dynamic will be doing the same, of course. Intensifying competition for the government’s finite pool of resources will compel the legislature to act in its turn:

  1. To seek additional revenue;
  2. To borrow;
  3. To reassess government priorities.

     As we know from experience, governments find courses #1 and #2 more palatable than course #3. By following those paths, all the resources that can be coerced out of the private economy will be consumed...which won’t dampen the bureaucracies’ cries for still more.

     The risks entailed in the above process remain formless until two things occur:

  1. The expansion of the resource pool becomes politically or fiscally impossible;
  2. A new and genuinely important (i.e., Type I) threat materializes for which resources are lacking.

     When the first condition arises, the competitors for status within the government will turn on each other, for the private cow has no more milk to give. Intra- and inter-departmental conflict sharpens and becomes visible outside the corridors of power. Actual sabotage of official by official, and of department by department, swiftly proliferates. Elected legislators and executives are drawn into the fray. The press starts nattering about “gridlock” and “nonfunctional government.”

     When the second condition arises, the State must address the new, important threat lest it totter and fall. As that would involve the termination of less important undertakings, those officials whose statuses are endangered are likely to feel panic. More often than not they resort to propaganda efforts: attempts to inflate the importance of their “work,” as perceived by their superiors and the world beyond. Only after any possibility of continuing the status quo has vanished will reallocation be undertaken and the trumpetings cease.

     The incoming Trump Administration and its (nominal) allies on Capitol Hill face the following Type I threats, among others:

  • Terrorism;
  • The debt / deficit crisis;
  • The enervation of the military;
  • The tidal wave of illegal immigration;
  • The unemployment / underemployment crisis;
  • The tottering-unto-collapse of our alliances and allies.

     There are others, but those are the threats of greatest magnitude. Not one of them is being effectively addressed today. All of them materialized and went unaddressed because of the prioritization of trivia. The federal government already consumes about a third of the nation’s economic resources. In all probability, it cannot seize more without fatal consequences for the economy. Therefore, Washington will be forced into a reassessment of priorities.

     There will be much jockeying for position as officials scramble to protect their departments and secure their jobs. There will be bloodshed – figuratively, at least – as the internecine competition between and within the bureaucracies accelerates. This itself will evoke a Type II risk: the risk that indecision and internal strife will have Washington paralyzed should a new, genuinely serious threat arise.

     Politics itself is at the heart of this risk.

     Such a condition would be easily resolved in the private sector: upper management would simply decree the reordering of priorities, including the elimination of however many ridiculous efforts and unnecessary positions might be required. Careers would be impacted and families would be disadvantaged, but such is the dynamism of the American economy that the majority of the dislocations would not last long. Within the federal government, bureaucratic inertia, Civil Service protections, and the alignment of legislators with both internal and external constituencies will work to thwart any such cleansing.

     There’s only one guaranteed remedy: the wholesale elimination of Cabinet departments and the bureaucracies that report to them. That would require unprecedented acts of Congress. The battle over any such proposal will be fought with a fury to eclipse anything in our peacetime history.

     My attention tends to go to dynamics and incentive structures. Some such always stand behind whatever “issue” is currently in the news. The ones we’ve chosen to engage with the November elections are of considerable magnitude.

     It was a choice, albeit perhaps not a conscious one. To the extent that it was conscious, it wasn’t a wholly joyous one, despite the possibility of national renewal inherent in having elevated a complete outsider to the presidency.

     The problems and difficulties we face would have pressed upon any outsider, not just Donald Trump. However, there was no possibility of facing them sensibly under an administration chosen from the political establishment – and the Establishmentarians know it.

     Establishmentarians’ Prime Directive is, has always been, and forever will be Don’t rock the boat. Now that we’ve chosen to rock it, there will be consequences to face. We’re guaranteed to dislike some of them. That won’t alleviate the strife, the anger, or the pain, so we’d better brace for them.

Putin discusses American foreign policy.

This man haunts the nightmares of our ruling neocons. It's just one speech but as you watch and listen to Mr. Putin, does he strike you as unintelligent, as impetuous, as lacking insight into what the U.S. has been doing?

Compare his words and delivery to this moronic segment involving the glib, clueless Bill O'Reilly and the unhinged Ralph Peters, FoxNews's golden boy:

This is what passes for state-of-the-art media geopolitical analysis on America's premiere cable news channel.

O'Reilly (on how he'd interview Putin): "You're a guy who used to removed fingernails from people. Ok? The KBG interrogator. How's the best way to get my thumb fingernail off? What do you use? A nail file?" (1:54).

O'Reilly: "You got to shake him up. Because he thinks he's the coolest cat in town." (2:06)

Peters: "He's ugly. He's ruthless. He's vicious." (2:46)

Peters: "The smallest of [the things Putin wants] is to humiliate Obama. He just doesn't like Obama. He's a racist. Period." (2:58)

O'Reilly: "He wants Assad the tyrant, butcher, brutal, chemical weapons guy to stay." (4:05)

Peters: "Putin's military sucks. The Russian military's a basket case. But, it is brutal . . . ." (4:51)

Russian military.

It's not simply that other nations have no legitimate interests. The interests of other nations are in fact interests that are exclusively hostile to those of the U.S. The duty of other nations is to defer to U.S. interests as identified by the U.S. treason class. The exceptional, indispensable nation speaks and there will compliance.

Any foreign leader who opposes U.S. interests is ugly, ruthless, and vicious.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Assault On Aesthetic Sensibility

     I’m a former – i.e., retired – engineer. These days, engineers come in a multitude of varieties, but there are nevertheless commonalities among us. One of those commonalities, perhaps the most important of them all, is this one:

Form Follows Function

     Aesthetic considerations cannot be permitted to eclipse functional considerations. If the device won’t perform according to its assigned function and specifications, it’s useless no matter how pretty it is. That much, at least, is easy to grasp.

     What’s harder to grasp is this: That which is functionally effective and efficient will also be aesthetically pleasing. Behind the human eye stands the human mind. It qualifies what the eye sees according to its comprehension of what lies within surface form. Thus many an object one would dismiss on purely aesthetic grounds becomes attractive, even beautiful, when one comes to grips with what it’s intended to do.

     An example: Just yesterday, the C.S.O. commented that in every science fiction movie we’ve seen that features a deep-space vessel, the ships have all possessed certain visible characteristic. She couldn’t imagine why that would be so. So I gave her the short course in interstellar vessel design – “Colony Starships 101,” with prerequisites in nuclear fusion and special relativity – proceeding from the absolute requirements of the undertaking:

  • Must gather its fuel from space;
  • Capable of attaining near-lightspeed velocity;
  • Supports living spaces and functions that must not impede one another;
  • Must endure continuous bombardment by tiny particles impacting at near-lightspeed.

     I did so as concisely as possible. The C.S.O. being bright, she grasped the requirements and what they mandated at once...and began to see the design of the starship in Passengers as inherently beautiful.

     The late, much lamented Steven Den Beste once wrote of how, once he penetrated to the functional requirements and design of even the most mundane device, it would appear beautiful to him. I submit that this is inherent in the mind’s aesthetic judgments – that an object with an assigned function will impress aesthetically in proportion to its efficacy and efficiency at that function. Inversely, an object without any function must stand on its form alone.

     Much of what we call “pop culture” offends me. I’m sure I’m not alone in that. Nor ought we to wave the matter aside with a grunt, mutter “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and pass on. Ugliness that pervades a society, displacing what men have cherished for ages as beautiful, isn’t a transient thing but a destructive force: an invasion of our minds and sensibilities.

     So when I happen upon a display such as this, my commentator’s side rears up on its hind legs with the need to emit a denunciation. Were those...persons really clothed? Not by any standard for clothing that I can imagine. For what, after all, are the possible functions of clothing?

  • It can keep the wearer warm, or acceptably within the “blue laws;”
  • It can conceal his sex characteristics;
  • Alternately, it can emphasize those characteristics;
  • It can enhance physical attractiveness;
  • It can convey an allegiance, an intention, or a desire.

     (Note that I omit consideration of costumes, whose function is to evoke a story or story-setting, and of armor, whose function is to prevent or mitigate wounds. Those are quite separate categories and must not be judged according to the requirements of clothing.)

     Do the “garments” in the pictures at the linked site fulfill any of the possible functions for clothing? If your answer is no, then what are they intended to do?

     Take a few moments over it.

     I’m a curmudgeon, which is a subspecies of crank. Accordingly, it’s commonplace for me to compare current events and trends that offend me with ones from my experiences that I find more acceptable. That’s also an aspect of the conservative disposition: to prefer that to which one has become accustomed to that which is shriekingly new. When I write about aesthetic matters I try to quell my natural crankiness in favor of objectivity. Sometimes I even succeed.

     This time around, I consider the obligation to run in the opposite direction. For what you saw in the piece linked above illustrates something I’ve grown to regard as insidiously dangerous: the cumulative assault on what Camille Paglia calls “the Western Eye:” the aesthetic sensibility that has accompanied and perfused Western thinking for two centuries at least, and which is inseparable from our convictions about individual worth and dignity. The apostles of our hideously vulgar pop culture hate that sensibility and are engaged in a wide-spectrum effort to destroy it: with ugly, pointless “clothing,” “music,” “art,” “sculpture,” “fiction,” “movies,” and trends in locution.

     Why? Because Western thought supports and is supported by Western aesthetics. Because the ongoing assault on Western precepts:

  • the sanctity of human life;
  • the rights and dignity of the individual;
  • the appropriate constraints on public conduct;
  • the suspicion and limitation of power and those who seek it;
  • the foundation of all that is truly beautiful on Truth Itself;

     ...cannot succeed unless the Western aesthetic sensibility is destroyed in tandem.

     A dear friend once pointed out to me that among the barbarizations inflicted upon us by contemporary television is a habituation to seeing a human body defiled in some fashion. Perhaps the best example is the regular use of autopsy scenes by shows such as CSI. The reduction of what was once a living, breathing person with rights, ideas, emotions, and aspirations to a bag of battered organs and leaking fluids does harm to our sensibilities in ways we hardly even notice as it occurs. Yet the harm is real. It goes horribly deep.

     Look for the parallels in “music” that lacks melody and harmony but is replete with obscenities and calls for violence; with “art” that depicts nothing and requires no skill to produce; with “fashionable” clothing that’s often obviously torn and otherwise distorted; and with “fiction” that focuses on humiliation, degradation, pain, and the reduction of the human person to something even the lowest of the animals would disdain.

     I’ve only scratched the surface here. There’s infinitely more to be said on the subject. However, I trust that my Gentle Readers, being Gentle Readers, will manage to carry the ideas forward for themselves.

     John Keats once wrote that “What seizes the imagination as beauty must be truth.” That statement has had a profound effect on my considerations of aesthetic matters. But its converse has been no less significant: What is true beyond disputation is inherently beautiful, as nothing that lies, distorts, or mocks the truth can possibly be.

     Just some food for thought for your Friday morning.

Criminal enterprise.

The plain truth is that Syria is the victim of a long-planned Joint Criminal Enterprise to destroy the last independent secular Arab nationalist state in the Middle East, following the destruction of Iraq in 2003. While attributed to government repression of “peaceful protests” in 2011, the armed uprising had been planned for years and was supported by outside powers: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United States and France, among others. The French motives remain mysterious, unless linked to those of Israel, which sees the destruction of Syria as a means to weaken its archrival in the region, Iran. Saudi Arabia has similar intentions to weaken Iran, but with religious motives. Turkey, the former imperial power in the region, has territorial and political ambitions of its own. Carving up Syria can satisfy all of them.

This blatant and perfectly open conspiracy to destroy Syria is a major international crime, and the above-mentioned States are co-conspirators.

"Destroying Syria: a Joint Criminal Enterprise." By Diana Johnstone, CounterPunch, 10/4/16.

Fairy tales for popular consumption.

The timing of this ["humanitarian" website Avaaz] petition is eloquent. It comes exactly when the Syrian government is pushing to end the war by reconquering the eastern part of Aleppo. It is part of the massive current propaganda campaign to reduce public consciousness of the Syrian war to two factors: child victims and humanitarian aid.

In this view, the rebels disappear. So do all their foreign backers, the Saudi money, the Wahhabi fanatics, the ISIS recruits from all over the world, the U.S. arms and French support. The war is only about the strange whim of a “dictator”, who amuses himself by bombing helpless children and blocking humanitarian aid. This view reduces the five-year war in Syria to the situation as it was portrayed in Libya, to justify the no-fly zone: nothing but a wicked dictator bombing his own people.

For the public that likes to consume world events in fairy tale form, this all fits together. . . .

* * * *

The job of Avaaz is to get public opinion to oppose this military operation, by portraying it as nothing but a joint Russian-Syrian effort to murder civilians, especially children.[1]

One hundred years after the start of the appalling bloodletting in WWI our reckless and arrogant neocon establishment are willing to propagate lies and distortions about one of the most pointless wars of our times. Fortunately, it's contained in a single Middle Eastern country that, incidentally, poses no threat to the U.S. or Europe whatsoever.

Whatever the reason for U.S. prosecution of this strange war that has us allied with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, al-Qaida and ISIS, for the love of God, it is a deep dark secret that won't be shared with the American people any time soon.

[1] "Destroying Syria: a Joint Criminal Enterprise." By Diana Johnstone, CounterPunch, 10/4/16.

Thursday, December 29, 2016


     [A bit of whimsy. My fingers were itching to produce a short story, which they hadn’t done in some time. Considering the season, I decided to “give in.” -- FWP]

* * *

     Father Michael Keane, pastor of St. Gregory the Great parish in Manhattan, had completed the distribution of the Eucharist and was returning to the celebrant’s chair for the interval of contemplation before the concluding rites when the commotion broke out.
     “Bread and wine transformed into the body and blood of a dead man, to be eaten by living men! What blasphemous nonsense you Christians profess!”
     The roar shattered the serenity of the congregation. Every communicant turned to seek the offender.
     He stood at the rear of the nave, arms akimbo. He was large, swarthy of complexion, and wore a sneer of absolute derision. To his sides were four others of similar size and demeanor.
     Mike descended from the altar dais and made his way toward them.
     “Gentlemen,” he said, “this is a house of prayer where all are welcome, but upon conditions. No matter what you might think of our faith, we expect to be left in peace to practice it.”
     The leader’s sneer became wider. “Your faith is nonsense. A three headed God, a man who was born of woman claiming to be divine, claiming his flesh to be food that will grant eternal life, then dying on a cross and returning to life? No one in his right mind could possibly believe it. And you,” he said with a wave of dismissal, “claiming the power to transform bread into his flesh and wine into his blood! What sort of supernatural creature would that make you?”
     He folded his arms over his chest and laughed in contempt.
     “What? You don’t think we have supernatural creatures in New York?”
     Mike turned toward the new voice and watched as a tall, buxom young woman in a beige skirt suit and high heels approached. She strode up to his side, positioned herself beside him, and produced a pleasant smile.
     Mike said “Ah, Miss—”
     The young woman held up a monitory hand. “Very nice sermon, Father,” she murmured. “People need to hear less about tragedies and atrocities and more about miracles.” She turned to face the disruptors.
     “Muslims, I assume?”
     The leader awarded her a crooked smile.
     “So what brings you to Sunday Mass at Saint Gregory’s?”
     “Our amusement,” the leader said, “and your obvious need for an education.”
     “I see,” she said. “Well, now that you’ve disrupted our ceremony and insulted our faith, would you be so kind as to depart?”
     “I think not,” the leader said. His leer required no interpretation. “Unless you can provide us appropriate compensation for our...educational services.”
     “Oh,” the young woman said. She undid the buttons of her suit jacket. “I think that can be arranged.”
     The melee that followed was over almost before Mike could blink. When all five of the intruders lay groaning, the young woman dragged each of them through the vestibule of the church and tossed them into the gutter without obvious effort. After she had disposed of all five, she rebuttoned her suit jacket, said “Sorry about the ruckus, Father,” and gestured toward the altar. “I think you can resume now.”
     Mike shook himself and made his way back to the front of the nave.
     “My brothers and sisters in Christ,” he intoned, “do you think that will settle the question of whether there are still miracles?”
     “Well,” came a voice from the back, “it sure as hell settles whether or not New York has any supernatural creatures!”
     The congregants erupted in laughter. They turned to face their deliverer, who was still standing at the back of the nave, and awarded her a deafening round of applause.
     Christine D’Alessandro blushed and curtsied.


“Passengers,” A Few More Words

     ...and not about the movie.

     Way back when – years when I was too short to reach the stove – the opinions of celebrities on social, political, and economic issues didn’t matter to anyone except perhaps their families. Shortly after that – though I believe I was still too short to do the dishes – the television became a staple of the American household and the Cult of Celebrity was born. People whose talents for singing, dancing, joking, or otherwise entertaining us had become “evening guests” in our living rooms. And shortly after that, interviewers foolishly began to inquire about their sociopolitical stances.

     I didn’t care then about a celebrity’s politics. I still don’t, except about the way in which the whole Celebritarian phenomenon has warped the minds of Americans.

     Conservatives have legitimately mocked celebrities who’ve spouted political bilge. The ridicule is well deserved; even the most sensible of the lot are generally under-educated, misinformed about innumerable things, and pumped far too full of themselves by the adulation of their fans. Yet conservatives have gone on from that to lionize celebrities – including very minor celebrities – who spout political opinions with which we agree. How is that consistent?

     As little sense as that makes, it makes even less sense to promote a celebrity’s political stances above his value as an entertainer.

     Yesterday evening, when I posted this piece, a distraction flew past that caused me to omit something I’d intended: specifically, to forbid comments on the piece. So of course the comments immediately poured in – try a Google search for “Jennifer Lawrence” and see what you get – and not one of them was about the movie. And equally of course, I smacked myself on the head, deleted them all, and closed the piece to comments.

     Conservatives, Christians, and others offended by the public caperings and pronouncements of celebrities have been told many times not to patronize their wares. I regard this as bad advice. Ours is a division-of-labor society. Entertainers entertain (and we don’t) because they’re good at it (and we aren’t). People consume entertainment because they want it; indeed, we often need it, given the fractious state of the world and the various ways in which it impinges, undesired and wholly unwelcome, on our lives. So we need to learn to separate the entertainment wheat from the sociopolitical chaff.

     The Left would never do that. To the Left, everything is political. That’s the underlayer of the Leftist psyche. It’s what makes leftists intolerable. And we must rigorously avoid becoming intolerable by aping this characteristic.

     The pseudonymous Ace of Spades, one of the most perceptive writers in the DextroSphere, once wrote that despite the Left’s tendency to view everything as political, it’s we of the Right who seem always to be talking politics. He had a powerful point. It’s a behavior we should expunge. It makes us unwelcome in places where we’d otherwise be welcome. And it pollutes our ability to enjoy pleasant diversions such as music, movies, and sporting events featuring performers whose politics we dislike.

     I wish, most profoundly, that celebrities would keep their sociopolitical opinions to themselves. (Then again, a lot of people wish I’d do the same.) But we can’t always have what we want, and in many a case the desire itself is bad for us and should be squashed.

     Not long ago I read a most excellent book: When Jesus Became God, by Richard Rubenstein. It’s a history of the 4th Century struggles within Christianity over the divinity of Jesus and His precise relation to God the Father. The whole thing is eminently worth the time of anyone interested in the history of Christian thought, but the part that comes to mind just now is early in Rubenstein’s saga:

     The almost obsessive quality of these disputes is nicely captured by a famous churchman, Gregory of Nyssa, writing twenty years after the lynching of Bishop George. In a sermon delivered in Constantinople, Gregory decried the contentiousness of his fellow Christians. “If in this city you ask a shopkeeper for change,” he complained, “he will argue with you about whether the Son is begotten or unbegotten. If you inquire about the quality of the bread, the baker will answer ‘The Father is greater, the Son less.’ And if you ask the bath attendant to draw your bath, he will tell you that the Son was created ex nihilo.

     This was not good for Christianity. It sometimes escalated to violence: Christians spilling other Christians’ blood. It had to be ended. The Council of Nicea, by proclaiming official doctrine, attempted to put an end to it...and failed. It resulted in the earliest known Christian schisms, which have never healed.

     So also with excessive attention to the sociopolitical opinions of celebrities – and I must state this plainly: any degree of attention paid to the sociopolitical opinions of celebrities is excessive.

     Enjoy what entertainers offer (if you find it enjoyable) and dismiss the rest. Otherwise, you’ve been lured into playing the Left’s game – and since it’s a game in which they hold all the cards, it’s one you cannot win.

     I have spoken.

21st-century useful idiots.

"A Journalist's Manual: Field Guide to Useful Infidels." By Islamist Watch, 12/27/16.

To wit:

  • Ben Affleck
  • Christiane Amanpour
  • Karen Armstrong
  • Max Blumenthal
  • John Brennan
  • Chris Christie
  • Morris Dees
  • Matt Duss
  • John Esposito
  • Glenn Greenwald
  • Martin Indyk
  • John Kerry
  • Grover Norquist
  • Leslie Wong
  • James Zogby

H/t: Leo Hohmann, World Net Daily.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

“Passengers,” A Review

     There isn’t much the “critics” can say that will deter the C.S.O. or me from enjoying some bit of entertainment. In the usual case, what they despise, we enjoy. Many books, music, and movies the critics have condemned to the ninth circle of Hell are among our favorites.

     When it comes to the movies, part of that divergence arises from what aspects of the story are most important to us, versus what parts matter most to the critics. For example, I value the emotional weight of the story line above all other things, at least if it’s delivered elegantly rather than crudely. Many a critic has little or no soul – perhaps they get too good a price for them on eBay – and is more impressed by surprise, or innovative cinematography, or political correctness, or what-have-you.

     The C.S.O. and I saw Passengers this morning, and were greatly impressed. Perhaps you’ll be surprised to read that in many ways it’s a “small” movie. It has a cast of only four persons, a sharply constrained setting, and a fairly simple plot line. Despite the interstellar-travel motif, parts of it were probably shot in a cafeteria, other parts in a very upscale hotel – with the appropriate CGI overlays, of course.

     But Passengers isn’t really a space opera. Indeed, it’s about as non-SF an SF-style movie as one could imagine. What it is, mostly, is a love story.

     The promo trailer has been widely distributed and viewed, so the typical Gentle Reader of Liberty’s Torch surely knows the broad outline of the story: Two interstellar colonists, engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and writer Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) awaken from suspended animation only a quarter of the way through a 120-year journey toward their intended new home planet, and discover that they can’t “go back to sleep.” They bond emotionally, becoming lovers – what alternatives are there, really? – and appear to be settling into the constrained future before them. Then things start to go wrong. Heroism is required.

     But that taste of the plot of Passengers tells you nothing of importance about the movie. It highlights a painful moral-emotional dilemma. It depicts the fury of a woman who learns, to her complete surprise, that she’s been “used.” And it delineates the great divide between genuine heroism and the tin-plated counterfeit the media so often try to foist upon us.

     The script is outstanding. Pratt and Lawrence give perfect performances. The setting is alternately as luxurious, as stark, and as terrifying as anyone could imagine. The resolution gives new power and freshness to the words heartwarming and love.

     For the politically obsessed: Yes, Jennifer Lawrence has said some supremely stupid and bigoted things. Give her a break; she’s a twenty-six-year-old actress with no experience of real life worth mentioning. You don’t need to endorse her idiocies to be entertained by her acting talent, which is enormous. Remember the old saw: “If you’re not a liberal at twenty, you have no heart; if you’re not a conservative at forty, you have no brain.” Appreciate the magnitude of her talent and the extraordinary presence she brings to the silver screen. Appreciate also the equally fine performance of costar Chris Pratt, in a more emotionally demanding role than I would have cast him for.

     Highly recommended.

Another Sad

     This one is for real: Thomas Sowell, one of the most brilliant men ever to embrace the study of economics or sociopolitical organization, has announced his retirement from commentary at the age of 86.

     Sowell’s innumerable penetrating observations on economics, politics, and the social order could fill dozens of books...and they have. I own most of them. I can’t remember ever being bored by a Sowell opus. I can’t remember ever saying to myself (as I’ve said in the throes of many other men’s tomes) “Why won’t he get to the point?” One of Sowell’s books, The Vision of the Anointed: Self-congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy, has been on my what-to-give list for more than twenty years. It’s never failed to elicit praise from its recipients.

     Sowell was especially valuable for his skill at demonstrating that much that we think we know is wrong. His commentary pieces often centered on a “but of course” notion and tore it to bleeding shreds. It’s not easy to do that in a few hundred words – take it from someone who attempts it rather frequently – but Sowell made it look effortless.

     It’s said of many who retire or die that “he will be missed.” Sometimes it’s even true. But of Thomas Sowell, there is no doubt whatsoever. Enjoy your retirement, Dr. Sowell.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Parallels That Instruct

     First, some relevant music to set the appropriate atmosphere:

     The lyric, one of ELP’s more apocalyptic ones:

Just a step cried the sad man
Take a look down at the madman
Theatre kings on silver wings
Fly beyond reason
From the flight of the seagull
Come the spread claws of the eagle
Only fear breaks the silence
As we all kneel pray for guidance

Tread the road cross the abyss
Take a look down at the madness
On the streets of the city
Only spectres still have pity
Patient queues for the gallows
Sing the praises of the hallowed
Our machines feed the furnace
If they take us they will burn us

Will you still know who you are
When you come to who you are

When the flames have their season
Will you hold to your reason
Loaded down with your talents
Can you still keep your balance
Can you live on a knife-edge

     Let that sink in for a moment before proceeding.

     It might strike you that this is a strange time of year to be discoursing on anarchism, but the mood is upon me, and I’ve resolved to follow where it leads.

     Courtesy of Western Rifle Shooters, we have the following “What If” found on Twitter:

     It’s worth a moment of your time, and a bit of emphasis:

How shall we distinguish, whether morally or practically, a State from an ascendant gang with a spatiotemporal preponderance of force?

     Go ahead; I fully understand your need for more coffee. I’ll wait here.

     In the Foreword to this novel, I wrote:

     The States of Earth exist in an anarchic relation to one another. Each has its own regional code of law, which might differ markedly from all the others. Despite several thrusts at the matter over the centuries, there is no “super-State” to enforce a uniform code of law over them all. More, they view one another as competitors in many different areas; their populations and institutions are often in sharp economic competition with one another. Thus, they are often at odds. They resolve important disputes among them through negotiation or warfare.

     Yet individuals manage to move among them with a fair degree of facility and (usually) little risk. Cross-border trade is commonplace, in some places torrential. Though wars are frequent, they seldom result in major alterations to the overall political pattern. The uber-anarchy of Terrestrial society exhibits more stability than one would expect from two hundred well armed, quarrelsome States, each of which perpetually schemes at snatching some advantage at another’s expense.

     I hold that the “archies-within-anarchy” structure of the world posited above is indisputable. There is no “super-State;” the UN, being unable to impose its will on a dissenting or divergent State, does not qualify. But being a believer in the ancient maxim “As above, so below,” I’m not about to stop there.

     Quite by coincidence, on this very date in the Year of Our Lord 2013, I wrote the following:

     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.

     I haven’t written many things that I regard as imperative beyond all possibility of refutation, but that’s one of them. Keep moving. Survive. What’s going on around you is relevant to your decisions and actions only as it pertains to what you must do to survive. And as a perfect (and perfectly ironic) capper to the matter, I must add this: Eventually, you’ll fail.

     The mature know this. No one lives forever. The final triumph belongs to Time, which I sometimes imagine was God’s device for averting boredom. But just as no one lives forever, no thing lasts forever, no matter how carefully contrived or maintained.

     If I may be allowed yet another quotation from myself:

     For example, let's imagine that I own a sailboat -- I don't, having no interest in water recreations -- and that I've named it the NEWF, after my late, beloved, exceedingly moist Newfoundland Bruno. The good ship NEWF can be viewed:
  • Holistically, as a unitary entity with a clearly designed-in function and an associated identity, or:
  • Reductionistically, as an assemblage of anonymous (I hope) wooden, steel, rope, and canvas parts.

     When its function as a sailboat is being exercised, its holistic, functional identity is clearly the one of immediate interest. Yet if I were to shipwreck myself upon some lonely island -- perhaps Staten, with its forbidding landfills, or Fire, with its natives'...disturbing fleshly practices -- NEWF's reductionistic characteristics would come to the fore, as I made use of its planks for firewood and its sails for blankets. Many would claim that in that second case, there no longer is a good ship NEWF, merely a pile of useful, unnamed items.

     Here's the ultimate poser about identity: Imagine that, in the quite ordinary course of maintenance, I were to remove one of NEWF's deck planks and replace it with another -- but instead of discarding the removed plank, I laid it aside. Imagine further that, over the years, I pulled up and replaced (but did not discard) still more planks, until a decade hence, I had replaced every component built into the original boat with an identical substitute. Would it still be the good ship NEWF?

     Because we associate identity with continuity in function, we look at an institution as identical to itself over time despite “detail changes” to such things as personnel, location, particular operations, and other internal aspects. This applies to States quite as well as to any other corporate entity.

     As an illustration of that observation, let’s continue one more paragraph into the above-cited screed:

     I'll take you a step further: Imagine that I'd saved all the replaced components, and out of sheer philosophical whimsy built a boat from them that was identical to the original. The replaced components, torn one by one from the original structure, have now been reassembled into...the original structure! But...but...the "original" -- the one that now contains no component built into the NEWF at its moment of christening -- is sitting over there, at that dock! Which one is the good ship NEWF?

     Dizzy yet? The application to States “should be obvious,” but that’s a phrase two of whose three words I try not to use. Conceive of it this way: At this time, the Obama Administration is, for all practical purposes, the State that governs the U.S. However, as of the coming January 21, that will no longer be the case according to our Constitution. But what if every single component of the federal executive branch as it stands today were to “re-assemble” somewhere after 1/21/2017 and assert that it’s still the government of the United States?

     Clearly there are only two possible outcomes to such a development: raucous laughter and civil war. Hope for the former.

     A free man is one who acknowledges no temporal master. To the free man, the State, whatever adaptations he must make in light of its impingement on his existence, is merely a sometimes-unavoidable inconvenience. For he is aware that This, too, shall pass away. It might have a successor. That successor might be immediate or long delayed. Its policies might be identical to those before it or wholly different from them. All that truly matters to the free man is the nature and magnitude of the attendant inconvenience.

     For these reasons I propose that the question asked by the image above must be answered “Yes, that’s exactly what it is.”

     Serve no master but God.
     Exhort those around you to do likewise.
     And above all else, Keep moving. Survive.

Pearls of expression.

[Obama] also destroyed Libya, the most prosperous, developed nation in North Africa. As expected, his justification for doing so was later revealed to be massive baloney bullshit.[1]
Some people just have a way with words.

[1] "Russian Foreign Ministry: Entire World 'Disgusted' by Obama's Disastrous Foreign Policy." By Matthew Allen, Russia Insider, 12/26/16.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Threats Impel Decentralization

     The terrorist attack on the Berlin Christmas market has revived, at least for the moment, Europeans’ consciousness of their insecurity – and at least as important, European public officials’ consciousness of the rising tide of resentment their subjects feel toward them. However, if there’s been significant motion among those politicians toward genuinely greater security against the Islamic threat – and let’s not mince words on the feast day of St. Stephen, the first recorded martyr to the Christian faith – I haven’t been able to detect it. To this point, only a few dabs of cosmetic rhetoric have been applied to the scowling face of private European sentiment.

     Frankly, I don’t expect much more than that from Europe’s political elite. The European ruling class is like the American one, except more so:

  • Its members arrogate even more power and privilege to themselves;
  • They’re even more disdainful of the rights and prerogatives of private Europeans;
  • And they’re twice as unlikely ever to admit a mistake, much less to make amends for it.

     So my prediction for the near-term future of Europe is that nothing substantive will change. There’ll be more rhetoric about the problem. There’ll also be an enhanced degree of both self-exculpation and finger pointing to go along with it. But with very few exceptions – Hungary appears to be one – the rulers of Europe’s nation-states will not act to stem the Islamic invasion of their realm, much less to expel those who are already inside the gates.

     The consequences that must follow will involve sharp reductions in Europeans’ willingness to participate in large gatherings. Despite attempts to render them visibly more secure, the Christmas markets have already suffered a decrease in patronage. I would expect other public gatherings – e.g., sporting events, political rallies, and the use of large shopping malls – to be similarly affected.

     For once, Europe will be the trend leader, though in time America will surely follow.

     Unless forcibly prevented from doing so, people respond to changes in their environments. The change introduced by Eurocrat foolishness about the Islamic influx evoked the aforementioned reduction in European participation in mass gatherings. That change will evoke further changes: to the ways Europeans work, play, and socialize.

     We may confidently expect that technology will play a part. Of course, in one way it already has: the Internet has changed the ways in which private persons worldwide communicate. We don’t send physical mail nearly as often as we once did. Neither do we spend as much time on the telephone...even though ubiquitous cell phones and cheap voice communication have been around for some time already. But more is surely coming.

     Consider the business meeting. Meetings among persons normally widely separated in space are steadily trending downward in favor of teleconferences that involve no travel. The advantages here are many, and businesses worldwide have been quick to exploit them. But until recently, there’s been little reason to replace meetings by persons who normally work on the same campus (or in the same building) with teleconferences. I predict that the drive toward reducing the frequency and size of concentrations of persons that might attract a terrorist attack will be felt there, quite soon.

     The need to congregate for work of various kinds will be less tractable, though the problems are not insuperable. Repetitive assembly-line jobs are steadily being taken over by robots; some of those that demand a human operator can be performed by a teleoperator manipulating a group of waldoes. Now that fear has been added to persons’ disincentives to commuting, we may expect these developments to accelerate.

     Capital costs and allocations will have their effects. Over the past few decades, people have become ever more expensive while inanimate capital of most sorts has become less so. Companies that contemplate expansion or large-scale renovation will look ever more favorably on approaches that prefer the inanimate to the animate: more machines and fewer (but smarter and more versatile) workers. The political impact will be considerable, but then, much of the increased cost of human workers can be blamed on political interference in the labor market.

     It’s likely that I’ve only scratched the surface here.

     The above developments will cut into the supply of terrorist targets over time. However, we cannot expect that terrorists, who have as much interest in perpetuating their influence as anyone, will retire peacefully from the field. They, too, will change their ways.

     A determined terrorist that can’t attack people with bullets or explosives will seek other ways of harming them. He’ll explore biological methods: poisons, gases, and microorganisms. If he can, he’ll attack the food supply of his intended victims. Populations that get their water from centralized sources will remain vulnerable to him. And of course, we all get our air from a common the present.

     Other forms of terrorism will become more significant. The possibility of attacks on our digitally controlled infrastructure has recently loomed large. The more of our underpinnings are held together by a common medium such as the Internet, the more havoc a clever cyberattack could conceivably wreak. Persons who’ve surrendered to the lure of the Internet of Things already have reason to fear this.

     Further decentralizations, or efforts toward them, will arise. Instead of a single Internet with billions of persons and devices on it. I predict that multiple digital mass communication paths will emerge. Some will specialize in financial transactions. Some will specialize in automation and numerical control. Others will support person-to-person communications or meetings. Where gateways from network to network are created, security will be the foremost consideration, as such linkage points would themselves be tempting targets.

     There will be peripheral consequences that no one will like. The costs of these developments will be significant; to the extent that they involve governments, they’ll be extortionate. We’ll see each other in person much less often; we’ll take less pleasure from our gatherings, especially those that involve hundreds or thousands. The capital retrenchments I foresee will displace workers, especially those with the lowest and least transferrable skills. And regardless of political developments, we’ll all feel a little less free.

     Not a pleasant outlook for the immediate future, is it? But this is the crop we’ve reaped by permitting the civilization of the First World to be penetrated by that of Islam. It should never have happened; indeed, it should never have been allowed. You cannot treat the gentleman and the savage as equals without ugly consequences.

     Perhaps as the rigors of advancing decentralization begin to chafe us and confine us ever more straitly, we’ll unlearn the folly of multiculturalism on which all the more obviously destructive follies are founded. We can only hope it will not be “a lesson too late for the learning.”

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Your Curmudgeon Has A Sad...

     ...but as the angel said to the shepherds, fear not: It’s for other people: those who are offended by the Christian nature of Christmas.

     There are at least two categories of persons whose teeth gnash at the Christian content of Christmas: left-wing activists and militant atheists. (Muslims don’t like it much either, but they constitute a separate psychosis that demands its own study.) Those two groups spend much of December in a state of barely leashed hostility toward three-quarters of America: the three-quarters that self-identifies as Christian and refuses to back away from it.

     The Left is the easier group to understand. The Left demands that all things be political – i.e., that there be no aspect of human existence that lacks a political attachment. But Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and Redeemer of Mankind, has no such attachment despite the efforts of numerous leftists to characterize the Savior as some sort of First Century social-justice-warrior.

     Worse, the Christmas season is one that promotes good will toward all men, regardless of their politics. Leftists can’t have that! The enemy must be given no rest, and no quarter. So leftists endure our Christmas celebrations in a kind of subliminal misery. It usually lifts some time around January 15.

     Militant atheists present a more troubling case. Generally, upon encountering someone who appears consumed by hatred, your Curmudgeon will try to help him. Buy him a drink or six, so he’ll relax. Get enough alcohol into such a person and he’ll eventually confess that it isn’t really the New England Patriots that offend him so, but that Tom Brady went and took Gisele Bundchen off the market. A typical day offers the man of good will many opportunities for such acts of Christian charity.

     But the militant atheist cannot be helped in such a fashion. His cause, as he’ll tell you in apocalyptic tones, is rationality. Why do people persist in such lunacy? It’s unreasonable to believe in a God scientific instruments cannot detect. It’s even less reasonable to believe that He once donned human flesh so He could sweat, suffer, and die along with the rest of us. The apostle of Reason Uber Alles will have no truck with such fantasies. You needn’t bother to show him the documentation; books have been wrong before, don’t y’know.

     None of that will change no matter how much Jack, Stoli, or Seven & Seven you lavish upon a militant atheist. It’s forbidden by his faith.

     Yes, his faith. The more amiable variety of atheist allows that while he doesn’t believe in God, he can’t prove his conviction any more than a Christian can prove his. The militant’s faith is a Church outside which there is no salvation. Either join or be condemned eternally to...uh...well, wherever theists are supposed to go, though in the absence of an afterlife there’s obviously going to be some difficulties with that.

     A militant atheist who concedes even once that he might be wrong will be read out of the tribe more surely and swiftly than an Orthodox Jew found munching a Ham & Swiss on white bread with mayo, or a Mormon caught patronizing a Starbucks.

     So your Curmudgeon has a sad for these folks. But it doesn’t last. Neither does the Christmas Octave. And while it does, it’s best to shower that good will stuff widely and indiscriminately:

  • Don’t say “Happy Holidays;” say Merry Christmas!
  • Keep it up until at least the Feast of the Epiphany (Orthodox Christians call this the Theophany), which is at the foundation of the Christmas gift-giving tradition.
  • Wish everyone, however sour-faced, a Happy New Year.
  • And always add “May God bless and keep you and those you love.”

     It’s the Christian thing to do.

     (Yes, it’s hard to be properly Curmudgeonly at this time of year.)

How It Happened

     And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
     (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
     And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
     And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
     To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
     And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
     And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
     And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
     And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
     And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
     For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
     And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
     And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
     Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
     And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
     And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
     And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
     And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
     But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
     And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

     [Luke 2:1-20]

     Merry Christmas, Gentle Readers. May God bless and keep you all.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Seasonal Reminder

     These past few decades the U.S. has had some good years, some unfortunate years, and quite a few that were mixed. We’ve seen Washington make some pretty poor decisions, especially when legislators and executives have a few bucks to squander, have had a bit too much wassail, and the next election is far away. But we have a history of ultimately getting things right, especially on those special days when children’s eyes are bright with anticipation and no one can sleep for excitement over the morning to come.

     Like Christmas:

     That’s right, baddies of the world. Americans did that. We’ll do it again if we must. Think before you leap.

An Opportunity

     Quickly, before it gets away:

     Grab a copy of this extremely important book while it’s only $2.00 at Amazon. The author’s videos about never talking to the police, especially if one is innocent, have already created a firestorm. I expect that this longer treatment of the hazards involved in innocent disclosures to the police will be even more stimulative.

U.S. policy in Syria.

You see, the US strategic goal in Syria is not as your faithful mainstream media servants (led by that redoubtable channeler of Neo-Con smokescreens at the NYT Michael Gordon) might have you believe to save the Syrian people from the ravages of the long-standing Assad dictatorship, but rather to heighten the level of internecine conflict in that country to the point where it will not be able to serve as a bulwark against Israeli regional hegemony for at least another generation.

How do we know? Because important protagonists in the Israelo-American policy planning elite have advertised the fact with a surprising degree of clarity in documents and public statements issued over the last several decades.

"US Caught Faking It in Syria." By Thomas S. Harrington, CounterPunch, 10/12/15.

Friday, December 23, 2016

One Last Tirade Before Christmas

     I know, I know: I never manage to remain silent for that long. Well, it’s not for lack of the intention.

     I’d like to entertain a thought here in public: a thesis not yet completely formed, but which has both considerable appeal and an aura of danger about it. I first touched on it more than two years ago:

     The existence of a monopoly doesn't mean that there's no other source for the thing monopolized; it merely means that the monopolist has been granted the exclusive privilege of providing that thing legally, backed by State law and State other words, by State violence. Indeed, all monopolies are monopolies on violence. In particular, a State that isn't conceded a monopoly on the presumptively legitimate use of violence is merely one of two or more contenders for power in a civil war.

     As I contemplate that passage today, it strikes me that there’s an application to our current political turmoil –sorry, it didn’t end with the election; just ask Ivanka Trump – that deserves to be explored. Indeed, I think it must be explored at once, and not just by me.

     I’ve noted before that when I write I’m often talking to myself, for my own benefit, about the subject of the piece I’m writing. That’s as true when I write fiction as at any other time. For an illustration, here’s a snippet from On Broken Wings:

     Tiny looked up as the door to the interrogation room opened. A tall, slender man in a close-fitting pinstriped suit strolled in. The badge that dangled from the breast pocket of his suitjacket bore the insignia of a captain.
     "Well, hello there, Mr. -- Tiny?"
     Tiny glared up at the policeman. "Hello to you too, Captain. Do please excuse me for not getting up and shaking hands."
     The policeman chuckled and waved it off. "Don't apologize, my good man. I've been in your circumstances and I understand the difficulties."
     "Oh, you do? Well, unless you plan to murder me outright and dispose of my body, do you understand the kind of shitstorm that's going to hit this place when the D.A. hears that you've kept me down here for six hours, without benefit of counsel, in handcuffs and leg irons, for running a red light?"
     The police captain smiled. "Ah, but will he still feel the same after he's heard about your failure to yield the right of way?"
     Tiny glowered but said nothing. The policeman pulled out the chair opposite his, turned it around and dropped into it in pulp-fiction detective style, leaning forward against its backrest. He seemed pleased with himself. "Local legend puts your bunch's headquarters at the old World War Two muster barracks in Woodlawn."
     "That's not much of a secret. We're there a lot. No one else wants the place."
     "I'm sure you've helped that along in little ways. But it's not your domestic arrangements I've come to talk about. My name's Magruder, by the way."
     Tiny waited.
     "I've been putting together a little program for the troubled youth of our precinct, you see, and it seemed to me that you and yours might want to apply for places in it."
     Tiny guffawed. "Have you been down in the controlled-substances evidence room alone, Captain?"
     "Oh, I admit we have to stretch the common understanding of 'youth' a trifle to make room for some of the participants. But this program makes such contortions worth everyone's while. It's a real departure from previous practice." Magruder's smile brightened. "You see, it springs from a new understanding we've come to here in Onteora, about the crucial difference between being a criminal and being in trouble with the police, and how the one need not necessarily lead to the other."
     Tiny was immediately alert.
     It's Smalley's racket. They're going to start Smalley's racket right here!
     The policeman rose from his chair, squatted down next to Tiny, and set about unlocking the shackles around Tiny's wrists and ankles. The Butcher chieftain watched him warily, but made no movement. When he'd finished, Magruder returned to his seat and dropped the irons on the table before him. They made quite a pile of steel.
     "Manacles have more than one function. In some situations, they protect a policeman from a miscreant he's just apprehended. In others, they emphasize the power of the police to do whatever they want to those who've come under their scrutiny. Which of the two functions do you suppose was intended here, Tiny?"
     Tiny said nothing.
     "In just a few weeks, Onteora's, ah, boisterous class will have been divided into two elements. The first of those will have police guidance, and police assistance through many of life's more troubling moments. The second will be the object of a campaign of elimination, in which the first will be expected to take an active part. The price of being in the first category rather than the second is quite modest, considering the worlds that it will open up to you. So where would you rather be?"
     "Captain Magruder," Tiny said conversationally, "have you spoken to Commander Eric Smalley of Buffalo District G lately? I mean, personally?"
     The policeman's eyes went wide.
     "You might want to drop him a call. Be sure to mention my name. And afterward, we can skip all the snake-oil patter and get down to rates and areas of immunity. Because I know your little scheme better than you do. I helped Smalley perfect it."
     Magruder sat a moment in silence, then rose and went from the room without another word. As the door closed behind the police captain, Tiny called out, "Send him my regards, would you please?"

     I wrote that more than twenty years ago. What “Smalley’s racket” refers to is another police commander’s offer of predation licenses to selected criminals and criminal groups. Simply pay the commander an agreed-upon amount every month, and he’ll cheerfully look the other way as you plunder the law-abiding. To make your license even more valuable, he’ll crack down extra-hard on your unlicensed competitors.

     This possibility is inherent in the State’s monopoly on violence. Moreover, it applies in a particularly striking manner to offenses committed for political reasons.

     Consider Kristallnacht.

     Today, for reasons any regular reader of Liberty’s Torch will already be familiar with, certain groups possess a de facto immunity to prosecution or other forms of correction for certain offenses against others. Indeed, anyone who tries to obtain redress against a member of such a protected group will usually suffer for doing so.

     We’ve seen the “Black Lives Matter” thugs get away with everything but outright murder. We’ve seen Muslims get away with blatantly privatizing a public street for their “prayers.” We’ve seen left-liberals harass and assault conservatives, especially conservative speakers, without regard for the consequences...of which there have usually been none.

     Consider this famous incident from April 13, 1985 at Northwestern University:

     Adolfo Calero, a leader of the contras, was scheduled to speak at Harris Hall. Outside and inside the building, demonstrators were shouting and chanting their protests at Calero's very presence on campus.

     About 10 minutes before Calero was to speak, Barbara Foley, an assistant professor of English and American culture, walked up to the microphone on the stage and said: "This monster that they're bringing here tonight is not a human being. . . . He had no respect for the free speech, much less the right to live, of the people that he slaughtered . . . with the backing of the CIA. He has no right to speak tonight, and we are not going to let him speak. He should feel lucky to get out of here alive."

     When Calero arrived, someone -- not Foley -- threw red paint on him, and the roars of rage directed at him were so overpowering that he was unable to give his talk.

     Of those who disrupted the event and assaulted Calero, only Foley was penalized in any fashion...and all that happened to her was that she was denied tenure.

     Try to imagine a situation of this sort with the ideologies reversed: i.e., a left-liberal spokesman being harassed and assaulted by conservative activists to prevent him from giving a public talk. Is it plausible that the relevant authorities would have treated the offenders so gently? Doesn’t this imply that a license of sorts has been granted to the Left by the monopoly power on violence?

     Inasmuch as it’s common for prominent conservatives and Republicans to be treated as Adolfo Calero was treated, and for the perpetrators to suffer no adverse consequences, the matter is of some importance.

     The Ivanka Trump / Jet Blue incident makes it plain that the Left will use its de facto license to harass and wound its ideological opponents all the way to its limits:

  • Against Republican officeholders;
  • Against conservative activists;
  • Against the families and friends of the above categories;
  • And against their identifiable supporters.

     Any private persons who attempt to intervene to enforce the norms of public order and civility will be blamed for all of it.

     In particular instances the relevant authority might accede to the license only reluctantly. It might have every good intention, but lack the resolve required to act. The results are what matter: we on the Right will be “progressively” intimidated out of allowing ourselves to be known and heard.

     Sarah Hoyt has written about this dynamic:

     My first encounter with what I’ll call the Gigio effect, was in a mailing list for writers, where I dared question the insanity of a well-respected pro who said that George Bush (personally) had raised the price of stamps to ruin her (personally) in her efforts to sell used books through Amazon.

     There are levels of insanity I can’t tolerate and couldn’t even while in the political closet. So I pointed out the sheer insanity of this, the inefficiencies of the post office and probable causes for it.

     The list went silent. I figured tons of people were cussing me behind my back (this was when GB’s name was after all like invoking the devil.)

     So, I shrugged, figured I’d be kicked out of the list and went for a walk. When I came back my email was full of “Oh, thank you, for saying…” ALL OF IT IN PRIVATE MESSAGES.

     The senders ranged from raw beginners to established pros, but no one would challenge this lady’s illusions to her face. Only me.

     So how did the private messages make me feel? They made me roll my eyes.

     I swear 2/3 of the list PMed me to say they stood with me, but in public, not a peep. They were all so scared, you see, of the imagined disapproval of “all the rest of them.”

     Later in the same essay:

     I can’t push you and I won’t. If you want to keep your opinions — left, right, moderate, libertarian, anarchist — hidden, it’s your job. I am not the keeper of your soul.

     However, I want you to think of the dark and dank place that fear and that suspicion and the constant spying lead.

     And then I want you to think of how good it would feel to get off your knees, stand on two feet, look your tormentors in the face and say “No more. I’m free. My thoughts and my opinions, my beliefs, my tastes, my friends are my own. You have no power over me. Not now, and not ever again.”

     Inspiring stuff...but how many on the Right, aware that the Left possesses that de facto license to damage its political adversaries and is more confident than ever about it, will stand up and be counted? Especially considering that significant portions of our 88,000-plus governments are allied with the Left and will lend it whatever power they possess?

     We’re a few weeks from composing our tax returns. Think about it then.

The stupidity of liberals.

In our time, there has taken place, is taking place, an Islamic awakening. Of 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, hundreds of millions accept strict sharia law about how to deal with apostasy and infidels.

Scores of millions in the Middle East wish to drive the West out of their world. Thousands are willing to depart and come to Europe to terrorize our societies. They see themselves at war with us, as their ancestors were at war with the Christian world for 1,000 years.

Only liberal ideology calls for America and Europe to bring into their home countries endless numbers of migrants, without being overly concerned about who they are, whence they come or what they believe.

Right-wing and anti-immigrant parties are succeeding in Europe for a simple reason. Mainstream parties are failing in the first duty of government — to protect the safety and security of the people.[1]

It's not just ordinary stupidity. It's stupidity that penetrates to liberals' bones, into the marrow of their bones, into their DNA.

John Kennedy said "Domestic policy can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us." Foreign policy is the policy that we devise to deal with foreigners. Historically, foreigners have been kept outside the borders of any sane nation but Western nations have imported foreigners in such numbers that our domestic policies are really aspects of what was before considered foreign policy. In short, our asinine liberal "domestic" mistakes will not defeat us; they threaten our existence.

Instead of making arms'-length dealing; healthy skepticism and suspicion; security; and exclusion the keystones of foreign policy, now Westerners make equality, inclusion, and giddy, uncritical, ahistorical thinking the keystones of our foreign policy but call it "domestic policy." The ultra-left, elitist, moron, ruling, Treason Class do, anyway. So they yammer and connive and betray to welcome the honor killers, the apostate killers, the genital mutilators, the false-wearing shariah lovers, the no-go zone builders, the sex groomers, the rapists, the parasites, the walking demographic shock troops, and the terrorists and shout "Brothers and sisters! We are ripe for the picking. Here are love and acceptance and no fury at your arrogance and primitive, evil, destructive ways."

[1] "Europe’s Future — Merkel or Le Pen?" By Patrick J. Buchanan, 12/22/16 (emphasis added).

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Book Review: The Hidden Truth by Hans G. Schantz

The Hidden Truth by (Dr.) Hans G. Schantz

Since this engaging and intelligent book reconnected me with the estimable Francis W. Porretto (through his own review of it) I think it appropriate to post a review here. The book also has a great deal to do with liberty, and there's the very title of this site, so it's all a nice confluence, indeed.

Then again, this is a review and not just a bunch of happy horse manure, so, to the book!

Dr. Schantz's published works before The Hidden Truth consisted of The Art and Science of Ultrawideband Antennas and The Biographies of John C. Fremont. I'm always interested in minds that can make such connections. The book under review here is fiction, but with a large dose of the real history of science, the real workings of computer networks and computer privacy, and "red pill" advice on the psychology of the real human female.

It features the kind of plot and twists that might be ruined by a reviewer revealing too much, but I will say that if you enjoy "alternative histories" you'll probably enjoy this one; alternative futures are of course a staple of science fiction, and that may be another way to describe the background of the book.

Our protagonist is the kind of 16-year-old boy that any father would be proud of, and indeed his mother and father are the kind of parents any son would be proud of; however, they're living in a world very much like ours, except that honor, virtue and truth have become devalued by the culture, and the US government is out of control and running roughshod...wait; this is a world very much like ours.

At any rate, this young man's odyssey of learning science and math, learning about the "real" world and fighting shadowy conspiratorial forces and shadowy secret agents makes for an entertaining and educational read, in the best sense of the words. The author is not quite yet a "complete" writer of fiction, but delivers a very good first novel. One can even see his skills improving in the course of the book; the opening sequence is a bit slow and dry, but don't let that stop you--the book as a whole is very good.

The author has stated that he plans to write sequels if sales of The Hidden Truth are satisfactory; I certainly hope they are, and he does. The end of the book is just the "End of the Beginning."

In an extended "About the Author" that also serves as an afterword, Schantz mentions a number of inspirations and related works, including Robert Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy. I made a connection in my own mind to Heinlein's Have Space Suit, Will Travel. The reader likes these boys/young men. He'd like his daughters to date them--as long as they didn't put said daughters in too much danger. Well, danger comes to those do something in the world.

The Hidden Truth is trying to do something in the world, and it entertains at the same time. I'd like to talk to you about its ideas, and recommend it.

Early Morning Thoughts

     Blame what follows on the winter solstice. Or the Tropic of Capricorn, whichever irks you more.

     You never know from what direction something will come that will change your life.

     I have a personal fascination with old things that endure. Old homes, old books, old music, old institutions. It’s not a worship of age for age’s sake, but of quality that survives through time. In a world where one of the more popular disdainful dismissals is “That’s so five minutes ago,” old things that proclaim some timeless verity while refusing to blush about their years stand out powerfully – and well above the madding crowd, at that.

     Just this morning, longtime reader Cindi emailed me a link to a site she thought I would enjoy. She was correct about that. The proprietor appears to delight in many of the things I find most appealing. Along with that, he’s a fan of one of my favorite contemporary Catholic writers, the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.

     Here’s one of the snippets I found there – one that, despite my voracious consumption of prose, I’d never before encountered:

     If I were not a Catholic, and were looking for the true Church in the world today, I would look for the one Church which did not get along well with the world; in other words, I would look for the Church which the world hates. My reason for doing this would be, that if Christ is in any one of the churches of the world today, He must still be hated as He was when He was on earth in the flesh. If you would find Christ today, then find the Church that does not get along with the world. Look for the Church that is hated by the world, as Christ was hated by the world. Look for the Church which is accused of being behind the times, as Our Lord was accused of being ignorant and never having learned. Look for the Church which men sneer at as socially inferior, as they sneered at Our Lord because He came from Nazareth. Look for the Church which is accused of having a devil, as Our Lord was accused of being possessed by Beelzebub, the Prince of Devils. Look for the Church which the world rejects because it claims it is infallible, as Pilate rejected Christ because he called Himself the Truth. Look for the Church which amid the confusion of conflicting opinions, its members love as they love Christ, and respect its voice as the very voice of its Founder, and the suspicion will grow, that if the Church is unpopular with the spirit of the world, then it is unworldly, and if it is unworldly, it is other-worldly. Since it is other-worldly, it is infinitely loved and infinitely hated as was Christ Himself. – Fulton J. Sheen

     Words fail me – and when a writer says that, you should take it seriously.

     Robert Louis Stevenson has told us that “The world is so full of a number of things / That we should all be as happy as kings.” Indeed, happiness is the desired end state of Man, for which we strive for its own sake, no other reason. But happiness in this life is always temporary and conditional. The pleasures of temporal existence fade with time. The delight we take in new possessions passes as we become accustomed to their presence. Every enjoyment erodes as it acquires a habitual position in our lives.

     Moreover, our social nature tends to press certain unpleasant facts upon us. There’s always someone wealthier, handsomer, more admired, married to a more beautiful and loving woman. There’s always someone whose wretchedness reminds us that “time and chance happeneth to us all” – that no matter how high our estate has risen, we might yet fall. And of course, temporal existence involves work: insistent, persistent demands that we set aside what we’d like to do in favor of what we must do.

     Some persons find refuge from their cares in elective oblivion: e.g., drink or drugs. But these are not routes to happiness; to escape is not to succeed.

     Temporal happiness is fleeting. As Nachiketa says to Yama, the God of Death, “these things endure only until tomorrow:”

     Nachiketa said: There is this doubt about a man when he is dead: Some say that he exists; others, that he does not. This I should like to know, taught by you. This is the third of my boons....

     Yama said: Choose sons and grandsons who shall live a hundred years; choose elephants, horses, herds of cattle and gold. Choose a vast domain on earth; live here as many years as you desires. If you deem any other boon equal to that, choose it; choose wealth and a long life. Be the king, O Nachiketa, of the wide earth. I will make you the enjoyer of all desires. Whatever desires are difficult to satisfy in this world of mortals, choose them as you wish: these fair maidens, with their chariots and musical instruments — men cannot obtain them. I give them to you and they shall wait upon you. But do not ask me about death.

     Nachiketa said: But, O Death, these endure only till tomorrow. Furthermore, they exhaust the vigour of all the sense organs. Even the longest life is short indeed. Keep your horses, dances and songs for yourself....Tell me, O Death, of that Great Hereafter about which a man has his doubts.

     Even the longest life is short indeed. What better reason is there for Man’s unending search for That Which Endures Eternally?

     Of course, it’s an old person saying this, so perhaps you should take it cum grano salis. (Of course I like Latin. It’s old!)

     One of my fellow parishioners regularly totes a beautiful volume to Mass: this one, first published in 1954. She told me it had been one of her grandmother’s treasures, which I could easily believe from its battered binding. By dint of careful investigation and tireless inquiry – all right, yes, I went to Amazon – I found a copy for myself.

     This book of prayers, venerable and modern, is a storehouse of inspiration. It provides devotional and inspirational entries for each of the three phases of the day and for the many notable occasions of the liturgical calendar. I cannot recommend it too highly.

     When I told my fellow communicant that I’d found a copy for myself, I complimented her on having preserved a worthy old book against the ravages of time. She smiled and said, “Oh, this isn’t my grandma’s. That one fell apart. I bought this one about three years ago.” That’ll learn me.

     Christmas, of course, isn’t an anniversary but a commemoration. The consensus from those writings that have endured is that Jesus was born sometime in the early spring. Nevertheless, the Church planted the Feast of the Nativity where it did for sound reasons.

     History records several celebrations regularly held at this time of year. The one of most interest to the early Church was Saturnalia, a sort of memorial gustatory festival in commemoration of the reign of Saturn (a.k.a. Cronus), king of the Titans, the elder gods who begat Jupiter and his brethren of the younger Roman pantheon.

     As the Roman Empire turned Christian, the Church found it expedient – call it a marketing decision – to position its feast days at or near the dates of those of the traditional Roman creed. The rationale was simple: replace the feasts of the older creed with the newer one, so that the converted could continue their traditional celebrations with a new, Church approved reason.

     However, this time of year is significant for another reason: the winter solstice, the day of shortest sunlight. The earliest recorded celebrations were actually petitions for the return of the Sun, accompanied by ritual sacrifices to propitiate the gods and persuade them to grant Man renewed light in a new year.

     In that connection, ponder this verse from my favorite Christmas hymn:

     A thrill of hope,
     The weary world rejoices,
     For yonder breaks
     A new and glorious morn.

     Not a bad parallel between the return of the Sun and the birth of the Son of God, eh what?

     In the Desiderata, we are counseled to “as far as possible without surrender, be on good terms with all men.” It’s good advice, provided we remember the condition: without surrender.

     That condition was much on my mind when I wrote the “Politicata:”

* * *

GO PLACIDLY AMONG THE LAWS AND RED TAPE AND RECOVER WHAT privacy there may be in silence. As far as possible be in compliance with all zoning ordinances. Speak softly but firmly, even to the editors of village weeklies; they too have their readers. Avoid local environmental activists; they are vexations to the spirit.

If you logroll with others, you may become enmeshed, for always there will be both shorter and longer memories than yours. Annotate your memoranda as well as your dossiers. Keep interested in your legislative aides, however humble; they are a real asset in the shifting alliances of time.

Exercise prudence in securing your file and desk drawers, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what opportunity there is; many "good" leaks are possible, and everywhere life is full of "usually reliable sources."

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign liberalism. Neither be cynical about conservatism, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. Fade gently over the years, gracefully surrendering the porkier subsidies.

Nurture savings to shield you from sudden electoral reversals, but do not overload yourself with "unallocated contingency funds." Many scandals are born of accelerating bank balances. Beyond a healthy nest egg, partake not from the lobbyists.

You are a child of the Founding Fathers of Our Country, no less than the Proxmires and Kennedys; you have privileges to be here. And whether or not your security classification allows you to check for yourself, no doubt the Engine of State is chugging along as it should. Therefore, be at peace with the FBI, the CIA, the DIS, the DEA, and most especially the IRS, whatever you conceive Them to be, and whatever your ideology or special-interest group, in the noisy confusion of Special Investigating Committees keep faith with your lawyer and accountant. With all its Ruhollah Khomeinis, its Muammar Qaddafis and its Adnan Khashoggis, it is still a beautiful political system. Get elected. Get reelected. Don't get mad, get even.

(copyright (C) 1989 Francis W. Porretto)

* * *

     And with that, I’m off to Mass.