Friday, November 30, 2012

Poverty, Christianity, and Freedom

It’s not often, lately at least, that I decide to promote a book here at Liberty’s Torch, so take note—especially those of my Gentle Readers who are Christians.

True Charity—Replacing Flypaper with Freedom

Mike Melin makes a brilliant, Christian case for casting off the veil over our eyes as it concerns poverty, for “poverty” as the world defines it is a mirage. True poverty is poverty of the mind...the identity...the soul.

One way to summarize the message of this indispensable little book is that the world, in assessing “what we’re doing to help the poor,” resolutely totes up material inputs while ignoring characterological outputs. But “help” of that sort literally imprisons the poor in true poverty. It does nothing to make the poor man other than poor, and gives him additional reasons to remain so!

The legions of Hell sing a seductive song in our ears: “Help the poor! Don’t trouble yourself about their characters. Just cut them a check.” And as Reverend Melin writes, it will be their acolytes among us who’ll howl loudest when we turn from that path and resolve instead to free the poor man from his true poverty: the conviction, whether conscious or not, that he cannot or should not try to help himself, and must become comfortable in his dependence upon other men.

With God, all things are possible...but look: God is no longer welcomed at the charity-kitchen table! And we wonder why, with all the largesse our society showers upon the “needy,” their number always grows.

Highly recommended! Thank you, Reverend Melin.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Banking as a Rent-Seeking Enterprise

A little bit back, Gene Callahan favorably quoted economist Hyman Minsky in support of the argument that the banking/finance industry benefits from market instability ... --

Why Investment Banks Like Having Booms and Busts

"In an unstable economy, speculation dominates enterprise." -- Hyman Minsky, Stabilizing an Unstable Economy, p. 17

... the veracity of which was questioned by commenter Prateek by pointing to a break-down of operating profits at Goldman-Sachs --
Investment banks largely earn their revenues from underwriting IPOs, helping stabilize IPO prices with a stabilizing mechanism, and arbitrating negotiations between merging companies. These are activities that directly channel funds to the real economy, rather than just shift funds between financial assets. So they are very vulnerable to the state of the real economy.

The last time I checked Goldman Sach's financial statements, I saw that their revenue breakdown was 40% deal-making, 40% wealth management advisory, and only 20% trading in the markets.

Gene stood by his assertion, but declined to elaborate -- I suspect mostly because he didn't feel like it at the moment, not because he actually couldn't.

I think Prateek raises an interesting objection, though.  If trading only accounts for 20% of revenue, then how much can Goldman-Sachs really be profiting from unstable markets -- which would presumably put a big dent in the sectors of their business that actually make most of their money?  Since Gene declined to take on this objection directly, I thought I'd take a stab at answering it myself.


In general, when someone persuaded of the Austrian take of things says something like "banks are parasitizing the economy," he will be talking about inflation, and how extending credit through expansion of the money supply allows the bank access to what is effectively 'free income.'  They get to collect interest on money which they printed themselves -- nice gig if you can get it.  I won't go into the details here, as you can find them a million other places.

But a bank like Goldman is not really a money-issuing bank.  It is an investment bank, not a commercial bank (though, as I recall, it temporarily re-designated itself a commercial bank in order to qualify for bailout money back in '08...), so it does not really profit through this mechanism.  I contend that it does profit, however, from many indirect effects of this process -- for one, market instability -- and that this is mostly a matter of reaping a rent-seeking profit.

Maybe the best way to see how this works is to think in terms of a similar market that is intrinsically unstable and therefore has come to incorporate a great deal of financial risk-mitigation -- agricultural commodities.  Farmers generally use two main financial arrangements to mitigate risk:  insurance and futures contracts.  Crop insurance allows the farmer to protect himself from the vagaries of weather and other matters of chance that might have the effect of destroying large portions of his crop.  By purchasing an insurance policy, he ensures that he will at least receive some income, come what may.

Futures contracts allow the farmer to sell his crop far in advance -- before the crop is even produced, and before the price of his crop at harvest time is known.  Many crops are highly perishable, and nobody knows for sure just how much will be produced until the time to harvest comes.  At this point, if the market is glutted with his particular crop, he will not get a good price and will probably be faced with tremendous losses.  By selling his crop in advance with a futures contract, he will know ahead of time exactly how much he will make -- again, come what may.

I go through all of this to show how the arrangement has a real effect of contributing actual utility to markets.  People employed in insurance and futures market speculation perform a valuable service by inquiring into and researching possible future conditions, providing valuable information to markets.  This allows farmers and other agricultural workers to plan their production strategies to better optimize their efforts and use of resources and avoid waste -- such as by producing way too much of one crop and not enough of another.

Contrast this with, say, your own experience buying groceries at the grocery store.  When you go to the store, you probably do not spend too much time worrying about how much prices will change from one moment to the next, or from one location to another.  You pretty well know that prices are generally uniform from one place to the next, and generally stable over time.  You probably do not employ people to track the prices of things to try to get a better deal, because this would be a waste of your money and the employed person's time. 

But suppose that prices were somehow artificially made quite volatile, from place to place and time to time, and in a manner that was rather complex and not easy to predict.  It might actually make sense for people to get together to employ someone to spend all of his time studying the 'grocery market' to get the best deals while his clients were away at work or spending time with their families.  When things are straightforward and simple, people are mostly able to take care of themselves without too much additional effort.  But when things get hairy, they must resort to the division of labor, employing labor and resources to deal with the instability.

Enter Goldman-Sachs.  To the extent that its activities profit its clients by mitigating real risks inherent to a market economy, it is generating income for itself by performing a valuable service that contributes utility to the marketplace.  But to the extent that the 'risks' they are mitigating are merely a creation of a dysfunctional financial system -- which is to say, they are artificial and not intrinsic to the market itself -- their efforts are actually a waste, but necessary to their clients who must deal with the system as it is.  It would be more efficient overall to have a functional financial system and less labor and resources spent trying to cope with all the chaos. 

To the extent that this is the case, Goldman-Sachs is like a tire repair shop located right outside the nail-and-screw factory.  There may be some necessary repairs in any event, but it is not helpful that the drivers for the factory deliberately strew some of their cargo about the road.  90% of the repairs -- and the income derived from them -- are actually just 'make work' and wasted resources.


The other money-making activities could be subjected to a similar analysis, with similar results.  Certainly, there is utility to be derived from public issue of stock, mergers and acquisitions, and the like, but only under a limited range of conditions.  To the extent that these conditions emerge naturally, intrinsic to the market dynamics in play, the services of an entity like Goldman-Sachs are providing real utility in return for real income. 

But to the extent that such conditions are produced artificially -- such as through the centralizing effects of inflation -- these incomes do not represent contributions to the economy, but mere rent-seeking in response to conditions which are the product of dysfunction.  And again, such volatility is going to be centralizing for the reasons described above -- it encourages an elaboration of the division of labor, much as convoluted regulatory structures encourage larger company sizes so that compliance costs can constitute a smaller share of revenues.

So, even though very little of Goldman-Sach's revenue derives from actual trading, I would suspect that market volatility contributes very heavily to their ability to 'earn' income.

Principles And Politics

A couple of days ago, Democrat pollster Pat Caddell, who has become a fairly frequent guest on various Fox News programs, decided to offer Republicans and conservatives his advice on how to get things turned around:

As readers know, I have been extremely critical of the current Democratic Party, which I see as having fallen far from the ideals of Thomas Jefferson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy. Indeed, on a few occasions, I have even been willing to work against my party on certain selected issues....

I am a Democrat who thinks that the Democratic Party has lost its way. Badly. But again, if Republicans can’t heal themselves, the Democrats, warts and all, will continue to win. And yet if the Democrats stay as they are, the country will continue to decline.

But what substantive recommendations does Caddell offer?

[1972] was the year that my candidate, George McGovern, won just 37 percent of the vote against Richard Nixon. So McGovern lost. Yet he assembled a new vote-coalition--of the young, of minorities, of environmentalists and other activists, of post-industrial knowledge workers.

The McGovern Coalition was too small, of course, to win in 1972. But if we fast-forward 40 years to 2012, we can see that the same group gave Obama almost 51 percent of the vote. In other words, a 14-point improvement. Those 14 points spell the difference between a landslide defeat for Democrats then and a comfortable victory for Democrats today.

So how did the McGovern Coalition lose in 1972 but win in 2012? What was the difference, then and now? The difference, of course, is demography.

Demography, eh? That sounds to me like a prescription for pandering to identity groups. Are we about to read yet another claim that the GOP must alter its position on this or that issue to regain the majority?

Apparently not...or at least, not yet:

So let’s fight for an America that asks us for our values and our ideals--not for our price. And if we do fight for that better America--the one that persists brightly in our imagination, even amidst the dreary present-day--then I am confident that we can achieve that better America.

That's all Caddell has to say in what he styles the opening segment of a series.

It's to be expected that a pollster and Democrat operative would be more focused on winning elections than on making policy. It's to be expected that he'd look for the reasons for electoral defeats in the distribution of support among identifiable groups. It's to be expected that he'd make such distributions and their impact the meat of his commentary in a political forum.

But what of it? What are such a focus, and the analysis that follows from it, worth in terms of principles that should guide the policy makers and executives of our nation? The point of the electoral process is to put men into such positions, is it not? Does any sort of coherent vision of the policies and enforcement approaches appropriate to a free society emerge from an electoral / demographic approach?

Put a bit more bluntly: Why does anyone care which party holds the White House or the majorities in Congress? Why should anyone care?

Give that a moment's thought.

Politics is the pursuit of power over others, nominally by non-violent means. Why would free men -- men who want to be free and who think of themselves as free -- prefer one group of power-seekers over another? Why would they want anyone to have power over them? Freedom is the antithesis of political power.

The usual response is that even the most freedom-minded man will agree to tolerate a certain amount of political power -- a certain amount of government -- as a "necessary evil." A military to defend the country and protect its overseas interests; a penal code to enumerate offenses no one will be allowed to get away with; a judiciary to oversee prosecutions and civil disputes: these, if kept passive and prevented from expanding to elephantine dimensions, would be tolerable as "labor-saving devices." They obviate private armies and private justice, which most persons are inclined to distrust.

The Constitution of the United States expresses precisely this understanding: This far you may go, and no further. It does so in plain, unambiguous language that virtually all politicians, regardless of party affiliation, prefer to ignore.

But the Constitution is a series of words on parchment. How could it possibly be more authoritative than other writings, many of them by men of great wisdom and compassion, that differ radically from its prescriptions and proscriptions?

The answer is principle.

A principle is a rule that divides some subset of the universe of human actions into two non-overlapping zones. On one side are those actions that are acceptable regardless of anyone's preferences; on the other are those actions which cannot and must not be tolerated. The usual shorthand for this partition is right and wrong.

The marriage of the principle to the applicable subset of actions is critical. Few principles have unbounded, universal applicability. (The Ten Commandments do, but I'm unable to think of any others.) What principles are applicable to law and power is the question at the center of our contemporary political discourse -- a discourse in which politicians are disinclined to involve themselves, for fear of losing votes.

Few politicians, whatever lip service they give to the Constitution, are happy to be constrained by it. This is because by its very existence the Constitution expresses a small set of rules which together constitute the principle of republican government:

  1. There must be a Supreme Law;
  2. It must be easy to refer to and to comprehend;
  3. All other law must conform to it.

Compare that to the principle of democratic / majoritarian government:

  1. A majority can make and enforce whatever laws it wishes at any time.

...and to the principle of authoritarian government:

  1. What the Fuhrer decrees shall be the whole of the law.

The typical politician who owes his office to a democratic process, and who wants to remain in that office for as long as possible, will chafe under the constraints of the Constitution. He'll seek ways to circumvent it in matters that permit him to pander to his constituency. If pressed, he'll make excuses:

  • "This is something the Founding Fathers didn't foresee."
  • "The amendment process takes too long and doesn't always work."
  • "The crisis is far too urgent; we have to act now, regardless of Constitutional constraints."

Those are the most popular excuses. No doubt there are others.

The republican principle, of which the Constitution is the American expression, is the only protection Americans have from tyranny, whether majoritarian or autocratic. What freedom we still retain is ours because our politicians haven't yet worked up the collective courage to defy the Constitution in certain particulars. However, they get closer to discarding it completely with every passing day.

I'm massively uninterested in partisan politics. It exists; I must admit to that. Now and then it functions to retard some specific encroachment on freedom, or to remove some revealed scoundrel from office. But given the convergence of the two major parties around a principle-free, only-winning-counts ethic, I question whether there's any value remaining in either one.

It's true that the Republican Party platform expresses vaguely Constitutional ideas, and a general regard for the aims of that document, if not for its explicit constraints. But given that the platform is only of interest during its biennial conventions -- that GOP politicians raised to office are under no obligation to conform to its dictates -- why should I care that a particular contender for office is a Republican?

When one such as Pat Caddell deigns to tell us how to "do better," I immediately ask, "But what are your principles?" Don't talk to me about demographics. Voting blocs tell me nothing I want to know. Don't talk to me about "problems" and "solutions." Those things are purely subjective; one man's "problem" is another's golden opportunity. Don't talk to me about "what works." Such cogitations routinely omit consideration of costs and second-order effects. Worse, they require that you implicitly accept premises -- in particular, premises about the standards by which the outcome will be judged -- that are seldom articulated in full clarity.

If you won't make an unambiguous statement of your principles, I'm changing the channel.

Inasmuch as the entire political class of the United States has rejected the republican principle, I can no longer find a reason to support any particular gaggle of them over the rest. Perhaps Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is an exception, but I can think of no others. Presidential politics is notably principle-free. The Democrats have nominated only one principled man for the presidency: Grover Cleveland. The GOP hasn't nominated a principled candidate for the presidency even once in its entire history.

When I published a novel about a fictional presidential candidate who swore to abide by the Constitution as written, I brought the house down:

    Sumner emerged from Portland’s City Hall at exactly noon, as Louise Farrell had advised him. He strode to the lectern at the top of the steps, looked out over the throng before him, and staggered backward.
    The broad thoroughfare that ran past City Hall was packed with human bodies, in both directions for as far as the eye could see. He could not begin to estimate the numbers. It had to be a six-figure throng at least...and perhaps rather far up that range.
    “Dear God,” he breathed. His expostulation was barely loud enough for the lectern microphone to catch, but nevertheless it was relayed through a battery of speakers to the crowd below.
    “No,” someone near the forward barricades shouted. “He was just the opening act!”
    Sumner laughed helplessly, and the crowd cheered. They filled the air of their city with a din no celebration had approached since its founding.
    Sumner righted himself and returned to the lectern. Christine hung back half a pace, as if unwilling to split the immense crowd’s attention.
    “How many of you are there? Never mind, I don’t expect you to count your own noses. But are you here because you’re hoping a superhero has come to free you from bondage, or are you here for me?”
    The cheers redoubled. They might have gone on indefinitely had he not raised a hand in acknowledgement.
    “You know,” he said, “I’ve been giving one speech, over and over, with only the tiniest embellishments as I go from city to city. Your fellow citizens at my other campaign stops have all liked it, and it’s tempting to give it here, on the rule of not messing with what’s already worked. But I can’t get over the sheer number of you. I’m having a really hard time believing that you’re here to see and hear from me. Who am I, after all?”
    A voice near to the base of the steps immediately began the chant from Albuquerque. The crowd picked it up at once.
    “Sumner! Sumner! Sumner! Sumner! Sumner!...”
    He let it continue for a few seconds before he raised his hand again. The crowd immediately fell silent.
    “Maybe you should hold that for later. You might not want to cheer that cheer after I’ve told you what I’m about to tell you. It won’t be my usual speech.”
    He panned the crowd left to right and back again.
    “America is in bad shape.
    “Washington and the state capitals have spent us broke. Our credit is gone, our commerce is uncertain, our jobs are shaky–if we have jobs–and our confidence in the future is at an all-time low. Those of us who have children fear that we’ve had it better than they ever will. Those who don’t have children worry about aging alone in solitude and squalor, with no one to care for us as we grow feeble, or hold our hands at the end.
    “In large part, we’ve collaborated in it. We demanded freebies that we hoped someone else would pay for. We should have known better. Some of us did. But what we got suggests that far too many of us let our wishes do our thinking. So we voted for executives and representatives who were happy to encourage us to do so.
    “We should have known the bill would come due. Maybe we did. Maybe we just hoped we’d be safely and cozily dead before the time came to pay for our sins. But this sort of game can only have one ending: someone has to get stuck with the Queen of Spades. Turns out it will be us: the generation of voters you represent, to whom I have to make the bleakest campaign pitch in all of American history.
    “I’m going to tell you what I told a reporter in New Orleans,” he said. “You might have heard it already. It’s been made into a campaign commercial. All the same, I want you to hear it again, from my lips: I’m not here to kiss babies, to eat your signature dish, whatever it is, or to lie to you about my undying love of the Trail Blazers. I’m here to persuade you of two things: that a return to strict Constitutional fidelity is the only way out of our mess, and that if you’ll put me in the White House, I will see to that for you. If you want a candidate who’ll pander to your local pride, the other parties will happily supply you with as many as you can swallow.
    “You’ve been pandered to for decades, for more than a century. The panderers were experts. They knew exactly what to tell you to take your eye off what they really wanted to do. They promised you free stuff, free cash, freedom from care, and you chose to believe it. They told you that other people would solve your problems for you, even your completely local problems, and you chose to believe it. They told you to relax, kick back, let the good times roll, that the future could take care of itself, and you chose to believe it. And here you are. Your occupations are unstable, your savings are nil, your streets are unsafe, your futures are bleak, your profligacy has left your children neck-deep in debt, and your trust in government is down to zero. That was the price for disdaining uncomfortable truths in favor of oily smiles, unfulfillable promises, and comforting lies. You can still have all the smarmy deceits, if you choose. But you won’t get them from me.
    “I can’t promise you a miracle. I can’t promise a swift or painless return to security and abundance. In the words of a great Englishman who had to lead his own country through a terrible crisis, I can promise you nothing but blood, toil, tears, and sweat...hopefully, really light on the blood.
    “Other candidates for the presidency have campaigned as if the office itself would make them omnipotent. That they would acquire absolute and unbounded powers, powers that would enable them to cure all of America’s ills from sea to shining sea by the wave of a hand. By now you should know better. I think, by your presence here, I can safely assume that you do. But I want you to hear it from me.
    “I will not lie to you. You ought to be suspicious of such a promise. You’ve been given more than enough reason. Other candidates for high office have made that promise and have gone on to lie through their teeth, to say anything and everything they thought might win them a few more votes. So I’m nailing my pledge down by making the harshest, least pleasant campaign promises any candidate has ever made.
    “If you elect me president, I will put an end to every federal activity not explicitly authorized by the Constitution of the United States. I will shut down as much of the federal government as that requires, consistent with my duties as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and chief enforcer of federal law.
    “This crowd is large enough that some of you probably work for the federal government. Nearly five million Americans do. Be sure you’re willing to take the risk that your job might not be really essential before you go into the booth and pull the lever next to my name.
    “If I can swing enough of Congress behind me, I will put an end to federal borrowing. I will put an end to the reign of unelected regulators. And whether Congress likes it or not, I will insist that the Tenth Amendment—the one that says that the powers not delegated to the United States are reserved to the states or the people—be observed strictly and explicitly.
    “You should think about that. Some of you will need new ways to earn a living. Some of you will lose subsidies or programs that have helped you to pay your way through life. All I can promise you in return is that from that point forward, you will know what federal law demands of you, and you won’t be expected to read the United States Code to know it. But that’s where my promises to you end.
    “It will be your job to discipline your state and local governments. They’ve raped you in their turn, often by conning you with the same lies and empty promises you’ve heard from politicians at the federal level. But unless they violate a constitutional restriction on their powers, I can’t help you with that.”
    He pointed a finger into the mass of the crowd. “You must call them to account. You must hold them liable. And some of you must put down the tools of your trades, possibly trades you love and have practiced for many years, and go on campaign, as I have done, to replace them.” He paused, gathered all his forces, and leaned close over the microphone. “Are you sure that’s what you want?”

Mark Butterworth's "Tales of New America" series is eliciting a comparable reaction, for similar reasons. Those are our recommendations for how "we can do better." Nodding to demographics -- to pandering for votes -- is not among them.

Though I yearn for principle in politics, I know it won't be returning any time soon. Too large a fraction of the country is addicted to government in one way or another. The fraction of the economy Washington controls, directly or indirectly, is staggering. And as I said above, our politicians are principle-averse...and almost unbearable to listen to.

But that doesn't make me any more interested in placating identity groups, or buying off "stakeholders" in the Omnipotent State, or listening to the vermiculations of a Pat Caddell about "an America that can imagine itself." I'd rather just clean my guns one more time.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Time Is Now Part 3: The Critical Battlefields Part 2

In the previous essay, I commented on the thrusts freedom lovers must undertake in the field of education. Educational efforts are inherently long-term efforts; they bear fruit only as the newly enlightened rise to their majorities and to political power. But our next topic is one with a nearer-term effect.

Today, let's discuss communications.

Americans are accustomed to an ease of communication unprecedented in world history and unknown practically anywhere else on Earth. We have a wide variety of ways to reach and talk to one another. All of them are private or can be made so, with a small number of exceptions under the law.

It's unlikely that those many routes toward one another will be legally foreclosed in an absolute fashion. (Imagine the reaction were cell phones to be declared illegal, or perhaps placed under a may-issue licensure regime!) But a regime determined to protect itself against organized resistance needn't do anything that drastic. Its principal need is to engender atomization: that is, to make it harder to each of us to find kindred spirits, and to trust them.

In this regard, consider the parallel case of the barter club. At one point such clubs were on the rise, and dramatically so at that. They appeared to be the next big weapon for the resistance of oppressive taxation. Yet not long after they began to become popular, the trend reversed, such that today organized barter clubs are almost extinct. Why?

The reason, of course, was infiltration by tax agents and their boughten collaborators. When Smith doesn't know who's listening to his attempt to barter his eggs for Jones's time-share, he can't be certain he won't be betrayed and prosecuted. Even the suspicion of such surveillance was sufficient to put a severe damper on the re-emergence of barter in the underground economy.

The barter club's fatal weakness was an open door. There was no need for a new participant to "make his bones," such that he would be legally vulnerable to the loss of others' good will. So for Smith to observe that Davis, with whom he isn't personally acquainted, is paying a shade too much attention to his dickering with Jones will create a significant risk in Smith's mind.

Another example comes from the way the Left strove to insert racial agitators into TEA Party rallies. Once they were identified as such, they had to be removed, lest the group and the larger movement be tarred with the stain of the infiltrator. Attempts to degrade communications among opponents of the Omnipotent State are likely to use similar tactics to prevent resistance groups from forming and to undermine the cohesion of existing groups. Of course, the possibility that a new, unknown participant is a paid agent of the State must not be discounted either.

The communications problem may be decomposed into these elements:

  • Finding sincerely like-minded persons interested in collaborating on specific topics;
  • Organizing for whatever action is appropriate;
  • Preventing unwelcome exposure and infiltration by persons opposed to the group's agenda.

Let's imagine that our old friend Smith is interested in assembling a group for mutual aid via barter -- e.g., "I'll fix your furnace if you'll resurface his driveway so he'll mow my lawn" -- such that the increments to the participants' well-being wouldn't register as taxable income:

  • His first problem would be finding suitable others to join in the arrangement.
  • His second problem would be setting the rules of the association, including who may invite others to join it and under what conditions.
  • His third problem would be contriving a defense against unwelcome attention.

Of course, it would be best if the solution of these problems were a group effort, such that all the members contribute insights and efforts. However, at this point we confront the "80-20 Rule:" 80% of the work of any given organization is done by 20% of the membership. In organizations composed of "volunteers," the ratio is often far worse. Still, let's imagine that Smith gets such enthusiastic buy-in for his concept that everyone who elects to participate agrees to help with the burdens involved, at least by adhering to the rules that are agreed upon.

Clearly, Smith cannot profligately broadcast his intentions and activities to the world; he must seek out those persons he thinks would be suitable participants and address them privately. He and his fellows would then have to agree on how the exchange of mutual services would work: e.g., what each service is worth in comparison to others. They would also have to agree on constraining exposure to outsiders, such that anyone subsequently invited to join could be trusted. Finally, they would have to allow for the possibility of unwelcome exposure and plan how they would react to it: how the discoverer of a "mole" would confirm his discovery, inform the others, and plan a response. None of these things could be made to work if their exchanges could not be kept private.

An oppressive regime would be aware of this, as well. It would strive to open all communications pathways to its surveillance, rendering it impossible to have confidence in their privacy. It would create incentives for the betrayal of confidential arrangements "detrimental to the State." And of course, it would attempt to insert its agents into any organization that tries to keep its internal operations private.

Given the accelerating oppressiveness of Washington under either party's control, the effort to create secure communications pathways that we can defend must begin at once.

The Internet has been a mixed blessing. The opportunities it offers for anonymity and "identity management," while cherished by some, endanger anyone who seeks collaborators in an underground of any sort. He whose identity is concealed simply can't be trusted, nor can he whose bona fides can't be reliably established. So in the search for participants, the Internet will not be useful. It must be conducted by more secure means, with personal acquaintance being strongly preferred.

Once a group has coalesced, the problem changes somewhat. Public-private encryption schemes such as PGP can provide adequate security to email exchanges, with some caveats:

  • Messages must be kept short,
  • The keys must be changed frequently,
  • The exchange of public keys must take place in the flesh rather than over any communications medium.

Other approaches are all too vulnerable to trust.

Finally, the problem of unwelcome attention and infiltration by would-be traducers is principally a matter of not becoming visible. Good approaches to the first two problems will reduce the probability of a breach. However, it's unwise to trust to good fortune, especially given that the State will create incentives for the venal to infiltrate and expose such groups. Thus, the group must arrive at a means by which trusted members can be informed of a suspect member, and the suspect member can be isolated without further damage to the group. Unfortunately, in a situation such as the one proposed, a presumption of innocence is not prudent.

Communications is arguably the most immediately urgent of the freedom movement's challenges. The above is mainly an exposition on "why;" it's light on "how." But in this connection that's a virtue; with many groups pursuing individual approaches, we're more likely to come up with some good ones than if a single approach were imposed, top-down, on all.

More anon.

Friday, November 23, 2012

This Must Go Viral

Yes, we lost the election. In large measure, we lost it by nominating candidates who are afraid to stand by our supposed philosophy.

Bill Whittle tells us all how it's done -- and he's right in all particulars.

Spread it around.


"All my friends are trying to make me paranoid, but I'm onto them, and I'm not going to let them!" -- a college buddy.

(This compulsion to write can be really annoying, especially on an overfull stomach.)

Bob Owens's PJ Media series ridiculing the persons portrayed in NatGeo's "Doomsday Preppers" series has drawn sharp criticism, and some condemnations, from his commenters. I shan't speculate on how many of those commenters are themselves preparationists -- "preppers." But I do find it amusing how near to absolute the commenters' verdicts are against Owens's supercilious snarkery.

I should mention, in the interests of full disclosure, that:

  1. I'm closer to agreement with the commenters than to Owens on this subject;
  2. In some sense, I, too, am a "prepper," as you might deduce from the following discourse.

An article such as Owens's leaves me thinking about an old semi-humorous quip:

What if the purpose of your life is merely to serve as a warning to others?

It's not impossible -- and it should give pause to anyone who's tempted to make a single, barely possible future calamity the focus of his existence.

That having been said, being reasonably well prepared for certain kinds of disturbances and dislocations -- events that, while not certain to occur, are both more than barely possible and foreseeably destructive -- is difficult to criticize. Let's consider a single example: an acceleration of inflation, caused by the Obama Administration's ceaseless borrowing and spending.

When inflation hovers around the 2% to 3% level, few people give it much thought. The pot is being heated slowly enough that the frog won't become alarmed and jump out. But as we who experienced it remember from the Carter inflation, when it rises to 7% or more, the effects are sufficiently compressed in time that Americans will react specifically to it:

  • Some will go on credit binges;
  • Some will spend their deteriorating dollars at once;
  • Some will begin to speculate in the equities market;
  • Some will belatedly buy hard assets that have a chance of keeping up with the inflation;
  • Some will do all the above, and perhaps more.
Now, at this juncture in history, we can foresee that at some difficult-to-predict point in the near to intermediate future, there's likely to be a sharp -- perhaps even convulsive -- increase in the prices of consumer goods. The huge cash balances in the accounts of major American financial institutions seem to me to guarantee it. Is it a lead-pipe-cinch, bet-the mortgage-money certainty? Not quite, but it's beginning to look much more likely than not. He who reads the tea leaves this way has only two plausible reactions:
  • "Well, there's nothing I can do about it. Besides, there's still a chance it won't happen."
  • "I'd better brace for impact as best I can."

The more probable one thinks that future convulsive surge in prices, the more likely he is to adopt the second attitude. He'll put an appreciable fraction of his savings into precious metals. He'll eschew credit exposure, particularly to variable-rate obligations. He might build himself a pantry and stock it with nonperishables, to hedge against the possibility that the supports of life might become hard to get at any price. He will become, in the broad sense of the term, a "prepper." Those who differ with him about the likelihood of the financial upheaval he foresees will deem him a bit silly about it, perhaps even mentally unbalanced. Probabilities being what they are, the disagreement won't be resolvable by argument.

The whole thing is about probabilities. Just how likely is that inflationary surge? Opinions vary widely -- and those at one end of the distribution consider those at the other end paranoid or imprudent. This is the attitude I take toward preparationism. I can't predict the future with absolute certainty; I can only try to assess the probabilities from what I can see, and from my knowledge of history. So I shan't attempt to prepare for a global nuclear war, but I most certainly will brace myself and my family against calamities that seem to be likely enough to be worth some effort and expense: accelerating inflation; a rise in racial violence and gang-related predation; sharply reduced availability of medical services; consumption quotas or price controls on oil, gas, and electric power; and the too-awful-to-contemplate possibility that the NHL might never have another season.

I'd consider anyone who fails to take the appropriate measures against those developments excessively optimistic about the American future. I don't trouble myself about what they might think of me.

But let's put a somewhat sharper focus on that NatGeo series and the persons it chooses for its subjects. I must admit that those folks do strike me as unbalanced, in the strict sense of the word: that is, they're putting the lion's share of their efforts and assets into bracing for calamities that seem highly improbable. What is NatGeo's aim in spotlighting such persons?

It could just be about entertainment. We do like to laugh, and when the object of laughter is someone to whom we can feel superior for some reason, it adds an edge that many people enjoy greatly.

It could be about the range of possibilities these out-of-the-mainstream people have considered: calamities many of us would never have conceived of on our own, such as the sundering of North America into two continents by a fracturing of the tectonic plate. People who enjoy imaginative fiction might get a kick out of such speculations for themselves, whatever they might think of the wisdom of trying to prepare for such an event.

Or it could be that NatGeo has a darker motive: a desire to spread the attitude that "preppers" of all sorts are really too ridiculous for us "sensible" types to consider their contentions at all. I don't think that's terribly likely, but just as I must admit that North America might "tear along the dotted line" some day -- Pangaea, anyone? -- I must admit that it's at least possible that NatGeo has some sort of institutional interest in defaming preparationism to the larger American populace. A number of Owens's commentators have broached that possibility.

Whatever the case, I'm not a big TV watcher, but I think I might start watching the show. Who knows? I might pick up some good ideas, if not for my sub-basement survival bunker, then perhaps for my next novel.

Calhoun on terminal madness.

We [Americans] think we may now indulge in everything with impunity, as if we held our charter of liberty by right divine—from Heaven itself. Under these impressions we plunge into war, we contract heavy debts, we increase the patronage of the Executive, and we talk of a crusade to force our institutions of liberty upon all people. There is no species of extravagance which our people imagine will endanger their liberty in any degree. Sir, the hour is approaching—the day of retribution will come.
~ John C. Calhoun, speech to the U.S. Senate, 1/4/1848.

Most people I know believe in fairy tales when it comes to matters of liberty. To them, our vastly diminished liberties, such as they are, are there like oxygen or green buds on trees in the spring. Liberty happens and no one's pet projects or sure-fire nostrums will ever singly or together work to undermine liberty and, if they do, well, so what?

Asinine, treacherous Supreme Court opinions that relentlessly destroy federalism are a matter of indifference. As is our first president who despises traditional America. As is our Congress that can only decrease the rate of increase of spending and spend only because of the willingness of the Chinese to lend us money.

As the Cuban woman I quoted a few months ago said. She never saw a people who are so willing to give their country away.

In what way can it be said that we deserve our liberty? When we say our troops have fought for our "freedom," to what freedoms does that refer exactly?

Americans simply aren't up to being free. American exceptionalism? Puleez. I just ate.

"A Message From A Renowned War Hawk To the “War Parties” of Today: Peace Out!" By Frank Weathers, Why I Am Catholic 1/10/12.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Whirlwind courtship.

Married on the 12th, inst., by the parties themselves, the Rev. J. D. Maxson, and Miss Elizabeth Maxson, after a long a tedious courtship of about one hour.
"Marshall County Illinois Marriages." Extracted from the Henry Courier, 12/18/1857.

A Pre-Thanksgiving Assortment

1. Attack of the Highway Totalitarians.

Among the less tolerable nuisances of this age are the self-righteous who arrogate the privilege of running your life for you. Not all of them work for the government...yet. Some can be found on Long Island's major highways, every weekday morning and afternoon.

Some drive Priuses or Smart ForTwos, but not all of them. Some sport revealing bumper stickers about saving the Earth, but not all of them. And some stay strictly in the rightmost lane...but not all of them.

Some of them insist on driving in the leftmost lane -- the fast lane -- at 40 or 45 mph.

This is unacceptable, especially during commuting hours. Our road system is strained to its breaking point; the slightest disturbance from bad weather or an accident can lock up the Long Island Expressway for hours. As for New York City "gridlock days," please, let's not go there. That seems to bring all the crazies onto the roads, contrary to what the warnings are hoped to elicit.

In his arrogance and supercilious self-righteousness, the Highway Totalitarian presumes to limit others to the speed he deems most suitable for the advancement of his chosen Cause. Preventing "climate change?" Opposing "waste of resources?" Undermining "predatory capitalism?" All these Causes, and many others, seem to require slowing the rest of us down to his preferred rate of travel.

Such persons have no idea how many accidents they cause, by provoking poor behavior from drivers who have to get somewhere.

The only countermeasure is to get ahead of the Highway Totalitarian somehow, and then slow down still further. Eventually he'll become irritated with you and move to the right, freeing the lane of his autocratic rule. Sometimes it's only temporary, but that's better than nothing.

Given that most automobiles these days are "drive by wire" -- almost completely software-controlled -- a remote-control of some sort that would compel the Highway Totalitarian's car to speed up, change lanes, or explode spectacularly as a warning to others would be a big seller. Perhaps America's favorite marketer could come up with something along those lines. It really would make a fine Christmas gift, though it's too late for this year's holiday shopping and max-traffic season.

2. Insights Of Great Value.

The worthy Ace of Spades has written a column of unusual insight and value, which I exhort all Gentle Readers to read and absorb. Like Andrew Breitbart before him, Ace has grasped one of the central truths about conservative political outreach: It's too explicitly political.

The haymaker:

One of the problems with the right's attempts at media is that it is always -- or almost always -- expliclity political, and ergo argumentative (argumentative in the "good" meaning, but also often in the bad one). We're always trying to persuade in conservative media. Thus, conversion can only happen when people tune into us when they're in the mood to be persuaded that everything they used to think is wrong, and these other people have been right all along.

You know how all often people tune in to discover how wrong they've been about everything? Rounding off to the nearest integer, zero. Zero percent of the people tune in zero percent of the time to be told how very wrong they are about everything.

Taking it to three significant digits like Nate Silver, The Model projects that zero point zero zero percent of the populace searches for websites and magazines to tell them they are 100% wrong about everything zero point zero zero percent of the time.

The left doesn't do it like this. The left infiltrates non-political media and stuffs them full of political assumptions.

We say on the right we have better arguments. We do. Guess what? It doesn't matter. Because an assumption -- something you've grown to believe without even realizing you've been programmed, by dint of repetition, to believe -- will beat an argument every time.

Ace is dead on target. We're swimming against a cultural tide in which political messages -- left-leaning ones -- are subtly embedded, and so pervasive that they've descended into the unquestioned-assumptions stratum of most Americans' minds. Unless and until we take the initiative to assert a pro-freedom, pro-responsibility culture as the normal and preferred social matrix -- and learn to do it as subtly as the Left has done it to us -- we'll be trying, if I may borrow a phrase from John Hersey, to "beat bullshit with buckshot."

Ace's column is must-read stuff for anyone serious about wanting to help return the United States to a regime of freedom.

3. Killer Robots?

This piece at Fox News got me giggling at first, owing to the obvious "Terminator" reference...but I soon sobered up:

The government should ban autonomous, gun-wielding robots before it’s too late, Human Rights Watch is warning.

The group, which is dedicated to protecting human rights against oppression and discrimination, issued the warning in a 50-page report titled “Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots .” It argues that bans are needed against fully autonomous drones and sentry robots under development in China, Germany, the United States, Israel, and more. Such robots lack human qualities needed to keep them in check, the group says.

"Giving machines the power to decide who lives and dies on the battlefield would take technology too far,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch. “Human control of robotic warfare is essential to minimizing civilian deaths and injuries.”

Grant, first of all, that giving a machine "the power to decide who lives and dies" would indeed be a frightening thing. But inasmuch as such machines don't yet exist, I see this as an entering wedge, aimed at the U.S.'s current arsenal of armed drones under the control of human pilots at a distance. Such drones keep human beings off the battlefield, and as such are life-preserving devices. If we have to go to war, I'd greatly prefer that we fight that war with machines to the maximum possible extent, rather than with fragile human flesh and bone.

If Human Rights Watch's true agenda is to inhibit the U.S. from going to war at all -- it's a notably left-leaning group, so that's not much of a stretch -- I'd bet heavily that this protest against completely autonomous war robots, which don't yet exist and might never exist, is nothing more than a stroke indirectly aimed at further crippling American military power. We're already so casualty-averse that the prospect of major combat terrifies us almost into immobility. Removing one of the most promising devices for minimizing casualties would paralyze us still a time when the enemies of freedom are on the march literally around the world.

4. A Reprise From Long Ago.

Have a pure Thanksgiving thought from a more reflective moment:

Time is the ultimate gift.

Time is the medium within which we temporally bound creatures must work. Time is the dimension within which we plan, and execute our plans, and reap the rewards or the lessons they generate. But time is not ours to command....

This is the forward edge on the sword of time, the somber face of the ticking clock, that two-handed engine which will one day strike, and strike no more. We cannot bottle time. We are forbidden by the laws of the universe to know how much time we'll have. Though memory suggests otherwise, the only instant we can be sure of is now -- and it slips from our grasp before we can even finish pronouncing its name.

Your Curmudgeon is growing old. The sense of time running out has been weighing heavily upon him lately. He's been reviewing his goals, especially the ones that seem to be moving out of reach, and straining to make some sense of the things to which he's given his life. It's not a uniformly pleasant enterprise. It involves confronting a lot of utter folly and wondering how he could have been so stupid, as he was at Aunt Lil's dinner table three decades and more ago.

But it also involves appreciating how many opportunities he's had, how every pain visited upon him carried with it a lesson that would enlarge his understanding and prove valuable later in his life, and how even his worst failures were occasions for a great deal of hope and joy. This is the rearward edge on the sword of time: the ability to look backward over one's life and say, despite any and all regrets, "an ill favoured thing, but mine own," and therefore precious.

And so, on this Thanksgiving Day in the year of Our Lord 2003, your Curmudgeon will give thanks simply for having lived. For having survived to laugh at his own stupidity. For having learned how much there is to know that he will never know. For having loved, often unwisely but never unwillingly, and having been loved in return. For all the failures, all the pain, all the triumphs and all the joys. These things are inextricably bound in the thread of time, whether Clotho spins it coarse or fine, whether Lachesis weaves it loose or dense, whether Atropos lets it run luxuriantly long or hacks it cruelly short. It was all pure gift, as is whatever portion remains to come.

Like any other sort of thread, this gift is what one makes of it.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. I'll be back after the holiday weekend. Stay safe.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The New Segregationists: A Coda

The pieces below, which I wrote more than six years ago, had several consequences. First came the barrage of email, divided between strongly supportive and strongly derisive in roughly a three-to-one ratio. Second came the requests for further direction: just how do we combat this pernicious trend? And third came the pleas for some sort of explanation of why the Left, especially its annex in the Mainstream Media, would want to perpetrate such a thing.

I chuckled over the negative email. Many of the condemnations were so completely, obscenely content-free that they might have been generated by an auto-scatology program. None of them were at all creative. But that's what you get from persons whose egos have swollen so greatly and whose minds have been pressed so flat that they can't even acknowledge a factual argument without suffering a catastrophic cranial implosion.

Further direction proved a major challenge. After all, what can one say beyond what I said in those essays?

  • We're being denied information we desperately need.
  • These are the persons denying it to us.
  • They feel it's for the best, and are therefore unlikely to change their ways.

There are attempts in progress to build independent sources of critical reportage that can be trusted even on racially and ethnically sensitive topics. May they all succeed, swiftly and brilliantly. But most of us can contribute little if anything to them.

That third set of inquiries -- into the "why" of the thing -- is where my thoughts are today.

"Adults almost always act from conscious 'highest motives' no matter what their behavior." -- Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers

There is no community of "thought" -- why, yes, those are "sneer quotes" -- more focused on "good intentions" than the American Left. (I omit that small fraction of the movement that regards social-fascist politics solely as a route toward power and its perquisites.) Leftists insist that their intentions are what matter. They want to "help" the poor, the oppressed, the unfortunate, the historically excluded, the tragically misunderstood, and so forth. That's the foundation of their belief in their moral and intellectual superiority to us Neanderthal conservatives. Therefore, it must be protected against any abrasion from reality.

But reality is filled with rough surfaces and jagged protrusions. Among the most distressing of these is the simple fact that collectivities, no matter how defined, exist mainly in one's mind. Internally, they can display upsetting variations and divergences...and they usually do.

If some set of "good intentions" require a collectivity for their exercise, some of the "help" administered to it will fall upon persons:

  • Who don't need it;
  • Who don't deserve it;
  • Who don't appreciate it;
  • Or who will exploit it in a destructive fashion.

Such uncritically distributed beneficence encourages the worst in its beneficiary class. The more civilized members will see what their less civilized colleagues are getting away with and say to themselves, "Why not me? What's the percentage in being honest and forthright?" Over time, the handouts flow ever more to people who ought not to be "helped." This is especially the case when the "help" is packaged as a government program, for reasons that would require another screed for their elucidation.

Therein lies the catch for the Left: Its methodological preference is for collectivities and government action. Leftists prefer to think in those terms -- another subject that deserves its own, separate exploration -- rather than in terms of individuals helping other individuals whom Fate has dealt an unearned blow.

So it seeks collectivities and rationales for deeming them "in need of help."

The obvious collectivities in any society are based on simple differences: race, sex, religious creed, ethnic heritage, education. If one of these can be segregated off as inherently in need of (and deserving of) "help," it constitutes a political target. To "hit the target" has two additional prerequisites:

  • The members of the targeted collectivity must embrace their collective identity as their most important attribute;
  • Persons outside the collectivity must be inhibited against seeing its members principally as individuals.

That, in summary, is the process of segregation.

As I said in the pieces below, word gets around. Sometimes it takes a while, but information people want or need is information they will have, sooner or later. The Soviet Union fell to that effect, among others.

When word gets around about the exploitation of unearned benefits or legal privileges by members of a collectivity designated for "help," those who are being mulcted or disadvantaged for that "help" tend to become very angry. However, the inhibition against seeing unworthy or vicious individuals within a "protected" collectivity can be made strong enough that the result is rage against all the members of the collectivity: the decent, responsible, and moral ones right along with the dissolute, the ne'er-do-wells, and the thugs.

When such a reaction begins to gather, the Left, which proposed and rationalized the nurturance of the designated collectivity, senses a threat to its moral position. The original motive power for "helping" that collectivity was a sense of moral obligation successfully imposed on the rest of society. They come to fear that their self-concept will be wounded, perhaps fatally. When the facts of the matter are immovably against their policy prescriptions and collectivist moral exhortations, the only possible means of defense is concealment: delaying the exposure of the evidence as long as possible.

The Mainstream Media, as anyone can see for himself, are politically biased toward the Left. Leftist political orientation, being so focused on "good intentions," tends to gather in persons whose strongest response to any scenario is emotional -- and emotionally-oriented persons have always dominated the communications-intensive trades. Thus, journalists are naturally inclined toward alliance with the explicitly political Left, and will assist the Left in bending the news "narrative" away from inconvenient truths. The growth and gradual predominance of a predator sub-class within a collectivity nurtured by the Left is such an inconvenient truth.

The original New Segregationist pieces focused on racial segregation and how the media's suppression of important facts about trends in dissolution, profligacy, and criminality among American Negroes has contributed to it. Yet any collectivity designated for "help" will exhibit a comparable set of trends, more or less dramatically according to context and prior socialization. As always, it's a matter of incentives.

The late Clarence Carson, in his landmark book The American Tradition, made a critical set of points about the "civilizing of groups." Groups, he noted, can overwhelm individual rationality and morality, a point made with equal force by philosopher Eric Hoffer. Therefore, they must be denied legal and political standing; they must never become capable of asserting privileges or immunities that non-members don't possess. This parallels Isabel Paterson's penetrating partition of sociopolitical orders into Societies of Contract, where individuals are the sole recognized actors within the legal and political order, versus Societies of Status, where membership in one or another group dwarfs every other consideration about what an individual can do, or to what he can aspire.

Plainly, Leftist thought and policy departs completely from that insight; the creation of politically privileged and empowered groups is virtually the whole of Leftist politics. But that departure rests upon Leftists' need to see themselves as morally superior to the rest of us, in which effort their politicized "good intentions" are the indispensable element.

I'll leave the summing-up to the late Keith Laumer's inimitable "interstellar diplomat," Jame Retief:

    Retief stood up. "I'm taking a few weeks off . . . if you have no objections, Mr. Ambassador. My pal Whonk wants to show me an island down south where the fishing is good."
    "But there are some extremely important matters coming up," Magnan said. "We're planning to sponsor Senior Citizen Groups."
    "Count me out. Groups give me an itch."
    "Why, what an astonishing remark, Retief. After all, we diplomats are ourselves a group."
    "Uh, huh," Retief said. "That's what I mean."
    Magnan sat quietly, his mouth open, and watched as Retief stepped into the hall and closed the door gently behind him.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Socialist comity.

We now know that in East Germany, up until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, political prisoners under control of the Stasi, the secret police, were being forced to make furniture for IKEA, the Swedish furniture company.
No communist regime is too vile for leftists to deal with. And E. German was one of the most vile.

Mention Franco or Pinochet to a leftist, though, and they'll spit nails and sparks. Men who actually fought to win against communist takeovers of their countries are true 20th-century monsters to the left. Pinochet even survived a communist ambush. Apparently, after the communist filth targeted his country, he was just supposed lie down like a whipped dog and surrender.

Let's see. Where was I? Oh, yes. IKEA. Quality furniture at prices that can't be beat.

"Merkel meets Putin: not so easy as meeting a eurozone invertebrate." By M.E. Synon, MailOnline, 11/19/12.

The New Segregationists

[In recognition of this incredible story, and of Mark Steyn’s unflinching penetration of America’s ongoing suicide-through-uncontrolled-immigration, I present the following two pieces, which were first posted at Eternity Road on April 22, 2007 and April 24, 2007, respectively. -- FWP]

Fran here. This is an angry column on an ugly subject. If you have any vestiges of political correctness left in you, I can guarantee that you won't like it. Won't like it? You'll be appalled. You'll wonder what's come over me, one of the Web's premier voices of sweet reason. Over the days to come you'll await some sort of retraction or apology. You'll be disappointed.

You have been warned.


Natural laws cannot be repealed. Congress and other legislators will attempt it now and then, but even to delay their operation for a bit is like trying to sweep back the tide; ultimately, you're sorry you tried.

One of the natural laws, which should be so obvious as not to require saying, is that word gets around. Something that people in general would want to know is something they will know, eventually. If you assist them in learning it, you will earn their gratitude. If you retard their edification, then when they've finally learned it, if they learn that you were responsible for denying them the data they need, you will reap the whirlwind.

I'm a news hound. I read several news sources every day, plus dozens of blogs and commentators' sites. I do my best to be as well informed as I can possibly be -- and I assure you, my best is very good.

Atop that, I'm a thinker. My education was in mathematics and physics, and I labor as an engineer. I'm not afraid to look for patterns or to draw conclusions from them. I'm also not afraid to be proved wrong; I remain open to counter-evidence for all my convictions, and I acknowledge it when it happens by.

But even a powerful and inquisitive mind is incapable of reaching useful conclusions when the data he needs is denied him. When those responsible are the very organs of dissemination that he relies upon for such information -- that claim to hold the unearthing and transmission of important news to be a sacred trust -- he can be incited to an unparalleled rage.

That rage has been growing in me for some years now, courtesy of our beloved Old Media.

The print and broadcast media have been socked with a lot of criticism in recent years for their habit of framing the stories they report strictly in "politically correct" terms. They've deserved almost all of it. Admittedly, some stories don't need any framing to appear to support left-liberal pieties, but one gets no special credit for doing what one ought to do, particularly when it's compatible with one's own desires. It's the departures from ethical journalism that get our attention, which is as it should be.

Those who defend the leftist media usually reply to our objections to their slanted coverage with irrelevancies. Some of those replies are partisan: "You conservatives don't want to hear anything that contradicts your beliefs." Some of them are exculpatory: "Well, they have to choose some way to frame the story, and why shouldn't it be the way they prefer?" And some of them are tu quoque minimizations: "If you controlled the media, you'd be doing the same thing, except in service to your point of view!"

Painful as it is to admit, there's a grain of truth in all these replies. Not a large grain, mind you: when a man has presented himself as a servant of truth and its dissemination, there's no perfect excuse for doing otherwise. But still, one must admit that some conservatives are as willing to spin and distort as anyone in the Old Media, if it will serve their purposes.

What I profoundly hope a conservative journalist would never stoop to is the complete suppression of a newsworthy event because it contradicts his preferences.


Despite my voracity about current events, this item escaped me completely until this very morning:

In January of 2007, 21 year-old Channon Christian and her boyfriend, 23 year-old Christopher Newsom, were the victims of a horrific crime in Knoxville, Tennessee. During what appears to have started as a carjacking, the criminals decided to abduct the two and set in motion a disturbing series of events.

The suspects allegedly tortured and raped the young woman for several days before killing her. The young man's life ended sooner but his treatment was no less brutal.

The amount of savagery that took place in this case is of such magnitude that bloggers and their readers are asking, "Where's the national media?" What happened to these two young people is right up there with Jeff Dahmer's deeds on the list of wicked things that people have done to each other.

Now, carjackings are nothing new. Rapes and murders are also fairly frequent. But the brutality of this particular crime appears to have probed new heights of savage inhumanity:

"It apparently started with a carjacking," said Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Rich Knighten. "They did some really nasty things to this lady."

Subsequently Newsom’s badly burned and mutilated body was found in a rail yard. It turns out the five assailants did some “really nasty things” to Christopher Newsom before they killed him. Authorities know that he was raped, his penis cut off, and beaten before being set on fire and shot several times. It is believed they forced his girlfriend, Channon Christian, to watch.

Reports state that Channon Christian, was beaten and gang-raped in many ways for four days by all five assailants, including an eighteen year-old female named Vanessa Coleman. They also took turns urinating on her. Then they cut off her breasts and put a chlorine-based cleaning product in her mouth, ostensibly to eradicate any DNA evidence, then murdered her and left her body in a garbage can inside a house once occupied by two of the assailants.

What kind of subhuman could do such a thing to a defenseless human being, you ask? Who could regard another person as meat to be abused and tortured for the sheer pleasure of it? Who could bear to go on living after having participated in such a deed, even to the extent of witnessing it?

Apparently, these persons could:


I have said it before, and I'll say it whenever anyone asks, whether in public or in private: I am a racist. That is, I am persuaded that as statistical aggregates, the conventionally recognized races differ in ways that can be contextually significant. So any mealy-mouthed leftists in the audience who think they can cow me by calling me a racist already have my reply: Damned right I am!

Despite the differences among the races, Americans are expected to make a wholehearted attempt to treat one another as individuals, to be judged on our individual merits. This is a vitally necessary enterprise. It's the only way we can share this country in something approximating peace (i.e., "a state of tension that falls short of overt armed conflict"). The sole alternative is a process of racial cleansing after which the United States would be peopled exclusively by whites.

Don't kid yourselves. Were American whites ever to conclude that inter-racial peace is impossible, within two years there wouldn't be a black man left alive and free anywhere in this country. We're a numerical majority. We control the preponderance of the land, the wealth, and most important, the weapons. Our targets would wear their affiliation in their flesh. It hasn't happened -- and please God, may it never happen -- because we still believe, despite many disappointments, that inter-racial amity is achievable. Preserving that conviction is the one and only hope American blacks have for their futures, and for those of their children.

What would undermine that conviction?

  1. Clear and convincing evidence that American blacks are irremediably violently hostile toward whites, or:
  2. A groundswell of conviction that such evidence exists, but that our news organs have conspired to deny it to us.

The first condition has not been met. The second condition is being advanced by the Old Media themselves.

Word gets around. Something as atrocious as the rape-torture-murders of Christian and Newsom cannot forever be kept from the light of day. People talk: policemen, forensic investigators, neighbors, reporters, reporters' clerical assistants, cleanup specialists, garbagemen, the families of the victims, their neighbors, and their neighbors' kids. There's simply no hope that the story won't sooner or later be told. When it is told, after a long interval of silence, people will naturally ask one another, "Why haven't we heard anything about this before now?" They will suspect conspiracy.

It's easy to suspect conspiracies, and difficult to disprove them. Conspirators are secretive by nature, seeking always to conceal or disguise their identities and deeds. Successful conspirators are well prepared to deflect the blame for their crimes onto wholly innocent others. With this as the model, one who begins to suspect that he's being deceived has a long, hard road to travel to disabuse himself of the notion.

Journalists who downplay or conceal inter-racial crimes out of the mistaken notion that they're helping to avert further hostility are either deluded or hopelessly stupid. By furthering the conviction among private citizens that we're being lied to, they advance the concomitant conviction that "the other," about whose deeds we're being denied full and accurate reports, really is someone to be feared...someone to be located and destroyed, or cast out of our midst, for our own safety's sake.

Thus, whatever their conscious motives and intentions, politically correct journalists who spike stories about horrific crimes by black perpetrators are the new segregationists. It is their decisions about which stories should be emphasized and which ones must be buried that will persuade white Americans that their black neighbors cannot be trusted and must be expelled from the body politic.


I told you at the outset that this would be an angry column. I'm furious. I want the scalp of every journalist or editor who knew of the Knoxville atrocity but decided to pass over it in silence, but thought that Don Imus's "nappy headed hos" comment or the satirical "Caucasian Achievement Award" offered by College Republicans at the University of Rhode Island should get front-page prominence and column-inches. These persons, whether through their we-know-best arrogance or through simple cluelessness, are undermining the foundations for inter-racial peace. It is not clear whether the damage they've done is reparable.


Fran here. As you might imagine, the hate mail I've received over the previous column on this topic has been both copious and vitriolic. None of it was terribly original, and none of it addressed the essay's central point. This affirms my conviction that Eternity Road's hate mailers are divided between those who can't (or won't) read and those who can't (or won't) think. Well, I suppose that's what you get when you draw the attention of a crowd that venerates a bilious ignoramus who writes for an up-market Manhattan shopping circular.

But the show must go on, and the subject is not yet exhausted, so buckle yourselves in securely, Gentle Readers, 'cause you ain't seen nothin' yet.


If human beings are at all predictable as a category, it is in this: we seek more of that which feels good and strive to avoid that which feels bad. We share this trait with the lesser orders, though humans are sometimes capable of overriding their instinctual behavior by the conscious application of will.

Our pleasure-tropism / pain-aversion is the basis for conditioning through reward and punishment. As I wrote in this essay, consistently responding to good behavior with rewards and to bad behavior with punishment is essential to child-rearing. Failure to do so results in uncivilized young adults who frequently reap worse consequences from their misdeeds than they ever imagined. Those consequences are the logical parallel to the disciplining of an unruly child. In keeping with the 1-10-100 Rule, because the fault was permitted to linger past the "design" (childhood) and "implementation" (early adolescence) phases and into the "deployment" (late adolescence and adulthood) phase, the cost of correction is orders of magnitude higher than a slap on the backside. Sometimes it involves the execution of the offender.

Even persons who favor unbending penal justice and staunchly support the death penalty for the most heinous crimes aren't happy about the necessity. We'd prefer that no one ever be incarcerated or executed. But we're not Pollyannas; we recognize reality and its implications. As long as there are miscreants who assert, by their deeds, the right to steal, defraud, kidnap, abuse, torture, and murder, there will be a need for retributive justice of appropriate harshness. To shortchange that need is to fail our responsibilities toward ourselves and our descendants.

Yet there are schools of "thought" -- yes, those are "sneer quotes" -- to the effect that punishment is socially unnecessary, that it's merely the expression of our primitive need for vengeance, that any miscreant could be curbed and brought into harmony with society simply by showing him the full consequences of his deeds. The most egregious such scholia inform us that society, not the miscreant himself, is to blame for all misdeeds, however incomprehensibly heinous. One such "thinker" was Ramsey Clark, Attorney-General of the United States under President Lyndon B. Johnson. Another was David Bazelon, Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia for many years. Many others have risen to positions less visible but almost as influential.

The punishment-is-awful and society-is-to-blame notions of such persons have molded our laws, our jurisprudence, and our social conduct to a remarkable extent, such that the first impulse of many a jurist is to theorize about "root causes" and "social abuses" that would exculpate the criminal. The consequence has been a great weakening of the most important disincentive for barbarity among persons so inclined.


The removal of punishment as a deterrent to crime and antisocial public behavior would be bad enough if it were absolutely uniform. But it is not, and the situation is accordingly far worse.

When a society makes special provisions for a particular class of persons, such that those persons have a good expectation of not suffering for illegal or antisocial behavior, it has committed the worst imaginable injustice against the persons in that class who honor their society's laws and norms: it has equalized the legal, social, and moral positions of good citizens and thugs. Thus, if ninety percent of such a class is law-abiding and decorous while ten percent is violent, dishonest, or disruptive, the latter category will come to overshadow the former in the perceptions of persons outside the class -- not because ten percent is a majority, but because that anti-social subgroup is identified with the class's special set of privileges.

A class is defined by its legal and social privileges. The aristocrats of medieval times were not distinguished by their lineages or their deeds, but by the things they were allowed to do, without penalty, that commoners were not. There is reason to believe that the majority of medieval aristocrats were fairly responsible stewards of their lands and of public order within them. That does not justify the creation of a class of men who could wield high, middle, and low justice over others, but who would normally escape all consequences for deeds for which a commoner would be severely punished.

The American response to the failings of traditional aristocracies was the Rule of Law: the fundamental principle that the law must treat all men impartially, regardless of their identities or station in life. The old shorthand for this principle was "blind justice," meaning that the law must not see one's person, only one's deeds. In a society that respects the Rule of Law, a king would stand in the same dock as a trash-hauler, were the two accused of the same offense. All that would matter would be the evidence for their guilt or innocence.

In the absence of a scrupulously observed Rule of Law, classes with differing degrees of privilege will emerge. The flourishing of the members of each class will be influenced, often heavily, by the class's privileges and how effectively they can be exploited. Men being what we are, we will be moved to use those privileges in our own interest, both against competitors within our class and against other classes.

Success breeds emulation. If there are advantages to be had from the ruthless exploitation of a class privilege, over time more and more members of the class will be drawn into doing so. Thus, the coloration given to the class by its privileges will become stronger and more inclusive over time.

This is not an unbounded progression; as in all other things, a tendency toward equilibrium will ultimately assert itself. However, the mechanisms by which equilibrium is restored are always unpleasant. The deterrents that curb full exploitation of a class privilege, if any exist at all, will be applied by other classes, whether through the law, other social institutions, or "informally." "Informally" usually means lynching: the application of extra-judicial, often unmerited punishment to members of one class by members of another. In the usual case, the lynchers come from a more numerous class than the lynchees, though there are occasional exceptions.

Lynching, if it goes unpunished, is itself a class privilege. There are satisfactions in it that are incomprehensible to moral men who live in ordinary times. As with other activities with innate satisfactions, the popularity of the practice will grow over time. A mob that's tasted the blood of one aristocrat is seldom satisfied with just that one sip.

Lynching writ large is genocide.


Because of our unjustly tender consciences about the practice of slavery on these shores some 140 years ago, we have awarded a sheaf of legal and social privileges to those who resemble the slaves of yore in the color of their skin. It's not obvious to everyone what those privileges are:

  • Disruptive, destructive, and anti-social behavior by blacks in public and semi-public settings is tolerated far more readily than if it were by whites;
  • Inflammatory rhetoric is accepted from black public figures that would never be tolerated from whites;
  • Laws concerning several aspects of government action, notably procurement and subcontracting, are written to favor protected minorities, notably blacks;
  • Blacks routinely receive preferential treatment from educational institutions;
  • Blacks are accorded legally preferred status in hiring and firing decisions;
  • Black lawbreakers' claims of racial discrimination are treated excessively credulously;
  • Journalists routinely soft-pedal stories of black-on-white crime, yet are merciless about the far less frequent instances of white-on-black crime.

The justifications offered for these privileges are well known. The rationales for not punishing those who violate the written laws have impressive names: "moral equivalence" and "cultural relativism" are the best known. The former attempts to match the past crimes of slaveholders with the current crimes of black thugs, and somehow cancel one against the other. The latter proposes that thug culture "has its own validity," and that no one outside it may stand in judgment over it. Regardless of the intentions of those who make such claims, the consequences of their actions in the minds of many white Americans is to associate all black Americans, regardless of their behavior, with the privileges awarded to the class.

The monstrousness of this phenomenon can hardly be overstated. Yet there's little to be done about the principal social effect: a generalized distrust of blacks by whites, proportional to the privileges themselves. Forty years ago, when the process was at its inception, American whites were anxious to cultivate the good will of blacks, whom they felt, with justice, had received a raw deal even after the end of slavery. Today that sentiment is failing, entirely due to left-liberals' ratification of black privileges, thug culture, and black "leaders'" rampant hostility toward whites.


If there's a central irony here, it would be this: despite everything, the great majority of American blacks are devout Christians who strive with all their might and main to live according to their faith. If you're a white Christian, used to the tenor of the religious services that white Christians normally attend, you'd be blown away by the fervor of a service at a Southern Baptist or Church of God in Christ meeting. There's no hypocrisy there: these folks are passionate Christians who really mean it, in all particulars.

How much greater an injustice could we do than to group these good and gentle people with the thugs who exploit black class privileges to the hilt, cynically and ruthlessly, to the detriment of all of American society? But the thugs and grievance-mongers have their race's microphone; it's they from whom and about whom we hear. There's no redress for it except that the privileges themselves should be withdrawn, leaving blacks and whites equals before the law and the opinions of their fellow men. Yet that is the exact opposite of the stance of American left-liberals.

In the realm of political discourse, it's even worse. Highly intelligent and eloquent black conservatives, unanimous in their condemnation of preferential treatment and softened standards for blacks, are routinely belittled by American left-liberals and the black grievance-mongers and racial-identity hustlers left-liberals prize. Brilliant black scholars, public servants, and commentators such as Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Clarence Thomas, Janice Rogers Brown, Ward Connerly, Larry Elder, Hermain Cain, and others are derided, even demonized, by persons whose only objective claim to anyone's attention is the record of their sins. Ordinary blacks are told not to listen to the "Uncle Toms," to treat them as "inauthentic" and traitors to their race. When wildly popular entertainer Bill Cosby ratified much of the conservative prescription before an NAACP audience, high officials of that retrograde organization, including one who had characterized American conservatives as akin to the Taliban, rushed to distance themselves from Cosby's statements and suggest that he didn't really mean them. The Old Media collaborated in their flight from objectivity and hard sense.

The American left-liberal would rather salve his guilty conscience, at ruinous expense to the society in which he lives, than admit that his good intentions are nudging American race relations toward the brink of catastrophe.


To segregate is to separate, whether physically or conceptually. American left-liberals, deeply if unconsciously infected with Marxian notions, ever eager to see their society as a set of classes in combat with one another for political, economic, and social attainment, have reanimated the injustices of the era of slavery by making blacks once again a class with a special status. Blacks' legal status during the era of slavery was below that of whites, while today the reverse is true, but the overriding factor, to which both groups react despite the best will in the world, is the difference itself. That difference has brought about a widening division between American whites and blacks, whose mutual distrust is making them increasingly suspicious of one another, and increasingly unable to share communities, schools, or political subdivisions in neighborly ease.

The American left-liberal is the new segregationist.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Whose Side Is God On?

"Never go to a religious war without your religion." – Tom Kratman

The national news media are largely ignoring the largest and most ominous development of the past fifty years: the escalating religious war in the Middle East, which has outcroppings in such out-of-the-way places as Britain and Canada. Your Curmudgeon is, of course, unsurprised. After the recent display of "puppet fellatio" by the Mainstream Media toward The Won, the notion that they might ever report candidly on something that so dramatically contradicts the Obamunist narrative is absurd.

And it is a religious war. Disabuse yourself of any contrary notion. Islam is only "one more Abrahamic religion" in the minds of the uncritical. Its ludicrous theology is mere window dressing for a program of military expansion and totalitarian dominance of the world. Muslims are leaguing against Israel because it's a non-Muslim nation in the midst of what they regard as their Waqf. Incidentally, they regard Spain the same way. Fancy that.

Israel, as doughty as she is, cannot withstand the combined assault of all the Muslims in the Middle East without the assistance of the United States. Given Obama's demonstrated hostility toward Israel these past four years, would you be willing to bet that such assistance is forthcoming?

Now ask yourself why Obama would jettison America's most reliable Middle Eastern ally, and the only democratic state in that region. Might there be an influence, from somewhere in Obama's past, that has prejudiced him against the Jews? Might there be more than one?

Not much of a puzzler, this one.

An unfortunate consequence of the secularization of the West is a propensity to see religious controversies as weightless and inconsequential. This is not the case, has never been the case, and will never be the case. For the atheists and agnostics in the audience:

  • Every religion represents itself as the Divine Will for Mankind.
  • Every religion includes an ethos: a set of rules that define mandatory and prohibited acts.
  • To go against the ethos is to condemn oneself to Hell.
  • Cancer of the genitals is nasty, but Hell is worse and lasts much longer.
  • Some religions (e.g., Islam) attach extra afterlife rewards to particular deeds in life.

Thus, for those who adhere to one, there is no more potent motivating force than their religion -- and if their religion commands them to "do unto others until the rubble glows in the dark," that's what they'll do.

That the war in the Middle East is religiously animated principally on one side is particularly ominous. The Israelis have been secularized almost as thoroughly as the rest of the West. Many of them see themselves not as Jews defending their ancient and honorable faith, but merely as persons struggling to survive an onslaught from inexplicably hostile neighbors. What did we ever do to them? is a reasonable precis of the prevalent mentality. For combatants in a religious war, it is not enough.

"Soldiers in a holy war win or die. They do not seek new wars." -- Larry Niven

Your Curmudgeon will forbear to elaborate further about the religious character of the assaults on Israel. But he will note that the Muslim mindset is as hostile toward Christianity as it is toward Judaism.

Imagine, if you prefer and are sufficiently depraved, that the United States could buy itself a few years of relative peace by throwing Israel to the Islamic wolves. Imagine further, though it takes little imagination at this juncture, that the Obama Administration is willing to do so. What would follow in that train?

There are more Jews in the United States and Canada than there are in Israel.
Muslims have flowed into North America in large numbers these past thirty years.
And it is a religious war.

You will find very few mosques in this nation where hatred of the Jews is not preached continually and assiduously. You will find copious hate literature at every one of them, naming the Jews as "descendants of apes and pigs," as drinkers of the blood of Muslim children, as the architects of a scheme of world conquest of their own. You will find recorded sermons, in Arabic and English, from "respected" Islamic authorities in many lands, denouncing the Jews, the "Zionist entity," and the United States for the support it has lent Israel. Is it possible to believe, should Islamic madness succeed in destroying the Jewish state, that it wouldn't swiftly retarget onto Jews in Europe and North America?

You cannot argue a man out of the dictates of his religion without changing his religion. The only force that can countervail Islamic hatred of the Jews -- indeed, of everything not utterly conformant to Islam -- is force itself: the taste of defeat; the sting of the lash. You must not deceive yourself that persons whose convictions are in no way the fruits of reason or evidence can be persuaded by those things to change their ways. This is a religious war, and unless you're willing to see it that way, you will lose.

And you will not succeed in achieving the required mindset until you agree to "make war against a religion."

The ideas expressed in this afterword to John Ringo and Tom Kratman's novel The Tuloriad are congruent with the ones above.