Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Assorted

Yes, I'm back to that again.


1. Converts And Heretics.

Via Ed Driscoll, a pithy statement from Utah Senator Mike Lee:

Anger is not an agenda. And outrage, as a habit, is not even conservative. Outrage, resentment, and intolerance are gargoyles of the Left. For us, optimism is not just a message — it’s a principle. American conservatism, at its core, is about gratitude, and cooperation, and trust, and above all hope.

It is also about inclusion. Successful political movements are about identifying converts, not heretics. This, too, is part of the challenge before us.

True...as far as it goes. But heretics matter, too, especially the sort who:

  1. Are innately hostile to the principles of freedom;
  2. Are willing to compromise (and thereby destroy) those principles to look like Nice Guys.

Type 1 heretics constitute a "fifth column" within conservative ranks. They cannot be reformed and must be expunged. Type 2 heretics are potentially salvageable...but excess effort put to salvaging them can undermine other, politically more profitable efforts.


2. Unexpected Candor.

It's possible that the following wasn't meant for American eyes:

In Japan, there is great fear of failure and mistakes in front of other people. It is better to do nothing and avoid being criticized than to taste the humiliation of failure. As a result, there are things we wanted to do, but did not, and often regret.

In America, you can make mistakes, fail, and it doesn’t matter. It is a fundamental feeling that to sometimes be incorrect is natural. In addition, rather than thinking about mistakes and failures, Americans have curiosity and say, "Let’s try anyway!"

That's an unusually candid assessment of the psychological differences between the Japanese and American cultures. It might apply equally well to all Oriental cultures. Though many would point to the relative weighting the relevant cultures give to individuality and freedom, I'd say it derives from a deeper phenomenon, a prioritization of "face" over aggregate accomplishments.

Only individuals can truly have "face," in the Japanese sense. Institutions are "faceless." However, a Japanese institution's choice of persons to represent it to the larger world will take into account those persons' "face:" their aggregate reputations and the respect they receive from others. In other words, the representative's "face" becomes that of the institution, at least temporarily.

To the Japanese, to fail is to "lose face." A failure is exceedingly difficult to outlive or surmount, no matter what one's subsequent accomplishments.

In Richard Hoyt's first-rate thriller Japanese Game, he relates a true story from Japanese baseball, concerning a great pitcher who served up a game-losing "gopher ball" to a great power hitter while the Emperor was in the stands, watching. Though the pitcher went on to achieve mightily, he was unable to overcome the shame of throwing the losing pitch while the Emperor looked on.

Compare that to Tracy Stallard's comments about serving up the pitch that Roger Maris hit for his record-breaking 61st home run in 1961. In a post-game interview, Stallard felt no embarrassment at all:

The contest between the Red Sox and the Yankees was the final game of the season with Stallard, then 2-6, facing off against Yankees right-hander Bill Stafford (12-9). In the first duel between Maris and Stallard in the first inning, Stallard threw a changeup to Maris that ended up being a soft fly to left field. In the fourth inning, Stallard fell behind 2-0 to Maris. Up to that point, Stallard had said that he was probably having the best game he had ever pitched. Stallard threw a fastball, and Maris hit it over the wall for his 61st home run. It was Maris's only hit off Stallard in seven lifetime at bats.

Stallard felt no shame over the ordeal, saying, "I'm glad he did it off me. Otherwise, I would never have been thought of again. That was about all I did, and I've had a good time with it." There has been speculation that Stallard grooved the pitch in an attempt to help Maris hit the home run, of which he has denied these claims. Stallard struck out five and gave up five hits and just the one earned run in seven innings on the outing, but the Red Sox failed to score in a 1-0 loss, dropping him to a final record of 2-7 for the season. [Emphasis added by FWP.]

Stallard's reaction puts the American attitude in the clearest possible light, especially considering the brilliance of the game he pitched.


3. Predators And Prey.

Yesterday brought a freshly disturbing report of public-sector peculation from the Big Apple:

A second wave of retired New York firefighters and police was arrested on Tuesday on disability fraud charges tied to a September 11 pension fraud, said a source involved in the investigation.

A massive ongoing investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance's office had, in January, led to disability fraud charges against 106 suspects - 80 of them retired New York cops and firefighters - with some accused of falsely claiming to have been traumatized by the September 11, 2001 attacks on the city.

On Tuesday, authorities rounded up 28 suspects, including 16 more retired police officers, four former firefighters, and a retired New York City Department of Corrections employee, the source told Reuters.

Vance said the total amount stolen from taxpayers could reach $400 million.

Ace delivered a pessimistic assessment:

In related news, people are just monsters, generally.

I disagree. It's a question of incentives. Recall this passage from Which Art In Hope:

"Now, we know from historical data that predators of all sorts will concentrate where the prey is fattest. The State, which is merely an organized band of predators with a veneer of legitimacy derived either from tradition or from a manufactured appearance of the consent of its subjects, took a huge fraction of its subjects' annual production from them in taxes. A typical State would increase its exactions on its subjects faster than those subjects could increase their own fortunes."

In New York City, the "prey" is the taxpaying public, and the "predators" are those conscienceless types who succeed in getting onto the State's payroll. (To be sure, that doesn't apply to all firemen or policemen, but that's where the incentives tell us to look.) Once inside the circle of tax-consumers, they increase their exactions to whatever amount they believe they can safely steal.

If it weren't for those who overreach, we'd hardly know it was going on. Perhaps we should send them thank-you notes...at their prison addresses, of course.


4. Incomplete But Still Useful.

Freeman's Perspective has some comments on our "addiction" to politics:

The Internet is full of stories about politicians acting badly and doing the opposite of what they promised. Talk radio is full of the same things, all day, every day. Even around office water coolers, almost everyone will admit that politicians are liars and thieves.

Given all of this, it’s rather bizarre that people still believe and obey the bums. If we knew such things about a neighbor, would we continue to take them seriously?

Yet, for some reason, politicians get a permanent pass on anything stupid they do.

The first reason for this is simply that most people have been bamboozled. They were taught that government is necessary and that without it, we’d all be ignorant savages, eating whatever few berries and roots we could scrounge…that without government nothing would be built, nothing invented, and nothing taught.

That’s all propaganda, of course, paid for by the people it praises. But, it’s what we were all taught and it’s hard for people to let it go, no matter how stupid it is.

The second reason is that people are afraid.

Please read the whole thing. There are more reasons than the two cited above, but they do account for a great part of our acceptance of politics as it's practiced today.


5. Beware! We're Going To Take Over And...Leave You Alone!

I don't read Reason too often these days -- I preferred it when Virginia Postrel was the boss -- but it still produces the occasional item of note:

Salon.com offers near-daily warnings about the libertarian “threat”:

It's corrupting progressivism: “Don't ally with libertarians: Ideologues co-opt an anti-NSA rally.”

It's even infecting your iPhone apps: “The Secret Libertarianism of Uber and Airbnb.”

“Beware of Libertarians Bearing Gifts,” the Center for American Progress admonishes: “a bipartisan move against the NSA could kill the New Deal.”

Anti-libertarian paranoia plagues our elected officials too: “the anarchists have taken over,” Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., wails. “This strain of libertarianism ... is a very dangerous thought," New Jersey Governor Chris Christie warned last summer in the wake of Edward Snowden's exposure ofNational Security Agency spying: “I want [these critics] to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans” (Pro tip: don't take the George Washington Bridge).

“I’m very nervous about the direction this is moving in,” the governor added.

I can only cite Benjamin Franklin's caution to the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia:

"Gentlemen, you see that in the anarchy in which we live society manages much as before. Take care, if our disputes last too long, that the people do not come to think they can very easily do without us."

Concerning the conceits of politicians and other would-be power-mongers, it would appear that little has changed.


6. An Old Song.

If you're an old fart like me, you might recall this Herman's Hermits tune from the Sixties:

Everyone's life is bittersweet
    It's a door that opens wide
And no man can call himself complete
    Till he's seen it from both sides...

This door swings both ways
    It's marked 'In' and 'Out'
Some days, you'll want to cry
    And some days, you will shout
This door swings both ways
    It goes back and forth
In comes a southern breeze
    Or a cold wind from the north

This door swings both ways
    Lets in joy and pain
In comes the morning sun
    And then the evening rain
This door swings both ways
    Lets in dark and light
Every day you make the choice
    To let in wrong or right

When shadows fall
    You must prepare yourself for sunshine
For everything, there is an end
    And so, my friend, you must be brave

This door swings both ways
    Which one will it be
Will we live in happiness
    Or dwell in misery
This door swings both ways
    Lets in earth and sky
Make the most of livin'
    If you're not prepared to die
Make the most of livin'
    If you're not prepared to die

(Don Thomas and Estelle Levitt)

I stumbled over it yesterday while rummaging through my MP3 files, and it "did a number on me." For some time now, I've lived with chronic, untreatable pain that occasionally rises to a disabling level. It's had a serious darkening effect on my moods (yes, that really is possible), that I've striven hard to combat, albeit only with occasional success. But the lyric above reminded me about the most important counterposition in any individual human life: the freedom of Today as opposed to the tyranny of Tomorrow.

Even when matters beyond one's control are, shall we say, seriously sub-optimal, every day can be filled with discovery, accomplishment, love, and joy. Or as C. S. Lewis put it through his devil-protagonist Screwtape:

He’s [God's] a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a facade. Or only like foam on the sea shore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are “pleasures for evermore”….He’s vulgar, Wormwood. He has a bourgeois mind. He has filled His world with pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least- sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it’s any us to us. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side.

To attain that perspective requires an effort, to be sure, but it is possible: by mastering one's fears about Tomorrow and making the positive choices available Today. And when I've succeeded in resolving to bear my cross without dwelling on it, such that I could free my mind to concentrate on the attractive possibilities of Today, I've managed to defeat the worst aspect of prolonged pain: the fear, however justified, that it will be with me Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow...forever.

Food for thought.


That's it for today, Gentle Readers. Coffee break's over. Everybody back on their heads!

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