Sunday, February 18, 2018

Articles Of Faith: A Slightly Skewed Sunday Rumination

     Well, here we are in the season of Lent: the time of anticipation and preparation for the commemoration of the Passion of Our Lord and the celebration of His Resurrection and Ascension. It’s the most portentous of all the portions of the liturgical calendar, and it receives concomitant seriousness from Christians worldwide. The Church counsels us to pray, to fast, to do penance, and to perform works of charity as steps toward a greater, purer love of God and our fellow men. Some Christians actually do all that. The rest go through the motions.

     I’ve begun to wonder about some of my fellow Catholics, though. They don’t appear to have gotten the point. Some of them seem more devoted to a secular faith than to the Gospels of Jesus Christ. Moreover, that secular credo has some pretty ugly tenets.

     I must repeat a point I’ve made before about the partition of human knowledge, convictions, and beliefs. That partition is vital to discriminating among propositions, to assessing them for reliability, and to deciding which ones will command your allegiance.

  • Propositions that can be proved or disproved: Mathematics.
  • Propositions that can be disproved but not proved: Science.
  • Propositions that can neither be proved nor disproved: Faith.

     Science, the most important of the categories above in the secular context, deals solely in propositions that can be disproved by the results of adequately designed, honestly performed experiments. It doesn’t matter whether a proposition – Let’s call it X, to save a few keystrokes – is about natural or supernatural things. To qualify as a scientific thesis, it must be possible:

  1. To use X to predict some result arising from a relevant, well defined context;
  2. To design an experiment that will test that prediction;
  3. If the result does not arise from the experimental context, X must be rejected as disproved.

     Most scientific theses can be tested many ways, with many different experimental designs. All such experiments can and should be performed...until one of them fails to deliver the predicted result. At that point, X must be rejected as disproved.

     Mind you, endless experiments that deliver the predicted results do not “prove” X. There’s always the possibility that more sophisticated experiments, possibly founded on improved measurement technologies, would fail to produce the predicted result. Thus, a scientific proposition like X can never be proved, though we may gain confidence in it over time. However, if X cannot be disproved, it is not science.

     To pledge oneself to a proposition that can neither be proved nor disproved is to acquire an article of faith.

     I’ve had a few unpleasant encounters with persons whose articles of faith include some very contentious propositions:

  • That Donald J. Trump is an evil man;
  • That he stole the presidency from Hillary Clinton;
  • That his policies are intended to harm America and Americans;
  • That he’s secretly an agent of a foreign power, specifically Putin’s Russia;

     In no case has any of those persons been able to produce evidence for his contentions. They have opinions, nothing more. To put it gently, none of them are interested in using their faith to predict what President Trump will do or what effects his policy preferences, if enacted by Congress, will have. Their beliefs are absolute; dare to disagree with them and they become contemptuous to the extent of condemning the dissident.

     As I have little interest in attacking anyone’s religion, I normally refrain from engaging them when they start to spout off. But I admit I’ve been tempted to ask, gently and most mellifluously, “When did you cease to be a Christian and embrace this new faith?”

     Our faith tells us to leave such judgments to God. Christ said so Himself:

     Judge not, that you may not be judged, For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why seest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye; and seest not the beam that is in thy own eye? Or how sayest thou to thy brother: Let me cast the mote out of thy eye; and behold a beam is in thy own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam in thy own eye, and then shalt thou see to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. [Matthew 7:1-5]

     But let’s grant the holder of this new faith some provisional respect. Let’s imagine that he can predict Trump’s behavior and the consequences that would flow from it, and that his prediction proves to be correct. It wouldn’t “prove” that President Trump is evil, an electoral thief, or a secret Russian agent. After all, he could have meant well, done the best he knew, and merely been wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time a president has erred.

     One of the absolute requirements of anyone who claims to deal in knowledge is humility: humility before the data, to be sure, but also and always humility about one’s own fallibility. There’s always more than one possible explanation for a given event. Newton and Einstein made mistakes, too.

     I could cite many articles of faith people have embraced for reasons that have nothing to do with the available evidence. I’ve written about many of them here. I doubt it’s necessary to enumerate the occasions. But I keep coming back to the willingness, shared by so many Americans, to believe something for which there’s no evidence, simply because they want to believe it...and perhaps because it makes them feel superior to someone else.

     I get a huge giggle out of persons who style themselves “rationalists” but attack me for my Christian faith and Catholic allegiance. Can they produce evidence that the Gospels are fictional – that the events in them did not take place? They cannot. All they can do is sneer at them as “implausible.” Neither can they point to any statement by the Redeemer to which they could take exception on moral or ethical grounds. But it’s plain that feeling superior to me and other Christian believers is an important element of their self-images, so I refrain from embarrassing them.

     I’ve begun to wonder if the emotional demands of those who condemn without knowledge are of the same kind. I’ve also wondered, in the case of the imperiously judgmental Christians I’ve encountered, if they give any thought to Christ’s exhortation to forgiveness: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

     Our Lenten preparations might be well augmented by making time to think about forgiveness: of those who have harmed us, certainly, but also of those we have judged, whether on the weight of evidence or out of personal pique. Christ Himself forgave His executioners as He suffered on the cross. Ought we not to allow the same to those we disapprove from a distance?

     May God bless and keep you all.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The NRA is NOT the Enemy - Except in Progressive Minds

We often hear of the obscene amount of money that the NRA pumps into elections to force legislators to support its point of view on guns. Not so.
Between 1998 and 2017, the NRA spent $200 million on all political activities.  Ladies and gentlemen, that is 19 years, 20 years.  In 20 years, the NRA spent $200 million.  In 2016, alone, unions spent $1.7 billion on policy.  The NRA is not a major donor, and they are not running around with politicians in their back pockets.  The NRA is one of the largest special interest groups that has millions and millions of real American citizens as its members.  Not members of Congress.  Not the Senate. Not the House.
 Those unions, BTW, are using money FORCIBLY TAKEN from its members - who often are NOT given a choice about joining. So, how come we don't hear about the unions buying politicians?

They Have Sown The Wind

     There are days when the stupidity of so many strikes me as profound beyond comprehension.

     Andrew Klavan, whose talent for opinion-editorial eclipses even his considerable gifts as a novelist, has written a brilliant, angry article that addresses the cultural prerequisites for the sort of violence and destructive deviances that beset America today. A brief snippet to whet your appetites:

     It was after a school shooting near Spokane last September that Spokane Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich addressed a clutch of reporters:
     When I was in high school, every one of those rigs in the high school parking lot had a gun in the gun rack. Why? We went hunting on the way home. None of those guns ever walked into a school, none of those guns ever shot anybody... Did the gun change or did you as a society change? I'll give you odds it was you as a society. Because you started glorifying cultures of violence. You glorified the gang culture, you glorified games that actually gave you points for raping and killing people. The gun didn't change, we changed.

     It seems clear to me the sheriff was speaking about rap music with its hateful, violent and misogynistic lyrics, and video games like Grand Theft Auto, where you can have sex with a prostitute then strangle her or pull an innocent person out of a car, beat him, then steal his vehicle.

     Please, please read the whole thing. You’ll thank me.

     Many persons’ conceptions of peace and order are hazy. Worse, they’re qualified by preferences they dare not express aloud. “Peace and order are all very well,” they might say, “but you must reckon with the nature of Man. If there is to be violence, what will suffice to extinguish it except even greater violence? And order is always maintained by the threat of violence. thus to maintain the peace and order you seek, you must empower men of violence as its guardians: professional thugs, tasked with intimidating the rest of us. How can the asymmetry in power be rationalized – or controlled?” Then comes the invocation of Juvenal: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

     It’s legitimate to ask how we might keep the enforcers of peace and order within their prescribed bounds. The question has no provably correct answer. But it’s quite another thing to dismiss the concept of enforcement, simply because the question hasn’t yet been definitively answered. And yes, you’re hearing this from an inveterate theorist and explorer of anarchism.

     I must express a fundamental insight which, sad to say, many advocates of anarchism have refused to acknowledge, so that no one can henceforward claim that I would deny it:

Wherever and whenever men use force or intimidation to bring about a preferred state of affairs, in that place and time there is a governing authority: in other words, a State.

     Lysander Spooner alluded to it in one of his better known statements:

     The fact is that the government, like a highwayman, says to a man: “Your money, or your life.” And many, if not most, taxes are paid under the compulsion of that threat.

     The government does not, indeed, waylay a man in a lonely place, spring upon him from the roadside, and, holding a pistol to his head, proceed to rifle his pockets. But the robbery is none the less a robbery on that account; and it is far more dastardly and shameful.

     Yes, Spooner expressed a moral distinction in favor of the highwayman:

     The highwayman takes solely upon himself the responsibility, danger, and crime of his own act. He does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit. He does not pretend to be anything but a robber. He has not acquired impudence enough to profess to be merely a “protector,” and that he takes men’s money against their will, merely to enable him to “protect” those infatuated travellers, who feel perfectly able to protect themselves, or do not appreciate his peculiar system of protection. He is too sensible a man to make such professions as these. Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you, as you wish him to do. He does not persist in following you on the road, against your will; assuming to be your rightful “sovereign,” on account of the “protection” he affords you. He does not keep “protecting” you, by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that; by robbing you of more money as often as he finds it for his interest or pleasure to do so; and by branding you as a rebel, a traitor, and an enemy to your country, and shooting you down without mercy, if you dispute his authority, or resist his demands. He is too much of a gentleman to be guilty of such impostures, and insults, and villainies as these. In short, he does not, in addition to robbing you, attempt to make you either his dupe or his slave.

     However, that fails to erase the deep commonality between an armed robber and a State in action. Both enforce their preferences at gunpoint – and so it shall always be, as long as men object strenuously enough to any particular category of behavior among their fellows.

     There are categories of behavior to which there exists a strenuous, near-unanimous opposition: what Milton Friedman called “an essential consensus.” Murder. Rape. Assault. Robbery. Fraud. Trespass. Several varieties of abuse of the helpless and the defenseless. But near-unanimous is not unanimous; otherwise, there would be no need – or demand – for laws and their enforcement.

     There are other categories of behavior that excite widespread revulsion, but of a qualitatively different sort: Adultery. Homosexuality. Prostitution and frequenting prostitutes. Rampant intoxication and the drugs that cause it. However, that revulsion is not wide enough to suppress those things by force. For one thing, there are many who object that they harm only those who consent to them. For another, the number of practitioners is large enough that many who are revulsed are closely related to one or more, and would shield them from the law. This has become especially plain as regards drug abuse.

     The countermeasure to those sins is social disapprobation of varying degrees. At one extreme, the transgressor is completely ostracized; at the other, he might suffer only a dubious reputation, limiting his opportunities socially and occupationally. There are gradations between those two poles. Though it might seem insufficient to a virulent opponent of some particular behavior, there are many cases in which a forcible “cure” would be worse than the “disease.” In some instances, the attempt to repress by force of law would actually amplify the problem. In others, the use of law and force would abrade the protections of fundamental rights. A society that recognizes such failings must make disapprobation of the appropriate intensity serve the need. It must not trouble itself about its inability to expunge all turpitude completely, so long as public peace and order are adequately maintained.

     Western society has forgotten most of the above. In the matter of degeneracies and depravities that are insusceptible to legal enforcement, the amnesia is near to total.

     Time was, we all knew the rules. Some didn't like them, but they understood that some rules are necessary to maintain a semblance of peace and order. More, they understood that there would be consequences for violating them. As they disliked the consequences even more than the rules, they remained within them, overtly at least.

     For a time, public peace and order were maintained. Though many committed covert violations of the rules, even the violators taught the rules to their progeny and prescribed conformance to them. To some, this constituted “hypocrisy.” Others, aware that “the flesh is weak,” deemed it unavoidable.

     But the rules were not allowed to remain in force. Neither were their supporters sufficiently eloquent or energized in their defense.

     First the consequences were softened. Sometimes that which had been outlawed became tolerated, at least de facto. In cases where a behavior was legal but shunned, the violator’s deed was shrugged aside. “Everyone does it.” “No big deal.” “He’s living with it; why can’t we?” As both the penalties and the stigmata for being caught in violation of the rules faded, more and more persons indulged themselves more and more openly. They discovered the peculiar pleasures and rewards of “rebellion.” Public peace and order began to fail.

     Presently, parents found that they could no longer impress the importance of respecting the rules on their children. Of course not! The kids’ classroom instructors undermined their parents every day of the school year. More, popular entertainment depicted the rules being violated openly and merrily wherever they looked. How could something so open and popular be “wrong?”

     The idea that there were rules, or that there should be rules, faded and was gone. So was every concept of public order, appropriateness, and common decency.

     We should have known better. We probably did.


Friday, February 16, 2018

The Decent Thing

     I, the galactically renowned Curmudgeon Emeritus to the World Wide Web, have written feelingly and forcefully about the true meaning of decency. Indeed, I did so just last week. And inasmuch as I’m the apotheosis of intellectual penetration, wholesome values, and contextual appropriateness in commentary, the natural conclusion would be that the rest of the Commentariat would immediately take my sentiments to heart and strive to find the decent thing to say in the wake of a tragic event such as the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

     Apparently, that isn’t the case.

     The left side of the opinion-editorial world immediately sought to blame the atrocity on:

  • Guns;
  • The National Rifle Association;
  • The Republican Party.

     Perhaps that was predictable. The Left has completely jettisoned the concept of decency. It has only political aims. To speak or act in deference to the personal considerations of those affected by an event is alien to them. All that matters is dragging public opinion toward their agenda.

     But wait: there’s more! Commentators on the Right, both high and low, have succumbed to the temptation to counter-politicize the atrocity: specifically, to expend their column-inches, air time, and pixel counts on counter-arguments and refutations of the Left’s refutable claims.

     Utterly indecent. No doubt the temptation the Left presented by its leap to politicization was difficult to resist. Nevertheless, it should have been resisted.

     Well, one must be grateful for small favors. At least the matter provides me with a “test bed” in which to demonstrate decency and indecency in the treatment of a horrifying event.

     A nineteen year old plotted to take many lives. He equipped himself for the task, went to where it would be convenient to act, and killed without compunction for awhile. Then he fled and remained at large for a brief time, until the police apprehended him.

     Children had died. Families had been sundered. A peaceable community had been put on notice that its most vulnerable members were anything but safe. Immediately thereafter, opinion-mongers set to their self-appointed tasks of politicization.

     But what would have been decent? How about some restraint? How about news reports confined to a recitation of the known facts, as I did in the first paragraph of this segment? If opinion-editorialists must say something about the slaughter, how about offering their prayers, sympathies, and material assistance to the victims and their families? In earlier decades of the Republic, that would have been considered the decent thing to say. Indeed, nothing beyond that would have been tolerated. Political exploitation of the suffering and sorrows of innocent persons would have been recognized immediately as indecent.

     Do you remember the Challenger disaster? Do you remember how the media handled it? In the immediate aftermath, even persons on the extremes of the political spectrum restrained themselves. Even commentators desperate for material with which to attack the Reagan Administration managed not to orate on the subject, though in later weeks we learned about the several snafus that led more or less predictably to the loss of the space shuttle and the seven lives aboard it. It was a demonstration of decency, and it wasn’t that long ago.

     There’s a huge gulf between the treatment of that tragedy and the treatment of the Parkland massacre. It implies a transformation-in-kind of our public discourse, and not one of which we should be proud.

     I could go on about this for thousands of words. I shan’t; my point is one about which it’s unnecessary to go on at length, at least if my Gentle Readers have a shred of decency remaining to them. But I will provide an example of an indecency that no one has yet tried to put over. Hopefully it will stimulate some thought.

     School shootings, the most swiftly politicized events in contemporary American life, all take schools. Places where the young are gathered, more or less against their will, and compelled to remain for several hours, five days per week, lacking all recourse for concealment or defense. Let’s leave aside for the moment that most schools are “gun-free zones.” Let’s focus instead on the vulnerability of minors concentrated in an easily identified locale. What comes to mind at once? What’s the easiest and most straightforward way to prevent a school shooting from happening, ever again?

     That’s right: Ban schools. Eliminate these concentration camps for helpless victims. Imagine the improvement in the morale of our youth at being freed from compulsory vulnerability to any maniac with a gun! Imagine the savings to parents at not having to buy school supplies! And imagine the savings to taxpayers at not having to pay for these juvenile day prisons! Do it for the children!

     Besides, the kids probably aren’t learning much anyway.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Olympics And The Media, Continued

     A "critic" is a person who creates nothing and thereby feels qualified to judge the work of creative people. There is logic in this; he is unbiased -- he hates all creative people equally. – Robert A. Heinlein

     The above quote, from one of the grandmasters of speculative fiction, has been much on my mind since I penned yesterday’s tirade. While the parallel is inexact, there are similarities between the critic in some artistic or expressive field and the reporter / commentator who writes about the comings, goings, and doings of the politically highly placed.

     The late, great Marshall Fritz, one of the few persons in the liberty movement who actually strove to understand why and how individuals reach their political stances, was of the opinion that persons in the communicative trades – education, entertainment, and journalism – are actuated above all other things by their emotions. When they confront some event or phenomenon, the most important aspect of it is how it makes them feel. Rational, organizational, and other considerations take a back seat to that emotional response – sometimes so far back as to be in another vehicle.

     Strong emotions are the principal spur to self-expression, especially written self-expression. And of course, the aim of one who writes for popular consumption is to get the reader to react to the subject matter as the writer did, for the same reasons and at the same intensity as the writer reacted. (Take it from one who’s been there.) That being the case, the emotionally-oriented writer will emphasize those aspects of his subject matter that are most emotionally stimulating.

     The emotions that go along with monitoring and reporting on those who wield power are unusual ones. Admiration for the highly placed is normal, but in a powerfully emotion-driven person it would be tempered – and sometimes nullified – by the emotional considerations pertinent to the individual. In our time, the ruling consideration is a combination of perversions of two otherwise laudable impulses: tolerance for the different and excluded, and compassion for the weak and downtrodden.

     I used the word perversions with a definite meaning in mind. As they were once practiced, tolerance and compassion were positive things. However, for Smith to approve of politician Jones because Jones represents himself as tolerant and compassionate is a short circuit. It neglects the actual effects of the stances and policies Jones adopts. It also neglects Jones’s priorities as they are exposed by his other words and deeds: in particular, whether he puts his political fortunes above all other considerations.

     The Left has glossed over the atrocities committed by the rulers of socialist states. Moreover, it has succeeded to a considerable extent in persuading the susceptible that “real socialism has never been tried.” That enables it to maintain the fiction that socialist policies are the more tolerant and compassionate – i.e., the more admirable. Because the emotionally-driven journalist is less concerned with how something makes him feel than with its actual effects, he will be among the susceptible. Worse, he will resist attempts to “clue him in” to what socialism really does to those who are subjected to it.

     I concluded yesterday’s piece by saying that “There can be only base motives propelling these stances. But why should journalism and commentary attract persons with predominantly low motives?” Perhaps I exaggerated the necessary baseness of journalist Smith’s motives. He may only be shallow. He may only be uninterested in learning what lies behind politician Jones’s pretty phrases. But it also possible that Smith, like many persons in other walks of life, is moved in part by his aversions – and that they include a strong aversion to those who have proved him wrong. Add in Smith’s understandable envy of persons such as Jones whose prestige exceeds his, and his desire to be seen as a “force” in political discourse, both for the sake of “tolerance” and “compassion,” and for his own advancement in his trade.

     Food for thought.

Confused and dangerous times.

Over a century ago, the world drifted into World War I. Its terrible slaughter and tragic consequences are with us even today. Intelligent and experienced leaders inched closer and closer to catastrophe with no understanding of the horrors that could be delivered by modern industrial warfare or the hideous Bolsheviks.

The lessons from that time and the ensuing century have been forgotten, if they were ever learned. With the end of the Cold War with a stupid and inhuman Bolshevik regime the veneer of righteousness that Western policies enjoyed evaporated. Political power was handed to pathetic midgets, frat boys, and a most peculiar and evil class of destroyers. The U.S. dog is now obviously wagged by the Israeli tail and, when it is not pursuing Israeli interests in the Middle East, it is scrambling after a dominant position in the world straight out of the dreams and schemes of Brzezinski, the C.F.R., and the MICC (military-industrial-congressional complex) while mewling about our non-existent “democracy,” our “exceptionalism,” and our status as the “indispensable nation.”

Our vaunted Constitution has been reduced to the status of an embarrassing joke whose “true meaning” is announced to us by our corrupt, runaway judiciary. And our culture has been successfully destroyed by massive, wide-open, uncontrolled third-world immigration invasion and a complicit corporate media establishment. The so-called “immigration debate” in the U.S. is “Exhibit A” for the ineptness, dishonesty, and stupidity of the nation’s elites whose only peers in this world are elected with regularity and enthusiasm by other Western voters with only a tiny number of notable and honorable exceptions. The U.S. media are fascinated with trifles and utter fairy tales about human nature and economic reality.

I agree with Professor Steven Cohen that Vladimir Putin is “the most consequential national leader of the 21st century” yet he is treated like some kind of evil dimwit by U.S. elites and their cringing media. By their telling of it, he’s some kind of Stalin fan boy who wants to bring back the Red Army, the KGB, the Gulag, and state pricing of pencils and chickens.

All the while AntiFa scum rule the streets of America in no way inconvenienced by the American law enforcement establishment at any level. Not to mention outright law enforcement cooperation. And, if you can think of some completely asinine to say about marriage, men, economics, law, race, history, or language, you are guaranteed a respectful hearing in just about every American media outlet.

U.S. gift to Syria.
This is the nation that without whose trillion-dollar investment in pointless global chaos the cities of Syria could not have been reduced to rubble and its people slaughtered or scattered to the winds. It’s the nation that can’t find its ass with both hands in the much-abused nation of Syria yet it manufactures lies and opportunities for confrontation with another major nuclear power while the U.S. presence in that country are contrary to the U.S. Constitution and international law. But who cares about that? Certainly not anyone in the U.S. State Department or Trump White House. Zzzzz.

In 1914, the statesmen and rulers of Europe operated in an environment that, in comparison to current U.S. realities, was the essence of rationality. If they couldn’t keep the world from conflagration, what is the likelihood that U.S. “leadership” will not both engineer (1) its own economic and cultural collapse and (2) something far worse than that first European civil war of a century ago. The collective wisdom of the most educated and intelligent people of the United States has failed to avert the cultural and economic catastrophe that is about to break upon us. And in contrast to Putin we have a leader with little more to offer than a visceral (and welcome) patriotism (hitherto in very short supply) and an excellent sense that America's economic domestic and international policies have more often than not ended up with ordinary Americans holding the short end of the stick. God bless Mr. Trump but more than anything else we need leaders of the caliber of Putin and Mr. Orban in Hungary.

Putin – and Bashar al-Assad – stand out as examples of decent and rational leadership. For all the rest, its hard to find leaders in the world who deserve our respect and who respect common sense. The U.S., in particular, has lost what moral authority it may have had from the era of the Cold War and it is playing a key role in ensuring that reckless, stupid, warlike policies are pursued at every opportunity to vindicate not one vital American interest. Not one.

America has become a dangerous and unfunny joke and the next chapter in world history will not be edifying. The end of history? It is to laugh.

Interview of Elijah Magnier by Eva Bartlett.

An interesting look at events in Syria:

I particularly like Mr. Magnier’s take on the phony baloney U.S. “war” on ISIS oil convoys before the Russians arrived and took care of business.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Olympics And The Media

     The typical Western man can be dazzled, lulled out of any and all suspicions, by a pretty face, especially if that face is mated to a degree of personal charm. If the man is hoping to be dazzled, the pretty face needn’t be all that pretty, and the charm needn’t be all that charming.

     Kim Yo Jong is the younger sister of North Korean autocrat Kim Jong-un, at this time the bloodiest dictator still in a position to kill. She’s his Minister of Propaganda and Agitation, the sort of office found only in Communist dictatorships. In other words, she runs the office that pumps out deceit for foreign consumption about North Korea’s internal conditions, and deceit for domestic consumption about how great things are going to be. You could justly say that her department’s function is to minimize the prospects for domestic insurrection and invasion by a foreign power.

     And the media are absolutely in love with her:

     (Links courtesy of Kurt Schlichter.)

     The Writer In Black deposeth and sayeth:

     What is wrong with you people? I look around and I don’t see any concentration camps. All the people criticizing and vilifying the President and Vice President? None of them are being rounded up. None of you are afraid to speak up, and you’re entirely justified in that lack of fear because there are no violent purges happening. There is no Reichstagg Fire. There is no Night of Long Knives. You speak in full confidence that you do so in safety.

     And you gush over the North Korean Minister of Propaganda? A regime that does have concentration camps, that does purge political opponents (not even enemies, just opponents), that arrests and imprisons people for wrongspeech, for wrongthought, That tortures a young man to death for stealing a poster?

     What. is. wrong. with. you?

     That’s one hell of a good question.

     It’s impossible to watch the media slobber over a murderous, dictatorial regime that has brandished its nuclear weapons directly at the United States without asking why. Who are these lunatics that have somehow gained control of the press? Have they gone “off their meds?” Did they catch their minders taking a fortuitously concurrent nap? And what have they done with the supposedly sane persons who once held those positions?

     But then, it’s not the first time, is it? There have been a number of cases in which our mass media has put itself in the service of murder, slavery, and deliberate impoverishment. Consider Walter Cronkite’s contribution-in-kind to the Viet Cong war effort, and Thomas Friedman’s paean to Red China’s dictators. There are others...unfortunately, too many to enumerate here.

     You could easily get the idea that such...persons are hostile to human freedom and well-being. You could easily begin to wonder where they got the idea that for some to have unlimited and absolute power over others is a good thing. Hell, you could start to wonder whether they were toilet-trained. But if we start from the assumption that they’re rationally pursuing a clearly defined objective, we must ask about their motives.

     Pace Arthur Herzog, we might speculate that the motive is countertrending: the deliberate contradiction of a generally perceived pattern simply for the sake of attracting attention:

     Countertrending is based on the journalistic tradition about a man biting a dog. The general idea is that if the public has a perception about what is happening, one sure way to make news is to work against the perception. Say the country is gradually moving left. There might be a story in saying it’s going right. As soon as everyone believes there’s a strong drift to the right, countertrending calls for saying it’s moving left again. News can make news by contradicting itself.

     But countertrending only works if the organ practicing it is the only one doing so. When all the media organs are singing from the same hymnal, the countertrending explanation fails to convince.

     That leaves us with less savory motives to consider.

     No one can say, from first principles, why journalists and editorialists would naturally prefer unfreedom to freedom, or a dictatorship to a republic. Yet the tendency of media types to exhibit those preferences, since World War II at least, is pronounced and well documented. Given a choice between siding with the United States and siding with some totalitarian hellhole, the media plump for the latter with disturbing regularity.

     Even in times of relative tranquility, such that there’s no overt conflict in which to choose sides, the media have exhibited a preference for Communism. It’s often been said that Fidel Castro got his job through the New York Times, and there is some justice to the charge. Recall also how that organ and others fawned over Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, and Mikhail Gorbachev. The only Communist satrap I can’t remember receiving plaudits from the Western press, even indirectly, was Pol Pot.

     Here in The Land of the Formerly Free, the media’s contributions to our gradual enslavement and impoverishment have been many and are well known to all. Given a choice between a policy that promotes individual freedom and one that diminishes it, there’s no question which one a paper like the Times will prefer. They love taxes, regardless of their nature. They wax lyrical over regulations, regardless of their necessity or effects. They reflexively support government control and rationing of any commodity. They’re death on private property, untrammeled political speech, and the right to keep and bear arms. And don’t get me started about their hatred of the explicit terms of the Constitution.

     There can be only base motives propelling these stances. But why should journalism and commentary attract persons with predominantly low motives?

     There are several possible explanations, though some of them appear to conflict. However, this piece is already at the brink of “too long,” so as I’ve said on many previous occasions, usually sincerely:

     More anon.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Enjoy Your Mardi Gras!

The weeks before Ash Wednesday are known as Carneval/Carnival - Farewell to Meat.

We do enjoy indulging the day before the start of Lent. We don't get as crazy as we did when we were young, but we still enjoy the process of getting rid of the treats.

It is not mandatory to "give up" foods. One year, I enforced a daytime ban on unnecessary internet. Boy, did I get a lot done that year! By Easter, I had cut the mindless consumption of a lot of useless stuff.

Google has this boring doodle today:
Dood! With the amazing graphical opportunities that Mardi Gras presents, this is the best you can do?


Pearls of expression.

The Dead Sea scrolls were considered authentic until recently when the word "Oldsmobile" was found multiple times in the manuscript.

Sister tika comment on "Israel "Preparing For War In North", Boosts Air Defenses; Warns Iran." By Tyler Durden, ZeroHedge, 2/11/18.

A Game With No Rules

     [The following two pieces first appeared at Eternity Road in November, 2011. In light of the mountain of evidence accumulating to the effect that we have a “Deep State” that has conspired, and is still conspiring, to nullify the 2016 election of Donald Trump to the presidency, they struck me as unusually relevant to today. -- FWP]

     Imagine the following: A friend asks you to play a game with him. He gives it a name you've never heard before -- perhaps Fizzbin -- but assures you that you'll love it. Inasmuch as you've trusted him for a long time, you agree and ask, "What's the objective?"

     He grins and says, "Well, there isn't one, really. Mostly just to play."

     That comes as something of a surprise, but, resolved not to be too easily daunted, you ask, "What are the rules?"

     He produces a second grin, a bit more sheepish than the first, and says, "There aren't any. You can do whatever you like."

     Does that strike you as a game anyone could or should "play?" With no objective, there's no way to win, lose, draw, or conclude the game. With no rules, there's no limit to what you or your opponent can do to each other. There's no right, wrong, legal, illegal, better, worse, loser or victor. What's the point? Indeed, how does it qualify as a "game?"

     No, Gentle Reader, your Curmudgeon isn't just wordspinning for the sake of consuming a few excess pixels. He's describing the federal government of these United States.

     Remember when Nancy Pelosi, then the Speaker of the House of Representatives, was asked for the Constitutional authority behind ObamaCare? Remember her response? That was a pretty good illustration of the "rules" our federal government, the most powerful instrument of coercion that exists in the world today, operates under. A couple of days later, Pelosi actually elaborated on her response: she said that in her opinion, Congress has the power to do anything: to make law of any kind, on any subject, and to whatever effect it likes.

     That came as quite a surprise to your Curmudgeon. The surprise wasn't that Pelosi would believe such a thing, but that she would say it into an active microphone. However, after some time to ponder it, he realized that Congress has operated under those no-rules rules for a long time already -- and that We the People have acquiesced to it with hardly a peep.

     You might reply, "Well, yeah, but if they do something we really dislike, we can always boot their sorry asses out of their seats at the next election." Are you sure about that? Even if we discount the 95% rate of recidivism re-election among incumbent federal legislators, what's to prevent an omnipotent Congress from passing a "law" to the effect that, "owing to the ongoing emergency," elections for Congress must be suspended for the foreseeable future? At least two liberal Democrats, one of them a state governor, have suggested exactly that course of action.

     Governor Perdue later attempted to pass her remark off as "hyperbole." But another, even more prominent Democrat has made an even more revealing statement:

     We are reminded of what Bill Clinton said on 11 March 1993,
     "We can't be so fixated on our desire to preserve the rights of ordinary Americans . . . ."

     Bill Clinton then said on 12 August 1993,

     "If the personal freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution inhibit the government's ability to govern the people, we should look to limit those guarantees."

     Clinton was the president of the United States when he said those things. He never after bothered to qualify them, let alone retract them. They're the clearest possible explication of the dangers of a government which claims to have interests of its own.

     Star Parker issues a plaintive cry in her column of this morning:

     Is it not sad that the most fundamental aspects of our ability to live as a free people boil down these days to how nine Supreme Court justices choose to read and interpret a word or phrase?

     Is it not sad that most basic violations of individual liberty are not intuitively obvious to so many citizens and members of Congress?

     Or perhaps even sadder, that liberty may no longer be the objective?

     For a permanent political class which sees itself as the government and the rest of us as its subjects, liberty is no part of its objectives. Execpt, of course, for the State's "liberty" to do whatever it pleases with us, with our money and property, and with our futures.

     Therein lies the rub. The federal government is no longer, in Franklin D. Roosevelt's words, a "people's government." It is no longer, in Abraham Lincoln's words, a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people." It is a supralegal entity, unbound by any principle of law or justice, that sees the rest of us as no more than fodder for its own interests.

     Lawrence Auster has discoursed on this phenomenon. He sees it as being independent of party or ideology, as well. Recent history appears to support his view.

     It might be a while longer before a federal hegemon dares to attempt the overt suspension of Constitutionally prescribed elections, or the unabashed dismissal of a right guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. But let us not doubt that, in a Congress which allows a Nancy Pelosi to remain seated within it, the potential exists. Another thing recent history tells us is that sooner or later, such a potential will be actualized.

     Private Americans, who wish only to be free, cannot win this game with no rules. Neither can we withdraw from it. We can only end it. It's become highly unlikely that we can do so via the ballot box; the political class has rigged that element of the game in its own favor, and will fight to the death against any attempt to cleanse it.

     It's time to look at one another and ask the hard questions.

     Part 2: Where Are The Officials?

     Imagine the following:

  • During a Major League Baseball game, an outfielder climbs over the fence and stands among the fans to catch what would otherwise have been a home run...and nothing is done about it.
  • During a National Football League game, a linebacker pulls out a billy club and uses it to beat the opposing quarterback unconscious...and nothing is done about it.
  • During a National Hockey League game, a player slashes an opponent across the neck with his stick, decapitating him...and nothing is done about it.

     Unimaginable, right? Even if those games were among the most exciting ever played -- and given that the officials allowed the tactics described, they just might be -- the fans wouldn't stand for it. Such behavior is what the officials are there to prevent, or to penalize when it happens. Were the officials to turn a blind eye to such deeds, the games would no longer be baseball, football, and hockey as the fans understand them. Game attendance and home viewership would swiftly decline to a few sociopaths.

     (Rollerball aficionadoes might disagree, but your Curmudgeon is trying to make a point here.)

     The rules are the game. The rules define how victory is determined, The rules prescribe what must, may, and must not occur. The rules also state what's to be done with those who violate the rules.

     And with that, your Curmudgeon comes to his critique of the Constitution of the United States and our supposed attachment to it.

     A law of the usual sort specifies not merely what's mandatory or illegal, but also the penalty to be imposed on those found to have violated the law. Thus, the citizen is put on notice that should he dare to defy the law and be convicted under it, he will suffer a specified exaction from his life, liberty, or property. Granted that some laws allow judges and juries "sentencing discretion," the requirement that a valid law must incorporate a statement of the consequences for its violation goes back to the Magna Carta.

     The Constitution, "the Supreme Law of the Land" (Article VI, second paragraph), evaded those requirements. That's a major part of what's wrong with the Constitution. Worse yet, the Constitution never explicitly states whose duty it is:

  • To determine when a violation of Constitutional law has occurred;
  • To determine who is responsible for that violation and bring him (or them) to book;
  • To impose and enforce the Constitutional penalty.

     If the Founders believed that the federal courts would answer those needs, they omitted to consider that the courts, themselves a branch of government, could easily enter into alliance with the other branches and either refuse to acknowledge Constitutional violations, or collaborate in their defense. "The least dangerous branch" could turn into a refuge for extra-Constitutional rationalization and exculpation -- just as it has. If the Founders placed the whole burden of "Supreme Law Enforcement" on the electoral process, their faith in elections was terribly excessive. Despite their expressed fears, it would appear that they didn't fear democracy enough.

     It's in the nature of things that a government cannot be obliged to restrain itself. Any constraints placed on it must be imposed and enforced from outside. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? as we used to say in ancient Rome.

     As matters stand, there is only one agency capable of punishing a violation of the Constitution, and therefore of restraining the federal government: the people in arms. But We the Supposedly Sovereign People have refrained from any such enterprise. Whether we've disavowed the responsibility, or have become flaccid, or have been bought off, we have scamped our duty to enforce the Supreme Law of the Land against those who have progressively shredded it: our political class.

     Perhaps it was inevitable. Perhaps the peace and plenty we accumulated under limited Constitutional government has lulled away our will. Perhaps it was too soothing a drug to resist. Only the results matter.

     The Game With No Rules is as it is because the only officials there can ever be -- We the People -- have called no fouls, sent no players to the penalty box, issued no "red cards." Instead of marching against the usurpers of power and the infringers of our rights, ejecting them from their places of power, tarring and feathering the routiniers and hanging the ringleaders from District of Columbia lampposts pour encourager les autres, we've shrugged, murmured "well, what can we do, anyway," and allowed them to continue. Indeed, we've returned them to office far more often than not.

     But taking up arms to defend our Constitution and the principles it enshrines is so dangerous. We could get hurt -- maybe killed! Don't we have police and an army for that sort of job? Besides, some of those violations are popular. Who are we to oppose something so many people approve, just because it's a Supreme Law Violation? Just trust in the electoral process; things will work out in the end, you'll see.

     Thomas Jefferson noted in the Declaration of Independence that "all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed." That tendency to preserve the multiply flawed known rather than risk the unpredictable unknown -- to prefer the devil we know to the devil we don't -- has its base in both history and good sense: few revolutions have produced successor regimes that were objectively better than the ones they toppled. But at what point do the evils become insufferable? What will we do about it, sheep that we've become, when that point is reached?

     More anon.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Quickies: Might This Foreshadow A Trend?

     If so, I think I’d be pleased:

     A new video from Vice News published Friday focuses on a healing retreats for “Women of Color” where participants can go to get away from white people.

     The founder says that white people are so destructive that they “shouldn’t even have passports.”

     The retreat is called the “Women of Color Healing Retreat” and takes place in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. Vice News notes that it “specifically banned white people.”

     The narrator notes that one attendee “needed a break–from white people.”

     The founder, Andrea X, expressed the opinion that white people–but white Americans specifically, shouldn’t be allowed to have passports or travel.

     “I have no tips for a white person” she said. “My tip to white people is to let us have our space, let us have our room, and go hang out with other white people. We’re okay. You know, you’ve done enough damage.”

     What's that you say, ladies? You “need a break from white people?” Why not make it permanent? Take your selves, your progeny, and your possessions, burn your U.S. passports, renounce your citizenship, and leave the U.S. for good! Good riddance to you!

     Isn’t it amazing that the oppressed and downtrodden of other lands flock here by the millions, but our domestic Negroes can do nothing but complain about “microaggressions?” Maybe we should talk about the “knockout game,” eh, ladies? Or perhaps about the black-on-white crime statistics? What about “flash mobs” of black teenagers that loot and destroy defenseless retail stores? Are you interested in conversing about any of that?

     I have strained lifelong to see individuals as individuals, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or religion. I have fought my own knowledge of the crime and welfare statistics, of the tide of illegitimacy, and of the deep, lethally poisonous ocean of racialist venom in which American Negroes have soaked. Whenever I’ve had dealings with an individual black American, I’ve done my best to be courteous and trusting, just as I would be toward a fellow Caucasian. Every white man I know has done exactly the same. Yet this is where we’ve arrived.

     It would be a great and good thing if we could get all our black racists to leave the U.S. and make the trip one-way, so that the blacks who remain here will be the ones that appreciate this country. However, I’m certain that these “ladies of color” who feel so beset by white “microaggressions” and “passive-aggressiveness” will return to this country even more racist and hateful than they are today. That’s because they’ll be pumping one another up, you see: telling one another about all the awful things American whites have done to them. But they’ll come back, because regardless of their delusions, Negroes have it easier and better in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world, and they know it.

     And as I reflect on that previous sentence, an ugly thought comes to me:

     Maybe that’s part of the problem.

     We’re drawing ever closer to this scenario, and as little as I like it, I’ve been wondering whether it’s become inevitable. If so, no one can say he wasn’t warned.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Our Lepers: A Sunday Rumination

     The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron: “When someone has a swelling or a scab or a bright spot on the skin of his body that may become a diseased infection, he must be brought to Aaron the priest or one of his sons, the priests.... he is a diseased man. He is unclean. The priest must surely pronounce him unclean because of his infection on his head.
     “As for the diseased person who has the infection, his garments must be torn, the hair of his head must be unbound, he must cover his mustache, and he must call out ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ The whole time he has the infection he will be continually unclean. He must live in isolation, and his place of residence must be outside the camp.” [Leviticus Ch. 13]
     Now a leper came to him and fell to his knees, asking for help. “If you are willing, you can make me clean,” he said. Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing. Be clean!” The leprosy left him at once, and he was clean. 1:43 Immediately Jesus sent the man away with a very strong warning. He told him, “See that you do not say anything to anyone, but go, show yourself to a priest, and bring the offering that Moses commanded for your cleansing as a testimony to them.” But as the man went out he began to announce it publicly and spread the story widely, so that Jesus was no longer able to enter any town openly but stayed outside in remote places. Still they kept coming to him from everywhere. [Mark 1:40-45]

     It’s highly likely that those deemed leprous in classical Judea weren’t all suffering from Hansen’s Disease. Nevertheless, they suffered. The priests of that time would rule anyone with a disfiguring skin sore “unclean” and declare them banished from the larger community. To be judged unclean thus isolated the sufferer, endangered his survival, and – because in those days such an illness was held to be a manifestation of sin – endangered him spiritually as well. Other Judeans, who lived in great fear of such afflictions, showed the afflicted very little sympathy.

     Among Christ’s recorded miracles are several cures of the unclean. At a stroke, He rendered them acceptable to their communities once more. As word of His healing power spread, multitudes sought His mercy upon their maladies. If He ever turned a sufferer away, the event is not recorded in the Gospels.

     Today, most disfiguring conditions, including Hansen’s Disease, are curable with secular medicine. Dramatic cases still inspire revulsion from some of the more fortunate, but in the main we’re more tolerant of, and sympathetic toward, persons whose appearances have been marred by a visible malady. That’s all to the good.

     But Christ’s treatment of the “lepers” of Judea is important not for its medical implications but for its social ones. Every society known to history has ostracized some portion of its people. The reason hasn’t always been fear of contagion or esthetic revulsion.

     Who are America’s “lepers?” Who have we excluded, consciously or otherwise, from our communities, and why? And what is a Christian’s proper part in such things?

     In what I wrote just yesterday, I emphasized how important it is that charity not undermine the virtue of responsibility for oneself. I was thinking of material charity, of course, which is the sort with the greatest propensity for misuse. But there are other kinds of charity than the purely material. The sort that embraces the isolate is not to be demeaned.

     Now, just as classical Judea knew both lepers and “lepers,” Mankind knows both the willing isolate and he whose aloneness is not of his will or wish. The possession of a personality that finds groups chafing and frequent company wearying is not an affliction that can be treated by anyone. (Cue the “how many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?” joke.) But there are surely others who are alone against their will, for reasons they might be unaware of or unable to control. Who are they?

     They’re not always obvious. Some unhappy isolates develop a habit of “asymmetric reciprocity,” whether out of fear of subsequent rejection or a perverse kind of pride. In such a case, even if ordinarily sociable Smith were to seek the companionship of isolate Jones, Jones would deflect Smith’s overtures, perhaps even without knowing he was doing so. It’s hard to do anything for someone like that.

     But there are others whose desire for connection and inclusion is undiminished. They might be shy about it, out of a desire to conceal their sorrows. In a society such as ours, which places a high value on personal self-sufficiency, keeping one’s loneliness to oneself is more often the case than not. Yet their suffering can be alleviated. They are today’s analogue to the “lepers” of classical Judea.

     It’s a Christian’s part to do what he can for such a soul.

     Tolstoy’s prescription – “Let us do what we can for those God places in our path” – applies here. To make seeking out the lonely and befriending them a career would be unwise. But if one should encounter such a person, to extend the hand of potential friendship to him is a thoroughly commendable and Christian thing. If he responds gratefully and with pleasure, all the better for both of you. If he bites off a finger, well, at least you tried.

     (It’s also a gift to be an evangelist by one’s conduct: to do as He would have done, portraying Christian convictions by example, rather than by verbal preachment. But that deserves its own separate screed. Perhaps this one.)

     We of Twenty-First Century America are alive in a place and time in which virtually every physical ailment can be cured, at least if it’s detected and treated in time. But ironically, as our medical capabilities grow, our tendency to atomize, to become unwillingly isolated from others, has grown as well. Fortunately, it’s a condition every Christian is qualified to remedy.

     May God bless and keep you all.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

It Seems The World Is Doing Okay

     “If everything’s a crisis, where’s the crisis?” – Arthur Herzog

     That’s the gist of this Steven Pinker article. The data Pinker presents cross-cuts the pervasive doom-and-gloom messaging of professional crisis-shouters. Here’s a sample:

     Consider the U.S. just three decades ago. Our annual homicide rate was 8.5 per 100,000. Eleven percent of us fell below the poverty line (as measured by consumption). And we spewed 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide and 34.5 million tons of particulate matter into the atmosphere.

     Fast forward to the most recent numbers available today. The homicide rate is 5.3 (a blip up from 4.4 in 2014). Three percent of us fall below the consumption poverty line. And we emit four million tons of sulfur dioxide and 20.6 million tons of particulates, despite generating more wealth and driving more miles.

     Globally, the 30-year scorecard also favors the present. In 1988, 23 wars raged, killing people at a rate of 3.4 per 100,000; today it’s 12 wars killing 1.2 per 100,000. The number of nuclear weapons has fallen from 60,780 to 10,325. In 1988, the world had just 45 democracies, embracing two billion people; today it has 103, embracing 4.1 billion. That year saw 46 oil spills; 2016, just five. And 37% of the population lived in extreme poverty, barely able to feed themselves, compared with 9.6% today. True, 2016 was a bad year for terrorism in Western Europe, with 238 deaths. But 1988 was even worse, with 440.

     Pinker, a cognitive scientist, credits the Enlightenment:

     To what do we owe this progress? Does the universe contain a historical dialectic or arc bending toward justice? The answer is less mysterious: The Enlightenment is working. Our ancestors replaced dogma, tradition and authority with reason, debate and institutions of truth-seeking. They replaced superstition and magic with science. And they shifted their values from the glory of the tribe, nation, race, class or faith toward universal human flourishing.

     Well, you’ll never hear me run down the principles of the Enlightenment, though there were a few clinkers scattered among the gems bequeathed us by Voltaire, Adam Smith, John Locke et alii. (E.g.: “Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest!” – attributed to Denis Diderot, though possibly apocryphal) But Pinker’s ascription is difficult to substantiate, especially given the amount of tribal, ideological, and pseudo-religious madness the world continues to suffer.

     Still, it’s nice to see a few positive numbers for a change. It frees me to worry about real problems, such as the inversion of Earth’s magnetic field and the impending solar minimum.

     But if things have been getting better for decades and are still getting better as we speak, what are the crows of the Left cawing about?

     I wrote some years ago that there is no one in these United States, unless he’s at the summit of Mount McKinley, who involuntarily lacks food, clothing, shelter, or medical care. These things are on offer, cost free, from so many sources that for an American to be in a state of genuinely life-threatening need requires the deliberate self-isolation of the needy American. For the U.S., poverty in the Twenty-First Century differs qualitatively from poverty in the Nineteenth. Today it’s not about being fed, clothed, and sheltered, but about whether the “poor person” can afford the latest iPhone or designer jeans.

     Though Europeans aren’t quite as well off as we, by both absolute and comparative measures they’re doing okay, too. Asians? It varies somewhat, though they’ve enjoyed a rise in living standards over the century past. Africans and South Americans? I don’t have enough data to be circumstantial, but I get the sense that they’re doing better than their grandparents, places like Sudan and Venezuela excepted. So as a statistical aggregate, the human race is better off than ever before.

     That’s not the case in every land. There are still places on Earth where hunger is often involuntary and survival is a day-to-day proposition. And of course, there are still places on Earth whose denizens are trying with all their might to kill one another – sometimes over political ideology, religious dogma, or similar abstractions.

     The charitable impulses of Americans have long been directed toward such persons and places. We do more international charity than the rest of the world combined. Yet we’re often castigated for not doing even more, including by some of our own citizens. This story, while it involves Europeans sneering at the American charitable effort after the Christmas Tsunami, is fairly typical:

     Today, during an afternoon conference that wrapped up my project of the last 18 months, one of my Euro colleagues tossed this little smart-comment out to no one in particular:
     "See, this is why George Bush is so dumb, there's a disaster in the world and he sends an Aircraft Carrier...
     After which he and many of my Euro colleagues laughed out loud, and then they looked at me. I wasn't laughing, and neither was my Hindi friend sitting next to me, who has lost family in the disaster.
     I'm afraid I was "unprofessional", I let it loose -"Hmmm, let's see, what would be the ideal ship to send to a disaster? Now what kind of ship would we want? Something with its own inexhaustible power supply? Something that can produce 900,000 gallons of fresh water a day from sea water?"
     "Something with its own airfield? So that after producing the fresh water, it could help distribute it? Something with 4 hospitals and lots of open space for emergency supplies? Something with a global communications facility to make the coordination of disaster relief in the region easier? Well 'Franz', we peasants in America call that kind of ship an 'Aircraft Carrier'."
     "We have 12 of them. How many do you have? Oh that's right, NONE. Lucky for you and the rest of the world, we are the kind of people who share. Even with people we don't like."
     "In fact, if memory serves, once upon a time we peasants spent a ton of money and lives rescuing people who we had once tried to kill and who tried to kill us. Do you know who those people were? That's right Franz, Europeans."
     "There is a French Aircraft carrier? Where is it? Oh.. Right where it belongs! In France of course! Oh, why should the French Navy dirty their uniforms helping people on the other side of the globe. How Simplesse... The day an American has to move a European out of the way to help in some part of the world it will be a great day in the world, you sniggering little snob..."
     The room fell silent. My Hindi friend then said quietly to the Euros:
     "Can you let your hatred of George Bush end for just one minute? There are people dying! And what are your countries doing? has helped more than France has. You all have a role to play in the world, why can't you see that? Thank God for the US Navy, they don't have to come and help, but they are. They helped you once and you should all thank God they did. They didn't have to, and no one but them would have done so. I'm ashamed of you all..."
     He left the room, shaking and in tears. The frustration of being on the other side of the globe, unable to do anything to assist and faced with people who could not set aside their asininity long enough to reach out and help was too much for him to bear. I just shook my head and left. The Euros stood speechless. Later in the break room, one of the laughing Euros caught me and extended his hand in an apology. I asked him where he was from, he said "a town outside of Berlin". He is a young man, in his early 20's. I asked him if he knew of a man named Gail Halverson. He said no. I said "that's a shame" and walked away to find my Hindi friend.

     That’s the kind of people we are. That’s the kind of nation we are. But we routinely get run down, both by the other nations of the world and by millions of our own citizens, for daring to be rich and safe when others are “poor.” As if their (relative) poverty and insecurity were caused by our prosperity and security.

     There is a human need to believe in the future: not that it’s coming, of course; that’s beyond dispute. We need to believe that the future will be better than the present and the past. Peoples that lack that conviction will tend to self-extinguish...which is what the continent of Europe is doing at the moment.

     But the disease has subvarieties that are manifest in America as well. Consider Thales’s recent cri de coeur, which was as tirade-like as anything my Gentle Readers might find here at Liberty’s Torch. It was ignited by a tweet from an idiot:

     That’s something like an apogee for self-righteous stupidity. The Flint water problem was caused by malfeasance in high places. The very administrators charged with securing the water supply were the ones who allowed it to become foul. Yet according to “Lindsay Beth,” solving that politically created problem should be Elon Musk’s responsibility. Why?

     Musk believes in the human future. He’s put that conviction on display in several ways, which have contributed to our technological advancement. But “Lindsay Beth” will have none of that. Typically for a Cause Person, she holds that all resources, no matter who owns them, should be directed toward her preferred problem. Never mind what that would mean for the rights of private property, or for the prospects of an improved future for Mankind.

     I’d say she’s a good candidate for Thales’s woodchipper.

     The hellish thing about human charity is how much harm it’s done. Andrew Carnegie, arguably the most prominent philanthropist of his day, knew it:

     Those who would administer wisely must, indeed, be wise, for one of the serious obstacles to the improvement of our race is indiscriminate charity. It were better for mankind that the millions of the rich were thrown into the sea than so spent as to encourage the slothful, the drunken, the unworthy.

     In bestowing charity, the main consideration should be to help those who help themselves. It provides part of the means by which those who desire to improve may do so; to give to those who desire to rise the aids by which they may rise; to assist but rarely or never to do all.

     He is the only true reformer who is careful and as anxious not to lead the unworthy as he is to lead the worthy, and perhaps even more so, for in alms giving, more injury may be done by promoting vice than by relieving virtue. Thus, is the problem of the rich and poor to be solved.

     This is a thematic echo of Thomas Mackay’s famous declamation:

     The cause of pauperism is not poverty, the cause of pauperism is State relief, more especially as it is administered in the form of out-door relief [i.e., cash payments to the “poor”]. We shall not get rid of pauperism by extending the sphere of State relief, as proposed in this pension scheme of Mr. Booth. On the contrary, its adoption would increase our pauperism, for as is often said, we can have exactly as many paupers as the country chooses to pay for.

     Now, the above are statements about poverty and what the charitable person may and must not do. but they descend from a larger principle: that responsibility for oneself must not be abraded by others’ efforts, no matter how well-meaning. That principle applies with equal force to communities of every size, up to and including nations. The wisdom of it has too many historical demonstrations to list. Yet we continue to act as if it were otherwise.

     Do you think “Lindsay Beth” has inquired into what the city government of Flint, Michigan is doing about Flint’s water problem? Do you think the residents of that city will even bother to vote out their current crop of rascals for producing this problem and then failing to remedy it?

     I’ve been running on at the keyboard for quite a few words, so I’ll close with a final thrust of my leaden rapier at a chimera that must be slain: the “problem” of “inequality.”

     The Pinker article makes a passing reference to the increase in “inequality” in “developed countries.” Whether this indicates that he believes “inequality” to be a problem to be solved is unclear. However, many activists on the Left treat “inequality,” specifically inequality of wealth and income, as a crisis so great that it mandates the complete transformation of American capitalism.

     But inequality of wealth and income is nothing more than a demonstration of inequality in life itself. Granted, some extremely fortunate persons owe their good fortune to parental ability, or to chance. But these are very few indeed. The great mass of man differ from one another in so many ways that to imagine us “equal” in any sense other than equality before the law is sheerest fantasy. No power on Earth, however it might contrive to do so, can “equalize” the economic states of bright persons and dunces, of the industrious and the lazy, of the physically gifted and the crippled. The inequalities among them, even if eliminated by a dictator’s ukase, would re-emerge almost at once. Once again, this is a fact with ample historical demonstrations.

     Besides, if you’re “doing okay” according to your readiness, willingness, and ability to labor in your own interest, why should it matter that others have more? Are we to make the assuagement of envy the central principle of life?

     To sum up: the parts of the world that are “doing great” are the parts where:

  1. The work ethic is dominant;
  2. Government power is strictly limited;
  3. Private property is widely respected and is protected by law;
  4. Individual freedom is prized and individual responsibility is strongly encouraged;

     The parts of the world that are “doing good” are those with historical legacies of the things enumerated above, usually as a consequence of European colonialism. The rest of the world is “getting by” to the extent that the emissaries and entrepreneurs from the “doing great” and “doing good” parts have been made welcome there.

     So yes, indeed, the Enlightenment mattered...but what matters at least as much are the moral, ethical, and philosophical legacies of Christianity: a body of values and beliefs which only about half of the prominent thinkers of the Enlightenment acknowledged and respected.


U.S. foreign policy in a nutshell.

In what can only be described as satire in real-life, the U.S. has also echoed the call for a month-long violence-free period in Syria even though they have spent billions of dollars contributing to it.
"Time to Start Paying Attention: The US Just Bombed Russians in Syria." By Darius Shahtahmasebi, Ant-Media, 2/9/18.

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Solution to Sexual Interactions?

To some extent, the Sexual Revolution was a scam. With the idea that shunning girls who had multiple partners was wrong, gradually, the average woman found herself with 2 not-great choices:

  • Have sex when she didn't want to
  • Stay home alone
The average woman's experience morphed from MAYBE having sex with her fiancee/long-term boyfriend, to finding herself unable to draw a line at sex with any man whose company she enjoyed for more than a few hours.

The power dynamic had changed, and not in a way that favored women.

DON'T have sex - or at least a BJ on a "first date" (often, not even that)?


Have sex?

Buh-Bye. MAYBE come back for a second or third repetition.

NOT "involved". NOT "boyfriend-girlfriend". MAYBE "friends with benefits".

Who would often be dropped for a girl who was harder to persuade to have sex.

A lot of my peers fell into that scenario, and are still single. Same with my daughters' generation. Most of them are not entirely happy with it.

This writer makes some sense about the situation. Megan McArdle is a little light on the exact mechanisms that would drive that change, but it's a start on talking/thinking about it.

In a similar vein, Hollywood might restore the Morals Clause. Not because they are all that concerned about morality (come on!), but - having such a clause keeps them from having to pay an actor/director with a scandal. Without it - the producers of House of Cards had to pay Spacey for his work. With it, they could have re-couped some of the cost of replacing him by legally withholding payments for his work.

This is the first time I'd heard about the financial reasons behind the Clause. It makes some sense in that context.

Classification Nation

     “Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead.” – Author unknown

     Lately we’ve been hearing a lot about classified information, levels thereof, exposures of sources and methods, and so forth, mostly as the recent “dueling memos” skirmishes relate to those subjects. As I have some acquaintance with the subject, it seemed an appropriate time to drop a few thoughts into the mill.

     First and foremost: the aim of classification is simple: to restrict access to a qualified item of information to a group of trustworthy persons with a need to know it. The qualifications are fairly simple: if a datum pertains to some strategic or tactical capability, intention, or knowledge of a potential enemy’s capabilities or intentions, it’s a candidate for classification. We don’t classify data that lacks those qualifications; there’s no point.

     When I was introduced to classified material, I was often surprised at the sort of data that fell into that bag. For example: at one point I learned that the size of a particular field in a communications stream – i.e., the number of bits required to convey it from the sender to the receiver – was classified Secret. I asked why. My tutor in these matters told me that knowing the required number of bits facilitates the deduction of the range and fineness of the relevant capability. It struck me as obscure, until I realized that knowledge of the associated enemy capability, when combined with knowledge of the field size, would provide exactly that – and the enemy surely knew his own capability.

     Persons who originate classifications must be able to think in that fashion.

     Second, classification levels are based on how severe the damage would be if an enemy were to obtain the classified datum. The three bottom levels are:

  1. Confidential: Some damage, probably recoverable.
  2. Secret: More severe damage, unknown probability of recovery.
  3. Top Secret: Extremely severe damage, recovery highly unlikely.

     There are levels above those three, but they’re reserved for matters we who labor in the defense industry have no need to know.

     Third, a datum’s classification level is not a permanent characteristic. The classification level of some datum will often decrease over time, for example due to technological advances or the disclosure of related data in the course of a war. Rarely will a datum’s classification level increase as time passes, though it has happened now and then.

     At every classification level, the criteria for access are personal trustworthiness and need to know.

     There are some problems with the classification system. I’ve droned on about them in the past, but a reprise seems appropriate.

     First, classification itself points a big red arrow at the datum. If the enemy knows that Datum X is Top Secret, he knows what to look for. As the storage requirements for TS data are explicit and very strict, he also knows where to find it. If the datum is that sensitive, there’s no help for this except extreme care and vigilance in handling it.

     Second, need to know is a somewhat nebulous thing. For one thing, need to know will usually expire at some point – but there’s no way to remove the knowledge from those who’ve had access to it. Indeed, over time one who knows a given classified datum can forget that it’s classified. For another, there are many classified items that are routinely shared with “foreign nationals:” usually the citizens of nations that are partners in an alliance with the United States. It’s more difficult for our Defense Investigative Service (DIS) to determine the need to know of such a person than to make the equivalent determination for a “U.S. person.” Yet certain collaborative projects, including some that go on for years or decades, make it unavoidable.

     Third and last for now, classification can be used to conceal information that ought not to be hidden. A classification authority with something to hide is a terrible thing, a potentially fatal wound in the nation. I have no idea what sort of qualification procedure applies to persons with classification authority. We can only hope that it’s stringent about character and personal vulnerabilities.

     However, at this time these are enduring problems without known solutions.

     Probably the most interesting aspect of classification is the need to protect “sources and methods:” i.e., how we learned what we know about the capabilities and intentions of potential enemies. Time was, this pertained solely to intelligence gathered by human beings. Today it encompasses a great many non-human devices and techniques.

     You can easily see how this ties into the classified aspects of our own technology. One reason to keep some technical capability secret is what it allows us to learn about others. For example, the National Security Agency has a considerable range of capabilities to intercept electronic communications. Some of them are kept classified so that potential enemies against which they’re being employed won’t change their methods of communication to something the NSA hasn’t yet cracked.

     There are sometimes wheels within the wheels. Some parts of our own communications are easily monitored; others are more closely encrypted. One way to feed a potential enemy false information is to deploy – secretly, of course – a new communications technique that uses a previously unknown encryption method, while continuing to “use” a technique we know the enemy has cracked. This can be used to misdirect the enemy nation about our intentions, provided he doesn’t discover the new communications method. Of course, the enemy can use the same method to mislead us, which makes it a subject to which a fair amount of brainpower is dedicated.

     Nag? Are you there?
     Always, Christine.
     Oh, good. You’ve been so quiet most of the day that I was getting worried.
     Is something the matter other than that, Christine?
     You can see this hill full of oaks through my eyes, right? Am I right to be worried about it, or am I being paranoid?
     How would you expect me to know?
     You know far more about violence and combat than I. Trust your own judgment. I can’t improve on it.
     I’m just worried that I’m being...well...
     That’s the best of all mindsets for a security operative, wouldn’t you say?
     Hm. Good point.

     [From Shadow Of A Sword]

     A good security officer – i.e., one who is tasked with the protection of some collection of classified information and is serious about it – will never completely relax. He’s subliminally aware that efforts to penetrate that which he has been charged with protecting are never-ending. It tends to make him guarded about everything he says or does, even among family and friends.

     It’s a thankless job. It’s a wonder that anyone ever accepts it. It’s a greater wonder that anyone in such a position ever admits to it. And that, too, is a pressure point against the classification system. People like to talk about their work. To be inhibited against doing so is a source of considerable internal tension.

     Sometimes external tension, too. Time was, I would have laughed at the following brief exchange. I would have assumed it was fictional:

     Wife: How was work today, sweetie?
     Husband: You have no need to know.

     Unfortunately, it isn’t.