Thursday, April 2, 2020

What Might the "New Normal" Look Like?

The extreme measures taken currently cannot last much longer. We won't be told to "stay at home", under penalty of arrest.

But, I think it's pretty obvious that daily life will not be the same as what preceded it. In what ways might that change?

  1. Social life will be in smaller groups - MUCH smaller. Gatherings, even in families, may be limited to once a year or so face-to-face. Think of an annual summer reunion, taking place after the infectious season is over (assuming that WuFlu follows a typical seasonal cycle).
  2. Video interactions will become the norm. That will end up being the way for friends to meet up and socialize, most office jobs to be handled (perhaps with periodic trips to the headquarters for necessary in-person work), and relatives not in household to see each other. In-person visits will be rare treats, and social pressure will force those sick or just a little under the weather to bow out. Large gatherings will NOT happen.
  3. Zoom, and other teleconferencing platforms, will take off. The demand will continue even after more or less normal life returns.
  4. Expect a huge drive to bring out the first affordable hologram/3-D video machines. The market pressure will be huge, and the first companies to perfect it will likely make a bundle.
  5. Off-shoring work and manufacture of vital products is OVER. The vulnerability of America to often-hostile foreign countries is now clear. American workers may well become more affordable, because they will not be traveling, buying much of a work wardrobe, or eating meals out. Families won't need that second car. And, they are less likely than foreigners to be pressured by their governments to take proprietary secrets or spy.
  6. Work - HR departments may be GONE (Please, God! This is one that I would consider a True Miracle!). Why do you need them, just to administer benefits? If people aren't interacting, there will be less argument to keep them. Outsource payroll and benefits. Dump the overpaid nags.
  7. For those in the restaurant industry, the good times are gone. Many restaurants will not survive. The industry as a whole has been on shaky ground for a long time. The pressure by activists for higher wages, along with the always-present likelihood of failure - estimates are often wildly overstated, but around 20% fail in the first year, and it's an expensive proposition to start one - make it reasonable that perhaps 1/2 of all restaurants will go under in the next year. Those who have made their living in the industry - particularly the servers, cooks, and cleanup crews - will need to find other work.
  8. Those who have come to this country without permission and worked at seasonal/marginal jobs, will find less work. Most will self-deport, as they find their former employment is no longer available.
  9. Younger people have a new appreciation of those workers who were in demand during this time - the truckers, grocery workers, nurses and medical staff, and first responders. Expect kids to pay attention to the lessons, and re-calibrate their career goals towards indispensability. The construction and repair trades will benefit from the change, too.
  10. The news media (legacy version) is dead, dead, dead. Even with COVID-19 "news" updates 24/7 (with the little scrolled updates showing below the programs) hasn't saved them. People are highly suspicious of the Official Media, and more inclined to pay attention to the Dissident Media. Many blog sites are moving to a partly paid model (some free content, but other posts for paying customers). That trend may grow, but, whether it does or not, the Legacy Media is NOT considered reliable anymore.
  11. People are re-discovering hobbies - crafts, music, old time puzzles and games, cooking, gardening, and home improvement/repair. The stories that they are sharing on Facebook are less frenzied and more relaxed. They are proud of their fledging efforts, and eager to post them.
  12. Sports are NOT going to survive, in the manner that they have been played/compensated. Mega-million contracts WILL be broken/re-negotiated, seasons will shrink, and schools, to the extent that their programs survive, will downsize them considerably. The money for the programs will simply not be there. The insurance cost for players in fall/winter sports will be prohibitive. Non-contact sports - skiing, bowling, archery, shooting, and track - will replace them, as much as survives the shake-out.
  13. School will change. The comprehensive school, with its periodic sweep of infections, may disappear. Many parents, having seen that they can function as teacher, will opt out of a return to the Old Normal. Many kids in middle schools, not eager to return to bullying and social isolation in the school context, will convince their parents to let them continue with home education. The smart players will jump into this new model, and provide high quality alternative education. Those with certifications/qualifications in math/science/special education may find they can't afford to return to the old way.
  14. The introverts will, if not take over, certainly be seen to be more mainstream. Some of the more exuberant extroverts may die out. Being a "party girl" or "the guy everyone knows" may become social deficits. Woman may gain a new appreciation of the guy who is ill at ease in crowds, but can function when confined to small quarters for extended periods of time. The guy who is both a pleasure to be around when home AND a handy guy with repairs? Winnah.
  15. Without the wild party atmosphere of evening venues - clubs, restaurants/bars, sports events - the "Fast Times" girls/guys will be done. Likely for good, but, at least, for a long time. On Tinder, "Likes a quiet evening at home" will look like a good bet, and "Enjoys cooking, card games, and reading" will be the New Hottie.

Proving Me Correct Dept.

     If you’re a Christian, or are (at least) aware of the teachings of the Christian faith, you know what importance we place on the virtue of charity. Christ’s command to “Love your neighbor as yourself” isn’t about warm, gooey feelings; it’s about coming to his defense or assistance should he need and deserve it. You know, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” were your situations reversed. Simple stuff, easily comprehended if sometimes challenging to act on.

     The Christian command to be charitable is why Christian churches invariably operate or are associated with charitable operations: food banks, clothing depositories, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, charity hospitals and medical centers, and other facilities for the assistance of people in need. We take this stuff seriously. Indeed, one of the mini-crises of American life – from a charitable perspective – is the near-universal opulence of our society. Very few persons, as a percent of the whole, actually need survival assistance at any given moment. There’s an actual shortage of neighbors to help!

     Simply for its illustrative power, there follows a piece that first appeared at the old Palace of Reason.

Looking For Trouble

Curmudgeon Emeritus -- Francis W. Porretto

October 27, 2003

     Interesting patterns and trends are everywhere around us. It baffles your Curmudgeon how an opinion writer could say that he has nothing to write about. As Robert Pirsig and others have said, "The more you look, the more you see."

     A Curmudgeonly acquaintance, who shall henceforth be called Sarah, can be found in the local supermarket every evening between seven and eight o'clock. Yes, she's married. No, she doesn't have a huge family that requires an hour's grocery shopping every evening. She spends her time there because she enjoys it.

     Sarah's not insane, nor is she unique. A substantial number of Americans shop for pleasure. If the supermarket seems an odd venue for this pastime, well, different strokes and all that.

     But Sarah's not shopping in the conventional sense. She's looking for trouble.

     No, no! She's not looking to start a fight over the price of eggs. She's looking for trouble so she can help to fix it. Since she's a gifted shopper, with a remarkable ability to squeeze $10 of purchases out of a $5 bill, she looks for people having shopping trouble: women who can't fill their larders adequately on their household budgets.

     Sarah's really good at this, and the folks she helps purely love her. However, at our last conversation, Sarah observed that fewer and fewer people seem to need her assistance. She mused about whether she ought to spend her evenings in a less affluent area.

     Another Curmudgeonly acquaintance, a retired gentleman whom we'll call Ray, has the charming habit of driving his truck around Long Island's major roads, looking for motorists with mechanical problems. When he finds one, he stops and offers to fix the misbehaving automobile right then and there, for free. Such is Ray's prowess with cars that he has yet to fail to deliver.

     But Ray, too, is longing for richer trouble pickings. Long Islanders' cars don't break down nearly as often as they once did. Worse, most motorists have cell phones now, and they don't hesitate to use them. Ray's been talking about moving upstate, to Sullivan or Delaware County, where the average vehicle is older and more likely to fail.

     This past decade, local churches have reported a strong upswing in volunteers for charity work. Charity kitchens often have more willing workers than they have clients to feed. Our hospitals are blessed with a goodly number of volunteers to keep company with the afflicted: reading to them, talking to them, or performing less savory chores that will not be described further here.

     A lot of Americans are out there looking for trouble -- and finding that there's less of it to go around.

     This is a happy thing. Right? Well, of course it is. Unless your sense of worth requires others in less pleasant circumstances for you to minister to. But the swelling of the ranks of volunteers has your Curmudgeon wondering.

     That Americans are willing to give so greatly speaks wonderfully of them. It also begs a question that many would prefer not to face: "Why are you doing this?"

     The question is not meant maliciously, but as a measure of another social dynamic whose arrival has been long foretold: the "hedonic treadmill."

     Economics teaches that everything is subject to a law of diminishing marginal utility. At any instant, to any potential purchaser, unit 2 of some good is worth less to him than unit 1. Unit 3 is worth still less, and so on. If there's a reason this law shouldn't apply to the direct satisfactions of life, your Curmudgeon can't see it. If it does, then the direct satisfaction of entirely personal desires -- that is, those desires that bear on no one else's appetites and interests but one's own -- will gradually lose appeal as those desires are met to an increasing degree. Therefore, as Smith prospers and accumulates the things he wants, the things that directly bring him pleasure, the effort he must expend to pursue more of them will appear to become excessive. When his efforts seem greater than the pleasure afforded, they will cease; Smith will step off the treadmill.

     Put another way: Just how many CDs and video games can you really enjoy?

     Of course, this is an oversimplification. It assumes that novelty and variety play no part. It also discounts the changes in tastes that come with age. Even so, it has some force. Handsome, affluent young professionals don't go looking for charitable involvement because they can't afford ski trips or find bed partners. Nor do they all do it because of religious conviction.

     We reach out to others, in part, because there comes a point where it's the only way to continue to grow.

     The Boomer generation, which participates heavily in the eleemosynary trend, has been the most individualistic, even self-centered, generation in American history. We've almost worn out the word "I." Even so, we appear to have reached our epiphany, our recognition that there are fulfillments beyond those of the senses, and that they deserve a place in our lives.

     It's a considerable irony that this should be happening at a time when true misery of all sorts is receding rapidly from our shores. Sarah's and Ray's clients are fewer and further between for the very same reason that Sarah and Ray can afford to help them: the entire nation is getting richer and economically more secure at an incomprehensible rate.

     Of course, that's not something to be unhappy about. Indeed, charitably-inclined Westerners headed abroad in search of recipients for their largesse might be the shot in the arm our airlines need. The airlines themselves might be the biggest beneficiaries of such a movement. Imagine that.

     As you can see from the date at the top, the above piece is seventeen years old. A lot of my readers laughed at it, back then – and it does have a somewhat humorous tone. Yet it was stimulated by real people and real events. That’s how seriously charitable persons – Christians, at least – take their charitable doings.

     At this point you’re probably wondering why this is at the forefront of my thoughts this fine April morning. Well, courtesy of my colleague David Drake, we have this offense against decency:

     An openly gay and anti-Christian New York state senator has condemned Franklin Graham and Samaritan's Purse for wanting to treat coronavirus patients.

     Samaritan's Purse set up an emergency field tent hospital in Central Park at the request of city officials. The respiratory unit, which will be supervised by Mount Sinai Hospital, can accommodate 68 patients.

     "It's a shame that the federal government has left New York with no other choice but to accept charity from bigots," State Sen. Brad Hoylman said. "You know those medical tents being constructed in Central Park? They’re being set up by notorious anti-gay bigot Franklin Graham. Mr. Graham must promise to treat EVERY patient with dignity and respect."...

     Even some in the city's LGBT community thumbed their nose at the Christian ministry's charity.

     "I don't want to demonize people who are volunteering their time, but it is a concerning thing," Amy Martin, a Brooklyn resident and former nursing assistant, told Gothamist.

     "On the one hand, this is absolutely an all hands on deck situation," she continued. "On the other hand, as an LGBT New Yorker, I would be hesitant to make that my first choice of care. I'd much rather be seen anywhere else."

     Remember what I wrote only yesterday?

     Homosexuals have made a habit of defining themselves by their sexual preferences. They’ve made those preferences the center of their lives. They’ve trumpeted them at the normal majority in a blatant display of disdain for and triumph over millennia of social norms.

     Timing, they say, is everything.

     I’m straining to avert fury. I’m also straining to resist clich├ęd expressions about “social cohesion” in “critical moments.” They come rather easily at times such as these. But I would ask the Gentle Readers of Liberty’s Torch a simple question:

If you could choose for your neighbors
Either Brad Hoylman and Amy Martin,
Or the volunteers of Samaritan’s Purse,
Which would you prefer?

     Imagine someone like Brad Hoylman or Amy Martin as a board member of your Homeowners’ Association. They seek positions like those, you know. For decades, homosexuals have sought the power to destroy those who disapprove of them, even by indirection. They’re heavily overrepresented in Human Resources departments, from which they can pillory anyone who excites their ire...and all that takes is a hint of overt Christianity or a single disapproving word or glance.

     To make what one does with one’s genitals the central defining fact of one’s life is about as immature and self-limiting a choice as I can imagine. Yet that’s what hatred-filled homosexual bigots such as Hoylman and Martin have done. They cannot abide being disapproved of for that choice. It angers them so greatly that they condemn others who disapprove and are willing to say so. Indeed, they would drive them out of their jobs and homes, were they able; that’s been demonstrated on too many occasions to warrant discussion.

     Such persons are acquiring ever more influence over governments and organizations with the power to destroy lives. Don’t doubt that they would destroy Franklin Graham and his Samaritan’s Purse volunteers, if they were able. That’s how deep their hatred and power-lust runs.

     I can practically hear my homosexual readers screaming that “We’re not all like that!” And it is so, and no argument from me. I’ve had a number of homosexual friends and acquaintances over the years, including one whose attempts to sway me to his side of the street lasted the entirety of my college career. They were all essentially decent people – but with a qualifier: Not one of them was willing to take a hand in disciplining his unruly, hatred-filled “colleagues,” not even to the point of criticizing them where others could hear.

     It’s a group-identity mentality, akin to that of many otherwise decent American Negroes. “We must protect ‘our own’ from The Man, even the ones that don’t deserve it.”

     I’ve written on several occasions about the dynamic that propels identity politics. Once an identity group acquires sociopolitical stature, it will spur the assembly of other identity groups eager to get their snouts into the gravy. Such groups swiftly acquire disproportionate influence, owing to their militancy and their short, tightly focused agendas. It’s deplorable – but it’s also irresistible. It’s why the political recognition of groups must be resisted at all costs. Clarence Carson knew this:

     [W]e are forgetting and have to a considerable extent discarded the methods for civilizing groups....Both the mob action and the techniques by which it is quelled are eloquent testimony to our failure to civilize groups. The current alternatives favored by “liberals” amount to admonitions to submit to the pressure and coercion of the group.

     If a convention were held to choose a Patron Saint of Americanism, my nominee would be the late Dr. Clarence B. Carson.

     And so we are seeing the emergence of a new identity group: white Christians. We have been blamed for others’ ills, trials, and dissatisfactions for long enough, and we want an end to it. We’re rejecting attributions of “white guilt.” We’re becoming socially exclusive. We’re forming White Protection Leagues. We’re establishing proprietary communities and refusing admission to those not of our kind. In other words, we’re doing what those who revile us have been doing for some time now – and of course, we’re being castigated for it.

     It was all as foreseeable as the sunrise. You cannot pour venom upon the Sarahs, the Rays, and the Franklin Grahams of our land without evoking a reaction...and that reaction has arrived.

     Time to pray.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Some Spelling Help

     In my rounds as the English language’s foremost defender on the Web, I’ve noticed that an old and very useful rule about spelling has been neglected — possibly with malice aforethought. There’s no help for it; I must once again leap into action.

     The rule:

I before E,
Except After C,
Or When Sounded Like A,
As In Neighbor And Weigh

     The rule applies when the letters i and e occur juxtaposed within the same syllable. Therefore:

  1. It’s not peice, it’s piece.
  2. It’s not seige, it’s siege.
  3. It’s not feild, it’s field.
  4. It’s not cheif, it’s chief.
  5. It’s not breif, it’s brief.
  6. It’s not freind, it’s friend.
  7. It’s not acheive, it’s achieve.
  8. It’s not conciet, it’s conceit (note the c).
  9. It’s not cieling, it’s ceiling (note the c).
  10. It’s not recieve, it’s receive (note the c).
  11. It’s not vien, it’s vein (Sounded like a).
  12. It’s not hienous, it’s heinous (Sounded like a).

     And so on. There are some exceptions. Two come to mind at once: seize and weird. But there aren’t many others.

     Note the single-syllable aspect of the rule. When the i and the e are parts of two different syllables, they can be in reverse order. For example, consider the word society, where because of the preceding c we would normally expect the e before the i. The syllabification dictates the exception: so-ci-e-ty.

     If you write, it’s important to spell correctly -- especially if you write fiction. I’m not trying to be a dictator about this, but the rule is easy to remember and easy to follow, so why let such elementary mistakes in spelling spoil the legibility of your prose? Granted that most spellcheckers will catch such errors for you, remembering to use the spellchecker can be a problem all by itself!

     Verbum sat sapienti.

Wednesday At The Whacky Shack

     Ever heard that phrase? It’s old slang for an insane asylum, as venerable as “nut hatch,” “loony bin,” or “funny farm” – and at one time just as commonplace. I like them all, as I have a fondness for archaisms. That you haven’t heard them lately should remind us of the vicious bowdlerization of our language the SJWs and PC enforcers have achieved.

     Anyway, here’s some entertainment for your April Fool’s Day morning. All of it has been most carefully fact-checked, cross-correlated, and assured of conformance to Liberty’s Torch’s rigorous standards for truth, justice, and diversionary value.

0. Of Little Or No Interest.

     Liberty’s Torch’s traffic numbers are way up, which is gratifying but also puzzling. We haven’t blazed any new trails recently. Neither have I discovered a treasure trove of gags so old they’ll sound new to anyone who hasn’t yet begun collecting Social Security. I suppose it could be because not every one of our emissions is about the Kung Flu / Lung Pao Sicken / Chi-Com Crud, but there’s really no way to know.

     At any rate, to all the newcomers to our blather: Welcome to the only completely meshugganeh site on the Web. I hope you’re enjoying your visit. We’ll be here for the duration of the crisis and long afterward. (Try the veal.)

1. At Long Last.

     A beloved colleague is finally getting the attention he deserves:

     Longtime hangarounds at this here hogwallow will be quite familiar already with our friend TL Davis, whose work I’ve linked to and excerpted many times over the years. What y’all might not be aware of is that, in addition to being an accomplished blogger and novelist (I’ve recommended his novels before here, especially the great Shadow Soldier saga), TL is also a screenwriter. As it happens, in the course of a discussion of his next film project with him, TL proposed doing a documentary on my old band. So we’re off and running with that project now, kicking things off thusly:
     With our first documentary Lies of Omission finally making its way to Amazon (not quite yet released) and other streaming services, we are encouraged to take the next step in filming a more mainstream documentary about the Belmont Playboys. How this rockabilly band came to our attention is a story in itself, but suffice it to say that we had other interests in common and the revelation of their talent and resiliency as a top performing band was indeed a pleasant surprise.

     From the rural North Carolina countryside, the Belmont Playboys quickly created a sound and an energy that captured the attention of a New York Times music reviewer by the name of Kathy Schoemer in 1989 as the band played the old Delta 88 club in New York City. From that moment on they were able to build a career out of doing what they loved.

     Mike Hendrix’s Cold Fury goes almost all the way back to the inception of Blogdom. His band, the Belmont Playboys, goes back further still. It’s good to see him getting some appreciation at long last, especially given the many travails he’s had to endure these past twenty-five years.

2. Priorities.

     Seattle has so many rampant public-spaces problems that it’s unimaginable that its law enforcers should have time or energy for anything else...but lo! What light through yonder window breaks?

     Seattle's top cop may want to get her priorities straightened out. In the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Police Chief Carmen Best used her most recent "chief's brief" update on the coronavirus crisis to urge residents to dial 911 if they are the victims of racist name-calling....

     "We will document and investigate every reported hate crime," Best continued. "Even racist name-calling should be reported to police. If you aren't sure if a hate crime occurred, call 911. We are here to help."

     Help with what? With the suppression of Constitutionally protected rights? Was the First Amendment repealed or modified while we weren’t looking?

     Here’s Police Chief Best:

     Draw your own conclusions.

3. Rulers Gotta Rule.

     It would be a mistake to imagine that the petty people whose lives are so empty that they must make careers out of micromanaging our lives would give us a break during trying times:

     A few Los Angeles restaurants struggling to maintain footing amid the COVID-19 outbreak identified a clever way to generate revenue while still serving the community: Start selling groceries.

     The city's public health department promptly shut them down. The reason? The small businesses don't have a "grocery permit."

     "It's not really possible for a restaurant to become a grocery store," Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of Los Angeles County Public Health, said in a briefing yesterday. "You cannot just decide you want to sell groceries."

     I seem to recall another story about small-minded bureaucrats destroying something wholesome and charitable. That’s what these bureaucrats do. They have no lives without their little bit of authority. As for doing something about real threats to public health, such as Los Angeles’ immense population of homeless and its shit-festooned streets...I suppose that would be too much like actual work.

     Can you say anarcho-tyranny, Gentle Reader? I knew you could!

4. Mustn’t Say “God” Where Others Might Hear!

     I admire anyone who can rise above his difficulties – and the worse the difficulties, the greater my admiration. Mike Lindell of MyPillow is one such person, and he’s unabashed about giving credit where he feels it’s due:

     Lindell, who just announced his company will produce 50,000 masks a day by the end of the week, was mocked for sharing his faith from behind the lectern, and encouraging Americans to turn to God in this time of crisis.

     “God gave us grace on November 8, 2016 to change the course we were on,” Lindell said. “God had been taken out of our schools and lives, a nation had turned its back on God. I encourage you to use this time at home to get back in the Word. Read our Bibles and spend time with our families.”

     For daring to exhort others to such simple acts of faith, Lindell has been savagely molested throughout the media. Read the linked article for the details, as I’m too disgusted by them to reproduce them here. (Remember: these people are puzzled about the public’s lack of trust in them.)

     I’m old enough to remember the pro-worship public-service pitches that once appeared on television and could be heard on the radio. "Go to the church of your choice" "The Family That Prays Together Stays Together." And does anyone else remember Archbishop Fulton Sheen's TV show "Life is Worth Living" -- in its day the most popular program on the airwaves?

     Families were more stable. Crime was far lower. Our public spaces were peaceful and orderly. And governments were far less intrusive.

     I know, I know: Correlation is not causation. But shouldn't we be thinking about this at least a little?

5. A Liberty’s Torch First.

     While this is not a news site in the strict sense, we do report on interesting developments now and then. We try to cite primary sources, when they’re available. However, as our primary aim is to analyze and comment on the news, we don’t always perform long-term follow-ups on such developments.

     This morning the site email address received a unique “request:”

Please remove article concerning myself Samantha Werkheiser from your blog. My appeal has been won, conviction reversed, and I have no felony history. Articles such as yours are hurting my ability to rebuild my life. If you have any questions, I will put you in touch with my Manhattan Attorney.


Samantha Werkheiser
Sent from my iPhone

     Note that the email does not contain a URL to the article in question. Here it is:

     Homosexuals have made a habit of defining themselves by their sexual preferences. They’ve made those preferences the center of their lives. They’ve trumpeted them at the normal majority in a blatant display of disdain for and triumph over millennia of social norms. Given that, should this really surprise anyone?
     Julie Kay Werkheiser and Samantha Stone were both dance teachers in upstate New York. Werkheiser owned Studio J Dance in Waverly, about 40 miles from Binghamton, where Stone owned Creative Dance Elements. At some point, Stone divorced her husband and is now Samantha Werkheiser. And both of them have been convicted of molesting children. In February 2016, Julie Werkheiser was sentenced to 11 years to life in state prison after a jury convicted her of felony predatory sexual assault against a child. Police said that between July 2006 and November 2007 she abused two dance students, who were 6 and 8 at the time. Last week, a judge sentenced her wife, the former Samantha Stone, to 15 years in prison for first-degree course of sexual conduct against a child.

     Lesbian Dance teachers were teaching their students Lesbian Dance. At least we got truth in labeling...of a sort.

     Miss Werkheiser is correct that her conviction was overturned:

     Two years into her prison sentence for sexually abusing a child, a Binghamton woman's conviction was tossed out Thursday by a New York State appeals court.

     Samantha Werkheiser (she's also known as Samantha Stone) had been sentenced to 15 years behind bars in March 2017, after the 39-year-old former dance instructor's second trial ended with a Broome County Court judge's guilty verdict in the sexual abuse of a girl when she was 6 years old.

     On Thursday, a mid-level appeals court dismissed the indictment against Werkheiser based on a technical error in how the charge she faced in the retrial — a felony count of first-degree course of sexual conduct against a child — was pursued in court.

     When Werkheiser's first conviction was overturned, it was determined she couldn't be prosecuted for the original higher-level felony of predatory sexual assault against a child, because that charge was put on New York State's law books after her alleged criminal conduct.

     Instead, she stood trial for a lesser included charge, course of sexual conduct against a child. On Thursday, the appeals court said the prosecution should have filed a reduced indictment against her after the charge was reduced, but never did.

     Liberty’s Torch will not remove the original article. Rather, we are happy to cite both the original article and the subsequent one that details the technical, non-evidentiary reason Miss Werkheiser’s conviction was overturned. Thank you, Miss Werkheiser, for bringing this to our attention.

6. Another Injustice That Demands Correction!

     Yes, two in a row. And this one is part of an insidious pattern:

     LIKE THE UN, THE WHO IS ABOUT AS HELPFUL TO US AS AN ACCORDION IN A BATTLE FIELD: We Can Fight Pandemics Without The Communist-Allied World Health Organization.

     Enough of this! The relentless slander of the military utility of the indispensable accordion must cease! Field armies throughout history have known the devastating power of the accordion in warfare. The deployment of a series of polkas at sufficiently high volumes can utterly demoralize an enemy force...or failing that, set it to dancing. Has there been a field army anywhere that has prevailed without its Accordion Corps? Would you have us go back to those damnable bagpipes?

     Sheesh! Next they’ll be questioning why the NATO Alliance includes France!

     That’s all for today, Gentle Reader. The lawn must be mowed, there’s a novel in progress to be addressed, and I have other duties as well. Stay warm, stay dry, and stay safe.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Autarky: Further Considerations

     In all matters of economic analysis, it’s critically important – nay, vital — to keep Henry Hazlitt’s lesson at the forefront of one’s thoughts:

     The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.

     In applying this lesson, one must remain aware that economic analysis faces its severest difficulties in dealing with time. Economics is about objectives, incentives, costs, and constraints as they affect the thinking of producers, consumers, and governments. While the action of those things is predictable, the amount of time it will take for them to bear fruit is not.

     In my previous piece on this subject, I used the specter of potential enemies as the spur for my thesis. A nation that must ponder the possibility of warfare, whether of the “flying lead” variety or any other, must be braced for it. Its supply of necessities must not be in the control of any potential enemy. This much, at least, “should” be “obvious.”

     The meaning of the word necessities is, of course, subject to contention. The necessities of human life – i.e., those things absolutely required to keep people alive — are food, clothing, shelter, and energy. But very few Americans use the terms needs or necessities in that limited a fashion. This is a consequence of our prolonged enjoyment of a historically unprecedented degree of comfort and convenience.

     Comfort and convenience are sly seducers. Isaac Asimov knew that very well:

     "This is a Seldon crisis we're facing, Sutt, and Seldon crises are not solved by individuals but by historic forces. Hari Seldon, when he planned our course of future history, did not count on brilliant heroics but on the broad sweeps of economics and sociology. So the solutions to the various crises must be achieved by the forces that become available to us at the time.
     "In this case, – trade!"
     Sutt raised his eyebrows skeptically and took advantage of the pause, "I hope I am not of subnormal intelligence, but the fact is that your vague lecture isn't very illuminating."
     "It will become so," said Mallow. "Consider that until now the power of trade has been underestimated. It has been thought that it took a priesthood under our control to make it a powerful weapon. That is not so, and this is my contribution to the Galactic situation. Trade without priests! Trade alone! It is strong enough. Let us become very simple and specific. Korell is now at war with us. Consequently our trade with her has stopped. But, –notice that I am making this as simple as a problem in addition, –in the past three years she has based her economy more and more upon the nuclear techniques which we have introduced and which only we can continue to supply. Now what do you suppose will happen once the tiny nuclear generators begin failing, and one gadget after another goes out of commission?
     "The small household appliances go first. After a half a year of this stalemate that you abhor, a woman's nuclear knife won't work any more. Her stove begins failing. Her washer doesn't do a good job. The temperature-humidity control in her house dies on a hot summer day. What happens?"
     He paused for an answer, and Sutt said calmly, "Nothing. People endure a good deal in war."
     "Very true. They do. They'll send their sons out in unlimited numbers to die horribly on broken spaceships. They'll bear up under enemy bombardment, if it means they have to live on stale bread and foul water in caves half a mile deep. But it's very hard to bear up under little things when the patriotic uplift of imminent danger is not present. It's going to be a stalemate. There will be no casualties, no bombardments, no battles.
     "There will just be a knife that won't cut, and a stove that won't cook, and a house that freezes in the winter. It will be annoying, and people will grumble."
     Sutt said slowly, wonderingly, "Is that what you're setting your hopes on, man? What do you expect? A housewives' rebellion? A Jacquerie? A sudden uprising of butchers and grocers with their cleavers and bread-knives shouting 'Give us back our Automatic Super-Kleeno Nuclear Washing Machines.'"
     "No, sir," said Mallow, impatiently, "I do not. I expect, however, a general background of grumbling and dissatisfaction which will be seized on by more important figures later on."
     "And what more important figures are these?"
     "The manufacturers, the factory owners, the industrialists of Korell. When two years of the stalemate have gone, the machines in the factories will, one by one, begin to fail. Those industries which we have changed from first to last with our new nuclear gadgets will find themselves very suddenly ruined. The heavy industries will find themselves, en masse and at a stroke, the owners of nothing but scrap machinery that won't work."

     No casualties. No bombardments. No battles. War of the subtlest sort...yet the most savage. A war that turns the enemy’s habituation to comfort and convenience against it.

     Are Americans prepared for that sort of war in this Year of Our Lord 2020?

     In composing the list of necessities, one must not go too far afield...but one must not stop short, either. Food, clothing, shelter, and energy are end-user consumables. They’re made available to the consumer by a process of production and distribution that has many components. So we must look also to the supply chains that provide those components. Are they reasonably secure, or could they be badly disturbed by some hostile power?

     The item that deserves deep consideration is food. Our food supply chain involves major technological developments unknown a century ago. Agrochemicals make possible the great productivity of our farms. Massive machines do the bulk of the labor. And of course, the food must get from the farms to the supermarkets, which requires trucks and trains.

     In recent years we’ve heard several times about China’s dominance of the supply of rare earth elements. Several of those elements are important in electronics production. Do any of them figure into agrochemicals or the machines, trains, and trucks that bring the food to us? If so, what could be done about it?

     As I mentioned in the previous piece, much of the reason for the offshoring trend of recent decades has been federal over-regulation of our productive sector, particularly of an environmentalist variety. President Trump has already had some success in luring American firms back onshore. Perhaps he will succeed in reversing the flow – i.e., to make the U.S. a magnet for the productive enterprises of other nations, as it once was – but that remains to be seen.

     What also remains to be seen is whether the regulatory bureaucracy, like Tolkien’s Shadow, “takes another shape and grows again.” The bureaucracy is a favored destination for persons who like power but are ill-equipped to produce anything Americans actually want. Moreover, it offers that which the lazy and useless have favored throughout history: security. Changing the incentives involved by repealing the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act and once again outlawing public-sector unions would prevent the resurgence of this “fourth branch of government” nowhere contemplated in the Constitution.

     Expect the Deep State to fight with the ferocity of a wounded lion.

Ultra-Quickies: From The “Great Minds Think Alike” Files

     For decades Americans have enjoyed access to cheap goods, due in large part to the fact that we’ve outsourced our industrial and supply capacity to cheap, overseas markets like China and Vietnam. The free traders, roosting in their D.C. think tanks and on Wall Street, worry that the U.S.-China trade war is uprooting our supply chains and that Huawei (shown to have deep connections to the Chinese intelligence apparatus) is only a theoretical threat. They tell us that we must come to terms with China’s rise, that there is no other way. But what if there was?

     My critics will more than likely dismiss this idea either insane or reckless. But throughout the late 19th and 20th century, it was a policy that led to prosperity and self-sufficiency. I’m talking about autarky. In our over-globalized world, a policy of total autarky is infeasible. But a degree of autarky should be recognized as self-evidently in America’s national interest.

     [William Upton]

     Amazing how a major medical calamity can get people to re-examine their preconceptions, isn’t it? And once again:

     “Most people are willing to give up their preconceptions, once they’ve had them tattooed on their heads with a blunt instrument.” – Keith Laumer, in one of his “Retief” novels

Monday, March 30, 2020

Reading China Rx - Part Two

I'm about 28% of the way through the book. The chapter that currently has my eye is chapter 7 - dealing with chicken and beef sales during the Obama years.

It didn't start with Obama, but he didn't help America in the process of negotiating with China.

The problems are these:

  • Chinese food processing is notoriously filthy, uses levels of antibiotics that are not permitted in the USA, and actively works with the Chinese government to evade food inspections at the plants.
  • The Chinese played Divide and Conquer with the meat industry - they pitted the beef industry against the chicken industry, and strong-armed the FDA to approve import of chicken for the bribe of getting our beef producers to get a foothold in China.
  • The Chinese pretended that wild bird pathogens posed a danger to our farm-raised chicken, while ignoring the many pathogens that have infested Chinese chicken farms. So, they used that pretense to keep our chicken out, while pressuring the USA to accept their chicken.
  • One of the compromises that the USA made was to allow US-grown chicken to be shipped to China to be processed into patties, fingers, and nuggets, then shipped back to us. Of course, the Chinese assured the US that they would ONLY use the American-grown chicken in the final product. Right. We can completely trust the word of the Chinese government and business community - /sarc.
Why is chicken important?

Because the political maneuvering, pressure, and evasions of law and regulations that made use of Chinese facilities to process chicken a bad idea, also apply to allowing medications to be made in China. Inspections of foreign plants was eased in an agreement that was meant to facilitate trade with the EU. That agreement may be used - what do I meant MAY - it WILL - to allow China to bypass meaningful inspection of their drug processing plants.

And, that will likely kill a few Americans, and cause others to become sicker then they should have been.

But, hey, cheap drugs!

Links to other posts about China Rx:

Reading China RX Intro

Ultra-Quickies: A Linguistic Grump

     To all those writing about the Wuhan virus:

Please Stop Using The Word Epicenter!

     Epicenter is a technical term from seismology. It refers to the point from which the temblors of a seismic disturbance appear to radiate. It is not a fancy synonym for center!

     Colloquially, epicenter is an approximate synonym for focus: the point on which attention concentrates in the course of an ongoing event. It would still be a distortion of the original meaning of the word, but not as bad a distortion as its use where center would be correct.

     You get no extra eloquence or erudition points for using a technical term incorrectly. Indeed, you lose them, with me and everyone else who believes words should be used according to their proper meanings.

China Rx Update

I've been reading, and posting on, the book It's China Rx: Exposing the Risks of America's Dependence on China for Medicine. It was actually published in 2018, long before the WuFlu hit. It examines how China's control of generics, along with their control of the base ingredients for about 80% of medications used by the world, puts our survival in jeopardy.

This article, on Breitbart, details China's plans to expand their control of the world's pills. The quotes below come from Xi Jinping, leader of China.
To benefit what Xi depicted as charitable actions by China, he demanded that “all G20 members take collective actions” that would benefit the Chinese Communist Party’s economy, such as “cutting tariffs, removing barriers, and facilitating the unfettered flow of trade.”
Xi also proposed a “global network of control and treatment,” also led by him, that would grant China full access to all medical data, presumably also including intellectual property related to the manufacture and development of medical technology.
If we give him that, it's game over for America. He would control our extremely profitable pharmaceutical industry (the parts he didn't already control through price undercutting, dumping pills at below cost to gain a monopoly, and industrial spying).

They're using the crisis to get money to fund their corporate take-over of the world by profiting off the disease.
RTHK, a Hong Kong television network, noted on Friday that China is already “printing money” from the sheer amount of profits coming from Communist Party-launched factories making sanitary masks. According to RTHK, the Party has built nearly 9,000 factories to manufacture masks alone in the past two months.
“A mask machine is a real cash printer,” Shi Xinghui, a sales manager in southern Guangdong, China, told the network. Guangdong borders Hong Kong. “The profit of a mask now is at least several cents compared to less than one in the past. Printing 60,000 or 70,000 masks a day is equivalent to printing money.” 
 And those masks are of extremely poor quality, as countries, as countries in the EU are finding. Spain has received some of their masks from China - but, much of the "assistance" is strictly a pay-for-play cash deal.

The EU is DONE - stick a fork in it.

Outrage Dept.

     I’ve wondered for some time why the residents of New York City elected Bill De Blasio their city’s mayor. I’ve wondered why they re-elected him after the damage he did to the city in his first term. I haven’t stopped wondering about those things...but about De Blasio himself, there’s no need to wonder:

     New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio warned religious leaders that their places of worship could be shut down permanently if they did not follow the city's order to pause services during the coronavirus pandemic.

     "A small number of religious communities, specific churches and specific synagogues, are unfortunately not paying attention to this guidance even though it’s so widespread," the New York Democrat said Friday at his daily press briefing.

     "I want to say to all those who are preparing for the potential of religious services this weekend: If you go to your synagogue, if you go to your church and attempt to hold services after having been told so often not to, our enforcement agents will have no choice but to shut down those services," he added.

     De Blasio said that continued resistance of authorities to close religious services could mean a permanent shutdown.

     "If that does not happen, they will take additional action up to the point of fines and potentially closing the building permanently," he said.

     Those are not the words of an American mayor, exercising delimited powers under a Constitutionally conformant city charter that defines them strictly. Those are the words of a man who fancies himself a dictator, unbound by the Constitution of the United States.

     How does this vicious, contemptible creature, this unabashed totalitarian, continue to hold the mayoralty of the greatest of America’s cities – indeed, the greatest city on Earth? How is it that he hasn’t been bodily expelled from office? Indeed, how is it that he hasn’t yet been hanged from a lamppost, his remains left as a treat for the buzzards and a warning to those who would follow his example?

     If you’re not religious — don’t tell me how “spiritual” you are unless you want me to ban you — you might think this has nothing to do with you. You’d be wrong.

     People have been asking one another for some time, “Where’s the limit? How far can we permit them to infringe on our civil liberties in the name of this ‘crisis’?” The limit, Gentle Reader, was passed some time ago...and we’ve done nothing.

     What’s that? You disagree? Well, watch as the mayors of other cities, and the governors of states, emulate De Blasio. Success breeds emulation – and De Blasio, should be succeed in getting away with this, will be emulated. His power grab is the furthest any state or local official has dared to go. But don’t doubt for a moment that they’ll hesitate to do so, should De Blasio prove it safe.

     It’s odds-on that New Yorkers won’t even think to defy De Blasio’s ukase. That makes it highly likely that he will be emulated by the mayors of other, Democrat-controlled cities, and by no few Republican-controlled ones. Arbitrary seizures of property and police checkpoints where law-abiding-citizens are detained without cause will come next. All “for the crisis,” don’t y’know.

     Meanwhile, the scrofulous Andrew Cuomo has flipped his wig over Rhode Island’s recent moves to bar New Yorkers from the Ocean State. Emperor Andrew should look south rather than north and east. Rather than going to war with another state, he should consider reining in the criminal in Gracie Mansion. He won’t. As much as he dislikes De Blasio, he won’t. Democrats exhibit “party unity” under conditions such as these. Besides, De Blasio might be teaching Cuomo how far he can go in exercising forbidden powers and authorities never granted.

     It remains possible that New York’s police might choose to ignore De Blasio’s edict. Barring that, it’s possible that President Trump will act to halt De Blasio’s usurpations and protect New Yorkers’ Constitutionally guaranteed rights. It’s a longshot, but at this point, owing to their passivity up to now, longshots are all New Yorkers have left.

Quickies: Too “Informed” Too Fast

     It’s still rather early, I didn’t get much sleep, and I’m coping with a fair amount of pain, but duty calls with an iron voice...and an observation that deserves wider reflection:

     People should know better by now, yet they seem to fall for the hype every time—including many conservatives. The promise of the tech age and the ubiquity of smartphones and the internet was that it would arm people with relevant information and rational courses of action. Rather, it has done the opposite—magnifying doubts and fears about everything and everyone.

     In most cases, the only thing that information technology has done is cause people to become less tethered to reality. Screens now replace people’s senses, and the algorithms embedded in social media do people’s thinking for them.

     The author, Auguste Meyrat, is talking about public reactions to the Wuhan virus and developments in its propagation and remediation. While the virus itself is a problem of note, the problem Meyrat cites above is also significant.

     Yes: our senses, and information propagated by pre-Internet / pre-smartphone means, can mislead. However, the new informational realm, with its continuous “news cycle” and utter ubiquity, can do that plus instigate surges and panics. That danger was less before the current era simply because the pre-digital mechanisms were less prompt and (dare I say it) less efficient.

     While we are capable of turning it off, few choose to do so for very long.

     There’s already been a lot of talk about the effect of the smartphone on the cohesion of the microscopic societies of our families. My opinions are on record. The larger question of whether today’s hyper-intensified communications media are destabilizing macroscopic society is harder to address.

     I’m certainly not going to advocate being less informed. But leavening our communications gestalt with plenty of direct interaction with others seems imperative. The stubbornly persistent characteristics of “real life” are a sovereign antidote for fast-moving rumors, wild theories, and ominous speculations that can knock our thinking caps askew.

     Just now, owing to “social distancing” – which really must end soon if we’re going to have an economy and a society worth having after all this is over – it’s hard to get even a dollop of the “real life” I’ve prescribed. Indeed, our “real lives” are what the “social distancing” regimen is intended to thwart...and in that lies a seed that could easily blossom into a conspiracy theory of breadth, depth, and power. Once again, it’s time to call the Buddha macro:

     Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it – no matter if I have said it! – except it agree with your own reason and your own common sense. – Siddhartha Gautama, a.k.a. the Buddha

Reading China Rx - Part One

The background is rich with details, and manages to inform without losing you in the numbers.

Basically, this is a multi-year failure of government. Starting in the Clinton administration, those in charge in Washington got the "brilliant" idea of encouraging China to take over large sectors of the American economy, by:

  • Offering offshore JIT (Just in Time) response to need.
  • Undercutting the price per unit for meds, often with the encouragement and financial support of the Chinese government.
  • Engaging in price-fixing, again, with the active support of government - sometimes, with their specific orders.
  • Under the pressure of the competition, many American manufacturers went out of business, or sent the orders overseas.
  • After their American competition was eliminated, the Chinese raised the prices - often by amounts that many would consider "gouging".
  • Under continual pressure to compete, Chinese companies often took cost-cutting measures that led to contaminated or improperly prepared meds and food.
  • People, and their pets, died. The FDA and other sectors of the government reacted with weak punishments - if any.
  • Media ignored the scandals - they still do.
The American companies involved in this suffered little lasting damage to their reputation - Pfizer was one of them. The pet food adulteration that result in illness and death to many American pets caused more of an outrage than those that killed American people.

Rinse, repeat. Over and over.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Reading China RX Intro

I'm still reading the Roosevelt book, but this is a library book with a limited time to read.

It's China Rx: Exposing the Risks of America's Dependence on China for Medicine. Published in 2018, it's the book we SHOULD have read, long before the WuFlu hit the USA.

It discusses the problems with depending on another country for vital medicines and their component materials. It would have been bad enough with a relatively friendly country (Israel, India, or Canada, to name a few), but that strategy may yet be fatal for the USA.

Hopefully, the KungFlu Panic is a wake-up call to the population. If they are frightened sufficiently, a turnaround may happen before its too late.

I'll be posting updates on this book, as I read it. I'll try to aggregate the individual posts here, with links.

Part One.

China Rx Update - linked to a current story.

Part Two.

Quickies: An Important Historical Observation

     Much of the early history of the United States isn’t well understood even by persons who profess to be cognizant of it. The formation of the nation’s capital district and the peculair conditions imposed upon it by our Constitution are particularly obscure to many.

     However, Charles Hurt is here to remind us of part of it:

     The whole point of establishing the nation’s capital in Washington was that it was a dismal swamp uninhabitable most of the year. The mosquitoes alone kept Congress out of session for long months at a time. This narrowed the amount of time each year that federal legislators could be in Washington wasting your money and destroying the country with their ridiculous ideas and votes.

     Then along came air conditioning, and that ruined everything.

     The same logic dominated the placement of the majority of the state capitals. They were supposed to be difficult to reach and uncomfortable to endure for a long period. That would limit not only the damage legislators would do but the convergence of favor-seekers and lobbyists around the corridors of power. “Then along came air conditioning”...and public works, and highways, and air travel, and so forth.

     Maybe we should have made it illegal to heat or air-condition any building in which legislators convene. We didn’t, but perhaps it’s not too late for that, after all.

Age, Humility, And Wisdom

     A college classmate once said something extremely insightful to me. However, the insight only became apparent with the passage of much time. The irony in this will soon become clear.

     The classmate, whose name was Jay, opined that “old people” who don’t succumb to senility almost automatically become “incredibly wise.” I, being a sprat of no great wisdom at the time, let Jay’s statement pass “in one ear and out the other,” with no digestion occurring during the journey. (I was playing chess at the time, but that’s no excuse.) Today, with a few more years under my belt, I can see, more clearly than the college kid I was, not only that Jay was right but why.

     As the median age of Liberty’s Torch’s Gentle Readers is approximately 83.27 (5:30 AM Eastern Standard Time), I’ll bet you can see it too.

     The stimulus for this essay is, of all things, a tweet:

This is a good time to maintain some humility about how ridiculous it is to
believe any of us, including experts, know exactly the best thing to do and how soon to
do it. We’ll be guessing and correcting to the win. Some of us will later seem psychic,
but we don’t know who NOW.

— Scott Adams (@ScottAdamsSays) March 28, 2020

     Just in case you’ve been immured in an Anchorite’s cell or perched atop Saint Simeon Stylite’s pillar these past thirty years, Scott Adams is the creator and author of the Dilbert comic strip that’s delighted everyone in America (other than a few pointy-haired bosses) for decades. He’s 62 years old as of this writing: “getting old” but not yet “old” (except in the minds of younger ignorami). But though Adams might not yet be one of Jay’s “old people,” it seems he’s absorbed more wisdom than most from his years on Earth. The above is a demonstration thereof.

     In the last analysis, the essence of wisdom is humility.

     Given my own failing memory – yes, it was once better than it is today, really and truly – I can’t be perfectly certain about the attribution of the following:

     “Most people are willing to give up their preconceptions, once they’ve had them tattooed on their heads with a blunt instrument.” – Keith Laumer, in one of his “Retief” novels

     “Preconceptions,” as Laumer used the term above, might better be termed misconceptions: mistaken notions about people and causality formed by one of limited experience and inadequate humility. Limited experience tends to be a characteristic of youth, though an older person who has led what was once called a “sheltered life” could be equally limited.

     The correlation of limited experience with personal arrogance – the attitude of the “know it all” — is very strong. It takes extensive acquaintance with reality – with people in all their variety, and the myriad ways in which our enterprises and schemes can go astray – to teach most of us how little we really know. That requires more than a couple of dozen trips around old Sol.

     It is not recorded how old Socrates was when he said that “Only one thing do I know, and that is that I know nothing,” but I’ll bet he wasn’t in the bloom of youth.

     At this time, America, like the rest of the world, is coping with the Wuhan virus. It’s brought about a number of (hopefully) temporary alterations to our patterns of life. These have not been easy adaptations for most of us. Our vibrant economy is badly hobbled, our social mechanisms are largely idled, and our politics has...wait just a moment...great God in heaven! Nothing has changed about our politics!

     That’s right, Gentle Reader: Even though the whole nation is suffering, no one knows what’s going on epidemiologically, and no one is quite sure what can be done about it, our political squabbles continue unaltered and unabated. In the political realm, it’s still war to the knife.

     A couple of commentators have wished we could unite in resistance to this new threat, just as the terrorist attacks of Black Tuesday, September 11, 2001 seemed to bring us together. In retrospect, our surge of national unity after 9/11 was more illusion than actuality. It took about three weeks before the Democrats were in full and vicious cry against anything and everything the Bush Administration did or proposed. The pattern in recent political fusillades is comparable.

     Kim Hirsch delineates the media front in this conflict. Her piece is worth reading in its entirety, but it’s her closing I’ll excerpt here:

     Trump is doing what he thinks is best for the country. Dr. Deborah Birx, along with Dr. Anthony Fauci, are advising the President, based upon their examination of scientific data. They’re the experts, but they’re learning, too. And no one in the media knows what goes on when Trump meets with his advisory team, either.

     The media ghouls should shut up about things they don’t know about, and let the grownups do their job.

     If only! But the media have abandoned reportage and journalism in favor of political combat on the Democrats’ side, so the prospects for “letting the grownups do their job” are very poor.

     The humility deficit on display is one of the most garish on record.

     Mark McCormack, in his book What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School, wrote that the three sentences people in business have the most difficulty mastering are “I don’t know,” “I was wrong,” and “I need help.” Each of those three sentences is an admission of limitation, of fallibility – and a demonstration of humility. But if humility correlates with experience, it becomes plain that we should not expect such admissions from young persons...nor from persons who’ve been protected from the consequences of their arrogance.

     “Journalism” is a protected space in which you can be an arrogant idiot and get away with it. There are other such spaces, notably academia and entertainment. (See a pattern there?) None of the reporters or opinion-mongers slathering President Trump and his Administration with sarcasm and contempt will ever have to make decisions of great moment under the pressure of momentous developments. They’re safe, protected by their trades from having to make such decisions and answer for the consequences. The worst consequence they face is being termed “fake news:” a characterization they resent but richly deserve.

     It would be foolish to expect that such persons would have amassed the degree of humility that would militate them away from their current behavior pattern. They know how to do the boss’s job better than the boss. We don’t even need to ask them; they tell us so morning, noon, and night.

     Yet they wonder why private Americans deem the media far less trustworthy than the president they despise and habitually ridicule. It is to laugh.

Rules for living.

H/t: Hans Voegli.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Panic Now, and Avoid the Rush?

Or, take a deep breath, center yourself, and look around your OWN neighborhood.

In my neighborhood (admittedly not a dense one - most people have 0.5 to 1 acre of property), most everybody is fine. We're an old neighborhood - average age is Senior - but generally healthy and getting around without a problem. The ones who might be most affected, should they contract the virus, are sensibly staying inside, shopping at less crowded times (or, having groceries/pharmaceuticals delivered), and staying away from others - even, if necessary, kin. That's hard for us in the South. Even harder, we're not generally going to church.

In my own circle:

  • Kids and grandkids are fine, staying close to home. ONE kid got the flu in February; he was tested for Type A, and had it. Not tested for KungFlu - no test available at the time. However, his symptoms - felt like he'd been hit with a brick, coughing (dry), headache, some fever - indicate that he very well could have had the virus (either together with regular flu, or because his positive test for flu was a false positive). My daughter and her husband imposed strict quarantine within the house. My son-in-law (heavily OCD about cleanliness) took care of disinfecting everything he touched, and no one else got sick. I told him he should make a video about his protocol for cleaning - he is ruthless!
  • Extended family good so far. A nephew had a different medical problem, and - 3 weeks after entering ICU - died. One other nephew with flu requiring hospitalization for several days, since recovered. Could it have been a mild case of WuFlu? Maybe - he's generally healthy and in his early 40s. Either way, we're so glad it wasn't worse.
  • Friends - very few on social media reporting infection (either them or their family). So, I'm cautiously hopeful.
So far, almost all of the sick are:
  • Older - 60+ is where the big jump in deaths seems to be
  • Sicker - have one or more co-existing conditions - this is where younger people succumb
  • Urban - I wouldn't be surprised to see a correlation between apartment living vs. single-home and infections
  • Traveled in crowds recently, or abroad
  • First responders or medical staff
No, that's not everyone. But, it's by far the largest group of those seriously affected.

NYC, NOLA, the cities of the Western Pacific mainland, and LA are hot spots. They have the majority of the cases. The other, less dense cities and suburbs have relatively few. Many of them had indicators like the ones listed above.

Loosening the shut-downs for areas outside of major urban areas might be a good idea. Of course, those that had jobs in nearby cities would have to either move into the city, or stay home. No commuting into the Hot Zone, and bringing it back to less-affected areas.

Sorry, guys. Not that is evident on the ground. Not for most of the country. Those places most affected are neck-deep in Democratic Governance. The incompetence of their administrations has taken what would have been a blip in the matrix into TEOTWAWKI - for THOSE places, and other nearby cities without the good sense to put a fence around them, and keep the disease within.

There are good people whose lives will be destroyed - either directly, through infection, or indirectly, through the economic collapse that will be necessary to bring this under control. Some of that could have been anticipated. Some of that is due to voting Left, and enjoying the "good times", while not caring whether provisions had been put aside for the hard times to come - like:
  • Emergency equipment and materials - rather than tossing all the available money into alternative energy and rail lines to nowhere.
  • Training on handling infected patients - many patients are still being transported in unsafe ways.
  • Incorporating proper isolation procedures within a home environment into school health classes (SO much more important to have them learn about anal sex and the wonders of trans identification!).
  • Coordination between the major cities and the state and national governments - too many Leftists are still wasting their time sniping at Trump, rather than discussing their NEEDS rationally. And, I say NEEDS, because, delightful as culture can be, it is NOT a need.

And, hard times ALWAYS come - sooner or later.

The worst outcome will be in those communities that swivel to blame the rest of us for their own feckless behavior. We warned them about allowing Leftists to take over. Some of their own saw the light, and left - BEFORE this all hit. 

I certainly do feel sorry for all of those who didn't manage to make it out; many of them were trapped by jobs, circumstances, or bad luck. Those who saw the problems of Leftist government, but were not able to leave, deserve our sympathy.

For the rest, those that sneeringly put us Normals down as crude, stupid, and paranoid, they will likely experience what you might call The Bitch-Slap of Hard Experience Over Unicorn Wishes (TBSHEOUW - call it Tib-She-OW!). 

Life, for them, is gonna be grim, hard, and without pity.

“The Same, But Different”

     I’d say there are plenty of writers blathering on about the Wuhan virus, our overreaction to it, and the political foofaurauw over it, wouldn’t you, Gentle Reader? So I’m going to deviate. Of course, what I’ve chosen for today’s topic might prove even less appealing, but that’s a risk you’ll simply have to take. Just remember to wash your hands frequently, drink plenty of fluids – I recommend Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry – and refrain from kissing random strangers, and you should be all right.

     First, The Warm Lands has already received a few positive reviews, though I could always use a few more, hint hint. The most striking of the official ones comes from my treasured colleague Margaret Ball:

     No Quest. No Chosen One. No adolescent discovering mysterious powers. No oracular ancient prophecies. And no magical MacGuffin... is this really a fantasy novel? Yes, and it brings a delightfully original take to a field in which too many of those elements have become virtually de rigueur. In a departure from his usual near-future science fiction works, Francis Porretto gives us strong and intriguing characters in a fantasy world with some surprising problems and even more surprising solutions. If I have any caveat, it’s only that the fascinating world of the Scholium is not always described in as much detail as I’d like. But one can always hope that future books will delve more into the Scholium and the Great Waste .

     That was very pleasant to read – and by the way, if you like genuinely original fantasy and science fiction, be sure to read Margaret’s stuff. I particularly recommend her Applied Topology, Language of the Dragon, and Harmony series. She and I share an affinity for departing from overly well-traveled paths, which made my discovery of her stuff a true delight.

     However, a statement from one other “reviewer” – my wife Beth, who was a large part of the reason I wrote the novel – has seized my attention in a rather immediate way:

“This is your best book yet.
There had better be a sequel.”

     And after some cogitation about how I could extend the ideas and conflicts without repeating myself, and a review of the various ways life with a disappointed wife could become...unpleasant, I have decided that a sequel there shall be. Probably two, in fact.

     Yeesh. So there’ll be yet another fantasy trilogy out there. Oh well. I doubt the prospect will cost Tolkien’s heirs any sleep.

     The title of this piece is one version of an editorial mantra that has tremendous force in conventional publishing houses (a.k.a. Pub World). It arises from the terrible difficulties publishers have in predicting what will sell. A business must succeed in selling its products to remain in business, and publishers know from history that most of what they put out will not “break even:” i.e., the revenues for most of their books will fail to equal (much less exceed) the aggregate costs of acquisition, production, promotion, and distribution.

     So publishers’ editors look for any indications whatsoever that a submission might sell profitably. There aren’t many such. The most reliable of all is the author’s name. If he’s well known and has a loyal following of adequate size, his latest book is a good bet. But of course, most submissions don’t come from the Stephen Kings and Tom Clancys of the world.

     The next most significant indicator is whether the submission resembles something that has sold successfully – and sufficiently so that it can be promoted to the readers of that previous success. Of course, the submission must not be identical to the successful book. However, the similarities must be marketable:

  • The same genres;
  • Comparable styles;
  • Comparable structures;
  • Perhaps some shared elements and motifs.

     ...all while maintaining sufficient differences from the predecessor to avoid being called an imitation. This is the publishing desideratum expressed by the mantra “the same, but different.”

     It’s also the reason genuine originality is more easily found among the offerings of indie writers than among those of conventional publishers.

     While I’ve harped on originality as a virtue, I must also admit that it has its downside. Most original ideas fall flat, in fiction as elsewhere. The writer determined to strike out on a completely untraveled path is taking a big chance. He might not click with any significant community of readers. So it takes a degree of daring – to say nothing of an adequate income stream from other sources – to put many weeks or months of effort into composing a tale that’s a true departure from all that’s gone before.

     For readers, too, have their expectations. That’s the reason for genre categorization. As the saying goes, some want elves, others want ray guns, and still others want trans-temporal interspecies sex. (You didn’t know that was a saying? I can’t imagine why not.) That’s a large part of the explanation for the arguments over genre hybridizations such as SF romance.

     So the fledgling writer, contemplating the architecture and key elements of his new novel, has to decide on his level of risk tolerance. He’s about to invest a lot of time and energy in something that might not produce a return. Should he “follow his passion” and boldly go where no novelist has gone before, or should he “play it safe” until he’s established himself as a reliable purveyor of entertainment worth its purchase price?

     It’s a tough call, and no mistake. I’ve certainly struggled with it. I can’t imagine that other indies have found the nut any easier to crack. There are so many of us that getting even a little attention from adventurous readers – persons willing to take a chance on an inexpensive novel from someone they’d never heard of before – is a major challenge. It’s why book giveaways, which eliminate all risk from a potential reader’s acceptance of the book, are popular promotional tools.

     But that publishers’ mantra can be of service. You want to get established before you start defying the norms with your brain-twistingly original concepts? If you find it congenial, pick a hot sub-genre and start by writing something that fits in it. Balance the chance that it will please readers who love that category against the possibilities that the category is already overcrowded, or that your book will be dismissed as “just an imitation of the great Harry Glumph.”

     Most important, resolve to stay rigidly within your chosen sub-genre. Don’t introduce cyclotrons into your medieval fantasy. No ray guns in your Regency romance. Save that for when you’re a household word.

     Publishers’ editors aren’t stupid, after all. If you desire fame and fortune, you might do well to use a little of what they already know from long and dreary experience. Not that there are any guarantees, of course!

Friday, March 27, 2020

Legitimate Authority And The Wuhan Virus “Crisis”

     One of the most valuable books in my collection is Robert Higgs’ magnum opus Crisis and Leviathan. Higgs, a scholar of many parts, agreed that the swelling of governments could not be fairly attributed to any single cause. His purpose was to delineate the role of crisis in enabling America’s federal government to exceed its Constitutional authority – and he did a yeoman’s job of it.

     The problem is that once a government has successfully asserted a particular authority, it partakes of a “force” that’s got a momentum like unto Juggernaut’s carriage: tradition.

     “This is the way it was done” easily morphs into “This is the way it has always been done.” The progression is straightforward, as people tend to emulate methods that have demonstrated an adequate degree of success. “Success,” of course, is contextual: it depends on criteria whose selection can be rather dubious. Those criteria sometimes undervalue the costs involved in attaining the “success” goal. Sometimes they omit consideration of the costs entirely.

     Over time, “this is the way it has always been done” undergoes its own transformation: into “this is the way it must be done.” That’s the peculiar effect of tradition, reinforced by another effect that’s generally well understood but difficult to keep in mind: “The victors write the history books.”

     The late Poul Anderson observed, in his novel The People of the Wind, that the phrase “legitimate authority” hides somewhat more debatable meanings. “Legitimacy,” he wrote, derives from tradition; “authority” derives from force. And indeed, in most societies those are the true inner meanings of "legitimate authority."

     Tradition tends to amplify both the perception of an authority as legitimate and the amount of force the government can marshal to assert it. Consider the federal government’s seizure of the authority to regulate what Americans put into their bodies. That authority is instantiated in the Food and Drug Administration, a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services.

     The FDA has existed for over 113 years. Where did the federal government get the authority to regulate what we ingest? There’s nothing in the Constitution of the United States that would nod toward such an authority. But how many Americans would be disposed to listen to the Constitutional argument against it? How many would be willing to consider its abolition?

     The usual response to anyone who dares question the FDA is that it’s “necessary.” Necessary to whom? By what standard? At what cost, and to whom? Those questions are almost never addressed. As for Thomas Sowell’s sharp thrust, “Compared to what?” virtually no one even thinks to mention it. As for Constitutionality, in these days of post-Constitutional government in which a Speaker of the House of Representatives said openly — to a gaggle of reporters with live cameras and microphones — that “Congress has the power to do anything,” who dares to argue that?

     Through the “logic” of tradition, the FDA has attained governmental immortality, despite being the plainest imaginable example of a usurped authority our Founders never even contemplated, much less granted. And it is but one of a myriad examples I could cite.

     Constitutionalism was a radical departure from previous governmental schemes. A Supreme Law written out in plain English, to which all other law must conform, was intended to prevent usurpations of un-granted authorities and to put a brake to the progression of “this is the way it's always been done” into “this is the way it must be done” that had afflicted previous societies. Yet owing to successive governmental usurpations of authorities never granted — some, indeed, that had been expressly forbidden — that were not challenged at the time, we have lost the protections of America’s Constitutional tradition. From that perspective, what's happened to us is largely “our fault.”

     But crises have a way of throwing new light on a situation. The major crises Robert Higgs narrates in Crisis and Leviathan — the Great Depression and two World Wars — persuaded many Americans that certain extra-Constitutional authorities could be justified by the need to meet the exigencies of the moment. Today the dynamic is reversed: many are questioning the sudden and severe seizure of many authorities never granted, such authorities being deemed “necessary” because of the Wuhan virus. If we're lucky, the discussion won't be confined to professional talking-heads this time; it will penetrate to private citizens who will understand the gravity of the subject. We shall see.

     (See also David L. Burkhead’s essay on this subject.)