Friday, November 30, 2018

I Didn’t Expect To Post Even Twice Today...

     ...but here I am with a third piece for this last day of November.

     First, please view the video below. It’s quite short. (Feel free to stop when you get to the promo for D’Souza’s recent movie.)

     The conception of “a moral order in the universe” goes back many centuries. Indeed, the first monotheists, the Jews of Abraham’s time, did not accept the Ten Commandments because they sounded good, but because they reflect the way the world works. Disregarding any of them leads to calamity, and sometimes to social chaos in which even the most temperate and self-restrained persons, fully aware of their obligations and ready, willing, and able to meet them, will suffer.

     God was not telling the Jews of the Book of Exodus anything they didn’t already know. He was merely codifying principles of conduct their own experiences should have taught them. That there have been millions of persons who strove to break those laws and get away with it – some of whom did succeed, in this life anyway – does not invalidate the laws themselves.

     It is noteworthy that the Ten Commandments are merely a modest extension of the Noachide Commandments of the Book of Genesis. So in Biblical terms, the meat of the moral order of the universe has a lineage that extends rather far back toward Creation.

     D’Souza is quite correct in stating that prior to world War II, at least, Americans were near-unanimous in affirming that moral law exists outside the individual. Even the most corrupt, most sybaritic American would not have dared to say “Naah, the Ten Commandments are just some asshole’s opinions.” Even those who chafed at them and strove to violate them with impunity would at minimum give them lip service – and would teach his children to observe them.

     In recent decades even the most secular of intellectuals have found that there are damned good reasons for believing that there’s a moral order in the universe.

     Allow me to cite one of my favorite Ralph Waldo Emerson quotations yet again:

     You cannot do wrong without suffering wrong. Justice is not postponed...Every secret is told, every crime is punished, every virtue rewarded, every wrong redressed, in silence and certainty. [From Emerson’s essay Compensation ]

     And now allow me to extend it some distance:

     This Law writes the laws of the cities and nations. It will not be baulked of its end in the smallest iota. It is in vain to build or plot or combine against it. Things refuse to be mismanaged long....Though no checks to a new evil appear, the checks exist, and will appear. If the government is cruel, the governor’s life is not safe. If you tax too high, the revenue will yield nothing. If you make the criminal code sanguinary, juries will not convict....

     The ingenuity of man has always been dedicated to the solution of one problem - how to detach the sensual sweet, the sensual bright, etc. from the moral sweet, the moral deep, the moral fair; that is, again, to cut clean off this upper surface so thin as to leave it bottomless; to get a one end, without an other end....

     We can no more halve things and get the sensual good, by itself, than we can get an inside that shall have no outside, or a light without a shadow....

     Whilst I stand in simple relations to my fellow-man, I have no displeasure in meeting him. We meet as water meets water, or as currents of air mix, with perfect diffusion and interpenetration of nature. But as soon as there is any departure from simplicity and attempt at halfness, or good for me that is not good for him, his eyes no longer seek mine; there is war between us; there is hate in him and fear in me.

     There is genius in the above. There is a recognition and an acknowledgement that Law is at work – the kind of law that enforces its own decrees. Clearly such a law is not the product of any legislature. It certainly isn’t a matter of anyone’s opinion.

     Now for the Ace kicker: Despite the Law as Emerson has explicated it above, some persons do – seemingly, at least – succeed in detaching “the sensual sweet, the sensual bright, etc. from the moral sweet, the moral deep, the moral fair” and getting away with it. When we realize that someone has done so, it wounds us deeply. But why? Do we envy the successful criminal? Are we saying to ourselves, in the silence of our souls, “I wish that were me” -- ?

     Some might react thus. A minority, perhaps a tiny one. But for most of us, we sense that a Law beyond any legislature’s competence has been violated – and that our culpability in not ensuring its enforcement will, sooner or later, rebound against us.

     For Man is part of the natural order.
     We have a role to play in the enforcement of the Law.
     When we slacken, or look aside, we are complicit in such a violation.

     The above is important for more than one reason. It reinforces the dictates of our consciences. But beyond that, it teaches us of the importance of knowing where the law must end. It’s but a short step from the above observations to the law’s limits:

If a law cannot be effectively enforced,
It must not be passed.
A law already on the books that has proved unenforceable must be repealed.

     There are many unenforceable laws here in the Land of the Formerly Free. I shall leave the completion of this exercise in sociopolitical logic as an exercise for my Gentle Readers.

Quickies: The Militarization Of America’s Police Forces

     Alex over at Ammo.Com has invited my attention to this compendious, very detailed piece on the subject. I was toying with the idea of condensing it, but that would strip it of much of its virtue. If you’re interested in the topic, please read the whole thing. It’s more than worth your time.

     Ammo.Com has an extensive set of essays online in its Resistance Library. Read a few. You’ll soon understand perfectly why I’ve allowed Ammo.Com to have an ad at previously ad-free Liberty’s Torch.

Fumfering Around On A Fine Friday

     That’s right, Gentle Reader: It’s another of the dreaded assorted columns!

     I’m always impressed by success at turning the Left’s efforts to dictate the terms of our discourse ruinously back against it:

     Well played, Reverend!

     Have some perfect observations about the recent events at the Mexican border:

     The migrants freely admit their tactic is to front their columns with human shields go garner sympathy:
     Women and children were walking at the front of the march, he said, "to see if they would let them enter."

     But saying "NO" to predictable and tired tactics, and the hand-in-glove cooperation of leftwing NGOs, "protesters," and media operations all working to achieve leftwing agenda points, has changed some minds:

     Please read it all. In our time, NO! has become one of the things people find hardest to say, even to the blatantly demanding yet undeserving. Yet NO! is freest word in any language. Remember this passage from Atlas Shrugged?

     “Then I saw what was wrong with the world, I saw what destroyed men and nations, and where the battle for life had to be fought. I saw that the enemy was an inverted morality—and that my sanction was its only power. I saw that evil was impotent—that evil was the irrational, the blind, the anti-real—and that the only weapon of its triumph was the willingness of the good to serve it. Just as the parasites around me were proclaiming their helpless dependence on my mind and were expecting me voluntarily to accept a slavery they had no power to enforce, just as they were counting on my self-immolation to provide them with the means of their plan—so throughout the world and throughout men’s history, in every version and form, from the extortions of loafing relatives to the atrocities of collective countries, it is the good, the able, the men of reason, who act as their own destroyers, who transfuse to evil the blood of their virtue and let evil transmit to them the poison of destruction, thus gaining for evil the power of survival, and for their own values—the impotence of death. I saw that there comes a point, in the defeat of any man of virtue, when his own consent is needed for evil to win—and that no manner of injury done to him by others can succeed if he chooses to withhold his consent. I saw that I could put an end to your outrages by pronouncing a single word in my mind. I pronounced it. The word was ‘No.’

     Rand got a couple of things wrong...but she got a whole lot of other things right.

     Perhaps Kurt Schlichter’s greatest service to us in the Right has been to insist that we remain mindful that liberals and their lackies hate us and want us silenced:

     They aren’t even pretending anymore – the left and their pathetic, craven Fredocon Renfields hate us, and they are giddy at the idea that they can shut us up and make us serfs in our own country.

     But they can’t do it. And if they weren’t so in love with the thrill of temporary success in banning people from Twitter and lying to our faces on 95% of the channels, they would understand the dangerous and hopeless game they are playing.

     See, they want the benefits that come with a free and stable society, but they don’t want to do the inconvenient things that come along as part and parcel of a free and stable society. Things like not using whatever power is at hand to shut up people who say things you don’t like. Like not trying to leverage power to intimidate people into obedience. Like not becoming petty dictators as insanely certain of their own virtue as the Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution.

     It’s an awareness that we in the Right have often fought. Decent people simply don’t want to believe that anyone hates them. We don’t want to believe that there are nominal Americans who want to see us crushed under their heel. But what else does it mean when the Left strives to silence us by hurling every imaginable excoriation and condemnation at us for speaking out minds?

     Kurt’s column does contain one wrong note, though:

     Oh, to be sure many Republicans are useless. After Jesse Kelly was shamefully banned, Ben Sasse – hedging with his obligatory “Oh well I never” sigh over Jesse’s refusal to be a passive schmuck – went on to offer a mealy-mouth headshake about deplatforming being bad. But Sasse is a senator. How about he stop tweeting and scribbling stupid books and write some damn laws protecting our rights?

     Unfortunately, a law cannot protect our rights. Otherwise the Constitution would be obeyed to the uttermost limit of its terms. Only we can protect our rights: by exercising them without apology and fighting back with our full rage and resolve when they’re abridged or threatened. Second Amendment absolutists have been telling us that for quite some time. We should have been listening.

     There are times I look back on my past and ask myself “How could I have been so stupid?” At my age, I’ve got a fair amount of past to look back on, so the effort can keep me busy for a while. It’s not mere self-flagellation; it helps to cauterize old wounds and remind me of how much I’ve learned. It also reminds me of a maxim I should keep more firmly in mind: Living well is the best revenge.

     Sarah Hoyt’s most recent column provides another perspective:

     Who are you really?

     What I mean is if you met yourself at seven, are you the same person? Some of us remember being seven, but I might have trouble even speaking to that little girl, attending a one room school in Portugal.

     And some of the things she believed and did I know just ain’t so. We have some memories (some of them pleasant) in common, and I’d probably break the face of one or two of her enemies, just because they were smug and full of themselves and that annoys me.

     Then how about 12? 14? 18?

     Hell, my teen years are even more embarrassing than the kid ones. Or as Terry Pratchett put it “You have to crawl through a lot of twerpitude to be who you are.”

     Please read it all.

     At some level I’ve always known what Sarah expresses. But as I’ve noted fictionally, your past, with all its warts, cannot be cloven from who you are and what powers you have to bring to bear on the tasks before you:

     My self-imposed exile wasn’t for any particular purpose. Maybe it served one even so.
     —No maybes about it, Al. You are not who or what you were. You’re far more. Some of it is invisible to you yet, though it won’t be forever. Just one of the unacknowledged laws of human nature at work.
     Which is?
     —At every moment of your life, you are everything you have ever been. It’s all there, from the instant of your birth onward to this very moment. And it all plays a part.
     Even the pain?
     —Especially the pain.

     Yes, I’ve been stupid. So have you. It’s there to be used, so use it.

     That’s all for today, Gentle Reader. Have a fine Friday. Get on with your life. Don’t take any wooden dialogue.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Your Dwindling Privacy

     Books have been written about it. Commentators have ranted about it. Vast arguments between supposed “policy wonks” have addressed it. But very few people are paying attention.

     I suppose we’re too busy diddling one another on social media. Hah! Yet another Orwellian phrase: the “social media” conduce to sociability and social health in no way discernible by Man. Indeed, they’re a front in the ongoing war on your privacy.

     But you, being a Gentle Reader of Liberty’s Torch, know better, right? You’ve watched the newsreels. You’ve seen the interviews with the field commanders and the wounded just back from the front. You’re too intelligent and too well informed to take part in a war against your own interests.

     Then again, you might be a conscript.

     I’ve said on several occasions that privacy, properly understood, isn’t an enforceable right in and of itself. Whatever degree of privacy Smith can secure for himself derives from his legitimately owned property and his rights over it. Hearken to this older essay:

     What is privacy? An informal definition would be the privilege of "keeping yourself to yourself": that is, restricting others' access to you, to your property, and to information about those things to only those whom you approved. But access to you and your property is covered by another, better grounded right: the right of a legitimate owner to the control and disposition of his property. It's the informational component of the privacy claim that causes the problems.

     If there's something about you that you don't want known, and you have a "right" to control the dissemination of that information, how do you exercise your "right" once someone has learned the critical fact? Murder? Lobotomy? Hypnosis? A voodoo curse? If you elect to have an interaction with some other person, and he refuses to agree to keep silent about it, how would you enforce your "right" to privacy and still have the interaction?

     As your Curmudgeon has previously written, rights are those claims that can be simultaneously asserted without generating clashes that can only be resolved by a recourse to force (the "test of arms"). As we can see, privacy claims don't satisfy that criterion.

     Nevertheless, most Americans value their privacy and would like better protections for it. At least, that’s what we say. But our behavior is at odds with such statements:

  1. An increasing percentage of our purchases are made through the Internet;
  2. Nearly all purchases that cost $100 or more are made with a credit instrument;
  3. Our interactions with one another are conducted ever more through “social media;”
  4. “Smart” devices that monitor our choices and behavior are proliferating at great speed;
  5. The number and size of our governments – we have over 88,000 of them – continue to increase.

     With the exception of item #5, no one can be blamed for the incremental losses of privacy enumerated above. No one, that is, but ourselves.

     Nearly every transaction that involves two or more of us results in the release of information about us into the public domain: information that can no longer be kept private. And a host of organizations and institutions are sucking it up repackaging it, and selling it as we speak.

     Welcome to the Age of the Fishbowl. It’s a seemingly benign habitat that lures you in with promises of efficiency and convenience. However, once you’ve entered, you can never escape.

     I first set my fingers to the keys this morning with this article in mind:

     ‘No Cash’ signs are popping up everywhere in Sweden as payments go digital. More than 4,000 Swedes have had microchips implanted in their hands to pay for things.

     Sweden is the most cashless society.

     Last year, the amount of cash in circulation in Sweden dropped to the lowest level since 1990 and is more than 40 percent below its 2007 peak. The declines in 2016 and 2017 were the biggest on record, Financial Post reported.

     Sweden’s worried and they are not sure what to do.

     Cash matters because a transaction conducted in cash conduces to greater privacy than one conducted through a credit instrument or the Internet. In the former case, only a buyer and a seller are involved; in theory at least, information about the transaction can be confined to those two persons. When a credit card or the Internet is involved, the information passes through an unknown number of hands and is stored in an unknown number of places – and neither the buyer nor the seller can compel any of those parties to observe any degree of constraint about how the information is used.

     Yet a number of “economists” – yes, those are “sneer quotes” – are arguing that cash ought to be completely eliminated. Why? Their reasons vary, but not one of them will hold water for five minutes. That’s largely because they don’t grasp what makes cash important.

     Cash is a broader concept than money or currency. Anything a seller will accept on prima facie grounds in exchange for what he sells constitutes a form of cash.

     Note that checks, promissory notes, credit, and digital transactions don’t qualify. These are not prima facie instruments; their “value,” such as it is, arises from the guarantees made by intermediating organizations and institutions. Commodities – e.g., gold, silver, copper, buckskins, whiskey, tobacco, seed corn – offered in trade are a kind of cash. Federal Reserve Notes, as little as I think of them, are a kind of cash. A promise to provide service at some future time is a kind of cash. These things don’t depend for their negotiability on the guarantees of a third party.

     Its advocates claim that Bitcoin, the best known of the “cryptocurrencies,” qualifies as cash. Considering what’s been going on with Bitcoin lately, I’m not so sure.

     Cash offers the possibility of privacy in transaction. That’s why governments are hostile to it.

     A swelling number of organizations and institutions want to know as much as possible about you and everything you do. The information has value to them. They trade it among themselves. That trade is often characterized as being to everyone’s advantage, including yours. But this is far from certain.

     Perhaps Amazon can serve us all better by remembering what we’ve purchased from it. Perhaps our television providers can better tailor their offerings to our tastes by learning what we’ve been watching. Perhaps various lesser firms can offer us what we want or need more efficiently by learning other details about our lives and interactions. But the price should be kept in mind: it involves the sacrifice of a considerable degree of privacy.

     Here’s an example that chilled me somewhat. Imagine that John and Mary, a married couple, live in a detached, single-family home with “smart” electrical metering technology: a device that continuously reports on electrical power consumption. Mary takes a trip, perhaps for business purposes, while John remains at home. During that interval their provider of electricity notices a sharp increase in electrical power consumption at their home, which drops back to previous levels shortly before Mary’s return.

     Shortly after Mary returns from her trip, she and John receive email solicitations from divorce lawyers.

     Fanciful? Yes, for the moment...but every increment in the stream of information we allow others to accumulate about us brings it closer to reality.

     It’s up to you to decide whether or not you care.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Your Standards Are Not Your Own

The other day, I posted a long screed over at The Declination. That, in itself, is not unusual. I am prone to long, meandering topics and generally use my own forum for those. However, our curmudgeon had a very thought-provoking reply in the comments section which demanded a further expansion. It seemed that this was the appropriate venue for it.

The meat of the reply was contained in this quotation:
The assumption is this: You are not permitted your own standards. We, the Left, will set them, and you are required to meet them.
You can see this phenomenon played out everywhere in popular culture today. Fire up social media and see arguments between Rightists and Leftists about, say, poverty. Or inequality. Or a host of other topics from rent control to firearm regulations. Popular standards are invariably Leftist standards, and the Rightist must argue from a very weak position, namely that fulfillment of Rightist political goals will, in fact, further stated Leftist political goals.

A casual example is when a Rightist argues that Capitalism will decrease poverty relative to Socialism, and this is why Capitalism is better. Yes, it's actually true but it omits an implied assumption: namely that we must meet the Left's standard for what is satisfactory before we are permitted to prefer Capitalism over Socialism. This is a mistake.

Who established that decreasing poverty was a duty and not a charitable act? Leftists will say our very own Bible tells us so, but it does not. Charity cannot be a duty, or it is no longer charity. The desire to give must be genuine, and we must genuinely believe such aid to be helpful and not hurtful. Hand a crackhead a pile of cash and you are, in fact, hurting him, not helping him. How much of your welfare money is going to crackheads and other addicts? How much money is taken from us in order to actively harm other Americans?

Furthermore, even if we concede that charity is a duty (a concession I do not make), why is it that the government is set as the standard arbiter of this duty? In other words, why must government policy be set with respect to poverty? It is assumed that the role of government is to decrease poverty. Questioning the assumption is considered heresy. Would the duty not be from an individual to another individual?

Lastly, if charity is a duty, and if we concede it is the government's proper role to do this duty for us (again, a concession I do NOT make), who sets the success condition? Is the success condition that most Americans have enough to eat, have shelter, basic care, and other such things? Then congratulations, we succeeded decades ago. Ah, but the Left sets new standards. They complain of income inequality, they throw around metrics like "food insecurity." Food insecurity is defined as a condition where a person might worry how they are going to afford food in some theoretical future time-frame. It's not saying you're starving, but rather that you might actually have to budget for your meals this month, and you might worry that you don't have enough.

That's a lot of people who are not starving. But somebody counts them as if they are anyway.

Back during the Apollo moon landings, there were a number of protesters who, then as now, complained that spending funds on spaceships when we could be spending money on the impoverished black community was a travesty. Forget space travel, they said, we have poor people of color here at home, and we should spend the money there instead.

Some time ago on Twitter, I saw a similar sentiment when a radical feminist complained that Elon Musk wasted money shooting his car into space when he should have thrown his billions into fixing Flint's water supply problems.

If you are not spending all of your time and money on the Left's pet causes, you are a horrible, immoral human being. And yet, the number of Leftists who spend all their money trying to fix Flint's water supply are few - if any even exist at all.

They demand that we adhere to their ridiculous and contradictory standards when they are not even willing to do so. 65 million people voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Each of them could have donated $10, and Flint would have had $650 million to fix its broken water supply. Of course, the Democrats who run Flint would surely steal most of it, but hey. You can at least claim you helped, right?

Leftists make the standards. Rightists are required to live by them, while Leftists are excused from doing so. This is utterly ridiculous. And even when Rightists demonstrate that the stated standards are probably best served by embracing Capitalism anyway, the Leftist will post a link to some CNN or AP journalist, surely a flaming Leftist, claiming that Socialism is the Best Thing Ever (tm) and Capitalism creates poverty and economic ruin (Venezuelans are surely confused by this).

Tell a Leftist that curing poverty - what limited poverty exists in the most wealthy nation in the history of humanity - is NOT your number one goal, is not your duty (if you have a duty, it is to your fellow man, not to some amorphous concept of poverty), and surely doesn't belong in the hands of the government in any case.

Their heads will explode with fury and they will shout every denunciation they can think of. But it'll be amusing, at least. NPCs do that, you know. Someone took an arrow to the knee, and that's why he can't help the people of Flint get clean drinking water. But, you know dude, it's like totally your responsibility, man! Because peace-love-tolerance!

Then, at least, your standards will be your own. Reject their demands and decide for yourself.

The IRS Needs to Look into This

And, if the allegations prove true, revoke its charitable tax status.

Pueblos Sin Fronteras - And Other Leftist Organizations

Many of these hide their Communist/Socialist/Leftist origins/backing from their members. They carefully couch their aims in terms that Christians use, often deliberately citing the Bible IN PART, to bring more people to give them money/pressure ICE and the Feds to back down.

What they DON'T do is to give the full story. For example, in most of the stories about Samuel Oliver-Bruno, he is portrayed as a father who lived here for some unspecified time, went to Mexico to tend his ill father, and only crossed the border to care for his ill wife.

That's the bare information available. What is NOT written:

  • Just exactly how did Bruno get her in the first place?
  • Does he have criminal associations/background in Mexico?
  • Just when did he leave to care for his father? Just who is his father?
  • While he was here, did he use falsified/stolen documents to work?
  • Did he financially support his kids?
  • Did his wife fail to mention his presence in this country, and collect welfare/food stamps/benefits as a single mom?
  • Did he file income tax? Pay into Social Security?
  • Is his father alive/still sick/dead? When did any of this happen?
  • Was Bruno employed in Mexico? How did he survive?
  • Did Bruno commit other crimes than illegally crossing the border - even if the arrests weren't followed up on?
  • Any DUIs in that history?
  • If he drove a car, did he carry insurance?
These, and other questions, are just the minimum that should be asked.

And, about that picture - the one that ALL the news media were posting on their front pages?

The woman, with 2 of her 5 children, says that she is from Honduras. She claims to be traveling to join her husband. I presume that he is illegally in this country, as there seems to be no other reason for exposing his family to danger.

Here's the story from the photographer who took the picture (he did not speak Spanish, so was not able to confirm any of the story that he was told by others).

David Harris thinks this was a posed fake picture - and he shows a larger view taken at the same time.

The bigger issue - why did the woman not present herself at an embassy earlier in the trip, or accept Mexico's offer of asylum?

Answer - she is not escaping Honduras in fear of her life. She, like her husband, is an economic "refugee". Not eligible for asylum.

UPDATE: Rush agrees with me - this is staged.

Rays Of Light

     Inasmuch as this is an opinion blog operated by an opinionated writer, its Gentle Readers should not be surprised to encounter...opinions. Some of them are strong. Others are tentative, conditional, perhaps even hesitant. Now and then an opinion will even be revisited – and perhaps revised. But in no case should the opinions the readers of Liberty’s Torch find here be taken as Holy Writ.

     We can be wrong. I’m sure we often are. I know I am.

     For example, at one time I held that the proper treatment of immigration was to throw the doors wide open: “If they want to be Americans, let ‘em come – but first dismantle the welfare state.” Today I regard that opinion as naive, badly misinformed. At the time I had no knowledge of the exclaves problem that’s steadily reducing much of the country to foreign, even lawless territory. As I learned better, my opinion changed.

     That is as it should be. An intellectually honest man revises his convictions as he improves his awareness of the facts. He doesn’t reject verifiable facts simply because they clash with his expressed opinions. That many persons do reject facts they find inconvenient is a measure of our contemporary sociopolitical malady.

     One topic in particular has had me going around in circles for awhile. I’ve featured it in my recent fiction. Today I’m going to use that topic to give you a glimpse of the mental processes that beleaguer an opinionated man who has resolved, often with considerable anguish, to remain intellectually honest.

     First, a somewhat lengthy snippet from my most recent novel:

     Ray had only just donned his stole and murmured a prayer for God’s guidance when a penitent entered the face-to-face booth and knelt. He donned a formally grave expression, looked up at his visitor, and swallowed an oath.
     “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen,” Holly Martinowski intoned. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” She smiled wanly. “I’m not really sure how long it’s been since my last confession. More than fifteen years, anyway.”
     “Bless you, Holly,” Ray said. “May the Lord be in your heart and help you to confess your sins sincerely and with true contrition. What are your sins, dear?”
     “Father,” she said in a gradually strengthening voice, “I’ve been bitter and resentful. I estranged myself from my parents because they mocked me as I was and could not accept me as I am today. My bitterness has led me to resent them and wish them ill, even though none of them ever did me any injustice that went beyond a few harsh words.
     “And I may have been less than honest. Since I endeavored to transition, I’ve let everyone I met believe that I’m female. I know I have only the appearance and not the essence. I know that no surgery could make me other than cosmetically female. But I’ve chosen to live as a woman, rather than as the pitifully unmanly man I would otherwise have been. And I am happy this way. I don’t regard my masquerade as a sin, though not being candid about my origins might strike you as sinful.”
     She bowed her head over her folded hands.
     “Other than that, I’ve missed a lot of Sunday Masses. But I have not worshipped any other god. I have not blasphemed. I have not made any idols. I haven’t killed or harmed anyone, or committed adultery, or theft or fraud. I haven’t borne false witness against others. I’ve envied naturally born women their state, but only in a wistful way. And I’ve tried most sincerely, Father, to do unto others as I would have them do unto me. I love God and delight in all His works. I strive to love my neighbor as myself. And with that I subject myself to your judgment and to the mercy of God.”
     Ray was momentarily thrown out of his orbit.
     “Have you examined your conscience closely, Holly?”
     “I have, Father.”
     “And you find no other blemishes there?”
     “I have confessed all that I’ve found, Father.”
     “You don’t think it a deception to wear a female guise?”
     “I wear it for its own sake, Father. I don’t use it to deceive or defraud others. I never have.”
     “And you never will, dear?”
     That brought Holly’s head back up.
     “Only God can know the future, Father. But it’s not my intention ever to do so. What could I gain that I couldn’t get some other way?”
     Ray breathed deeply and strove to steady himself.
     “It’s not the gain or loss that matters but the intention, dear. Are you firm in your resolve?”
     “I am, Father.”
     “And truly sorry for your sins?”
     “O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishment, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and worthy of all my love. I humbly resolve with the help of Thy Grace to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen.”
     He grinned despite himself. “You boned up before you came here, didn’t you?”
     She returned the grin. “A little cramming is acceptable before an exam, isn’t it, Father?”
     He chuckled. “Let’s hope so, dear, because it was one of my most regular practices back in seminary. Your penance is five Our Fathers, five Hail Marys, and five Glory Bes interleaved, to be performed in a spirit of contrition immediately upon leaving the confessional. Go to the front of the church and kneel at the old communion rail. Look upon the Presence lamp as you pray, and give thanks for the love and mercy of God.”
     “I shall, Father.”
     He raised his right hand. “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace. I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
     “Amen,” she whispered.
     “Now go and sin no more.”
     She exited the confessional.

     I don’t think I need to explicate the above. But please do reflect on Holly’s candor about “wearing a female guise.” Ponder whether doing so is an offense against God – your conception of God and His Will – before proceeding to the next segment.

     Today at Cold Fury, Mike Hendrix posts a remarkable, inspiring letter he received from an unnamed transwoman:

     I am post-op transsexual. Thirty-one years ago I began transition when society was not friendly to us in any way. I had surgery 5 years later. I have been, and am, extremely happy.

     I have over the years met many that have transitioned. I knew two people back before my surgery that physically assaulted me because I told them in no uncertain terms they were NOT good candidates for surgery. Both went around the system, went overseas with false docs, and got surgery. Both committed suicide within six months. People ARE sometimes very delusional and surgery is not the fix.

     Surgery is supposed to be anti-climatic (to phrase it). It should be the cherry on top of the already done sundae. I never abused drugs or alcohol. My therapist was extremely happy that my transition was smooth. I didn’t at the beginning, but did later have the support of my parents. During transition, I got my degree, got a good job, supported myself and had an active social life. Surgery only added the intimacy issue later.

     I was born male, I will die male. Biology doesn’t change. However, my identity is now congruent with my outward appearance. Those secondary sexual characteristics that doctors rely upon at birth to categorize us, are now consistent with the brain that developed. I am a woman and have been for longer than I was a boy/man.

     There’s an example of true intellectual honesty. The writer accepts the immutability of biological sex. That she’s chosen to live as a woman, and is happy about it, has not deluded her in the way it has so many others. Who if anyone is harmed by her decision to assume, if only cosmetically, the female guise?

     To encounter that sort of candor, married to that degree of realism, is inherently inspiring.

     Time was, I was of the opinion – strongly expressed, at that – that the transgender phenomenon should not and must not be politically or socially tolerated. Indeed, one of my original motives for writing the stories in this collection was to pose the problems of humans who are genetically female, but resemble pre-op transwomen anatomically and have no choice in the matter, against those of the willfully transgendered.

     Then I made a couple of transgendered acquaintances. Both struck me as exceptionally intelligent and well balanced. Indeed, one has become a long-distance friend. And both are candid that while they live as women, they acknowledge that biologically they are male and always will be.

     Their transitions didn't change their sex; they improved their emotional well-being. It was the one and only treatment that would do so. Gender dysphoria is like that.

     Perhaps I should have written “Gender dysphoria is like that today.” No one knows what the future holds. But we live in the present.

     I’m currently at work on a new novel whose working title is The Wise and the Mad. As with all my crap, it’s thematically powered. The theme is the overriding question of our time:

What is tolerable?
What isn’t?
How do we distinguish between them?

     It is my opinion – yes, it’s strongly held – that it is the moral-ethical duty of a man of good will to tolerate what is tolerable, but not to tolerate what is not. Discriminating the former from the latter is the trick...though it shouldn’t be. The problem is the immense amount of, please pardon my Belgian, utter and complete horseshit afloat in our national discourse.

     My esteemed Co-Conspirator Dystopic – yes, he goes by Thales over at his place — wrote recently:

     I’ve discussed many times how Progressives use guilt and Weaponized Empathy to shame people into supporting their agendas. How does this find purchase in the minds of normies, however? The answer to that is found in one of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals:
     4. “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules.

     Buried in this rule is an implicit assumption: every rule must be obeyed perfectly and completely. If a person fails to live up to the rule, he is shamed and made to feel guilty for his failure. As Alinsky tells us, no rule can be obeyed to this level.

     Upon which I commented:

     At the core of the weaponized-empathy tactic is an assumption that’s seldom articulated, mainly because it’s been insinuated into our subconsciouses. It’s an evil assumption, to be sure, yet even most persons who confront it openly tend to bow to it.

     The assumption is this: You are not permitted your own standards. We, the Left, will set them, and you are required to meet them.

     Couldn’t get much more demented, could it? But a moment’s thought about why weaponized empathy works — when it works, that is — is that the notion that we must meet a standard of perfection set by someone else’s decree embeds a sub-assumption: that the responsibility for others’ ills lies on our shoulders whether we like it or not. And that assumption is reinforced hourly by agencies and institutions of many kinds, all of which ceaselessly remind us that there are others less happy, less well to do, and less secure than we are, always with the subtext What are you going to do about it?

     That’s our cultural context: If someone is unhappy, remediation is your responsibility. Moreover, no matter how thoroughly he might be “happied” through your efforts, you are never, ever off the hook – and the hook keeps changing in size, shape, color, and spatial and temporal extent.

     Standards without a moral basis.
     Standards deliberately kept unstable.
     Standards that don’t bind those who proclaim them!

     Great God in heaven! As I said: utter and complete horseshit. An average third-grader could debunk the whole fecal notion from first why hasn’t it happened yet?

     Perhaps we should ask Jim Acosta.

     This piece isn’t about transgenderism, really. It’s about good sense: knowing what is tolerable and knowing what isn’t. I could have invoked many other contemporary issues to the same effect. I chose this one because of what I’ve been writing about fictionally. Those stories have touched a lot of nerves.

     My fictional futanari have no choice about what they are. They must be tolerated.

     Holly, the transwoman in the cited passage from Experiences, harms no one, defrauds no one, supports herself, and meets all her obligations by herself. She, and transwomen like her who demand neither special concessions nor accommodations from the rest of us, is tolerable – and must be tolerated.

     But they who, for whatever reason, proclaim rules to which the rest of us must conform, who demand that we accommodate them in unbounded ways and to our overall detriment, and who also reserve the right to change the rules at their own discretion, cannot be tolerated and must not be.

     The theme is freedom: individual freedom, which is necessarily coupled to individual responsibility for one’s own burdens, choices, and the consequences of those choices. Such a responsibility cannot be imperiously imposed upon others, whether specifically named or “society.” Every attempt in that direction must be rebuffed, as harshly as necessary.

     It’s the ray of light that would dispel the sociopolitical gloom that has gathered around us. Mike Hendrix’s correspondent knows it. Perhaps it’s time the rest of us took note.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Quickies: There’s Stupid, There’s Seriously Disturbed, And Then...

     ...there’s Lucianne Walkowicz:

     NASA official Lucianne Walkowicz is disturbed by “the way people talk about going to Mars as if the planet is ours… When we talk about terraforming, that’s a planetary-scale strip mining operation.”

     “It’s been troubling to me to hear people erasing what’s going on here on our own planet both from an environmental standpoint and an indigenous rights standpoint when they talk about going to other planets,” she fretted out loud.

     Mars is not populated and there are no indigenous people there. We aren’t colonizing by taking away a thing from anyone. She brings up indigenous people as if it matters in any way at all.

     We aren’t even at the point of developing a planet and she wants to limit it to be inclusive.

     This woman probably leaves her house and crosses streets without a minder. Surely she should have been put in the care of a responsible adult some time ago...but instead, she holds a federal post: NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology. You can’t make this stuff up.

A Negative-Sum Game Part 2: Some Non-Ruminative Thoughts

     If you’ve read this earlier piece, you’re already familiar with the aggrieved puzzlement I feel over the phenomenon of the militant atheist. In light of the irrefutable conclusion (hint, hint) that firmly held atheism is just as much a religious faith as any other doctrine about the supernatural, I suppose I should be less puzzled. After all, the holders of other faiths have gone on great, often bloody campaigns to eliminate their “competitors,” so why not the atheists? Why should anyone expect them to be different?

     Having posed the question that way, I suppose this is just one more glimpse into human nature: specifically, the discomfort that afflicts those who hold a particular belief and can’t abide others that don’t share it. Just as “I was wrong” is very hard to say, “You are wrong” is very hard to hear – and for persons of incomplete maturation, “You might be wrong” is almost as hard.

     But the matter doesn’t end there.

     Viewed broadly, faith has been the single most important force in the history of Man. Its influence on politics, economics, warfare, international relations, education, social customs and traditions, the hard sciences, the arts, and the demographics of the world cannot be overstated. Indeed, I could make a good case (Sheesh. I almost typed “god case.” Get back in your box, Sigmund!) that faith is a more important influence today than ever before in history.

     That should be a heads-up to the militant atheist, whose aim, whether express or implied, is the elimination of what he sees as irrationality. Disentangling faith from all of human enterprise and the human experience isn’t likely to be accomplished by a few thousand sour-faced evangelists for atheism.

     Remember, I said viewed broadly. For any conviction that can neither be conclusively proved nor conclusively disproved qualifies as a faith:

  • Socialism is a faith.
  • So is capitalism.
  • Bimetallism is a faith.
  • So is monometallism.
  • And of course, so is Keynesianism.
  • Constitutionalism – the conviction that there must be a Supreme Law that constrains all other lawmaking and government action – is a faith.
  • Monarchism is a faith. Indeed, it’s still held by a fair number of persons. (Look into the Constantian Society if you disbelieve me.)
  • Scientism – i.e., the conviction that all important knowledge can be established by scientific means and procedures – is most definitely a faith.

     None of the enumerated stances can be verified or falsified so conclusively that there remains room for neither doubt nor dissent. There are many other stances of that sort.

     The militant atheist, of course, isn’t aiming at the wholesale rejection of socialism, or capitalism, or bimetallism. His crosshairs settle over the face of God. To him, the belief in a Supreme Being that is beyond our senses yet is responsible for the whole of existence is unacceptable. We who maintain such a belief are equally unacceptable. Indeed, many a militant atheist regards us as not merely irrational but “stupid.” Of course, he imagines himself to occupy a higher intellectual plane.

     A long, long time ago, back at the old Palace of Reason, I posted the following:

Private Knowledge

     I consider myself a Catholic. I also consider myself an agnostic. And while you're catching your breath from that seeming contradiction, I'm going to indulge in a little word-splitting, hopefully of the consciousness-expanding kind.

     The original Gnostic controversy propelled a great deal of the early unrest within the Church. On one side stood men, apparently sincere, who believed that knowledge of God's will came directly to each individual in the form of a private revelation, a gnosis. The most famous case of gnosis recorded in Christian history is the “road to Damascus” revelation of Paul of Tarsus, who may justly be regarded as the doctrinal founder of the Church.

     Opposed to these stood men who rejected the very idea of gnosis. They held that since not all persons had one, and that God would not be so cruel as to deny His word to anyone who desired to hear it, then these private revelations should be regarded as events of unknown significance at best, rather than reliable indicators of God's will. These were the original agnostics.

     Interestingly, the Church, though its doctrines were shaped by the most celebrated gnosis of all time, almost immediately thereafter rejected the Gnostic position, declaring it beyond the pale for any communicant to place his private revelation above the teachings approved by the Church hierarchy. Gnosticism, thus anathematized, acquired an unsavory aspect, allied itself with forms of mysticism at odds with core Christian beliefs, and after a couple of centuries ceased to be an important influence on the development of the Christian faith.

     There are Christian faiths that preserve some fragment of the Gnostic belief. The Church of the Latter-Day Saints, for example, explicitly teaches its adherents that God may be expected to speak directly to them on matters of critical importance to them personally. However, most mainline Christian sects, including my own, are firmly agnostic. True doctrine, they teach, is preserved and propagated by the Church itself, in keeping with the responsibility conferred upon the apostle Peter by Christ Himself.

     All of this might seem a bit abstruse to the layman with a layman's interest in matters of faith. I assure you, it's more important than most Christians realize -- not because of the possible clash between doctrine and revelation, but because of the private nature of all revelations, and the importance of that essential privacy to faith itself.

     In this world, God coerces no one. He has laid down the laws of Nature; that is all. Those laws may be denied or decried, but they cannot be broken. One aspect of those laws is that, for any given miracle -- that is, for any given observed phenomenon that's so far from the ordinary course of things that one explanation offered for it is the hand of God -- there will always be at least one other plausible explanation, such that disbelief will remain possible. I believe that this is a part of the Divine Non-Coercion package, designed to allow men's minds to be free even on the most fundamental of all subjects.

     Why does God want men's minds to be so free? A good question. It might be part of the test. It might be part of what it means to be men. And it might be that we'll all know soon enough. My own theory is that this is how God speaks directly to some men, such as Paul of Tarsus, while leaving others capable of reaching their own conclusions.

     Revelation is always private. Private events, as opposed to public events that may be witnessed by many persons simultaneously, have no evidentiary value for those who have not experienced them. Private events give rise only to private knowledge and private convictions. If a man has had such an experience, it may help him to persuade others, but even here there are stronger factors than the revelation itself: his known character, the degree of his eloquence, and his strength of will in staying true to the substance of the revelation and refraining from adulterating it with opinions of his own.

     To be a Christian agnostic is to say: Revelation is wonderful, if you've had one. It's stunning, thrilling, enlarging beyond any other experience of the mind. But it has no weight as evidence in any argument with others. Your revelation was meant for you alone, or all the rest of us would have had it too.

     The Christian agnostic position is an insistence on personal humility: self-doubt, not doubt of God. How can we doubt what He has said to all of us together, the objectively verifiable laws that govern our universe and dictate how we may use what we find in it? But how can we not politely reserve judgment in the face of a Gnostic's claim to have personal knowledge of His will? To do otherwise would be to elevate the convictions of a mere human above the actual mechanics of the cosmos, the continuously unfolding panoply of Creation itself.

     Why am I nattering on about this, you ask? Have I been accosted by self-nominated visionaries one too many times, or have I had a revelation of my own?

     Sorry, that's private.

     Ponder that for a moment while I fetch more coffee.

     When Francis Bacon proposed what has come to be known as scientific method, he was working within a Christian framework: the conviction that a just God would not allow the laws of the universe to change out from under us. That too is, of course, a religious conviction: a faith. We have no way of knowing whether the laws of physics were at one time not those of today. (Indeed, one of the more popular cosmological theses holds that that must have been the case for the universe of matter to have its current extent.) Neither can we know that the laws of physics will always be what they are today. Both the affirmative and the negative positions are articles of faith.

     It is effectively impossible to separate faith – the willingness to believe without a requirement for conclusive proof – from the rest of the human experience. As I’ve already observed, the militant atheist isn’t concerned with what we might call quotidian faith, but with conceptions of God and the religious propositions founded on such conceptions.

     To these eyes, this is a brief for amiability, a “you go to your church and I’ll go to mine” attitude toward the militant atheist. Yes, he can be annoying. Can’t you? Can’t I? Anyone with a strong opinion about anything, regardless of the subject or his depth of inquiry into it, is capable of being a nuisance. That’s not an argument against having a strong opinion, with one exception:

No matter who you are,
Regardless of what you might believe,
You were not put here to convert the rest of us.

     I think we’d all have it a lot easier, especially at family gatherings, if that particular principle were more widely understood.

Monday, November 26, 2018

From The “Why Am I Doing This?” Files

     Well, apparently Black Friday isn’t a choice day for a book promotion. Nor has Experiences set the world on fire just yet. But then, the stories I tell are pretty outré, so I shouldn’t expect them to be popular, right?

     So why do I write them?

     It’s a question I’ve asked myself before. I’ve also answered it before. However, owing to the amount of effort my novels demand of me, there are days the answer doesn’t pop out of the usual slot. So I compel myself to think about it afresh.

     On average, completing a novel-length story takes me about a year. That’s not a “standard,” 2000-hour work year typical of wage employment; it’s just the elapsed time from inception to release. I do other things during that time, of course, or I wouldn’t have a properly stocked larder, clean clothes, and an orderly house (and you wouldn’t get these sententious essays). My estimate for the average number of “labor hours” I put into a novel is about 700. I seem unable to speed up the process.

     That’s an average, Gentle Reader. Love in the Time of Cinema took fewer hours of effort; Which Art In Hope took far more. Each novel, however, has required an emotional commitment of a sort virtually every artist or craftsman will recognize: a dedication to the story as worthy of the effort regardless of how it will eventually be greeted by the reading public.

     In other words, the story must strike me as being worth telling in and of itself.

     I’ve occasionally lamented the fall-off in originality that’s afflicted fantasy, science fiction, and horror: the three “speculative” genres. But originality has its costs. One of them is the eschewal of trend-following: i.e., “getting on the gravy train.” Another is a near-constant state of self-questioning: the “why am I doing this?” of the title.

     Even the most dedicated creator will doubt himself. (Not the Creator, mind you; just us fleshbound types.) “Why am I doing this when I could be simulating traffic patterns / jumping my wife / finishing Rise of the Tomb Raider? Where’s the return on investment?”

     The return on investment must come from the work itself. The tangible ROI, for a typical indie writer, is likely to be paltry. Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m terrible at promotion.

     That’s why I emphasize the importance of theme.

     Every worthwhile story speaks of the nature of Man.

     The previous sentence is a slight misstatement for purposes of impact. In a more accurate formulation, “Man” would be replaced by “personhood.” There are ineluctable consequences to personhood. The requirements:

  • Delimited existence;
  • Individual consciousness;
  • Limited powers;
  • Inescapable needs;
  • Individual wants and priorities;

     ...give rise to everything else: what philosopher Loren Lomasky called the nature of the “project pursuer.” They also give rise to the moral and ethical laws that bind us. Tom Kratman has called these properties “the eternal verities.” It’s the right name for them, for as Thomas Carlyle once wrote, they are “fixed by the everlasting congruity of things” and are not alterable by any artifice.

     The theme of a worthwhile story must perforce be the illumination some aspect of the nature of Man and the laws that flow from it.

     Just in case you’ve been reading this half-asleep – I know, a lot of my tripe reads better that way – this is a fiction writer talking about fiction from an existential perspective: a “why bother?” sort of inquiry. It’s inherently opinion rather than exposition. However, it explains – to my satisfaction, at least – why so much fiction is inherently forgettable:

A poor story illuminates nothing of importance to us.

     Please don’t mistake me. It’s not that we don’t know our own natures or the moral and ethical laws that flow from them. Our knowledge of those things is built-in, installed by God and communicated to us through our consciences. So it’s unlikely that even the best story will tell the reader something he never knew. It’s more likely to remind him of something he’s always known, though he might have temporarily mislaid (or overlooked) it.

     The desire to dramatize elements of that knowledge is why I write. A factual-logical argument for a baldly stated abstraction, no matter how imperative, doesn’t capture the allegiance of the listener nearly as well as a dramatic demonstration of how it would work among characters the reader cares about. Ayn Rand inspired more freedom advocates with Atlas Shrugged than the thousands of purely factual and logical arguments for individual freedom that came before her.

     The great persuaders have all known this. Start from Jesus Christ and work your way forward.

     My futanari stories have had several different principal themes. Innocents is about the importance of justice to the just and what it can compel them to do. Experiences dramatizes the power of the need for acceptance. I have a third novel-length story percolating as I write this – working title The Wise and the Mad — in which I intend to address the supreme question of our time: what is tolerable, what is not, and how to distinguish between them. (I think of this as the “one idiot allowed per village” problem.)

     Perhaps we already know the answers to the questions above. Perhaps, if pressed, any man could articulate the answers. But there’s more juice – more power to motivate – in a story about such things than in any dry academic argument about them.

     And with that, it’s back to my labors. Keep the faith.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

A Negative-Sum Game: A Sunday Rumination

     Welcome, Gentle Reader, to the Feast of Christ the King. It falls on the last Sunday of the Catholic liturgical year, which is immediately followed by the inception of the Advent season that prefaces Christmas, the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ. If you’ve hoped to revisit the Rumination I’ve traditionally posted on this feast day, here it is. However, what’s on my mind today is somewhat different.

     The branch of finite mathematics known as game theory partitions games in several ways. One partition is by aggregate payoff:

  1. If at the game’s end, the sum of the payoffs – losses are figured as negative payoffs – is greater than zero, the game is positive-sum.
  2. If at the game’s end, the sum of the payoffs is exactly zero, the game is zero-sum.
  3. If at the game’s end, the sum of the payoffs is less than zero, the game is negative-sum.

     (A brief digression: At one time a game was reckoned as positive-sum if an only if all players were no worse off at the end than they were at the beginning – i.e., no player lost anything. Games of that sort receive very little analytical attention, for which reason the category was redefined as I’ve stated above.)

     Real-world games that involve money are almost always zero or negative-sum. Casino gambling is the best example of a negative-sum game: “the house percentage” guarantees that. Bets between individuals are usually zero-sum; at least, I can’t think of a counterexample at the moment. Positive-sum games are much rarer. The best example of a positive-sum game is a contest in which both the winner and the loser receive a payoff from a third-party sponsor. Some sports contests and tournaments are like that. So are television game shows.

     There are parallels to be drawn between games that involve monetary stakes and “games” that consist of arguments over ideas in politics, political economy, and social currents.

     Some categories of argumentation are analogous to the partition of games delineated above. Arguments in which it’s possible for all participants to learn something may be called positive-sum. Arguments in which one participant must “defeat” the others may be called zero-sum, as long as the defeated participants lose nothing but the positions they espoused. But an argument in which all participants lose by playing would be zero-sum. An example would be an exchange from which neither participant learns anything and both depart feeling insulted, injured, or alienated. These days there are many such arguments.

     The above might have you thinking of political arguments. Indeed, many would qualify. But this is a Sunday Rumination.

     Exchanges over religious beliefs are seldom other than negative-sum. Mind you, persons of different faiths can exchange their views without arguing. I’ve certainly done so often enough. But an argument must involve the testing of some proposition against logic and the available evidence (if any). What are the usual consequences of an argument over religious beliefs?

  • Neither side is convinced of anything;
  • Seldom does either party learn anything;
  • Insults and hurt feelings are commonplace.

     Today, the most common species of “argument” that involves religious beliefs occurs between a Christian of some denomination and a militant atheist. Neither side is willing to embrace the other’s convictions. Only on the rarest occasions does either party confront any verifiable facts new to him. And yes, in the usual case there are insults and hurt feelings to deal with. Moreover – and this is what has me writing about this subject today – at least one party enters the exchange knowing that that will be the outcome.

     Why would anyone enter such a contest? What is he playing for?

     With the Christmas season almost upon us, the various pseudo-public-service pitches will proliferate once again: the ones that say “Keep Christ in Christmas” or some variation on that theme, and the ones that say “Forget the Imaginary Friends and Just Make Merry” or words to that effect. And with those pitches will flower the usual arguments – to no one’s gain I can detect or imagine.

     The “Keep Christ in Christmas” banners are largely aimed at persons who already describe themselves as Christians. More than anything else they’re an exhortation not to let one’s family’s Christmas celebration become over-commercialized. Christ, after all, is “the reason for the season.” Non-Christian Americans can certainly celebrate the holiday season in their preferred way, but for Christians remembering that we’re celebrating the Feast of the Nativity of the Son of God and the Redeemer of Mankind is obligatory.

     For some reason, militant atheists tend to become especially irritating at this time of year. It’s as if their personal options aren’t enough for them; they seem to feel a need to “educate” the rest of us about our “irrationality.” But as I’ve written on more than one occasion, any firm conviction about the supernatural is a faith in and of itself, as in the nature of things it’s non-falsifiable. The atheist can no more “prove” that there is no God than I can “prove” that there is one, an observation that only heightens the rhetorical temperature once things get started.

     Most militant atheists are bright enough to be aware that these are negative-sum games. Most of them can foresee that no one will gain and – quite likely – some folks will be seriously insulted, possibly alienated for life. So why enter into such an exchange?

     I don’t know. I have a theory, but it’s one I’d prefer to keep to myself. What I do know is that it’s important to avert such interactions, and to terminate or depart from the ones I blunder into before they become heated.

     Well, life is for living and learning, and for conferring upon others what benefits are within one’s power to create. Perhaps one of my Gentle Readers will have an insight to share. At any rate, may God bless and keep you all – and go easy on the leftovers. (No more snacking from the tray of stuffing! I saw you sneaking a glance at the fridge. It’s not even noon yet, you naughty person. What would your mother say?)

Not blessed with foresight.

The American ruling class, that is.

Or with a vestigial morality, it appears.

“Had Western powers, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey overthrown Syria, an al-Qaeda-style government would have seized power. It would have combined with ISIS-held territories to form a massive and violent caliphate with all of the arms presently held by the Syrian Arab Army. Surrounding nations would have collapsed as a result, and been integrated into the savage caliphate. This terroristic government would have annihilated millions of moderate Muslims and religious minorities,” Sen. Black asserted.

He went on to say: “Had the West and its Arab allies succeeded in toppling Syria, I am convinced that Europe would now be threatened by jihad waged not by isolated terrorists, but by massive armed forces. In 2016, I went to Palmyra right after it was liberated by the Syrian armed forces. When I spoke to the pilots and aircrew standing by an attack aircraft, I told them that they were not only fighting to defend Syria but that they were defending the entire civilized world.”[1]

There’s nothing fanciful about Sen. Black’s assessment. Removal of Assad and defeat of the Syrian Arab Army would have been an unmitigated, far-reaching disaster and nothing would have stood in the way of just such a nightmare as Black envisioned had the Syrians not fought back and Russia, Syria, and Hezbollah come to their aid.

Sorry about your mom.
All of this would be balanced by a sensible, moral person against the asinine “Assad must go” policy that was, so help me God, official U.S. policy. But Dubya, Theophrastus van Obongo, Donald “el Cid” Trump, Her Nickiness, and Mike “Energizer Bunny” Pompeo love that there “regime change” garbage and if hundreds of thousands have to be shot, raped, blinded, crippled, eviscerated, burned, tortured, beheaded, kidnapped, rendered homeless, or vaporized then it’s just an unavoidable (but acceptable) cost of doing business in “our” pursuit of “freedom” and graciously instructing a backward world on “our democracy” and the benefits of enlightened American ways.

[1] "Sen. Richard Black to ST: U.S. has established 17 bases in Syria without the slightest lawful justification for doing so." Interview by Basma Qaddour, The Syria Times, 11/22/18 (emphasis added).

Saturday, November 24, 2018

For Those Who Want Them

     I really should have mentioned this sooner: there are now paperback editions of:

     Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) section has made it so easy (and so costless) to release paperbacks that I could no longer resist the opportunity. Mind you, there’s nothing in the paperbacks that isn’t in the digital editions, but some readers prefer a hardcopy book. I should know; I have over 13,000 of them.

     Thus, all my novel-length works are available in both hardcopy and digital editions. Enjoy!

Corporatism And The American Future Part 2

     As I mentioned in the previous segment, the largest 3000 corporations in the United States employ approximately half of all working Americans. It’s possible that some Gentle Readers (not you, of course!) failed to grasp the import of that fact: both what a departure it is from earlier times and what it implies for the power corporations have over the lives of Americans.

     The corporation concept is about three centuries old. It emerged from the old “joint-stock companies” of imperial England. It acquired its American form in the Nineteenth Century, as enterprises were formed that required amounts of capital and labor larger than what a family or clan could provide. Before embarking, the organizers of such a venture had to have a means by which to apportion its benefits to its investors and its workers. The essential features of corporate life and operation arose from that need.

     Thus, we can view the corporation as a kind of technology that applies to organization for a commercial purpose. As such, it’s morally and ethically neutral. That doesn’t mean it can’t be exploited for good or bad ends.

     It has been observed many times that those who crave power over others will seek to destroy, neutralize, or invalidate alternate sources of authority. Religion, family, customs, traditions, and community life are all non-governmental sources of authority, though the particular kinds vary. Those sources have many thousands of years of history. The corporation, which is far younger, competes with both those older sources and with governments.

     The American workforce’s trek from the farms to the fleshpots became significant after the Civil War. The migration was propelled by the emergence of power technology – the steam engine – that made many new things possible. The critical development was probably the growth of the railroad network. Before that, an enterprise that produced its wares in large quantities would have had no way to market them to a sufficiently large customer space. With the railroads in place, goods could be moved at relatively high speeds and low costs from one coast to the other. It changed the outlook for American entrepreneurs as radically as the development of the ocean-going sailing ship did for our English forebears.

     Corporations could become large. Their workforces swelled, as did the populations of the zones where conditions were suitable for their operation. The cities perched upon the major railroad networks and navigable waters grew great.

     They who sought power over other Americans were watching.

     Persons ambitious for political elevation gravitated toward the cities just as did the American workforce. Urban population densities militated toward the centralization of many essential services: water, sewer services, schools, some transportation methods, street construction and maintenance, firefighting, garbage collection and disposal, eventually electrical power. Centralization begets monopoly. Monopoly begets municipalization: government takeover. New ways of exerting power over Americans and their enterprises had emerged.

     For the power-hungry, this was not enough. Nothing ever is.

     The corporation, as I observed earlier, could provide a source of authority that competes with other sources. In family-run commercial enterprises this effect is missing, owing to the primacy of family relations and the traditional allocation of authority to the family’s older members. But the corporation has no such prior structure. Its only motive is commercial success. Within the constraints of the law, its authority will be exerted toward that end.

     For a while, ambitious politicians saw the corporations as competitors. It was not until the last decades of the Nineteenth Century that they discovered how to subordinate the corporations to their aims. The key discovery was a phrase with ominous undertones: “regulation in the public interest.”

     The earliest thrust was against “trusts.” That term, originally of very narrow meaning, was expanded to include many commercial agreements and arrangements. The eerie phrase “combinations in restraint of trade,” made famous by the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, gave governments essentially unlimited power to harass corporations for perfectly ordinary behavior that harmed no one. Quoth Isabel Paterson in The God of the Machine, “As freak legislation, the antitrust laws stand alone. Nobody knows what it is they forbid.” Consider also this observation from “John Galt’s” Dreams Come Due:

     For corporations that do not have twenty years and $20 million to fight an antitrust action, here are some guidelines for product pricing:
  1. High prices are considered to be monopolistic price gouging that exploit the public (who voluntarily choose to pay the prices).
  2. Low prices (which benefit consumers) are considered to be cutthroat and predatory because they attempt to destroy your competition.
  3. Prices that are the same as those of other competitors (because production costs are basically the same) are obviously collusive and indicative of a ploy to fix prices.

     Good Luck!

     The politicians used the antitrust laws, and later, the emergence of non-legislative “regulatory authority,” to bend the corporations to their will.

     Note that when enterprise was family-founded, notions such as “combinations in restraint of trade” and “regulation in the public interest” were ludicrous. They could not be sensibly applied to businesses confined within such limits. Also, families would successfully resist such intrusions, at least in earlier times. Only with the rise of large corporations that lacked familial bases did it become possible for politicians to cultivate the notion that such entities could behave immorally or irresponsibly, and therefore that they should be subject to political control.

     The politicians had another method for gaining ascendancy over the corporations: the lure of corruption. “Access,” then as now, amounted to a way to bias legislation and regulation toward favored clients. A large corporation with access could use it to press for laws and regulations that would hobble its competitors. This began at the city level but swiftly spread to the states and Washington.

     Indeed, when Congress began to act on more localized corruption, the overall effect was to centralize it: to pull the authority upward, into the federal government, regardless of what the Constitution might say on the matter. The overwhelmingly greater part of federal regulation pertains to corporate activities, even those parts that don’t explicitly mention the corporate form. That immense mass of regulations acts as a barrier to entry to most existing industries and many emergent ones. A competitor larger than a few dozen persons must be able to support a Legal department, an Accounting department, and a Human Resources department simply to cope with federal regulations.

     As the legal and regulatory tangles grew, so did the costs of compliance. Smaller corporations foundered under the weight. The ultimate effect was to concentrate commerce in a shrinking group of corporations.

     If I may quote one of my fictional characters:

     “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. That compelled wage earners to strive ever harder just to run in place, with obvious consequences for production and marketing.” [From Which Art In Hope.]

     In any collusion, when one partner has the money and the other has the guns, sooner or later the one with the guns will have all the money. The existence of a predatory hierarchy makes this automatic. Predators compete ruthlessly for supremacy. Competition improves and refines skills. Thus, ever more effective predators will emerge over time. Only the collapse of the predators’ habitat can prevent it.

     Our governmental predators rule us largely through the shackles they’ve placed upon our sources of income. For at least half of us, that source is a Fortune 3000 corporation. As the exactions of the Leviathan State increase, so will the effects upon those who work for them. Even worse, the squeeze placed upon smaller firms will thin their ranks further, which will further concentrate the American workforce into a smaller group of employers.

     Every industry has been affected. New ones will be targeted as they arise.

     More anon.

Some Thoughts on a New Direction

Oddly enough, I started thinking about some of the following things while watching Tag.

Tag is NOT what you'd expect. It's both a funny movie, and a poignant reminder of the passage of time, and how our relationships to each other transcend our own lives. I highly recommend you see it with people you want to have a closer relationship with.

This link is to both a look at the past history of conservative thought, and some practical suggestions for the future. I particularly like his idea about setting up an organization to lobby for the interests of younger Adult Americans. The AARP has swung its gigantic clout around for too long on budget matters. It's time for those whose LIVES will be affected by the skewing of the budget towards the concerns of the elderly to step up, and organize for their benefit.

Big Government just does not GET IT.  NYC is still operating as though there were no alternatives to putting up with their combination of over involvement in the lives of the middle class, and under involvement in the crimes, lack of sanitation, and just general chaos that the protected classes inflict on those middle classes.

Will those Old Guys, those Privileged People whose continued involvement in public affairs should NOT be subsidized by the American Taxpayer, get off the stage? If we're going to pay people to retire, shouldn't they - you know - retire? Rather than use that income as a way of underwriting their Next Great Career?

I know I sound like a broken record, but - Voter Fraud?

Other than all of that, it's been a great trip. I've spent time with family, celebrated my son's 40th birthday, and enjoyed it all - well, except for the weather, which is cold, wet, and not pretty. But, it does make me grateful for the fact that all of the extended family have a roof over their heads.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Free Fiction!

     Everybody else is having a Black Friday sale, so I might as well have one too:

     All day November 23, 2018, Innocents is free of charge at Amazon:

     A novel of the Onteora Canon, set in the very near future. Genetic engineering and zygotic microsurgery have produced both wonders and horrors. Wonders such as drugs tailored to attack a specific disease in a specific sufferer, or surgery to eliminate genetically borne handicaps before mitosis can begin. Horrors such as blindness or deafness deliberately inflicted upon unborn babies, or pitiable creatures whose bodies and minds are warped to satisfy the whims of wealthy perverts.

     Security specialist Larry Sokoloff is on vacation far from home, straining to forget a woman he loves but cannot have, when Fountain, a teenaged escapee from a malevolent institution, comes under his protection. What he learns of her nature and origins lays bare the darker face of the Janus of biotechnology, and catapults him and his colleague Trish McAvoy into a mission of vengeance and cleansing. For adults only.

     Innocents is the prequel to my recently released Experiences, so take the opportunity to collect the whole set and save a few bucks!