Saturday, January 31, 2015

Fears Of An Old Man

Just in case you were blissfully unaware of it, you’re getting older at an unrelenting sixty seconds per minute.

I’ve already endured nearly two billion seconds of aging. Many of those seconds were materially profitable. Some were fairly pleasant. A few were both, a few were neither, and a few were downright awful. But that’s life under the veil of time. It’s not only that “no one here gets out alive;” no one gets to live a perfectly pain-and-sorrow-free existence.

As time passes, things change. (Wow! Really deep, Fran. Maybe I’ll have T-shirts made of that and sell them at Cafe Press.) The changes usually include what one fears.

Some of the changes – the ones connected to the physical deterioration nearly everyone suffers over time – are fairly easy to predict. Some are subtler than that. I and quite a few of my contemporaries are coping with fears all but unique to our time and place.

Whatever your age, there’s a good chance you’ve been coping with them too.

Way, way back in the red-in-tooth-and-claw days of these United States, back before we knew the blessings of an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent government – the year 1900 – the average life expectancy was 48 years. That figure can easily mislead you: infant mortality was much higher then, and infant deaths substantially depress a mean such as the above. Most persons who survived their infancies lived considerably longer than that: typically, into their sixties at least. Though it’s hard to come by a figure that omits the deaths of the very young – where would we set the threshold, after all? – it’s likely that an American who survived his infancy averaged somewhere around 65 years of age at death.

In those dark and primitive times, very few persons experienced the condition we of today call retirement.

Conditions were different in many other ways, as well:

  • There was no income tax.
  • There were no payroll taxes.
  • There was very little violent crime.
  • Aggregate federal debt was only $1.27 billion.
  • Most Americans worked in family-owned businesses.
  • Most Americans lived within a 50-mile radius of their birthplaces.
  • Only the largest cities attempted to infringe upon Second Amendment rights.
  • There were no “alphabet agencies” and few laws to impede business and commerce.
  • There was no licensure to speak of: e.g., a doctor was anyone who called himself a doctor.
  • Localities controlled their public schools completely, with neither state nor federal interference.
  • Though the populace was over 90% literate, very few persons went to high school. (Colleges and universities were regarded as suitable only for the progeny of the wealthy.)
  • The overwhelming majority of goods for sale to the public were routinely priced in cents. $20.67 would buy a Troy ounce of gold, $1.00 would buy 0.90 Troy ounces of silver, and gold and silver coins were in regular circulation.

No, it wasn’t Utopia. Certainly there have been some wholly beneficial developments since then. For my own part, I like the idea of having a few years of retirement in which to do whatever I please and can afford. But I’d surely love to have some of the conditions of 1900 apply to our nation today.

Because of some of the changes since 1900, particularly with regard to medical products and services, I’ll have a few years of retirement in which to read, write, and generally enjoy life. However, because of some of the other changes since 1900, particularly with regard to politics and government, I fear that despite all my efforts, I might not be able to sustain myself – that I might become financially dependent on others.

If you’re near to my age and station in life, you probably fear that too.

There are three looming threats to my ability to sustain myself after I’ve retired from my salaried job:

  1. Inflation;
  2. The rising cost of medical products and services;
  3. The threat of federal confiscation of IRAs, 401(k) accounts, and private pension funds.

I’ve hedged as well as possible against the first of those threats. However, as most of my savings are in IRAs and a 401(k) account, I haven’t hedged as well as I’d have liked. When those accounts become the pool from which I draw to pay for things, I’ll be regularly weighing tax effects against the desirability of some proposed expenditure. (And as a married man, I won’t be the one proposing the majority of the expenditures.)

Aged men require more medical support than younger ones. I already need more than I’d ever anticipated. (As a friend likes to say, if I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself. Climbed fewer Cat 5 cliffs and chased fewer Cat 10 women. But that’s all past and done.) Should the cost of those medical supports continue to rise as sharply as they have these past fifty years, I might be in trouble in my seventies and beyond.

But the most fearsome of the threats comes straight from Washington. The facts are too stark to be ignored:

  • Social Security is insolvent, while its liabilities are increasing geometrically;
  • The federal debt has passed $18 trillion and shows no sign of slowing;
  • Retirees have a lot of bucks in IRAs and 401(k) accounts.
  • There are still some private pension funds around.

If you’re a wholly corrupt, conscienceless scumbag consumed by greed and lust for power who’d rather die under torture than admit to ever making a mistake – in other words, if you’re a federal politico – doesn’t the answer just pop out of a slot?

It begins to seem a matter not of if but of when.

There’s a guaranteed, 100% effective cure for what I fear. It’s called death. But though I believe in an afterlife, I’m not all that enthusiastic about embarking on it just yet. (Among other things, you’re not supposed to be confident about what God will say to you at your Particular Judgment, and I’m not. I’m no saint. Ask my wife.) Besides, I have promises to keep: books to write and so forth. I hope to satisfy Edward Teller’s dictum: to live my life so that when the time comes, I’ll feel that I’m ready to die.

Every man around my age who looks forward to a few years of untroubled retirement, regardless of his plans for those years, faces the uncertainties I face. We’re all vulnerable to the same possibilities. We’re all about equally helpless before Leviathan. And nearly all of us are frantically searching for escape hatches.

If you’re in the fortunate category of the young and strong, and are currently unconcerned about your future as an old fart, remember that sixty-seconds-per-minute bit. Be aware that when you vote, you’re exercising an influence over the future. If your vote is directed by a gimme mentality, or by envy of persons seemingly more fortunate than you, remember that what goes around comes around. Whether you realize it or not, you’ll be setting an example for those who come after you, and you’ll have your turn under their crosshairs sooner than either of us can imagine.

Fear, like pain, can be useful, but it’s no fun. A fear that you can do nothing to offset or to brace for is the worst of all. And the older you get, the more such fears you’ll feel.

Take it from one who knows.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Time Was...

...“libertarian” meant “favoring freedom above other political ends,” and nothing else.
...libertarians were as patriotic as other Americans, and were acknowledged to be so.
...libertarians deemed freedom the natural right of all men, even non-Americans.
...and thus, libertarians had no philosophical problems with a war of liberation.

Time was.

Time was, I thought well of Sheldon Richman:

The only reason [American Sniper Chris] Kyle went to Iraq was that Bush/Cheney & Co. launched a war of aggression against the Iraqi people. Wars of aggression, let's remember, are illegal under international law. Nazis were executed at Nuremberg for waging wars of aggression. With this perspective, we can ask if Kyle was a hero....

Excuse me, but I have trouble seeing an essential difference between what Kyle did in Iraq and what Adam Lanza did at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It certainly was not heroism.

Good God Almighty. If you have a strong enough stomach, you can read the rest for yourself. I shan’t excerpt more here, for fear of driving away my more sensitive Gentle Readers and inciting some of the others to acts unlawful in these United States.

Reason, at one time regarded as the “flagship” publication for American libertarians, allowed this piece to appear on its website. What appalling judgment...if, indeed, judgment was involved.

I’ve styled myself a libertarian (or a libertarian-conservative) for a long time. I was once a state-level official in the Libertarian Party. Yet I’ve disassociated myself from organized libertarianism, and I understand full well why the moniker is considered unattractive by many persons who agree with me on almost every political subject. Quite simply, the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

It comes as a surprise to me that Sheldon Richman, a long time pillar of the Future of Freedom Foundation, should have leagued with the lunatics. He’s written a great deal over the years. What I’ve read of his oeuvre I’ve enjoyed. In the main, I’ve agreed with his arguments. I can’t recall having seen his name on anything even remotely comparable to the cited article. Perhaps I never had an accurate sense of him.

The current of libertarian thought that deplores wars and argues for the reduction of the American military has become cancerous. Its emergent absolutism comes up hard and shatters against a compelling truth:

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself." [John Stuart Mill]

The Iraq War may have been a mistake geostrategically. There are arguments for and against it even today. But it was not a “war of aggression against the Iraqi people,” as Richman styles it. It was a war of liberation.

We went to Iraq seeking nothing for ourselves. We spent most of a trillion dollars there and shed the blood of thousands of young Americans. When we believed a stable elected government had arisen to replace the Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein, we relinquished sovereignty to that government, struck our tents, and departed. Our forces brought nothing back from Iraq but corpses, wounds, and war stories.

The men and women Chris Kyle targeted and killed were weapons-bearing enemies, themselves trying to kill members of a liberating force: a force sent to Iraq to relieve its people of the yoke of one of the most brutal dictators ever to appear on this ball of rock. Comparing Kyle to psychotic killer Adam Lanza, who walked into an elementary school and slaughtered two dozen perfect innocents, is a moral crime of a magnitude I lack the words to define.

The one obscenity missing from Richman’s piece is a statement that the psychotic ex-Marine who murdered Chris Kyle served justice by doing so. Perhaps Richman’s vestigial conscience kicked in at the last moment to prevent it. Or perhaps he realized that that would be a “bridge too far” even for him.

I can no longer bear the “libertarian” label. The dictionary meaning of the word has been swallowed by a heap of malevolent connotations, among which an absolute and unreasoning hostility to the American military is perhaps the worst. I maintain my pro-freedom stance and the policy positions that flow from it, but I reject the label and its implications of association and agreement with such scum as Sheldon Richman. Those who retain the label must henceforth defend themselves against the implication that they agree with Richman, or argue for his odious stance. And so yet another honorable word is colonized by dishonorable men.

I have come to understand all too well why so many persons who share my views prefer to call themselves “constitutional conservatives.” Though there’s some fuzz on that peach, at least it doesn’t dishonor the very best Americans of all: those who have gone forth over and over, wisely or not, to succor the oppressed of other lands, at great risk, and frequently the ultimate price, to themselves.

“We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years and we've done this as recently as the last year in Afghanistan and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in.” -- Colin Powell

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Crisis Of Meaning

“The destroyer is not a truth-crisis, it is a meaning-crisis.” – Piers Anthony, Macroscope

Political persuasion specialist Michael Emerling has said that the meaning of a communication inheres in the reaction of the receiver. Unless you have a considerable grounding in epistemology and semantics, that statement can be somewhat difficult to decode. Yet it’s one of the most important statements ever made about political outreach. Recent developments in the strategies and tactics of the Left have made it essential for freedom lovers to grasp it and internalize it.

For openers, consider the following episode:

The Obama Administration, following in the footsteps of another noteworthy Democrat liar (“It depends what the meaning of ‘is’ is.”), has decided to defend the indefensible by arbitrarily redefining the terms of discussion. That this has been viewed – so far, at least – as merely one more outrage to add to the Obamunist ledger suggests that in political discourse words shall no longer be permitted to have enduring meanings. If this is the case, our political degeneracy has reached a terminal stage.

But pause for a moment and reflect upon:

  • What Administration spokesdroid Eric Schultz said;
  • The meaning drawn from it by those who have heard his words.

No one with three functioning brain cells could imagine that the Taliban, whose operational tactics are indistinguishable from those of other Islamic terrorists in the Middle East, is anything but a terrorist organization. It differs from the others only in once having had control of a nation-state. Calling it an “armed insurgency” cannot change the objective facts of its behavior; it can only provide a tissue-thin rhetorical cover for the Obama Administration’s actions toward it.

So what Schultz said amounted to “Don’t probe us on this or we’ll take some sort of vengeance for it later.” That’s almost certainly the meaning he wanted his audience to derive from it. However, the meaning they drew from it might have included that, but surely also included: “The Obama Administration will do what it damned well pleases when it damned well pleases, without regard for the prior policies of this or any other Administration.”

Ponder the difference for a moment before continuing on.

Man’s rational capacity requires the use of symbols. The reason is embedded in the nature of reason itself:

  • To reason is to make use of abstractions – generalizations from specific cases to general patterns – to deduce effects from causes applied to adequately specified contexts.
  • One cannot conceive an abstraction without inserting symbols – each one a placeholder for a generic member of some defined class – into one’s conception.
  • Thus, symbols with stable meanings are essential to the conception and employment of abstractions.

(A little deep for a Thursday morning? Blame my snowblower, which weighs twice what I do and was massively disinclined to deal with the load Mother Nature dropped on my driveway Monday night and Tuesday morning.)

This is so fundamental to human mentation that even mathematicians tend to be unaware of it until it’s been proposed to them explicitly. It’s too automatic – too integral to Man’s pursuit of knowledge about the world and the creatures in it. Compelling oneself to think about it involves deliberately inserting oneself into a “strange loop” of the sort Douglas Hofstadter wrote about in Godel, Escher, Bach. Such a loop has no exit point upon which we can rely.

By corollary, if one is forbidden to attribute stable meanings to certain symbols – for example, the words used in political discourse – one cannot make sense of the statements that employ them. A barrier rises between our minds and the truths of reality with which we must grapple.

This is immensely appealing to those who seek to evade the consequences appropriate to their actions.

I wrote some time ago:

In the ideological clashes of today, the attention of the greater mass of Americans is focused on secondary matters. Arguments over national defense, tax rates, social policy directions, regulatory structures, and so forth continue to rage, but with less prospect of being satisfactorily settled than ever before...because a critical pinion for all argument of any sort has been undermined near to collapse.

The pinion of which I speak is the concept of objective truth.

It's hard for most people to grasp that objective truth is a conception, rather than something self-evident. Yet furious philosophical battles have been fought over it. The negative side has never conceded defeat. They've advanced reason after reason to doubt the existence of objective reality. As each one is destroyed, they shift to another. In a sense, their proposition is its own strongest weapon, for they respond rather frequently to even the most obvious points by saying, "No, that's your truth" -- an implicit claim that it's the not the observation but the observer's willingness to accept it that really matters.

John Q. Public has heard little of this, of course; it's mostly fought in the ivory towers, and in the publications that cater to professional intellectuals. All the same, it matters to him more than he's able to appreciate.

Truth is an evaluation: a judgment that some proposition corresponds to objective reality sufficiently for men to rely upon it. The weakening of the concept of truth cuts an opening through which baldly counterfactual propositions can be thrust into serious discourse. Smith might say that proposition X is disprovable, or that it contradicts common observations of the world; Jones counters that X suits him fine, for he has dismissed the disprovers as "partisan" and prefers his own observations to those of Smith. Unless the two agree on standards for relevant evidence, pertinent reasoning, and common verification -- in other words, standards for what can be accepted as sufficiently true -- their argument over X will never end.

An interest group that has "put its back against the wall" as regards its central interest, and is unwilling to concede the battle regardless of the evidence and logic raised against its claims, will obfuscate, attack the motives of its opponents, and attempt to misdirect their attention with irrelevancies. When all of these have failed, its last-ditch defense is to attack the concept of truth. Once that has been undermined, the group can't be defeated. It can stay on the ideological battlefield indefinitely, preserving the possibility of victory through attrition or fatigue among its opponents.

As the years have flowed past, I’ve come to consider that particular essay the most important of all my emissions onto the Web. Indeed, the importance of its core thesis has risen to the point that no political statement can be assessed without evaluating whether the words it uses are being employed according to their public meanings: i.e., the meanings private persons routinely attribute to them. In other words, we must determine whether the speaker respects the truths those words are used by us common folk to express.

The effort involved in even listening to political gabble has risen proportionately to politicians’ self-defensive reinterpretations of key words and phrases. Such reinterpretations are inherently attempts to evade the facts.

If you’ve wondered why it is that no politician ever answers a yes-or-no question with a yes-or-no answer, wonder no longer. It’s utterly impossible to reinterpret “yes” and “no.” That makes them quicksand for the politician determined to retain the option to “adjust” his positions for subsequent needs.

Yesterday afternoon, the esteemed Glenn Reynolds wrote thus:

IN JOHN CARTER’S WORDS, I STILL LIVE: Andrew Sullivan is going to stop blogging. No, blogging isn’t dead. And InstaPundit gets more pageviews than pretty much everyone who’s calling blogging dead. But I can understand Andrew quitting. For me, the real strain isn’t the blogging, but having to pay close attention to the news all the time. The news is usually depressing, when it’s not angering, and that’s doubly true for the Obama years. But I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.

I’m pleased that our beloved InstaPundit has resolved to soldier on, but ponder for a moment why “The news is usually depressing, when it’s not angering.” There’s always been a large percentage of bad news in the news; after all, the major maxim of journalism has always been “if it bleeds, it leads.” In earlier decades, we were far more confident that bad news with political import – i.e., negative developments the response to which would appropriately come from an American government – would be confronted squarely and coped with properly. Public confidence in such a response ain’t what she used to be. (If that comes as news to you, congratulations on a really long nap.)

The reason is the increasing – today near to absolute – unwillingness of our political class to confront reality when doing so might make it look bad.

When reality slaps you across the face with a wet mackerel, the only imaginable evasion is rhetorical: “No, no! While it did look like a mackerel, it wasn’t an authentic mackerel, as these variances along the lateral fins and the belly scales should make obvious. Besides, I turned forty-five degrees in the instant of the first impact, so it didn’t get my right cheek, so I wasn’t really slapped across the face. Anyway, we’re still good friends.” Dealing with the evasions and their implications is what I find most wearying and most angering. I’d be surprised if that weren’t so for Reynolds and many other commentators who’ve been tempted to lay down their keyboards.

Politicians’ methods for evading reality increasingly employ redefinitions of common words and phrases, distortions of their meanings, and a refusal to use those terms whose meanings are so strongly established that they cannot be so treated. The marvel of political journalism in our time is that anyone still bothers to ask a politician a question, when we all know that the answer will be self-serving rather than honestly responsive. Why, indeed, should a reporter bother to report on political statements and orations, which are inevitably more deceitful than informative? The temptation must be strong to eschew such wastes of ink and pixels, and merely report on politicians’ deeds as recorded by cameras and microphones.

Our political destroyers – and by that term, I mean our entire political class, regardless of party affiliation – have embroiled us in a meaning-crisis whose consequence is a truth-crisis. They are resolved that we shall never be able to hold them to the least of their statements. (Their promises? Forget it, Jake.) If we can be battered out of our reliance on the meanings of common words and phrases, our yearning for truth, and our belief in objective reality, their paths to absolute power over us will be completely unobstructed at long last.

Food for thought.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

But What Are Their Tourist Attractions?

Americans desperate for a new vacation vista will be excited to learn that astronomers have discovered a really old box of rocks:

Ancient galactic civilizations have been a staple of science fiction stories for decades. Now science fiction writers can turn to an actual known star for inspiration, an old star with a system of Earth-sized planets, just announced this week. These planets are presently the oldest known to astronomers. Orbiting the old sunlike star Kepler-444, they date back to the dawn of our Milky Way galaxy itself and suggest that planets have formed throughout the history of our galaxy and universe.

The discovery, announced January 27, 2015 in the Astrophysical Journal, used observations made by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft over a period of four years.

The five planets in the Kepler-444 system are all a bit smaller than Earth, with sizes varying between those of Mercury and Venus. Kepler-444 formed 11.2 billion years ago, when the universe was less than 20% of its current age. Presumably its planets formed around the same time. The Kepler-444 system was already older than our own solar system is today when our sun and planets were born.

Reactions from across the nation:

  • Manhattan: So how far is it from midtown and how late is it open?
  • Vermont: You can’t get there from here.
  • Minnesota: How’s the fishing there?
  • Chicago: I’ll make them an offer they can’t refuse.
  • Detroit: Are they unionized?
  • Wyoming: What are their gun laws like?
  • Seattle: It probably rains just as much there, so why move?
  • San Francisco: Show me a listing of bathhouses there.
  • Los Angeles: Dude! That’s, you know, so five minutes ago.
  • Dallas: Get me a quote on oil-rights leases.
  • New Orleans: Another export market for oil, crawfish, and gumbo!

JetBlue has not yet announced a schedule of Kepler-bound flights. Southwest Airlines has hastened to assure us that bags will still fly free.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Culture War: A Reflection

Well, Polymath has just received its first Amazon review – those of you who purchased your copies at SmashWords can review it at both sites, you know, and I’d consider it a great favor if you’d do that – and I must say, it was far more favorable than the book (or I) deserve. But that review, plus the reactions registered in my email, plus this new emission from Larry Correia have me thinking about that struggle of insuperable viciousness that never seems to abate: the culture war.

It’s a commonplace that fish aren’t aware of water. Humans aren’t fully aware of their cultural matrix for the same reason: it’s omnipresent and unceasing. Yet there’s hardly anything more important to the national spirit or our individual tendencies when confronted by some question of significance.

When we deign to notice the fusillades in the culture war, it’s normally because some noisy interest group has made a stink about the “marginalization” of its mascots. Consider homosexuality as a case for study. Get into your DeLorean, fire up the Flux Capacitor, and go back a mere thirty years. How many openly homosexual characters were featured in prime-time television shows? The number is approximately zero. What accounts for the heavy statistical overrepresentation of homosexuals on TV in our time?

Hint: It’s not heterosexuals’ vast, previously unexpressed desire to see homosexual relationships and homosexuals’ interactions with normal people portrayed on our giant-screen HDTVs.

I could go in a myriad directions from here, but I have a specific one in mind.

Unless you’ve spent the last several weeks immured in a Turkish prison, you’re surely aware of all the Sturm und Drang that’s arisen around Clint Eastwood’s blockbuster movie American Sniper. I hardly need recap the movie for those of you who’ve seen it; it’s too powerful and memorable to need my tender mercies. (For those of you who haven’t seen it, see it. Now.) Those who hate it, and they are far more vociferous than numerous, seldom admit to their true reasons; those who love it aren’t always capable of articulating theirs.

The script does inject a few fictional motifs into this otherwise faithful biopic, drawn from Chris Kyle’s book of the same name. Whether those injections were vitally necessary to the movie’s impact is open to debate. What seems indisputable to me is that what elicits the rage of its detractors isn’t the drama but the depiction of the life of Chris Kyle himself. To the pansified cultural elite that dominates arts criticism in our media, Kyle is a major affront – an embarrassment. His patriotism, dutifulness, commitment to his undertaking, moral clarity, and absolute lack of regret or apology for his deeds – for me the most stirring line of the script was “I’m willing to stand before my Creator and answer for every shot I took” – paint him in the sort of pure masculine colors that the glitterati would prefer not to exist.

More succinctly, Chris Kyle was a man. His detractors are not.

Perhaps those detractors would have passed over Kyle’s book without comment had Eastwood not picked up the movie rights. Perhaps they would have dismissed the movie had it not shattered every box-office record for a January release. Perhaps the denunciations wouldn’t have been quite so thunderous had Eastwood and his scripting team injected some harsh statements about the “Bush wars” into the movie. We’ll never know.

What we can and do know is that Eastwood’s portrayal of Chris Kyle has upset the cultural applecart, at least for the moment. The glitterati aren’t happy for the rest of us to see fictional portrayals of unabashed patriotism, moral clarity, and courage. They’ve put too much work into their efforts at portraying whining self-nominated victims and moral deviates as the proper heroes for today.

It testifies to the ineradicability of Americans’ native moral sense that a single well-made movie could so dramatically countervail the glitterati’s counter-valorization campaigns.

One of the reasons I write fiction – indeed, perhaps the most imperative of all of them – is my desire to provide readers with heroes of the kind I favor. There aren’t a lot of heroes of that kind in the fiction coming out of Pub World; the reader pretty much has to go to the independent-writers’ movement for fare of that sort. (Back when I was fool enough to think that a conventional publishing house might take an interest in my novels, several of the rejections I received for Chosen One and On Broken Wings specifically criticized my protagonists’ moral standards.) Some does slip through, of course; the military-fiction pioneered by Tom Clancy and the espionage/special-agent-oriented books Vince Flynn wrote have too large a readership for Pub World to dismiss them. However, it’s noteworthy that Clancy couldn’t get a hearing until The Hunt for Red October was picked up by the tiny Naval Institute Press, and Flynn had to sell his books out of the trunk of his car before a Pub World house picked up Term Limits. Only the prior success of those writers as independents persuaded major New York houses to offer them a slot in their catalogs.

The dominance of Pub World by left-leaning editors began in the Sixties: a part of the cultural-colonization effort Antonio Gramsci called “a long march through the institutions.” It was contemporaneous with efforts of the same sort in cinema, the performing arts, education, and journalism. They who undertook that campaign of cultural transformation weren’t merely acting on their personal preferences; they were openly, avowedly promoting the destruction of the prior American cultural norm. The removal of the traditionally masculine, morally straight hero in favor of a variety of anti-heroes and morally ambiguous figures was central to their efforts.

I’m not prepared to say that it was a conspiracy, in the traditional sense of a coordinated effort plotted in secret and orchestrated according to a defined plan...but neither am I prepared to say that it wasn’t. It was probably more of a hive effect, in which subliminal signals and indicators effect a wide-scale coordination whose participants only recognize it consciously a posteriori.

Whatever the case, its effects have included the demonization of every traditional attribute of iconic American masculinity, with patriotism, courage, and moral clarity at the head of the list. And it was terrifyingly effective; ask any American man who came to maturity in the Seventies or afterward.

I am effectively convinced that Andrew Breitbart’s most famous observation – that “culture is upstream from politics” – is the all-important truth in the battle for the soul of these United States. Yet conservatives and libertarians, as the worthy Ace of Spades has noted, talk politics almost to the exclusion of culture. Our attention turns to the cultural matrix only when something either excites us or irritates us out of our ruts.

That inversion might cost us all possibility of success at restoring freedom and justice to America. Have a little C. S. Lewis:

[W]e continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more 'drive', or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or 'creativity'. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

A nation whose cultural institutions make vicious slanderers such as Michael Moore rich while they sneer at Clint Eastwood could hardly have expected any other result.

The Last Graf is exactly what you’ve expected – indeed, what I and others have been telling you all along. Reclaim the culture. If you have a creative bent, use it and push the products thereof. If you consume any of the arts, especially fiction whether in prose or in the movies and on television, aggressively support those that agree with your standards and boycott, at the very least, those that diverge from them. Refuse to back down from those standards. Be aggressive about promoting those works you find most supportive of them.

The powers of darkness have all but monopolized our journalism, our entertainment, and our educational institutions. With only those bastions, they’ve managed to “de-Americanize” at least two generations of young Americans. They’ve been at it for a long time, and they aren’t about to stop now. We have a lot of catching-up to do. You have a part to play...possibly a more important part than you imagine.

Get started now.

(PS: Yes, it’s snowing heavily. We’ve already received about ten inches and are likely to get fifteen to twenty-five more. I’ll be going out to start the snowblower in a few minutes. If you pray, please pray for everyone in the Northeastern U.S. We need it.)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Decline And Fall

There’s a lot of talk these days about the decline of America, both domestically and on the world stage. I shan’t disagree too stridently, as the indicators have trended downward ever since the late 2008 mortgage crisis and the Bush the Younger Administration’s wholly incorrect response to it (compelled in part, I will allow, by hostile control of Congress.) Yet there are some hopeful signs. My colleague Dystopic highlights one in a recent essay:

Most of the time I prefer to mock Social Justice Warriors. Yes, I know, it’s probably petty, but they aren’t exactly welcoming of debate (you racist!), and so satire is the only real vehicle left to those of us who oppose them. Today, however, I will endeavor to rationally deconstruct their notion of privilege for the benefit of others.

If you read this little gem, Dear White, Straight, Cisgender, Man People: You Are Privileged, you will see the lunacy in all its obscene glory. This is a site that deliberately invokes a sort of childish air, with its hand-scrabble cartoons, preschool fonts and overall nursery-rhyme appearance appropriate for the infantile generation of coddled Social Justice advocates.

To the headline, I can only say: duh. Of course you are privileged. Anyone who is reading this is privileged. You have a computer or mobile device, you probably live in a First World country and there is a high probability you are in the upper 10% of income-earners worldwide. Your skin color and your sex are both irrelevant to that point.

Please read the whole thing. It’s a jewel of its kind.

The sign, of course, is that Dystopic’s reaction to the cited tirade has become the norm. A hefty majority of Americans have simply had it with the “social justice warriors,” their constant whining, their envy-driven demands, their inability to accept themselves as privileged, and above all their insistence on their moral superiority – a state of grace that entitles them to disrupt the lives and affairs of peaceable Americans in the name of whatever Holy Cause animates them this week.

We can’t know what the backbreaker was. It might have been the Occupy “protests.” Or the riots in Ferguson, Missouri. Maybe the crass behavior of the crowd at the first Obama inauguration had something to do with it. Perhaps there have been a few too many public celebrations of homosexuality and demands that it be viewed as “normal.” Perhaps the new trend of Y-chromosome bearers donning women’s clothes, proclaiming themselves to be women, and demanding to be treated as such – never mind the mutilations some of them accept upon their bodies – has finally opened a sufficient number of eyes. Maybe the horde marching down city streets chanting “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want them? Now!” was simply too much for the longsuffering public and its badly tried patience. It might never become clear.

Whatever the causal tale, it appears ever more likely that the “social justice warriors” have embarked upon their final voyage: the decline and fall of their Insanity Movement. Please, God, let it be so.

Revulsion is a powerful social force. When a people finds itself appalled by some practice, it will move against it. If the practitioners are themselves peaceable and orderly, they might merely be marginalized or ostracized. If they practice their habits “in your face,” the treatment they receive from the decent public will be proportionately less gentle. If they go to the extent of disrupting the affairs of others, they’ll be lucky to escape with their lives.

The contemporary Left has composed a strategy out of inverting those responses by the invocation of two words to which it has no proper claim: “rights” and “justice.” The more repellent are some group’s actions or demands, the more likely it is that the Left will adopt them as mascots and embrace their “cause.” The next step is the claim that the group’s members are “oppressed,” with a demand for compensatory action by “society.” Once the group’s status as victims, now the most priced of all political currencies, has been accepted by a sufficient fraction of the Main Stream Media, all that remains is the shouting for insane “rights” and social “justice”...and anyone not deafened by previous episodes of this sort surely hears a lot of it.

However, the artificially inculcated guilt upon which this relies has a finite lifetime. The more frequently the “victim” button is pressed, the less powerful and less prompt is the response. In addition, significant events such as the persecutions of George Zimmerman and Darren Wilson can lower the public’s susceptibility to the stimulus in a “step function” fashion.

My estimate of current public receptivity to the Social Justice Warriors’ demands and tactics is that it won’t take more than one more provocation from them to topple them into the abyss of overwhelming popular contempt... possibly with much worse consequences for their various causes and mascot-groups.

It’s highly significant that the Social Justice Warriors, sociologically, come mainly from the most privileged stratum of American society. Their economic standing is in the top 5% to 10% of the nation. A high percentage of them have college educations. Those that work are almost unanimously in white-collar trades. They are predominantly without a care for their general well-being...even the ones who’ve never earned their own livings.

Ludwig von Mises would classify them as among “the cousins:” they whose living standards and security stem from their clever, industrious older relatives. The more common term for them today would be “limousine liberals.” However, that term also subsumes many of the “idle rich:” the millionaire stars and moguls of the entertainment class. When they make themselves conspicuous, whether in the guise of an “Occupy”-style riot or a gathering of private jets as in Davos, they elicit contempt from the alert and knowledgeable, incredulity from the undecided...and unease from fellow-travelers who sense the hazards to their Cause.

That sense of unease is quite rational, especially given the already low reputations many of the more prominent individuals among them have earned in their several ways.

Let’s publicize such events to the hilt. It’s the best service we can do for freedom in these United States. Besides, shouldn’t the public be made aware of how deplorable are the conditions black transgender lesbian Marxist enviro-nazis must endure, to say nothing of the execrable accommodations at their semi-annual conferences? Some of them have only one iPad to their name – and no private jet! The horror! I mean, what if that were you?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have snow to shovel. (Yes, already.)

N. American bantustan.

“The America we thought we knew, ladies and gentlemen, is a mirage. It’s a memory. It’s a foreign country,” Jeff Deist, Ron Paul’s former press secretary and chief of staff, told the group. “And that’s precisely why we should take secession seriously.”

* * * *

“We don’t have true democracy,” [Ron Paul] told the Kremlin-based Russia Today network (although he said that his son was one of the forces for good in Washington). “We have a monopoly of ideas that are controlled by leaders of two parties, and though they call it two parties, it’s really one philosophy.”

"Daddy issues: Are Ron Paul’s hard-core stands a problem for son’s presidential bid? While Rand seeks donors, his father talks secession." By David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post, 1/25/15. A cheesy title for this article but it's the Washington Post after all.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Summer Soldiers

Now and then, I become unusually irritated by persons who, for whatever reason, have decided to follow the Politician’s Principle:

“Show me which way the crowd is going,
And I will lead them.”

It’s particularly annoying when such a “summer soldier” has a significant public profile and has decided that now is the time to exploit it.

No, I’m not going to name names. This is just to blow off a little steam. After all, why not? I have plenty to spare.

Some of us have been fighting the good fight for freedom, for clarity of speech and thought, and for the fundamentals of reason – especially the concept of an objective reality from which truths can be drawn – for one hell of a long time. It’s galling to see a summer soldier suddenly leap into the fray and posture as commander.

I fight that war on two fronts: opinion-editorial and fiction. All I get for those efforts is a percentage of the purchase price of my novels, which I hope is justified by their entertainment value. I take a lot of abuse from our enemies. That’s probably 99% of why the summer soldiers irritate me so.

Some of the offenders take the institutional approach: they seek to capitalize on a trend among common citizens by creating a “front group” and soliciting donations. No doubt you can think of a couple. But the more common sort is the individual with some notoriety, who’s decided that weighing in on some subject would serve him well now. Many such individuals are contenders for high office or some other form of political access and influence...but not all of them.

There are numerous cases among entertainers. Many of these are desperate to be known for something other than their dramatic or musical skills. The mayfly ephemerality characteristic of popularity in their realm can easily give rise to such a yearning. But that’s an explanation, not a justification.

They offend me. Yes, even the few who agree with me. To borrow a phrase from Laura Ingraham, they should “shut up and sing.”

The very worst rational error one can make is to adopt a good posture for the wrong reason.

If entertainers were without large popular followings whose members are eager to ape them in every conceivable way, I daresay my ire would be an order of magnitude less. Celebritarianism has brought us so much herd-like behavior that such persons are capable of swaying the future of our whole nation. One consequence, perhaps the most deplorable of all, has been conservatives’ enthusiasm for promoting celebrities, including the most minor ones, who proclaim themselves conservatives.

To those who think that to be a good thing: What would you say should your favored celebrity change his public posture, taking his entire herd of followers with him? Alternately, imagine that those followers should some day grow up and become embarrassed about their earlier mindless adulation of said celebrity. What would be their attitude toward their earlier ethical, religious, and political attachments? Are you willing to bet on it either way?

Caution, Gentle Reader. Here be dragons.

As I said in the opening segment, I needed to blow off a little steam. This particular irritant has been on my mind for decades. It’s not the worst of the batch, merely the one that’s bubbled to the surface this morning.

I try to resist the urge to vent this way, especially on a Sunday morning before Mass. I don’t always succeed.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Assorted Fiction Natterings

1. Polymath.

My cover artist, the esteemed Donna Casey, is at work on the cover. The eBook will be released when we’ve settled on a design.

Once again, my thanks to all of you who volunteered as test readers. Your comments and observations have proved invaluable.

2. Some Urban Fantasy.

In recent months I’ve encountered a few writers previously unknown to me whose works I can heartily recommend:

  • First up is newcomer Lexie Dunne. She’s got only one novel out so far, Superheroes Anonymous, but it’s unique and refreshing.
  • Next we have Richard Roberts. Roberts’ book Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain (soon to be followed by Please Don’t Tell My Parents I Blew Up The Moon) is apparently targeted at the “YA” audience, but it made delightful reading for this sexagenarian curmudgeon even so. If barely pubescent protagonist Penny, an “evil genius” who can’t quite control her gift, makes superweapons out of sugar, and desperately wants to join the good guys, doesn’t charm you out of your undies, check your pulse: you may have died and not noticed.
  • I tend to avoid anything that reeks of the “standard” motifs of urban fantasy – vampires, werewolves, and the like – but have nevertheless been charmed by Sierra Dean’s “Secret McQueen” series. Secret, Miss Dean’s “tough chick” heroine, is a strange hybrid of the supernaturals with several problems attendant thereto. Among the worst of these is that she’s being pursued by a minimum of two werewolves and one vampire: romantically pursued. And no, it shouldn’t be her worst problem.
  • I must give a qualified recommendation to Morgan Blayde. His stories of Caine Deathwalker, a human who’s been adopted into a demon clan and has become both incredibly powerful and a hopeless alcoholic, are stories. But the man desperately needs a proofreader, or at least someone to crack him over the knuckles several thousand times with a Bolo paddle for publishing his first drafts. If you can stand the plethora of low-level errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and homophone confusion for the sake of a good story, these books are for you.
  • Finally and with great applause, I give you Annie Bellet. I first encountered her work at Smashwords, where she’s posted several short stories. More recently I’ve been enthralled by her “Twenty-Sided Sorceress” series, which is compelling throughout, once again despite extensive use of threadbare urban fantasy motifs. Highly recommended.

Show ‘em some love, people. Indie writers need it more than you know.

3. Directions.

My readers often write to me, sometimes to ask questions about why I haven’t done this or that. Recently one asked why I’ve never attempted high (medieval-setting) fantasy, of the sort that made Tolkien and Merritt famous. I had to think extensively about my reply.

High fantasy is a heavily stylized subgenre. It demands a particular style of writing that I haven’t mastered. That’s a part of the reason the novel founded on “The Warm Lands,” a pseudo-high-fantasy, is taking me so long.

Yes, I have a somewhat archaic style. (That’s partly because so many of the books I’ve loved lifelong are old books, and partly because I’m a pompous ass.) Several readers who’ve complimented “The Warm Lands” suggested that the style I adopted for that story would be suitable. Perhaps it would be, but the problem lies in maintaining it for the length of a novel. When I write naturally, I don’t come near to the idiom required to do a convincing novel set in a pre-technological era. In particular, my scene-setting is too sparse for high fantasy, and my dialogue is too contemporary in tone. But perhaps I’ll get there in time...should the myriad of other projects I’ve been exhorted to tackle someday permit me to work on it.

4. More Directions.

Yes, there will be:

Stay tuned.

Friday, January 23, 2015


1. A Multicausal Approach To Over-Legislation

In response to this essay, commenter 0007 writes:

The problem and reality of all those issues is that those who write the rules that the rest of us are forced to live under have no intention of ever having to pay any attention to them as far as their lives are concerned.

Yes, indeed. But that’s one tile in a larger mosaic:

  • Exceptions that favor the political elite and their cronies;
  • Ignorance (sometimes willful) of history;
  • Heedlessness about the Law of Unintended Consequences;
  • The “third-party payer” fallacy;
  • Belief in the unbounded applicability of human legislation;
  • Legislators’ and regulators’ sense of personal superiority over the citizens.

I find it difficult to believe that there’s even one elected official who isn’t afflicted by at least one of those failings. That includes all the ones I find most appealing as presidential candidates. The syndrome is sufficiently pervasive to have me thinking favorable thoughts about the Spoonerites’ response yet again.

Somewhere in my vast collection of lapel buttons, I have one that says:

Nobody can fix the economy.
Nobody can be trusted with his finger on the button.

Nobody’s perfect.

I’d say we’re getting close to an airtight justification for exactly that attitude.

2. This Is A “Republican?”

Recent polls that reveal the popular unacceptability of late-term abortion, to say nothing of yesterday’s huge March for Life demonstration, should be telling Congress something it cannot ignore. Unfortunately, at least one member of Congress appears unable to hear:

As hundreds of thousands of members of the pro-life community descend upon Washington D.C. for the March for Life Thursday, the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives has caved to Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) and a group of GOP women who believe passage of a bill that would ban abortions past the fifth month of pregnancy would hurt the Party’s chances with women and millennials....

As CNN reports, the group of female House Republicans “is criticizing abortion legislation that is scheduled for a vote on Thursday, arguing provisions dealing with rape are too harsh, and could threaten the party’s efforts to reach out to women and young people.”

That Republican women should have been the stumbling block is bad enough. But what’s worse is that the above statement of motivation – “[it] could threaten the party’s efforts to reach out to women and young people” – though it would be bad enough as a sacrifice of principle for electoral advantage, is clearly insincere:

A heated, closed-door meeting on Wednesday reportedly led to congressional aides being asked to leave “when the debate turned emotional.”

Why, pray tell, did the “debate” turn “emotional?” Was it because these women are secretly supporters of legal abortion at any and every point in gestation? Or was it that, like so many women in other walks of life, they simply have to have their way and will pitch a hurricane-sized fit when balked?

Erick Erickson comments thus:

Ellmers has succeeded where Davis failed and is now the Republican Party's own "Abortion Barbie." Ellmers first claimed that millennials opposed the legislation. When polling showed otherwise, she pivoted. Ultimately, she caused enough Republican moderates to walk away from the legislation that the Republicans could not get it passed. If that was not audacious enough considering Ellmers had run as a "pro-life" candidate, she then released a statement claiming she would have voted for the legislation she helped scuttle....

This was the climax. Preceding it was the other issue Republicans are known for -- taxes. Not wasting any time after being sworn in, a number of Senate Republicans expressed their interest in raising taxes. Most specifically, the senators said they wanted to raise the gas tax. They are not alone....

If Republicans do not support the pro-life cause and are willing to both reject protections for religious freedom while raising taxes, what do they stand for anymore?

What, indeed?

3. Political Gaslighting.

Many other commentators are in high dudgeon over the recent State of the Union speech delivered to Congress by Barack Obama. They can’t understand how Obama can emit so many lies in one oration and get away with it. It’s got a few of them hopping up and down. Perhaps it has you doing that as well.

It’s no mystery at all, Gentle Reader. Obama is playing the Palestinian Card: the one where you scream “Peace! Peace! We are for peace!” while spray-firing Israelis with your AK-47. The cognitive dissonance it induces has a paralytic effect on a great many minds. It works for the Palestinian savages, at least to the extent of retaining the (grudging) support of most Europeans and a fair fraction of Americans; why shouldn’t Obama, who fancies himself a compelling speaker, think it could be made to work for him?

It’s not enough to contradict the lies. Too many persons want to believe them, and will set aside any evidence that disturbs the fantasy. Add to that the pusillanimity of Congressional Republicans, who quiver in their boots at the thought that the Main Stream Media might say something critical about them, and the sycophants of the Left who dominate those media and take every opportunity to reinforce those Republicans’ fears. The aggregate makes it something of a wonder that the Republicans bothered to produce a response to the SOTU. It would have been more consistent for them to stand mute.

There are some “firebrands” on Capitol Hill: Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and a few others. There are a few others in governors’ mansions and state legislatures nationwide. But they haven’t the will, the skill, or the numbers to offset the dynamic in favor of Obama’s comforting lies...especially when so many of their brethren repeatedly tell them “not to rock the boat.”

I don’t know that a third party could solve the problem, but I can’t come up with any other alternatives, apart from self-exile to Antarctica.

4. Another “Republican.”

Yesterday evening, Bret Baier’s Special Report aired a brief exchange between Baier and Ohio Governor John Kasich that raised my blood pressure about fifty points. In the course of the exchange, Kasich, a Republican, defended state welfarism and redistribution by citing the Gospel According To Matthew:

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:
I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

[Matthew 25:31-46]

How is it that Kasich, who’s certainly bright enough to read the Gospels as they’re written, could do such a thing? Does Jesus ask the souls before him, “Did your government feed the hungry – and if it didn’t, did you at least vote for politicians who promised to do so?”

Yet another power-monger who’ll corrupt anything that might help him to advance. Ohio can keep him. How many more such lurk among the GOP’s power brokers – and how much weight do they swing at national conventions and in the deliberations of the party strategists?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Thought For Thursday

[This morning’s reading brought me two exceedingly striking articles. I dithered over which one should serve as the launching pad for today’s tirade, but only for a moment. I’ve decided to save the one with wider scope and farther-reaching implications for tomorrow. I promise you: it won’t spoil between now and then. -- FWP]

Hearken to Kevin Williamson:

One of the remarkable aspects of the recent spate of infantile left-wing protests that caught Jim Geraghty’s attention is that they are directed at private life and private spaces rather than at public institutions and public affairs. One expects protests at city hall; in New York, we even endured the unseemly spectacle of one of those shut-down-traffic protests conducted by the city council itself, as though its members did not do enough to inconvenience the residents of that city. Protests in front of the police station or the (hideously fascist-looking) Federal Reserve building are part of the normal course of affairs in a democratic republic with free speech and a strong tradition of lively discourse....

In New York City, protesters invaded the Pershing Square Café across the street from Grand Central Terminal, which is one of the more diverse spots in heavily segregated Manhattan, catering as it does to commuting 53-year-old lawyers from Fairfield County, who check any number of different demographic boxes.

The message these protests send is that there is no private space — and, therefore, no private life — so far as this particular rabble is concerned. It’s the familiar Trotsky conundrum: You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.

Does this plaint sound at all familiar?

Do you know what the victimists fear above all else? Being ignored. It’s why they put so much time and effort into getting in front of every microphone, every camera, and every so-called journalist in the world. If a sufficient preponderance of us were simply to ignore them, their influence would drop to approximately zero. Indeed, the power of that tactic – what Arthur Herzog called in The B.S. Factor the “mass yawn” – is so staggering that it can even nullify state and federal laws, without recourse to the political process....

The political class and its hangers-on fear exactly the same things as the victimists: being ignored. Were they to become aware that no one is paying any attention to their enactments and decrees, they would soon slink away. Some might even enter productive trades, perhaps as cheap prostitutes.

(Dear Lord, please strengthen me against the rising inclination to post a simple “I told you so” here each and every morning. It’s so wearying to be out in front of the curve all the time. Yours truly, Francis W. Porretto, Curmudgeon Emeritus to the World Wide Web.)

The pole star of the politician is the same as that of the political activist: politicization. Both of them want to destroy any notions the rest of us might have about whatever matter they/re hot and bothered about being a matter for private decision-making, in which politics and government have no place. After all, how could they possibly be significant if we refuse to allow them to coerce us about a matter around which they’ve wrapped their hearts and souls?

Ignoring them is getting harder all the time. But that’s not their fault; it’s ours.

Quite a long time ago, at the late, much lamented Palace of Reason, I penned an article about a friend of a friend – a hairdresser – who reported being at her wits’ end because of customers whose behavior would once have gotten them the “bum’s rush,” with neither apology nor consequences. I mentioned an old sign that once appeared in every commercial establishment, but which one never sees these days:

We Reserve The Right
To Refuse Service To Anyone

The reason those little signs are no longer commonplace is that it’s illegal to refuse service to the members of various state-protected groups. Indeed, the enforcers of that law – the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – are so vicious and so relentless that there’s almost no behavior short of felony assault that the law will concede as a justification for refusing service. Worse, even when the justification is indisputable the shopowner who tries to enforce his will personally will always be on the dirty end of a lawsuit – civil, criminal, or both.

It’s often been said that “Hard cases make bad law.” There is some truth in the concept, but at least as often it’s the attempt to make law to redress some condition that’s generally deemed undesirable that elicits the hard cases. That’s given rise to an alternative maxim: “Bad law makes for hard cases.”

What constitutes a “bad law” is the question before us.

Let’s return to Kevin Williamson’s article for a moment:

During the Civil Rights Movement — the real one, not the ersatz one led today by Jesse Jackson et al. — politics did genuinely intersect with brunch. On one side of the issue were people who argued that the social situation of African Americans at the time was so dire and so oppressive that invasive federal action was necessary. On the other side were well-intentioned conservatives such as Barry Goldwater and any number of writers for this magazine, who argued that if the reach of Washington were extended into every mom-and-pop diner in the country, it would constitute a step toward the abolition of private life, that the natural and inevitable extension of the principle at work would ensure that rather than being treated as private property, businesses reclassified as “public accommodations” would be treated more like public property, that the greasy snout of politics eventually would stick itself into every last precinct of what had been considered the sphere of privacy beyond the public sector.

As it turns out, both sides were right.

That last sentence undermines an otherwise near-perfect exercise in punditry. It’s impossible that both sides could be right, by the very nature of things. Either a “mom-and-pop diner” is private property or it isn’t; you can’t have it both ways. Williamson’s desire to find some way of accommodating two inherently contradictory positions is untenable. It expresses a desire not to offend that the conflicting demands of the “two sides” have made impossible.

The politicization of commerce didn’t start with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, of course. It has much deeper roots than that. But every stroke in that direction has weakened the most important protection of individual rights this country possesses: the principle of unfettered private discretion over one’s private property.

And every last speck of it was deliberate.

”Bad law” is an envelope that subsumes many more specific sub-categories. However, laws that should not have been made in the first place because they infringe on private rights are surely included therein. The problem here is twofold:

  • A strong consensus among the citizens that “something must be done” about some situation;
  • Politicians’ eagerness to politicize whatever they can get their claws around.

When I wrote about the importance of the black market a few days ago, I thought principally in terms of specific goods and services that political forces had chosen to ban, control, or restrict by regulation. Yet there’s a form of “black market” that’s arisen in response to supposedly well intentioned “anti-discrimination” statutes. It poses the greatest of frustrations to the politicizers, because it’s inherently beyond their reach. It’s the exercise of “consumer discrimination:” individuals’ personal decisions to live here rather than there, to work at this firm rather than that one, and to patronize or not to patronize a commercial establishment according to the personalities and characters of the frequenters thereof.

Is there a racial correlation? Of course. Is that deplorable? Not necessarily. Think about it:

  • Would you willingly drink in a tavern whose other patrons habitually view you as hostile?
  • Would you willingly work among persons who consistently treat you with contempt?
  • Would you choose to live in a neighborhood overwhelmingly populated with such persons?
  • Had you the means to avert all those conditions, wouldn’t you use them?
  • Would the skin colors or ethnic heritages of those hostile, contemptuous persons matter to you?

Only a completely totalitarianized nation can overcome “consumer discrimination.” It must dictate every decision made by every one of its subjects. It must leave them no power to resist. It must punish attempts to deviate so surely, swiftly, and harshly that the very thought of nonconformity is all but erased from the nation.

I doubt there are any left-liberals among the regular readers of my screeds, but if there are, tell us all, please: What do you, whose political allies are constantly screaming that “the personal is the political,” propose to do about any of that? And what will you say when the goring of oxen gets around to yours?

Think it over.

Turning over the rock.

The black underclass in Fergudishu weighs in on contemporary issues.

Here: "SHOCKING on the street interview on racism in America." By Kevin Jackson, The Black Sphere, 1/22/15.

Spoiler alert: White people are the devil. America is "built on racism." If you are black you are a victim of racism. Darren Wilson should be killed, given "expedited justice" [like, um, lynching?]. Michael Brown wasn't a thug, he was a "good dude." Black people are the real Jews.

One moment of clarity:

Q. What has Barack Obama done for black people?

A. "We don't know."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

On Games And Knowing Yourself

I’m in a philosophical mood this morning, owing in part to a short exchange of thoughts I just had with Joseph P. Martino, a retired Air Force Colonel who’s done valuable work in several areas of strategic analysis. In reply to my thoughts here, Joe posted the following:

Granted, it does not make sense to try to estimate the probability that God exists. There's no way it can be done.

My dissertation adviser used to argue against using "expected value" to evaluate bets. He used the example, suppose you are offered 999,999 chances in a million of making a million, and one chance in a million of being shot (zero payoff). Clearly the expected value is almost a million, but the possible catastrophe makes it a bad bet. In any situation where there is a possible catastrophe, maximizing expected value is a poor strategy.

However, in Game Theory there are other strategies besides expected value. Minimax loss is one (minimize the maximum possible loss). Another is minimax regrets, where "regrets" are what you could have won had you had perfect foresight. There are others, but these serve as examples.

Pascal's Wager is clearly a minimax loss strategy, and need not have anything to do with the probability that God exists. It simply asks, "what is the worst that can happen" for each possible strategy, and chooses the strategy with the minimum possible loss. I don't think his recommended strategy is at all unreasonable.

All perfectly true...but it got me thinking about the under-layer of game-playing, which objective analysis never addresses for a simple reason I shan’t insult your intelligence by stating explicitly. That under-layer is worth a few hundred words all by itself.

As you probably know, I’m a chess aficionado. One of the things that dismays most contemporary lovers of the game is the attitude displayed among grandmasters toward the possibility of loss. Needless to say, they’d rather not. However, their typical aversion to even the possibility of loss is such that very few of them will take even a small risk – i.e., will adopt a plan of campaign that endangers their ability to force a draw – even if such a risk offers an excellent chance of winning. In consequence, the average top-level tournament is heavy with draws. Current practices set their frequency at about 55%.

An exhaustive objective analysis of the game of chess is currently beyond the powers of computation. Granted that there are programs which can outplay any human player; nevertheless, the state of the art in such programs continues to advance, which implies that there are further frontiers to be crossed. Among human beings, the game is hardly “played out,” despite the predominance of drawn games.

Those draws aren’t because draws are in some objective sense the “right” outcome. They’re the products of a prevalent aversion to losing that dwarfs other priorities.

Several players of the past few decades have become greatly beloved because they didn’t fear to lose. The brightest stars in the chess firmament include at least three such: Mikhail Tal, Bent Larsen, and Garry Kasparov. Their approaches to the game, while not perfectly consistent with one another, all exhibited a degree of risk-taking that many commentators have called romantic or enterprising, while a few have termed them piratical. In short, they were willing to take risks, sometimes large ones, because their highest priority wasn’t to avoid losing.

In a game between humans, whose analytical powers are limited and whose emotions often play at least as great a role as their intellects, the willingness to take risks will have its own rewards. This is especially the case when a Tal, a Larsen, or a Kasparov faces a player whose fear of loss eclipses all else about him.

It’s about priorities and emotions quite as much as about foresight about possibilities and accuracy of analysis.

“ If the probability of success is not almost one, then it is damn near zero.” – David Ellis, quoted by Paul Dickson in The Official Rules.

Probabilities matter. The severity of possible outcomes matters as well. No argument. But priorities and emotional proclivities matter even more. Let’s look at Joe’s example once more:

My dissertation adviser used to argue against using "expected value" to evaluate bets. He used the example, suppose you are offered 999,999 chances in a million of making a million, and one chance in a million of being shot (zero payoff). Clearly the expected value is almost a million, but the possible catastrophe makes it a bad bet. In any situation where there is a possible catastrophe, maximizing expected value is a poor strategy.

The final sentence above should get you thinking:

  • What outcomes would constitute a catastrophe that absolutely demands to be averted?
  • Is there no alternate outcome that might counterbalance such a catastrophe?
  • Do the probabilities not matter at all, regardless of their values?

I contend that the answers are other than Joe’s dissertation advisor claimed. If we limit ourselves to spatiotemporal outcomes, there is no catastrophe so bad that some potential payoff can’t be balanced against it. More, the probabilities do matter, as they who dwell in New York City demonstrate every time they cross a city street: A pedestrian in the Big Apple is hit by a car every 20 minutes. That hasn’t put a halt to street crossings on foot. Your probability of being in a fatal auto accident this year is on the order of magnitude of 0.000001 – the probability of being shot in Joe’s example – yet millions of Americans drive to work every morning, despite the rather lower probability of being given a million dollars when they get there.

The deciding factor is your personal “zero threshold:” how small a probability must be, in your estimation, for you to discount it as negligible for your personal decision-making purposes.

Of course, that you’ve classified some probability as negligible doesn’t mean that the associated outcome can’t happen. It only means that you regard that degree of risk as acceptable, given the other possible outcomes and their probabilities. You’ve made a priority decision. You make such decisions every day. Moreover, should you “roll snake eyes” some day and reap a terrible outcome that you regarded as an acceptable risk, it will have very little impact on the priority decisions of other persons.

Some of us “learn,” if alterations of our priorities and our personal risk-aversiveness can be called that, from others’ experiences...and some of us resolutely go our own ways despite the cautions and fears of those around us. And thus shall it ever be, until Man is no more.

As my retirement approaches, I’ve given ever more thought to financial planning. I’ve been something of a risk-taker up to now, placing my bets on aggressive growth stocks – high upside and high downside – when I invest. But at all times those risks were buttressed from underneath by my earning power, which has been sizable throughout my working life. More, up to fairly recently I was a glowing specimen of bodily health and personal energy. I was confident that whatever might happen to me, I could swiftly recover from it.

My earning years are about to end, and my health is no longer what it was. Given those developments, does it surprise you to learn that I’ve become more cautious about money than I once was? Don’t all answer at once, now.

The probabilities and the possible outcomes have changed somewhat. At this point a disease or an injury my younger self would have shrugged off might kill or permanently cripple me. I can’t rely upon a stream of above-average income to make up for losses in the equities market. Another person’s well-being is bound to mine. And of course, the political backdrop for all my decisions has darkened considerably since I first became self-reliant.

I’ve adjusted my priorities in recognition of those facts...but they remain my priorities. I know of several persons in roughly the same situation who remain gleeful risk-takers, often to the dismay of those who love and depend on them. And I know of others, again placed approximately the same, who’ve grown more risk-averse than I could ever dream of being.

This is what we are: individual human beings with individual motivations, capabilities, desires, and fears. Individual “zero thresholds.” Individual levels of confidence in our abilities to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and continue onward. Those things might change over time, but they will always remain much a matter of emotion as of reason, if not far more so.

Anyone for a friendly game of Acey-Deucey?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Investments, Retirement, And Faith

Every now and then I find the stimulus to a post in a completely unexpected place. Today, the stimulus comes from this article on retirement preparations in the Wall Street Journal:

Take a few minutes. Add up your basic annual expenses, and make sure to include the taxes you’ll owe on required and voluntary withdrawals from your retirement accounts and on the income and capital gains in your taxable assets. Then subtract your Social Security and, if you’re lucky, pension checks. This leaves you with your residual living expenses, or RLE....

The rub is that your retirement is reasonably assured only if the bulk of those assets is in relatively safe holdings.... As such, this may be a good time to start reducing the risk in your portfolio....

I bear in mind Blaise Pascal. The great 17th century philosopher and mathematician posited that belief in God was a paying proposition: If one believed and was wrong, all that was lost was a lifetime of unnecessary piousness and Sunday sermons. Betting against Him and being wrong, on the other hand, produced a different and rather warmer outcome. In other words, the probability of error matters less than its consequences. Put yet another way, when faced with the imponderable, the wisest course is the one with the most acceptable worst-case scenario. [Emphasis added by FWP.]

This, not to put too fine a point on it, is pure horseshit.

The probability of the various possible outcomes always matters. If the probability of total calamity – in the above case, a devastating crash in the equities market – is near enough to zero, you can neglect it in your planning. (This is especially the case if there’s no possible way to brace yourself for that outcome.) The difficulty lies in determining that probability.

Far too many people have far too much faith in their visions of America’s economic and fiscal future. Certain people -- I’m thinking specifically of militant evangelistic atheists such as Richard Dawkins:

Science, after all, is an empirical endeavor that traffics in probabilities. The probability of God, Dawkins says, while not zero, is vanishingly small. He is confident that no Flying Spaghetti Monster exists. Why should the notion of some deity that we inherited from the Bronze Age get more respectful treatment?

Dawkins has been talking this way for years, and his best comebacks are decades old. For instance, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a variant of the tiny orbiting teapot used by Bertrand Russell for similar rhetorical duty back in 1952. Dawkins is perfectly aware that atheism is an ancient doctrine and that little of what he has to say is likely to change the terms of this stereotyped debate. But he continues to go at it. His true interlocutors are not the Christians he confronts directly but the wavering nonbelievers or quasi believers among his listeners – people like me, potential New Atheists who might be inspired by his example....

Dawkins looks forward to the day when the first US politician is honest about being an atheist. "Highly intelligent people are mostly atheists," he says. "Not a single member of either house of Congress admits to being an atheist. It just doesn't add up. Either they're stupid, or they're lying. And have they got a motive for lying? Of course they've got a motive! Everybody knows that an atheist can't get elected."

...have far too much faith in their own unverifiable, unfalsifiable faiths to admit that there’s no way to gauge the “probability” of the existence of God.

(A tangent of importance: Dawkins’s posturing is doubly wrong. Science does not “deal in probabilities.” It deals in induction from available evidence, the inference of hypotheses to explain observed patterns, the design of experiments that test those hypotheses, and the absolute principle that science offers no proofs and no final answers: i.e., that one failure to predict a properly designed, reproducible experiment’s outcome will falsify any hypothesis, regardless of its previous successes. This is called scientific method, with which pseudo-scientists such as Dawkins who prattle glibly about “scientific proof” are apparently unfamiliar.)

The mathematical purist’s approach to probability relies entirely upon the number of possible outcomes and their frequencies as derived from the governing distribution function(s). This is fine when discussing wholly hypothetical situations such as a completely random selection of one of an array of numbers, all of whose values and frequencies are known. However, it is not applicable to most real-world situations.

The best approach to gauging the probability of a real-world event is empirical. For example, flip a randomly selected coin a thousand times and keep a tally of the heads and the tails. That will give you a close estimate of the probability of each outcome for that coin. Similarly, one can look back at the history of the equities markets since they first arose in organized form, measure the average and maximum lengths of the bull markets and corrections periods, and arrive at a personal, disputable estimate of the probability that the current bull market will end soon. There is significant uncertainty in applying such a technique to the equities market. (The likely depth and duration of the correction to be expected, yet another important consideration in allocating one’s assets, is a separate study.)

But there is no way to determine “the probability that God exists.” That would require:

  • The attribution of a specific, spatiotemporally based definition to God;
  • Deductions from that definition about what circumstances “should” evoke a manifestation of God;
  • A tally of observed manifestations of God and failures to observe such manifestations.

There’s only one word for any such proposed investigation: ridiculous.

Which establishes -- to the limits of measurement, as we engineering types like to say -- that William J. Bernstein, the author of the Wall Street Journal article, has substantially misstated the basis for personal financial planning, and that Richard Dawkins, who makes absurd arm-waving arguments about “the probability that God exists,” is an arrogant idiot who’s merely unhappy that his atheistic faith isn’t shared by the entire world.

Quod erat demonstrandum.


CSO: (mournfully) I have to go to XXX today (a nearby client).
FWP: My poor Sweetie! Has to drive about twenty feet to be fawned on by a gaggle of nuns who make you tea and call you Sister Beth and ask when you’re going to take your vows!

CSO: Well...
FWP: Besides, you get to decide what the laws of arithmetic will be today.
CSO: Hey! That is my profession, you know. You only have to deal with zeroes and ones.

FWP: The great tragedy of my life.
CSO: Where did your other numbers go, anyway?

FWP: I think the lost tribe has them.
CSO: Who?
FWP: You know: the twelfth tribe of Israel, the one you guys misplaced!
CSO: You sure? It wasn’t the Rosicrucians or the Knights Templar?
FWP: Naah. I asked.

(UPDATE: "A Reader" wrote to ask whether a married woman can take the vows of a nun. No, Reader, she can't. It's just my wife's clients, who are very fond of her, twitting her a little bit.)

Monday, January 19, 2015

We Wrestle Not Against Violent Extremism

In the last column, I was lamenting the lack of leadership in the free world today.  The contention was that we lack truth in the world nowadays, principally because there are virtually no political leaders earnestly contending for it.  The other two reasons are the media and secular schooling’s incessant and intentional dissemination of misinformation, and finally, because people today no longer hunger nor thirst for truth as they did in simpler times – in other words, demand is down.  Because of those three factors, truth is a rare pearl.

A kind reader commenting on that column reminded me that, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood.”   Most believers use this to establish that our battle is not with people.  This logic also enables one to love the sinner, yet hate the sin.  In this case, I believe his reminder was that frustration is misplaced if it’s merely directed at flawed, mortal leaders.  The verse in its entirety reads, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.   The verse suggests that it’s the spiritual forces behind the person that we should confront.   

The lack of leadership and deliberate denial of truth I lament is on parade when one is watching the Obama administration do cheetah flips trying to deny the obvious – that we are at war with Jihadists -- Islamic extremists.  Maybe more accurately, they are at war with us -- at least one enemy is honest.  That said, it’s an ideology, a spiritual force that we’re up against – but it does have flesh and blood adherents that are operating under its power -- killing people all over the globe.  Even though “Imam” Obama may say it is not Islam, the guys yelling “Allahu Akbar” as they practice what they preach make it pretty clear that they consider it Islamic. 

Contrast the Obama administration’s innocuous “violent extremism” explanation with what Billy Graham’s son said about the religion of peace.  After Duke University recently announced they were going to begin to broadcast Islamic chanting from the chapel bell tower, Franklin Graham declared, As Christianity is being excluded from the public square and followers of Islam are raping, butchering, and beheading Christians, Jews, and anyone who doesn’t submit to their Sharia Islamic law, Duke is promoting this in the name of religious pluralism.”    

In the entryway of the CIA’s headquarters, there’s a famous quote, “And ye shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free.   It’s from the book that was under Obama’s left hand when he took the oath of office swearing to God that he would preserve, protect, and defend the US Constitution.   If we can’t even be truthful about the problem that we’re facing, what hope do we have in defending ourselves from it?  In fact, Obama is doing the exact opposite of what the apostle Paul commanded those in Ephesus to do.  Obama tells us the problem is the people, the “violent extremists,” not the principalities and powers in place behind them. 
Our “Constitutional scholar” may want to recall our First Amendment -- government doesn’t get to establish religion - not for us, and even less so for those that want to kill us.  Perhaps he could convince ISIL that their “I” is for “Infidel” – not “Islamic.” Or maybe “Inconsiderate” or “Interfaith” or you pick.  I’m not a smart man, Jenny, but I can recognize a duck when it quacks - especially when the duck is spraying automatic weapons fire all-the-while quacking, “Allahu Akbar.”  
What the Book used as a presidential hand rest also says is that truth was embodied in a Man, a Man who was also God.  Think about that – if there is a God, wouldn’t you expect Him to be just that – Truth.  Knowing the God of the hand rest (which is not the same as the Allah of the Koran) enables one to know the truth.  Jesus said quite clearly, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.  If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.   That Jesus chap may not be very politically correct, but He was perfectly clear.

 And so, this is where the reader was right – my problem is not with Obama.  It’s his teleprompter I don’t trust.