Saturday, March 31, 2012

Conspiracies Everywhere

We are involved here in a far reaching conspiracy to undermine our most basic beliefs and sacred institutions. Who's behind this conspiracy? Once again ask yourself: who has the most to gain? People in high places: their names would astound you! People in low places: concealing their activities beneath a cloak of poverty! People of all walks of life, left wing and right wing. Black and white. Students and scholars. A conspiracy of such ominous proportions that we will never, ever know the whole story and we'll never be able to reveal all the facts! We are readying mass arrests. I am going to see that you people get every possible break. If there is any information you would like to contribute at this time, it will be held in the strictest confidence.... [Lieutenant Practice, in Jules Feiffer's black comedy Little Murders]

To search for a conspiracy, the late Murray Rothbard has told us, is essentially to search for a motive. But surely not every motive is the underpinning for a conspiracy, is it?

Depends whom you ask. Why, just this morning, I happened upon the most ominous coincidence I've beheld since...well, since I got up this morning.

You see, the plastic container in which we store our Cheerios® was empty. I, desirous of a bowl thereof, ventured down the dimly lit stairs to our basement, wherein all manner of wonders and terrors are stored...some not to be spoken of, lest the stars should turn and Great Cthulhu return in his full and awesome fury.

I made it without incident. I took from the pantry shelves a giant-economy-size box of the object of my delectation, extracted from it one of the plastic bags it held, and returned with it to the lands of the living and more-or-less awake. There on the counter stood the empty plastic container, waiting to be filled with a fresh load of cereal, from which I might dispense my repast. Thinking nothing of it, I unsnapped the lid on the container, opened the bag of Cheerios®, and poured the latter into the former.

The contents of the bag filled the container exactly. Exactly! Not a morsel too many or too few. When I reapplied the lid, it fit with unnatural snugness. Clearly it had been engineered to a most precise specification.

"This can't be mere happenstance," I murmured.

And indeed, it is not. After much painstaking speculation, I have concluded that cereal maker General Mills has colluded with container maker SnapWare®! The two have collaborated to one another's commercial benefit: General Mills is now able to assure its customers that, thanks to the SnapWare® container, the cereal is protected against moisture, insects, and all possibility of going stale!

Surely someone -- some innocent maker of odd-lot cereals or variant-size containers -- is suffering economic harm from this collusion! How could this be anything but a violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act?

When do the mass arrests begin?

Don't Stop Working...

...millions on welfare depend on you! No, wait, that's for another screed. This one is about early retirement leading to early death:

We find that a reduction in the retirement age causes a significant increase in the risk of premature death – defined as death before age 67 – for males but not for females. The effect for males is not only statistically significant but also quantitatively important. According to our estimates, one additional year of early retirement causes an increase in the risk of premature death of 2.4 percentage points (a relative increase of about 13.4%; or 1.8 months in terms of years of life lost).

This is consistent with the anecdotal evidence. But why?

We consider several channels to understand why male early retirees die earlier.4
  • A first channel suggests that early exit from the labour market is associated with lower permanent income. We find that earnings losses due to early retirement cannot explain our finding for men, because these losses are quantitatively too small to have a substantial impact on mortality.
  • A second channel suggests that changes in health-related behaviours associated with smoking, drinking, an unhealthy diet, and little physical exercise may cause premature death following early retirement. Our results strongly support this hypothesis. Complementary data from cause-of-death statistics reveal that excess mortality is concentrated on three causes of deaths:
    • ischemic heart diseases (mostly heart attacks),
    • diseases related to excessive alcohol consumption, and
    • vehicle injuries.

    These three causes of death account for 78% of the causal retirement effect (while accounting for only 24% of all deaths in the sample). We calculate that 32.4% of the causal retirement effect can be directly attributed to smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

  • A third channel suggests that the detrimental mortality effect arises from retirement following an involuntary job loss but not from voluntary quits. Even though our data do not distinguish between voluntary and involuntary retirement, we exploit severance payment rules to proxy the voluntariness of the retirement decision. Our empirical results suggest that retirement following an involuntary job loss is likely to cause excess mortality among blue-collar males, while retirement after a voluntary quit does not.

I can't quite fathom why the authors, who appear to be both intelligent and perceptive, failed to consider purposelessness as a contributing factor. A bodily organ which has no function tends to wither away: first to vestigial status, and over time, to disappearance. Why would this effect not apply to the whole body?

Of course, the authors are principally concerned with government budget stresses, which suggests that their agenda isn't entirely benign. I mean, all those folks on welfare are purposeless, too...but I did say I'd save that for another screed, didn't I?

Surprise, Surprise

Today at PJ Media, Richard Fernandez declaims on the failure of the "blue model:"

The chief problem with money, as Walter Russell Mead observes, is that the Blue Model is running out of it. Once upon a time the money was just out there. The dollars were mooing and lowing like the buffalo on the Great Plains. The only problem was divvying it up. But now that it’s getting harder to come by a whole host of professions based on the dollar hunting and skinning business is becoming endangered.

No, really? Did anyone with three functioning brain cells expect any other result from the dilute socialism of the promise-borrow-spend "blue model?" But wait: there's more!

The marketing department has been particularly hard-hit. Al Gore’s Current Network was paying Keith Olbermann $50 million to attract viewers they hoped to have. Olbermann was supposed to be its primary liberal voice. But the New York Times explained that Olbermann wasn’t attracting anybody, even though he acted like he was:
In his 40 weeks on Current TV, he had an average of 177,000 viewers at 8 p.m., down from the roughly one million that he had each night on MSNBC. Just 57,000 of those viewers on any given night were between the ages of 25 and 54, the coveted advertising demographic for cable news.

Talking Points Memo quoted a source which said “Olbermann failed to show up for work without authorization, missing almost half of his working days in the months of January and February. Olbermann asked for a vacation day on March 5, the night before Super Tuesday, according to the source. He was told it would be a breach if he took the vacation, which Olbermann did.” For his part, Olbermann said he would sue Gore. In the end, perhaps, they both needed and deserved each other.

...Olbermann was a reprise of the recent fall of Rosie O’Donnell. Early this March the “Oprah Winfrey Network issued a press release announcing The Rosie Show had been canceled, following six months of humiliating ratings … What went wrong? Multiple insiders interviewed for this story say that both Ro and O are to blame; the network never fit O’Donnell, and O’Donnell wasn’t able to make the splash she was supposed to.”

Becoming a “liberal voice” was once where the money was. The jack. A lot guys still believed that. And boy were they wrong.

The failure reaches all the way to the campaigns of left-liberal politicians:

Last July, President Obama's campaign announced that it had raised an average of $29 million in each of the previous three months for itself and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). I was only mildly impressed. After all, that was well below the $50 million a month needed to reach the campaign's goal of a $1 billion war chest for the 2012 race.

Seven months later, I'm even less impressed. Through January, the president has raised an average of $24 million a month for his campaign and the DNC. Next week, the Obama campaign will release its February numbers, but the president is on track to be hundreds of millions of dollars shy of his original goal.

It's not for lack of trying. Mr. Obama has already attended 103 fund-raisers, roughly one every three days since he kicked off his campaign last April (twice his predecessor's pace)....

This perhaps explains why the White House told congressional Democrats last week not to expect a single dime for their campaign efforts from the Democratic National Committee this year. All the DNC's funds will be needed for the president's re-election.

His campaign's financial situation also may explain why Mr. Obama has embraced Super PACs after decrying them as a "threat to democracy" in the midterm elections.

None of this should come as any surprise to one who understands the vital importance of absolute respect for individuals' rights to social and political stability:

Wealth and freedom severed from their rightful owner draw looters and thieves, as a body severed from life draws vultures and flies. ["John Galt," Dreams Come Due: Government and Economics as if Freedom Mattered ]

The vaunted "blue model" was always based on the blatant invasion of private persons' property rights, in particular their rights to the fruits of their labors. The consequences were foreordained; the only aspect of the thing that was uncertain was how long it would take for the looters to empty the treasury.

We who claimed to know better indulged the looters for far too long, forgetting that our treasury has Constitutional authorization to sink us into debt. The whole country, not just the beneficiaries of the "blue model," will pay for our inanition.

Friday, March 30, 2012

How Long Has This Been Going On?

If you've been wondering about the constant changes of layout here, I'm still exploring what Blogger can do. Clearly, it's orders of magnitude more powerful than it was when I first encountered it.

I won't attempt to reproduce the old Eternity Road layout -- I don't really need that degree of complexity any more -- but I'll be gradually importing the features I'd like to preserve over the next few weeks.

Suggestions and offers of assistance are, as always, quite welcome. My specialty is real-time engineering, with emphasis on simulation and communications. I can barely scrape by in HTML 3.2 and have never produced a Cascading Style Sheet!

Nuclear Fire

Bill Whittle has become a master of video polemics:

Pass it along...especially if you know anyone who's muttered about not bothering to vote this coming November.

Forms Of Power

Return with me to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when it was...okay to write lyrics such as these:

In a little cafe just the other side of the border
She was just sitting there givin' me looks that made my mouth water
So I started walking her way
She belonged to bad man Jose
And I knew, yes I knew I should leave
When I heard her say, yeah

Come a little bit closer
You're my kind of man
So big and so strong
Come a little bit closer
I'm all alone
And the night is so long

So we started to dance
In my arms, she felt so inviting
That I just couldn't resist
Just one little kiss so exciting
Then I heard the guitar player say
"Vamoose, Jose's on his way"
Then I knew, yes I knew I should run
But then I heard her say, yeah

Come a little bit closer
You're my kind of man
So big and so strong
Come a little bit closer
I'm all alone
And the night is so long

Then the music stopped
When I looked the cafe was empty
Then I heard Jose say
"Man you know you're in trouble plenty"
So I dropped my drink from my hand
And through the window I ran
And as I rode away
I could hear her say to Jose, yeah

Come a little bit closer
You're my kind of man
So big and so strong
Come a little bit closer
I'm all alone
And the night is so long

[Jay and the Americans]

"She belonged"...? Female duplicity? Well, yes. The two go together. That's what you get when you oppress a class of people, regardless of their discriminating characteristic: they seek new, indirect ways of flexing their muscle. They "go underground."

We've changed our ways substantially these past few decades. Western women are no longer treated as chattels or lesser creatures. In many ways, they're a legally privileged sex today. (That's just as wrong as subjecting them to unique legal restrictions ever was, but it's a change.) Unfortunately, they're still involved in a contest over the use of their innate assets. It's just not often recognized as such.

Today, the "war on women" is being waged by the Left against women. It takes the form of an undermining campaign, aimed at weakening the Western woman's willingness to use her particular assets in the eternal negotiation with men over her status:

  • Women possess sexual allure, and the privilege of granting or withholding sexual access.
  • Women possess the power to bear and nurture children.
  • Women possess superior domestic-management skills and a gift for tension dispersal.

But the Left, with the able assistance of the gender-war feminists ("the angry ugly-girl fraction of the Left" -- Duyen Ky), has striven hard to weaken women's will to wield those advantages:

  • By trumpeting an ethic of sexual indulgence that devalues women's allure and privileges;
  • By stigmatizing child-bearing and child-rearing as somehow demeaning;
  • By campaigning against homemaking and breadwinner-support as legitimate career choices.

By any objective measurement, this campaign has inflicted damage on Western women. In the usual case, their lives are less stable; they endure more strife and of more varieties; their overall health is less robust; and the satisfaction they take from their life choices is less. They often wind up in middle to late-middle age feeling as if they've "missed out," no matter what courses they've followed.

This is what you get when you buy into an oppressive ethic as if it were an emancipation.

Yes, there are exceptions. There always have been, in all places and times. But exceptions are called that for a reason.

However, as Emerson has told us, "Justice is not postponed." Women are waking up to what's been done to them in the name of a spurious liberation. And they're turning against their former gurus in ever-increasing numbers.

We're Going To Need A Really Big Camper And A Lot Of Gas

Courtesy of our beloved InstaPundit, we have this interesting speculation about the possibility of lots of life-sustaining worlds:

About 40 percent of red dwarf stars may have Earth-sized planets orbiting them that have the right conditions for life.

Red dwarfs – which are smaller and cooler than our sun – are extremely common, making up 80 percent of stars in the galaxy. Their ubiquity suggests that there are tens of billions of possible places to look for life beyond Earth, with at least 100 such planets located nearby.

The new estimate comes from a team of astronomers using the European Southern Observatory’s HARPS planet-hunting telescope to look at a sample of 102 nearby red dwarfs over a six-year period. The telescope checked for a characteristic wobble from the star, indicating that at least one planet was tugging on it while orbiting around.

The search found nine planets with between one and 10 Earth masses, including two in the habitable zone, possibly giving them the right temperature to have liquid water. Because red dwarfs don’t produce as much heat as our sun, their habitable zones occur much closer to the star. which Professor Reynolds replies:

We need interstellar travel. Faster, please!

We do? Well, let's agree at the least that it would provide us with some options. But until a superluminal reactionless drive should make its appearance, I'm afraid it's not in the cards.

Two arguments for interstellar travel are more common than all the others: adventure and racial survival. Let's leave our taste for adventure off the table for the moment. The usual "survival" argument is to secure the future of Mankind against the possibility of a world-ending calamity here on Earth. The establishment of a human presence on a world in some other solar system would seem to improve the odds that Man will continue regardless of any "local" events. At any rate, it's more difficult to wipe out a species distributed over several solar systems than one that's concentrated on one world.

But sublight vehicles bound by Newton's Third Law can't garner the interest, or fire the enthusiasm, of people who have lives they'd have to live out in transit between the stars. Try to imagine how you'd go about recruiting enough volunteers to man such a mission -- to say nothing of the difficulties of financing it. Which is why, when I imagined the Hegira of the Spooner Federation, I based it on a no-alternatives scenario: flee the Solar System or die at once!

What's that you say? What about "suspended animation?" Well, you bring me a man whose "animation" has been "suspended" for a good long while -- say seventy years or so -- and has been successfully "reanimated," and then we'll talk.

I Was Seriously Thinking...

...of no longer writing on social and political topics, and confining myself to my fictional endeavors. I reasoned that: 1) there are a lot of solid commentators on the Right side of things already; and: 2) that this op-ed crap often turns into an excuse not to face the music on a neglected or stalled fiction project. But I couldn't ignore the wave of anguished email that followed the announced demise of Eternity Road, and anyway, being overfull of unexpressed opinions is a lot like a bad case of constipation: relief eventually becomes a matter of survival.

But a couple of things have changed:

  • I'll be posting a lot fewer of the law-review-length pieces I was known for at Eternity Road and The Palace Of Reason, but rather attempting to keep my emissions down to a more modest length -- say 500 words or less.
  • I'll at least try to put aside the academic tone that I employed in prior pieces, which characterized the "Curmudgeon Emeritus" persona.

Why? Simply this: I'm too old to write for the mere pleasure of writing, or just to rid myself of accumulated bile. As my remaining time on this ball of mud is sharply limited, I'd like for my efforts to have some point. The point of serious op-ed writing should be one of the following three:

  • To confirm the prejudices and established opinions of your existing readers;
  • To equip those whose opinions match yours with additional rhetorical firepower;
  • To persuade those who differ, or at least acquaint them with a different perspective.

It strikes me that brevity and informality are better suited to all three of those missions than my habitual quasi-scholastic verbosity. Anyway, "they say" that change is good for you, if you put any stock in "their" opinions.

So don't be too alarmed if my drivel here at Liberty's Torch reads a bit differently from what you're accustomed to seeing from me.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Addicted To Fear And Trembling

I sometimes wonder if conservative pundits have a psychological need to feel surrounded, beleaguered, and endangered. The febrile speculations in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's oral hearings on ObamaCare would support that conclusion.

Suddenly, there's talk -- quite a lot of it, actually -- about negative consequences that might flow from having the Court strike down the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. (George Orwell, call your office!) Why, if this monstrosity of a federal usurpation of Americans' rights is ruled unConstitutional, the Democrats might do something worse! They might even call for a single-payer system, such as Canada has, or (gasp!) a National Health Service like that of the United Kingdom!


And I'd always thought fear was the Left's principal weapon. Now it turns out to be an essential nutrient for conservative commentators. Silly me.

As if more silliness were mandatory, FOX News has posted perhaps the silliest piece of opinion journalism I've ever seen. It argues that the Court should postpone the decision until 2013. Why? Because it's "political." The Court must never, ever do anything that might influence the operation of the American political system, you see. Not even to correct an injustice or defend the God-given rights of Americans. Elections are just too important!

What do you suppose the authors of the article really fear?

Damn it all, it's time to stand up and be counted. That goes for both sides of the issue: either you're proud of your stand or you're beneath contempt. It also goes for people who make their livings with a word processor, just as much as for the rest of us.

To Democrat partisans: You made your bed by ramming ObamaCare down the nation's throat in the face of overwhelming popular hostility to it. Crawl in; it's time for your nap.

To Republican partisans: Either follow through on this or lose the allegiance of anyone who can honestly call himself a conservative, or a patriot. If the Court strikes down the entire law, don't you dare allow any consideration of a new one. If it strikes only certain portions, such as the individual mandate to have health insurance, you'd bloody well better get to work on repealing the remainder!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Yes, I'm Back

...though God knows for how long.

Eternity Road was wearing me down in many senses. The straw that broke this camel's back was a contretemps with my Webmistress, without whom I was helpless, as she and she alone understood the Expression Engine technology that powered the site. I'm better off here, even if Google is quite as capable of yanking the rug out from under me, if it should decide to do so.

For the present, I'm alone here. If I can get some traffic, perhaps I'll attempt to persuade one or two of my former Co-Conspirators to join me here. Until then...

All my best,
Francis W. Porretto

P.S.: No, the Curmudgeon Emeritus has not been invited!